TG Daily Special: Leaving Redmond, WA in 24 hours

Posted by Rick C. Hodgin

This is the first install of what will be a periodic, ongoing series on how migrate from Microsoft's Windows to other Operating systems. This first article provides insight in the much discussed Ubuntu Linux.

Background

Have you ever been some place you really didn't want to be?  I mean, have you ever really, really had a desire to leave but for some reason you just couldn't?  There was always something holding you back. Maybe it was circumstance, the comfort of your surroundings, or it was just too familiar (even though you know you should've moved on long ago)?  Sound familiar?

Conditions like these keep many people tied to Windows.  Those users feel there has to be an alternate way, but are unsure how to proceed. Well, there are alternate solutions to Microsoft Windows. Many are robust and allow users to make the migration with little knowledge and no loss. For anyone interested in finding the route out of Redmond, WA, please continue to read on.  Today, we're looking at the new face of Linux: Ubuntu.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is an African word meaning a great many things, kind of like "aloha". Ubuntu's demo CD even comes with a video interview of Nelson Mandella where he describes the word's meaning.

The Ubuntu name holds true to the vision outlined in this article. While it is freedom from the Windows chains, the Windows expense and the legacy baggage of bloatware and costly DRM, it is a Linux based system and carries with it that portion of a learning curve.

For those who don't know, Linux is a community-developed operating system with roots back to the early 1990s. Linus Torvalds originally developed Linux as a freely distributable alternative to UNIX, and one which even came with the source code. Its subsequent popularity in universities grew quickly and ever since it's been a open-source, community-developed system. There are literally thousands of developers contributing to Linux all the time.  Not all of them are paid to do so either.  Most are simply zealots who, either through a personal desire to provide something of interest to users, or in an attempt to avoid Redmond at all costs, have donated their time, talents and expertise toward these projects.  Their efforts carry with it the very spirit of Ubuntu's underlying principle: Free software for everyone.

Linux represents freedom in almost every regard because every application comes with source code. This means that if you don't like something and you want to change it (and you're technically skilled to do so) you can fix it yourself. You can extend it, alter it or whatever else you want to do with it because it's on your hard drive. This is true of any program you download which is normally licensed through Linux.  The GNU license allows you to modify it only for personal use without upward conveyance.  If you want to upload it for others to use or share it, there are some requirements that must be adhered to.  Still, this is something Windows does not easily allow you to do.

Linux has been released in many flavors over the years. Ubuntu is just one of the scores of official releases out there.  Each one has a little something different to offer and is special in some way. Ubuntu happens to be based on a root variety called <a href=”http://www.debian.org/”>Debian</a>. Debian has some stated basic <a href=”http://www.debian.org/intro/about”>goals</a> for itself.

Debian (and Ubuntu) are designed to remain 100% free forever, according to their manifesto. All programs must contain source code as well as a compiled form ready to run. Anyone who uses anything Debian-based can take any work and derive anything new from it based on their licensing.  All licensing of new products must also allow what's called “upstream conveyance,” meaning that any other Debian based distribution of Linux (like something other than Ubuntu if originally developed in Ubuntu) can also reap the full rewards of the creation.  The same works in the reverse too so that Ubuntu gains from new software written for other Debian distros. This is where the nearly 22,000 software titles now available in Ubuntu have come from. Team effort across distributions is advancing everyone.

At this point, many people's natural reaction to Linux will be something along the lines of:  “Ewe!”  Well, the times have definitely changed - even from a couple years ago. Linux is not the command-line based quagmire-enigma it once was.  There is a very competent GUI sitting atop a small, yet powerful base which is still there in the command-line world should you choose to use it.  Our latest adventure into the Linux space suggest that anyone who hasn't found Linux desirable in the past to give modern distros like Ubuntu a try. There have been advancements and the time may be ripe for the migration for some.

Linux is no longer a back-room operation (and many will argue it never was). In fact, while there are still quite a few things you need to know to get the most out of your system, most Ubuntu users need to know almost nothing about Linux. One of Ubuntu's goals has been “tidy packaging,” meaning that new software is easily installable, repairable and uninstallable.  It's part of the reason various versions of Linux exist.

To aid the newcomers,we have compiled this guide to take you through an Ubuntu install step by step.  For the most part, you don't even need to understand what's going on inside of Linux to begin this process.  Provided your machine contains relatively mainstream hardware, we found that the operating system will boot and install without any problem whatsoever. In fact, we have discovered in writing this article that some of the limitations imposed by Windows and its NT File System seem to be the most hindering facet of the entire experience.

