NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2009
Fun & Games with Ubuntu
Written by Brian K. Lewis, Ph.D.,
Regular Columnist and member of the 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 said in my last article in the Monitor, this one would be about my experience getting Ubuntu up and running on my new Asus laptop. I had been running version 8.04 (Hardy Heron) on my old laptop. Since it seemed to be quite successful I decided to use it for the initial install on my new computer. Perhaps I should point out that Canonical, producers of Ubuntu, turn out a new version of their OS every six months! Compare that with Microsoft and its multi-year production cycle. Hardy Heron is a long-term support version with guaranteed support until April 2011. That's three years from its original release date. In the meantime, version 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) was released in October 2008 and will be supported for two years. However, the latest version is 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) which was released on April 23, 2009. Since I was starting my installation the end of March, I decided that installing Hardy Heron should be fine. A bad guess, as it turned out.

The process of installing any Ubuntu version is very similar to installing Windows. The exception being when you want it to share the hard drive as a dual boot system with Windows. Then a few extra steps are needed. The first step is to download Ubuntu. This will be an ISO image file. That is a compressed file in the format specified by the International Organization of Standardization. It is almost 700 megabytes in size, so it's best to have a broadband connection for your download. (If you don't have a broadband connection, you can request a free CD from Canonical and have it mailed to you.) Once the file is on your hard drive it has to be decompressed and the image burned to a CD. Most commercial software can burn the ISO file image to a CD. I used CDburnerXP, a free Windows program, to burn the image to the CD. That gave me a bootable CD that either runs Ubuntu from the CD or it can install the OS to a hard drive as a dual boot with Windows/Vista or it can take over an entire drive. If you have two hard drives in your computer you could have Ubuntu take over the second drive and dual boot with Windows. There is also an option to install it as Windows software allowing you to run it within Windows or Vista. I haven't tried this option. It just seems to me that running Ubuntu under Windows you would lose many of the benefits of Ubuntu, especially its stability.

The hard drive on my laptop was already partitioned into C and D drives and formatted with NTSF. (That's the file system XP and Vista use.) My intention was to install Ubuntu on the second partition as a dual boot system. As I found out, if your hard drive is not already partitioned, don't change it. Let the Ubuntu installation do it for you. That is much easier. I ended up doing a more manual preparation of the hard drive which requires a better understanding of how Linux systems need to be set up. You can find the info on the Ubuntu site, but why make things any harder than you have to! Once the drive was set, Ubuntu spent some time installing all the files needed for my hardware and the additional software. If you are interested in the details of installing Ubuntu, check out this web site: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/GraphicalInstall. They have a detailed graphical presentation (screen shots) of the steps involved.

During the installation Ubuntu asks for a user name and a password. I used my initials and a fairly secure password. I recommend that you do not shirk this password setup. It will help to protect your computer from problems caused by outside entry of worms or trojans through the Internet connection. The password has to be entered for software installation or any other administrative function. So using a strong password is advisable.

Now I was ready to do my part of the setup. I had to program my new USB modem so I could connect to the Internet. That requires some knowledge of the command line functions in Terminal. I had done this on my previous computer but some of the information for the new modem was different, so I had to find that first. It took a little hunting, but everything worked once I had the commands right. The other thing I had noticed was that the sound didn't seem to working and the video resolution was not right. So I investigated both of these through the Ubuntu forums. That turned out to be far more difficult than I imagined it would be. My laptop has an NVidia graphics card. It turned out Hardy Heron did not have the drivers for my card, it was too new. The drivers available on the NVidia web site also didn't seem to help. My sound card was part of the Intel chip and the drivers just didn't seem to want to work with it no matter what I did. Then I also found that Hardy Heron didn't recognize my eSATA port. After doing more research in the Ubuntu Community forum, it seemed like I needed to try the Intrepid Ibex upgrade or maybe I would have to wait for Jaunty Jackalope to solve my problems.

