Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Spotlight on Ubuntu Hardy Heron: Part 1

Last week we talked about some of the Linux distros that are best for new users. My favorite of those is Ubuntu.

Ubuntu (www.ubuntu.com) has a lot of features that make it an amazing all around desktop distribution. The current release Hardy Heron is an LTS (Long term support) release which means that for the desktop version you can count on support for 3 years and 5 years for the server edition (More on the server edition some other time). This ensures a stable operating system for years to come. Linux unlike Windows(r) updates fairly often. My desktop at home auto checks for updates every 24 hours and actually installs new updates (although only with my permission of course) about once every two or three days. Most of these security patches or bug fixes. Because Linux is open source you don't have to wait for some over paid tech guy sitting in a lab in Redmond to notice and fix problems. The community that supports the distribution helps take care of those things and as a result problems are fixed in days or weeks instead of months or years. Well enough about how awesome this system is, let's do something with it already.

1. Installation
You have three options availible for running Ubuntu on your desktop; Live, Install from Windows and Install from Boot Each has there own pros and cons, and you should choose the install that works best for you.

A. Live
Using Ubuntu as a Live CD is about as easy as it gets. I STRONGLY recommend that if you have no prior Linux experience or very little that you run the OS live first to see if you like it and if your going to have hardware problems (Some ATI graphics cards don't work well with Linux due to a lack of driver support from AMD, the company that makes them). To run Ubuntu as a live cd the first thing you have to do is download the ISO from Ubuntu's website (www.ubuntu.com) and burn it to a CD or purchase or otherwise acquire an Ubuntu cd. There is no special ISO for this. All Hardy Heron desktop CD and DVD images can be used live. (Side note: If your not familiar with ISO files they are basically 'images' of a disk in a single archive file. To use them you select 'burn image to disc' from your cd burning software rather then 'burn to disk' this is very important. If the image is not burned as an 'image' within the software the disk will not turn out the way you need it to. For more information on this read your cd burning software's help manual.) Once you have the CD ready place it in your drive and reboot your computer. At this point you need to ensure that your computer will boot from the CD or DVD drive. There is generally a boot menu availible during startup by pressing either F9 or F12 or these settings can be changed in the BIOS (Warning: DO NOT tamper with the BIOS if you don't know what your doing.) Hardware specific instructions can generally be found on the manufacturers website. When the Ubuntu CD boots it will give you several options. Choose "Run as Live CD" and it will boot you into Hardy Heron. When running from the Live CD no changes will be made to your hard drive in any way. Poke around, see what things do and have fun. (WARNING: Certain programs within Ubuntu such as fdisk can and will disrupt your hard drive if used improperly, while the Live CD option is a great way to see if you enjoy a distribution don't run anything that is designed to make changes to the hardware or those changes WILL take effect. Live CDs are also great for running repair and diagnostics for just this reason but we'll cover that in a few weeks. For now play with the setting, the package manager, and some of the default apps like Open Office and Evolution just to get a feel for things) When your done messing around or for any other reason you want to go back into Windows(r) just restart your computer and remove the disk. That's all there is to it.

B. Installing from Windows
The first step for this installation is the same as the previous. Acquire an Ubuntu CD is whatever way you see fit. Boot your computer normally into Windows(r) and insert the Ubuntu CD. A window will pop up with some options. Select "Install from Windows" to start the process. There are a few options to select most of which are self explanatory. The easiest thing to do if your not sure about an option is to leave it as the default. Once the installation is complete reboot your computer. A menu will appear at some point asking you which OS you would like to boot into, Windows or Ubuntu. This menu will appear every time you restart the computer allowing you to easily switch back and forth between the two. (Note: If you plan on using both Windows(r) and Linux this is the way to do it. It is far more difficult to start with Linux and then install Windows and moderately more difficult to configure a multi boot with Windows(r) when installing Linux to the hard drive) Some caveats to this method. The maximum size allowed for the Linux "Hard drive" is 30Gb. While that should probably be enough for all the open source goodness you can handle it can be tricky for a first time user to access files from outside this virtual drive while in Linux. So if you have movies and music on your hard drive that you want to access from Linux it is often a bit tricky for a first time user to even find them let alone use them. Copy over what you think you will use frequently. The second caveat here is that your still stuck with Windows(r)! Maybe that's me being a little unfair but all that closed source programming makes Linux very sad. I know. I asked it.

C. Install from Boot
So you've decided to take the plunge and install Linux as your primary (or only) operating system. The installation process from boot is nearly identical to installing from within Windows(r). There are only two real differences.

1. Restart your computer and boot from the CD rather then running the CD from within Windows(r). This will give you a similar menu. Select "Install Ubuntu" and your on your way.

2. The partitioning step. If you don't have experience partitioning and formatting drives select one of two default options depending on what you intend to do. Selecting "Make partition from availible space" will do just that. It will resize an existing partition and use the extra space to make your Linux partitions. The other option "Use existing partitions" should be used with extreme caution. You will lose all data on your hard drive if you select this option, or any other option that involves deleting rather then resizing existing partitions. If your wary back up your hard drive before you install, this will save you a lot of headaches later.

The rest of the installation process is the same as installing from Windows(r). In other words pick the options that you want as they are presented to you and away it goes. Remember when in doubt use the default option.

SECURITY NOTE: When choosing a password for your user make it a good one. In Ubuntu certain commands, programs, and changes can only be made by first entering this password. This helps protect your computer from attack and helps limit the damage done by a successful attack. This is not a password you want to leave blank or easy to crack/guess. A good password should have no dictionary words in it and use an assortment of uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and special symbols. I once read an article on security that said "If you can easily recall your password it's not good enough." Take note.

Well that's all for this week. Next week we'll get to part 2, which will contain information on helpful programs as well as tips on configuring Ubuntu to work the way you want it to. Until then.

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