The first step in converting my office to Free Software was to install Linux on my desktop computer. My PC is a pretty beefy machine; the only part of my configuration that is the least bit out of the ordinary is the fact that I have two 420 GB drives configured for mirroring via Intel’s Matrix Storage software RAID.
My PC has two network connections: one a gigabit ethernet connection and the other an old 802.11g wireless Linksys Adapter. Though I can run a cable directly to my PC from my DSL modem I prefer not to, as my house is in the beginnings of a decades-long renovation. Enough talk, time for action.
Installing Ubuntu Linux is generally dead simple. These days Linux has enough hardware support that you should be able to get Linux successfully installed in a couple of clicks, and something should eventually boot up. I downloaded the x64-bit edition of Ubuntu Desktop and burnt it to a DVD in Windows 7 using my laptop. With any luck, this should be one of the last personal things I do on that company-issued machine!
After booting to the disk and getting through the Language/Keyboard configuration installation screens, I arrived at the screen I knew was bound to give me trouble: the drive partitioning screen. Of course Ubuntu couldn’t see my Intel software RAID, so no disks were available to install to. I did some quick research and found the FakeRaidHowto in the Ubuntu Community Documentation. It is possible, but frankly? I didn’t feel like spending my time tinkering to make this mediocre feature work. (To make it work, download an Alternative Installation CD with the dmraid drive built-in. But I’m too lazy). I rebooted my computer and switched my drive configuration back to standard SATA instead of RAID, then restarted the installation. From here on out I had no issues with the installation.
Twenty minutes later, I was at a login prompt. Let me tell you what: Ubuntu 10.04 boots FAST. From the time my BIOS passed control to Ubuntu to the point in which I could type in my password, I bet I waited about eight seconds. Amazing!
My first step after any new OS installation is to install updates. But lo’ and behold, Ubuntu was not seeing my wireless network, or any wireless network for that matter. At the top of the screen I saw a flashing icon that looking curiously like it might have something to do with my hardware so I clicked it and found myself face-to-face with the Hardware Drivers window. Listed were an available Nvidea driver for my graphics card and the Broadcom B43legacy wireless driver. Neither of these drivers are actually included with Ubuntu because they are closed-source software, so you have to download them after the installation.
Problem: In order to get my wireless drivers downloaded I had to have an Internet connection. This is the sort of chicken-or-the-egg situation that really gets under my skin. I grabbed a spool of CAT 5E and some RJ45 connectors, and a few minutes later I had the 40 foot cable required to connect my PC to my router. Moments later, I was connected to the Internet, the Hardware Drivers window allowed me to install my wireless driver, and I was able to configure my wireless network.
At this point I opened the Update Manager and installed a few hundred megabytes of available updated.
I’ll say this: my experience with this installation was light years ahead of what I’ve experienced in the past. Though I’m not thrilled with the fact that there was no out-of-the-box support for my software RAID the wireless configuration was a snap. I’ve installed Ubuntu dozens of times over the past few years and I’ve always left because of wireless support. They’ve finally found that happy medium between hardware support and their commitment to open source code and software.
In my next few posts I will be dealing with software issues and alternatives to popular software packages.