Linux, Part 1

In my musings about having an internet tablet and then deciding on a notebook and then finally buying a Dell Vostro 1400, I thought that I could make up for a lack of computing power by using a less demanding operating system like Linux. Learning more about it, the particular Linux package that seemed best was Ubuntu. When Dell sells a computer with Linux, they install Ubuntu.


I don’t have my notebook yet, but I wanted to go ahead and download the software. The install is one giant file that fills up a CD (694 MB). Given my low-speed high-speed internet I decided to download it at Susan’s house where such a download would take less than 15 minutes vs. more than 2 hours at my house.

Here’s the deal with Linux: it isn’t exactly user-friendly. They have made enormous strides in this area, but it’s still kind of wonky. For instance, I was reading some posts that talked about problems using Ubuntu with the Vostro. One was the microphone wouldn’t work right, but there was some kind of crazy user command you could enter at a command prompt that would fix it. Another problem is the wireless card that Dell uses. There’s some way around that too, but you have to research *everything*.

So I go to Ubuntu’s website to download the software (they will send you a CD in the mail for free if you want, but who can wait?). The first question is whether you want the 32-bit version or 64-bit. I was pretty sure that the Vostro’s Core 2 Duo processor is 64-bit. So I figured that should be the direction I should go. But to be sure I did some research to find out if the Core 2 Duo is really 64-bit or not. Turns out it is. So I started the download. Then I burned a CD of the .iso disk image to take home.

Once home I thought maybe I should see whether the 64-bit system was advisable, not just possible. From what I read, it was not advisable and I would be better off with the 32-bit version. A lot of the open source software that Linux thrives on is 32-bit and some things (Flash player) are not even available in a 64-bit version (which you can get around by running a 32-bit version of Firefox apparently). More research! So I decide to download the 32-bit version at home and went to bed.

My Vostro won’t arrive for a while (I hope this week, but Dell estimates Feb 19 as the ship date), but now that I have a 32-bit version, I could try it out on my old 32-bit desktop computer. Normally I would have to install it on its own partition on my hard drive. The problem there is my hard drive is too full for a partition and I think partitioning the hard drive would erase it. With the Vostro, Vista will let me partition without erasing. But the great thing about Ubuntu is you can run it from the installation CD!

So I burned the 32-bit .iso file to a CD, rebooted my hard drive, and it booted right into Windows XP. Whoops. I had to go into the BIOS to tell the computer to boot from the CD if possible before going to the hard drive. I did this and it wouldn’t. I go do some research. The CD has to be made bootable. I didn’t know there were bootable and non-bootable CD’s. So I go into my CD burning software, Sonic, and find a button I can push to make the CD bootable. It looks for a disk image and something weird happened, but it wasn’t looking for an .iso file. I put it on there anyway. It wouldn’t boot from this. More research yields that you can sometimes double-click the .iso file and the software will automatically burn it to a bootable CD. I try this and Sonic asks for my Sonic installation CD. I actually get it to put the file on there, but again, I can’t boot from it.

More research. Someone recommends some software that will figure the checksum for the .iso file to make sure it was downloaded correctly. So I download this software (WinMD5Sum), install it, and run it. You get the checksum value and compare it to hash values for Ubuntu installation files. Now this is a lot to know! Anyway, my checksum matches one of the hash values. So the file is okay.

More research on how to make a bootable disk. There is some software you can download that will burn a bootable disk image (InfraRecorder). I download that, install it, run it, and create a CD (this is CD number 5 if you’re keeping score, which I am).

Hey, it’s bootable! I get a Ubuntu splash screen. At the same place I was getting this help, it said you should check to see if the CD is damaged before going further and this is one of the splash screen options. I run that. It looks like it will take a while, so I take the dogs for a walk (they are bouncing off the walls, not at all patient with me figuring out how to make bootable Ubuntu disks, plus they kind of have a Pavlov thing going with when the computer shuts down and I’ve shut down the computer about 8 times).

I get back and the CD has checked out. Ubuntu says press any key and reboot. I reboot and get the splash screen again (takes a little while because everything is running from the CD, not the hard drive). I tell it to start up Ubuntu. This takes even longer, but isn’t that horrible really (a lot faster than Windows installation CD’s).

Boom! I’m on the desktop. In the menu at the top are Applications. There are games there! Cool. There is also OpenOffice, the Linux knockoff of Microsoft Office. I open a word processing document. It works! I close it. I try the spreadsheet. It looks really good. I see if it will sum two number and it does. Good enough for me. Close that. There is an icon for Firefox, so I open it. I’m at a static page stored on my hard drive that says welcome to Ubuntu 7.10 (they have funny names for their releases, 7.10 is Gutsy Gibbon, the previous version was 7.04 Feisty Fawn). Will it work on the real internet? I enter http://mac.fivefoks.com . . .

It works! I’m on the page and some guy has posted his pogo hops record! I log in to my blog account and click Create New Entry. I start typing: “Linux, Part 1 . . . ”

Part 2

2 thoughts on “Linux, Part 1

  1. I’ve gone through the process of installing and trying out Linux several times over the years. Each time I end up with “why am I here?” I think the answer for me is that I should be running a Linux server instead of a Mac server for MovableType, etc. I currently have Fedora running on our iMac 20 in a Parallels partition.

    By the way, get used to typing whacky commands into a terminal window. That’s part of the fun of Linux.

  2. I guess the promise of Linux is that you have something equivalent but less expensive than Windows. Also the big complaints about Windows have always been that it is bloated, unstable, and insecure, so the hope is that it can beat Windows on those levels.

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