How To Install Ubuntu

This page will walk you through the installation process. For the purposes of this page, I'm assuming that you've already made the decision to install Ubuntu.

I don't have any screenshots on this page, as I don't have the technology to allow me to do that. But if you want to go to another site that has similar instructions, with screenshots, go here.

Getting started

The first thing you'll want to do is get a copy of the Ubuntu installation CD, which you can download from their website. There are actually two types of CD you can download from the site:

  • The “regular” CD. You don't have to do anything to get this one; it's the one you'll get by default. This CD will let you boot right into Ubuntu, if you wish, so that you can try it out by running it from the CD, instead of installing it. If/when you're ready, you can install it. Or, if you wish, you can insert the CD while you're running Windows, and it will allow you to install from there.
  • The “alternate” CD. This version is a bit more stripped down. If you boot up to this CD, you will get a “text mode” version of the install program, which is very bare-bones.

For the instructions in this page, you should download the “alternate” CD, since that's what I always use — and, therefore, what I based these instructions on.

The CD that you download will be an .iso file. If you don't have any software that can burn a CD from an .iso file, the are instructions on the Ubuntu website on how to burn it to a CD. (Or, if you have software like Nero, that understands .iso files, you can use that.)

Once you have the disk burned, you're ready to go.

Navigating the Install Program

Once you get into the Ubuntu installation program, it is actually quite simple to use. (If you're going to be using Linux, now is as good a time as any to learn a simple fact: You don't need to have a fancy graphical user interface to do everything! Sometimes you can get by just fine with only the keyboard.)

Since the installation program is text-based, all you need to use is the keyboard. In fact, for most of the steps in this article, you only need to use the arrow keys and the Enter key. if you're presented with a list of options, simply use the up and down arrow keys until you've chosen the one you want, and then press Enter.

Most of the screens in the install program will have extra options at the bottom, like “Cancel” or “Back” (which would take you to the previous screen). To use these options, use the Tab key.

Most important of all: Don't panic. If you make a mistake, you can simply wipe away your installation, and start over.

Starting the Install Process

When you're ready to start, simply insert the disk in your CD drive, and restart the computer. The disk is bootable, so when the computer runs it, you'll end up in the Ubuntu install program.

Depending on your computer, the instructions for booting to the CD-ROM may be different. Your computer might do it by default, when it sees a bootable CD-ROM, or you might have to do something manual, to get it to work. Instructions for figuring this part out are out of scope for this article.

The first screen you'll see, when the installation program starts, will give you some options as to what you might want to do. You can check the CD for errors, or rescue a broken system, etc. We're going to choose “Install in text mode” to begin the installation.

It will next ask you what language you want to use for Ubuntu. I'm guessing most people reading this will choose English, but there are a lot of other options to choose from. After you've chosen your language, it will ask you for your country/territory/area. For example, I chose “Canada,” as that's where I live. This setting is used to set some of your localized settings.

You will then be asked if you want Ubuntu to detect what type of keyboard you are using. If you let the detection happen, Ubuntu will walk you through a number of screens, asking you to press this key and press that key, until it's satisfied that it's figured out what type of keyboard you have. If you live in North America, and speak English as your primary language, chances are you have a U.S. English keyboard; if that's the case, you don't have to do the detection, if you don't want. (Even if you're using a laptop, the keyboard is probably a U.S. English keyboard, for most English-speaking North Americans.) If you don't use the auto-detect feature, you can simply choose your keyboard. (You will actually have to choose it twice, since there are potentially sub-types of keyboards.) If you're not sure what type of keyboard you have, feel free to let the auto-detect happen; it's probably the safest way to proceed.

When you've chosen your keyboard, a screen will come up and tell you that Ubuntu is detecting your hardware. There is nothing you need to do, here, just wait a few seconds until it's done. When it is, you'll be ready to set up your network settings.

Network Settings

At this point, the installation program will allow you to set up your network settings, if you wish.

If you have multiple network cards — including wireless (802.11) — they will be listed for you, and you can choose which one you want to use as a default. Many, if not most, people are using DHCP for their network. If you are, Ubuntu will attempt to get an IP address, and all of the other things it can get from a DHCP server.

You will then be asked to give your computer a name. The name can be a combination of letters and numbers, but no spaces, or punctuation. For example, you might name your computer “office,” or “david,” or “x567ubu.” Use a name that makes sense for you, and, if you have multiple computers, one that will properly identify this computer, as opposed to the other ones.

Once you've given your computer a name, it will detect your hardware again. You're then ready to start setting up your hard drive partition.

