Hardy Heron -- Clean or Dirty


As the release of Ubuntu 8.04 LTS rapidly approaches, the all important question is beginning to form in everyone's mind. Upgrade, or freshly install.

It's always an interesting discussion to have with fellow Linux users, because there seems to be an almost religious divide between the two camps. Some feel that to really get the full experience of a new version, a clean install is the only way. The other side, however, argues that the Apt package management makes upgrading so simple and complete, that it's silly to reinstall. Let's take a quick look some advantages and disadvantages of both sides:

Fresh Install

* You get to see any changes added to the installation routine
* It's a great time to change partition schemes if you want to do so
* If you have any lingering cruft from system hacks, etc -- they get sterilized
* You get that "fresh out of the shower" feeling when you log in

* All settings and preferences are gone (assuming you wiped /home)
* All those system hacks might still be needed, and you'll have to redo
* It takes a long time
* You get less bragging rights about how long you've gone without a reinstall

* Very simple. 2 commands and a reboot is all it takes
* Any system modifications usually stick
* Most preferences in applications upgrade fine
* You get to brag that you haven't reinstalled your OS in 10 years

* If things aren't quite working right, upgrading seldom "fixes" things
* Some non-standard system modifications no longer work
* Occasionally new features aren't installed properly with an update (compiz?)
* You don't have an Ubuntu CD to give away to a Windows friend when you're done

In reality, personal preference is what determines the ideal scenario for the individual user. I personally like to reinstall the entire OS, including my /home partition. That might seem like overkill, but I really like that "fresh out of the box" feeling. Plus, I really enjoy the installation process, so for me it's just plain fun!

If you're an Ubuntu (or Kubuntu, or Xubuntu, etc) user, be sure to stay tuned later this month for the release of Hardy Heron!


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Thank you

Eglence's picture

I tend to do my upgrades as soon as the last beta comes out


Elaine's picture

I did the upgrade yesterday to the release candidate and everything seems to be working just great. I am quite pleased.

Clean for me

footer's picture

I went clean a few weeks back as I was having some xorg/video driver related problems in Gutsy ... plus, it just felt like it was time. :-) My /home is on a separate partition so I was up and running in no time. However, it did take awhile to install apps I use that don't come with the distro, tweak Compiz, etc. etc. But that's part of the fun!

I found many of the other comments on here interesting as well (and I thought I was a Linux GEEK!). Been using Kubuntu since June of 2005, Linux since the late 90's.

Thanks for the article!

Upgrade -- always

xtifr's picture

A fresh install doesn't give me a "fresh out of the shower" feel--it gives me a "this is broken and needs a lot of work before it will be usable" feeling. :p ;)

or do both...

mgreenly's picture

I tend to do my upgrades as soon as the last beta comes out. I figure that way I may get a chance to contribute with bug reports if I find any issues in things I know about. I usually run the upgrade for a few weeks then just before the release I do a clean install to test that as well.

One good part about the clean install is that it serves as a good test to make sure your backup strategy is complete. I'd rather loose a little bit of work from the previous 6 months than a lot of work from a broken backup strategy 3 years old.

Clean Install

Anonymous's picture

I keep /home on its own partition. I format all my other partitions but leave it alone. I'll log in as root at a terminal just before my format and rename my home folder with _old added to it.

After my reinstall, I'll just open that folder from my new user account and move my documents and some program folders such as Tomboy, Google Earth, Firefox & Thunderbird over to the new account. Once I get everything I'll delete my old home folder.

I typically pull a complete reinstall off in 2-3 hours and have all my apps reloaded and tweaked to my preferences.

Best of all worlds

McPop's picture

If you use LVM, you can easily install the new OS into a new logical volume (virtual partition).

You can mount the old OS partition (e.g. on /media/gutsy) and grab any cruft that you might need but forgot about. You can also easily setup grub to boot into gutsy or hardy.

Additionally, you can recycle your /home logical volume if you like or you can create a new /home logical volume (and mount your old one on /media/gutsy-home) so you can cruft-copy as needed.

I recommend LVM to everyone (until it is superseded)...even if you don't think you need LVM, you actually do and just don't know it yet.

Taking half-an-hour to get your head around LVM is one of the best investments you can make in Linuxtopia.



Joe b's picture

I am currently considering LVM. I have 4 500 gig drives but I dont want to wipe out my install. I have / (sda1) /home (sda3) /data (sdb1) /media/data3 (sdc1) /media/data4 (sdd1). How would you suggest I migrate to LVM most easily? I run 64-bit ubuntu gutsy desktop.

