Wednesday, 22 November, 2006

Installing Ubuntu Server

Last month I downloaded Ubuntu version 6.06 (Dapper Drake) for two reasons:  to install a desktop machine for some quick testing, and to build a 'permanent' development server.  The only thing painless about the process was downloading the ISO image.  My HP DVD/CD burner, which had been acting a little flaky, completely crapped out and the built-in DVD ROM/CD burner in my laptop had trouble until I lowered the write speed.

It didn't help that this was the same day I rode home in a downpour and discovered that, although my backpack is water resistant, it is not water proof.  My laptop got wet and I was sure I'd fried it.  I left it to dry overnight and everything seems to work okay.  But I digress.

The Ubuntu Live CD ran fine, but installing from that CD failed after a few input screens for no apparent reason.  I poked around a bit and found the answer:  use the "alternate" install CD, which installs in text mode.  After that, things went very well and I was quite pleasantly surprised by the ease of installation and the uncluttered desktop.  I ran the online software update and was again pleasantly surprised at how painless the update was.  We did our desktop testing quickly and then it was time to build the server.

Things went poorly from the start.  I carried the computer back to my office and plugged it in to my spare monitor, booted the alternate CD and told it to install the server.  Yes, I could have gone through the effort of adding server stuff to the desktop installation and removing stuff I didn't need, but it just seemed cleaner to start over.  But after a few screens of data gathering, the monitor went blank.  I don't know why. 

I finally figured out that it was the combination of video card and monitor that was causing the problem.  Why Ubuntu needs to change the video mode in the middle of a text install--especially when building a server that doesn't have a GUI--is beyond me, but there it is.  I've since installed a second server on a different computer that uses that monitor with a different video card.

Finishing the server install doesn't give you a very functional server, and for some reason the default install makes it difficult to get some packages.  Probably for security reasons.  After struggling a while, I found that I had to modify the /etc/app/sources.list file to include the 'universe' and 'multiverse' repositories--something that was not very well documented a month ago, but is explained very clearly now for Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy Eft).

What software did I have to install manually?  Open SSH, Apache web server, PHP, MySQL, the Java JDK, and the JOE editor because vi sucks rocks.

I'm now in the middle of learning PHP while creating a large Web application.  The server has been very reliable, and I'm beginning to think that I might yet get the hang of this Linux thing--at least as far as servers go.  I still have questions about using Linux on a desktop, but that could change if I can make the time to sit down and play with it.