Ubuntu Linux for beginners: Tips for getting started
Answers to all your Ubuntu setup questions -- and some you didn't think to ask.
Maybe it was one piece of malware too many, maybe it was realizing that while Windows 7 doesn't look like XP, there really wasn't that much better about it, in any case the day had come when you decided to give Ubuntu Linux a try. Here's what you need to know to make the most of your new experiment in operating systems.
[ See also: And the best Linux desktop distro of all is... ]
The easiest way to try Ubuntu is to just buy a laptop or PC that already has Ubuntu installed on it. Dell, system76, and ZaReason are all reputable computer vendors who have shipped Ubuntu equipment for years. You won't go wrong with any of these vendors.
If you're not in the market for a new PC, it's easy to give Ubuntu a try on your existing PC. Indeed, you won't have to change a thing on your computer to try it.
First, you'll need to download a copy of the latest version of Ubuntu. Today, that's Ubuntu 10.10. You might be tempted to try a newer version. Don't give in to temptation. The alpha and beta releases of any Linux system are for expert users, not someone who's trying Linux for the first time.
The fastest way to get a copy is to download it from the Ubuntu download page. Not sure which version to get? Just go for the 32-bit. Even if your machine can support a 64-bit operating system, the 32-bit edition will still run just fine on your PC.
Tip: Not sure which version to get? Just go for the 32-bit. Even if your machine can support a 64-bit operating system, the 32-bit edition will still run just fine on your PC.
Once you have it downloaded, you'll need to burn the downloaded image to either a CD or an USB stick. If you aren't sure about how to do this, don't worry about it, the Ubuntu download page includes detailed instructions, under the “show me how” button. Trust me, if you know how to work a computer, you can do this.
Then, all you need do, is put the freshly burned CD or USB stick in your computer and reboot it. Almost all modern computers will boot up and give you a choice between trying Ubuntu out or installing it. Since at this point you're just fooling around with Ubuntu to get a feel for it, select Try Ubuntu.
This should boot you into an Ubuntu session. There are other ways to try out a new Linux distribution, but you won't need to worry with them. A live CD or USB stick is all you need to start with.
Next page: Trying Ubuntu
By default, unlike Windows, Ubuntu comes with a selection of full-powered software programs. This includes an office suite, OpenOffice; a cloud-file syncing service (like Dropbox), Ubuntu One; a photo-manager, Shotwell; Empathy for IM; the Evolution e-mail client, and, of course, a Web-browser, Firefox.
You'll find all these programs, and many more, under the applications menu. From here you can do anything you want with the desktop. Browse the Web, create a document, send an e-mail, talk to a friend over IM, go crazy.
Tip: The one fundamental thing you can't do in Ubuntu's trial mode is make any permanent changes to your desktop, and that includes installing software.
One thing you'll notice, especially if you're running Ubuntu from a CD, is that it will feel slower than your native operating system. That's not because Ubuntu is slow, far from it, it's because when you're running any operating system from an optical drive or a USB stick it's going to be slower than it would be if it were running off your hard drive.
The one fundamental thing you can't do in this trial mode is make any permanent changes to your desktop. Any changes you make during this session will last only so long as the session does. If you turn it off or reboot, you'll be back to the original choice of trying Ubuntu out or installing it. Or, if you've taken the CD or USB stick out, you'll be back to your usual desktop.
That doesn't mean though that you have to lose any work you've done while trying Ubuntu out. You can save files to Ubuntu One, Google Docs or any other online file saving service.
Indeed, many people use live Ubuntu CDs and USB sticks for just this purpose. Advanced users sometimes use USB sticks with 'persistence,' allowing them to make and save changes to the USB stick and effectively carrying their own personalized operating system and files with them in their pocket. So long as they can find a computer to boot up, they can start work with their desktop of choice. For just playing around with Ubuntu though you won't need to worry that.
