Friday, September 24, 2010

Tips For Ubuntu Administrators


Administering an Ubuntu system is designed to quite easy by the folks at Canonical. It is one of their main goals to take the work out of keeping things running. Happily, Ubuntu will never need any form of complex administration from any of us. Though it is my aim in this post to supply users with a few tips that may enable them to keep their system running smooth for years to come. My target audience is any user, from the newest to the curious vets. There are no special requirements to understand anything that follows. So please enjoy, and PLEASE correct me if I supply any unintentional misinformation. And now.. we continue. :)

Setting Up Ubuntu

My first tip is this.. Test your hardware using a live cd. It is a great feature and is very important since a simple problem and hours of work can be avoided by doing so. Play around with a few programs, browse the web for a bit, and even install a few programs from synaptic or the software center. Nothing will stick when you choose to reboot. When burning a CD image, correctness is key, so burn at the slowest available speed. Doing so will ensure less chance of running into errors.

After you burn the image, check for errors. This is easy to do, just reboot with the Ubuntu CD in the drive. Then choose "Check Disk For Errors" when prompted. On Ubuntu Lucid, you need to press ESC when you see the white symbols at the bottom of the screen. A failed check could have meant a real problem during the installation!

So, you have a good CD, and your hardware seems to run great. Good! Now we have to install Ubuntu. The main complex part of the installer is partitioning, though it is set up to be quite easy. My first of two tips concerning that is to review the setup and ensure nothing you need is going to be deleted. If you are dual booting with Windows, make sure you use Windows tools to resize the Win partition. It is much safer to do so. Explaining exactly how is out of the scope of this guide.

The second tip is partitioning. If you plan on using Ubuntu long term, or even reinstalling a lot, it is wise to create a separate home partition. This means that you can keep data without an external backup even through reinstalls. To do so, make the space for it and ensure you have enough room for everything you would want. Then create the new partition. Format to ext3/ext4, and choose the mount point for Ubuntu to be /home. With this setup, even if you reinstall Ubuntu you can keep all of your data by mounting (NOT FORMATTING) this partition as /home on subsequent installs.

Maintaining Ubuntu

Want to keep Ubuntu safe and happy for years to come? Here is how. A will roll a few basic things for you:

- Stick to the LTS release! It is designed for stability and has a longer support period.
- If it is not broken, do not fix it! The more you play around as ROOT the bigger chance something can go wrong.
- Use software in the repositories first. Also if possible use the graphical tools such as the update-manager and software-center.
- Install updates weekly. Unless you know of an issue that was just fixed in an update there is no need to update quite so often as daily. Especially if everything is working.
- Did I mention do not play around as root? Better safe than sorry, so stick to the graphical tools.

Using the Development Release

The main thing to understand about using the development release is that it is not for daily usage folks. We mean that! Though it is often quite possible if not PROBABLE that it will run just great, the chance of a true issue could prove to be a bad experience or cause you to lose work. Trust me, it is for preview and bug testing only.

If the above suits you fine, feel free to use it. Though the best way to use it is the current live image, Virtualbox, or this program here:

If you decide to throw caution to the winds, know a few things. The update manager will often ask you to do a partial upgrade. Generally, do not do this. Unless you know what you are doing, you can cause a required system component to be removed.

You can report bugs using the process found here:

Have fun and happy testing.

I hope you found this post useful in picking up a few pointers on what to do and what not to do as an Ubuntu administrator. Comments are welcome!