Partitioning the Disk

The next step, in the setup process, is to re-partition your hard disk, to make room for Ubuntu. However, before we proceed with the instructions, I should provide some background material.

Re-Partitioning Background

Most people will have a hard drive with just one partition on it, where Windows is currently installed. This partition will be formatted with a file system, either NTFS or FAT32.

One physical hard drive can be divided up into multiple logical “partitions,” where each partition would be treated by the operating system as a separate hard drive. For example, if a computer has one hard drive, split into two partitions, and one CD-ROM, then the operating system might call the first partition the C: drive, the second partition the D: drive, and the CD-ROM the E: drive.

A “file system” is a technology for arranging files on the hard disk. There are numerous file systems in use, but Windows commonly uses FAT32 — where “FAT” stands for “File Allocation Table” — or, more recently, NTFS — where “NTFS” stands for “NT File System.”

Unfortunately, partially because of the different file systems used, and partially for other reasons, multiple operating systems can't coexist on the same partition. This means that you have to either blow away Windows, to install Ubuntu, or make another partition, where Ubuntu can be installed.

This post assumes you want a dual-boot system, meaning a system where both Windows and Ubuntu are installed. (When you boot up the computer, it will ask you which operating system you want to load.) If you want to blow away the entire partition, and use the computer only for Linux, the instructions are easier — but since I haven't done it, I don't have instructions here.

If you're not sure how many partitions you have on your hard drive, or how your computer is set up, you may need to do some investigation, before proceeding with your Ubuntu installation. I'm assuming that you have one hard drive with one partition on it, but the instructions given here might have to be adjusted accordingly for your setup.

In order to create a dual-boot system, you will need at least three partitions, and possibly four:

  1. You need the old partition, where Windows is installed. This partition will need to be shrunk, to make room for the new partitions.
  2. You will need a new partition, where Ubuntu will be installed. This partition will used the ext3 file system, instead of FAT32 or NTFS.
  3. You will need a swap partition. Ubuntu will use this as a temporary holding place for data that it doesn't feel needs to be held in RAM1. Your swap area should be at least as big as the amount of RAM you have — i.e. if you have 1GB of RAM, you should have 1GB of swap space.
  4. Optionally, you might create another partition, for files that you want to be accessible to both Windows and Ubuntu. Historically, Windows has trouble reading data from an ext3 file system, and Ubuntu has some trouble reading and writing to NTFS. So you might want to create a fourth partition, formatted using FAT32, that both Windows and Ubuntu would be able to read and write to. This way, whether you boot into Windows or you boot into Ubuntu, your data will be accessible to you.

Before you proceed, you will need to decide how much space to give each partition. Ubuntu needs at least 10GB for its partition2, and I already mentioned that you need room for your swap area, but of course you also have to leave some room for Windows to operate. Before you continue with the installation, you'll need to take a look at how big your current partition is, and calculate how much room you need for your swap area, how much you would like for the Ubuntu/ext3 partition, and, finally, how much — if any — you would like to use for your FAT32 data partition.

Once you have made these decisions, you're ready to proceed with the installation.

Proceeding With Your Hard Drive Changes

You will next be presented with a screen, allowing you to set up your hard drive. The options given will allow you to do a “guided” install, to either shrink one of the partitions or overwrite the entire disk, where Ubuntu will walk you through the process; or you can do a “manual” install, and control the process yourself. We're going to do it “manually,” so choose the manual option.

You will be presented with a list of physical hard drives, and, under each one, a list of each of the partitions on that drive. Under many circumstances, you will have one single hard drive, with one single partition, but there may be many. You will already have decided which physical hard drive you want to install Ubuntu onto, and which existing partition you want to “shrink,” to make room for it. If there is only one partition on one physical disk, then the decision is easy.

Select the partition that you want to shrink, and then, in the menu provided, choose to “resize the current partition.” Ubuntu will warn you that it has to “write these changes to the disk” before it can proceed, and ask you to confirm if you really want to do this. In other words, once you make this change, it can't be undone; whatever size you give, for the old partition, it will be shrunk down to that size permanently. To proceed, you'll have to confirm that you really want to do it.

You will now need to choose the new size to make your older partition. For example, if you currently have a 100GB partition, and are planning to use 19GB for Ubuntu and 1GB for your swap area, then the new size of your old partition will be 80GB. There are a couple of ways that you can specify the size:

  • If you want to do it as a percentage, you can do it by typing something like 80% — that is, the number, followed by the percent sign.
  • Normally, however, you will want to precisely specify the size, in megabytes or gigabytes. To make the size 80GB, you can type in 80GB or even 80.0GB.

