Friday, February 5, 2010

Mint: Reloading the OS

I'm a big fan of Linux in general, Ubuntu in particular, and now Mint (which is built on top of Ubuntu, and whose user interface I slightly prefer -- plus, after 37 years at Michigan State, it doesn't hurt that Mint's color scheme is green).  Among other things, Linux seems to be somewhat less vulnerable to hacking than Windows (possibly excluding Win 7, which IMHO hasn't been out long enough to be thoroughly battle tested).  Less vulnerable is not invulnerable, though.  I came into the office one day and discovered that my office PC wouldn't accept my password.  Once I finally fought my way in, I found two bogus user accounts with uid = 0 (the root account has uid = 0), which apparently made them impervious to deletion.  So I ended up reinstalling the OS to  get rid of them ... which was not as annoying as it might sound (although it was a bit time-consuming).

First off, in an earlier bout of upgrading, I decided to create a separate home partition.  This is easy, although partitioning is not for the faint of heart. You use GParted (graphical partition editor) to create a new partition, mount it and copy everything from your home partition to the new one.  Then you make the mount point of the new partition /home.  I'm oversimplifying a bit: excellent, detailed instructions are at http://www.linuxmint.com/wiki/index.php/Move_home_to_its_own_partition.  Having /home on a separate partition meant that I could reinstall the OS (from a Mint install CD) without losing anything from the home partition.  Even most (though not quite all) of my software settings came through intact.  Also, I'd put a few software programs (that I downloaded manually, not through Synaptic) on the home partition, so they did not need to be reinstalled.

Second, I got some useful feedback on the Mint user forums, including someone who pointed out to me Synaptic's File > Save Markings As and File > Read Markings.  Before the reload, I did the former, saving the file to my home partition. After the reload (and after Synaptic had done some automatic upgrades to catch the CD version up to current patch levels), I read back the markings and Synaptic went off and downloaded pretty much everything I'd installed or updated ("pretty much" meaning that which came from repositories it knows about).  After that, all I had to do was reinstall one or two packages I'd downloaded manually.

Which left just one thing.  Most of our office machines use DHCP, but I have a static IP address for mine, to facilitate remote log ins. I use NoMachine's free NX client/server (highly recommended) to remote desktop to my office PC. It didn't work at first, because I'd forgotten that after an OS reload I have to go back and put the static IP address back in (the OS defaults to DHCP). Which pretty much explains the title of this blog.

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