Thursday, April 23, 2009

Exploring Ubuntu

I've had a mild curiosity about the Linux operating system as an alternative to Windows for a long time.  Actually installing it always seemed like more trouble than I cared to bother with, but recently I have seen a few things that convinced me to look into it.

This post from Lifehacker about Portable Ubuntu convinced me that I could take a look at the Ubuntu version of Linux without doing anything more complicated than installing another program under Windows.  Portable Ubuntu installs everything it needs into a single folder on Windows, so it doesn't affect the regular Windows operating system at all.  You run Portable Ubuntu just like any other Windows program.  It appears as a toolbar with menus for Programs, Places (the file system) and System settings.  Although in most cases it doesn't run the same programs you would use in Windows, it does have programs that do all the same things I would normally do in Windows.  The only immediate problem I have is drawing 2D chemical structures, which I'll save for another post.

Portable Ubuntu convinced me that there's nothing scary, or even all that unfamiliar, in using Ubuntu instead of Windows.  But I have found that my Windows machine is increasingly a memory hog and running Portable Ubuntu at the same time only makes this worse.  I decided to take the next step and install Ubuntu outright.

The Ubuntu version of Linux is designed to be REALLY easy to use, especially for newbies.  You have lots of options for installing Ubuntu:
  • turn on your computer with a Live CD in the diskdrive and you can run Ubuntu from the CD without installing anything on your hard drive.  Of course you can't save anything this way, and it is slow because the operating system has to read everything from the CD first.
  • use the Live CD to install over Windows - if you don't want Windows anymore you can go to a Linux-only machine. 
  • If you still want to have the option of running Windows you can partition the hard drive, leaving Windows intact one one partition and installing Linux into the other partition.
  • If you don't want to partition you can use Wubi, which is what I decided to do.  Wubi installs Ubuntu into a folder - no partitioning required - and Windows is not affected.  When you turn on your computer, you will get a screen asking which operating system you want to run: Windows or Ubuntu.  One nice thing about Wubi, if you have internet access you don't even need the CD.  Wubi will download everything for you - of course downloading 700+ MB will take some time.
If you are a fan of Manga, check out this Manga Comic to see exactly how easy it is to install Ubuntu.  Why do the people in Manga look like they have fangs?  Link via BoingBoing.

Personally, I like to have the instructions to read.  Or at least a nice tutorial.  If you do too, take a look at the free Linux Starter Kit, from Linux Format magazine. Link via Greg Ladens blog.

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