I recommend not going the dual boot option. Just wipe the Windows install.

But remember: Linux is not for everybody.

Comments

  1. #1 Dan J
    July 5, 2009

    Yes, installation is definitely a breeze under most circumstances. And Linux is definitely not for everybody yet (They’re working on it!).

    The Live CD versions of various Linux flavors will give you an idea of your hardware’s compatibility. If you’re contemplating building a new machine for use with Linux, please be sure to do some investigation into which hardware will work best with Linux. Laptops are tricky. Do some searches based on your laptop model to see if people have had success with Linux as an OS on that model. Don’t expect your Lexmark printer to work with Linux. I’d suggest a printer from HP, or perhaps Epson.

    And once you get it up and running, come back to thank us for pointing you to an excellent operating system!

  2. #2 Jason Thibeault
    July 5, 2009

    Some people opt to skip creating a partition for Home. I highly recommend you do not skip that step. If anything happens to your operating system, you don’t have to “lose everything” the way most novices have come to expect in the Windows world whenever a tech recommends a reformat. It’s rather irritating to me, in fact, that Windows doesn’t have a very good way of mounting a partition to a folder; though NTFS does actually have the ability to do so, it’s undocumented and in fact severely frowned upon by Microsoft. The only other way to get approximately the same effect is to redirect your entire Documents and Settings folder to another drive (physical or repartitioned), and this requires editing your registry to do, so you’re probably at a level of technical savvy that you might just as well try wetting your feet in the Linux world anyway.

    (An aside: any time someone recommends a reformat to fix a Windows problem, and says that all the data will be lost, it is usually still recoverable, and they’re being lazy and/or you haven’t paid them enough. The only time this is not a hard and fast rule is if the hard drive is physically damaged or has outright died. Any geek worth their salt ought to be able to recover everything of value on your computer in the event of a virus or spyware issue, and *most* of your stuff in the event of a data corruption.)

  3. #3 mk
    July 5, 2009

    Hi all…

    I’m going to assume that because I barely understand what any of you are saying that I probably am one of those “everybodies” for whom Linux is “not for/”?

    Would anyone be willing to explain (in some detail) just what one gets from Linux and ubuntu? If it’s not too much trouble. (or maybe there’s a link to someone who already has done this for dorks like myself?)

    Thanks.

    MK

  4. #4 Dan J
    July 5, 2009

    MK,
    Linux in general is seen as “not ready for everybody” by a lot of people. I guess that’s true in that MS Windows and Mac OS X are “not ready for everybody” either. Most of us who use Linux see it as a superior operating system, and we would rather get something better for free than to pay for something inferior.

    What do you want to do with your PC? If you’re a hard-core PC gamer, don’t expect your latest Windows games to run under Linux. World of Warcraft, among other games, can be made to run using Wine (a Windows application layer for Linux). Some of the latest and greatest things aren’t going to work well. There isn’t a version of Microsoft Office for Linux, but OpenOffice works great. You won’t run Adobe’s Photoshop, but GIMP is an excellent graphics tool.

    Linux is free (as in speech, and as in beer). That means you can get it at no cost, and the software it’s built on is open-source. Thousands of developers work on the Linux distributions every day (usually with no remuneration) in order to make it better.

    Linux is generally more secure than Windows. It’s possible to configure a Linux-based system so that it would be easy to infiltrate and/or infect, but by default they are quite secure.

    A default Ubuntu installation will set up a GUI desktop using Gnome (one of the more popular desktop environments in Linux). It comes with OpenOffice software, a web browser, multimedia utilities, etc. Pretty much like you’d expect any new computer installation to have.

    Most of the software used on Linux systems is also free in both terms.

    For a good tour of the features of the latest Ubuntu edition, you can check out Welcome to Ubuntu 9.04 Desktop Edition.

