‘How I ditched Windows and embraced Linux’ - the prequel.

On Saturday morning, I thought it might be fun to install Linux on my home computer. A year ago, I had experimented with a few Live CD’s and actually installed Ubuntu (not officially supported) followed by Oracle Enterprise Linux (officially supported) on my work laptop (Thinkpad T61). For various reasons, I subsequently had to reverse that change so I thought it might be worthwhile and interesting to install Ubuntu on my own computer (an aging but reliable Dell 4500).

There was no problem with the computer, there was no problem with Windows XP. I am not a rabid, freedom loving, Microsoft hating individual. I just wanted to play around with Linux before ‘Football Focus’.

As Norma also uses this computer (email, Web, Word documents), I decided to install Ubuntu as a dual-boot option alongside the existing stable Windows environment. This was firstly to evaluate whether Linux supported all my various peripherals and software requirements and secondly, let people continue to use Windows.

I dug out an old Ubuntu (8.04 - Hardy Heron) Live CD and started the installation process. When I came to partition the hard disk, I chose the ‘Advanced’ option so I could preserve all my existing data with 60GB allocated to Windows with another 20GB for Linux.

The re-partitioning failed; the ’ntfsresize’ program helpfully told me with a typically cryptic Unix style error that ‘1028 is greater than 1024’. No matter - just get a Windows recovery disk and use the ‘fdisk’ utility to re-partition.

I booted from the Windows recovery CD. After a while I saw ‘Files being copied for installation…’ and wondered if I had missed the prompt to enter a DOS prompt enabling me to run fdisk. So, I hit ‘Control-C’ and rebooted. As I expected, my computer was now completely screwed as I had aborted during a full installation.

I sighed inwardly at my impetuousness and stupidity. I also blamed David Marsden who had helped sow this original tiny, little seed in my brain which was now turning into a long running saga and a complete waste of time and effort. Just to get back to where we had started. Almost.

This whole exercise was a classic example of Yak shaving as its finest. I was justifiably proud of myself.

I decided to postpone the Linux experiment to another day and simply re-installed Windows. One hour later, the machine was usable again. All my data was preserved so I took a full backup to an external USB drive. However, although none of my programs were installed and the Windows registry was pure and virginal, the ‘Program Files’ directory was horrendously cluttered with lots of unused folders.

Now I had a choice; dig out all those drivers and install disks for my Linksys Wireless Adapter, Canon printer, scanner, reinstall and reconfigure all the important software (Picasa, Firefox, Office, Outlook Express) so the machine would actually be usable again. Preferably before Norma got home and asked ‘Can I just quickly check my email ?’

Alternatively, now I had a full backup, I could do the right thing, rebuild the computer completely and install Linux. So that’s what I did. Only I didn’t because I wasn’t entirely sure Ubuntu was the best Linux distribution for me. Using the excellent, open source program InfraRecorder. I embarked on burning ISO images for all those distributions I was aware of, have seen recommended or reviewed recently.

I also perused DistroWatch to look for the most popular and used Dan Lynch’s excellent, comprehensive, honest, balanced reviews of various Linux distributions.

The cast list, in no particular order: