After reading a number of stories about Mac users switching to Ubuntu (Mark Pilgrim, Cory Doctorow, Bryan Lund and Chris Fisher), running into my cousin (Micah Anderson – he’s the one on the left) at my sister’s wedding, and being overwhelmed at the sheer volume of Ubuntu stickers, splash screens, and swag at Oscon 2006 (where the Ubuntu folks were second only to the ubiquitous Mac PowerBooks), I finally got around to setting up my Optaros-supplied Dell Latitude 810 to dual boot Ubuntu and Windows XP.
I have to say I’m very impressed. While it has been more than a couple of years since I’ve set up a dual boot system (I used to dual boot Yellow Dog Linux and Mac OS on early PPC Macs, then OpenBSD and Windows on intel), so it isn’t really fair for me to compare my Ubuntu experience with other distros, this was a fairly simple install, once I got past an initial partitioning scare.
My first step was to adjust the partitions on the laptop’s 60GB drive to make room for a linux boot partition, a swap partition, and a shared data partition. My first attempt, using the partition editing portion of the Ubuntu installer (from the Ubuntu Live DVD) resulted in disaster: the installer failed to resize the NTFS partition appropriately, leaving not enough room for the Linux boot (ext3) and swap partitions, and thus dying mid-install.
This lead to a frightening set of “error loading operating system” and “no operating system found” messages, as the installer had set my Windows XP partition to inactive, but had provided no other information to the bootloader. Booting into XP in recovery mode (from CD), fixmbr, fixboot, kneel facing Redmond and chant (“Developers, Developers, Developers”) and it was back.
After waiting a few days, I was ready for try #2. Booted from the Ubutnu Live DVD, ran gparted (had to sudo gparted to give it the necessary permissions – I can see why a Live DVD shouldn’t normally do such things lightly), and resized the NTFS partition. Beautiful – no need for defragmenting, no data loss, 58GB partition down to 30GB.
Side note #1: Started the partitioning while riding the bus to the airport, thinking it would be done in plenty of time, and I could spend the flight, or time waiting for the flight, installing from the DVD. Turns out it took longer than I thought, and I was walking up to the security checkpoint with my laptop still in the process of being partitioned. Luckily right as I got to the point of no return it finally completed and I was able to shut down safely. I had momentary visions of being forced to turn off the machine in the middle of the operation in order to board – but I was safe.
Next step was adding an ext3 partition, bootable, with a mount point of /, and a swap partition at 3GB. (2 GB of RAM in the laptop, I figure 1.5x should be fine, and disk space is at a premium, even with 60GB overall).
I reserved 10GB for a shared data partition – FAT32 so that it can be read and written to from both Linux (where it is mounted as /media/shared) and Windows (where it is now the E: drive). In addition to making it easy to share documents between the two OS’s, as a few helpful blog/forum posts pointed out (thanks matchless and Kevin Farnham) this lets Firefox and Thunderbird access a shared profile.
Now, whether I boot into Kubuntu (I installed kubuntu-desktop after Ubuntu) or Windows XP, I can run Thunderbird and get access to my inbox, address book, and all email folders, or run Firebird and get access to a consistent set of bookmarks, toolbars, saved passwords, and settings. Next step is to tackle calendaring – I understand Mozilla Sunbird can share a profile across platforms as well, but haven’t really settled on a single calendar app yet.
Another helpful tool is Automatix, which can script the install some of the “non-free” pieces of software like codecs for certain formats which the media junkie in me can’t do without. It’s available for the 6.06 release as well as the 5.10 release, for Ubuntu and Kubuntu.
Side Note #2: What’s with the Ubuntu release naming? The alliteration, the cutsey animal names? Time for a revision of the old “Porn Star or My Little Pony” game? Breezy Badger? Dapper Drake? Hoary Hedgehog? Warty Warthog? But, I suppose silly names with some character are better than corporate “codenames” like longhorn or Fiji. Maybe alphabetical order would have made more sense – I see the next Ubuntu will be “Edgy Eft.”
All in all, I’ve been very happy. Feels good to have a choice at startup. Maybe good enough to put off that MacBook Pro I’ve been coveting, at least for a few months . . .