If you can get a new hard drive to install Ubuntu I would highly recommend doing so.  Your experience will be as smooth as silk if you can begin the process with a fresh drive capable of receiving Linux.  And if you do this you'll also have a pain-free dual-booting ability between Windows and Ubuntu (and any other OSes you already have installed).

 

Read on the next page: Preparations and installing Ubuntu

 


 

 

 

 

Installing Ubuntu

The installation process for Ubuntu is almost completely automated.

Anyone wanting to use Ubuntu can obtain it three different ways. First, you can buy a CD and have it shipped to you. You'll pay about $5 and be mailed the whole operating system on a CD. There are also additional optional software packages you can buy on CD to aid in your search for software. These are Ubuntu certified applications that are known to install and work properly on your particular version. Second, you could request a free CD. Ubuntu is offered free of charge on CD to anyone requesting it. The only downside here seems to be that takes a few weeks to get it. And finally, probably the way most of us will obtain it, you can simply download the complete ISO for free. Once downloaded, about 700 MB, use a common ISO burning tool to create a bootable CD. If you don't have one already, google “iso burning tool” and you'll find several. ISOs are basically a full CD image that's ready to be burned.

Once the CD is reday, boot directly from it. Some machines might need to alter BIOS settings to enable booting from a CD first.  For those who don't have BIOS which supports bootable CDs, just pop the CD in the drive from Windows and it will begin the process with an AUTORUN feature.

Booting Ubuntu the first fime

The bootable CD is called a “Live CD.”  The live version does two desirable things.  First, it boots into a test-drive version of Ubuntu which allows you to try it out without having to install anything.  Ubuntu does this by booting into memory and creating virtual hard disks.  While booting in this way it auto-detects your hardware and installs whatever drivers your machine requires.  The live CD install takes notably longer than the actual OS does to boot once it's installed on a hard drive. The live CD takes about five minutes, the hard drive bootup in the range of about 20 seconds (depending on your hardware, of course). Ubuntu doesn't know in advance what equipment you have so it has to go through the list and test just about everything. This process is still notably faster than any Windows installations I've ever gone through (Windows 95 or later).

Once booted, Ubuntu comes to life with a GUI robust and familiar enough to allow a very good feel for its basic interface, speed, stability, usability, friendliness and general character.  If an always-on Internet connection is present, any of the applications available to Ubuntu can be installed into memory for the test drive without having to use your hard drive.  If at any point the decision is made to install Ubuntu, there's a desktop icon named “Install.”  It goes through a series of graphical steps and directly installs Ubuntu onto the hard disk.  The complete guide to this installation process is included in this article.

Installing Ubuntu does not require much disk space. I originally created a 10 GB partition with the desire to have enough space left over for anything else I might need to install.  After having done that, and after having installed everything I've needed, I still had several GB free. Note that also includes downloading the source code for nearly everything I've installed, as well as several software/web developmental packages that most people wouldn't need to install.

Current Release

Ubuntu's most current version is called “Feisty Fawn,” version 7.04.  There is a Long Term Support (LTS) version from the previous release called “Edgy Eft,” version 6.x.  A beta for their next release due out in October is also available (not from the link below) called Gutsy Gibbon.

This guide takes you through a complete Feisty Fawn desktop install. To follow along choose the version you'd like to download on Ubuntu's website.

 

Sidenote:  Most users will download the Feisty Fawn desktop version for i386, which is called “Standard personal computer (x86 architecture, Pentium, Celeron, Athlon, Sempron)”.  Feisty Fawn is currently supported through 2008.  Other versions should be nearly identical.  I have installed both the x86 and AMD64 versions and they're identical for installation. The only problem I encountered was that not all software I wanted to install supported a 64-bit environment.

 

Read on the next page: Checklist, startup process 

 


 

 

 

 

Final Checklist Before Boarding This Train

Here's a big-picture overview of steps to install Ubuntu:

1)  A place to install it
2)  The bootable CD
3)  Boot from the CD
4)  Test it out.  Poke around.  Get a good feel.  Double-click the install icon.
5)  Follow the on-screen install steps
6)  Reboot into Ubuntu

The Actual Startup Process

Here we see my laptop booting into Windows XP for the last time. The 32-bit and 64-bit Ubuntu discs I created from download ISOs are standing like powerful gatekeepers, ready to pounce.

The initial bootup menu Ubuntu provides looks like this. I've also seen another version of this screen booted from other BIOS versions.  The options were the same but it looked different.

