Monthly Archives: November 2008

Updating NVIDIA graphics drivers with Ubuntu kernel updates

I’ve tagged this post as a ‘BitOfAWhinge’ because…it is. But bear with me; it’s got some random praise in it too.

I run Ubuntu Hardy on my Thinkpad T61p but (as I mentioned in a previous post) I use the proprietary NVIDIA graphics drivers so that I can have a decent resolution and use Desktop Effects. This works fine most of the time. Unfortunately, however, most times that I install updates that include kernel updates, the NVIDIA graphics modules become incompatible with the new kernel.

I guess that, were I running them, the Ubuntu graphics driver would be upgraded along with the kernel and this wouldn’t be a problem. As it is, though, after installing the kernel updates and rebooting, X (the graphics environment) takes some effort to load (on the computer’s part – not sure quite what it’s doing but it seems to be straining a little) before loading into a low, non-widescreen, resolution (bit like Windows safe mode). It also seems to revert to US keyboard settings so that certain non-alphnumeric keys are in the wrong place – awkward when entering a password that might contain them.

From there, I have to re-run EnvyNG (the nifty little app that goes away and installs the appropriate NVIDIA graphics drivers – or, in this case, probably just recompiles the modules or something), then reboot. And then everything’s fine. Today was about the third time this has happened. It’s not a major problem now that I know how to fix it but it is irritating and slow. The first time it happened it was quite concerning until I realised that running EnvyNG would fix it all.

So not very user-friendly. Better would be if the kernel update would recognise that there are other modules that are now incompatible (at this point you might be able to tell that I don’t really know how it works but that’s not the point) and, after installing but before rebooting, prompts the user that you’ll need to update them too (ideally with ‘and how to do that’).

VMWare have now cottoned on to this (yes, another proprietory app). Usually after a kernel update, you click VMWare Workstation to start and it just doesn’t do anything (again, rather concerning; if you know how to run it from the command line, you at least get a message that tells you to re-run the VMWare config script). Today, however, I got a little message pop-up saying that I needed to update the modules (or something like that) and I could press a button to do just that. It did it all for me and just worked.

So, some random praise for both EnvyNG and VMWare for making things easy to update. Minus points to Ubuntu Update Manager for not at least warning me that that would be necessary. I understand that by using proprietary software on Ubuntu, Ubuntu probably can’t (or shouldn’t) be held responsible for updating it, but it would be nice to be warned that I would need to run the updates myself.

Okay, not the most riveting blog post in the world but a start on my quest to have software developers (all developers; not just Ubuntu or even just open source) think a little and put in what might seem (to them) like niceties but which make all the difference to the user’s experience. Afterall, it’s for the user that this software exists at all.