Computers

Love them or hate them, most of us do both.

Yesterday, in this short period of calm between academic trips, I decided to upgrade my laptop from Ubuntu 12.04LTS (“Precise Pangolin”) to Ubuntu 14.04LTS (“Trusty Tahr”). The LTS stands for “Long term support”, and it is possible that this version will see out the lifetime of this computer (which travels with me, and so gets some rough handling).

The upgrade was relatively quick, and mostly fine. The result looks, and seems to work, much the same as the version it replaces. The software I have used to produce and test this short post all works just as it used to. (Some small changes: what Emacs used to call “Remove splits” is now “Remove other windows”.)

However, there was a problem. Two error messages had appeared during installation; two components of the system had failed to install properly. One was a package for doing TeX in Thai, which it is quite likely that I will never need. The other, unfortunately, was tex-common, the basic format for TeX. So when I tried to run pdflatex on a test file, it stopped right away with a fatal format error.

Worse was in store. The error had also had the effect of disabling apt-get, the mechanism for managing software packages, so that even things completely unrelated to TeX could not be installed.

I haven’t gone back to the second problem, but I did manage to fix the first. A little research on the Web suggested that TeX installations on Linux repositories are always a bit dodgy, so I re-installed TeX Live directly from CTAN (the Comprehensive TeX Archive Network, which has everything, in the most up-to-date versions). The process took half an hour but reported no errors, and at the end, pdflatex runs as expected.

Another black mark for Ubuntu, then, coming rather soon after they walked away from their cloud storage Ubuntu One, and drove me firmly into the arms of Dropbox.

In my childhood, it was said that you could always tell who was who in Westerns: the goodies wore white hats, and the baddies black hats. Computing used to be a bit like this: Unix good, Microsoft bad. The second half of this dichotomy is still mostly true (don’t ask me about Outlook!), but in trying to be more like Windows, Linux has paid the inevitable price. Morally, the world is a more complicated and ambiguous place than it used to be when we were young.

This story is encouraging, in a way. The “official” way to get TeX in the Linux distribution failed me, but I was able to find an alternative which worked. But next time I need to install some software, I will see whether there really is a problem with apt-get. If there is, I have no idea what to do about it …

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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4 Responses to Computers

  1. Err fain says:

    Cam, get a Mac, they’re the best!

  2. I think the problem is now solved, thanks in part to a lot of patient help from Manfred Hampl, to whom my thanks are due. But I have spent more time on it than I want to add up. I do think that “trusty tahr” has not lived up to its name.

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