December 18, 2008, 5:18 PM — Ubuntu Linux 8.10, aka Intrepid Ibex, is the most popular Linux distribution available for installing on your PC, thanks to its steadily improving hardware compatibility and installation software, along with a wealth of free applications and utilities that run on any version of Linux.
But even though the bad old days of disappointing Linux installations are mostly over, putting Ubuntu on your PC can still be tricky if you haven't done it before. Many PC users have never had to boot their computers from a CD or had to partition a hard disk. And most of us take for granted that the OS will include drivers to handle crucial hardware devices such as graphics cards and wireless networking controllers.
For would-be Linux adopters, these and other system configuration complexities are make-or-break issues. Fortunately, most potential hassles are easy to overcome with a little know-how. A few--including the secret to enabling the dazzling Compiz Fusion 3D window manager--reveal the advanced features and customizability that set Linux apart from Windows and Mac OS X. Though it is impractical to try to offer a solution to every conceivable installation snafu in a single article, we will tackle some of the most common problems that plague newcomers and veteran Ubuntu installers.
If, during your installation, you run across a problem that isn't covered in this tutorial, head over to the Ubuntu Forums, where a massive community of Ubuntu users is always ready and willing to help out a motivated newbie. Just bear in mind that the Linux community rewards users who make the effort to find the answers themselves. If you take a moment to search for solutions on your own before demanding that others give you the answers, you'll find that more-experienced users will be very cordial and helpful when you truly get stuck.
Get a Copy of Ubuntu
The most common way to install Ubuntu is to download and burn a copy of the free installation CD. If you still live with a dial-up connection, you may be better off buying an installation DVD from a distributor such as Amazon or arranging to have a free copy mailed to you from Canonical (be prepared to wait six to ten weeks for it to arrive). The 700MB download takes only minutes to complete over a cable modem connection; if your transfer time is slower, don't be afraid to stop the download and select a different mirror site from the list.
But what do you do with the resulting ISO disc-image file? Neither Windows XP nor Windows Vista knows how to burn .iso files, but Alex Feinman's free ISO Recorder does the job. After installing the version of ISO Recorder that's compatible with your version of Windows, right-click the downloaded Ubuntu ISO file and choose Copy image to CD. Alternatively, you can copy the Ubuntu install CD to a sufficiently large USB flash drive, using the techniques described in the Ubuntu documentation Web site.
Choose Your Install Method
Once you've burned the Ubuntu ISO file to a disc, it's time to decide which installation method works best for you. Basically, you have three options:
Use the Windows Ubuntu Installer (also known as Wubi) to install Ubuntu as a secondary OS on your PC. This is the best option for anyone trying Ubuntu for the first time, as it allows you to remove the entire Ubuntu installation from within the Windows uninstall tool. If you're not yet convinced that Ubuntu is for you, this method will give you the most peace of mind. Install Ubuntu as the primary OS on your PC, keeping Windows in a secondary partition. This is the default method of installation offered through the Ubuntu Live CD, and it works well for people who are committed to keeping Ubuntu. Your Windows partition will be shrunk down to about half its original size, and your Windows files will be accessible from within Ubuntu. Install Ubuntu as the only operating system on your PC. This method is best for people who are committed to giving Ubuntu the old college try, and who aren't likely to back out. Generally speaking, this is only recommended if you've tried Ubuntu before and liked it, or if you're installing the OS on a secondary machine.
Option 1: Windows-Based Installation
If you don't want to mess with hard-disk partitioning, but you'd still like to try out Ubuntu on your PC, you're in luck. Just insert the Ubuntu CD into your optical drive and choose Install inside Windows from the Ubuntu CD Menu. The Wubi installer puts Ubuntu into your existing Windows partition just as if it were a Windows application (albeit one that required 5GB of disk space). After installation, Ubuntu will appear as a menu option in your Windows boot menu (which you may now be seeing for the first time during boot-up). This is a nearly hands-free initial installation if you simply accept the default settings. And if you don't like the results, you can use the Wubi installer to remove all traces of it in a few clicks.
Option 2: Live CD Installation, Keeping Windows
To retain your existing Windows partition alongside your new Ubuntu partition, boot from the Ubuntu Live CD and double-click the Install icon on the desktop. Enter your time zone and location information when prompted to do so, and you'll find yourself at the 'Prepare disk space' screen. If Ubuntu detects a Windows partition, it will automatically set the partition method to Guided - resize.
By default, Ubuntu wants to set your Windows partition to a minimal size, but you can even out the distribution a little if you prefer. Just slide the divider bar between the Windows and Ubuntu partitions to a setting that you're happy with, and then click Forward. The rest of the installation process should be smooth sailing.
Option 3: Live CD Installation, Sans Windows
If you're not planning to keep Windows on your Ubuntu machine (or if Windows isn't installed there to begin with), this method of installation is pretty easy. Just select Guided - use entire disk at the 'Prepare disk space' screen, and the rest of the install process is the same as in the other two scenarios.