April 20, 2007

SUM-thing new for Ubuntu

Author: Joe Barr

OK, you love Ubuntu, but after awhile, the same-old, same-old GRUB and boot splash screens become tedious and boring. Could it be your Ubuntu needs a little SUM-thing to spice it up? If you're up for a walk on the wild side, try StartUp Manager (SUM), a utility created by Jimmy Rönnholm that lets you change bootloader and splash screen settings in Ubuntu. Note: I originally attributed the program to Glenn Van Loon, who has written another program by the same name.There are two easy ways to install SUM, once you've verified that it works on your version of Ubuntu. The first is to add the requisite repository to /etc/apt/sources.list, and then use apt-get or Synaptic to install the startupmanager package. The second is to download the package's .deb file from the SUM Web site and install it using dpkg. Be sure to read and heed the ***WARNING*** on the project's main page before attempting to install and use SUM, as it is possible to render your system unusable. I managed to bork mine.

So what can you do with SUM once it's installed? According to the Web site, plenty. You can change:

Grub timeout, default boot title, number of kernels in bootloader menu, enable/disable boot option for memtest86, enable/disable boot option for "rescue mode", if the default boot option should be automatically updated, boot up resolution and color depth, grub menu colors and background, and usplash theme.

But wait, there's more. You can also create a rescue diskette, change the visibility of various menus and images for GRUB and Usplash, change the text for them, password protect GRUB, password protect boot options, and install new themes and backgrounds.

Installing SUM from the command line

I followed the instructions for a command-line install. After downloading startupmanager_1.03.-1_all.deb from the project site, I first entered:

sudo dpkg -i startupmanager_1.0.3-1_all.deb

Just as the instructions predicted, I got an error message, which I resolved by typing:

sudo apt-get install -f

That correcting a missing dependency by installing the ImageMagick graphics suite, then configured SUM.

Next I added new GRUB splash images with apt-get:

sudo apt-get install grub-splashimages kubuntu-grub-splashimages

Finally, I added alternative Usplash images, but this time I went with the GUI, using Synaptic and searching on Usplash, then installing the alternative images it found.

Putting SUM to use

I tweaked and booted several times, playing with various options for GRUB and the bootloader menu. Everything was fine until I started tweaking Usplash. Changes I made in StartUp Manager didn't always "stick."

Not finding much in the way of documentation for SUM proper, I read deeper into the README file that comes with the Fingerprint Usplash theme I had downloaded from SourceForge.net. The additional information and commands there seemed to make a difference in whether various themes would work.

For one thing, I learned that I needed to reset the screen resolution for the boot time to 1024x768. I also found the command that rewrites the boot screen -- sudo update-initramfs -u -- and that helped me get the Ichthux theme working. Perhaps it was this mixing and matching of instructions from installing the theme and installing SUM that led to my problems.

I had changed splash screens, but Ichthux wasn't cool enough for me; I wanted Fingerprint. Alas, that proved to be more of a stretch than I could make. After installing the Fingerprint theme, then running the update-initramfs -u, I ran into serious problems.

The first problem was that after the Fingerprint splash screen appeared, and I pressed ALT-F1 in order to get text scrolling down the screen as the system booted, the system locked up. I tried powering down and rebooting, this time without the ALT-F1. Same thing -- locked up tight.

I recovered by choosing a recovery option from the GRUB menu at my next boot, then running apt-get remove startupmanager as root. That allowed me to get past the lockup, see the Fingerprint splash screen, and then proceed as normal. I decided that was about as cool as I needed to be.


I found StartUp Manager to have some real utility, primarily in providing a clean, easy-to-use GUI which I can use to tweak GRUB boot settings. But I think the main thrust of the project is for fun, to allow advanced users to tweak the default splash settings and make their Ubuntu installation unique. Whether or not the coolness achieved is worth the effort required to install StartUp Manager and develop and maintain alternative splash themes is strictly up to the individual and his skill level. I went for cool, but ended up a fool. Your mileage may vary.

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