The Ubuntu Installation ExperienceBy Frank Ohlhorst | Posted 2008-05-26 Email Print
We took a system builders point of view for installing Ubuntu (and Kubuntu) to judge what would be involved in distributing a business class Linux PC to an end user. With that in mind, we assembled a mid range desktop PC, with newer components and even switched in and out various components to further complicate the installation process. The idea here was to test driver installation and compatibility offered out of the box (or actually the down loaded ISO file) and gauge the ability to swap or upgrade hardware, deal with various assembly line changes and judge the skill set needed to build Ubuntu based white boxes.
Initial installations were done with a system built using a Tyan Tomcat motherboard, AMD Phenom X3 processor, 2 Gbytes of DDR2 Corsair RAM, a Western Digital EIDE hard drive, LG DVD-RW drive and an ATI HD3470 PCI-E video card. We also did installs, hardware swap outs and upgrades by switching video cards with an Nvidia GeForce 6800 video card and a Seagate Sata hard drive, along with a Benq Optical drive. We also tried the system with 1 Gbyte of RAM instead of two.
Installation was performed directly from a Ubuntu ISO CD, which was created by downloading an ISO image and burned to a blank CD. Install CDs were created for both Ubuntu and Kubuntu.
Booting from the CD offered several installation choices, ranging from standard installs, to manual installs to OEM installs. For both Ubuntu and Kubuntu we chose to go with the OEM install process, which is meant for system builders looking to distribute the OS with a new PC.
As part of the installation process, we could choose how to partition and allocate the hard drive, we chose the easiest route, which automatically formats and partitions the whole hard drive. That means all previous data/partitions would be overwritten. The install process took about 15 minutes and the OS detected all of the major hardware components and installed the appropriate drivers - at least well enough for the system to boot up. The final step of the initial install process consists of removing the install CD and rebooting the system.
Once rebooted, both Ubuntu and Kubuntu asked for login credentials. Ubuntu defaulted to the system builders credentials, while Kubuntu offered the system builders credentials as a choice during login.Those credentials were entered during the first stage of setup, along with some other basic information, such as a system name, time zone and other locality settings.
Once logged in, the system automatically contacted an update server and downloaded the latest drivers, patches and any application updates that were needed, a process that does need to be confirmed by the user.
Once the initial update completes, a system builder can launch an application which readies the system for shipment. Basically, that application removes any accounts and settings that were used during the initial install. That preps the system for the end user and when the end user first fires up the new system, a guided install to personalize the system will automatically run. Basically, both Ubuntu and Kubuntu offer a very slick interface for system builders looking to ready a new system for shipment and prepares the system adequately for a new user to have a straightforward experience.
We did encounter a few driver issues during the basic install; both video cards needed additional driver downloads to function properly. That said, only OpenGL and 3D were affected by the lack of the new drivers, the overall user interface still functioned well enough to configure and even use the system.
Arguably, the most important requirement during installation seems to be having a compatible network card and a connection to the internet. If the operating system can connect to the Internet during installation, then critical drivers can be downloaded and installed as part of the setup process.
We did run into some problems when switching video cards. If we replaced the ATI card with the NVidia card the system would hang (or at least not load the GUI) when we tried to boot. The simplest way to overcome the problem was to reinstall the OS . That said, both Ubuntu and Kubuntu offer boot up utilities or a "safe mode" that allows a technician to change or reload drivers. Interestingly, switching from an Nvidia card to an ATI card seemed to work without a hitch, the system auto-detected the new card and loaded the appropriate basic drivers, akin to how Windows XP or Vista would handle that same situation.
Simply put, hardware detection has come a long way with the 8.04 release and is a major improvement over previous releases. It is still not perfect, but comes pretty close to offering a Windows style experience and should suit even the most particular of end users.
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