    What happens when there is an upgrade from an earlier release version to a new one? In Ubuntu, there is an easy way to upgrade from one version to the next. I recently did this for my own machine. It did take several hours, but most of that time was downloading the newer software versions. The upgrade, like all of Ubuntu’s basic operations, was free.

  5. #5 Jason Thibeault
    July 5, 2009

    Here’s the thing. Installing Linux is about as hard as installing Windows. Probably a smidge or two easier, in fact. If you’re not comfortable with installing Windows, you could certainly give installing Linux a try, and you might find it’s more intuitive than you’d think. It’s mostly all reading. Just, make sure you’re using an old computer that you don’t really care about the hard drive’s contents when you do it.

    As for what you get out of using Linux instead of Windows — well, you get everything Windows has to offer, plus a whole lot more. You give up only the following: compatibility with the newest, hottest, Windows-only games (something a Mac user might be familiar with), some slight issues with certain webcams or brands of printers, and — this one’s the kicker — most of the local geeks that might otherwise help you figure out a problem are going to be out of their depth trying to figure out Linux. So unless you plan on making a concerted effort in learning how to fix your own computer (which is not as daunting as it may seem, all you need is access to Google, a head on your shoulders, and a bit of time to actually invest into this), don’t expect to go running to 14-year-old Jimmy next door to fix something that’s going to inevitably break.

    Here’s a pretty good newbie installation guide. http://www.webchicklet.com/computers/ubuntu/ubuntu-newbie-guide-first-24-hours-with-ubuntu/
    There are more out there, brush up on your Google Fu now before taking the plunge. :)

  6. #6 Stephanie Z
    July 5, 2009

    Actually, most of the local geeks these days seem to be running Linux. That’s not as much of an issue as it once was.

  7. #7 Jason Thibeault
    July 5, 2009

    You just keep on giving us reasons to wish we lived in Minnesota, Stephanie. Between the Linux users, progressives, and atheists, and the apparently good restaurant scene, plus ability to watch Hulu videos, NS is looking more backwater by the minute.

  8. #8 Alex
    July 5, 2009

    “Would anyone be willing to explain (in some detail) just what one gets from Linux and ubuntu?”
    In my experience it is just easier (except for weird hardware). Most software can be installed from the built in application managers, the bundled software is good quality open source software, it has a good command line interface and it just seems nicer.
    For example, look at me setting up a Ubuntu vs Windows install.
    Drivers: For Windows requires going to the manufactures website, downloading them and resetting. In Ubuntu they are mostly installed by default, and it will install the graphics driver with just a couple of clicks from the desktop (and a reset of the GUI, which takes 10 seconds, and I think it did automatically). Much faster in Ubuntu.
    Software: For Windows I have to install word processing, cd burning, and imaging editing software, along with Mozilla. Ubuntu has all this by default, and it is all the programs I would use anyway.
    The only bit that is harder is setting up multiple monitors, and that is mainly remembering the command to run the Nvidia control panel as root.
    In my experience using Linux is generally easier and less irritating. I would also say that the learning curve is about the same as Windows.
    Linux (including Ubuntu) is also free, which is nice.

    In my opinion Linux is not suitable for you if: 1) you ONLY use your computer for playing games (if you do anything else and play games look into a dual boot setup). 2) You absolutely have to use some weird Windows software that cannot run in Wine (Wine allows you to run some/most Windows software on Linux). 3) You’re scared of learning, which seems unlikely from a science blogs reader.

    I suggest you go download an Ubuntu live cd and give it a try.

  9. #9 John Swindle
    July 5, 2009

    MK–

    What I get from using Linux may be quite different from what you would get. I started looking into Linux years ago, when it was still too technically challenging for me to actually make it work. But it was an interesting puzzle. When I finally got it working, it was a huge rush. If you think you’d like to tinker with an operating system, there still is room to do so, even though Linux is now mostly past the point where tinkering is required – it’s tinkering-optional now.

