NetworkManager and system updates

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©Kheng Ho Toh,

©Kheng Ho Toh,

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With NetworkManager, you can access the Internet during the Ubuntu installation process. The first step is to download updates to make your system more secure.

After the official release of a distribution, the developers continue to iron out bugs with various patches, and they continue to minimize security vulnerabilities during the entire support period of the operating system. Ubuntu 12.10, for example, will be supported until April 2014. If you load the distribution a few weeks after its official release, updates are already available.

To look for updates, call up the Software Updater program (Figure 1), which displays a list of installable patches. Clicking Install Now downloads the patches onto your computer (Figure 2). Restart the system to apply the patches. If no updates are available, you will see The software on this computer is up to date (Figure 3).

Figure 1: If Ubuntu updates are out there, you'll find out by invoking the "Software Updater" program.
Figure 2: Ubuntu shows details on what updates are waiting in the queue.
Figure 3: No updates are needed and you are good to go.

Bug fixes help keep your system safe and secure. With a few exceptions, such as Firefox and Thunderbird, newer versions of installed programs are updated with the next Ubuntu version. Within the support cycle of Ubuntu 12.10, only Backports and PPAs [1] can be applied to a new version. Backports are special repositories that provide newer versions of some software [2].

Chicken and Egg

To get updates for Ubuntu 12.10, you must have access to the Internet. NetworkManager helps you set up that access during the installation. If you're not connected over a cable, the installer presents a window listing the available wireless networks and asks you to connect to one. At this point, installation begins in earnest.

To bypass this step, you can install Ubuntu without Internet access, and then later set it up through NetworkManager, which is represented by a small icon at the top right of the screen. If you're using a wireless card, you will see a wave-shaped icon and, if the system is connected, two opposing arrows. As of Ubuntu 12.10, you can connect to the Internet even before signing onto the desktop.

Wireless Problems

Still, not all wireless cards work flawlessly with Ubuntu. Before you install Ubuntu on your computer, use the Live version to test whether Ubuntu recognizes your wireless chip. Boot into Live mode and try to connect to one of the wireless networks displayed. If connecting fails or no access points are showing, check the hardware switch on the computer itself.

If you run into problems configuring wireless cards, DSL modems, or UMTS sticks because NetworkManager doesn't recognize them, temporarily connecting the computer with a network cable to the wireless or other router usually works.

Hardware switches are frequent sources of wireless problems. On many notebooks, a switch turns on the wireless card, whereas on others, a special key combination (e.g., Fn+F5) or a single F keystroke works. Test to see whether the WLAN has been deactivated by mistake. To enable access for DSL, UMTS, and so on, click in the upper right on the NetworkManager icon and choose Edit connections. Through Connection information, you can find out whether the access point provided you an address via DHCP (Figure 4). DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) is the service that automatically assigns you an IP address in the local net; most routers provide DHCP addresses by default.

Figure 4: Connection Information provides some helpful connectivity facts.

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