Your First Steps With Linux: Revisited

When I was writing Your First Steps With Linux I really wanted to mention Wubi as an alternative to live CD but somehow it did not make it into the post. Human memory is funny this way sometimes. It’s really good at storing data, not that great at recovering it when needed.

I really want to mention this project because it is quite clever. It’s a shame it didn’t make to that other article because it is really one of the least painful methods of installing fully functional linux distribution on a windows machine. It essentially bypasses all the problem areas that tend to be major hurdles to Linux newbies: namely partitioning and configuration. Wubi installation is also completely reversible and it does not permanently modify your partition table, your boot loader or anything else on your system. In fact it installs just like a windows application:

Wubi Windows Installer

How do they do this? It is quite ingenious really. Wubi uses a virtual disk image instead of a real physical partition. Wubi team wrote a custom LVM partition manager that allows this. The windows based installer creates the disk files, does most of the configuration and adds a new OS entry to your boot.ini file. Once you reboot, it does a relatively quick “hands-off” installation of the basic system that requires almost no configuration whatsoever. You end up with a fully functional bootable Ubuntu distro without any hassle.

The performance is much better than working in a virtual machine because the windows system is not running in the background and you don’t get any emulation overhead. You do not get exactly the same performance as with the “native” install though, because the loopbacked partion responds more slowly than actual hard drive. Still, it beats working with Live CD which tends to be sluggish.

The stable download from the Wubi website will fetch and install Feisty by default. Unfortunately there is no Gutsy based release, but you can get an alpha version of the installer if you are especially adventurous. Note that it might be buggy.

Wubi was initially supposed to be integrated with Gutsy release but somehow that never panned out. This is likely why there is no stable release here – apparently the Wubi team took the failure to deliver the code on time, and instead of trying to patch up the Gutsy installer, they just started working on the code for Hardy.

It seems that there is a lot of activity going on on that project page so there is hope that once Hardy comes out you will be able to just pop the CD into your drive and have the Wubi installer pop up in windows for you.

In the First Steps article I mentioned it is a good idea to pick a distro with a large, active community. In the discussion thread we already established that the Ubuntu forums are not that great at answering hard questions. But once again, that is not what I really meant by active community. By community I mean the total number of people actively doing stuff with the distro. Wubi is just an example of what happens when a distro reaches that critical mass of users. Bright, inventive people come along and find new interesting ways to make that distro even better and more accessible for the masses.

[tags]linux, first steps with linux, wubi, ubuntu, ubuntu installer, feisty, gutsy, hardy[/tags]

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4 Responses to Your First Steps With Linux: Revisited

  1. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Now thats snazzy. I thought it was going to be something like andLinux (formerly coLinux) or a binary compatible version of cygwin. This is really slick though, I’ll have to try it out.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Yup, I tried it the other day on a spare machine and it worked amazingly well. I noticed that this is actually a great solution for working on a “borrowed” PC. There are 2 slow Windows boxen in the Adjunct office at my university. The IT re-images them once every 4 years or something like that. They are all really slow, and they have odd bits of spyware floating around (they run as Admin for some reason – probably so that professors can install more spyware as needed). I installed Wubi and now I have a clean and uncluttered OS running on one of them.

    At any point I can just go into Windows Add/Remove dialog and uninstall it. Cleans up really well. Perfect for someone who wants to try messing around with Linux for a little while without really committing to it.

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  3. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    Hi everyone,

    I took a big decision last week: I am going to make my girlfriend switch from Win XP (which works very bad on her aging machine) to Linux. For this, I began the unaddiction measures I read in some Linux mag: first, make her switch within Windows to only non-windows apps: Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin (which already considerably improved things for her, with a noticeable speed increase), Open Office, IZarc and a couple of other useful applications. In a couple of weeks, I will plug a second HD in the available IDE slot and install Ubuntu. She won’t really noticed the difference.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    I recommend Kubuntu since KDE seems to work better on aging machines, at least in my experiences. Also it is slightly more similar to Windows – with the K menu, a single toolbar on the bottom of the screen and all that.

    Good luck! I hope she likes it. :)

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