Monday 15 April 2013

Ubuntu Wubi: Here Be Dragons

After being handed a rather low-spec ThinkPad at my new gig, and attempting to get work done in a locked-down corporate Windows 7 installation, I gave up after two days. The main reason being Cygwin. It's cool and all, but it's not Linux. All the cool kids write install/run scripts that almost work in Cygwin, but not quite. Usually something to do with slashes and backslashes. The third time I had to go diving into someone else's shell script which would *just work* on Linux/Mac, I'd had enough.

Off to the Ubuntu site I trundled, and my eye was caught by the Wubi option - Install Ubuntu from "inside" Windows, thus minimising my unproductive "watch the progress meter" time.

So here is my advice for anyone who does more with their computer than light web-browsing or a spot of word-processing, strictly one app at a time:

Do NOT, under any circumstances, use Wubi to get Ubuntu onto your machine.

What you get after a Wubi Ubuntu installation is a disk image stored in your Windows directory, which you can choose from a boot loader, and it feels "just like Ubuntu". Because it is Ubuntu. Being run in a virtual disk, mounted from an NTFS partition. There are a lot of moving parts in that last sentence, and therein lies the problem.

Undoubtedly is a remarkable and clever achievement to be able to do all of the boot-record-jiggery and virtual-file-system-pokery from within a "hostile" operating system. But just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

My experience of the Ubuntu 12.10 OS running from a Wubi install was universally positive, until I started actually multitasking. Like this (each bullet being an "async task" as it were):

  • Open new Terminal -> Start pulling down new and large git updates
  • Open new Terminal tab ->Start pulling new and large SVN updates
  • Open new Terminal tab -> Kick off a grails application build and test
  • Open Chrome -> GRIND. BANG. LOCKUP
It seems the filesystem-intensive work being done in the terminal (particularly the Grails job that does a lot of temporary file twiddling) makes the virtual disk driver work hard, which in turn makes the NTFS filesystem driver do a lot of work. And between the two of them, they lock up THE ENTIRE MACHINE. Lights-on, nobody-home style. Press-and-hold-the-power-button style.

Then, after deciding you've had enough of your Wubi-based install, you have a very considerable number of fiery hoops to jump through to get your stuff out of its clutches and into a real disk mounted on a real filesystem.

So when (not if) you decide to liberate a corporate machine from Windows, take the hit and do the job properly - boot into the installer the way God/Shuttleworth intended, partition the disk correctly and enjoy.

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