the elementary school where I teach and manage a computer lab, I
recently installed and set up Ubuntu Linux ver 8.10 on 32 workstations
used by students and teachers. It was suprisingly quick and painless,
and both students and staff have been able to get used to using it
without much instruction. I'd like to share the experience.
have been using Windows since the school computer lab was set up in
1998; we are continuing to have the Windows installed on the lab
systems, but due to viruses and other Windows security issues, it
seemed a better option to let the systems boot to Ubuntu when going
online. As well, Ubuntu comes with a useful set of applications
build-in, including the Firefox web browser and OpenOffice.org office
suite- and lots more applications- including educational software, can
easily and safely be added, all for free.
Ubuntu is one of a
variety of Linux versions, known as distributions. It's the most
popular Linux distribution for use of computer desktops- but there are
lots of others. It's not the purpose of this article to debate various
Linux versions or to get involved in Linux vs Windows vs Mac arguements.
Ubuntu can be downloaded for free from http://www.ubuntu.com;
what you'll end up with is a 700 MB file ending in the letters .iso;
this is a disk image file- it can be burnt onto a blank CD disc using
any popular CD-burning software. Note that there are a variety of
versions- for 64-bit computers, computers using PowerPC CPUs (like
older Macs) and more. The 32-bit Intel version is the most commonly
used version, and can be installed on the widest range of PCs. There
are also several alternative Ubuntu user interface versions, etc. I'm
using the most-common Ubuntu version, which uses an interface called
You can make as many copies of the Ubuntu CD as needed
and give them away freely; you can also install from a single Ubuntu CD
as many times as you like- all freely and legally. No serial numbers,
no product activation hassles.
You can even request that
Canonical- the people that develop Ubuntu- send it to you, though that
will take much longer than downloading it burning it yourself.
requires at least 256 MB of RAM and at least 4 GB of hard drive space
when installed onto a computer; 10 GB is a comfortable size for a
Ubuntu drive partition. It can be installed onto a system that already
has Windows installed- it will leave your Windows installation alone,
setting itself up alongside it.
You can boot to the Ubuntu CD; they suggest at least 384 MB of RAM on
your system for that.
that Ubuntu will not work with every single video card (display
adapter), sound card, or network card that you may find on PCs, though
the most common options are supported. It's worthwhile to boot to the
CD first; if that works, your PC's hardware ought to work if you
especially nice thing is the ability to boot to the Ubuntu CD. This
lets you try it out- see if it works with your hardware, and see if you
want to work with it. I ran it that way on some of my computer lab
systems for about a week before deciding to install it. For long-term
use, there are two disadvantages to running it that way:
booting to the CD takes longer to start up and to
load applications than if it was installed onto a hard drive
you can connect to printers, save files to the desktop, change settings
like the browser home page while running it that way, all these changes
will be lost when your computer restarts. (Tip: save files to USB
Once you decide you want to install Ubuntu,
though, you still have several possible ways to go about it. In
particular, you have to decide whether to boot to the CD for your
installation or to insert the CD while running Windows and install from
there. (You can also set it to boot from a terminal server- more
on that: http://www.ubuntu.com/products/whatisubuntu/serveredition/technologies/ltsp)
Booting to the CD lets you either load Ubuntu (as
described above) and install it from an icon on the desktop, or simply
pick the Install to the Hard Drive option that appears when you start
to boot to the hard drive. Either way, you're asked to fill in a number
of relatively straightforward screens- set your language, location,
log-in information, etc., muddle through a process where a partitioning
utility shrinks your Windows partition to free up space for Ubuntu (the
automated process usually works fine), and restart your computer. When
it restarts, you'll see a somewhat complex-looking boot screen with a
long list of Ubuntu startup options followed by the option to boot to
Windows. Booting to Ubuntu is the default.
Here are screen captures of what you can expect to see:
1. Pick your language
2. Select your location; this also sets your timezone
3. Set your keyboard layout
4. Set aside space on your hard drive- this system has no Windows
installation; yours probably will....
5. Set up your defaunt user and password. Remember the password!
7. About 15 minutes later, ready to restart.
Here's the complex looking boot menu. when you install this way. Note
that the default choice is Ubuntu, and it takes a lot of arrow-presses
to get to Windows.
to the CD for installation is the traditional way to install Ubuntu,
other Linux distributions, and even Windows. Recent Ubuntu versions,
however, add a new option, which I prefer in most cases- and used in my
elementary school computer lab. Using a utility named Wubi, it lets you
install by inserting the CD while Windows is running, then filling out
a fairly simple dialogue box. Installed that way, you do not have to
partition your hard drive- which can sometimes be problematic. Ubuntu
installs itself onto a large file within your C:\Program Files folder,
and adds itself to your Windows Control Panel's Add-Remove list-
letting you easily remove it if you decide you don't like it. When your
system starts up, you'll see a simpler boot menu, just listing Windows
and Ubuntu, with Windows set as the default - though you can change
that if desired.