    Another thing that might appeal to you is that with Linux, you are not feeding an evil monopoly. Of course, not everyone sees it that way, but there’s no denying that Microsoft has a history of despicable business practices. Apple is marginally better in this area.

    It’s Free! The only times I have paid for open source software have been those few times when I have been so impressed that I just had to send off a donation. Other, wealthier, users might donate more.

    If you want to get started, Ubuntu is a good choice. You can keep Windows while getting acquainted with Your new OS. Any distribution’s website will most likely have a list of hardware requirements, but most PCs in use today will work with Linux.

    Good luck, and have fun!

  10. #10 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 5, 2009

    But, I have all of this data on my Windows machine that I don’t want to lose!

  11. #11 John Swindle
    July 5, 2009

    Mike Haubrich –

    You can easily keep your Windows installation and also use Linux. Look into the GRUB loader and dual booting. I think most people getting started with Linux choose to keep Windows while learning. Some folks install a second drive, others use partitioning software to make room for a second operating system. Using an old machine might be a more comfortable choice for some. I currently have 23 OSs on two drives. I’ve never suffered data loss, even while learning.

  12. #12 Alex
    July 5, 2009

    Mike Haubrich-
    If you do try dual booting try to install windows first, as installing Linux then Windows can be a pain due to Windows eating GRUB. It is possible to get around it using a live cd, it just takes more effort.

  13. #13 Jason Thibeault
    July 5, 2009

    John Swindle: Jeebus! 23 OSs? All bootable, or are you talking virtualbox installs? Also, are you counting different distros of Linux, or are you talking MS OSs (e.g. all Windows and DOS versions)?

  14. #14 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 5, 2009

    I am actually planning to get a 4th computer to run Linux and leaving this Windows laptop as-is. We have two computers in the house that run Ubuntu/Kubuntu.

  15. #15 John Swindle
    July 5, 2009

    Jason Thibeault –

    Yeah, I know, kinda excessive. They are mostly different Linux distributions, and two BSDs. They are all bootable. There is no practical reason for all this, it’s just… I like to tinker.

    I got rid of all my Microsoft stuff a few years ago. 1998, I think. I’ve been thinking I’d like to try out FreeDOS. It might make updating BIOS easier than using Linux.

    If you’re interested, the way to get that many bootable partitions, is simple, though I didn’t think of it until a couple of years ago. There’s a four partition limit per drive. But one of those can be an extended partition. I was able to put 15 logical partitions within each of the extended partitions (two drives) at an average 15 GBs each. I still have a few slots I haven’t used.

    Though it may not be necessary, I keep my most used distro in a safe place – in one of the primary partitions, where experimenting with any of the others won’t wreck it.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2009

    Dan [1] I agree with what you say, but I want to add that you could re-write part of your paragraph and replace “windows” or “OSX” and it would still be correct.

    In other words, if you want to in stall a system on a computer, make sure that you have the right computer for the system.

    If you are installing OSX you have very little leeway. Indeed, I’ve got a G3 sitting here that will never run the current OSX. It is merely an anchor now.

    Any given version of Windows requires a certain set of hardware. It happens that most extant end user desktops and laptops were originally designed to run with windows. So it is a little suprizing to ever encounter a problem installing Windows, but of course that happens.

    Linux actually has a much much longer list of harware it runs than does Windows.

    Indeed, it will run my G3.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2009

    Jason [2] The fact that experts/tech help actually frequently tell people to ‘wipe the drive’ and that people ‘wipe the drive’ when they are told to do so … tells us many things about that particular religion…

    mk: Linux is kick-ass fun. Most things that annoy most people about Windows do not occur in most forms of Linux. Linux is free and is philosophically unattached to many of the problems Windows has. Linux is more moral/ethical than Windows,(because OpenSource and FOSS is more moral/ethical than Microsoft) probably also more so than OSX but I don’t track that.

    Dan: You spotted my snark! Yes, Windows is not for everyone either!

