This is one of four related posts:
Some Linux/Ubuntu related books:
Ubuntu Unleashed 2016 Edition: Covering 15.10 and 16.04 (11th Edition)
Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Desktop: Applications and Administration
The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction
Linux isn’t for everyone, so I’m not going to try to talk you into using this superior operating system if you have some reason to not do so. But if you have a computer that runs Windows, it isn’t that hard to install Ubuntu. The main advantages of doing so are 1) You get to have a Linux computer and b) you get to not have a Windows computer.
Here, I have some advice on installing Ubuntu (this is general advice and applies across many versions).
How to install Ubuntu
If you are going to try Linux, I recommend installing Ubuntu’s latest version, which is Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Xenial Xerus.
A Linux distro (the specific version of Linux you install) includes a specific “desktop,” which is your user interface and a bunch of tools and stuff. The default Ubuntu desktop is called Unity. If you’ve never used Linux before, you’ll find the Unity desktop to be very good, especially if you tweak it a bit. If you have used Linux before, you may prefer a different style desktop. For me, I preferred the older style “Gnome 2.0” style desktop. The differences are cosmetic, but I happen to like the cosmeticology of the Gnome style better.
What I liked most about the older style desktop is the presence of a menu that had submenus that organized all the applications (software, apps) installed on the system. I also prefer the synaptic system for installing new software over the Ubuntu “Software Center.” But, there is a menu that can be installed in Unity that serves this purpose, and it is easy to install synaptic installation software as well. So, even as an old time Gnome 2.0 guy, I have decided to go with Unity.
There are many forms of Linux out there, and one of the best maintained and well done versions is called debian. Ubuntu bases its distribution on debian, but modifies it in ways that are good. The most current version of Ubuntu is therefore the version of Linux that is most up to date but at the same time stable, and the best supported. This situation has developed to the extent that people are now often using, incorrectly but harmlessly, the term “Ubuntu” to mean “Linux” with the assumption that the Unity desktop is the primary desktop for Linux.
So, how do you install Linux, in the form of Ubuntu, on your computer?
Should you install Linux along side Windows (dual boot)?
If you just want to install Linux on a computer, where Linux will be the only operating system, skip this section.
The first thing you need to decide if if you want a dual boot system or not. Say you have Windows installed on your computer. If you make this a dual boot computer, you install Linux along side Windows. Then, when you fire up your computer you chose which operating system you want to use.
This may sound like a good idea, but I strongly recommend against it. It adds a significant layer of complexity to the process of installing the system. Also, things can go wrong. A normal single-boot installation of Linux will usually give you no problems, and it will be more stable as an operating system than any other operating system out there. But things can go wrong with dual booting which could drive you crazy and, depending on your hardware and a few other things, may cause you to unexpectedly lose the ability to use your computer.
Dual booting and partitioning are related operations, because in order to dual boot you will have to mess around with partitioning. How you do this will depend on whether or not Windows is already installed on your computer.
There are people who will tell you differently, that dual booting is harmless and fun and good. Those individuals are unique, special individuals with the ability to solve complex problems on their computers. They may have good reasons to have dual boot systems. In fact, many of them may have several different operating systems installed on one computer. This is because, as a hobby or for professional reasons, they need to have a lot of different operating systems. Good for them.
I recommend that if you are not sure if you want to use Linux, don’t install it along side Windows, but rather, find an extra computer (or buy a cheap used one somewhere), install Linux on it, and if you find yourself liking Linux more than you like Windows, go ahead and install Linux on your main, higher-end computer and be done with it.
Using two partitions is a good idea for some
As with dual booting, I recommend that the first time Linux user skip this idea entirely, but here are some thoughts on it in case you are interested.
One of the great things about Linux is that it uses the concept of a home directory. The home directory is a directory associated with a particular user, one for each user of the system. In most cases, a desktop or laptop computer has just one user, you. But you still get the home directory. (Apple’s OSX uses this system as well.)