Here's what you'll see if you choose this installation method:
1. Just a few things to enter... pick your drive size, username and
2. And away we go!
3. 15 minutes later, ready to restart
Here's the simpler-looking boot menu- note that Windows is the default
when you install this way. Use the down-arrow key then press Enter to
5. A bit more configuration is needed, but no user input
If you've installed this way and want to change the boot menu to make
Ubuntu the default instead of Windows, here's what you do:
running Windows, right-click on the My Computer icon (on the Desktop or
in the Start Menu) and choose Properties from the pop-up context menu.
1. Click on the Advanced tab, then on the Startup and Recovery:
2. Click on the down-arrow to see the Default Operating System, and
pick Ubuntu. Click OK
you decide Ubuntu's not for you, if you've installed it from within
Windows you can easily remove it using the Control Panels Add-Remove
Programs item (Windows 2000 or XP) or Program Settings item (Vista or
Configuring your Ubuntu
pretty good as it's initially installed, but inevitably you may want or
need to do somethings to it. You can, for instance, change the desktop
wallpaper or screensaver... but you probably can figure these out for
yourself. Here are the various changes I made to Ubuntu (and it's
bundled software) for my school installations:
1. Add icons to the desktop and the 'panel'
installs with a totally empty desktop, and with small icons on the top
menubar- referred to in Ubuntu-speak as 'the panel'. The panel comes
with icons for Firefox web browser- which I use, Evolution email- which
I don't use, and Help. I wanted to remove the Evolution icon, and add
an icon for OpenOffice.org Word Processor to the panel. As well, I
wanted to add icons for Firefox and OpenOffice.org Word Processor to
the desktop, since users accustomed to Windows were more likely to
notice and make use of those.
Removing the Evolution icon was simple- right-click on it, and choose
Remove from Panel from the pop-up menu.
the icons to the Panel and desktop was also simple- when you know how.
Click on the Applications menu (at the top-left), navigate to the
program you're interested in, then right-click on its icon. You'll see
options to 'Add this launcher to the panel' or 'Add this launcher to
the desktop'. Nothing to it!
2. While I was adding Firefox icons, I wanted to
make two changes to
Firefox's default operations... I navigated to www.google.ca and set
that as the default homepage, by clicking Firefox's Edit menu, choosing
the Peferences item, and clicking on the Use Current Page to change the
home page from Ubuntu's default.
well, I wanted Firefox in
Ubuntu to use the same set of bookmarks (Favorites for IE users) as I
had in the Windows version. Firefox makes it easy to export Favorites-
in any version: Windows, Mac, Linux- and use it in another version of
Firefox. In a Windows copy of Firefox, I clicked on the Bookmarks menu,
then picked Organize Bookmarks, then on Backup, saving to my USB memory
stick. In Ubuntu, I followed almost the same steps, choosing Restore
from the Import and Backup option, and pointing to the saved file on my
It noted that this would overwrite the existing bookmarks, which is
what I wanted.
I wanted to make a change to the default behaviour of OpenOffice.org-
which I do in the Windows, Mac, and Linux installations of this very
good office suite- setting it to save by default in Microsoft Office
file formats instead of the OpenOffice.org equivalents. (This makes it
easier to send email attachments or share files with people who aren't
typically OpenOffice.org users)
To do that, open any of the
OpenOffice.org modules, click on the Tools menu, then Options. Click on
[+] beside Load/Save to expand those options, and click on General.
You'll see that the default file format for a Text Document is an
OpenOffice format- scroll up that list to find Microsoft Word
97/2000/XP. Repeat to get the Microsoft Excel format for spreadsheets
and the Microsoft Powerpoint format for presentations. Click OK.
that the OpenOffice.org 2.40 version included with Ubuntu 8.10 does not
support Microsoft Office 2007/08 docx file formats; hopefully the newer
OpenOffice.org 3 (which does support those formats) will be included
soon! (If you want to update to the current OO.org version, follow the instructions here:
When installing from within WIndows, the time-zone is not properly set
up; my systems were 8 hours off. To fix this, I clicked on System, then
Administration, then Time and Date. This shows the current settings-
but to make changes, you need to click on the Unlock button, and enter
your password. Clicking on the TimeZone setting opens a map of the
world- similar to the one pictured above; pick your location as closely
as possible. After choosing your location, you can now set the correct
time for that location. Note that this may default to a 24-hour clock:
for 2 pm.
