Sunday, February 1, 2009

Steps to a successful 64-bit Ubuntu

Completely on a whim I decided to try Arch Linux on my laptop, which had some hardware issues, and then later on my desktop. While I liked it, it was way too much work for me, given the fact that I use Linux almost exclusively and need something functional. When it came time to reinstall with an easier distro, I decided to go back to Ubuntu if only because I spent a decent amount of time trying to tweak Debian that is unneeded in Ubuntu. However, I decided to go with the 64-bit version, which comes with its own set of problems that can be overcome with a little knowhow.

Previously, I wrote on how to set up a chroot environment to run 32-bit programs in their own 32-bit environment, all within the 64-bit operating system. (I wrote it for Debian Lenny, but the same process can be used for Ubuntu if tweaked slightly.) It works, but it is not without limitations. The biggest of which was running a 32-bit web browser caused problems with other web browsers arguing for the title of "default browser," and being unable to run downloaded files from within the browser. I decided this time I was going to try to do it all without using a chroot.

Web Browsing:
Adobe Flash has always been tricky to get working on a 64-bit browser. This will soon change, as Adobe currently has an alpha version of flash, but I have tried it and it is (as one would expect for alpha software) quite buggy and unstable. The other common alternative is to run the nspluginwrapper package to use a 32-bit flash in a 64-bit browser, but this can also be quite buggy for some. My solution is simply to run a 32-bit browser. I don't know how well all 32-bit browsers run, but I would recommend Swiftfox, which is basically an optimized Firefox, and I recommend it because it comes in a very easy-to-install .deb file. The one thing you have to do is figure out what sort of processor your computer uses, because different packages are optimized for different processors. After you find your processor, you can download the appropriate version of swiftfox here. (My computer uses the Prescott version, so I am going to use it in the examples) Then install it in the terminal:
sudo dpkg -i swiftfox_3.0.4pre-1_prescott.deb
Even though it is a 32-bit browser, it *should* install just fine. Open it up and make sure it works. One thing to watch out for is that on Debian, it did not find the printer I had installed, though I have never had problems with it in Ubuntu. If everything works in Swiftfox, you are ready to install Flash. Download the latest version from Adobe. Download the .tar.gz file (NOT the .deb file), navigate to the downloaded file and extract the contents. Copy to the plugins directory in your home directory:
tar -zxvf install_flash_player_10_linux.tar.gz
cd install_flash_player_10_linux
cp ~/.mozilla/plugins/
When you start up Swiftfox again, you should have working Flash support.

Adobe AIR:
I like the Adobe AIR runtime to use TweetDeck, but it is still not supported in 64 bit. The latest version will run on 64-bit versions with a few tweaks, and Adobe is kind enough to supply the information on their website. Rather than rehash what they have, I would recommend just checking out their website. If you follow their guide exactly, Adoebe AIR should run beautifully.

The getlibs Package:
For many other programs that have no 64-bit version, installing the 32-bit libraries will often be enough to get them up and running. The easiest way I have found to do this is with a package called getlibs, which can be found at This program will assess 32-bit packages/binaries and figure out which 32-bit libraries it needs to run successfully. For this example, I am going to use the mp3 downloader. After downloading it, if you try to install it with dpkg, it will fail, claiming that you are attempting to install something for the wrong architecture. This is an easy enough fix using the --force-architecture option when installing:
sudo dpkg -i --force-architecture amazonmp3.deb
The package will install but will still give you errors if you try to run it. To fix this, install getlibs if you have not already, and then run it on the binary file (not the .deb file) and it will, after a few moments, download and install the required libraries:
sudo dpkg -i getlibs-all.deb
sudo getlibs /usr/bin/amazonmp3
My one complaint with getlibs is that it does not provide any detailed output, so it may seem like it is not doing anything, but be patient. Once it completes, try running your program again and it should run. If the installer for a program is in .bin format, try running getlibs on the .bin file first because that might work as well (like in the directions for installing Adobe AIR), but so far it doesn't seem to do anything for .deb files for me. If a program complains of a missing library file, getlibs can also be used to download that specific library with the -l (or -64l for 64 bit libraries) option. And if downloading the libraries doesn't seem to work, try updating your library links with "sudo ldconfig".

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