How to Install Ubuntu on Your Computer

Updated on August 9, 2018
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I have been a long time Linux user. All my personal desktops and servers run Ubuntu Linux.

Super key for our favorite OS
Super key for our favorite OS | Source

How to get Ubuntu on Your Current Computer or Laptop

This article is a guide that explains how to get Ubuntu running on your computer. You will learn that switching is easy and you will feel comfortable doing so after reading this tutorial. There are different ways you can run Ubuntu on your laptop or PC. The two basic ones are:

  • Run It Live
    This means it will run on your system without being installed and without making any changes to your current system. This is great to test or to use it to recover information from a broken system for instance.
  • Run It Installed
    It can either replace your current system entirely, or it could be installed next to your current system so you can switch between them (dual boot).

First, run it live and test it to see if everything will work on your system. Once you are confident that the OS is for you, you can continue to install it. You can install it alongside your other OS first or replace your current OS with it.

Get the Correct Version

First, let's see how we can get a copy of our favorite OS. We will be getting the standard image, that will allow us to boot into a live running system with the option to install it as well. Check out the accompanying video "Getting Ubuntu" as it explains the whole process. The video shows the process for version 14.04 LTS, but it is similar for the current Long Term Support (LTS) version.

Somewhere on the homepage, it should say "Downloads." Click here, and it will take you to a page with all the different download options. You will need to choose the option for Desktop. When you are at the "Download Ubuntu for the Desktop" page, you will usually see two versions that are available for download. One is the LTS version. The other is the latest version.

The LTS version

The LTS version is the Long Term Support version. This version comes with three years of security and maintenance updates for all desktop software. This is great because it means you will not have to upgrade your system for a long time. However, if you want the latest and greatest of version, then you may want to download the latest version. This one has nine months of security and maintenance updates. This means you will have to upgrade your system about every year, but it is best to keep up with the latest version and upgrade every half year. This is not too complicated, but it is something to keep in mind. Most people best choose the LTS version as it is less of a hassle and still features reasonably up to date software.

32-bit or 64-bit version

So let's say you want to download the LTS version, then you still need to choose between the 32-bit and the 64-bit version. The 32-bit version will work an all machines (PCs), but if your machine it a 64-bit machine the 64-bit version will have better performance. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that if your computer or laptop had less then 2 GB of RAM installed, you best choose the 32-bit version, else you can best choose the 64-bit version. Also, almost all new machines will be 64-bit machines. So once you have chosen your bit version, press download and you will be taken to the final download page.

Here you will be asked to make a small donation, that will help the project. If you are new to the project and just want to check it out, you can click the "not now take me to the download" link. This will start the download of the ISO file image and takes you to the thank you page. Once the file is downloaded, you can burn it on a DVD or put it on a USB stick. This article will not explain how to burn the image to DVD as this should be a fairly standard operation and most people will opt for booting from USB. If you do need a DVD, but you somehow cannot burn a DVD, then you can always buy a Desktop DVD from the Canonical store.

Putting the ISO Image Onto a USB-Stick

Getting your freshly downloaded image on to a USB-stick is actually quite easy. There are two ways to do this.

The Ubuntu way

If you are already running Ubuntu and you just want to make a Live Boot-able USB stick for a friend or as a backup or rescue tool, you can simply go to the Dash by pressing the system button (the one with the windows symbol most of the time) and start typing USB.

The Startup Disk Creator application will show up. Click it, and it will show up. It will probably find your new ISO image automatically and maybe also some old ones. Select the one you want and insert a USB stick. Select this USB stick as the disk to use. If you have enough disk space on the USB, you can also create an additional disk image on the stick that will be able to store settings, files, additional apps, etc. while you are running from the USB Live. Very handy! Now just press the make startup disk button, and you are as good as done. You will need to provide your system password as the application will install a bootloader on to the USB-stick, which requires root privileges.

The Unetbootin way

Now, there is another way to create a live USB-stick that works on Linux, Windows and MacOSX alike. The tool you will use is called Unetbootin, or Universal Netboot Installer. It works the same as the Startup Disk Creator, but besides only taking in ISO images it can also make Startup Disks for many other Linux distributions. It will even download the needed files for you. However, It is best to download the files as described above, so you can be sure where the files are coming from.

For Windows systems, you simply download the .exe file, and you can start the program without installing it by clicking on the .exe file. At the "Drive" column, it will probably point to a drive with character X or Z. Be sure to select the correct one as the drive will be overwritten. At "disk-image" simply set the ISO image you just downloaded, press OK and sit back while your Live USB Stick is created. See image: "Selecting the startup disk."

Selecting the start up disk
Selecting the start up disk

Setting Up the Bios First

If you are booting from a DVD, you will probably not have to make any of the changes that are discussed here. Most computers with DVD-players will have the DVD-player set as the first boot device. This means that every time you turn on your computer, it will look first for a bootloader on the DVD player. If none is found it will check your hard drive and it will boot from there. Checking the USB drive for a bootloader will usually be disabled as USB drives have a higher risk of transmitting viruses that install at boot time, etc. Therefore, in order to boot from the USB stick, you have created, you will need to enable this in the bios settings of your computer.

Explanations of terms used:

  • Bios: The first piece of software that runs on your computer and which initiates all hardware.
  • Bootloader: Software that initiates the loading of the operating systems.

