Repaving your Linux machine: A checklist

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Every so often, as a Linux desktop user, it comes time to repave my desktop machine. This means to wipe the hard drive and then install a brand new version of Linux on the hardware. In this case, I am moving from Ubuntu 13.10 and switching to Linux Mint 17 Cinnamon. I know this probably horrifies Windows (and even Mac) users, but GNU/Linux plus all of the free open-sourced software makes this, if not ‘easy’, do-able.

Linux people smarter than I am, recommend re-partitioning the hard drive in half, and then alternating installing Linux to the other partition. I have been doing more video editing so my 1TB hard drive seems to be getting smaller all of the time. I don’t think this is an option for me anymore.

I’ve repaved machines in the past. Some times it has gone swimmingly. Other times, I’ve forgotten a couple of tasks and I’ve had to suffer my lumps. Often times I forget to export the Contacts list from Thunderbird and I have to re-gather the contacts. Some aspects of repaving have gotten much better. Years ago, email switched from POP to IMAP as the preferred method of mail storage. That makes migrating to new machines easier. LastPass (or other password managers) are another leap forward to making repaving easier. Once the browser plugin is installed and logged into, the passwords for the myriad of websites are just there. Nice.

Repaving still is non-trivial. I’m wanting to create a repaving checklist to help me *not* forget a step. To help me increase my chance of a successful migration to another machine, or end up with a repaved machine. Repaving a machine is much more dangerous.

Double Backups
Make sure that you have double backups. Have remote backups of all files, have local backups of all files including Virtual Machines in their entirety. Local backups make restoring a much quicker process. I use CrashPlan for remote backups *and* local backups. Make sure that you test the restoration of the files!!! Without this, it is a false sense of security. I’ve had restorations fail when using other backup systems. Luckily never without a way to recover the files at some point.

Repaving Checklist

  1. Export of Thunderbird Contacts. (ldif file)
  2. Screen capture of Thunderbird account settings
  3. Export Firefox bookmarks
  4. Backup of PostgreSQL data (check restoration!)
  5. Backup of PostgreSQL.conf (/etc/postgresql/9.1/main/postgresql.conf)
  6. FileZilla websites (because their bookmarks suck!)
  7. Full VM backups (this will take some time!)
  8. Password Manager export to CSV
  9. Remote Administration settings (usernames, ip addresses, ect.)
  10. Printer list
  11. Test LiveCD including sound

This list is much smaller than I would think. Linux installs so much for me, that it makes keeping current easier than it would for repaving … say … a Windows machine. It’s nice not having to enter all of those license keys. I’m productive much quicker.

I’ll make notes here as I edit this process. After all, when I’m done with my machine, I need to repave my wife’s laptop as well. Wish me luck!

Post Install Notes
I’ve completed the upgrade! An LinuxMint is *much* faster than Ubuntu with Unity.

Everything went well. I struggled with the security settings and Postgres but I haven’t installed Postgres on my system in years. Here are my notes for the install:

  • Copy the entire /etc/postgresql/9.3/main directory. I needed to recreate some of the settings from the other conf files. Having those as reference would have been handy.
  • Thunderbird Message Filters. I wish there were a way to export those and import those easier. I should have backed up the msgFilterRules.dat file. I’m recreating my rules now which I use heavily. Basically if an email shows up in the Inbox level, then it is probably spam.
  • I really wish I had $250 for a 500G SSD drive, or $450 for a 1T SSD drive. I still suspect that the performance issues with this not-so-old laptop is related to the speed of the HD. Perhaps next repaving. One day, we’ll look back and say “remember the days when computers has spinning hard drives?”

Until the next repaving, take care.

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