Choose the “Start or install Ubuntu“ option.  This will start Ubuntu. Only after begin fully booted in test-drive mode can you install it. There is no way to accidentally install Ubuntu without booting into it, double-clicking the icon and going through the several Ubuntu install steps.

It will take several minutes to load when booting from the Live CD.  Don't get discouraged as this is normal. If it takes more than about five minutes or so then something might've gone wrong. Reboot and follow the steps below to correct those errors. Once it loads you'll see a screen like this:

Sidenote:  If the system cannot recognize your video card, then reboot and press “F4 VGA” before booting.  Choose one of the VESA video modes. I suggest “1024 x 768 x 32”.

This will include a note at the bottom of the screen indicating the special VESA mode you'll boot into:

Setting it up this way will boot the system using a VESA video driver. It's uses the CPU more and is slower, but is designed to work without any special drivers on almost every video card.  I had to do this on one of my computers (with a brand new NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX, by the way - the card was too new for the build's Nvidia drivers).  After it was installed I was later able to download the correct version directly from Nvidia's website and install it. If you're having problems after choosing the VESA driver, reboot and then issue these commands after several minutes:

1)  Press Ctrl+Alt+F1  (pressing those keys gives you a text-based command prompt instead of a GUI)

2)  Type “sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg”.  This will begin a reconfiguration process.  Pretty much choose every default, but when it gets to the list of video cards, select “VESA”.  And when you get to one of the last steps where it asks you for supported video modes, make sure 1024 x 768 is checked (press spacebar to select/deselect).  After that, type “exit” from the command line and it will switch back to graphics mode (or possibly press Ctrl+Alt+F7).

3)  Note:  Pressing Ctrl+Alt+Backspace at any time restarts the GUI.

Once Ubuntu is booted you'll note that even the default options are rather numerous.  All of the default installed applications shown can be run.  Click the “Applications” menu and browse through what's there.  There are some games, Internet access (Firefox and Evolution email are provided by default), as well as basic office tools, etc.  I would also advise checking out the “Home Folder” option under the “Places” menu.  That will launch Nautilus, a tool like Windows Explorer.  From there you can see your entire storage system.

Sidenote:  Navigating through the Linux file system can look a little tricky at first, so let me take some of the sting out of it.  Your hard drives will most likely already be shown with their proper volume names in Nautilus (as mine is here), listed along the left.  However, not all applications allow you to navigate to them by their friendly names.

Your hard drives and storage devices (CD-ROMs, USB drives, etc.) live in the “/media/” directory.  Use the “/media/” directory whenever you need to access your other hard drives.  You'll see what appear to be files, like sda1, sda2, sda3... sdaN, one for each partition.  They are actually your logical disks.  So, if you had a Windows file on “c:\My Data\whatever.txt” you could access it in Ubuntu using “/media/sda1/My Data/whatever.txt”.  There are advanced settings which allow you to make that name shorter (so you don't have to always type “/media/sda1/”, but that's the subject of another article.  For now, know that you can access your old files without issue.

If you've followed along the live CD boot, by now you will have spent some time working with the desktop.  The default Ubuntu installation uses a graphical environment called GNome.  GNome works very similar to Windows, but with some enhancements.  For example, GNome allows you to have multiple desktop environments running at the same time.  Each desktop will maintain its own windows, positions, contexts, data, and so on.  This helps keep your desktop clutter-free when running many applications.  You can add new desktops as required.  To switch desktops, simply click on the icon in the lower-right hand corner of the screen to change to a new one.  The boxes there show you what windows are open and how much relative space they're taking up in the desktop.

GNome also has configurable LaunchPads.  Launchpads are like the Quick Launch toolbar in Windows.  They are customizable and configurable.  If you see a menu item you'd like to add (such as Applications, Places or System or any their submenus) you can right-click on it and choose “Add to Launcher”.  This works in the live CD install as well.  There's no dragging and dropping to populate the LaunchPad in Ubuntu.  This can also be a bit of a pain if you want to later install something that's not automatically on the menu.  However, if you stick to certified Ubuntu programs that will never be an issue.

Sidenote:  If you are not a GNome fan, there are two other supported GUI installs with alternate appearance, size, functionality, etc.  These do not have to be installed right now (or ever for that matter).  But if you do decide you'd like another one they can be downloaded.  Multiple GUIs can also be installed simultaneously, giving a single machine the ability to choose which one to boot into when the user logs in.  More on that later.

