Installing Ubuntu On Laptops: My Experience

Installing Ubuntu Linux onto a laptop ranges from simple to challenging, depending on the hardware you choose. What is that experience like? Here is how it went for me and where I found the support to do it.

In a recent post, Qhartman described his experience in trying to find the perfect laptop to buy with Ubuntu. Instead of going that route, I purchased a laptop and later decided to install Ubuntu. Since I wanted to dual-boot with Vista, I picked out a few models based not on Linux compatibility but on specs I wanted for my Windows machine (DVD-RW, graphics card, memory, etc).

Once I decided on a model, I simply googled, for example, “Dell Inspiron 1501” and “Ubuntu” in one query. I knew I wasn’t going to be the first and only to install Ubuntu on my particular laptop, thus I planned on standing on the shoulders of those who have done it already.

Who else has done this?
It turns out that many people before me have done this. The beautiful thing about Dell is that if I buy the Inspiron 1501, it shares much of the same hardware as the 1504 or 1401, giving me a much larger base of users to query for technical assistance.

A simple Google search reveals hundreds of postings all over the Internet detailing different experiences installing Ubuntu on a Dell. But Dell isn’t the only system that Ubuntu has been installed. Utilize the Ubuntu wiki to see how many different machines from different makers have been made into Ubuntu machines.

How easy is it?
Well, turns out it is pretty easy. Downloading and creating the Ubuntu Live CD is a breeze following the instructions on the Ubuntu wiki. Of course with a live CD, its then simple to boot your system into Ubuntu to see how it behaves with your hardware and whether it offers all the bells and whistles that you might desire in your new Linux OS. Moving from the Live CD to a full HDD install is still easy, using the same source of instruction, the Ubuntu wiki.

It’s installed…where is the Start button?
Here is the kicker: Linux isn’t windows. Using KDE and GNOME your desktop might look similar to Windows, but we all know that under the hood it’s a totally different animal. How do I move files? What is the command line? Perhaps the best part about Linux is the user community available to help you with everything from the noob-iest of questions to questions relegated to Ubuntu/Linux guru masters. Here are the sites I utilized religiously:

Ubuntu Wiki: an incredible repository of how-to and instruction documents for almost every conceivable Ubuntu task
Ubuntu website: proceed to the community forum to find thousands of fellow users with likely the same issue as you!
Linux Questions : this is an awesome resource of Linux users of any distribution and experience level. A great place to learn Linux and the how’s and why’s of its inner-workings.
Linux.Org: a wealth of information, including documentation, information on different distributions, a Linux 101 course, and much more.

Of course, there are thousands of other Linux-related sites from which to choose. But I named those four because they served me (and continue to serve me) well in my journey of learning Linux and ultimately moving to Ubuntu.

What kind of problems can I expect?

You will come across problems easily fixed, and others not so easily fixed. What’s the hardest in my experience? Networking, specifically wireless. On my Dell 1501, on-board Ethernet worked fine right out of the box.

Wireless, though, was a different story. Ndiswrapper was my remedy, as it is to so many other thousands of people who use Linux on a system that contains a wireless card that does not support Linux. Ndiswrapper serves to essentially wrap your windows driver for your wireless card in a format more easily understood and utilized by your Ubuntu (or any other Linux) OS.

Unfortunately, you can often suffer some degraded performance from this procedure, but its often pretty minor. But here, ladies and gentlemen, is the beauty of Ubuntu: using those four websites detailed above, you can ask and get answered almost any question you ask about almost any issue you come across.

Just like in high school, the teacher always said not to be afraid to ask a question because chances are someone else has the very same questions and is also afraid to ask. In our case, with Ubuntu (and Linux overall) thousands have likely already asked the question before you, so the answer is already out there!

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4 thoughts on “Installing Ubuntu On Laptops: My Experience

  1. sudo apt-get install wicd

    It did the job for me after days of struggle with the non-working wifi

    I am new to this scene but there so much help out there that I can confidently say that there’s hope even for the hopeless like me.I love Ubuntu!

  2. I’ve installed Ubuntu on a few different laptops, and Dell certainly was the easiest. Currently I’m running 8.04 beta on a Sony Vaio SZ680, and while it runs mostly, there are certain parts that don’t work at all. The biggest missing piece is currently brightness controls for either graphics card (the SZ series comes with two and a hardware switch). Both display at full intensity, and it’s not very good for the eyes, or the battery for that matter.

    Still, work is being done, and there’s plenty of others trying to figure this same problem out on Ubuntu Forums.

  3. I did the same thing with my Asus G1s. I didn’t even think about Ubuntu really until I had the computer in my hands – XP became such a chore to install on it. Then I thought surely linux will work! And it did. Feisty was hard work with the wireless card but Gutsy has been a champ!

    Love the site btw.

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