I have walked people through installing Linux so many times, I have decided to write a definitive guide. This is that guide.



    If you don't know something or what to do... relax.... you're bound to have questions. Even if you've used Windows for years you come to a point where you're not sure what to do. The same thing will happen in Linux.... but the Linux community is great and helps one another. Ask your question here, or any number of other great help resources out there including linuxquestions.org .... http://alpha.qunu.com ... the IRC Freenode network (#ubuntu #gentoo #fedora etc etc).... and a slew of other forums and wikis. Google is also a massive resource. Search Linux (your problem) and odds are you will find the answer :) There is never a shortage of fellow users willing to help you out.


    So you still want to try Linux? My recommendation for newbs is Ubuntu for a few reasons:


    In advance, the following hardware will provide problems in Linux:

    • 3D acceleration on ATI Mobile graphics cards and new ATI graphics cards (ATI provides no working driver to achieve this). Linux will display on your monitor, but hang up playing 3D games.
    • Winmodems (aka "soft modems" or "software modems")... they're lame, cheap, and suck. Thankfully they're vanishing from the super duper cheap PCs these days.
    • Roughly half of all wireless devices for laptops. They will work, but it will not be as easy as clicking a checkbox and tah dah. How happy you will be depends on the chipset of your wireless device.

    Good chipsets: Orinoco, Prism, Prism2, Hermes, Atheros, Atmel (aka at76c503a)

    Bad chipsets: Marvell, Broadcomm (a BUTTLOAD of devices, especially integrated), however, native Linux support is now available in very recent Linux kernels (2.6.17 or later) ..... as all the major distros release updates, this chipset will no longer be a problem child.

    To find out which chipset you have.... Google for your wireless device's manufacturer, model, and then the word chipset.


    Still going with Ubuntu? Good. Go here: http://www.ubuntu.com/download ... select the region closest to you.

      Step 1) Choosing the right set of CDs

      • If you are using a 32-bit Macintosh (G5 and earlier), download the PPC CD.
      • If you are using a system that has an 64-bit processor (AMD Opteron, AMD Athlon 64, Intel Itanium, Intel Core Duo) as the processor, download the AMD64 CD.
      • Everybody else get the x86 CD.

      Step 2) Download the ISO file

      • The CD comes as a file called an ISO ... it's a bootable disc image. Download the file appropriate for your system as determined in step 1.

      Step 3) Burn the ISO file to disc

      IMPORTANT: DO NOT burn the ISO file to disc in "data format" -- it will make the resulting disc useless. You want to burn the file to disc in "Disc Image" format. Look for an option that says something like "Write Disc from Image" "Burn Disc Image". If you have a super lame CD/DVD burner that does not support this option, and you're using Windows, here is a free CD/DVD burner that supports this option: http://www.cdburnerxp.se/

      Step 4) Put in the CD and reboot.

      Step 5) Select "Start or Install Ubuntu" on the boot screen.

      Step 6) Play around in the LiveCD if you wish... it will be a little slow since you're running it off the CD, but it's got alot on it already.

      When you're ready to Install, click the Install icon on the desktop. Follow the friendly installer.

      If at any point you feel you need help: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation

      VERY VERY IMPORTANT: When you get to partitioning your hard drive, select Resize and use free space. This will leave all your Windows files unharmed, and set up your computer to dual boot (select whether to start Linux or Windows at start up). If you select Erase hard drve, you will wipe out all data on the hard drive.


    Core applications and their equivalents.

    Installing security updates

      Note in the bottom right hand corner in the system tray colored circle. That's the system update notifier. It will turn red when updates are available. To update, simply right click on the icon and choose the appropriate option.

    Automatix: Kicking Ubuntu in the pants in installing a massive amount of useful/must-have software. If you're a newbie, some of what we're about to do will bewilder you... just follow along. Once it starts working, you'll find it very nice.

      Step 1) Open up a terminal.

