Upgrading Ubuntu in a Virtual PC

By Ron Weinberg, Member at Large, Tampa PC Users Group
rswjbr@verizon.net


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Like some other group members, I have been experimenting with Ubuntu Linux using Microsoft Virtual PC 2007. I do this out of professional curiosity and for the challenge. With a Virtual PC, I don’t have to dual boot or compromise my host XP Pro system in any way.

Day to day use of a computer running Ubuntu is relatively easy. You get a free open source operating system that will run, even on some old underpowered hardware, and programs that provide all your basic needs and features and a lot more. For example, the free Open Office Suite has all the essential functionality of Microsoft Office and good interoperability with it. Each new release of Ubuntu brings added improvements.

However, there are still some rough spots that might intimidate the ordinary PC user. I am reminded of the old days of DOS and early Windows when you had to learn by trial and error and often use a command line. As then, time and patience are required here.

I selected Ubuntu because it seems to be one of the most popular distributions with great potential and it is improving rapidly. Frankly, the Virtual PC aspect does complicate and somewhat compromise the features of Ubuntu.

My original install was version 6.10, so I tried to use the automatic upgrade offered by the built in Update Manager to move to a newer version, 7.04.

Before proceeding, I found out that there was a new Service Pack1 for Virtual PC which supports XP Professional SP3 and Vista, and I installed it.

Using the built-in Update Manager, I started the upgrade to version 7.04 and failed, receiving multiple error code 404 errors (failed to fetch). I retried several times and got the same errors. It was time to get help.

There were so many proposed fixes for these errors posted in search results that it was impossible to determine which would be correct to use in this case.

One of the great assets of Ubuntu is the myriad of online help resources, including the large and very helpful user community easily reached at https://launchpad.net/ubuntu.

I posted a question there, giving the exact problem, and included all the error messages. Suggestions began arriving the same day, but the solution came after 10 days. Remember, patience is needed as respondents are volunteers.

The answer was that Version 6.10 is no longer being supported and there was a link to confirm it at https://launchpad.net/ubuntu. It was suggested I upgrade offline using the 7.04 Alternate install CD, which could be downloaded as an ISO file at http://releases.ubuntu.com/7.04/. Then I was instructed to make a CD from the ISO image. (This requires a free program, such as Infra Recorder or ISO Recorder.) Using Ubuntu 6.10, you then insert the CD into your drive and you get a request to upgrade.

When the upgrade was completed, there was no mouse function.

Searching Google, I found that the problem was that Ubuntu did not recognize the mouse within a Virtual PC. Google provided a makeshift fix, turning the numeric keypad into a pseudo mouse, which was very inefficient. Further research located a permanent fix by editing the Grub Boot Parameters. This sounds difficult, but exact and easy instructions were provided.

After this fix, and the upgrade to 7.04 having succeeded, the Update Manager now offered an upgrade to 7.10. I wanted to move up to this release. Of course, I could have just installed a new Virtual PC with each later version, but I wanted to proceed as if I were actually using the product.

I started the upgrade from 7.04 to 7.10 and left it unattended overnight. My PC rebooted due to a Microsoft auto update so any messages were lost. I could not determine how far the upgrade got, but I still had 7.04, and, when I clicked on the Update Manager, nothing happened.

I posted another question on launchpad and got the solution the same day. It told me to try to update in a terminal window. You open a terminal in Applications > Accessories > Terminal. Then type: sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude upgrade. This command line restored the Update Manager. Once it was restored, I was able to run the upgrade to 7.10. It started over from step 1, "Preparing the Upgrade," and completed successfully.

The upgrades themselves, while automated, do take several hours. In going from 7.04 to 7.10, a time remaining bar appeared showing 13 hours, but the actual time was much less.

Finally, I tested the installation, and everything worked. I could use the Internet, found my local Network Places, and could even share between Virtual Ubuntu and the host computer running XP Pro.

But again I discovered another limitation of the Virtual PC. You can share files, see and use them, but you cannot cut and paste between Virtual and Host. There is a trick found with Google, which I have not tried, that tells you how to do it using Remote Desktop.

Next, upgrade to 8.04, maybe?  u