Learn about one of the free alternatives to a Windows operating system. Check your PC hardware against the minimum hardware specification requirements and then follow a step-by-step guide to installing and setting up Ubuntu.
This guide concentrates on Ubuntu GNU/Linux, one of the free of charge Linux distributions. It comes with lots of free/open source software such as email, office and photo-editing packages. It is not only used by home users, some web hosting providers also offer Ubuntu Linux servers. This guide will explain the recommended minimum system requirements for Ubuntu, how to install Ubuntu, and how to install programs on to Ubuntu operating system.
Ubuntu is one of the most popular distributions and generally regarded as a very beginner-friendly option. Canonical Ltd - the company that produces Ubuntu - also makes different variants of the operating system.
Xubuntu is one of these, it has lower system requirements than Ubuntu so if you have an older machine and are not within the recommended requirements of Ubuntu, Xubuntu may be a better option.
- 500 MHZ+ CPU
- 256 MB of RAM
- 3 GB of HDD space (required)
- CD drive/ USB port
- Keyboard + mouse
- 64 MB RAM (but it is strongly recommended to use at least 128 MB of RAM)
- 192 MB of RAM when using the Live CD installation method
- 1.5 GB of free space on your hard disk
Systems with this specification (or better) should be capable of running Ubuntu. To see if your hardware such as wireless networking cards, graphics cards, TV cards and USB devices will work correctly, please check the Ubuntu hardware support wiki.
There are two main methods for acquiring the Ubuntu installation media: service or downloading the Ubuntu ISO image and burning it to a CD.
Order the totally free (inc. shipping) Ubuntu CDs via the Ubuntu ShipIt service. They may take a few weeks, even months, to arrive but it is a sensible choice for those who do not have a fast Internet connection or have a small usage cap.
Preferably, download and 'burn' your own copy of the CD (requires a fast internet connection and CD writer hardware) as follows:
You can download an Ubuntu ISO (iso) image free of charge from the Ubuntu website.
If your PC has 256MB of RAM (or more) it is recommended that you use the latest Ubuntu 'Live' CD image. For systems with less than 256 MB, the Xubuntu 'Alternative' Installation CD image is recommended.
The 'alternative' installation CD is very much like the Windows XP install disk and is mainly text-based; whereas with the 'Live' CD you can test the operating system before installing it on your hard drive.
Once the download is complete, it is recommended to verify the checksum of the .iso image, so that you can be sure that the image has not been tampered with or corrupted during transfer.
A checksum program is needed to calculate the checksum of a file. If the resulting hexadecimal number (md5 hash) matches the number posted on the Ubuntu website then you can be sure that the file is clean and free of corruption.
Here is a step-by-step guide to verifying your downloaded Ubuntu using the program Winmd5sum:
- Download winmd5sum
- Open the program and select your downloaded .iso image by browsing your computer
- Press 'calculate' (this may take some time)
- Use the 'compare' feature to see if the md5 hash is the same as the one listed on the Ubuntu hashes list
- Download and install CDBurnerXP Pro
- Open CDBurnerXP Pro, then choose the first option to 'create a DATA CD/DVD or burn an ISO image'
- Select 'File', then 'Write disk from an ISO file'
- A new window will pop up, browse your computer for the Ubuntu CD image and select it
- Select 'Finalize disk' then choose the slowest write speed possible to minimize errors
- Select 'Write disk'
- Once writing is finished (at ×1 should take around 15 minutes)the CD is ready to be used.
If you are planning on dual-booting Ubuntu with your current operating system it is recommended that you defragment your hard drive a few times before starting the Install. This can be done in Windows XP by selecting:
Start > All Programs > Accessories > System tools > Disk Defragmenter
When the program opens, select 'defragment' on each partition. This should be performed at least three or four times, per partition, depending on how long the system has been running without previous defragmentation.
The Ubuntu operating system is very easy to install, this guide focuses on installing Ubuntu by using the Live CD. There are two main ways of installing Ubuntu: you can either do a clean install (no previous operating system) or you can dual-boot it to run side-by-side with another operating system such as Windows XP or Vista. The install is very similar for both but there will be some parts specific for a clean install and a dual-boot.
- First you need to make sure that the CD drive is the first boot device; this can be done by entering the BIOS (normally done by pressing delete on start up) and checking under boot priority CD/DVD is above the hard drive, if not change accordingly
- Restart your PC with the Ubuntu CD in the drive
- When the boot menu appears you should select the first option, which is 'Start or install Ubuntu'
- After selecting this it may take some time to load but when it has you will have Ubuntu system running from the CD. This means you can test it out before installing permanently (note that Ubuntu will run relatively slowly from the CD compared to a hard disk drive)
- Once you have tried Ubuntu from the live CD, you can select the 'install' icon on the desktop to start the installation
- The first screen is language selection: you can choose the language for the rest of the install and for when you are running Ubuntu. After selecting your language, click 'forward'
- The time-zone page will now load. First, click to zoom into your area and then select your nearest main city. After you have done this check that the time is set correctly. If it is not, you can correct this later.
