With modern tools, getting Linux on your hard drive is
simple--at least compared to the bad old days
If you’re like me, you’ve probably installed Linux a few times,
mucked around with it for an hour or two, changed the theme, and maybe
browsed the web a little. Then, when it was time to work, you jumped
back to Windows, and all was right with the world.
Things are much easier now than they were in the early days of
Debian, Slackware, and Red Hat. Modern distros such as Ubuntu and SUSE
LED install with crucial applications (web browser, photo editor, email
client, word processor, etc.) and support for most hardware out of the
box. With Ubuntu, you can boot off the CD to determine whether or not
your rig will work with the OS before you make a single change to the
hard drive. You can tell if you’re going to have a problem before you
hose your system, which is always a good thing.
Before we get started installing Ubuntu, feisty fawn, you’ll need to
download the appropriate ISO file from the Ubuntu downloads page
and burn it to disc. For neophytes, we generally recommend starting
with the x86 versions, even if your CPU supports AMD64 extensions. The
proper file name for most people will be ubuntu-7.04-desktop-i386.iso.
To burn the disc, you can use commercial burning software (like
or download and install the free ISO Recorder
software. It’s also a good idea to run a backup before you get started
(or anytime you muck around with your partitions, for that matter).
There are two ways to make space for your Linux install: You can
delete an unused partition or let the Linux installer resize an
existing partition. If you have an unused partition on your hard drive
that you want to use for Linux, it’s a good idea to remove that
partition before you start the install process, since Linux can’t
install to an NTFS partition. We recommend dedicating at least 20GB of
space for your Linux install. To get rid of the partition, open the
Computer Management tool in Windows and delete that partition. In
Linux, you’ll have a tough time telling which partition is which, so to
avoid heartbreak, do your deleting in Windows. If you don’t have an
unused partition, we’ll talk about resizing your existing partition
during the Linux install portion of this story.
Once you’ve burned the ISO, you’ll need to boot your PC from the
Ubuntu CD, which will involve either manually selecting the optical
drive or changing the boot order in your BIOS. After several minutes,
you should see the basic Ubuntu desktop. You should have access to most
of your hardware, including network, sound, and graphics. Some typical
gaming components simply don’t have good Linux support—notably the X-Fi
series of soundcards and GeForce 8800–family videocards. We’ll talk
about them in a bit.
Assuming you booted into the live desktop properly, starting the
install process is as simple as double-clicking the Install icon on the
desktop. The install program will prompt you for your language,
location, and keyboard layout before you get to the hard-disk
Choose the manual option when it comes time to partition your
Partitioning your hard disk is the only step of the install process
that has the potential to do serious harm. If you install to the wrong
partition, you could accidentally nuke your Windows drive and all of
its contents (that’s why we recommend running a full backup before you
start the install process). The safest way to install is to add a new
hard drive or just create free space on the disk—however, that’s not
always an option. If you want to resize your existing partition, select
the Manual option. Select the partition you want to resize and click
Edit Partition. Then input the new size for the partition in megabytes
(leave the other settings alone) and press OK. Next, you’ll need to
create a swap partition. Highlight the newly created free space, click
New Partition, set the size to 2,000MB, and choose Swap. Click your
free space once again, then New Partition, and change the mount point
to /. Leave the other settings alone and press Next.
If you choose to resize an existing NTFS partition, make sure
you give your Linux install enough room. We used 120GB.
Now you’ll be prompted to import data from your Windows partition.
The Ubuntu installer will pull your Gaim settings, Firefox bookmarks,
music, photos, and documents over from your Windows install if you
select these options. I had mixed results with this tool in the early
build of Feisty—it crashed the installer on a few Vista machines we
tested—but your mileage may vary. After you import files, you’ll be
prompted to create a user account. You’re almost done!
The final step is to confirm your installer’s settings and press
Install to finish the process. You’ll need to wait 20–40 minutes while
the install completes and then finish by rebooting your PC and
selecting the Ubuntu entry from the boot manager that was installed.
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Last Updated Friday, May 11 2007 @ 12:51 PM EDT