mok0's world

Sacrosanct Linux feature dies

Posted in Linux, Ubuntu by mok0 on March 23, 2012

I’ve been using Linux since 1996. Since then, the OS has undergone an amazing development, and all distributions provide an impressive high-resolution graphical interface. However, one feature has remained sacrosanct: the 6 virtual terminals. In the old days, when you had to provide timings for the video card and manually edit the xfree86 config file, it was easy to mess up the graphics display. But then, CTRL-Alt-F1 to the rescue! It was ALWAYS possible to get a terminal and consequently access to the operating system. And, in addition, most of the GUI versions of system setup programs had a TUI analogue, that could be run from the 80 x 24 terminal.

Until now. Ubuntu 12.04 BREAKS the virtual terminals on many older video cards, because it insists in using frame buffer mode, presumbly to provide fancy, meaningless, silly graphics for the boot screen. This is what my virtual terminals looks like now:

Ubuntu 12.04 Virtual Terminal


This is a scandal, no more, no less! Breaking the virtual terminals, that ALWAYS have been available, no matter what video card you had in your computer, breaks the promise that you always can obtain a console to control Linux. Simply a very, very bad design decision.


26 Responses

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  1. Alan Bell (@alanbell_libsol) said, on March 23, 2012 at 19:47

    what kind of graphics card doesn’t support fbcon but does support X? Are we talking about computer archeology here?

    • mok0 said, on March 25, 2012 at 09:53

      Computer archeology? You must be kidding. Linux has a history and tradition of supporting legacy hardware. But my video card isn’t even legacy, it’s an nVidia GeForce 6600.

  2. Malizor said, on March 23, 2012 at 20:34

    What is your video card?
    There is no problem here, with my old ATI X700.

    And did you report a bug? Could you add the link here?

  3. Marius Gedminas said, on March 23, 2012 at 20:37

    > Simply a very, very bad design decision.

    I believe you misspelled “bug”.

    I’ve had non-functional /dev/tty1 on random pieces of hardware before, mostly due to driver bugs (I think). In time those bugs were fixed.

    Of course, if for bugs are to be fixed, the developers first need to know about them.

  4. Martijn (@MartijnVdS) said, on March 23, 2012 at 21:24

    Serial console to the rescue! 🙂

  5. CH23 said, on March 23, 2012 at 21:30

    If this is true, i agree, and feel sad about it.(my PC doesn’t like multiple OS’s, so i can’t test it)

  6. jimatjtan said, on March 23, 2012 at 21:44

    Your presumptions regarding the reason are simply incorrect. Mode setting used to be handled by X, and X would reset the terminal back to text mode when switching away. Now, the video hardware is managed by the kernel, as all hardware should. For many, this has resulted in much faster, much more stable switching between the virtual terminals and the X display. For you, I see that it’s resulted in a buggy display — if you report the bug to the kernel KMS developers, hopefully it can get sorted out and you’ll be completely satisfied.

  7. Wout said, on March 23, 2012 at 22:52

    agreed; no terminal in Ubuntu = no ubuntu for me.

  8. H. Peter Anvin said, on March 23, 2012 at 23:17

    Just pass “nomodeset” on the kernel command line.
    Since Ubuntu is affected with Grub2 you might also have to change “linux” to “linux16” in the Grub2 setup, I don’t know.

  9. me said, on March 23, 2012 at 23:20

    kudos for bringing this to light.

  10. zygoon said, on March 23, 2012 at 23:44

    BIOS-driven VGA mode is going away from all major graphics cards so don’t feel attached to your terminals. If the drivers are broken (and they are) you’re not going to get too much luck. I’d recommend a serial line and a secondary machine for debugging. Good luck.

  11. zygoon said, on March 23, 2012 at 23:46

    Eh, wordpress ate my previous comment. AFAIR BIOS-driven classic graphics modes are going away and major graphics cards are not going to support them soon. If you end up with a broken display (terminal, X, wayland or anything else) it’s not because someone broke it on purpose. In your case I’d suggest trying to see if disabling kms helps. As a measure of last resort try ssh or serial line and see if you can debug the problem.

  12. Jason Ward (@Jason_F_Ward) said, on March 23, 2012 at 23:47

    Or you could report it as a bug and see if it can get fixed.

    You know perhaps it is a design decision to break it, in which case I agree, a very bad decision, but from what I read above you have no idea why it’s broken, so before blaming a bad design decision, report it, and give them chance to fix it.

  13. ignorante said, on March 24, 2012 at 03:46

    Isn’t this kernel modesetting which has lots of wonderful advantages? The video mode is set as soon as the kernel is up. I bet there’s another reason your characters are messed up.

    Anyway, you can disable it.

  14. Eduard Gotwig said, on March 24, 2012 at 09:11

    Realy not good! 😦

  15. Anonymous said, on March 24, 2012 at 09:18

    “breaks the promise that you always can obtain a console to control Linux”

    Where has this ever been promised? The console is a design decision from old times, not a promise.

  16. Jim said, on March 24, 2012 at 14:20

    It looks like chipmunk crap!

  17. bochecha said, on March 24, 2012 at 15:06

    I agree it’s bad.

    However, why do you assume it’s a design decision? Couldn’t it simply be a bug? (after all, Precise is still in its development cycle)

  18. mangecoeur said, on March 25, 2012 at 01:19

    Kinda hope this is meant at least a bit jokingly – the old days you mentioned of manual edits and video breaking were not, let’s face it, the good old days. Nor were they that old, I had to edit my xorg.conf to get basic functionality on my laptop right until ububtu 10.10! And all the meaningless boot images are part of what makes a modern user experience. Nothing screams unpolished like a screenful of boot log which meaningless to most. Anyway I assume you do actually appreciate all that but I still felt like coming out in favor of user experience over legacy support. In fact I don’t even think the terminals shud even be there by default-i know my dad, a regular non techie ubuntu user-wud panic if he ended up in the cobsole

  19. Wout said, on March 25, 2012 at 01:37

    I think mok0 is talking about replacing a simple working terminal with a more complex but fancier mostly working one.

    Fancy solutions break more easy.

    • mok0 said, on March 25, 2012 at 09:55


  20. mok0 said, on March 25, 2012 at 10:10

    The way to fix this behaviour is to edit /etc/default/grub:

    # Uncomment to disable graphical terminal (grub-pc only)

    This should be the default.

    • Colin Watson said, on March 25, 2012 at 16:27

      It shouldn’t be the default because if that fixes anything at all it’s just masking some other bug (which should be filed and fixed rather than masked and ignored).

      • mok0 said, on March 27, 2012 at 09:54

        In case the problem has to do with the proprietary nVidia drivers, perhaps the jockey should switch off the framebuffer mode.

  21. Jubal said, on March 25, 2012 at 15:52

    Boo-hoo. For an self-professed advanced Linux user you should have known that the nvidia proprietary graphics never worked well with framebuffer console.

  22. oliver said, on March 25, 2012 at 18:07

    Well, it’s not like switching to virtual terminal has reliably worked in the old days either… I remember far too many times where switching from X to VT or back froze the entire system because of a broken NVidia or fglrx driver.

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