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?