The other thing you can't do with this trial version of Ubuntu is install software. So, for example, if you want to view an Adobe Flash video, you won't be able to do it because the Adobe Flash player is optional and isn't on Ubuntu by default.
Next page: Using Ubuntu
Let's say you decide you like Ubuntu, or at least you want to give it more of a try, in that case you can choose to install it on your hard drive. This does not mean you have to blow away your Windows partition. Far from it! Just let Ubuntu set up a part of your hard disk for itself and you should be fine.
Tip: In theory, you need only 2GBs of disk space for Ubuntu. Don't believe it. Set aside at least 10GBs.
Before starting this though make sure you have a recent backup of your system. Nothing is likely to happen to it, but why take any chances?
In theory, you need only 2GBs of disk space for Ubuntu. Don't believe it. Set aside at least 10GBs. Personally, I allow at least 20GBs for any operating system. That gives me room enough for it, extra applications, and all the data I'm ever likely to be using. If you plan on doing a lot of photography or video work then you'll want to set up more space, but ordinary users won't run out of room.
Along the installation way you'll be given a choice to install Adobe Flash, I'd do it if I were you. There's a lot of video content on the Web that's in Flash format. There are other open source programs that can handle them, but Adobe Flash is the program that's most likely to play any Flash content you run across.
The installation windows will also give you the option of installing the Fluendo codec. Do it. Without it, playing music on Banshee, Ubuntu's default music player, will be a lot more trouble. Specifically, this will let you play MP3 audio.
You'll also create a separate swap partition. This partition, which Ubuntu uses when memory is tight, should be twice as big as however much RAM your PC has. So, for instance, if you have a desktop with 4GBs of RAM, create an 8GB swap partition. If you let Ubuntu set up your drive for you though, you won't need to worry about these details. Ubuntu's installer will take of it for you.
Tip: During the installation process you'll be given a choice to install Adobe Flash. Do it. You'll also have the option of installing the Fluendo codec. Do it too.
Ubuntu, on both Windows 7 and XP systems, will also automatically set itself up to be used in a dual-boot mode. Some people will tell you that you need to jump through a lot of hoops to set up Windows/Ubuntu dual-boot. Don't believe them. Most of the time, there's nothing to it. To make sure I had that right, I just added Ubuntu to Windows 7 and XP systems using Ubuntu's defaults to automatically set up the hard drive. Sure enough, it worked like a charm.
Once installed you can still get to your Windows files. The simple way to do this is to just look in Ubuntu's Places menu and click on the Windows partition. That's it. If you wanted to get techie about it, you're using a program called ntfs-config but you don't need to know that, you just need how to click a mouse button.
Since you're new to Linux you may not know what program to use to do what. Fortunately for you, the handy LinuxQuestions Web site includes a listing of Linux software equivalent to Windows software. So, for example, if you use Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator, the Linux program you'll want to try in their place, which comes on Ubuntu by default, is Inkscape.
I'd add two things to that list. First, regardless of operating system, I've been finding Google's Chrome is the best Web browser around. Also, since it looks and works the same on Windows and Ubuntu it will make it even easier to switch back and forth between desktops. The second is that as far as I'm concerned GnuCash is the hands-down best Quicken replacement for Linux.
If there are some programs that you really must have the Windows version of, you can, of course, always just boot into Windows. If you'd rather use it inside of Linux, Crossover Linux makes it easy to run many common Windows programs in Linux. Crossover is based on the Wine open source project. You could use Wine to do everything that CodeWeavers Crossover Linux Impersonator, or Crossover Games, does, but I wouldn't recommend a Linux beginner try it.
Need more help? There's a free, albeit slightly dated, Ubuntu manual available online. There's also other online documentation and lots of free community support. If you can't find help there, or you prefer traditional support, Canonical also offers paid technical support for both individuals and businesses.
Of course, if you enjoy Ubuntu, as I expect you will, you may find yourself becoming a Linux expert faster than you might think. Have fun!