If you are like 93% of Internet surfers out there, you are reading this article from a browser installed on your Windows machine, however I’m sure you have heard of that “other operating system”. You know the one which is really difficult? Yeah, that’s right, Linux. Well, it’s almost right, except for the part about “really difficult”. You may have seen screenshots, thought about trying it, already tried it, or just thought “hey, it’s a cool idea”. If you are any of these and curiosity just has you itching to give Linux a shot, or another shot, read on!
In this article I’ll show you how to get up and running on your current system in your very own Linux environment. I will be walking you through installing the most popular, and in my opinion the best flavor of Linux called Ubuntu. So before you read any further, hop on over to the the Ubuntu Linux download page and start downloading the CD image. You may be wondering which download do you need. If you have an Intel or AMD processor, get the Intel x86 version. Avoid the 64 bit version, even if you have a 64 bit processor, it is not officially supported. Mac users will need the Power PC variation.
Don’t worry, we will be setting up a dual boot so your Windows install is safe!
UPDATE: We have posted a video of the entire process of installing Ubuntu Linux, using 7.10 “Gutsy Gibbon” as the testbed for our video. While this article will provide a lot of detail for you, be sure to check out our video to SEE it in action!
Good question. Why would you want to try Linux when you are a happy Windows user? Here are just a few reasons:
- It’s 100% free and always will be
- Thousands of applications are immediately available and 100% free
- No more virus, spyware, or malware hassles!
- You want to learn something new (this was my reason)
- It’s cool
- Why not?
- It’s 100% free (did I mention that yet?)
If any of those reasons are compelling, or at least good enough, Linux is worth giving a shot. Who knows, you might actually like it!
Important Stuff to Know
Before we actually start the installation, it is important to make sure your expectations of Linux are set correctly. First and foremost: Linux is not Windows! You are going to have to use the command line sometimes and most likely do a little bit of troubleshooting. Please do not let this intimidate you, after using Linux for a short while you will become proficient and, with a little patience and persistence, eventually be just as comfortable with Linux as you are with Windows. I’ll even point you to some very helpful resources to get all the answers you need. I’ve only been using it 5 months, and while I still know Windows better, I can use Linux just as easily.
As you may know, Linux is “open source” software, meaning anyone, anywhere can take the code and edit it without restriction. This sounds great, and don’t get me wrong, it is, however because there is no commercial backing, there can be certain shortcomings. Some of these include device driver support and availability of software (especially games). Do not let this discourage you though, virtually all hardware has support for Linux and you are going to have thousands of applications available to you with just a few clicks of your mouse once we get you set up on Ubuntu. Sound good? Of course it does! Check you download progress!
The machine I will be referring in this article is an Intel Pentium 3 866Mhz. The motherboard is an Asus CUV4X with 512MB of memory. Additionally, I have a DVD drive and 2 15 gigabyte hard drives, One has XP Professional already installed (primary IDE master) and the other is empty (primary IDE slave). Here is a basic rundown of what I will be covering in this article:
- Setting up Ubuntu Linux on a separate hard drive from Windows
- Answering a few post-new installation questions
- Familiarizing you with your Linux environment… using Windows terminology
- Pointing out some stuff you might want to try
Lets Install Ubuntu!
Ahh, there’s nothing more exciting than a new operating system install. Nervous? Don’t be, this is going to be easy. Is your download done yet? Well, when it is, burn it to CD immediately and pick up this article from this point. I’ll even leave you a marker so this spot is easy to find.
HERE IS WHERE TO PICK UP
You have the Ubuntu install disc, so pop in your spare hard drive (if you do not know how to do this, make a quick detour to the PC Mech Forums and you will have it done in no time) and put the install disc in your CD drive and lets get started.
Partitioning for Your Linux Installation
Before showing you the partitioning scheme I will be using for this setup, it is important to understand how the use of partitions differ between Windows and Linux. On a default Windows install, all your files are stored in a single block of space on your hard drive called a partition. To make things easy, Windows assigns a letter (usually C) to this partition. Linux does the exact same thing except it does not use letters. In fact, if you were to “explore” your Linux file structure, it would appear everything was stored on a single drive, even if you have several partitions or multiple hard drives “mounted” (more on this later). Enough talk, select the option to manually edit your partition table and let’s move on.
Now you will see a listing of your existing hard drive partitions. Linux refers to your IDE devices (usually your hard drives and CD drives) using the letters “hd” followed by letters a through d (representing primary IDE master through secondary IDE slave, respectively). Additionally, hard drive partitions have a number after them referring to the partition number. For example, a hard drive on your secondary IDE cable set as master, with 2 partitions would show as hdc1 and hdc2. A CD drive on your primary IDE cable set to slave would show as hdb (there is no number because CD’s do not have partitions).
You should see your primary hard drive (hda) which has your Windows installation with all of its partitions listed. We are going to leave this one alone. Additionally, you will see your empty hard drive (hdb, hdc, or hdd) with the size of the drive listed followed by “FREE SPACE”.
Finishing the Installation
Next up, the installation will do some very exciting stuff including:
- Installing the Base System – your Linux kernel (the kernel is the lowest, most basic level of the operating system) and some essential libraries (remember, Linux libraries = Windows DLL’s)
- Copy and Install Packages to your Hard Drive – these packages include Open Office, The GIMP, and X (graphical window manager), among others
Setting up the Dual Boot
The installation program is now going to configure the GRUB boot manager program. Once configured, GRUB will present you with a menu when your computer boots asking which operating system you would like to load. In my case the menu options would be “Ubuntu Linux” and “Windows XP Professional”. The Ubuntu Installer is Windows friendly, so answer yes to install GRUB to the master boot record. Everything will magically be taken care of.