This means that your data, configuration files for software, and all that stuff, ends up in one single directory. So, in theory, if you decide to install a whole new version of Linux, all you have to do is copy all of the contents of your home directory somewhere, install an entirely new system, then copy all that stuff into the new home directory and it is like you never left.
This also means that you only have to back up your home directory. Installing software on Linux is so easy that you really don’t have to back any of that up. By backing up your home directory, you are also backing up your settings and preferences for most of that software, so if you reinstall it, the software will figure out how to behave properly.
One method people use is to make a partition for their home directory and a separate partition for the system. You can think of a partition as roughly equivalent to a hard drive. On a simple system, the hard drive has one petition (that you need to know about … there are other specialized partitions that you don’t interact with). But you can divide (partition) the hard drive into multiple parts, put your operating system on one, and your data (home) on the other. The operating system, if you are running Linux, can be fairly small, while your data directory, in order to hold all those videos you take with your smart phone and your collection of cat picture, needs to be larger.
There is also a third partition you can make, called the swap partition. This is a separate dedicated part of your hard drive that the operating system uses to put stuff that won’t fit in RAM (memory). If you don’t have a dedicated swap partition, Linux will use another parittion for this purpose. It is probably slightly more efficient to have a dedicated swap partition, but with a reasonably fast computer with a good amount of ram, you probably won’t know the difference.
You can totally skip the separate partition thing and have Ubuntu put everything on one partition. The advantage of separate partitions are not worth the effort if you are not comfortable playing around with partitions. But, if you do, 10 gigabytes will comfortably hold the operating system, and the swap partition should be something like 5 or 6 gigabytes. The rest should be your home directory.
Simply installing Ubuntu on a computer.
There are two major divisions of operating systems for regular computers: 32 bit and 64 bit. If your computer can run a 64 bit operating system, and most made any time recently can, then you should install the 64 bit version of Ubuntu. You need to know that 32 bit operating systems are becoming a thing of the past, so, in fact, some software is no longer developed to run on such systems.
Due to an historical quirk, the 32 bit version of Linux is often has the word “Intel” in it, while the 64 bit version of Linux generally has the word “AMD” (a competitor of Intel) in it. This does not mean that you have to have an AMD processor in your computer to run the 64 bit system.
There are other forms of Linux that run on other processors. I’m assuming you have a typical run of the mill desktop that normally would run Windows, so it is probably an Intel or AMD 64 bit machine.
You should have three things handy in order to install Unbutu on a computer where it will be the only operating system.
1) The computer
2) Installation media that will fit in your computer, such as a CD, DVD, or a thumb drive
3) An internet connection that works
You can get the installation media by going to the Ubuntu site and downloading a file from Ubuntu and putting it on a medium of some sort.
When you are looking for the file, look for “Ubuntu Desktop.” There are other versions of Ubuntu, don’t use those. The current version is Ubuntu 16.04 LTS.
This page has the download materials and provides good guidance.
To do a clean install with a DVD, download the operating system from that link. The file will be called something like “ubuntu-16.04-desktop-amd64.iso”. The “iso” part means that it is a disk image that you will want to burn onto a DVD using a working computer.
This download took be about five minutes on a medium-fast Internet connection.
You then burn the iso image onto a DVD or USB stick.
Using a DVD
In Windows, you right click on the iso file and pick “burn disk image” and follow the instructions.
On a Mac, use “Disk Utility.” Insert the blank DVD and drag/drop the .iso file onto the left pane of the Disk Utility. Select it, and click the “Burn” button. Follow the instructions.
In Linux, insert the DVD or CD into your computer and if you are lucky a window will pop up asking if you want to burn the disk. Otherwise, run Brasero and follow the instructions to put the iso image on the disk.
Now, here comes the slightly tricky part. You want your computer to boot off of the DVD/CD drive. (Which, by the way, can be an external USB device if that is what you have.)
So, first, put the CD or DVD into the computer, turn the computer off properly, then turn it on. It might just boot off that disk and you are good to go.
But, just in case, watch your computer screen as the computer is booting up. Note any message that gives the name of a function key and tells you what it does. It may say something like “F2 = boot order” or “F9 = configure bla bla bla” or words to that effect.