    Jason [5]: I’d add to: “some slight issues with certain webcams or brands of printers” Yes, but you have that problem with Windows as well. EVen when Windows is compatible with a computer it still often does not operate correctly. Or at least, that was my experience using Microsoft systems continuously from ca 1984 through 2004 and occasionally since then. Maybe they fixed that in Vista.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2009

    Don’t listen to Swindle!!!! Or, get his phone number before you install 23 systems!!!!

    I personally recommend against multiple systems because a) it is complicated and annoying and can be tricky and b) if one of them is Windows it will figure out a way to annoy you.

    Having several different linux installations could be cool though.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    July 5, 2009

    Swindle: “I got rid of all my Microsoft stuff a few years ago. 1998, I think. I’ve been thinking I’d like to try out FreeDOS. It might make updating BIOS easier than using Linux.”

    I’m thinking about putting freeDOS on my laptop to run a simple text based word processor as my default boot.

  20. #20 John Swindle
    July 5, 2009

    Hi, Greg
    I mentioned that because Mike Haubrich expressed concern about data loss, not that having a couple dozen operating systems is in itself a great idea. I do think that for someone who wants to try a second OS, and who has only one computer, dual booting is a pretty good idea. GRUB makes it easy and is, itself, pretty easy to learn to use

    As for “complicated and annoying”, if it were annoying, I wouldn’t be doing it. It would be complicated by the presence of Windows, potentially stepping on its neighbors. But without that worry, I feel free to explore. From time to time, websites such as distrowatch.com have news about some interesting-looking distribution or a new flavor of BSD. It is really no big deal to try them out. But I won’t recommend filling up drives this way to anyone who doesn’t have a clear understanding of GRUB.

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    July 6, 2009

    I did start out with my current (and this time unending) round of using Linux with a dual boot. And, personally I have not had any problems, but it seems that some people do (when one of the OS’s is Windows, as you point out).

  22. #22 John Swindle
    July 6, 2009

    Greg said:
    “Having several different linux installations could be cool, though.”

    I’ve been using Ubuntu for about two years. All the distributions I’ve played with since then have been interesting, but none has seemed better suited to my needs than Ubuntu. This would be an exercise in futility if it weren’t fun!

  23. #23 Scott
    July 6, 2009

    I’d be interested in trying a Linux install on a Parallels virtual machine on my new Mac. Any recommendations on which version to try? Thanks.

  24. #24 John Swindle
    July 6, 2009

    Scott

    Ubuntu. It installs into a ready-to-go state, with only a little configuring needed. There are a few derivatives of Ubuntu that are intended to be even more beginner-friendly. Ultimate Edition, Linux Mint, maybe two or three others. But most likely, any distribution will work just fine in a VM setting.

  25. #25 Silke
    July 6, 2009

    Greg, I’ve always been running dual boot setups and I never ran into problems that couldn’t be fixed rather easily. Just remember to install Windows first.

    About the video: I have to disagree with one part. Using a swap partition twice the RAM size is a rule from the times when you had 64 or 128 MB of RAM. A swap partition larger than 1 GB just doesn’t make any sense.

  26. #26 Jason Thibeault
    July 6, 2009

    John Swindle: you seem like the right guy to ask — how IS Linux Mint anyway? I haven’t had the chance to try it out myself, and though I hear it’s Ubuntu / Debian based, every distro always does *something* a little differently.

  27. #27 greg_laden
    July 6, 2009

    Silke: Having more swap space does not hurt anything but your available disk space. Disks are huge and inexpensive, so for the same reason that we have more RAM, we have more disk, so it kind of evens out . A quick check of the usual suspects shows that the n X 2 (where n = your ram) is still recommended.

    Hint: If you have two separate fast drives available to your Linux system, consider having two swap ‘devices.’ Linux will swap between the two which will actually be faster than using one.