The default GNome environment is more than adequate by any standards I've been able to come up with.  It is comparable in function to Windows and any new users should not have any issues migrating to it.

Read on the next page: Physically installing Ubuntu onto a new partition


 

 

 

 

Physically Installing Ubuntu onto a New Partition

At this point you will have booted the Live CD and played around with Ubuntu. You're now ready to install.  If your hard drive is ready to go, then bypass this section and proceed to the next section of this article.  This section describes how to prepare your hard drive for the Ubuntu installation.

As painful as this disk partitioning process is, it seems to be the most painful process there is in anything I've done Linux related.  And it really has nothing to do with the OS. It goes back to the way hard disks are setup.

Hard Disks use “partitions” to store data. A partition is a logical division or section of a physical drive. For example, if your hard drive contained 500 GB of storage space, you can set it up in a multitude of ways.  You might have have five 100 GB drives, or one 250 GB drive and five 50 GB drives, or one 500 GB drive. It's very flexible. However, because the file system serves as the absolute foundation of all of your permanent data storage, changing it around isn't always the easiest thing to do.

There are professional applications available which make what is described below a very straight-forward thing to do.  They typically cost about $50, so if you want one go ahead and get it.  I've found a few free <a href=”http://www.thefreecountry.com/utilities/partitioneditors.shtml”>utilities</a> out there as well.  The most user-friendly and easy to use model I found was <a href=”http://partitionlogic.org.uk/”>Partition Logic</a>.  It's a bootable GUI-based system which allows you to alter your partition from outside of Windows or Linux.  Still, the best thing to do is to have a new hard drive ready to go.

Click “Applications,” then “Accessories,” then “Terminal” (or just press Alt+F2 in GNome and type “gnome-terminal”).  This will bring up a terminal (command window) where you can type this:  “sudo gparted”.  The “sudo” prefix is something that's required in Linux to run as a super-user.  Linux protects dangerous operations from accidentally being run in this way.  During the Live CD run gparted is automatically installed.  However, it is not automatically included once Ubuntu is installed.  To load it after installing Ubuntu, type “sudo apt-get install gparted” from the terminal.

The “gparted” utility is a GNome-based GUI wrapper for the text-based version of the Debian partition editor called “parted”.  If you feel more comfortable using the text-based version, go for it. I do not recommend it unless you are an advanced user.  The GUI wrapper provides a very straight-forward way to view and modify the hard drives on your system.

Linux needs an advanced, UNIX-like file system for install.  As a result, you'll need to make sure you choose Ext2 or Ext3 during the next steps. I want to make it clear to everyone here that I have had almost no end of trouble in attempting to use NTFS file systems. FAT32 seems to be okay, but writing to NTFS file systems with Linux is just asking for trouble. I advise everyone in the strongest possible terms to do everything Linux related (storing permanent files, writing data, installing applications, etc.) in an Ext2 or Ext3 file system only.

If you need to resize (downsize) an existing partition (to make room for the new Ext2 or Ext3 partition) then know it may or may not work. In order for it to work you'll need to have a couple things just right.  First, you need to have that much free space available on the existing partition.  That one's pretty easy to find out, but the next one is much more important.  Because of the way data files are stored on a hard disk the free space may not be at the end of the disk.  No files can be there at the end of the partition you're resizing or it won't work (or, at the very least, you'll corrupt your disk and lose those files).  If you have files there, they'll be in the way and will prevent the resize operation from working.

In order to make sure you have no files at the end it typically means your drive needs to be defragmented and packed or condensed.  This will move all of the files to the start of the partition and free up space at the end.  Theoretically!  This may or may not be a process you are able to do from inside Windows.  If not, then you're probably at a stopping point until you can consult a more detailed article to help you through the “preparing a drive process,” or until you buy a new hard drive and simply be done with it.

In order to resize the partition you'll need to select the partition by clicking on it, then click “Resize/Move” button.  It will ask you for the new sizing information.  Your goal is to free up about 10 GB of space.  <b>Note that you can resize a partition which is not ready to be resized.  In doing so you may destroy all data stored there.  Only proceed if you know what you're doing, and if you have a current backup.</b>  If you want to move the partition (and I do not recommend doing so) then you can specify the space to have before or after.  Moving a partition will guarantee you'll lose all data.  So, generally speaking, just change the drive size to the new size and you're done with this step.  Again, make sure you have a current backup.

After you have modified the size of your existing partition a new, empty partition will be there.  Click on it.  Click “Edit Partition”.  Change the file system to “Ext3” and click “Apply”.