If the computer did not actually boot off of the disk you inserted, turn it off again, and start it again, but as it is booting up press the function key that should get you to either boot sequence or configuration.
Using the arrow keys (the screen will give you info on what keys to use) find the part that shows the boot order. If your computer ignored the boot disk you inserted, you probably have “Internal Hard Drive” as the first place to boot from. But you should see other options down below. Using the arrow keys and other keys as suggested by the instruction on the screen to move the DVD drive, or whatever device you want to boot from, to the top of the list. Then save the configuration (i.e., with F10, or some other method … it will tell you on the screen) and exit out of the configuration thingie.
You may then have to restart one more time, but your computer will boot from the DVD and will actually start to run a mini version of Linux set up to help you install the operating system on this computer.
Using a USB
You can also boot from a USB thumb drive. You may have to make your computer boot first from the USB drive instead of an internal hard drive (see above) and, of course, you will have to make a bootable USB stick.
You need a USB stick with at least 2 gigs of space and that doesn’t hold anything important.
Then, if you are using Windows, install the Rufus USB installer. Run that program and follow the instructions to make a bootable USB drive. You’ll be using the same iso image you previously downloaded.
If you are using a Mac, install the UNetbootin utility and use that to make the bootable USB stick.
Insert the USB drive before you run UNetbootin, or UNertbootin may not recognize the USB you insert later.
Since this will be “unconfirmed software” open it by finding it in the finder (the actual finder, not a finder replacement or any other method), control-click on the icon for the software, and select “open.” You will then be asked to confirm that you want to open it. Say yes. You will likely be asked for your password. Enter it.
Also, no matter what system you are using, make sure to “eject” the USB stick properly.
The installation process.
Note: It is possible that your computer will give you some sort of text-based menu when you boot off the USB or DVD drive. Just go with the default, and let the process continue until you get what looks like a normal graphical user interface that is, actually, a temporary Linux operating system running on your computer.
Also note, that during the install process, if you need to enter any numbers, there is a good chance the “numlock” button is turned off. You can, of course, turn it on.
If, as recommended, you are going to make your computer a Linux computer and not bother with a separate petition for home, swap, etc., then the rest is simple. I assume you have no data on this computer that needs to be backed up or saved. Indeed, you may have installed a new clean hard drive which is empty anyway.
You have inserted the boot medium, you taught your computer to boot off of it, you’ve restarted your computer, and now you are looking at a welcome screen that gives you two options: Try Ubuntu and Install Ubuntu.
If you pick “Try” then you now have a Linux operating system temporarily running on your computer and you can play with it. I’m not sure why you would bother with this.
If you pick “Install Ubuntu” then you have a series of easy tasks to perform, mostly picking the defaults.
Make sure to pick “Download updates while installing” and “Install third-party software for graphics and Wi-Fi hardware, etc. etc.”
If your computer is not currently logged into a network, you will have the option of doing so. Do so. You want to be hooked up to the network in order to download updates and stuff during installation.
Logging into the network may not be obvious. It isn’t an option on the install screen, but rather on the desktop that is currently running on your computer. Click on the blank triangular thingie on the top menu bar — this is the network applet. Pick your network, enter your password, etc.
Then you get to allocate drive space. For the simple, recommended, install, pick “Erase disk and install Ubuntu.” Pick “encrypt the new Ubuntu install” if you like. If you don’t know what LVM is, don’t bother with it.
Or, pick “something else” if you want to define different partitions for home directory, dual boot, swap files, etc. Then, good luck with that. For your first Linux install on a fresh machine, you don’t need to go down that rabbit hole. While such endeavors are not that difficult to do, you should probably make that the project for your next Linux install.
How to set up separate Root, Home and Swap paritions
Skip this part if you are doing the recommended default install. This will destroy everything on your hard drive. If it does not go well, you can always do a new fresh install and pick the default.
At this point you have booted off the DVD or USB and you have clicked the icon to “install Ubuntu.” You are now looking at several options, including “something else.”
