Exploring Linux with Ubuntu
Exploring Linux with Ubuntu
From our "Linux is for Total Newbies" series, courteousy of Dave Sullivan
In this introductory article, Dave Sullivan shares how easy it can be to install and use the latest Ubuntu, even for total newbies.
After toying with Linux
on and off for years, I got my hands on a copy of Ubuntu
Linux. I grabbed the ISO, burned it, and booted off the CD. The
installation program was extremely easy to use, in that it was almost
entirely automated. As I made my way through the installation, I
wondered what it would be like once I had it all up and running.
Having used a distribution called Slackware
before, I was quite familiar with having to manually perform tasks. These tasks often included building support for media playback, wireless networking, and JAVA among other commonly used features. However, this go around, Ubuntu released me from many of the manual tasks. Let's take a brief tour through Ubuntu's
Installation in Easy Steps
Once you pop in the CD
and boot, you'll be prompted to choose an install mode. If you're installing for the first time and are using Ubuntu as
a desktop system, simply hit enter for the default install mode. This default mode will more than sufficiently cover most new user's needs.
After screenfuls of text whiz by (fear not, these are all normal system
checks and diagnostic messages), the text-based installer appears. Again, Ubuntu has made it relatively painless for a total newbie.
The installer will
ask you for your preferred language. Ubuntu's primary goal being
"Linux for Human Beings," and to be universally accessible, it
offers a wide selection of languages by default. The installer then
asks for your location and your keyboard layout. Again, Ubuntu
focuses on accessibility, so it allows you to select from a long list
of keyboard layouts and options before proceeding with the installation.
Ubuntu's install software
then performs an automated hardware detection, and loads necessary packages from
the CD. It also attempts to detect any network cards you may have in
your system and proceeds to attempt auto-configuration for a dynamic IP (DHCP). If
this fails, you're given the option to manually configure the
settings. I would suggest simply skipping this until later.
You probably won't be needing network settings for the initial installation.
It then asks you for a hostname; the Linux-equivilent of a "Computer
Name," for which you can enter whatever you desire to call your
After detecting disks, Ubuntu installer prompts you to choose a
partitioning method. Partitions are divisions on your computer hard disk to support various needs of Linux. Intermediate or expert Linux users will
typically create partitions manually, but Ubuntu's "Guided
Partitioning" feature will do the work for you. To choose
guided partitioning, simply hit enter on the default option.
method will create two partitions: one data partition, formatted with
the ext3 filesystem, and one swap partition, which is typically the
size of your system RAM multiplied by 1.5. The swap partition
operates much like the pagefile in Windows. It is virtual memory
that's swapped between the hard disk and the system RAM.
The installer then copies
the base packages to your hard drive, and once complete, prompts you
to set the timezone and configure a default user. Much like the
Windows XP install process, you need to create an initial user
account to login, otherwise you wouldn't be able to access
your brand new Linux system! Simply enter a username and a desired
password. This user name is very important, because it is given special privilges. Please be sure to remember the user name and password. For accuracy purposes, you'll be prompted to enter the
I can hear you asking,
"are we done yet?" Yes, we're almost done!
Finally, the boot loader
will be installed. You will be prompted if it detects any other
operating systems on your machine. A boot loader is a small program
that resides on your hard drive. This
particular one, called GRUB
(Grand Unified Bootloader), produces a menu at boot-time that allows
you to choose an operating system to boot. You are then gloriously
informed that the "first stage of installation" is complete!
Adding Packages and Programs
Remove the CD and hit enter, which will reboot your system into the
next automated phase of the install. Ubuntu then boots up, and sends
you into the package installer, at which point you can sit back and
watch as it extracts and configures all the base packages that were
copied to your hard drive in the first phase. I recommend you run and grab a snack; this phase takes a few minutes.
variety of different packages are installed at this point, such as
the graphical desktop system, drivers, the Linux kernel; everything
required for a base install. The only time you'll be bothered
throughout this phase is to select your desired screen resolutions
for the graphical interface. Soon enough, everything is installed and
you've got a login screen! Don't be shy, go on and enter the username
and password you set not too long ago.
Once I had Ubuntu
installed for the first time and logged myself in, I realized how
easy everything was. Right out of the box it supported my wireless
card, among all the other hardware in my system. It required a bit of
manual configuration to do more things, such as media playback and
java, but the definition of 'manual configuration' changes
durastically between my previously favoured distribution
Ubuntu comes with a
package manager called Synaptic, which makes installing new packages
a breeze. All the software packages are stored in central databases
called repositories, from which Synaptic downloads packages (and all
its necessary dependancies) and installs them. Using this tool, its
easy to install commonly used tools such as Sun Java, Macromedia
Flash, audio/video codecs for playback, and many others. By default,
however, Ubuntu disables its 'universe' and 'multiverse'
repositories, which hold the majority of these packages. Enabling
these repositories is a simple task, and instructions on how to do so
are found on Ubuntu's extensive
Making Things Easy with EasyUbuntu
To make things even
easier, you can download a third-party tool called EasyUbuntu,
which makes setting up the packages I mentioned earlier even easier.
Ubuntu's wiki warns that you should use this software at your own
risk, though. There's always a possibility that it may cause an issue, so I'd recommend using it on a fresh installation.
That way, if something does appear, you can simply reinstall. EasyUbuntu has installation
instructions on their download page, which walk you through
downloading, extracting, and running. As for actually using it,
it's just like the name -– Easy! Simply select which options you'd
like to install, and click OK. It's that simple. EasyUbuntu will automagically download
and install the packages you've selected.
In addition to these easy
features, Ubuntu also has an excellent IRC support channel, where
knowledgable Ubuntu users offer friendly advice and assistance with
various problems. The majority of common tasks, however, are
documented on the extensive help wiki.
Sharing the Joy of Ubuntu
After using Ubuntu for
almost half a year, I upgraded to the newest release. I also
installed it on my computer at school, which stirred up a few
questioning minds in the computer lab.
The Linux portion of the
course uses a really old version of Linux and is taught with what
many of the students call a horribly written book. The course scared
more people away from Linux than it did teach them about it. However,
upon seeing Ubuntu, many of them became curious. I installed it on
the computer that a friend of mine uses at school, and he was amazed
at how easy it installed and detected the hardware. Even copying
files from his USB flash disk, the grin covered his face as he
exclaimed, "Wow! That's faster than Windows!"
I smiled and nodded. The version of Linux he used in the course was
at least a few years old, and that Linux has indeed come a long way since then.
After using it for a few days, he even asked me to burn him a copy so
he could install it at home. A few weeks later, he was still using it
on his school computer, and he continued to be impressed with how
well Ubuntu ran and how easy it really was. Looking back at the old
version of Linux he had used for the course, he was astounded at how
far it had come and how different it was. This is a common misconception among new users.
"Trust me, after doing
the Linux course, I didn't think I'd ever use it... but this Ubuntu!"
he'd say, excitement evident in his voice. I simply smiled and
nodded, feeling satisfied that I had helped share an alternative,
easy-to-use option: Ubuntu.
Dave Sullivan is a Linux enthusiast with substantive experience running Slackware and Ubuntu in both the home and classroom environment.
This article comes courtesy of Dave Sullivan, published by reallylinux.com with permission.
This brief opinion article contains the opinions and personal experiences of the author at the time of publication. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. Microsoft, Microsoft Windows and WindowsXP are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation both in the United States and Internationally. Notations MS and XP are included and refer to Microsoft Corporation and Windows XP. All other trademarks or registered trademarks in this opinion piece belong to their respective owners.