Ubuntu – desktop and servers

So I’ve made the switch to Ubuntu for one of my desktops at work. I needed Linux for development and I was probably just going to ssh into it. I was surprised though by how good it was so I use the desktop UI on that machine for development. Also, some of my home servers were running ancient versions of Fedora or Redhat. So I decided to move to debian.

Why the switch to Debian/Ubuntu? I got sick and tired of the Fedora upgrade process. The rpm system is just too heavy. If you fall back on a major release, you end up languishing with old packages. Nothing new works anymore. This isn’t fun at all. The only way (and officially recommended way) to upgrade is to:

  • burn another 4 or 5 cds
  • upgrade
  • and then pick up the pieces that broke

This is an arduous task. Plus you have to be physically at the machine to do this. I wanted to move to a system that allowed me to do major upgrades remotely. Debian can do this.

Yeah, there is Gentoo, and Arch and 30 other distros, but as I did the research, these two systems (debian/ubuntu) came up as the most solid server systems. Gentoo is popular, but they adhere to the FreeBSD ports style of getting applications… recompile everything with gcc. Frankly, that was one aspect of FreeBSD that I didn’t like.

Ubuntu is just debian with a shiny veneer on top. Both adhere to a philosophy of distrubuting the package management load to the community. The plan worked. They have more packages under management and they are actively maintained. The ‘apt’ system takes a little getting used to in comparision to ‘rpm’, but it works well. They have a system which can allow someone to keep updating and upgrading their packages from a release 7 years ago to the present. I often read blog entries of people touting this benefit of debian over the other distros. On blogs complaining about broken Fedora upgrades or dependencies, the debian people would chime in with the ‘the problem isn’t linux, it’s with your distro’.

An important irony of this decision was that I used to be fairly down on Debian 5 years ago. They would always take forever to move to the newer kernels. This problem is no longer an issue. It just goes to show that it never pays to be religious about a technology.

One other side note: I ran into one issue with Ubuntu on the desktop and I wanted to post a quick solution. Who knows, maybe this will help someone out there. I was having this problem that connections to other machines were taking way too long. After doing some digging, I found that the resolver was hitting this ‘avahi’ daemon.

After some searching, I found some excellent bug reports in the Ubuntu launchpad system:

Bug #80900

Question #7789 – 1st time dns lookup always fails

Bug #94940

Bug 30582

The avahi is a free software Bonjour system for the free Unix world. It has some issues, and we aren’t using it here. It was in the resolver list by default in /etc/nsswitch.conf. Just make the hosts resolution use ‘files dns’ and the problem goes away.

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