Select “something else”
Accept (hit Continue) with the scary message “You have selected an entire device to partition. If you proceed with creating a new partition table on the device, then all current partitions will be removed…”
(But do note that you are about to blotto your computer, so there better not be anything you want to keep on it!)
Make the first partition for the Ubuntu install as a primary partition.
Put it at the beginning of this space
Use EXT4journalingfilesystem (unless you have some reason to use some other file system) … this will be the default already chosen.
Set the “mount point” as /
This is the partition in which your operating system will be placed, and is known as the root partition.
How big should it be? Ubuntu needs a minimum of 20 gb. I would make it larger. I used 50 gigs when I did this.
Make a swap partition
This is the partition your computer will use as “extra memory.”
Now select “free space” and set up a “logical” petition (at the beginning of this space) that is twice the size of your installed RAM.
If you don’t know how much RAM your computer has, open a terminal right there on the computer you are working with (The upper left button with the Ubuntu symbol on it, type in “terminal” and hit enter). In the terminal, type in
That will give you a total number (and other numbers) Round up to the nearest gigabyte and multiply by two.
Enter that number into “size” (if you want 16 gigs, it will be 16000 mb).
Select from the dropdown list “swap” to make this a swap file. Hit OK
Install the home directory (where all your stuff goes)
Select the free space again.
Just take for size whatever is left on your computer (hopefully a lot). Pick logical, beginning of this space, and EXT4journalingfilesystem again.
For mount point, enter
This will be your home directory. Hit OK
Now, you’ll see a nice table with a graphic bar on the top showing you what you’ve set up. If it all looks OK to you, a small but not too small root directory, a smaller swap file (probably), and the rest a huge home file, hit “Install Now”
You’ll get another warning, but we don’t care about not stinking warnings.
Later, if you need to change any of these size requirements, run a live USB/DVD (like you did to make this install) and run “gparted” to change the partition sizes. (You can’t change the partition sizes from within an operating system. That would be like changing the fundemental fabric of the universe while you are actually in the universe. Not even The Doctor can do that)
And now, go back to the normal install.
Continuing with the default normal install…
If you have Windows installed, you may then get the option to Install Linux along side Windows. Pick that if you want, and chose how much hard drive space to allocate to each system.
After that are a few screens that are simple and self explanatory. Give the installation system a location, choose the kind of keyboard you want to use.
Then you get to chose your login and password details. Here you have to decide how simple vs. secure you want your system to be. You should make sure you never forget your user name and password or you will be locked out of your system.
So, enter your name, then pick a name for this computer for identification on networks, etc, then enter your user name which will contain no spaces or strange symbols, and be all lower case.
Then enter your password twice. The system will complain if your password is lower security, feel free to ignore this if you don’t care, pay attention to it if you want a more secure system. You are going to be using this password a lot. Just sayin’.
Check “require my password to log in” for most installations. You can also chose at this point to encrypt your home folder to limit access to your data if someone gets physical access to your computer.
Then, the system will install while you get to see some info about Ubuntu.
Then you are “done” in that you have a Linux computer. You may or may not have been prompted to remove the DVD or USB. If you restart the computer and fail to do so, you’ll be back in the installation system. Just remove the DVD/USB and restart the computer.
Once the computer is restarted, you’ll have to re-establish your network connection one more time. (This is your new system, it doesn’t know about your networks or network password yet.)
At this point, go right to this post and start tweaking your computer. If you don’t do that now, at least do the things noted below.
But there is something else you should do right away. Open a terminal (hit the super key, aka windows key, and start typing “terminal” and the terminal option will come up. Click it).
Then, type in:
sudo apt-get updates
You will be asked for your password, which hopefully you will remember. The computer will then go on the internet and find updates for stuff that was installed during the installation. Even though you told it to do something like this during installation, it probably didn’t do it for all the software that is now on your computer.
Following all this, you do now have a Linux computer. There are several things you can do after installing Ubuntu 16.04. First, go to this post to find out how to navigate around on your new Unity desktop, and then, see this post for how to tweak and refine your Linux installation in useful and important ways.
Have a good time using your Linux computer!