Friday, February 5, 2010

Answering a Friend About Ubuntu on a Netbook

Ubuntu wordmark officialImage via Wikipedia
This post is directed to a friend that asked about getting a new netbook and putting Ubuntu on it. ate my homework and gave me nothing but a server error in response, so I decided to put the answer up here and just send him a link.
Thinking of installing Ubuntu on a Netbook we're going to buy as I've heard it's pretty lightweight in comparison to . What are your thoughts on this in general? Also, it is free right?
First of all, I want you to know that I use Ubuntu every day. All of the computers in my house (and there are many of them) use Ubuntu or some relative (like Debian). Not only is it free (as in liberty), it's also free ($), and it does everything that I want and more, though there's sometimes a little pain involved. My experiences with Windows don't involve any less pain, though the part of the eye the needles get stuck into isn't necessarily the same.

That said, Windows 7 Starter isn't really any heavier than Ubuntu on a netbook. Sure, Linux and Ubuntu are great in that you can pare down the OS to pretty much any level you want, and you could run a fairly functional, modern desktop using Lubuntu or Slitaz while using the same resources that Windows 98 did. If you buy a netbook with Windows 7 already installed, though, you're going to have enough resources to run pretty much any operating system you want (except ), you've already paid for an OS, and the OS is already installed for you. Just stick with it.

If you want to move to an alternate OS (and there are lots of reasons to do so), you'd be best off buying a netbook with Ubuntu already installed and configured for you. Installing and configuring an operating system isn't a simple process, and doing it with an OS you're not familiar with is almost certain to end in disaster. Buying Ubuntu pre-installed means that or whoever , and probably threw in DVD playback and other goodies, too. (Did you know that Windows doesn't come with that stuff, either?)

If you are still determined to install Ubuntu despite my warnings, here's how you go about it. Learn a little about Ubuntu first and install it once in a situation with little to no danger. Download Wubi, an application which installs Ubuntu like an application inside Windows without touching your Windows system, and is easily removable if you decide you don't want it anymore. Play around a little and see if moving this way is something you really want to do. Don't expect everything to work 100% after the installation.

Next, decide whether you want the special netbook interface or the standard panel-and-icon interface. Here they are.
A quick video overview
The standard interface

Once you've decided, head on over to and download the one you want and write it to a USB thumb drive. I hear UNetBootin is a very good utility which will both download the image and burn it to a thumb drive for you. Test the finished product on your laptop by rebooting into the live USB environment, which will look like it's native, but which won't touch your laptop at all. Turn off your laptop and get ready to head outside. (Is that the place they keep the soju?)

Head on over to the store you are looking to buy the netbook from and get the salesperson to let you boot the USB key. You know the key works since you tested it at home, right? Hardware compatibility is very important. Look for a netbook based on the Intel Atom and the 945GMA graphics set or get one of the newer ones based on NVidia's Tegra chips. Once the machine boots, test the wireless -- it's in the notification area on the top-right. Does everything work and look OK? Great! You're ready to purchase.

Install the system at home by booting the USB key, clicking the "Install" icon, and following these directions. Read them before you start, but ignore the part about Vista. Once you've finished the installation, open Firefox, come back to this page, and click on the following links to install some extra software:

You're pretty much finished because there are so many applications installed by default. If you need some other application, look in the application store (which is called Ubuntu Software Center) in the "Applications" menu on the top-left of the screen. The standard look is brown (for humanity), but the interface is almost infinitely configurable, and there are tons of themes. Here's my current desktop.

I even have four of them. ;)

p.s. You might want to take a look at Intel's netbook Linux, called Moblin. It's quite innovative.


  1. Hey,
    can you tell me please which theme, icon theme etc. you're using for your current desktop.
    Thanks a lot!
  2. I'm using the Elementary Desktop from the PPA.
    deb karmic main

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