To change to a 12-hour clock, right-click the
time/date display on the right-hand side of the top panel, and pick
Preferences from the pop-up menu. Now you can change to a 12-hour time
display. As a bonus, if you click the Locations tab and tell it where
you are, you can optionally display weather information beside the date
I don't need to have each user log in individually... so I configured
Ubuntu to automatically log in. This is an option you can choose if you
are installing directly from the CD, but if you install from within
Windows (as I did), you'll need to change the settings. To do that,
click System, then Administration, then Login Window. (You'll need to
enter your password). Go to the security tab, and click in the option
to [ ] Enable Automatic Login... then drop down the empty list of
users... you'll see your user name down near the bottom. Click to
select it. Make sure you see that user name listed, otherwise this
won't work! Click Close.
I added my default printer- in my case, a networked Xerox postscript
laser printer. Once again, System, Administration, then Printing- and
enter your password. Click on the New option. Hopefully, it will
discover your printer- it found mine without problem. Clicking through
the options, and mostly going with its defaults ended up giving me a
working printer- hopefully you'll find it equally easy, though in some
cases, you may need to choose a similar printer model and then test to
see if it will work.
I have a couple of folders shared from a (gasp!) Windows 98
peer-to-peer 'server' that I wanted to allow the students to access. To
do this, I clicked Places, then Connect to Server. Change the default
'Service Type' to Windows Share, then enter the server name and the
name of the shared folder. (I haven't had success connecting to shared
folders that required passwords- maybe you can do better!). Adding a
bookmark means that the connection is added to the Places list, so you
don't need to fill in this dialogue box every time. When you click
Connect, the shared folder will open up on screen.
If you are using on a laptop or connected to an LCD display, you can
get better onscreen display of text: click System then Preferences then
Appearance, and go to the Fonts tab. Cloose the Subpixel Smoothing
option. You can fine-tune it by clicking the Details button, and
selecting your prefered amount of hinting.
I added a number of programs using the Add-Remove list at the bottom of
the Applications menu. Note that by default, this shows a limited list
of "Canonical-maintained" applications; you can expand the list to "All
Available" if you want. From the Canonical-maintained list, I added:
Games- Potato Guy and TuxMath
Education- everything (initially)
some student-testing, I removed a number of Education programs that
were clearly aimed at secondary or university students, such as
Kalgebra, Kig, KmPlot, Kwordquiz, Parley, RasMol, and Step.
Changing to the All Available list, I added the game, Pingus.
Other software can be added by clicking System, Administration, then
Synaptic Package Manager. Here, I searched for 'Flash' and then chose
the flashplugin-nonfree and adobe-flashplugin packages. Click on the
box beside the name and choose Mark for Installation from the popup
Without installing, I searched for 'restricted' and selected
ubuntu-restricted extras and linuix-restricted modules.
for 'microsoft', I selected the msttcorefonts item. And searching for
'wine' let me add wine- useful for running some Windows programs (such
as the Silhouette 4 report card program) in Ubuntu. (See #12 below).
to download and install these options; be prepared to let it run for a
while. I left my systems doing this overnight.
Updates- Ubuntu 8.10 came out in October 2008 (that's that the 8.10
refers to). That's been time enough for over 200 updates. You'll see an
orange flashing star on the top panel- telling you there are updates
available. Clicking on it will open the Update Manager, letting you
download and install updates. This can take a while- you may want to
let it run overnight. Afterwards, you'll
need to restart the system.
WINE- (WINE is Not an Emulator) works suprisingly well- for
allowing you to run (some but definitely not all) Windows programs
within Ubuntu. Once WINE has been installed, you can try out Windows
installers- most installers that I've tested will work, installing an
icon for the
Windows program in an Applications/Wine/Programs list. Though they may
install without problem, graphics-intensive Windows programs may not
actually run- you
can remove them using Wine's Uninstall Wine Software item, though you
may have to use the System/Preferences/Main Menu editor to remove the
program icon. But a surprising number of Windows programs will work
fine- I found lots of the primary-level educational software I run
under Windows worked with Wine, for instance. And the Ubuntu version of
the KompoZer web editing tool kept crashing, so I downloaded the
Windows version- and that's what I'm using right now to edit this page.
Wine used to be hard to configure, but no longer. Highly recommended!
Check for the availability of 'proprietary drivers'. Click System, then
Administration, then Hardware Drivers- this will tell you whether
drivers created by the manufacturers of your hardware (and not
available as open source in the base Ubuntu package) are available.
(Note- even without checking this you may see a notification about
these drivers pop up on the right-side of the top panel). For instance,
ATI or nVideo proprietary drivers may offer better performance for
games or graphics-intensive programs like Google Earth. You can choose
to 'activate' any available drivers, and they will be automatically
downloaded and installed.