      You can find it in the "start menu" type menus. Type in the following: sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

      Add the following line to the file: deb http://www.getautomatix.com/apt dapper main

      Save the file.

      Step 2) Copy the following:

      wget http://www.getautomatix.com/apt/key.gpg.asc ; gpg --import key.gpg.asc ; gpg --export --armor 521A9C7C | sudo apt-key add -

      Then in a terminal window, press Shift+Insert to paste what you just copied. Hit enter.

      Step 3) In that same terminal, do the same copy and paste, but with this line:

      sudo apt-get update ; sudo apt-get install automatix

      Step 4) Now Start Automatix. Applications>System Tools>Automatix

      Step 5) You now have a nice easy GUI to select whatever you want to Install. You'll DEFINITELY want the following:

      • 1. Acrobat Reader (Adobe Acrobat Reader and plugin for Firefox 1.5)
      • 4. Archiving Tools (Additional archiving tools (rar, unrar, ace, and 7zip))
      • 5. AUD-DVD codecs (NON-FREE Audio and DVD codecs) (Installation of this option is illegal in the United States of America, thanks to the DMCA. If you won't tell, I won't ;) )
      • 7. Azureus (Installs Azureus bittorrent client)
      • 17. Extra Fonts (Additional fonts and msttcorefonts)
      • 18. Flashplayer (Adobe Flash Player for FF)
      • 20. Gdesklets (eyecandy for Gnome)
      • 21. Gaim 2.0 beta3 (The latest version of a popular IM client compatible with YIM/MSN/AIM/Jabber etc)
      • 32. MPlayer & FF plugin (MPlayer and Firefox 1.5 plugin)
      • 33. Multimedia Codecs (Commonly needed audio and video codecs)
      • 34. Multimedia Editing (Audio (Audacity) Video (Kino) and ID3 Tag (Easytag) editors)
      • 42. RealPlayer (RealPlayer)
      • 44. Ripper and Tuner (Streamripper (rips Internet radio streams) and Streamtuner (Internet radio client))
      • 46. Skype (A free (as in free beer) Voice Over IP software)
      • 48. SUN JAVA 1.5 JRE (Sun's version 1.5 JRE & The Firefox plugin)
      • 53. Wine (Installs Wine)
      • 54. XChat (a popular IRC client)

      Depending on your hardware, you'll also want:

      • 36. NDISWrapper (A driver wrapper that allows you to use Windows driver for network cards)
      • 38. NVIDIA Driver (Installs NVIDIA drivers on select NVIDIA cards)

    Once you tell it to start, it will take some time to finish it's work. It's going to be downloading and installing *alot*. Check in on it from time to time, you will have to agree to a few licenses (such as the Flash client's license).

    Also, a "one stop shop" control panel for Ubuntu is available. Check this thread: http://www.ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=207894


    When you reboot, you will be given a simple menu to choose to boot either Windows or Linux. Use the up/down arrow on the keyboard to select which one then hit enter to boot it.

    IMPORTANT: On some HP machines, you will see "windows_1" and "windows_2". Select Windows 2!!! Windows 1 is actually a small HP autorecovery partition, which will begin running a special app that completely erases the Linux bootloader and suggests doing a complete system restore!!!

    When you boot back into Windows the first time, Windows will run a hard drive scan. This is because Linux had to beat Windows into the corner to create some free room on the hard drive, and Windows must rescan its partition to know where it can and cannot write to. Just let the scanning continue until finished.

QUIRKS (aka Linux IS NOT Windows)

    In Linux, to do anything significant to the system, you must be root. This makes Linux very secure, as a virus would have to know your root password.

    In Linux, the entire file system is one big tree. In Windows, you have C:/ and D:/ and so on. In Linux it's all one big folder, only organized. The only location you will likely concern yourself with is your home folder, which is: /home/(username) ... that's where your files are. Everything there is yours and yours alone. Only root can screw with those files. Conversely, you can't screw with /home/(someotherguy) files either. Again, security measures built in due to the nature of Linux.

