How to install Ubuntu

Ubuntu has branded itself as the friendly face of Linux, and this focus on accessibility extends to the setup. The OS is remarkably easy to find, download and install, and during the past few versions Canonical has done sterling work in streamlining the process and making it easier to handle.

How to install Ubuntu

Before you install, though, there are some decisions to be made. First of all, you need to know which version to install.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll ignore derivatives such as Kubuntu and Xubuntu, not to mention server variants, and focus on the core Ubuntu Desktop and Ubuntu Netbook Editions.

Desktop vs Netbook Edition

The crucial difference between the two lies in the interface. Netbook Edition replaces Ubuntu’s traditional Gnome desktop environment with Unity; a new GUI designed to work more effectively on smaller screens and consume fewer system resources.

Unity offers a more structured desktop, with a permanent application dock and task management panel on the left-hand side of the screen, plus a bar at the top that combines Ubuntu’s normal indicators with a menu bar for the current application. It’s efficient, but in some ways closer to a task-based mobile operating system than a traditional desktop.

Generally, the choice you make will be obvious, depending on whether you’re installing on a netbook or a desktop/laptop PC. However, there’s nothing to stop you installing Desktop Edition on a netbook or disabling the Unity interface later if you choose.

For some people, Unity simply adds to Ubuntu’s learning curve. One reason to give it a try, however, is that Canonical plans to move Desktop Edition to Unity with the next release, so it may be worth acclimatising now.

32-bit or 64-bit?

The arguments over whether to go for 32- or 64-bit versions of Ubuntu mirror those over the 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows. 64-bit Ubuntu is marginally faster in tests, and adds support for more than 4GB of RAM.

There are issues with hardware and software compatibility, although these are easing, and some applications either run more slowly in 64-bit mode or won’t run at all without some tweaking.

Confusingly, Canonical cites the 32-bit version as the recommended choice on the Desktop Edition download page, but then goes in favour of the 64-bit version on a help page. In our experience, the advantages of the 64-bit version make sense, and problems are relatively few and far between.

Installation methods

The standard method of installing Ubuntu has generally been to download the ISO file and burn it to a CD, but Canonical is aware that netbook owners may not have access to a CD drive, and that a USB stick is often more convenient.

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