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I interrupted a routine software update that was hanging, and as a result my Ubuntu 15.10 has lost a lot of general system functionality, e.g. it will no longer write files to USBs, play sounds or detect WiFi. I'm guessing there are more issues I haven't yet had the time to notice.

I'm going to replace the distro with Ubuntu 16.04 (and have already backed up all my files in preparation).

Given that the current system seems to be corrupted/faulty, should I choose the erase and reinstall option when installing the new Ubuntu 16.04, or the upgrade, such that it keeps programs and files? Would the latter option cause it to retain the issues that made the last one malfunction?

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When in doubt, a fresh install is always cleaner and will make less problems than an upgraded system, even if the old version was working well.

As you say the old version is already messed up, if the upgrade will run successfully (which sounds rather unlikely given your explanations), it will pretty surely not fix any problems but generate even more things that don't work.

What you could try though would be to reinstall from the 16.04 boot medium and chose to keep personal files but reinstall the system. Make sure to have a backup of all important data anyway!

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You've already backed everything up but sometimes there are custom scripts here and there you forget about. Personally I would try the upgrade route first and see if everything works ok. If not then I would go the clean install route. Ubuntu 16.04 comes with a new kernel (4.4). Ubuntu 15.10 kernel (4.2) will be replaced and it may have been at the heart of your USB problems.

I believe support for Ubuntu 15.10 ended around July 28, 2016. You should upgrade/clean install 16.04 ASAP even if the USB problems didn't exist.

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