    Linux hides nothing from you. It can be very easy to use and maintain, but you can get under the hood and be as advanced as you want to be. You are not hindered by the lack of source code and "idiot proofing" Windows has. Ubuntu has made large efforts to make this distribution of Linux very user friendly... but it's still Linux. So you can do whatever you want... up to and including making your own kernel if you're so inclined.


Thanks to GTS and the crew over at NCAABBS.com for their help!!!

While I wholeheartedly endorse Linux as a viable desktop alternative, I do not agree with Dinde's guide. If the above instructions work for you, congratulations. However, I have had disastrous results using Automatix and I'd like to quickly cover some alternate setup instructions.

One topic not yet addressed it why you want Linux and what you hope to do with it. Would you just like to see what Ubuntu is? Then stop reading this and burn a live CD. Would you like to install Ubuntu as a permanent OS? Great. Would you like to use it for office productivity? How about entertainment – music, movies, photo albums? We'll get to those.

Now that we covered Why, we're left with When and Where. I cannot over emphasize the idea that installing Ubuntu could switch your computer into Paperweight Mode. When do you want Linux? In 10 minutes? The next hour? Today? If you answered yes to any of the above, then stop reading this and burn a live CD. Nobody can guarantee that Linux anything will work straight off the bat for you. Nor can anybody guarantee that Windows will work straight off the bat for you after attempting to install Linux. I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from installing Linux, but do not attempt to put Linux on any computer that you cannot be without.

Where do you want Linux? On that computer you can be without. The old one in the closet or the laptop you never touch. How about an old hard drive? If you have a spare, then it makes life easier. Otherwise, cross your fingers and take a dive with me.

Step 0: Get Ubuntu

Your best bet is the official source, http://www.ubuntu.com/download. Just choose the appropriate architecture and download. If at all possible, maintain this connection to the Internet. You may need to seek help during or after the Ubuntu installation if the affected computer cannot access the Internet.

Step 1: Burn the Ubuntu disc

Be sure to burn the CD via a “Burn Disc Image” option; do not burn it as data a CD.

Step 2: Prepare Windows for Ubuntu

This is the most important step! There are several different tasks to carry out, in a specific order.

  • Backup your data! Backup every piece of important data on your computer. If it's so priceless that you can't lose it, spend the money to get a 50 pack of blank CDs and back it the fsck up.
  • Confirm the backups. You did get all the income tax files, right?
  • Defrag the drive you'll need to resize. This will increase the chance of a successful resizing. If you do not plan on resizing a partition for Ubuntu, skip this step. This means you have about 4 or 5 gigs of unpartitioned space on a hard drive.
  • Reboot the computer with your Ubuntu CD in the drive. After you defrag the drive, do not do anything else on the machine.

Step 3: Install Ubuntu

The live CD will take over and eventually load up a desktop for you to use. Poke around if you want, but double click the Install button on the desktop when you're ready to go. The installation program is very straight forward. I would highly recommend that you make an “Extended Partition” wherever you have your free disk space. Then put your root and swap partitions in the Extended Partition.

Step 3.5: Options!

Remember all those questions we started off with? Did you write down the answers? Great, here's the catch:

    Linux and Windows use different file systems, which means the two operating systems store data differently. Windows 2000 and XP variants use NTFS while Linux likes ext3. Unfortunately neither OS is compatible with the other's native type. While it is possible to read NTFS in Linux and ext3 in Windows, writing is not considered a safe practice. The simple solution is FAT32.

