February 11, 2005

Installing Linux

I have been meaning to switch to Linux for a long, long time now. The first time that I attempted to do anything about it was about three years ago, when I obtained the Mandrake 8.2 installation CDs (I had to order them through the mail, as I was still on dialup). The installation went okay (apart from the fact that I got confused when partitioning the hard drive, and ended up leaving a megabyte of free space on the Windows partition instead of a gigabyte (or something like that)) but when I got to first boot, there were two deal-breakers.
It didn’t detect my modem, and it didn’t detect the soundcard built into the motherboard.
The absence of the latter wouldn’t have been a problem, but the fact that I couldn’t get onto the Internet meant that trying to fix these two problems seemed like an enormous undertaking.
Of course, when I realised that my Windows partition was now unusably crowded, I had to reformat the whole thing. This put me off of switching to Linux for a few years, and I decided to make do with Windows for a while. It’s not perfect, but at least it works (or appears to, at least).

Since then, I’ve gradually become more and more disillusioned with Windows (I remarked to Karen last night that their slogan “Where do you want to go today?” should have been “What do you want your computer to do randomly without you knowing about it today?”). The release of the Mac Mini got me very excited, but when I realised that I’d need to get a USB keyboard, and the base unit wouldn’t be enough for me without the built in bluetooth, wi-fi, memory upgrade etc, it didn’t seem like such a good deal anymore.
My mind returned to Linux. Without any additional cash outlay, I could have another go at setting up a dual boot on my existing computer. If it didn’t work, my Windows installation would be unaffected, and I could perhaps reconsider the options. If it did work, then I could ultimately wipe Windows off and bedone with it forever.
As an aside at this point, you may be wondering why I would want to switch to Linux when Windows works perfectly well? The truth is, it doesn’t. I’m sick of the perpetual maintenance required to keep the thing secure and speedy. I’m sick of the fact that even when you’ve done all this maintenance, it’s still not secure, and it still needs reinstalling every year because when you uninstall a program, it doesn’t seem to do a thorough job. I’m sick of the fact that I want to run it as a non-admin user so that it is more secure, but half of the programs for it don’t work properly unless you have admin privileges, or had admin priveleges when you installed them.
I heard that Ubuntu was one of the best Linux distributions for a first timer, so I set my sights on it. I downloaded a “Live” CD image, which can be burned onto a CD to produce a bootable disc that automatically loads a read-only session. This session doesn’t touch your existing system except in a read-only context, so it can do no harm.
I wasn’t 100% impressed – it wouldn’t detect my wireless network card, and it didn’t detect my monitor’s individual model, so was reluctant to run it at a decent resolution and refresh rate. Still, I considered that I could deal with these issues as long as it would detect my wired ethernet port fine (Karen’s computer is in another room, and though I can use it to look up solutions to problems, running around the house does get tiring).
So this morning I installed it, and I have been playing with it. I’ve managed to get it onto my network (though I have not yet had a chance to look at getting the wireless card working), and import my bookmarks from Windows. I’ve updated to the latest version of Firefox, I’ve installed an MP3 player, and am generally getting settled in. It took a fair while, but I eventually managed to force it to run at a good resolution and refresh rate. Getting the thumb button on the mouse to work is also still on my list of things to do. I’m finding Ubuntu Guide very helpful.
UPDATE 13:12: Thumb button working. Once you know how the imwheelrc file works, you’re sorted. Helpful link.
UPDATE 14:33: Wireless is working. I’m out of breath. And a word of warning – if you try to set up a Belkin wireless PCI card using ndiswrapper, use bcmwl5a.inf instead of bcmwl5.inf. I can point you to the relevant file if you need it. Helpful link.
However, once everything is set up, I’m confident that Ubuntu is easier to use than Windows XP. It’s the installation that will put people off. It’s certainly unsuitable for anyone who isn’t very comfortable with computers in general, with Google, with tearing their hair out deciphering the advice of Linux nerds who aren’t capable of giving clear, detailed instructions on a forum thread.
However, I have to endorse Linux in the interests of a better world. Windows is a terribly unintuitive operating system, but for many people it is what they are used to, and hardware manufacturers usually only provide Windows installation CDs.
I’ll keep you posted. If any regular Uborka readers are going through the same thing, and wish to share experiences and guidance, feel free to get in touch. There’s a link at the top of the page to the contact form.


3 thoughts on “Installing Linux

  1. Next release of Ubuntu (Currently in testing, it’s what I’m posting this from) has a graphical installer, far nicer than the debian one Warty uses.

  2. Oh, I have no problem with text-based installers. That said, I found it a bit odd that the default option for the Warty installer was to wipe your hard drive. I would have thought that seeing as I had 30GB of unpartitioned space, it should have had the sense to default to installing into that.

  3. For the same reason I want a Mac Mini. I’m fed up with MS and the time it takes to keep everything ticking over. And I don’t have the time nor the energy to learn Linux which is still an OS that the user needs to commit a lot of time to.
    I want it to work, and to work first time dammit.

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