  28. #28 Jason Thibeault
    July 6, 2009

    I still follow the RAMx2 rule for swap files for any system where your RAM is less than 2 gigs (presently), as I find anything less than that and you get far more grinding on your swap file than is appropriate. As OS and program requirements increase, the amount of RAM needed increases proportionally, and computer users (my kind of user especially) are notorious for overtaxing their system specs by getting the bare minimum RAM needed to do what you need to do. I have 2 gigs in my laptop right now, and when I have VirtualBox running (giving an XP install 784 megs), everything else grinds when it has to do any kind of swapping.

    I highly recommend, if you have a spare hard drive (of any size, preferably at least 2 gigs, anything more than 10 or so is wasteful right now, but the faster the better), putting your swap on its own device. And give that whole hard drive to swap. That way, swap is isolated from your usual drive operations and you save on a LOT of wear and tear on your drive head, and will probably double or triple your performance reading/writing on your main drive.

  29. #29 MPL
    July 6, 2009

    Linux is not for everyone. Some people use BSD.

  30. #30 Greg Laden
    July 6, 2009

    MPL: ROFL

  31. #31 GaryB, FCD
    July 6, 2009

    Jason, I wish you wouldn’t tell people how easy a tech’s job is, telling them they can do it themselves cuts into my cushy high paying job.

    Perhaps someone here can help me.
    I’m currently running Ubuntu on my laptop, simply because I got fed up with Vista. Originally I was using VirtualBox to run Ubuntu and XP so I had access to all three from the same machine (I use them to help me during phone help sessions). When I went to Ubuntu, I chose the 64bit version, which seems to have been a mistake. I am unable to get VirtualBox 64 bit to install either XP Pro or any Vista.

    Now the question; should I go back to the 32 bit Ubuntu, or is there a way of getting 32 bit Windows to load in 64 bit VirtualBox in 64 bit Ubuntu. Or is there another free virtual server better than VBox?

    I don’t use multi-boot installs because I would rather not have to reboot my system to get into another OS, it’s easier for me during phone convos to have all three running in front of me.

  32. #32 mk
    July 6, 2009

    Holy cow! Ask and you receive!

    Thank you everyone for all the info. I’ve got much now to read through and consider. Very helpful, all.

    And, of course, thanks to Greg for this site.

    Cheers.

    MK

  33. #33 Jason Thibeault
    July 6, 2009

    Gary: you mistake me. A tech’s job is quite riddled with intractable problems and Gordian knots. I’m just saying, data recovery (e.g. the “you gotta format” mentality) ain’t one of them. I guess that just makes me more honest than your local “tech guy”, the guy with the sign on his lawn that reads “I repair computers and fix viruses!!!1″

    I’m not sure what the problem is with your VirtualBox — I do know that I run 2.1.4_OSE on my 64-bit machine, and loaded a 32-bit Windows disk image from my laptop without issue. However, I think it also detected the processor was changed, as it asked to reactivate. It’s possible this means you might not be able to use an existing disk image, might have to reformat and start from scratch. Additionally, at a cost of performance, you can actually run 64 bit OSs on 32 bit hosts with nary a complaint.

    You could also look into Xen, which I have no experience with; or VMWare, which makes a Linux client that is, if I recall correctly, nagware / registerware and you can avoid paying anything for, though not without some frustration.

  34. #34 John Swindle
    July 6, 2009

    Jason
    You asked about L. Mint…
    If you’re familiar with Ubuntu, you’ll recognise Mint right away. The development team did some code changes that affect the presentation in a superficial way. The default desktop menu is an obvious change, and the wallpaper is slicker than that provided in an Ubuntu installation, but I haven’t seen any really important departures – for example – picture all the ways Ubuntu is different from Debian. Mint is just not nearly that different from Ubuntu. Same repositories, too. I installed KDE3 using a scheme that was set up to retrofit Ubuntu. It worked fine with Mint.
    Bottom line: By the time I changed things around the way I like (theme, wallpaper, desktop environment, etc) I had a pretty much ordinary Kubuntu. Same thing could be said about Ultimate Edition. Not a big disappointment, because I like Kubuntu. But not really ground-breaking, either.