In order to “share” files between Windows and Ubuntu, you'll need to create a FAT32 partition large enough to hold all of the files you want to pass back and forth. So add up the size of all the documents, pictures, movies and songs and want to use in both operating systems. You'll need that much space, plus growing room, in your FAT32 partition. Technically, this is not a necessity. I did point out that you can read the Windows NTFS partition in Linux, but we can't write to it. And Windows cannot natively read the Ubuntu partition. This creates a scenario where you can listen to all your good music in Ubuntu, but if you download more in Ubuntu, it will never show up in Windows. And all the Powerpoint slides you make in Ubuntu cannot be seen while in Windows. Furthermore, you cannot edit any of your midterm papers on the Windows partition. In an effort to save your sanity, plan for the FAT32 partition.

Now we have some to make some serious decisions about how this all works.

  • Case 1: You only have one hard drive and it only has one partition for Windows. This is when you have to Resize the partition with at least enough space for the Ubuntu installation and a swap partition. I'd shoot for a minimum of 4 gigs to use Ubuntu, 5 if you want to explore the Linux world. If you have enough room for that FAT32 partition, great. Even if you can only squeeze a few hundred megs for FAT partition, then it will help you move or share critical documents between the two systems.
  • Case 2: You have one hard drive that contains unpartitioned space. Excellent. If this is the case, then I would only use the unpartitioned space. Forget resizing anything, there's always a risk that resizing a partition will make that partition useless afterwards.
  • Case 3: You have a spare hard drive Awesome! Make a 5 gig partition for Ubuntu, half a gig for swap and whatever you need for data. Don't go crazy though, having unpartitioned disk space is never a bad thing with Linux.

Step 4: Ubuntu it up!

Eat, drink and be merry. Live the Linux life. Everything Dinde mentioned can be accessed by the Synaptic Package Manager under the System -> Administration menu, except maybe the DVD codecs. The Synaptic Package Manager is the easiest way for new Ubuntu users to add software to system.

To enable some extra features, do the following:

  • Enable Universe and Multiverse Repositories. The repositories ate the locations that the Synaptic Package Manager accesses to load and update packages. Open System -> Administration -> Software Properties. A list of repositories pop up. Highlight "Ubuntu 6.06 LTS (source)", click Add and enable “non-free (multiverse)" and "community maintained (universe)". Now click "add" and close the window. Go back to the Synaptic Package Manager and click Reload. Now when you search for a piece of software, you'll see the results from all sources.
  • The “quick installation” according to the Ubuntu online documentation, is to enter the following in a terminal:
    • sudo apt-get install gstreamer0.10-pitfdll gstreamer0.10-ffmpeg gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad-multiverse gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly-multiverse gxine libxine-main1 libxine-extracodecs”
    • “sudo apt-get install gxine libxine-main1 libxine-extracodecs ogle ogle-gui”
    This should get you most codecs and DVD playback enabled. For any other issues please refer to the official Ubuntu documentation, specifically the Restricted Format section for enabling all the tidbits you're used to in Windows. https://help.ubuntu.com/community/RestrictedFormats
  • Is that it, really? My first writeup?

    Adventures in Linuxland: the background

    Every few years my employer throws out old laptops. This time around, I managed to get my hands on one before all the other cheapskates. It's a Dell Inspiron 3800 running Win 98 with Microsoft Office and a pile of other useful software.

    Or rather it was.

    Soon after getting it home, I discovered why they were going to throw it out: there was no way to connect to the web.

    The PC-Card (PCMCIA) slots were not working at all, and there was no ethernet socket. The only way to get online seemed to be through a port replicator (my employer was throwing a couple of those out as well) that had an NIC and ethernet socket on-board. Unfortunately, the BIOS refused to allow the machine to connect to the port replicator. On the good side, I was able to get the single USB slot to read a memory stick, so I could transfer files from one machine to another.

    I thought it would be a breeze to get the thing working again.

    Long story short, it wasn't.

    After re-installing the PC-card drivers, re-writing the BIOS to allow the port replicator to work, and finally reinstalling Windows, it remained stubbornly offline.