Rebooting Into Linux!
Are you ready to see your new Linux desktop? Well, you are going to have to wait a bit longer. The installer needs to finish configuring your system. It will probably take 10-15 minutes, but you can sit back and relax as you don’t have to press any buttons. So go ahead and grab yourself some coffee and ponder about what you are going to do with your new operating system. Run a web server? organize your music and DVD library? do some programming or website development? Set up a workstation? Edit some video’s? I could go on, but the configuration is just about done. Yes, it’s finally time!
Entering Ubuntu for the First Time
See the login screen? Just enter your user name and password from above and you are in! Congratulations and welcome to Ubuntu Linux!
My Screen Resolution is Wrong!
The only glitch I have experienced in one of my Ubuntu installs is the installation program not detecting my screen resolution correctly. This is easily fixed, so if it happens to you, try this:
- Launch a Terminal window by going Applications > Terminal
- Type this at the command prompt:
sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf
- Find the text:
- Create the entries for “HorizSync” and “VertRefresh” each on a separate line with the values corresponding to your monitor.
For example, I have a generic 17 inch monitor at 1024×768 and my section looks like this:
Identifier "HWP" # this is my monitor name
Option "DPMS" # default options, leave these alone
HorizSync 28-60 # horizontal refresh frequencies
VertRefresh 43-60 # vertical refresh frequencies
- Reboot your computer and your resolution should be all set
Enter My Password?
While you are configuring your system, you may be prompted by a box asking for your password. This is normal, and a very good thing. Because the user you logged in as does not have administrator, or root, access to install programs, Ubuntu has to launch the configuration/install utilities as the user who does, root.
Why don’t you just log in as root then? Glad you asked. It’s simple, to protect you from yourself. Let’s use a Windows analogy to demonstrate why this is a good thing. We all know spyware and viruses are a problem with Windows. You probably have anywhere from 2-5 programs installed on your computer to prevent or detect them, as they install themselves without you knowing. How do they do this? Well, because in Windows when you are logged in, most likely you have administrative access to your system, and as a result, so does any program you start. So when you launch Internet Explorer and visit a malicious site, anything this site runs is with administrative access. Now take a novice computer user, apply this example and add to the mix email, programs, and install files and you can see how running as administrator (or in Linux, root) can lead to having an infested system. In Ubuntu, the only way programs can install themselves or modify your system files is if you know about it, hence the prompt for your password.
Enough of that… you really won’t see the prompt much as your login can run all programs once they are installed, and you can rejoice in not having to worry about spyware or viruses in Linux.
Wow… Everything is… Free…?
What About My Windows Files?
Ubuntu should have detected your Windows drive and automatically placed a link (Linux equivalent of a shortcut) on your desktop. If for some reason it did not, lets go through how to do it. What we are going to do is “map” the contents of the Windows partition to a folder on your Linux install. This is called “mounting”. Lets walk through the steps to have your NTFS partition automatically mounted when you start Ubuntu. Don’t worry, it’s very easy.
- Launch a Terminal window by going Applications > Terminal.
- Now we are going to create a “mount point” (what Windows uses drive letters for) where we can access the files.
Enter this at the command prompt:
sudo mkdir /media/windows
“sudo” means run as root, so whenever we preface a command with sudo, we are telling Ubuntu to execute the command not as the logged in user, but as root. This command creates a file in the /media folder called “windows”. You most likely will be prompted for your password, so enter it. If you were to try the same command without having “sudo” in front it would tell you your permissions do not allow it.
- Next, lets configure Ubuntu to automatically mount these files when we boot.
Enter this at the command prompt:
sudo gedit /etc/fstab
The fstab file stores information about your mounted drives. Lets add this line to the bottom:
/dev/hda1 /media/windows ntfs ro,nls=utf8,umask=0222 0 0
This means is mount hard drive partition “hda1” (you should know what this means by now) to the folder /media/windows which has an NTFS file system.
- Save the file and close gedit.
- At the command prompt enter:
sudo mount -a
You should now see an item on your desktop called “windows”. Double click it and behold your Windows files!
- If you have multiple partitions, simply follow steps 1-5 again except create a different mount point than /media/windows and list the appropriate partition, instead of /dev/hda1, in your fstab file.
If I completely lost you on the above steps, don’t be discouraged. I didn’t have a clue what any of that meant 4 months ago. Now it’s second nature. Be patient and you will feel the same way too!
Helpful Ubuntu Links
Before I leave you to explore your new system, I did promise to give you some helpful links. The best I have seen, and still frequent often are:
- The Official Ubuntu Forums (a huge community)
- The Official Ubuntu Wiki
- Ubuntu Document Storage Facility
Last thing… I promise! You should definitely check out a utility called Automatix developed by a fellow on the Ubuntu Forums known as arnieboy. This script gets you up and running on common applications and tasks, such as FireFox plugins, video drivers, and MP3/DVD decoders (make sure you read the notices though).
Well, that’s it for this article. I hope you found this helpful and informative. If you have any questions or comments (good and bad), feel free to email me articles[at]132solutions.com. Perhaps if I get enough questions, I can write a follow-up to address them and get you deeper, and more comfortably, into Ubuntu. Experience is by far the best teacher, so get your hands dirty and let me know how it goes!
Until next time…