Test-Drive Ubuntu

Test-Drive Ubuntu

Use the Ubuntu Live CD to get to know Linux before installing it on your system. This is simply the fastest and safest way to try out Linux.

Though Linux on the desktop looks and behaves a lot like Windows, the simple fact is it isn't. Your favorite Windows programs probably won't run in Linux, it may be difficult to migrate data from your Windows install [Hack #7], and the years you've spent getting used to how Windows does things will prove mostly useless when it comes to understanding how Linux works. With all of this in mind, wouldn't it be great if you could try out Linux without spending hours or days getting it installed and configured on your system? Well, you can. With the Ubuntu Live CD, you can take Linux for a test-drive to be certain you really want to commit the time and resources to running it full-time. This hack shows you how to download the Ubuntu Live CD and boot your system using it. Other hacks in the book show you how to get around in GNOME [Hack #15] or KDE [Hack #16], the two popular graphical environments that run on top of Linux.

Downloading the Live CD

A live CD is a complete installation of Linux that runs entirely from CD. While you are using a live CD, nothing is written to your hard drive, so your Windows or Mac OS installation is not affected in any way. However, because you're running from a CD, you're limited to using only the programs that are installed on the CD, and everything will run a bit slower because CD access is much slower than that of a hard drive. Still, even with these limitations, it's undeniable that a live CD is the easiest way to try out Ubuntu.

You can obtain the Ubuntu Live CD from the main Ubuntu web site (http://www.ubuntulinux.org). There is a convenient Download link that takes you right to the download page to get the latest released version of Ubuntu. This hack, indeed this entire book, was written for the Dapper Drake releaseversion 6.06, LTSbecause it is the release that will be supported for the next five years (previous Ubuntu releases were supported for only 12 months). Ubuntu versions are numbered according to the year and month of release; therefore, this version of Dapper Drake was released in June 2006. Regardless of which version you download, the hacks in this book should be valid for a long time to come.

LTS stands for Long Term Support, which indicates that this release of Ubuntu is supported for three years on the desktop, and five years on the server.

The file you want to download is the ISO image that corresponds to the computer type you are using. If you're on a PC, this probably means the x86 version, but if you happen to be using a 64-bit AMD or Intel processor, you want to download the 64-bit PC version. Finally, if you're a Mac user, you want to get the PowerPC version. It is unknown at the time of this writing if Ubuntu will support the new Macintoshes with Intel processors.

You can burn the ISO image to disc using any CD-burning software you have installed on your computer. Make sure you choose the option that burns the image to disc; don't select the option to burn a data CD that will just copy the image over as a file. The difference is that the former will create a bootable disc, and the latter will not.

Booting the CD

To use a live CD, you typically need do nothing more than boot your computer with the CD already in the optical drive. Most Windows computers these days are preconfigured to boot from a CD or DVD before booting from the hard drive. We fancy this is because users often need to restore or repair their Windows installation using the OEM-provided restore CD, and this configuration saves a lot of calls to technical support.

If you are using a Mac, you need to hold down the C key to boot from a CD.

But, if for some reason your Windows computer doesn't want to boot from the CD, the fix is usually quite simple. You need to boot into your computer's BIOS and modify the setting that specifies the boot order. Getting into the BIOS usually requires you to press a key early on in the boot sequence. The key you press depends on the make of your computer and BIOS, but it is typically displayed on the splash screen that comes up when your computer starts (the one that announces the manufacturer of the computer, not the Windows splash screen). If your splash screen doesn't tell you this information, try one of these keys: Esc, Del, F2, F10, or F12.

On some computers, F12 launches you directly into a boot selection menu, offering options such as booting from hard disk, floppy drive, USB drive, optical drive, or the network. This lets you boot from a different device without making changes to your BIOS configuration.

Once you're in the BIOS, you should look for a menu called Boot or one labeled Advanced Configuration. Under this menu, you should see a setting that allows you to specify that the CD or optical drive boot before the hard disk. There are hundreds of BIOS variants, so we can't be more specific than that, but if you look at every option screen, you will eventually see the setting you need to change as well as instructions for how to do so. Once you've made the change, save it, and then reboot your computer.

Hopefully, this will be the only problem you have booting from the Live CD. If you've configured the BIOS correctly, shortly after boot you should see a splash screen with the following options:

Run preinstalled live system

This option loads the Live CD environment so you can test-drive Ubuntu. If you don't press any keys within 30 seconds of getting to this screen, this option will automatically execute.

Rescue a broken system

Choose this option to load a minimal Linux enviroment that you can use to troubleshoot a nonworking Linux installation.

Memory test

You can use this option to run a test of your computer's RAM. Many people don't realize it, but many odd computer problems can be traced to bad RAM modules. If your computer exhibits erratic behavior, such as frequent freezes or an inability to consistently finish booting, your RAM may be the culprit, and running this program may save you hours of frustration.

Boot from the first hard disk

Select this option to continue booting from the hard drive.

Unless you're troubleshooting, about the only other option of interest right now is pressing F2 to select a language. This setting determines the language and keyboard layout that will be used for the rest of the test-drive; the default is English.

Once you've made any necessary language selections, you should use the arrow keys to select "Run preinstalled live system," and press Enter. This begins the loading of Ubuntu. You'll see a lot of messages flash by on the screen and eventually be faced with a text dialog to configure your screen resolution. You can use the Tab and arrow keys to move the selection cursor, the spacebar to toggle a selection, and Enter to accept your input and move on to the next screen. You can select multiple entries, depending on what your monitor supports. Ubuntu will use the highest selected and supported resolution as the default.

After this, Ubuntu continues to load, and, if all goes well, you'll automatically be logged in to a GNOME desktop less than a minute later. Depending on your hardware (network, sound, printer, etc.), you may find everything preconfigured and working. If you don't, some of the hardware-configuration hacks later in this book may be useful even in the Live CD environment.

Another Use for the Live CD

The Ubuntu Live CD also includes Windows versions of several open source programs. To access these program installers from within Windows, just insert the live CD while logged in. Within a few seconds, the autoload feature of Windows should display a window that lets you launch each installer. If this doesn't happen, you can just open Windows Explorer, navigate to the CD, and use the installers found in the program directory. The programs on the CD are:

OpenOffice.org 2.0

This is a free office suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheet, database, drawing program, and web page creator. OpenOffice.org (the .org is really a part of its name, but you can abbreviate it to OOo) can open and save to Microsoft Office formats, which means you may be able to use it in place of that office suite, or at the very least collaborate with others who do. You can learn more about OOo at the OpenOffice.org web site (http://www.openoffice.org).

Mozilla Firefox 1.5

Firefox is a web-browsing alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. This secure and feature-rich web browser took the computer world by storm in 2005 and became the first browser to gain market share against IE since the mid-90s. To learn more about Firefox, visit the Mozilla web site (http://www.mozilla.org). Pay particular attention to the information about tabs and extensions, two features that can dramatically enhance your browsing experience.

Gaim 1.5.0

Gaim is a multiprotocol instant-messenger program. This means it can connect to multiple networks, such as AOL, MSN, Jabber, and Yahoo! all at the same time, making it easy for you to stay connected to your friends without having to run a separate chat client for each network.

Each of these programs is also part of the Ubuntu Live CD experience, so you can try them out before installing them to Windows. If you like the Live CD so much that you want to keep using it, be sure to check out "Make Live CD Data Persistent" [Hack #3].

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