You may have heard of Linux, an operating system for geeks, nerds, dweebs, etc. But rather than argue about that classification (which is unfair, but understandable based on some of the visible user base), I’m here to inform you that it no longer applies! I recently installed the newest release of Ubuntu version 11.04, a full-fledged operating system running on top of the Linux kernel (software for talking to your computer’s machine parts).

Not only is Ubuntu 11.04, nick-named Natty Narwhal, user-friendly–I’ve had to invent a new term here–it’s User-Lovely! Ubuntu is not perfect by any means–but neither is Windows or your favorite flavor of operating system. I encourage you to keep an open mind and remember that all your experiences with computers have shaped how you use them today. You have been trained to think in certain patterns and when something seems like it does not work correctly, it may just be different. In fact, you may like it the other way, or there might be reasons to know how to do both.

Before I get into more of the details, let me just say right now, if you are getting a new computer (laptop or desktop) there’s no reason you should think twice about installing Ubuntu right away. And if you have an old computer that runs poorly or needs a refreshing re-install (take for example the fact that Windows gets bogged down over time), you should consider Ubuntu as well. The best part is–you can keep your original operating system, and access it easily every time you turn on your computer!* Ubuntu’s installation procedure makes this “dual-booting” effortless.

Besides the new installation process, the other aspect of Natty Narwhal (11.04) that bowled me over and convinced me to write this post is the new Unity graphical user interface (GUI, pronounced “gooey”). A GUI is software that allows you to use, visualize and manipulate your computer’s software graphically. The ability to run a browser in a window, switch to your desktop, and browse a list of applications in a menu are all possible through a GUI. You are probably an experience GUI user, but you don’t even know it! Ubuntu used to run a GUI named Gnome, but Canonical decided to develop its own instead, to surprising success. (Canonical runs the Ubuntu project and is a company offering large (enterprise) scale services, but keeps Ubuntu available as a free / open source software for all!)

Ubuntu has become an operating system for the everyday user who just wants to get their work done. But on top of all that it’s run by Canonical, as well as supported by a large community of users who all want to help contribute to the project and help new users out! Additionally, Ubuntu has a new release every six months, so upgrading really means something, and you can count on it.

To get the most out of the Unity GUI, you should try these shortcuts out.

Essential process to run Ubuntu on a new computer running Windows:

  1. Research online: are there any issues with my computer [BRAND] [MAKE] [MODEL] and Ubuntu linux?
  2. Download Ubuntu disc image file (ISO image) or follow the instructions for a thumb / flash drive
  3. Burn disc image to a CD (no DVD required) or a thumb / flash drive. Insert in your drive or in a USB slot on your computer.
  4. Restart your computer, and press F2 or F8 or whatever it tells you in order to enter the setup/BIOS menu.
  5. In this menu, find where you can change the “boot order” or which drives (storage devices) are used first to start up your computer. Put either the CD drive or USB drive at the top, depending on which one you chose.
  6. Save your settings and restart your computer again.
  7. Follow the on-screen instructions to a a User-Lovely operating system!

*Note: This does not mean you can access the filesystem from either at any time–in fact, the systems remain separate so you have to move documents over using another computer, hard drive, or flash/thumb drive. There is a seamless configuration, but it takes some more technical work (which means more time).