So, next I downloaded the ISO file for Intrepid Ibex and burned it to a CD. That gave me a bootable CD that I could use to test how well this version would work with my laptop. When I booted from the CD, although it took some time to load, the video setup was perfect. It recognized my NVidia card and gave me the 1200x800 resolution that I had with Vista. It also had the expected 3D effects and other graphics features that my card supports. Next I tried the sound and had no problem playing some WAV files I had stored in the Linux partition. Better and better. With previous live CDs I had never been able to connect to the Internet with my old wireless modem. But I clicked on the wireless Icon on the top bar of the window and it gave me a list of several local wireless networks and it also had a choice of a wireless broadband connection. So I tried the broadband connection and within seconds I was connected through my Verizon wireless modem to the Internet. This live CD also recognized my printer, but didn't have the drivers to print to it. However, everything was working much better with Intrepid Ibex than it had with Hardy Heron. So, I decided my next step was to upgrade to Intrepid Ibex.

If I had done an install from the live CD, it would have wiped out many of my files that had been created using Hardy Heron. It wouldn't affect my documents as they were backed up to my external drive. However, there were other files that I had created to help with hardware compatibility and additional software I had downloaded that would have disappeared. So I went back to the Ubuntu site to find out how to upgrade, rather than install Intrepid Ibex from the CD. It turned out to be much easier than I had anticipated. In the System-Administration menu there is a selection for “Software Sources”. This contains the information on locations where the Synaptic Package Manager will find additional software. On the Update tab you will find the options for operating system updates. Mine had been set for “long term support” updates only. I changed that to “standard updates”, clicked OK and exited the window. The package manager told me that there was an update available, version 8.10, and it could be downloaded. It also gave me an estimate of the amount of time it would take with my connection. The estimate was two hours, but it ended up taking 30 minutes less. Once the download was complete, the upgrade installation started. About an hour later, the screen announced that the system needed to be rebooted. Since I still have the live CD for Intrepid Ibex, I automatically have a backup CD, should problems occur down the road.

After the upgrade, the first thing I noticed was that the dual-boot menu reflected the new version of Ubuntu. Next, it took far less time for the user name/password request to show up. Then, very quickly, on the desktop there was the Intrepid Ibex. I will be replacing the Ibex graphic with my own wallpaper, another very easy task. But, I had noted there was no sound. So I clicked on the sound icon and found that the sound had been muted! Once I corrected that, it worked perfectly. First problem solved! Then I clicked on the wireless icon and there was the broadband choice. I selected it and within seconds I was on the Internet. Second problem solved. However, the screen resolution didn't seem right. With some hunting I found an NVIDIA X Server settings on the System – Administration menu. That allowed me to change the resolution to 1200x800. Third problem solved.

Next, I realized I hadn't tried to use the eSATA port when I was running the live CD, so now was the time to try that out. I plugged in my external drive and all three partitions appeared in the Places menu. I clicked on the main partition and all the files come up in the file manager (nautilus) window. So, everything that I had problems with under Hardy Heron seemed to be working with Intrepid Ibex. And, the improvement came without having to do anything with the Ubuntu command line. In my mind, that makes Ubuntu much more ready for the average user. With an easy install, either single or dual boot, a great selection of software that is easily available through a graphics interface, it is becoming something that anyone can try and, probably, enjoy using. As for crashes, in more than 10 years of using various flavors of Linux, I have yet to have one crash. I certainly can't say that for Windows over the same period of time.

My next step will be to download a live CD of the latest version, Jaunty Jackalope, after the initial surge of business slows down. I really don't want to be trying to download almost 700 MB of data at a time when thousands of other Ubuntu enthusiasts are trying to do the same thing. By trying out the live CD version I can be sure that it will work with my hardware before doing an upgrade. I have already seen the problems that occur when you have to remove a newer version and revert back to a previous version. That is something I really don't want to do again. Windows has similar problems as those who replaced Vista with XP found out. I am also considering downloading the 64 bit version of Ubuntu. I am very curious as to how it would work with my hardware. You may be sure I will share the results with you.

So for all of you Windows/Vista users who are curious about Ubuntu, the easiest way to test it on your hardware is to download a live CD. From the home page, www.ubuntu.com, you can download either the latest version, or an earlier version. I would recommend that you not go back any further than version 8.10, Intrepid Ibex. You really should give it a try and download the CD, especially if you have a broadband connection. You'll also find the Ubuntu has a large selection of games that come with the installation. So, have some fun and games with Ubuntu!

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. He can be reached at bwsail at yahoo.com.

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