The value will already be pre-populated for you, but it will be pre-populated to the current size of the partition, which is definitely not what you want, so you'll have to type in a new value. Once you press Enter, Ubuntu will resize — that is, shrink — the partition to the new size you specified.

Once the shrinking is complete, you'll be back at the screen which lists all of your hard drives and partitions, except that there will be a new entry which simply says “FREE SPACE.” Select it, and choose to create a new partition. This is the partition where you'll be installing Ubuntu; it will default the size of your new partition to be the full amount of free space; change this value to the size you want your Ubuntu partition to be. You will then be asked if you want this to be a “primary” or a “logical” partition; choose to make it a logical one. It will then ask if you want to put the new partition at the beginning of your free space, or at the end; choose to put it at the beginning.

You will now be presented with some options for the new partition you're creating. Most of these should be defaulted as you want them, but, just to be sure:

  • For the “Use as” option, make sure that the “Ext3 journaling file system” is selected
  • For the “Format the partition” option, make sure that “yes, format it” is selected
  • For the “Mount point” option, make sure that / is selected

These are the important items, the rest should be fine. Choose “Done setting up the partition.”

Again, you will be presented with the screen that lists your hard drives and partitions, and there will still be a placeholder left that says “FREE SPACE.” Select it, and choose to create a new partition. Again, when you're choosing the size to make your new partition, the install program will default the value to be the entire free space.

If you will be creating a fourth partition, for data files, then you need to change the value to the size you want that partition to be. Follow the same instructions as above, except that you need to set the “Use as” option to “FAT32 file system.”

Finally, whether you created a partition for data files or not, the last partition you need to create is for Ubuntu's swap area. Again, you will be presented with the screen that lists your hard drives and partitions, and there will still be a placeholder left that says “FREE SPACE.” Select it, and choose to create a new partition. Again, when you're choosing the size to make your new partition, the install program will default the value to be the entire free space; in this case, you can leave the value as-is, because you're using up the rest of the space for your swap partition.

Choose to make this new partition a logical one, but this time you won't have to specify if you want it at the beginning or the end of your free space — you're using the rest up!

On the screen which presents you with options, change the “Use as” option to “swap area.” You can leave the rest of the options as-is. Choose “Done setting up partition.”

You'll be presented with the list of hard drives and partitions again. Choose “Finish partitioning and write changes to disk.” It will ask you to confirm that you really want to do this; choose yes. Ubuntu will then create the partitions you have requested, and format any of the file systems that need formatting.

Time Zone and User

Once Ubuntu has finished creating your new partitions, and formatting the ones that need formatting, it will ask you what time zone you're in.

Next, you will be asked for your full name. When it asks for your “full name,” it is, literally, asking for your full name — i.e. I put in “David Hunter.” It's not asking you to create a “user name” or a “network name,” it's just asking for your real name. Of course, you can put in whatever you want.

Once this is done, now it will ask you to create a username. This is the name you will use to log into the system. This name can't contain spaces, and you should probably avoid “special” characters, too. Once you've created a username, you will be asked to create a password, and then you will be asked to enter that password again.

Installing Files

Once you've done this, the install program will start copying files to the new ext3 file system you created — that is, it will start installing Ubuntu. This process can take a while, so don't expect it to go quickly. Maybe about 30 minutes or so, would be a good estimate.

At a certain point in the process, Ubuntu will ask you to enter your proxy settings, so that the Package Manager will know how to connect to the internet.


Once the install program has finished copying files, it will look through your existing partitions to see if there are any other operating systems installed. In most cases, it will find that Windows is. It will then ask you if you want to install GRUB. You should say yes.

GRUB is a little program that gets installed in your computer's master boot record (MBR), and is the first thing that the computer runs, when it starts up. (Normally, on a computer that runs only Windows, the MBR simply loads Windows, but for a dual-boot computer, things are more complex.) When GRUB runs, it will present you with a menu, and let you choose which operating system you want to load: Windows, or Ubuntu.

Once you have chosen to install GRUB, it will be installed, and then Ubuntu will “finish the installation.”

When it's finished, it will eject the CD (if your hardware allows that), and tell you that it's ready to go — all you have to do is reboot. Choose Continue. The computer will restart.

When the computer restarts, you'll get a new menu, at bootup, from GRUB, which will allow you to choose Ubuntu or Windows. Ubuntu will be the default. Select it, and Ubuntu will load up.

You're done!

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