If you didn't need to resize a partition, simply choose the partition you plan on using, click “Edit Partition”, change the file format to “Ext3” and the Mount Point to “/”.

At this point on both operations, click “Next”.  It may give you a warning about not having a swap space.  I have personally not found the need for one as my install of Linux has never topped 300 MB of memory no matter what I've done with it (except when I installed VMWare Server and tried to create a 40 GB drive, it topped 1.2 GB!)  Typically, Ubuntu boots up and requires about 128 MB of RAM.  Then, through normal use, it hits 240 MB or so.  If you have 512 MB of RAM, you should have more than enough.  But, if you want a swap drive, go ahead and set it up here.

Once these changes are applied, exit Gparted, then type “exit” to close the command window.  Your disk is ready now for install.

So much effort that can be avoided by simply buying a new hard drive and being done with it from the get-go.  I highly recommend getting a new hard drive if you have the ability to do so.

 

Read on the next page: The Installation 

 


 

 

 

 

Beginning Install

From the Ubuntu desktop, double-click the Install icon. You'll see a series of information gathering screens asking you for timezone, country, keyboard layout, install location, user name, etc.

When you double-click install:

It asks you for your timezone:

To zoom in, click someplace:

Next, you specify your personal preferences:

Now comes the tough decision.  How do you install Ubuntu?  Unless you're using a new hard drive, or unless you have an existing hard drive you don't mind erasing completely (and losing all data in so doing), choose manual.  If you're comfortable with erasing a drive and losing all your data, choose one of the two automatic methods.

If you choose manual, you'll see this:

It will scan your system:

Then you'll see a screen like this:

Select the drive you want to install to and specify the “Mount Point” to be “/”.  Also, make sure the file system is Ext2 or Ext3.  Linux needs these advanced file systems for its internal requirements:

After making your changes, it should look something like this:

 

The next step will import many of your old desktop settings if you have an existing drive with personal preferences.  This can be a very handy tool.  As you can see, I did not have any since I wiped my entire drive during in the installation process:

Here you setup your user name for the initial login.  I typed in “rick” and it populated pretty much everything else.  Don't forget to specify your login password:

When you've set everything up, you're ready to begin the process:

The installation took about 15 minutes on both of the machines I tested this on.  It had to format the drive, copy over all of the system files and install all of the necessary drivers.  It goes through several stages and has a status bar like this:

When it's finished you'll see this:

When you reboot, if you have other OSes installed it will give you a menu like this:

If there is only one OS installed now, you'll see this:

After that, there are two things to do.  First, find any applications you'll want to install.  Second, load in any data that needs converted from Windows.  If you made a backup on CD, you can begin copying it over with Nautilus to its new home.  If it's still on an NTFS or FAT32 drive, you can copy it from there to its new home.  Note:  by default, Ubuntu can read NTFS drives but not write to them.  It can read/write to FAT32 drives.  There is a program called NTFS-G3 which can be downloaded to allow read/write to NTFS drives.  It is reasonably stable, but I wouldn't trust it completely.  Linux really needs the Ext2 and Ext3 file systems to work properly.

By default the entire OpenOffice suite is installed.  If you haven't used OpenOffice before, it includes programs which are comparable to, and work with the same data file formats as, Microsoft Office.  The big ones are there out of the gate:

Microsoft Word OpenOffice Write or Writer
Microsoft Excel OpenOffice Calc
Microsoft PowerPoint OpenOffice Impress
Microsoft Access OpenOffice Base
 

 

To find Ubuntu applications to install there are two options.  The first installer is directly accessible from the “Applications” menu, called “Add/Remove”.  This is the installer which is preferred.

You may ask yourself why there are two installers.  This is actually a slick feature of Ubuntu.  Every application you see in Add/Remove is an official Ubuntu app maintained by Ubuntu dev teams.  These apps are guaranteed to work and be supported.  They have “file a bug” options available directly on the “Help” menu.  If you file a bug and it's major enough, it will be fixed pretty quickly.

The other installer is called “Synaptic Package Manager” and is much more powerful and flexible.  But, it also allows the installation of non-official Ubuntu applications:

Synaptic reaches into the entire universe of applications available to Ubuntu.  These include applications which were written for Debian Linux installs, but not necessarily Ubuntu.  There are also many applications actually written for Ubuntu but they're not considered part of the main base of applications (because they're written by teams or folks in their spare time and just don't have the dedicated, full-time support yet--or aren't bug-free enough yet).  Generally speaking you can run these applications without any problems.  But, if there's a problem you'll have to directly contact the author (which may also be an automatic process.  It depends on the application).