Another strategy

Stomfi's picture

I have drives on my current machine that contain work and programs I've collected since RedHat 6. I even have some images that were created on Slackware in '92

My /usr/local drive has about 19GB in it. I use it for compiling testing and installing non deb programs. The sources are archived on another drive. I have a little shell script that checks the local library to avoid conflicts with newer Ubuntu libraries and recompile when required. There is also a /usr/local/opt folder

My /home drive is 10GB. Most of this is empty most of the time for the following reason.

I have another 80GB drive with a partition for distro isos and a VirtualBox folder.
A partition on this drive contains all my images, documents, videos, music, sounds, photos and anything that you would normally find in a /home folder. /home/stomfi contains symbolic links to all this important media. Eg /home/stomfi/Documents is a sym link to /media/hdd1/stomfi/Documents.

And finally as disks are so cheap these days, the first drive contains several 20GB and 10GB partitions for installing the root file system for various OSes.

All my partitions still have device names as the original system was created long before labels were used and I edit the controlling /boot/grub/menu.lst by hand to add and remove current distro entries.

I can clone an existing OS to a spare partition and run an upgrade on that and test how it performs, and run a new install in another partition.

I create another new user in /home to see what changes to the config files are made, and run a diff on /etc between the clone the original and the new install.

Obviously I have lots of experience looking at the changes.

Whichever I consider best gets the nod, and the others get deleted. If it's the updgrade, this gets cloned back to it's original, but if it's the new install, the grub/menu.lst is changed to suit the new partition etc.

It is all very easy and robust, and very satisfactory as I never have to bother about losing or moving information I want to access directly on the machine.

Dual Boot with The Old Install

English_Guy's picture

I have a different way of backing up (& being able to use) the old install.

What I plan to do is a clean install to a second hard drive & then set it up so I can dual boot back into the old system to retrieve data or use apps that are not set up, whilst enjoying a new safely updated clean system for day to day use.

I never have been able to migrate to a fresh install well

rogun's picture

I'm always looking for new ways to do it, but every solution always has it's drawbacks. Many here, and elsewhere, suggest creating a separate /home partition, but besides that this doesn't take care of everything, you're also rolling back config files with newer apps and that's not something I care to do. I'd love to do fresh installs every time, but I usually end up performing an upgrade instead and rarely ever have a serious problem with it (upgrading to Ubuntu 7.10 sped up my system and left most customizations in place.) I do the same thing with Windows and am able to keep it running pretty fast (my current install is ~8 years old.)

For me, it all boils down to not wanting to lose all of the customizations that I've put into my systems. It would take me months to restore everything as I had it, even though I use several backup systems, such as bacula, unison, and others, so I usually just go with the upgrade. However, I am wanting to move my current install to a new drive and so I may go for the fresh install route this time.

My upgrade experience

crashsystems's picture

I upgraded from 7.10 to 8.04 about two weeks ago, and everything has been running great. Slight speed improvement, better boot time with my dm-crypt system, and compiz is using less resources. For the mad dash upgrade rush, I'd recommend that people who prefer not to wait go and download the alternate installer via the torrent. Burn that, plop it in and click upgrade.

Hardy is awful. I tried it

Anonymous's picture

Hardy is awful. I tried it the other day, it was strange because Ubuntu usually never runs without a problem on my P4, but it was by far the slowest distro I had ever used (other than Sabayon), and with a little more performance boost after compiz was disabled. I realize this is still in beta, but come on! Even after all the updates, this thing should have no problem running.

fresh install hardy

Robert Varcoe's picture

I did a fresh install of beta on both laptop and desktop, (I back up all my data to a usb hard drive). So far I really like it, my boot speed on my laptop went from 3 shaves and a shower to under 2 minutes. On my laptop everything was enabled (compaq evo n1000c) and was able to get tv-out in minutes. Can't wait till final version (yes there was a few bugs).

I'm With You

Dustin McClure's picture

I have always enjoyed a fresh install. I cannot wait for this release. It's gonna be fun!

Upgrade for me

Anonymous's picture

My upgrade from Fiesty to Gutsy was flawless and I didn't lose any of my mods....

If at the time of install

NickF's picture

If at the time of install you place /home in a separate partition, you won't loose anything if you perform a fresh install. If you don't have a separate partition, you may want to back up /home and restore once you completed the fresh install.

Fresh user

Craig Overend's picture

If doing an upgrade, I'll usually create a new user and see what's changed by default too. :) If need be I rebuild my account with that new user and the defaults. I've had problems in the past upgrading that were user related...

Yup, that's the one thing

Calvin's picture

Yup, that's the one thing that always gives me pause when doing an upgrade. My users on the laptop descend from the first Dapper install and they are pretty crufty. Either the install scripts are being cautious re users or they just aren't thinking about it. I might try your approach of migrating to a new user.

Another positive aspect on upgrade over reinstall

Dupree's picture

You don't have to download every package. Especially if you deleted big software packages and replaced them by other, non-default packages. Like when you delete Openoffice and install Koffice.