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You can now safely upgrade to Ubuntu 21.04

Those who love Ubuntu will be pleased to know that it’s now safe to upgrade to the latest version. The latest iteration of Ubuntu came out towards the close of last month. Code named Hirsuit Hippo, Ubuntu 21.04 is mostly about tweaks, bug fixes and invisible improvements. Its biggest calling card is the fact that its GUI interface is powered by Wayland instead of the traditional Xorg.

Although it was released last month, the Ubuntu team discovered a severe bug which prompted them to write code to stop the usual upgrade button from showing to those who were using Ubuntu 20.10.

In case you missed it in the release notes[1] and hear people asking
about it, I wanted to let you know that users of Ubuntu 20.10 are not
being prompted to upgrade to Ubuntu 21.04. Subsequently, upgrading to
Ubuntu 21.04 still requires running do-release-upgrade with the ‘-d’
switch. This is due to a bug[2] with the current version of shim in
Ubuntu 21.04 which can cause systems with an early version of EFI to
fail to boot after the upgrade. Due to the severity of the issue, we
shouldn’t be encouraging people to upgrade at this point in time.

After we have a new version of shim signed will make it available in
Ubuntu 21.04 and then enable upgrades.

Ubuntu’s Bugmaster Brian Murray

If this sounds like Greek to you, it’s all pretty simple. To prevent certain types of malware from infecting your computer, Microsoft teamed up with hardware manufacturers at the start of the last decade to create what is known as secure boot. Only verified software is allowed to boot on EFI (secure boot) enabled computers and usually, verification involves getting a piece of software signed by Microsoft. In Ubuntu, the piece of software that’s signed is known as a Shim.

The Shim validates Ubuntu’s own certificates and goes on to load Grub-the venerated bootloader. GRUB then loads the kernel which then loads systems which ultimately loads all your other software and shows you that pretty GUI screen you love so much. If the Shim cannot load GRUB it means your system will not boot. This is what was causing issues. As this is Linux there was a workaround where users could just download a new version of the shim but it wasn’t for those who quake at the sight of the terminal.

A lesson in patience

Now, this is not just a problem in Ubuntu or Linux but with just about every piece of software. Usually, when something new is released in the software world be it Windows, Kodi, Ubuntu or WordPress people flock and download it in droves but here is the thing-even with a careful release process, the first release will almost certainly have some bugs.

Some of these can be so catastrophic we have heard of people’s computers being bricked and turned into useless paperweights. This happened to those who had Lenovo laptops who upgraded too quickly Ubuntu 17.10. Some Windows updates have wiped entire hard drives. There are updates that break everything e.g. in WordPress or Kodi where you have a lot of plugins and addons.

Upgrading too quickly almost always ends in tears. You will become the guinea pig. You will also have to be careful not to wait too long before upgrading especially if you are using a non-LTS version of Ubuntu as these only receive security patches for 9 months.

Generally, I always encourage people to use LTS versions which receive 5 years of support. Usually, by the time an LTS comes out, it would have been tested by non-LTS people and would be very safe. Another good thing about Ubuntu’s LTS versions is that they strike a balance between being ancient (like CentOS) and bleeding edge.

How to update

If you are using Ubuntu 20.10 you should have gotten a prompt to upgrade by now. You can go ahead and update. If you didn’t you can always force matters by opening a terminal and running:

sudo apt update && sudo apt dist-upgrade

Once the process completes you can then install updates using the Ubuntu software manager.

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