Synaptic requires root access to run.  Root access is like the ability to run temporarily as an administrator, but to do so from your account.  To do this, it asks you for your password when it launches.  It provides a powerful way to access over 21,400 software packages.  These range from simple stuff like enhanced clocks to full-on developmental environments for anything you can imagine.

Use the search button to find everything.  There are options to search by name, description, maintainer, dependencies, version, and more.

The left-side categorizes software into common groupings.  So, if you have some idea what software you might need then you'd be good to go.

On the right side all available software is listed.  It also shows you its currently installed state.  Clicking the checkbox provides a menu to specify what you want to do.  You can install, uninstall, update or completely remove any software package that is installed.

You will need to set the repositories you'll load from if you want full access.  By default, Ubuntu keeps you from downloading things that are potentially more error prone than not.

If you have a need to install special software which does not appear in Synaptic (or a newer version than is shown in Synaptic), you can do so.  Download any of the suitable install files available from the internet.  These include tarballs (.tar.gz files), .deb file, .bin files and many other file formats which require may some manual intervention to install.

Most every package you download in tarball form has the ability to be installed using three steps.  First, you unpack it to a directory and open a terminal window and navigate to that directory.  I generally install everything initially to my desktop so it's easy to access.  As such, when I open terminal I type “cd Desktop/” and then the first few letters of whatever it was I downloaded, and then I press Tab.  Terminal will auto-complete the name for you so you don't even have to type in everything.  I actually type “cd De[Tab]/wh[Tab]” and it would be used as “cd Desktop/whatever”.

Once you're in the directory where you unpacked it you generally type “./configure” or “./Configure”.  This will configure the application based on your current system's settings.  Remember, Linux is very configurable by default.  You have dozens of options available on how things will work.  The configuration goes through and actually prepares to build a version of the program you've downloaded which is customized for your system.  Note:  For some installs you might need to type “sudo ./configure” in order to give it proper authority for the install.

If there's an error:  It will tell you if there's a configuration problem or if a package is missing.  Generally speaking you simply correct the error by getting the missing package.  Suppose it told you “ricklib-6.0” was missing.  You'd type “sudo apt-get install ricklib-6.0” and it would automatically download whatever was required and install it.  Then you type “./configure” again and try again.  If you can't find the missing package by the provided name then you might have to google for it.  Often times there are packages with various versions and the message will say “ricklib is missing”, but it won't tell you whether or not you needed ricklib-1.0, ricklib-4.0 or whatever.  So, by searching for “ricklib” on Google you can find what the current versions are.  You'll almost always find a forum entry, a web page, a blog or something along those lines which explains the exact problem you are having as seen through someone else's eyes.  And, generally speaking, the solution will be there too.

Sidenote:  In the alternative, I highly recommend you find a new friend:  XChat.  XChat is an IRC client (Internet Relay Chat) which allows you to chat with other Ubuntu users (and other people in general).  Type “sudo apt-get install xchat-gnome” and you're off and running.  It installs into your “Application – Internet” menu.  By default, it sends you straight to the #ubuntu channel where you can ask the experts.  In my personal experience they're not always the most friendly to newbies.  I think they prefer we all go and read a bunch of web pages rather than giving out a quick 10-second reply.  But, if you ask nicely and your question is simple enough there are usually 100 or more users in that channel and at least one of them will help you.  They're usually pretty helpful about asking which channels to go to for specific questions.

After you type “./configure” and there were no errors, type “make” or “sudo make”.  This will physically build the package after it's been configured.  Then, if there are no errors, type “sudo make install” and this will physically install it into your system.

I know this seems like a lot to do, but this is all you have to know to install pretty much every piece of software out there which is written for Linux.  In addition, one of Ubuntu's greatest strengths is the Synaptic Package Manager.  It will have most everything you would ever need.  You might need to search for it a few different ways to find the thing you're looking for, but it handles all of the hard work for you.  It's well worth trying it in Synaptic first.  If that doesn't work, then resort to the command-line way of doing it.

 

Read on the next page: Replacing Windows applications 

 


 

 

 

 

Applications

Many of you have applications you use in Windows which will need to be replaced. However, there is a way to continue using Windows from inside Linux.  See the section later about VMWare Server.

The OpenOffice suite to replace Microsoft Office is one I've already gone over above.  Click on the “Applications – Office” menu to see all available office programs which are installed by default.  If you need more, go to Add/Remove or Synaptic and install whatever you feel a need for.

