Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A World Without Walls or Fences (pt.3) — A Newbie's Guide to Installing Ubuntu

In the first two installments of this series I began many moons ago, I discussed alternatives to the Windows and Mac OS operating systems, and the differences between them. In this installment, we'll walk through the process of actually installing the Ubuntu distribution of the Linux operating system, including the option of installing it side-by-side with an existing installation of Windows.

Step 1: Preparation
Before you start, you'll need a few things. The first thing is an Ubuntu installation disc. You can download a disc image (i.e. an ISO file) from the Ubuntu website and burn it to a CD using Nero or similar disc burning software, or you can order an installation disc free of charge from Ubuntu. Make sure you get the proper installation disc for your computer. There are different versions for 32-bit Intel systems and 64-bit AMD and Intel systems. (Even if you have a Dual-Core processor that's capable of 64-bit processing, you may still want to go with the 32-bit installation, unless you plan on doing things like encoding video and compiling programs. There are still a few programs incompatible with 64-bit systems.) [EDIT: As of the beginning of 2009, I can say that 64-bit Ubuntu is as stable and as well-supported as the 32-bit version. If you have a 64-bit processor, I'd suggest taking full advantage of the hardware you purchased and install the 64-bit version.] You can also choose between the LiveCD, which lets you boot into Ubuntu from the CD to try it out without making any changes to your system, and the alternate install disc, which provides a non-graphical installer for systems incompatible with the LiveCD.

The second thing you need is, obviously, a computer. If you want to keep an existing installation of Windows, we'll need to do a bit of preparation before we can begin installing Ubuntu. Before you do anything else, back up your files!!! Installing a new operating system involves formatting drive space, which will permanently remove any information in the formatted space. Even if you plan on keeping your current Windows installation, it's a good idea to back up any files you don't want to risk losing.

We need to have at least 20GB disk space on the computer on which to install the new operating system. If you already have the space, or don't want to keep Windows, then the installation is going to be extremely easy. If not, then we're going to need to shrink your existing Windows partition, which means that the installation is only going to be moderately easy. If the case is the latter, defragment your hard drive before continuing, or you risk losing data.

Also, make sure you have a network cable handy, since you'll need an Internet connection to finish the installation, and you probably won't be able to use your wireless card to do so (if you have one). Go ahead and plug in the network cable now.

Step 2: Installation
Insert the Ubuntu installation CD in your disc drive, and reboot. At the POST screen — that's the one with the manufacturer's logo on it — you may need to press a key to open a boot menu to allow you to boot from the CD. It's probably something like F12, but differs by manufacturer.

If you're using the LiveCD, you will have the option of booting from the CD to try Ubuntu without making any changes to your computer. If you're the kind of person who would never think of buying a car without first taking a test drive, then this is probably a good idea. If you decide to boot into Ubuntu, you'll notice an icon on the desktop to begin installation, which will be no different than if you chose to install Ubuntu from the LiveCD menu.

If you're using the alternate install disc, you won't have the option of booting into Ubuntu from the disc, and the installer will be text-based. Don't worry — the installation process is the exact same as with the LiveCD. It just won't be as pretty.

Once you begin the installation, you'll be asked some basic questions about your computer, such as your language and keyboard layout. Answer all of the questions appropriately until you get to the point where it asks whether you want to use a guided or manual install. Choose the manual install. Here, you'll see a list of the drives and partitions currently on your system.

If you need to resize your Windows partition, select it and (in the LiveCD) drag the right side to your left to resize it and free up some disk space. (Doing this using the alternate install disc is slightly different, but not much more difficult.)

Select the drive, partition, or unallocated space where you want to install Ubuntu. If it is an existing partition, you'll need to delete it. Choose to create a new partition where we will install the operating system. This partition should be about 8-12GB, depending on how much software you plan to install. Take note that the size of a megabyte used by the installer is 1000000 (or 1000^2) bytes, rather than the more common 1048576 (or 1024^2) bytes, so if you want a 10GB partition, you should set the size as 10737MB instead of 10240MB. (Tip: Multiply the desired size in MB by 1.048576.) Use this partition as root ("/"), and format the partition as ext3.

Create a second partition equal in size to the amount of memory on your computer, and choose to use this partition as "swap".

Finally, create a third partition using the remaining unallocated space. Use this space as "/home", and format is as ext3.

Once you've created these three partitions, look at what you've done very carefully to make sure you haven't made any mistakes, because we're about to pass the point of no return. When you're sure you're ready, click Forward to continue the installation process.

On the next screen, you'll be asked for your name, username, password, and computer name. Fill in these boxes with whatever you want, but be sure you remember your username and password, since this is what you'll use to login to Ubuntu. On the next screen, you'll may be asked if you want to import any documents and settings from your Windows installation (if you're keeping Windows, of course). I personally prefer to manually transfer files and settings, but you can check the user account(s) listed if you want the installer to do it automatically.

Finally, you'll see a screen asking you to confirm all of the settings you've specified for your installation. Look over these, and if everything looks good, click Forward to begin the installation. Once the installer is done, which may take a while depending on the speed of your computer, you'll be prompted to remove the CD and reboot.

Step 3: Finishing Up
Once you reboot, you'll see a new screen, allowing you to choose the operating system you want to boot into. If you decided to keep an existing Windows installation, you should see entries for both Ubuntu and Windows. Boot into Ubuntu.

You may have nothing left to do at this point, but more than likely you'll need to install drivers for your video card and wireless card (if you have one). You may see a popup window in the upper-right corner of the screen that says something about "restricted drivers". If so, click on the icon to open the restricted driver manager, and check the box next to the video driver to install it. You'll need to reboot for the change to take effect.

If you have a wireless card, but aren't able to use it, you'll have to install the Windows driver for your wireless card. The only hard part about this is actually finding the driver. If your computer was made by Dell, Gateway, or another major manufacturer, you should be able to locate and download the wireless driver for your computer. Otherwise, you'll need to Google your wireless card to find the driver. Once you have downloaded the driver, open it using Archive Manager. (Even if it's a .exe file, it's still a self-extracting .zip archive, and can be opened using Archive Manager.) Now go to the menu on the upper-left of your screen and select System->Adminitration->Synaptic Package Manager. This is the big brother of Add/Remove Programs. Click the Reload button to update your package list, and then search for "ndis-gtk". Click the box next to the ndis-gtk package to mark it for installation, then click the Apply button to install the program. Now go to System->Administration->Windows Wireless Drivers, click the Install New Driver button, locate the wireless driver (the .inf file) you downloaded, and click Close. After another reboot — possibly the last you'll ever actually need to do — you should be able to use your wireless card.

Congratulations! You've now installed Ubuntu!

Next Time: Installing the bells and whistles