Monday, 17 September 2007

Installing Ubuntu instead of Windows

I need a server on the network - one that can run Apache and MySQL and just sit there as a development box. Also it would be handy to have a spare computer for people to use who drop by looking for internet access. I've got an old(ish) computer (Dell P4) that ran Windows ME until it decided enough was enough and started to hang on boot. It needs a rebuild from the ground up and certainly needs an entire fresh install of an operating system for starters.

1) Mac OS X. Since Apple started using Intel processors it's meant that you can run Mac OS's on PC's and Windows on Apple Macs. Hmm, interesting and I love the two Macs I use. Still either got to pay for it or *ahem* "acquire" a copy to install. It's not overly expensive (I found a few offers on Amazon from around $74.99). Possibly worth a purchase I reckon.

2) Windows. A search on shows that I can buy the Pro version of Windows XP I'd need for £239.67 and am suggested to buy Microsoft Office 2007 for £358.98. You are fucking kidding aren't you. Not a chance I'm buying Office (I'll come to that later) but £239.67 for a copy of XP? That's 6 1/2 times the price of OS X! I need another option.

3) Ubuntu Linux. An Open Source (code is non proprietary) operating system. Cost is free, or more accurately the cost of any old blank CD I've got laying around the place. Sounding good already. Found one stuffed between a load of old paper and downloaded it in around 15 minutes from the Ubuntu website then spent a couple of minutes burning it to CD on my iMac.

The Choice

OK. It's got to be option 3. The OS X option takes too long to buy the copy off the net and get delivered. Windows is just too expensive to consider. Plus there are security issues there that can be overcome by using another operating system. But what about having someone else using the computer? What about the random people that drop in to quickly check mail and the net? What if they need to open up Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc) files they get sent through email?

Well Open Office is the answer. It's basically an Open Source, free version of Microsoft Office. I've used it before and it reads and writes MS Office files and works pretty damn well on any of the operating systems mentioned so far.

Internet is accessed through the Firefox web browser, included in the standard Ubuntu install. I find out Open Office is included with Ubuntu too as standard. Nice.

The Install
So I've just chucked in the CD I burned and it's led me through a very easy interface asking me where I live and what username and password I'd like to log onto the computer with. This already looks more secure than Windows - asking me for a password to start the install. Plus the graphics are fluffy and look very cool. I've left it to do its thing and install. Its saved the hard drive holding the install of Windows ME that I couldn't even log into before (I'm hoping to get the films that are buried somewhere on the hard drive from years gone by).

A Hitch
So it's all installed now and booting up for the first time. It's found a load of errors on the hard drive. Damn, that'll be why Windows wasn't booting up. Ubuntu takes one look and fixes the errors before telling me what it's done and that if I just wait a few seconds please, it'll reboot itself.

I wait with baited breath but everything's gone through without a hitch. The machine reboots and loads up to the Ubuntu login screen. I duly enter my username and password and I'm presented with the Ubuntu desktop. Very slick. I plug in a network cable to the computer hooking it to my internal network ready to configure internet access.

As soon as the machine (surprisingly quickly) is ready it tells me there's 180MB of updates ready to install. It's automatically detected my network card and connected to the internet. Sweet, but 180MB, that's going to take forever. Actually less than 2 minutes apparently judging by the high speed download - these boys have put some serious thought into upgrades. Windows Update sits in the background and hogs huge resources and time slowing my XP box down to a crawl sometimes when I'm updating that. These 29 updates whistle down and install with 2 clicks (after asking me for my admin password to make sure I'm not anyone naughty). I really liking this more and more. I even like the soft colours and flowing graphics of the desktop. Relaxing and peaceful.

It's taken quite a while to install these updates, and I'm a bit apprehensive that my DVD drive and CD writer won't be working. I'm very nervous in fact. Might have to test it out once the updates have done installing.

Looking through the list of updates, it appears Open Office and Firefox have been updated automatically. Awesome. Saves me a job. Now that all that's finished, it's asked me to reboot and I'm starting to get a bit excited about my new toy. There's always something cool about bringing and old computer back to life.

Finishing Up
A brief reboot and we're ready to go. Everything looks fine. I can access the files in the Windows partition directly from Ubuntu, the CD burner works without needing any other software, internet access works straight away. Basically there's no need for fiddling around!

I'm loving it, what a bit of kit. Beautiful, fast, easy to install, easy to use. Free (woohoo!) and clean. Tinks even dropped into the office and just started using it to check her email. Tinks isn't massively technologically literate and just opened up Firefox and logged into Hotmail without any probs at all. Class.

I've actually installed Ubuntu once before on another computer but that was a long time ago. They've done a load of work on this bit of software in the mean time and done it well. After my experience today I'd recommend it to anyone as a genuine alternative for standard home users.