Dual Booting With Ubuntu

I went through the process of installing Ubuntu Linux last weekend and I want to write about my experience. This will not be a guide on how to do the installation, because you can follow the same excellent Ubuntu installation guide that I used. Instead I’m going to write about the experience from the perspective of a Windows XP technical user who’s a total Linux newbie. I am also a developer and ensuring that my tool-chain is available in Linux is vitally important.
Ubuntu screenshot
This was actually my second time installing Ubuntu. I chose to install it on my Acer Travel Mate 4200 laptop rather than on my main PC, so that I can feel out the process and figure out if I will be comfortable with it. Trying a new operating system is a real trust exercise. The first time around I installed version 8.04 via the Windows installer: Wubi. I realize now that I chose that path because at the time I was afraid to try the partitioning process and make the full commitment. Using Wubi you can remove Ubuntu via Add/Remove Programs. I thought that would be my best bet. It did work that time, but only until the first round of system updates which created this ugly error which is a bug reported by other users too. Each successive update degraded the system and it eventually became unbootable. I booted into Windows XP and uninstalled it. Then I started to do a bit more research so I can do it right.

Last weekend I finally felt like I had found an installation guide that was clear and helpful enough that I could tackle the install. It was the guide I linked to above (Tom’s Hardware Ubuntu Install Guide), for version 9.04. It has screenshots and step by step instructions, including steps for partitioning. Another thing I had to research was how to partition my Acer hard drive. On it was already 3 partitions. One small one (which I now know contains the ‘hidden’ Acer recovery partition), and the rest of the drive split into the main partition that Windows is installed in, plus an AcerData partition. I learned that I don’t actually need this AcerData partition and so I removed it during the Ubuntu installation partitioning process.

Following the guide, I removed the AcerData partition, shrunk the Windows one to half the size of the drive and used the other half to create 3 new partitions for Ubuntu. One for Swap, root (/) and home (/home). This was a nerve wracking process for me, but it went smoothly taking a little while. It then installed Ubuntu and I was able to boot it up.

The first thing I did was install my IDE Netbeans. I wanted the PHP version so I had to download it from their website rather than using the Package Manager to get it. I also installed Filezilla. Again the Package Manager version did not work so I found the command line method to do it. I then shut down and rebooted into Windows XP to make sure that it is still working. Looks good.

Following that I rebooted again and by now Ubuntu came up with a huge list of system updates needed. This is the process that caused problems last time, but it worked just fine this time around. I suspect having Ubuntu installed on properly formatted partitions (ext3) was a help.

Overall the process was a breeze with the right guide. Understanding how you are going to partition your drive ahead of time is very important. I suspect that I will eventually become mainly a Linux user. Sadly there are a couple of applications that I still can’t get for Linux that keep me tied to Windows. Namely Simply Accounting, and Photoshop. I have long ago quit playing PC games because of the headaches of endless installation/requirements problems and always having a computer that is out of date 4 months after you buy it. I’ve owned an Xbox 360 for the last year and have switched fully to console gaming. I will also need to keep Windows around in order to test my web development projects in Internet Explorer.

Here’s a list of Windows applications for which I have found alternatives with Linux support:

  • Dreamweaver/IDE – Netbeans IDE
  • Web Browser – Firefox
  • Trillian/Chat – Pidgin
  • FTP – Filezilla
  • MS Office – Open Office
  • Photoshop – Gimp (haven’t tried it yet)
  • Beyond Compare – Meld (haven’t tried it yet)
  • Tortoise SVN – ?