Thoughts on Ubuntu Sounder 7 installer CD installation usability

Colin Watson cjwatson at
Tue Aug 31 12:32:49 CDT 2004

On Sun, Aug 29, 2004 at 07:12:50PM +0100, Stuart Langridge wrote:
> This is a sort of stream-of-consciousness thing as I work through the
> installer.
> It did not succeed. As you will see at the end, though, I suspect that
> this was due to corrupted CDs. I'm posting this anyway because I've 
> tried to comment on the usability of the portion of the installer that I 
> did see (which was most of it). When I get a good CD I will try again.
> My hardware: see the end
> The stripy zebra boot image is a bit corrupted; the top quarter of it, say.

We've seen that on some hardware. I don't think any of us know the
cause, though. It's probably an ISOLINUX thing ...

> "English with locales/country settings" is selected; a quick scroll up 
> and down confirms that there's no other "English". "With locales/country 
> settings" is a bit meaningless, though, isn't it? I only know what a 
> "locale" is because I've spent ages fighting with Debian about them. 
> "English and variants (e.g., US English)" or something, perhaps?

I think there's some historical reason for that, but I agree it looks
ugly. Bug #944 filed.

> Anyway, I choose it. And "United Kingdom" on the next screen. Now we're 
> loading components of the installer. So far this isn't very pretty, but 
> I bet that that's about to change.

Only once we do a graphical installer for Hoary or thereabouts. :-)

> Hm. "No network interfaces detected". I have a PCMCIA wireless network 
> card in this laptop, an Actiontec.

Is this original PCMCIA, not Cardbus? I don't think d-i supports
autodetecting such cards at the moment, although I could be wrong.

> I don't expect you to work out my WEP key or anything, but not
> detecting the card at all isn't good. And it also says "go back to the
> network hardware detection step"; I didn't know that I'd been to that
> step. Nice to see "Go Back" in the button, because even if I don't
> really understand how I can "go back" to a step, I can just trust it
> and say "Go Back". Nonetheless, maybe it should say "Do the network
> hardware detection step again" or something -- just to imply that
> we're not repeating something that _I_ initiated, because that implies
> that I did it wrong somehow. So I'll try going back. Hm. I pick a
> machine name, and then that's it. So what did I have to do about the
> network card? It said I should go back and load a module, and then
> gave me no opportunity to do so. "Go Back" and "Continue" seem to do
> the same thing here.

I think something in netcfg's state machine is buggy. I'm seeing similar
problems here on a system which does have a detected network interface
but isn't actually connected to a network. I'll see if I can sort this
out to behave correctly.

> Partitioning the disks: for someone who isn't relatively experienced, 
> this description is pretty close to meaningless, I fear. I'd perhaps 
> word it as:
> "This installer will now guide you through preparing your hard disk for 
> use by Ubuntu. You may also choose to manually prepare your disks, now 
> or after the installer has done so, if you have special requirements."
> (or something; I'm not much of a technical writer.)

Is this the dialog that currently says:

  This installer can guide you through partitioning a disk for use by
  Ubuntu, or if you prefer, you can do it manually. If you do choose to
  use the guided partitioning tool, you will still have a chance later to
  see the results, customise it, and even undo the partitioning if you do
  not like it.


> I shall erase the entire disk. I wasn't using this laptop for anything 
> anyway.
> Again, the next screen, describing the partitioning, is pretty 
> incomprehensible if you're not experienced in this. If someone's erasing 
> their entire disk, then I'm not sure why they'd care how you're setting 
> up the partitioning? Just say "Ubuntu is ready to partition the disk. 
> Select 'Show details' to see how the disk will be prepared if you 
> wish.", perhaps? I don't know if you can do the "Show details" thing in 
> debconf; maybe do it in a scrollable text window with the partitioning 
> details below the fold, so you can scroll to them if you like.

