Why would you want to install Ubuntu as a “server” rather than as a desktop? The simple answer is: If you need to ask, you don’t want to do it. But, there is a more nuanced answer as well: By installing a server, you get to a) have loads of fun installing a server; b) learn things about the system you never thought were even there to learn; c) have your own server, so serve stuff in your very own home, so when The Internet goes down you can continue to pretend like there’s an internet. Just a much, much smaller and less interesting one.
And, if you happen to have anything to serve up in your own home, or if you want to serve a web site of your own, the server setup will make more sense than the desktop setup.
In truth, you can take a desktop installation and convert it over to a server by just installing and setting up some stuff. I myself am not convinced that this option is not even easier than the server-from scratch option. However, server from scratch (as opposed to tweaking a desktop install) will probably be cleaner and meaner, but most importantly, you will understand what you have in front of you better if you do it from scratch.
There are several resources you can use to help make this work. I recently read and very much enjoyed the book Beginning Ubuntu Server Administration: From Novice to Professional (Expert’s Voice). (That’s a link to Amazon. If you go there and click around you’ll see a number of similar titles. None of the gay or lesbian server editions will be visible to you, of course.)
Here is a web site that goes through the process on line. Which of these methods of learning (book vs. on line vs. trial and error) is of course a matter of personal preference.
Let’s go back for a moment as to why you might want a server. Your server may be a low-power draw machine with lower-end graphics that you use to access data (multi-media, files, etc.) and/or devices (printers, scanner, etc.) and in turn access via a wireless network elsewhere in your home.
So, physically, a server is different from another computer because it is not a laptop, it stays on, it is el-cheapo in the graphics department, and it has storage for stuff to serve up (all of these are breakable rules, of course).
In terms of software, there are big differences between a desktop and a server. The server has … servers. Like a web server (apache, for instance) and FTP server, and so on. That software can certainly run on your desktop, but the process of setting up a Linux server, such as the typical configuration known as a LAMP server (Linux, Apachae, MySQL databse, PHP), involves instaling, configuring, and turning on all these bits.
Another thing about a server, typically, is that it sits there without you interacting directly with it most of the time. Typically, you are not using your server for other things like day to day text processing, emailing, web surfing, etc. Again, these are all breakable rules. But a server normally is not your main interactive computer. One thing this means is that you can approach your server with a different personal affect than your regular computer. Your server can be a dangerous place, but because it is your server and not your day to day use computer, you can manage this.
Ubuntu by default does not allow a “super user” mode. A server usually does. So, you can sit down at your sever and check your email and stuff, but you can also sit down at your server and make modifications that only a super user should be allowed to do. Using the Ubuntu solution of “sudo this” and “sudo that” is not convenient, and can actually make some things hard to do, and some scripts that are designed to be run by super user will not operate with the sudo-only environment.
So, you want your server to have super user capacities that you can access, and when you sit down at your server you want to act in a responsible manner worthy of any super user. The book I refer to above does give instructions for changing Ubuntu so that there is a super user mode (you use sudo to do that, naturally).
Here is a web site that gives some suggestions for how to set up the hardware for a server, and also, info on installing Suse Linux.
I’d like to suggest two or three other resources that might make your bedtime reading for the next few weeks if you plan on playing server administrator. First you need UNIX for Dummies or Linux For Dummies 8th Edition, or something like this all in one book on Linux: Linux All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (For Dummies (Computer/Tech)).
Between the above five mentioned texts, pick one from the first paragraph and zero or one from the second paragrqaph. Go to the used bookstore in your neighborhood that sells computer books (here where I am that would be Second Hand Books) and get whatever they have along these lines that is used. You don’t need current references, as these books are talking about *nix at a level where details are not important. The idea is to get down some basics, get some philosophy, and learn what sorts of things are possible by viewing these possibilities form a variety of different angles.
Then, go out and get a fairly current all in one bible type book that gives you the reference source you will need, such as A Practical Guide to Linux(R) Commands, Editors, and Shell Programming.
Some people don’t like books, and prefer on line resources. You can find all of the above on line in some form or another, and at another time I’ll make some suggestions along those lines . Some people like the book for various reasons. I like having these books as my bedtime reading. No computer, just the book. I know, that’s strange, but it’s how I roll.
An expression, by the way, that I really don’t like that much (“how I roll” … that expression).