Easing into Ubuntu, part 1

tips_n_tricksSo you’ve heard of Ubuntu, and you want to know what all the fuss is about. Or maybe you’re into open source applications on your Windows or Mac OS X computer, and you’re curious about an open source operating system. It could happen, right? That’s how it happened for me, at least.

What exactly is Ubuntu?
Ubuntu is a distribution of the Linux operating system. Linux is different from operating systems, such as Windows or OS X, because it was developed under the GPL, or GNU Public License, which makes it free, as in freedom–freedom to share and change the software–but not necessarily free, as in cost. Ubuntu is free as in freedom, as well as in cost! But, as we all know, free isn’t always a good thing. Many of us have come to consider “free” as a lure into paying for something eventually, or as a sign of something sub-par. Ubuntu, however, is free with no strings attached whatsoever. When you download or receive a free installation CD, you won’t be pestered to register, activate, or subscribe to anything. Moreover, Ubuntu is not, in my opinion, sub-par. A quick Google search yields countless positive (as well as some negative) reviews of Ubuntu. Even PC World approves; Ubuntu was rated #27 on its list of the 100 Best Products of the Year! You can read more about my opinion of Ubuntu here.

Now that we know a little about Ubuntu, let’s move on to more exciting territory!
Okay, I lied. Sadly, just about anybody who would like to install a new operating system needs to do some homework, especially if he or she is unfamiliar with this new OS. Where to begin, then? Well, the Ubuntu live CD is a good place to start. A live CD enables you to try out an operating system risk-free. It doesn’t touch your system files; it merely enables you to get a feel for the operating system, as well as see whether or not your hardware is supported out of the box. Ubuntu can be downloaded as an ISO image here, or you can go here to have a copy delivered to you for free (delivery usually takes a few weeks). If you download an ISO, you just need to burn the image onto a CD.

Once you have a live CD, you just need to pop it into your CD drive and reboot. Or maybe not. Some computers aren’t configured to boot from a CD first. If you need to change the boot order, you’ll have to get into your BIOS and adjust it (be careful in there!). Once your BIOS is configured to boot from a CD first, you can just leave it like that; it’s actually quite useful, and now you can use your live CD.

So now you’ve tried out the live CD, you’ve fallen in love with Ubuntu, everything seemed to work, but you’re still a little wary.
At this point, you’ll probably want to check on hardware support or laptop support (also here), just to be sure. I have a Dell Inspiron 630m, which is the same thing as the XPS m140, more or less, and Ubuntu works fine on it.

Search for a few online reviews of Ubuntu 6.06, as well as personal experiences with installation and use. This will not only make the installation seem less intimidating, if you’re new to such things, but you’ll also find solutions to potential problems with your hardware; even if something didn’t work in when you used the live CD, somebody may have figured out a way to make it work (which is why open source software is so great). You’ll also familiarize yourself with common installation issues. Nobody can guarantee that your installation will be hassle-free, although in my experience, Ubuntu 6.06 installs faster and easier than Windows XP, which itself isn’t very difficult to install. This site shows the general ease of the installation process. Assuming your hardware is supported and you know what you’re doing if you want to dual boot Ubuntu and another OS, the installation process is really quite easy. Still, you should know what to expect!

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