Sunday, August 24, 2008

SSC #74 Many different ways to use Linux

What many people at first fail to grasp about Linux is that it is all about choice.

You can choose between more than 400 different Linux distrobutions.  You can choose to create your own.  You can choose to change how your Linux works.... how it looks... how it acts.

You can make one or all of a thousand different choices to customize your Linux to your needs.  But you DON'T have to choose to give up Microsoft Windows to do it.

Linux can be installed in many different ways.  Just like Windows, it can be installed to be the only Operating System in your computer.  But, it can also be installed in a dual boot configuration which allows you to KEEP Windows installed and working just like it is.  

There are two different ways that you can choose from to accomplish this.     The easiest way is to use Wubi.  You can use the new Wubi installer that comes on the Ubuntu 8.04 discs to install Linux into a virtual harddrive, which is basically just a file in your Windows folders.

Wubi works great and its an awesome way to give Ubuntu a try.  You simply start up your computer, boot up Windows, and put in the CD.  A box will pop up giving you some options, one of which will be to install it in Windows.  All you have to put in is your user name and password, and decide how much space to give Ubuntu to use.  The installer handles the rest very easily.  It also uninstalls very easily from the Add/Remove Programs feature found in Windows Control Panel. 

The only problems with the Wubi method are that by installing from within Windows, you have essentially made Linux depend on Windows being able to keep itself working properly.  If your Windows has errors on the disk, then the Wubi Ubuntu installation can't boot up.    Another problem is that with Vista, Microsoft has apparently tried to block the usage of Wubi.  Vista kicks the Ubuntu disk out halfway through the install and messes everything up.  This seems to have been an intentional move by Microsoft since Vista only starts doing that after it receives its updates.   You can get around this by copying the wubi.exe file from the disk to your desktop and running it from there.

So while Wubi is an excellent way of trying out Ubuntu Linux, its not desirable as a permanent installation since it relies on Windows not to mess things up.   Windows is the weak link in the chain... refraining from messing things up is not something that it is known for.    An install that has its own partition doesn't have to rely on Windows.  In a partitioned install, Windows can be infected with viruses and torn to shreds, yet Ubuntu will still boot up just fine and dandy. 

If you just want to try out Linux without actually installing, you can simply put the CD in and reboot your machine.  The CD will boot up into a Live mode.  This Live mode allows you to use Ubuntu without installing anything at all... it doesn't change a single file on your computer.  You can play with the applications, you can browse the net.  You can do all sorts of stuff.  And if you reboot and take out the disk, Windows will boot right up as though nothing ever happened.

Be aware that Live mode needs a decent amount of RAM to run.  I've gotten it to run with around 390 or so MB of RAM, but generally at least 512MB is recommended, and the more you have the faster Live mode will run.  Don't base your opinion on the speed of Ubuntu by how it runs in Live mode.  It will run faster once it is installed.

Also note that changes you make in Live mode are not permanent.  You can mess with stuff and reboot into Live mode again and everything is just like it was originally.  Its a great way to get familiar with things.

If you decide you like Ubuntu enough to install it, there's an "Install" icon on the desktop where you can re-partition and put Ubuntu Linux on your computer permanently.  This installer also has the option of getting rid of Windows completely.  So do be careful to read everything as you go through it. 

Simply put, re-partitioning is re-configuring the way your harddrive is laid out.  By squishing Windows to the side a little bit, you can free up some space to make room for Linux.  Much like using room partitions to make one room into two smaller ones, your harddrive can handle many partitions, but doing so does not increase its overall size.  

Note that if your Windows drive has errors, you won't be able to re-size its partition until you've successfully shut Windows down properly.  Also, if your drive is already full, you won't be able to repartition it until you've freed up some space.

As you can see, there are many ways to use Ubuntu Linux along side Microsoft Windows.  You don't have to give up everything you are familiar with, and you can learn your way around Ubuntu at your own pace and retreat to familiar ground when you feel the need.  You can have your cake, and eat it too.

If you're interested in getting Ubuntu but you're not sure about all this installation stuff, come on down to the Russell County Software Freedom Day event which will be located at the Sprint store next to Papa John's Pizza on September 20th and bring your computer along with you.  Volunteers will be on hand to help you and its free for everyone.

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

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