Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Roll Your Own Ubuntu Desktop

If you want/need to roll your own Ubuntu installation, here's what to do.
  1. Using the text-install CD, install Ubuntu to the command prompt.
  2. Apt-get install the packages you need/want to manually configure.
  3. Configure those packages and get them working.
  4. Apt-get install any other packages you want (including dselect).
  5. Get your own or use my list of Ubuntu (Gutsy Gibbon) install packages.
  6. dselect the list.

Here's the background on this...

Following up on my post, Linux Distro Hop, I heard from a reader telling me where to find the text-install version of the new Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon). Either I missed the link to it the first time around, or they added the link to it sometime after the time I was first looking for it (a day or two after the formal release). In any case...

Let's recap. I have this dual-processor, dual-video card machine that was originally built as a high-end gaming machine. The motherboard was one of the first dual-processor boards. It has a low-end ATI GPU on the motherboard, and there is an Nvidia Geforce3 video card. My plan was to load Linux/Ubuntu on it and repurpose this machine (as a VMware server).

Unfortunately, the Ubuntu LiveCD would not run on the machine. The video card situation confounded Ubuntu. After trying with varying success to load different Linux distros, I settled on Debian because it is the basis of Ubuntu. That's when I posted Linux Distro Hop.

Because Debian worked, I was confident that Ubuntu should work. So, armed with the text-install for Ubuntu, I decided to try again.

Unfortunately, the text-install does not do much in terms of de-obfuscating the Ubuntu installation process. Virtually everything is done automatically, without user input. Like the LiveCD, the text install got hung up and failed. No error messages and no indication of what the problem was. Based on my experience with the various distros, however, I knew that the video cards, drivers and the Xserver configuration were causing the install to fail.

It was with some exasperation that I surveyed my options. On the text-install CD, I noticed that it offered "Install to a command line."
  • Let's see if that works...  It does! That's progress.

Feeling my way forward, I apt-get installed xserver, and edited xorg.conf to use the Nvidia Geforce3 video card.
  • Let's see what happens when I startx...  It works!

I apt-get installed gnome, and I was well on the way to rolling my own Ubuntu!! But then I thought,
  • How am I going to know what all packages I need to apt-get install before I can call this Ubuntu Desktop. And I don't want to overwrite or otherwise break what I've done already.

Fear not! It turns out that it is a simple matter to obtain a listing of all the packages installed on a given Debian/Ubuntu system. So, if you are like me and have a Ubuntu system that is pretty much the way you want it in terms of apps, codecs and proprietary drivers, you can list that machine's packages to a file, move the file to your roll-your-own machine and dselect all those packages in a single command. And, as if that was not cool enough, packages already downloaded and installed are NOT COPIED, so you won't undo what you've already done. Whew!

To do this, I followed arsgeek's guidance (don't be distracted by the comments). In case you don't have a machine to base your work on, here is the text file I generated. It is all the packages installed on a Gutsy Gibbon desktop machine, including sound and video players and codecs to let me access most/all(?) multimedia around the net. It also has KeePassX that I recommend...

You can use this file (save and rename it) as described by arsgeek to roll your own Ubuntu desktop. I did and it worked like a charm! Roll on!

1 comment:

Beauty article said...

I am waiting for my ubuntu to arrive in the mail...meanwhile I am reading about it, and saw some cool demonstrations...
I have o clue of what is roll and stuff like that...will I have a problem with my computer, lost my files, pictures and songs when I try to install it? is it easy to understand it? please help. I know completely nothing, but I am very interested to learn it.