Every manufacturer has slightly different bios. Basically, you will have to go into the bios of your laptop or desktop computer and set it up for enabling the USB for booting as the second boot device. At boot time you can choose the desired boot device by keeping the ESC-key pressed.

On most systems, you will need to press the F2-key at boot-time in order to access the bios-setup menu. Your bios will probably output a message at the bottom of the screen at the beginning of the boot sequence, which tells you what button you need to press to access the setup menu.

After the initial boot screen, the Bios Setup Utility is presented at the Main tab. Use the arrow and enter keys to navigate to the Boot tab. There you should move down into the Boot Device Priority settings. At the second boot device, press enter and select "Removable Devices" and press enter again. To exit the Bios Setup Utility keep pressing escape until you see an exit screen, where it says: "Save configuration changes and exit now?". Press enter for OK. And you are done. The machine will reboot again as normal.

Running from the Live USB Drive

So once you have got the OS on your live USB drive and you have set up your bios correctly to boot from USB, you are ready to boot your computer with the live USB drive. In this last step, we will go through the process of booting your computer or laptop from a live USB stick and installing the new operating system on your machine.

Booting live

Now you plug the Live USB Stick into one of the available USB ports. Reboot the machine and at boot time press a special key combination. On a Mac, the combination is command + c. On most Windows computers it is most likely the F2, F12 or ESC button that needs to be pressed at boot. This entirely depends on your system. Most systems show a message in the startup screen telling you what buttons do what. Pressing the correct key combination at boot time will start the boot device selector. Here you will select the USB drive as the desired boot device. And the laptop/desktop is booting from the USB stick as you can see by the Live boot screen.

Running live

Once the system is loaded, you will be presented with a screen, where you can choose to run live or to install the OS on your system. Try live first to see what it is like. If you then want to install it, you can still do so from the live environment.

After clicking "try Ubuntu" you will be taken to the Desktop called the Gnome shell. The most important shortcut key is the Super (Windows) key. Pressing the key once this will show the Dash. From there you can search for all your apps and files. Just start typing. Now you can go and get some stuff done, like browse the web using Firefox or edit a spreadsheet using LibreOffice Calc. It is not all about work, it is also about playing and having fun. The ISO image is shipped without adobe flash and without mp3 and mp4 codecs. You can install support for these later and even keep them installed inside your live USB version. The ISO image comes with open sourced media codecs

After you are done checking out the system, you can shut down the computer by pressing the power button or you can continue on installing the system to your hard drive.

Try or install? Once the system is booted from USB-stick you are asked if you just want to try out a live session or if you want to install the system.
Try or install? Once the system is booted from USB-stick you are asked if you just want to try out a live session or if you want to install the system.

Installing from the Live USB-Drive

You can install Ubuntu to your hard drive right from the live desktop. Simply double click the desktop icon named "Install Ubuntu ...". That will start the installation process described below.

First, you will be able to select the language that will be used in the installation process. After the install, you can install additional languages other than English. In the second screen, the installer will check if you are good to go. It will see if you have enough disk space, if you have an internet connection and if you are connected to power. You can install while running from a battery, but if your battery dies during the install, you might end up with a laptop that will not start anymore. If you do not have an internet connection, you can set up your wireless network in this dialogue or click on the wireless network icon at the right top of the screen. If you have wireless, you should see the wireless icon right there. If you have an internet connection set up, you can select the boxes:

  • Download updates while installing
  • Install third-party software

This will ensure your system is up to date right after the install. It will also install support for (some) proprietary media codecs like mp3 and mp4. Then it is time to choose where to install the new OS. If you still have another operating system installed on your hard disk, like let's say Windows, you will also see the option to erase your current OS and replace it with the new one or to install it alongside your already installed OS. The installer will figure out the 'best' partitioning needed. In most cases, the suggested partitioning will be OK, but be sure to check it carefully. Windows partitions can and will be re-sized without problems. Just be sure you will have enough disk space left for your other OS and that you do not accidentally overwrite/delete data you need. As always, it is wise to have backups of all of your data and that you have restore-media for your original OS if you ever need to restore your system.

You can opt to encrypt the complete installation of your system. It is highly recommended to do complete system encryption. Then press "Install now" and check and confirm the partitioning.

While the installation is running in the background, you will be asked for some basic configuration questions like:

  • Where are you located?
    Your location is automatically detected via your internet connection and is set for you to confirm. You can change it manually by clicking on the map or typing in a big city name. Your location is used to set all kinds of defaults like date time formatting and currencies.
  • What is your Keyboard layout?
    The layout of your keyboard has already been detected, but it is good to type something here with your language special characters and see if everything works.
  • Who are you?
    Here you will set up your user account.

And now it's time for a cup of coffee as the installation continues. You can preview some of the system's features while waiting for the installation to finish. If you want to see what is happening behind the scenes, you can click the triangle at the left of the installation progress bar. This will open a small terminal where you can see what the installer is doing. When you have finished your coffee, click "Restart now" and boot into your new system. Enjoy!

If you opted to install the fresh OS alongside your current OS, then you will see a bootloader menu when you restart your machine, where you can choose which installed OS you want to start. Once you find yourself always starting Ubuntu, then you have made it to the other side.

Restart and welcome to the other side!
Restart and welcome to the other side!

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