    I'd been thinking about getting to grips with Linux for a while, but needed a low-risk, low-cost way of doing it. The fact that Microsoft no longer supports Win98 was another factor in the decision to embrace the penguin. There is a real need for a stable operating system that can drive low-specification hardware and thus give a new lease of life to old equipment.

    The broken laptop looked like an ideal opportunity to load up Linux and learn some new skills. It was cheap (as in free beer) and there was no need to back up any data from the 4GB hard drive. Fortunately for me, Dinde's writeup (above) came just after I had spent a whole weekend failing to get the laptop to see the web via Windows.

    Installing Linux

    Despite having a respectable processor (650MHz Pentium III), the machine had only 96Mb of memory. That was fine with Win98, but it seems that it's not really enough for the full Ubuntu package as recommended above. After some swift research on the web, I tried Xubuntu, an Ubuntu variant designed for low-specification machines. I burned two CDs (a breeze, by the way). One was the standard Xubuntu setup, the other was the alternative arrangement, aimed at older systems with limited memory (like mine).

    The first step was to use a modern desktop machine and fire up the LiveCD disk to find out if it worked and to see what an Ubuntu desktop looks like. That was one of the first inklings that a lot of thought has gone into this package. The LiveCD alllows you to run Ubuntu from the CD and find out if all the hardware is compatible. There's no risk of damaging the existing data on the computer hard drive, unless you hit the 'install' button. Don't do that until you're ready for it.

    The desktop looked good.

    Dinde said Ubuntu won't really work with less than about 192Mb of RAM and the web seemed to confirm that. There were a few sites where users claimed to be running Ubuntu on a machine with a similar specification to mine, so I cranked up the laptop, hooked it up to the port replicator, connected that to the router and fired up the LiveCD to see what would happen.

    It started well enough, but eventually slowed down to a crawl. I guess the memory thing was a real issue and not just a techno-mirage.

    After a re-start I tried installing the full version of Xubuntu without sampling it through the LiveCD. Again, it didn't really work, so I followed the recommendations and used the alternate disk.

    I had nothing to keep on the old disk, so I used the 're-format' option during installation. That felt scary, knowing it really was the point of no return for this machine. Well, I suppose I could have re-installed Windows (yet again) but there seemed little point, if the thing could not connect to the web.

    First time through, Xubuntu didn't see the NIC, so I was unable to connect to the web.

    On a whim, I tried to install it once again over the top of the first installation. During this second attempt, I saw that it was getting an IP address from my DHCP router. This was starting to look good. I had not configured the router or the network in any way. That was the first big clue as to why enthusiasts get so enthusiastic about Linux.

    Within an hour or so of starting the installation process I was online and surfing using Firefox on Xubuntu. Compare that to losing a whole weekend attempting to fix Windows.

    Ubuntu 1 : 0 Windows

    The system had automatically recognised and loaded suitable drivers for the graphics, the sound system, the port replicator and the ethernet connection. Then it had configured the network settings and got itself online. All with no help or input from myself. That's impressive when you compare the lengthy process of adding drivers and configuring the network during a Windows installation.

    One thing that is not noted above: it helps a lot if you have a web connection as you are loading the OS. Not all the software can fit on a 700 MB CD-Rom, and some components need to be downloaded during installation.

    Linux in use

    As an operating system, Ubuntu Linux is easier and faster to install than Windows. On the other hand, it's much less intuitive to add packages at a later date. However, given that many of us only use computers for web browsing, writing and a few other tasks, that's not such a problem. All these applications come ready-packaged on the Ubuntu disk.

    The browsing works well. Websites using Flash, Macromedia and other web apps work just fine. If I'm honest, the browsing seems slower than when I could use the machine using Windows and Internet Exploder. But maybe that's more perception than reality. Also Open Office is fully compatible with Microsoft Office and the search and replace functions in Open Office are more powerful than their equivalents in MS Office.

    In terms of use, therefore, the two systems are pretty much equivalent for everyday applications.

