Trooble oop t’Mint!

21 Apr

Not so happy with Mint this morning. Why not? Well, it’s a long story.

The conventional wisdom with Linux systems is to have a small number of disk partitions: a tiny swap partition, a smallish boot partition, a medium-sized root partition in which all the administrative files are stored, and a large home partition where you put all your data. I used that method for a while but altered it when I bought my latest PC, for a couple of reasons:

a) I wanted Windows XP to have its own partition for maximum speed, even though I planned to run it from within VirtualBox.

b To further increase the speed I wanted that partition to be on another disk to the one with my Linux root and home partitions.

Let me say, by the way, that this works extremely well, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to run Windows or any other OS under VirtualBox at a reasonable speed.

However, it meant that I had two disks to partition.

I’ve also learned in the past to do daily backups of my important stuff and let the other stuff accumulate for a week or a month befor backing that up. This means that it makes sense to keep the important stuff and the archives in different partitions. So the current setup was:

Disk 1: Windows partition, Archives partition, Multimedia partition, Videos partition

Disk 2: Swap, boot, root and home partitions

The system was originally set up to dual-boot, with Windows XP installed first, and for that reason I formatted all the partitions on Disk 1 as NTFS, so Windows would be able to find them. But I found that Windows ran so fast in VirtualBox that I didn’t need the dual boot, and eventually I reverted back to just booting into Mint and using a standard VirtualBox snapshot for my Windows guest when I needed it. This caused backup problems, however, since the whole Windows disk was being stored as a single file in my home directory and backed up every day — a slow process.

So since my Windows partition on Disk 1 was redundant, I decided to reformat it and use it to store the VirtualBox machine files. I fired up Gparted and reformatted it to Ext4 with no problems, and worked the rest of the day, but when I switched on the next day I couldn’t boot up. I had forgotten that the Windows partition on Disk 1 was still technically a boot partition, and that Grub would look for it and hang if it couldn’t find it.

So I booted from a Live CD, and looked for solutions on the web. Several were offered: none of them worked. This is normal: I don’t think I have ever come across a solution to Grub problems on the web which actually worked for me. They just don’t. So I had to reinstall, and this is where the annoyances began.

First I tried an absolutely minimalist install without reformatting any partitions: it crashed.

What I should have done next was to reformat the boot partition only, and leave the root partition intact, but I was tired and in a hurry, so I reformatted both of them. I left the home partition intact, of course, because everyone knows that Linux stores all the important stuff in the home partition.

Only it doesn’t. It stores the settings (most of them) in home but not the program files. There are also several important configuration files like samba.conf and /etc/fstab which live in the root partition and get wiped when you reinstall. So after Mint came back to life on my PC, I still had to waste a couple of hours re-installing the programs I had lost and re-tweaking the files stored in the root partition.

So what have I learned from this?

1) Always back up your root directory.

2) Keep your most recent downloaded installation files

3) Thank heavens for fast broadband!

Yes, I was stupid, but I still feel let down because Mint let me be stupid. Wouldn’t it be simple and obvious for Gparted or some system daemon to check when I was about to do — or had done — something which would cause reboot problems, and warn me? Better still, to offer a quick fix? This isn’t the first time this has happened, and now I am scared to reformat my other NTFS partitions in case it happens again. So shame on you, Mint — you made me sad.

A new release of Mint is due at the end of May, by the way, and with Ubuntu possibly fumbling the ball with their insistence on the Unity desktop (come to think of it, that was the last time I had to reinstall Mint — when I tried a Beta version of Unity), this is a great opportunity for Mint to take the lead in popularity. But they should try and be nice to those of us who make mistakes — after all, isn’t that what ‘Clement’ means?

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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in Linux Applications, Mint OS


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