Some common things that will need to be done to keep your current existing level of system comfort are:

1)  Install Real Player.  This will allow you to play most media formats.  Real Player is no longer provided by default for Ubuntu, but its installation is quite easy.  Follow these steps:
a)  Go to www.real.com/linux and download “RealPlayer”.  Save the file called “RealPlayer10GOLD.bin” to your Desktop.
b)  Open a terminal window.
c)  Type “cd Desktop”.
d)  Type “chmod +x RealPlayer10GOLD.bin” (you can also type “chmod +x Real[tab]” and it will fill in the rest of the name).
e)  Type “Real[tab]” and it will begin the install.
f)  Firefox will automatically be updated with the RealPlayer10 integration.  For other browsers (like Opera) you'll need to copy the “libgtkhx.so” file from /usr/lib/realplay to /usr/opera/plugins.

It seems like a lot of work, but that's only because it's not an officially supported Ubuntu installation.  Note again, this is one of the reasons why Ubuntu is so powerful and easy to use for new users.  In the past, nearly all software had to be installed using some kind of command-line command.  The advantages of the GUI-based distros like Ubuntu today make it a much less pain free experience overall.

2)  Other players to consider installing:  MPlayer, VLC media player and Movie Player Totem.  To play DVDs you'll need the Gstreamer package.  Why these aren't installed by default?  I have no idea...

3)  Install WINE.  This is available through Add/Remove or Synaptic.  It is a Windows Emulator.  It will allow you to run Windows software directly from inside Linux without using VMWare Server or without having a Windows license on your machine.  It won't run everything because it uses something called an API layer which sits atop Linux's internal design.  This emulates Windows functionality, but isn't actually running Windows. WINE has been able to run about half of what I've tried to run with it.

4)  If you need to run Windows programs and there's no way around it, you can install VMWare Server.  VMWare Server is a free download which will allow you to literally install Windows inside of Linux.  You can run it in a Window or in full screen mode.  In my experience it is absolutely not slower in any way, shape or form.  In fact, I would say it's about 3x faster due to the enhanced disk I/O which is often a bottleneck for Windows on a native hard drive.  VMWare Server and Player are available from Add/Remove or Synaptic.  I suggest installing VMWare Server.  Once installed, you can create new virtual machines whereby you use Windows CDs to install the OS, as well as any other additional software.  VMWare Server installation will be described much more completely in a follow-up article.

5)  If you have networking then you're going to need Samba.  Samba is a tool which allows your Linux desktop to communicate with your Windows workgroups and domains.

6)  Install XChat.  XChat is an IRC client described previously.

 

7)  Go into Add/Install or Synaptic Package Manager and begin searching for things to install.  You can browse around by scrolling or perform some real searches.  I suggest things like "graphics" or "internet" or "plugin".  Searching by name or description will give you some good hints.  Also, go to Google and search for some of your favorite programs by name, and then "add the tag "linux" at the end, like "real player linux".  This will often help you find a Linux version of your favorite apps.

 

8)  If you have NTFS disks and you want to be able to write to them, install NTFS-3G.  It's a relatively stable NTFS write utility (Ubuntu can read NTFS by default).  I would be remiss if I didn't suggest you limit your writing to NTFS disks as much as possible.  I've personally witnessed problems with this driver.  Nothing awful, but Vista's disk scan utility found about 40 errors after just a few days of use.  Index entries were corrupted, files were not part of a directory, etc.  Nothing was lost, but it was a little less than I had hoped.  I haven't had a single problem to date using Ext2 or Ext3 file systems.

9)  Whenever you're looking for help with installed applications, always prefix your Google searches with "ubuntu" first.  If you had a problem with ntfs-3g you could type "ubuntu ntfs-3g help".  This will help you find answers that are often directly on Ubuntu's forums, blogs or have been answered to work directly with Ubuntu's GUI abilities.

10)  If you have other suggested applications to install by default, please post them in the comments section.

 

Read on the next page: The Ubuntu Experience – What is it like?

 


 

 

 

 

 

The Ubuntu Experience – What is it like?

Switching to Ubuntu. “Oh really?” they ask.  “What will it be like?  Is the grass
really greener?  Or does it just appear that way from the overflowing septic tank?”

I'm on my second full week of using Ubuntu exclusively, with VMWare Server for MS Visual Studio development.  So far I've found everything I need available and ready for download.  The experience has been completely positive.  So much so it prompted me to write this article.  Literally.