    However, when I tried to install a USB-based WiFi stick. I hit a block. I've since resolved it, but I suspect that this kind of thing will put off less determined users.

    Linux is inherently safe. You don't immediately get access to the root directory on the disk. Trouble is, to install the drivers, you need to use a terminal window and type in commands, including the location of the relevant files. So either you type in long strings of filenames and paths (a pain in the ass) or you find out how to root your box and drag the files to the root directory. That means easier typing and shorter strings.

    When this (former) Windows user tried to move a file from the desktop to a folder in the root directory, (using the graphical interface) the system did not give a warning or suggestion about 'Insufficient access privileges". It simply failed to carry out the request.

    Anyway, I resolved that one by doing some lengthy typing, but as I had expected, the USB WiFi connection didn't work: it needed USB 2.0, but the 'puter only has USB 1.0. No worries, I can still connect over the wired network.

    Getting the bug

    I figured that a working laptop is worth £30, so I went to eBay and bought a 256 Mb memory chip, to boost the memory well above the recommended minimum. I can always sell the chip again on eBay if it all goes wrong.

    That allowed me to install the full version of Ubuntu. It's not a huge amount faster than Xubuntu, but it's the start of a journey. I'm learning more about the computer and the settings all the time. And that in itself is a major advantage over Windows.

    I'm still a n00b, but the benefits have to be worth it. Once I feel a bit more confident about this, I'll be able to buy (or build) better value computers and install my own OS and software and then have total control over how that software behaves.

    Ubuntu 2 : 0 Windows



    One week later

    Now that I have added enough memory to make the computer work properly, I loaded up the full version of Ubuntu, and it is a revelation.

    I'm (almost) a complete convert. It is superb.

    I can say with confidence that it works. It just works. In almost every case, the software and installation work at least as well as on Windows XP. The graphical interface works well. The procedures for loading new software work very well. The amount of memory, disk space and processing power work extremely well compared to Windows XP.

    After a bit of fiddling with hardware I got the PCMCIA cards to work and installing a Netgear card was astonishingly easy. It was a breeze to add WEP security and connect to my router and thence to the web.

    Even more surprising was that the Ubuntu machine would connect to my Windows-based network and share files with Windows-based machines. I'm lucky, I guess that all the disks are formatted to FAT32. Furthermore, it could see and talk to the Laserjet printer attached to a Windows XP print server running in another room.

    I am, frankly, astonished that the new Ubuntu machine finds it so easy to fit in with the existing network.

    Next step is to use the laptop to replicate some web content filtering software that I have running on the print server, If I can do that, then I'll wipe WinXP and convert that one to Ubuntu as well. The print server is a second-hand machine with only a 10 GB dive that is almost full with goodness knows what after I upgraded it from Win98 to WinXP.

    We won't convert completely to Ubuntu. The teenagers in the house like to use Windows-based systems for playing games (Sims 2 and suchlike), but the aim is to get them dual-boot machines and to move pretty well everything else over to Ubuntu

    Final words of advice.

    If you have been considering this, but remain nervous about it, then don't be. It really is astonishingly easy to make it all work. And it works surprisingly well, pretty much straight out of the box.



    User comment

    Random Reader says "lengthy process of adding drivers and configuring the network during a Windows installation" - uh no. unless you have wacky hardware, Windows XP will detect all of your hardware just fine. Of the five PC-compatible computers I currently own, ALL of them will take Windows XP without additional drivers. One is a laptop, one is a dual processor dell, and two are 1U form factor systems based around clone motherboards. also, this is not a "how to", it is a "how I". It doesn't tell how to, it chronicles your experience.

    I guess you are right about that. But the other ones up there say how to do it. I followed the instructions and discovered that it is not nearly as frightening or geeky as one might imagine.

    That's the thing about instructions. You never know, as a user, if they work or not. I'm putting my own personal experience in there to show others that the instructions are good. They look simple, and the process is surprisingly simple.

    Hope that explains it.

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