Sunday, December 14, 2008

Into the looking glass

As mentioned in my last article My Linux adventure begins..., I am embarking on a Linux adventure. Before I can step through the looking glass I must choose from one of the dozens (hundreds?) of Linux variants available. Choosing a flavour of the Linux operating system is tough when you know almost nothing about the OS. I figure I'd stick with the most popular in the hopes it will have the best features and driver support. Two good choices appear to be OpenSUSE and Ubuntu. I expect to ultimately use an enterprise version of SUSE since I am an enterprise type guy, but I don't feel that would be appropriate at this stage. OpenSUSE is the basis for Novell's Enterprise SUSE and looks very impressive as a personal OS, but I'll take a pass on it as well. I'm going to give Ubuntu a try. My main reasoning is that I have seen Ubuntu in the press a lot lately and it seems very popular. I'm hoping that it's popularity will translate into support for all the hardware I plan to throw at it. It would also be nice to be familiar with an additional Linux distro if I am to eventually end up in a SUSE flavour Linux.

So off I go to the Ubuntu site to get a FREE operating system... The current version available is 8.10 released October 27, 2008. This does indeed look promising - look at this feature!:

3G Support
For constant connectivity public WiFi has limitations. Improvements to the network manager in Ubuntu 8.10 makes it simple to detect and connect to 3G networks and manage connectivity. This connectivity is delivered through an inbuilt 3G modem, through 'dongle' support, through a mobile phone or through Bluetooth. It is a complex environment that Ubuntu 8.10 simplifies through a single interface and the auto-detection of many of the most popular devices.
There's my Wifi and Bluetooth mentioned in one spot! I'll have to borrow an iPhone to see how the 3G works out...

I chose to download the 64-bit Desktop version. It's a CD ISO image only 699 MB in size!

The download page offered all these resources:I'm feeling welcome so far - let's hope this positive energy stays with me :-)

I quickly found a document aimed at me: Switching from Windows. A good read. But it is scaring me slightly. I looked at the Dual Booting Windows and Linux section where is talks about how to partition my drive. I don't like that it threatens me with the statement:
After finalizing the installation, however, the hard disk will be re-partitioned and all existing data stored on it will be lost.
That is a rather blanket statement! I hope to keep my Vista partition and my HP recovery partition for the moment. I'm assuming that statement was overly generalized and that it will in fact only blow away partitions that must be modified in some way (when it makes the Windows partition smaller or something). I retreat.

I decide to use a new Windows Vista feature to shrink my Vista partition without losing data - making room for Linux (before Linux touches it). Vista makes this very easy. Under Computer Management | Disk Management I was able to right-click on my primary partition and select Shrink Volume.... From there I was able to reclaim 100GB for my Linux project. Hopefully now Linux will let me keep my "data".

Booting Ubuntu was quick and easy. Within 2 seconds I was presented with a colourful logo and great choices. I chose to install Ubuntu rather than just use it as a "Live" CD. I experienced a long period with a black screen as errors like this flowed past:
Buffer I/O error on device sr0, sector ...
end_request: I/O error, dev sr0 ...
As a normal Windows user, I might have been worried seeing all these "errors" because I am normally isolated from the underlying system. But I remember that Linux users like a verbose world and the systems always seem to spout messages. Linux doesn't just stay silent until it can tell me I have a critical problem, it knows "too much information" can be great when trying to diagnose issues.

Eventually the graphic interface appears and starts asking me questions. I am impressed by all the supported languages and keyboards. I like selecting my timezone by choosing a nearby city from an animated map - very cool. The partitioning interface was interesting. It was clear and quite usable but a bit cryptic for a Linux neophyte - so many choices! I felt somewhat better when finalizing my partition choices. The installer tells me:

WARNING: This will destroy all data on any partitions you have removed as well as on the partitions that are going to be formatted.
It then proceeds to identify exactly which partitions are going to be formatted. Much better messages than the one I saw earlier in the documentation. I'm not worried at all now. I think it might actually have been able to shrink my Vista partition for me without damaging anything. I'll save that test for another day though.

Eventually the install completed and had me reboot. Looks good! I have a multi-boot menu and can see Vista there. Stepping through the mirror into Ubuntu Linux land!...


Niklas said...

FYI, parted, and by extension, the Ubuntu installer, is perfectly capable of resizing NTFS partitions as long as the partition is defragged (you don't want to risk half of some files being on the part of the hard-drive you're about to convert to ext3 after all ;))
As for the buffer I/O message, sounds like damaged media, /dev/sr0 is your CD device, so the CD was probably somewhat corrupted during burn. This can usually be avoided by burning at a lower speed.

Gordon Martin said...

I guessed as much, thanks for confirming. It would be great if the docs would be updated to reflect that reality.

I appreciate the input, I've been hoping for constructive criticism / suggestions along the way. So fare I've been coping without asking questions on forums. I see you've left many more comments for me to look at... off I go!

Gary said...

The documentation about erasing and formating your entire hard disk kept me from installing Ubuntu for over a year. I am finally also starting installation now after discovering a freeware partition manager - EASEUS.