How to upgrade the Linux kernel with a handy GUI

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Image: Jack Wallen

There are certain Linux distributions that always seem to be behind the curve, when it comes to kernel updates. One such distribution is Ubuntu. There’s a reason for that (of course); Ubuntu always wants to ensure the best possible user experience. To that end, the platform tends to lag behind a bit in the kernel sector.

But there are times you might want a more recent kernel running under the hood. Why? New features and optimizations found in a more recent kernel can make for a much smoother, reliable, secure, and efficient experience. In order to gain the improvements found in a more recent kernel, you can always search for the right repository or even attempt an old-fashion kernel compile.

There’s also another option — a GUI. That’s right, beyond the standard GUI package manager (such as Ubuntu or GNOME Software), there’s a graphical tool that serves the singular purpose of upgrading the Linux kernel. This tool is UKUU and it does a fantastic job of making kernel upgrades simple. UKUU offers the following features:

  • Fetches list of kernels from kernel.ubuntu.com
  • Displays notifications when a new kernel update is available
  • Downloads and installs packages automatically

I want to walk you through the process of installing and using UKUU, so you can experience the kernel you want on your Linux machines. I’ll be demonstrating on a Ubuntu 16.10 desktop, but this tool can be used on any machine (so long as it has a GUI) that runs Ubuntu or a Ubuntu-based distribution.

Do use UKUU with a nod to caution. Although the tool won’t delete your old kernels, you could cause problems with your machine, should you install an incompatible or unstable kernel. I highly recommend testing this in a virtual machine before attempting on your production machines.

Installation

The installation of UKUU is simple. Open up a terminal window and issue the following commands:

sudo apt-get update
​sudo add-apt-repository ppa:teejee2008/ppa
​sudo apt-get update
​sudo apt-get install ukuu

Once you complete the above commands, UKUU is installed and ready to.

Usage

You will find UKUU in your desktop menu. Search for it and click on the entry to fire up the tool. When it starts up, it will update the listing of kernels and then display all of the available iterations for your machine (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

The UKUU main window ready to upgrade your kernel.

From the main window, you can see there are different types of kernels available to you:

  • Any kernel with a normal penguin is a stable kernel
  • Any kernel with a red penguin is an unstable kernel
  • Any kernel with the logo is a distribution-specific kernel

Out of the box, my updated Ubuntu 16.10 instance was running the 4.8.0.22.24 kernel. The most recent stable kernel I could update to, using UKUU, is 4.10.9 (a significant upgrade). The most recent unstable kernel I could update to, using UKUU, is 4.11.0-rc6 (I highly recommend avoiding any release candidate). I will walk through the process of updating to the latest stable version of the Linux kernel (4.10.9). To do this, I select the kernel I want, click the Install button, and enter your sudo password when prompted.

The installation will begin (Figure B) and, hopefully, complete without errors.

Figure B

Figure B

Installing the latest stable kernel.

Should the install fail, fear not. You can always go back and install a different kernel. For example, the installation of the 4.10.9 kernel failed, so I went with the 4.10.0 version. The 4.10.0 installation went off without a hitch. Click the Close button and reboot your machine to begin using the newer kernel (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C

The 4.10.0 kernel up and running on Ubuntu 16.10.

Interestingly enough, soon after rebooting into the 4.10.0 kernel, UKUU informed me there was an update available. After running the update (and rebooting), I found my machine running 4.10.9 (the kernel I originally wanted).

A quick and easy route to kernel upgrades

If your Linux machines happen to include a GUI (and you want them running a more recent kernel), UKUU is a great route to kernel upgrade nirvana. This single-purpose tool should be considered a must have for any admin looking to get the most out of the Linux kernel.

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