  35. #35 Dan J
    July 6, 2009

    Now we need a big thread about desktop environments. I use Gnome because it’s what I’m used to. I used KDE for a few minutes, but quickly became frustrated with it for reasons I can’t quite recall. What are peoples’ experiences with Gnome, KDE, Xfce, etc.?

  36. #36 GaryB, FCD
    July 6, 2009

    Jason, I was just teasing you.

    The reason techs tend to choose format and reinstall is time and cost. Backing up data, formating and re-installing is a quicker and more reliable method of fixing some problems, especially malware (root kit crap). We have to be aware of how much the customer is willing to pay. In a corporate situation that may be different. BTW, I didn’t start out as a tech, I have a B.Sc. in CS and started as a programmer. The Fates apparently had other ideas about what I should do.

    Thanks for the response. I refuse to ‘do’ VMWare so I’ll give VBox OSE and Zen a look.

    If you don’t mind me asking, what did you use to create the image of your XP system?

  37. #37 John Swindle
    July 6, 2009

    Dan said: “I use Gnome because it’s what I’m used to.” I think that probably sums it up for most users. I’m accustomed to KDE, so even a “Not Quite Ready” version (KDE4) is more comfortable for me than Gnome. XFCE strikes me as a “Gnome-Lite”.
    My son has recently begun using Linux, and maybe hasn’t yet developed a bias regarding desktop environments; he seems comfortable with whatever’s up.

  38. #38 Jason Thibeault
    July 6, 2009

    Gary,

    Well, my joke/sarcasm/teasing sensor is broken in real life too, so what can ya do. :) Also, you think the Fates had a different path for you? I went to school to be an English teacher!

    The image was built with a legitimate key Windows XP Pro SP2-integrated 32-bit installer, and I used the USMT tool (Files and Settings Transfer Wizard) to pull my profile off my other partition, and copied everything off onto my Linux partition (USMT state and all files) before blowing the original XP partition away. It’s not exactly taking a disk image from the other partition, and it allows for the proper installation of the VirtualBox drivers, so regardless of how “unclean” it was, it worked.

    I quite like Gnome, having used it since switching off KDE in my very early days of Linux hax0ring. I haven’t given KDE4 a chance yet, though I’ll likely wait for the fully polished “done” version before I throw in. And yes I know they already released the non-beta for it, it’s just I’ve already heard enough “it’s different and dumb” complaints on Slashdot that I’m wary.

  39. #39 John Swindle
    July 6, 2009

    Jason
    Concerning KDE4– wary is good.

  40. #40 sinned34
    July 7, 2009

    Fine, Greg – you win. Between my Linux fanbois coworkers nagging me and the comments on your stupid blog, I’ll try installing some version of Linux on my PC this weekend (if I can drag myself away from Fallout 3). Now that I’ve got 2 Tb of mirrored hard drive space, I suppose I can probably find the room.

  41. #41 Jason Thibeault
    July 7, 2009

    One of us… ONE OF US!

    (Though I seriously understand the Fallout thing. Honest.)

  42. #42 rpsms
    July 9, 2009

    Aside from the lack of professional Adobe/quark/DTP, I found linux lacking in the looks department. It looks good in screenshots, but in motion, its more a visual design as conceived by engineers. Which is not a compliment.

    Other than that, its all about the software you want to use, and the freedom.

    Many recent BIOS have a built-in boot menu keystroke to pick the bootable device, without needing GRUB.

  43. #43 rpsms
    July 9, 2009

    {without needing grub…} So consider dual-boot-dual-hard drives (as opposed to multiple partitions).

  44. #44 Greg Laden
    July 9, 2009

    sinned34: Keep us posted!

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