The only downside I could even report on has been the learning curve.  But that was also the reason why I wrote this article.  If that curve could be made much less for others, then more people could enjoy an alternate OS.  I'm also quite sure there will be commenters out there who will leave additional notes about their experiences, as well as helpful hints and more information.  I suggest reading through those comments to see what's there to be had.  I may update the article if the help is truly beneficial.

Ubuntu (and Linux in general) requires some new knowledge to operate.  The learning curve can be difficult if you don't have a guide.  But once you gain that initial base of knowledge, knowing where to turn for help, knowing how to find out something new, then there really is so much more available than in Windows.

Differences

Linux is definitely not Windows.  There have been several attempts to make it appear much more Windows-like.  And Ubuntu is one of those successful attempts.  Still, even though Linux is different it does the same basic thing.  Both OSes operate all your hardware.  They provides frameworks for applications to run.  There are standards and practices which are adhered to so the experiences are quite similar.  There are some things which make it appear quite different to the user, and it is the hope that this article has helped address some of that.

The first big difference is the heavy use of the command window.  While most daily tasks can now be handled by GUI wrapped utilities in Ubuntu (where you click through stuff), there are still some things which require command-line access.  I think this may be the biggest hurdle Windows users will have in adopting Ubuntu (or Linux in general).  Windows users like everything to be point-and-click, drag-and-drop, as GUI to use as possible.  Many programs in Ubuntu are that way.  But some are not.  If you can get past the GUI-only mindset, so much power is revealed.

For the most part, all daily applications you'll use to do surfing, email, compose letters, work with databases, spreadsheets, run some custom apps, etc., will be there and they'll all work without any problems.

There is also common ground between the two for migration.  And with this guide, the online help utilities, the built-in help, the available IRC channels and forums, I believe truly the 24 hour timeframe is just about what would be required to get you up and running in Ubuntu to the point you need never look back.

VMWare Server

For anyone still needing to dive into true Windows apps there is an application that should, in and of itself, make you want to migrate to Ubuntu:  VMWare Server.

Let me tell you what it is, and then let me tell you what it does.  First, it's an application that lets you run other operating systems from inside of Linux.  And when I say that I mean you have windows inside of Linux which are literally Windows XP, MS-DOS, other versions of Linux, etc.  VMWare allows this to happen.  It can run all flavors of Windows, most Linux, Novell NetWare, Solaris and many other OSes.

This is what it does:  It runs the OS faster than the operating system itself can do on physical hardware.  I'm sure this has to do with disk caching and the like.  But, the Windows XP Home install I have boots in 7 seconds.  It shuts down in two.  When I installed Windows XP Home it installed in about 10 minutes.  Microsoft Office 2000 installed very fast also.  Everything I've installed has gone faster.  Everything I've ran has worked flawlessly and just like you'd expect speed-wise.  I have had absolutely no complaints with VMWare Server.

VMWare should remove any major hurdles you might have left which would keep you from trying Ubuntu a try.  The only advice I can give for setting up VMWare Server is this: Make absolutely sure your virtual machines are created on a drive with an Ext2 or Ext3 file system.  If you don't, then they probably won't work.  And if you do, then the process will be amazingly smooth.

Robustness

I have found Linux to be much more than I realized.

I had to learn its intricate ways in order to see the true capability there. That learning curve was substantial and a large barrier which kept me out of the Linux world for so long. I think the adage of the inertial Windows mindset, staying where you are because it's comfortable, is exactly right. With Windows it was a comfortable environment, one I'd grown into over time. It was my daily companion and letting go of something like that was a difficult mental barrier to break.

Final Impressions

Were it not for Ubuntu being so easy to use in practically every way, I would not have written this article.  But, as I've moved forward with it I've discovered a whole new world outside of a strict Windows environment.  I think there are probably hundreds of thousands of users out there who are where I was:  Right on the verge of taking the plunge, wanting something more but not sure how to get it.

Perhaps this article has given some of you reason to play with other options that are out there. With VMWare to carry your Windows programs along (running from inside of Linux where you can do most everything else), there should be nothing stopping you.

Next week, we will follow up with part 2 of this series, in a far less technical manner: What exactly can you, as a Windows user, expect when your next PC is not a Windows system, but an Apple?

 

Of course we are interested in your feedback. Let us know about your thoughts on different operating systems, reasons to switch or reasons not to switch and good or bad experiences you have made in the past. We are looking forward to reading your comments below.