NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, January 2009
Ubuntu 64-bit Operating System
By Brian K. Lewis, PhD,
Regular Columnist, Sarasota PCUG, Florida

bwsail at yahoo.com (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author’s permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

As I mentioned in my previous Monitor (August 2009) article, I was interested in installing a 64-bit operating system (OS) on my laptop. Since I have a relatively new system that is 64-bit capable, it seemed to be time to try it out. I had downloaded the .iso file for the latest version of Ubuntu, version 9.04 or “Jaunty Jackalope”. This is the latest regular release. Another one is due in Canonical's six month release cycle about the time this article is published. The next long-term release is due in the spring of 2010. For more information on the Ubuntu release cycle see http://www.ubuntu.com/products/ubuntu/release-cycle.

I used the Brasero Disk Burner software that was provided with Ubuntu version 8.10 to burn the .iso file to disk. Burning the .iso file produced a bootable “Live” CD that could be used for the installation. I already had two operating systems on my computer and I wanted to add the 64-bit OS as the third rather than remove one. The hard drive had Vista in one 160 GB partition and the 32-bit Ubuntu in another 160 MB partition. I thought I would be able to divide that latter partition to use half for the 32-bit and half for the 64-bit version of Ubuntu. At least that was the plan.

I booted the computer using the installation CD. With a Live CD, the first menu allows you to run Ubuntu directly from the CD, install Ubuntu, do a check on the CD or boot from the hard drive instead. To do a few checks of the compatibility of the 64-bit system with my hardware, I ran Ubuntu from the CD. Everything seemed to work properly, except for the printer. That I had expected as the Brother printer I use requires drivers to be downloaded from the Brother web site. At this point everything was looking good, so I clicked on the Install Icon on the desktop.

After a short delay as the software loaded, I was greeted with the opening screen to select the language. English was highlighted, so I just clicked on “Continue”. The next screen was to select the keyboard and US was highlighted. Again, just click on “Continue”. Next came the screen for the time zone. Since I was doing this in the Central Time Zone, I clicked in that area and Chicago came up as the location. Next click on “Continue” again.

Now I got down to the real business of the installation. The software loaded the drive partitioner. The current partitions were identified as Windows Vista, Ubuntu 8.10 and the Linux swap partition. There were two different bars showing the current partitions in different colors. My choices here were (1) use the entire drive for Ubuntu 9.04; (2) install 9.04 side by side with the current OS's; or (3) do a custom partition. On selecting the second option and clicking on the Ubuntu partition, there was a slider that I could use to alter the size of the current Ubuntu partition on the second bar. So I used that to reduce the 8.1 partition and the software then added the 9.04 partition to the graphic. Once I was satisfied with the size of the new partition, I again clicked on “Continue”. After a few seconds an error message popped up telling me that the process had failed. Oh well, back to the beginning. After trying the process twice, I canceled the installation and restarted the computer with Ubuntu 8.10.

I suspected the partitioning problem was caused by one of two possibilities. One that the partition I was working with was 32 bit and I wanted to install a 64 bit OS which didn't fit the disk formatting. Or two, all the partitions were on the boot drive and so were locked. I needed to try a different tactic. Next, I downloaded an .iso file for the graphic version of Gparted. This is a free partitioning program that works with many different file systems. It can also resize and move partitions without loss of data. Since I had already backed up my Ubuntu 8.10 to an external hard drive, I felt it was safe to use Gparted to create an empty partition on the drive. After booting from this CD, Gparted identified all the partitions in use on the drive. I highlighted the Ubuntu 8.10 partition and clicked on Move/Resize. After entering the new size for the partition, I clicked on Apply. It took about 10 minutes to complete the process. This left an unallocated partition of about 75 GB. Next I exited Gparted, removed the CD, replaced it with the Ubuntu install CD and restarted the system.

After getting back to the partitioning section of the install, it offered me an additional choice to install Ubuntu 9.04 in the largest unallocated partition. That was exactly what I wanted. Selecting that and clicking on Continue allowed the installation to go forward. In about 25 minutes the installation was complete. After the computer was rebooted, I logged into Vista just to be certain it was working. Then I exited and booted into Ubuntu 9.04.

