Friday, July 15, 2011

Linux on a Netbook

We bought a HP Mini netbook a few years ago for Christie to take a-traveling, but it's got issues. It was never fast, but Windows is a bio-degradable operating system, so it's been getting slower with every update. And speaking of updates, it seems like every time I opened the damn thing, it would try to update something, or run some sort of diagnostic, and because it was so slow, it would take forever to close the window or turn off the virus scan, or otherwise get back to the thing I was trying to do in the first place, at which point it would restart itself because Microsoft apparently doesn't think I actually want to do anything with the computer except maintain their buggy, bloated OS.

Although I do like Windows 7 well enough on the bigger laptop. So maybe my beef is really with HP.

It does, however, come with a HP Quickweb, a streamlined OS that's supposed to make it easier to open the netbook and start surfing the web. But I don't really like Quickweb. It feels like playing in the kiddie pool, and it steers me heavily toward its anointed solutions, which aren't always what I'm interested in. I would, for instance, rather use Gchat than Skype. Unfortunately, putting Linux on a netbook is not always super-simple, so here's a breakdown of how I got around and/or over the various hurdles.

Hurdle One:  Which OS?
I picked Ubuntu because it seems to be the one that requires the least fiddling with it. I have enough to do in my life, and I don't feel like spending my weekends tweaking my OS (no, that is not a euphemism).

Hurdle Two: No Optical Drive
This one was pretty easy.  Ubuntu.com has easy to follow instructions on how to create a thumb drive with all the info on it for installing Linux, and the software to build the bootable thumb drive is free for download.

Hurdle Three: How do I boot from a thumb drive?
Normally, there's a screen that shows briefly telling you which key to hit to get into the setup so you can change the boot order of the computer. The HP Mini doesn't do that; it just goes straight into Quickweb. But a bit of Googling got me the solution: While the netbook is booting up, just keep hitting F9, and you'll see a screen giving you a choice of boot disks including your flash drive.

Hurdle Four: "No Root File System Is Defined"
All the instructions for the installation package showed three options:

  1. Install alongside another OS
  2. Wipe the HD clean and install Ubuntu
  3. Do something else. 
All I was seeing were options 2 and 3 from that list, and I couldn't figure out the problem. I didn't want to completely wipe out Windows, but I couldn't get the "Do Something Else" menus to work for me. It would show me partitions, but I couldn't do anything with them, and if I tried to continue the install, I got a "No Root File System Is Defined" error.
Eventually, I figured out that I could only have a total of 4 partitions on the hard drive, and HP had already put 4 on there. There was the Quickweb partition, the main Windows partition, a Recovery partition, and a fourth partition that I think is just there to make it harder to install Linux, because there really doesn't seem to be any good reason for it.

Download.Cnet.com led me to Partition Magic, which wouldn't let me merge partitions in the free version, but would let me delete and move things, so I took everything off that useless 4th partition and shrank the Windows partition, aka the C: drive.  I was tempted to get rid of the Recovery partition because they aren't particularly useful (especially if you experience hard drive failure), but chickened out. Resizing the Windows partition from within Windows is not exactly trivial, but it's not exactly rocket science, and the software does most of the work:
  1. Tell Partition Magic to resize the C: drive. Click Apply, and restart when it tells you to.
  2. Tell Partition Magic to delete the 4th partition.
  3. Move the partitions around so that the unallocated space is contiguous.
And now you're ready to install Ubuntu. Restart the netbook, hit F9 a bunch, boot from the thumb drive, then follow the onscreen prompts.

Hurdle Five: How do I pronounce Ubuntu?
No idea.

1 comment:

cleek said...

oo boon to.