- After selecting 'forward' once again, you will come to the keyboard layout page where you should select your country and then the type of the keyboard you have. You can use the test box to try out characters such as £, $ and @ to make sure it is configured correctly
- You then come to the 'hard drive partitioning' page
This is by far the simplest option, all you need to do is select the second option, which should be erase entire disk. Select this and once again press forward.
If you feel that you know what you are doing, you can select manually edit partition table. You will need to create two new partitions; one for Ubuntu and the second to be used as swap space. Swap partition is used similarly to page files in Windows. The size of the swap partition should be 1.5-2 times the amount of physical RAM in your system; in systems with low amounts of RAM it's recommended to use even more swap space. In a dual boot system you can make the necessary partitions in few simple steps:
- Resize the Windows partition to make room for Ubuntu. You should have at least 5 GB of free space for Ubuntu and the swap partition.
- Right-click on the unpartitioned space, select "New", and then set the size to be the unpartitioned space subtracted by the size of the swap partition. Mount point should be "/", and file system "ext3"
- Make the swap partition similarly, this time letting it to fill the rest of the space and using "swap" as the file system.
Ubuntu will be able to access your Windows partition, so you can use it for storage space. There's also an ext3 driver available for Windows (http://www.fs-driver.org/), with which you can access your Ubuntu partition from Windows.
If you feel that a simpler option would be better for you, it would be easier (but not necessarily best) to use Ubuntu's Guided partition editing tool. This should be the first option in the Preparing the disk space menu. It will automatically choose a size for your new partition. You can change this if you wish and you feel you know what you are doing. After doing this select forward.
- If you are dual booting with Windows, next you will come to a migration menu where you can import files and settings such as email settings and your Internet bookmarks
- On the next page you need to enter your name, your username, your password, and the computer name. Give as much or little info as you like, and remember to select a good password
- After completing this page and selecting forward you will come to the last page, which will summarise what you are about to do. If you think you got it right and don't want to change any settings, select install. Installation may take several minutes
- Once the installation complete you will be asked to restart, so that Ubuntu will start running from the hard drive.
- At the end of shutting down you will be asked to remove the Ubuntu CD, after removing the CD press enter and it will continue rebooting.
- If you set up Ubuntu alongside another operating system, the GRUB boot loader should load where you can select Ubuntu or Windows. There are also a few other options such as Memtest86 (that you can use to test your PC's memory for errors) and Ubuntu Recovery mode (that can be used for fixing Ubuntu if for some reason you can't log in). To get into Ubuntu select it from the menu and press enter
- You should then come to the Ubuntu log-in screen, where you need to give the user name and password you entered on the account detail page to log into Ubuntu for the first time!
Once you are logged into Ubuntu for the first time it is recommended you install the latest updates. These will improve security, remove bugs and even add more features.
If you have an Internet connection to the PC, this is a very simple task. Just click on the orange update manager icon in the taskbar (top right). After clicking on this the update manager will open and show the available updates. Make sure all the boxes are ticked and press install. As with all administrative tasks in Ubuntu, you will need to enter your password; this is to prevent non-administrator users making changes to the operating system.
It will then download and install all of the updates, please be aware that especially on PCs with a slow Internet connection this can take some time.
Ubuntu comes with lots of free/open source software such as email, office and even photo-editing packages. Of course you can install loads of free software as well as some proprietary software onto Ubuntu.
Ubuntu also comes with many drivers; this is why many things that need separate drivers in Windows will work out-of-the-box in Ubuntu such as network cards, motherboard drivers and even TV cards.
For more information about the hardware that should work without separate drivers visit the hardware support wiki. Despite this you might need some proprietary drivers, which do not come pre-installed. These drivers are not open source, which is why they do not come pre-installed with Ubuntu but they are free, improve performance and are also very easy to install.
The graphics card driver - Might not be necessary for older cards or motherboards with integrated Intel graphics.
The Restricted Drivers Manager is by far the easiest way to install graphics card drivers. If the Manager supports your card and you have not installed any drivers prior to this, simply select System, Administration, Restricted Driver Manager and tick the boxes.
Automatix2 is a graphical installer that can be used to install some of the most common programs and drivers that work with Ubuntu. At the time of writing this article there were 105 pieces of software available for install through Automatix2.
You may want to install other software and drivers. This can be easily done though Automatix2, such as NTFS read/write support, which makes it possible to read and write on Windows partitions.
NDISWrapper - A driver wrapper that allows you to use Windows driver for network cards.
All the Multimedia Codecs - including flash and java plugins for the web browser.
Alternative media organisers such as VLC and Songbird - If you are used to using an open source media organiser/player it is possible to install it on Ubuntu.
Alternative web browser - Again if you are used to an alternative web browser like Opera then it is possible to install this in Ubuntu too.
If a program you want to install is not available in Automatix there are several ways of installing it. The main graphical ways are Add/Remove programs in Applications menu, and Synaptic Package Manager that is found in Administration under the System menu. You can also install a program by simply downloading a .deb package and double clicking it.
Finally, enjoy Ubuntu! If you have any problems or questions on how to do more things with Ubuntu, have a look at the Documentation for Ubuntu or post a topic in our Alternative Operating Systems forum.