My first impressions of this 64-bit version of Ubuntu are very positive. It loads from the boot menu in about 10-15 seconds. This is noticeably faster than the earlier 32-bit version. It also makes Vista look like a snail. Turning off the computer results in complete shutdown in less than 10 seconds. Try to get Vista to do that!

Ubuntu comes with most of the software that I use on a regular basis: OpenOffice 3.0, Firefox 3.0, Gimp (Photoshop equivalent), XSane (scanning software), Brasero Disc Burner, and Tomboy notes. There are four other packages that I downloaded using the Add/Remove function on the Applications menu. These are: Jpilot (Contact manager), Gramps (genealogy), GnuCash (finances) and Firestarter (a firewall). All of these applications are maintained by the Ubuntu developer community and are free under the GNU license. The download and install process took about 30 minutes, primarily due to the slowness of my Internet connection at that time.

Once all my software was installed, I copied the data files from the old 32-bit partition to the new 64-bit partition and I was off and running. All the data was immediately accessible and it was apparent I had lost nothing in the transition to 64-bit. I am also very pleased with the responsiveness of all the 64-bit applications. I can't say that there is a tremendous increase in speed, but the time required to load applications does seem to be reduced. OpenOffice for one, opens in about half the time that was required in the 32-bit system. The opening logo appears with little or no delay after clicking on the shortcut icon on the desktop. That alone is a real improvement.

The last item I needed to install was the multifunction printer. As I mentioned earlier it is a Brother MFC machine and the printer/scanner drivers are not provided by Ubuntu. Brother has a web site devoted to the Linux drivers for its products. They also provide installation information for both 32-bit and 64-bit systems. To get the printer drivers to work with my 64-bit system I had to download and install a specific library file. That was available through the Synaptic Package Manager under the System menu. All I needed to do was select the file and click on Apply. The Package Manager downloaded and installed the file. Then I used the command line function in a terminal window to install the printer drivers and the scanner drivers. This was simplified by the fact that Brother had the complete command in their installation instructions. It was very simple to copy it into the command line in the terminal window. Testing both the printer and the scanner indicated that the overall process was successful.

All of the software applications that came with Ubuntu 9.04 were 64-bit as it does not work with 32-bit software. Also, I didn't need to specify what I need for any of the applications I downloaded, with the exception of the Brother scanner software. Both the Add/Remove software function and the Synaptic Package Manager select only the 64-bit applications from the various repositories. When it comes to using a 64-bit Windows OS, it won't be this easy. Although 64-bit Windows can also run some 32-bit applications, this doesn't apply to all software. So in going 64-bit with Windows will require replacement with 64-bit applications. This is especially true of anti-virus software, firewalls and any other utilities that work directly with the hard drive. This means that more time, and money, will be involved in going from 32-bit to 64-bit Windows.

I have been using this new Ubuntu installation for just about a month. Everything I have tried has worked without complaint. I have used both the broadband wireless connection as well as the WiFi in a couple of hotspots. Both have worked without the need for any additional setup. The wireless connection menu comes up with a single click on the wireless icon on the top of the desktop page. Then one click connects the broadband. Once I turn on the WiFi the same menu shows me any available WiFi connections. It also indicates whether or not a password is required for access. My broadband connection has shown download speeds ranging from 1 Kb/S to 3100 Kb/S (kilobits per second). That of course was in different locations. The speed really depends on how close I am to a cell phone tower. Both wireless operations are quite simple and provide me with alternate means of getting to the Internet.

One thing I had not anticipated was the size of the update that needed to be installed after I had my system up and running. I knew there would be some updates since this version had been released several months earlier. The Update Manager notified me that there was a total of 132 megabytes of files that needed to be downloaded and installed. These were various updates including some security updates. There was also an update to the Ubuntu kernel. This is the heart of the OS. So I clicked on OK and waited for the download and installation to be completed. This was one of the few times that I had to reboot the system after an installation. Unlike Microsoft, Ubuntu notifies you of new updates as they are available and the update rarely requires rebooting of the system.

After using this 64-bit version of Ubuntu , I wonder why I bothered to keep the 32-bit version. Now it just seems to be taking up space on my hard drive. There is no doubt in my mind that this 64-bit Ubuntu is a keeper. I hope I can say the same when I receive and install Windows 7.

Dr. Lewis is a former university and medical school professor of physiology. He has been working with personal computers for over thirty years, developing software and assembling systems.

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