If I can figure out how to do this in debconf, I will :-)

> On to installing the base system. Flicking through package names.
> "Install the base system": this list shows the available kernels. The 
> two options are
> kernel-image-2.6.7-1-386
> kernel-image-2.6-386
> Now, I happen to know that they're probably the same thing, because the 
> second one's a virtual package. But other people may not. This list 
> probably shouldn't show virtual kernel packages, and then if there's 
> only one kernel in the list once you've removed virtual packages that it 
> should install it without asking.
> Now I have to pick a boot loader. Not sure what the target market here 
> is; some people care deeply about the choice of LILO or GRUB, but I'll 
> bet money that everyone who does knows how to install their preference 
> with apt. I'd say: pick one automatically. Pick grub, for preference, 
> but I don't care as long as the installer sets it up right. I like the 
> "it looks like Ubuntu is the only operating system; can I install to the 
> MBR?" question in principle, but I picked "erase whole disk" earlier, so 
> it *must* be the only OS; it doesn't need to ask me, so it shouldn't.

OK, neither of these questions are asked in our default install path.
The only way they could be asked is if you experienced some errors
earlier on in the installation which dropped your debconf priority down
to low, or if you used the back button lots (that also drops the debconf

The priority-lowering thing when the back button is pressed is necessary
to get the main menu to be displayed, but the exact way it's implemented
does cause some usability problems. The right way to do it is probably
to save the priority on backup before the main menu is displayed and
restore it afterwards.

This is sort of Debian bug #241434.

> OK, rebooting into my new Ubuntu install. No pretty grub splash screen, 
> but I assume there'll be one later.
> [postfix as mta? now instead of not understanding exim I'll just not 
> understand postfix ;)]

Well, we employ the Debian postfix maintainer. :-)

> Yay, it took a good guess at my timezone and gave me a short list, with 
> the optin to pick a different one. I *like* that.
> It asked me for a username, so I picked one, and then it asked me again 
> to "Select a username for the new account", defaulting it to the 
> username I'd just picked! So what was the first question, then, if it 
> wasn't picking a username? I am confused. Ah, the first thing it asked 
> for was the full name. That might confuse more experienced users, who 
> expect to be asked for a username first. This is a lesson in reading 
> dialog boxes, I admit.

The reason it's this way round is that if the installer asks for a full
name first it gets an opportunity to guess at an appropriate username
(so when I install it suggests 'colin', which happens not to be what I
usually pick but hey). The text wasn't very explanatory, though, so I've
added "Enter the full name of the person who will be using this

shadow (1:4.0.3-28.5ubuntu5) warty; urgency=low

  * Clarify passwd/user-fullname text a bit (thanks, Stuart Langridge).

 -- Colin Watson <cjwatson at>  Tue, 31 Aug 2004 17:31:26 +0100

> The system has now failed to install my network card! Why? It managed 
> with DHCP before. So I'm installing the distribution from the CD, it 
> looks like.

How strange. Do /etc/network/interfaces and /etc/iftab look right? What
exactly did the installer say?

> Blah! "This program was unable to auto-detect a CD-ROM drive, or there 
> is no usable CD in the drive." Very true; it ejected it when I rebooted. 
> But don't ask me for a device name! Ordinary people are not going to 
> know a device name. Instead, say "I couldn't find an Ubuntu CD; please 
> insert one in the drive and hit ENTER", and then check the drives again. 
> *Then* if you can't find one, ask explicitly where it is. I don't get 
> the option to re-run the automatic find-the-CD thing. So I'll try 
> /dev/cdrom, because that's probably right, but users shouldn't get asked 
> this question before you check again.

This is a bug we've suffered from for a while, and archive-copier will
probably dodge the bullet, but it should be fixed anyway. I think I see
how ...

> I got an error that some packages weren't installed correctly. It said 
> "simply trying to install the packages again might fix this", and took 
> me back to the main install menu. I chose "Install packages" (or 
> something similar); this should perhaps be clearer. Maybe a "try to 
> install packages again?" Y/N choice, where Y reruns that install step. 
> Maybe even, if it fails the first time, try again yourself without 
> asking, and *then* throw that error. I did notice that apt threw a few 
> "can't configure package X because package Y isn't installed", but I 
> don't know if that was the problem. After trying again, it might be a 
> corrupted CD issue (my bloody desktop seems to have forgotten how to not 
> burn coasters), so again ignore this paragraph except the suggestions.

Could you mail me /var/log/base-config.* from the installed system?

Thanks for the report,

Colin Watson                                  [cjwatson at]

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