Posted by: reformedmusings | April 28, 2012

Painful upgrade to Ubuntu Precise 12.04 LTS

I have had mixed results with Ubuntu upgrades, but in recent years they have gone pretty well. Until yesterday. I had been current with Ubuntu Oneiric 11.10 and anticipated the update to go smoothly. That was far from the case.

WARNING: If you have an nVidia 6, 7, or 8800 video card, read this post first. Do not consider updating to 12.04 until you do or you WILL be sorry.

Initial steps

I used the GUI Update Manager. First I ensured that my Oneiric setup was fully up to date. I also backed up all my data even though my data resides on a separate /home partition. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you. Then, I chose the Upgrade button in Update Manager.

I used a mirror site, so the upgrade only took about 10 minutes to download just short of 3,000 packages. Ubuntu then took about 45 minutes or so to install everything. There were a few questions to answer, so be sure to open the Details window. That all seemed to go very well, then the system auto-rebooted.

Initial result

After the reboot, I logged in as usual. However, that’s where the party ended. Instead of being greeted with a Unity desktop with the launcher on the left and the panel across the top, I found only my clean wallpaper staring out of the monitor at me. I knew that my panel apps loaded because My Weather Indicator produces a weather notification when it first loads. However, I was stuck with nowhere to go. Ctrl-Alt-F1 and Ctrl-Alt-F2 did nothing.

As my first move, I used Ctrl-Alt-Backspace to return to the login screen. I then logged into the Unity 2D setup. That worked fine and provided the means to troubleshoot the issue. Interestingly, I could also seemingly successfully load the Gnome setup at first, but that didn’t last.


I took a number of approaches over the next 6 hours or so. I first used the Unity 2D to update the new packages. The first attempt produced a Partial Upgrade dialog indicating problems with the initial upgrade. After that resolved, I ran the Update Manager again and found additional packages to update. However, none of that resolved the initial issue. Throughout this and the following efforts, however, Compiz crashed multiple times. In fact, the word ‘routinely’ would apply.

Seeing that Compiz produced repeated crashes and that Unity would not load, I reinstalled all those packages. I then decided to load the dreaded open source noveau driver, but that produced an ugly 1024×768 screen in both 2D and 3D.

When that didn’t work, I then loaded and activated the “current” nVidia driver instead of the “updated” one under Additional Hardware in System Settings. It turns out the two versions are the same at this point.

Reloading the nVidia driver, however, allowed both Compiz and Unity to load on the 3D desktop. Well, sorta. While they eventually showed up on the screen, the system proved unbelievably slow. Every mouse click or app load took 2 or more minutes to take effect. Bizarre. I worked like this for over an hour to make changes to Compiz in hopes of finding a magic combination. Eventually, it all crashed and went back to just the wallpaper background. I even deleted the old 11.10 Compiz settings from my Home directory, but that didn’t help.

Since reloading the nVidia driver seemed to have the most beneficial effect, I decided to use Ubuntu 2D to search the Internet for possible solutions along that line. Eventually I put in the magic key words and this warning post appeared in the search list. The heart of the issue was the newest nVidia driver, version 295.40, which broke the support for Compiz and Unity. But that wasn’t the only issue.

Cleaning up the mess

I used Unity 2D to download nVidia driver 295.33 and install it. I recorded that process in this post. After my second attempt at installing the 295.33 driver, the 3D Unity desktop appeared. That was not the end of the saga, though.

Unity vs. Compiz

There seems to be some underlying incompatibility between Compiz and Unity in 12.04 LTS at this point. Unity would crash with alarming regularity when I changed Compiz settings related to advanced cube features. This at one point brought me back to the blank wallpaper display. However, after taking those settings out using the Unity 2D desktop and restarting the 3D desktop, I was able to restore the 3D system.

In the end, I found it necessary to disable Unity while setting up the advanced Compiz configurations. Otherwise, Unity would routinely crash and trash the setup. Disabling Unity is a risky gambit since it leaves you without a launcher or panel if something goes wrong while Unity is disabled. However, I mitigated the risk by putting a shortcut to the Gnome Terminal on the desktop. That way I could at least try to fix things on the spot.

BTW, my old instructions for how to get the cube and how to set it up in Ubuntu 11.04 still work. The 4/1/1 desktop setting under Compiz’ General tab still work fine.

After a lot of effort, I finally succeeded in producing a good Unity/Compiz desktop environment. Even then, I had strange relics at first, like icons on the launcher remaining after closing programs. Clicking on the relics made them disappear. This, too, seems to have resolved but I have no idea why. Canonical really needs to fix the issues between Compiz and Unity, though.

VMWare Workstation 8.02

Another incompatibility, but one anticipated, occurred between VMWare Workstation 8.02 and the new 3.2 Linux kernel in Precise. This happens with every major kernel upgrade. This time, there proved to be two approaches to fixing this. This thread in the VMWare forums offered both a patch for 8.02 and a new beta version of Workstation that both work with the 3.2 kernel. I chose to go with the beta version for now but I may go back to 8.02 if I encounter serious issues.

Final result

After about 9 hours total of effort, I finally regained almost all of the functionality I had in Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric. I say almost, because I elected to leave the launcher on the left rather than try to move it to the bottom.

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Precise Pangolin has improved significantly in Unity functionality from 11.10 Oneiric, but seems to have suffered significantly in stability on the 3D desktop. The 2D desktop seems pretty solid.

Concluding thoughts

I intended this post to guide upgraders with the affected nVidia cards so that they do not have to spend all the hours that I expended to get a usable system in 12.04. If you heed the warnings and take the recommended steps to avoid the pitfalls, you should be able to obtain a usable system in just a couple of hours. While nVidia has to take the hit for destabilizing their latest video driver, Canonical takes the hit for the Unity/Compiz instabilities. I had hoped for better from an LTS.



  1. Thank you for the warning. I just checked the details on my computer to see which Nvidia card I am using and it says “unknown.” Maybe that is why I had no problem with the upgrade?

    • Probably. The older cards use a legacy driver that doesn’t have these issues. The latest from nVidia said that the recent security patch introduced an issue specifically to the 8800 cards, of which mine is one. They will fix it in an upcoming release. In the meantime, the 295.33 driver is working perfectly. However, the Unity launcher is still having an issue clearing closed programs from its icon display until changing desktops. I’ll write more about that maybe today. First I have a laptop to upgrade with my hard-won knowledge.

  2. […] my abysmal experience with my desktop computer, I almost decided not to upgrade the laptop. It has preformed like a champ on 10.04 LTS for a […]

  3. […] the nVidia site here (64-bit) or here (32-bit). This new driver solved all my initial issues from this painful initial upgrade. Major kudos to nVidia for publishing a fix so […]

  4. […] I was trying to upgrade from Ubuntu 11.10 to 12.04 LTS but had serious issues, the Ubuntu 2D option saved my bacon. However, the Unity launcher icons were HUGE. I rarely use the […]

  5. […] my desktop from an up-to-date Ubuntu 11.10 to 12.04 LTS proved to be a nightmare, although it worked out in the end. On the other hand, upgrading my laptop from Ubuntu 10.04 LTS to […]

  6. i usually have terminal ready for a quick restart of unity/compiz, works 100% of the time although relly i should not have to.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Corey, and taking time to comment. I have now learned the lesson on terminal availability. I never found it necessary before 12.04 LTS.

  7. […] I’ll write more about the changes later. Overall, this upgrade proved far smoother than my upgrade to 12.04 – almost a non-event this […]

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