For one of my rainy weekend projects, I converted my old Windows laptop to Ubuntu! It was a fairly simple process, and it runs great on old specs. Converting to Ubuntu is a lot easier than it sounds. You don’t even have to wipe your current operating system to run it. If you have an old computer lying around, a fresh install can give it some new life.
Why Switch to Ubuntu?
Ubuntu (and Linux in general) has several advantages:
Not only is open-source software free to use, it has the benefit of many developers reviewing and contributing to it. From security to bleeding-edge features, open-source guarantees reliable software and accessibility.
I wouldn’t have been able to use Ubuntu if it wasn’t so accessible. And this is very important for the next point…
- Unix-like OS for simpler web development
There are a few fixes for the aformentioned problems, however Windows support is vastly overshadowed by the ease of use that Unix-like systems provide for web development tools. Macbooks can be considered to be the industry standard for development, and for good reason: Apple uses a Unix system with the most user-friendly interface I’ve personally used. Installing tools is as easy as a few lines in Terminal. No errors, no roadblocks.
But Apple is also very expensive. Say, you’re a student with not much to spare or simply a beginner who’s not quite ready to shell out about a grand for a Macbook. Fortunately, Apple isn’t your only option. Linux is also Unix-like and can run these tools with no problems. And it’s free! It’s a completely viable option if you’d like to dip your toes in web development.
- Easy customization
Read my blog long enough, and you’ll know I’m all about personalizing my gadgets. Ubuntu has icon packs and custom launchers. I’m so here for this!
Here’s my baby, my four-year-old Acer Aspire 5552G-7641. I’ve had it since 2011. Mike got it for me refurbished because I didn’t have my own gaming laptop at the time. I used to play World of Warcraft on my old white Macbook. I had 3 FPS on 25-man raids.
I hold this thing dear to me, not only because it was one of Mike’s first presents for me, but also because I simply have so many fond memories with it. I played Skyrim, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout, and so many other games for the first time on this thing.
Two years in, however, it started showing its age despite a memory upgrade. Average framerates would decline with each new game, ultimately culminating on my laptop shutting off due to overheating because it didn’t have the capacity to run Saints Row 4. It was around that time that I decided to save up for a proper gaming computer.
With a better gaming rig and later on an acquisition of a Macbook Air for webdev projects (refurb though :’D), my Acer sat in my backpack for a year before it dawned on me that I had no other use for it. Yet I didn’t want to get rid of it.
And then I realized that I’ve never owned an Ubuntu device before. I’ve used it at a previous job, but I’ve yet to have it for myself. This was the perfect chance for me to try it out. Of course, I had to do it. I needed to keep my baby alive.
So here’s how I did it! Do check out the relevant guides listed with each step. They’re the ones I followed myself.
Step 1: Back Up Current Drive
First off, if you’re planning on wiping your current drive and placing a fresh Ubuntu install, you have to ensure that you back up all of your files. I still have a few game saves that I haven’t transferred over to my gaming computer, as well as original sizes of pictures taken over the years. Not to mention music! So grab an external hard drive and don’t lose anything you’ll miss later on.
Step 2: Download Ubuntu Desktop
Get thee to Ubuntu.com and download the latest stable release. You should get an ISO file. Save this somewhere you can find easily, because we’ll be burning it shortly.
Step 3: Create Bootable Drive
You can either burn the ISO into a CD or a USB drive. Either way, you’ll need a bootable drive to be able to install Ubuntu. I went the USB route since I had an empty flash drive lying around. To create a bootable USB drive, you’ll need a flash drive of at least 8GB of space. Back up whatever you have in it and format the disk.
Once your flash drive is ready, download Pen Drive Linux’s USB Installer and simply follow the instructions on the dialog window. When that’s done, your bootable drive will be ready! Plug that baby in and go to the next step.
Step 4: Configure BIOS Settings
Boot up your computer and open Setup. You should get something like “Press F2 to go to setup” or something similar when you get the initial startup screen. Some cases, it’s Del or F10. Every computer is different, so be sure to press the right button. This will take you to your computer’s BIOS settings. Don’t be scared if this is your first time
(that’s what she said) on BIOS. It’s just like accessing any other settings page.
I only had to check for two settings. The first is the SATA Mode, which must be set to AHCI Mode.
The second one — and this is important — you have to configure the startup boot order. Take note of your computer’s initial boot order, and then place your USB on the very top of the list. This basically tells your computer to check for your flash drive and load its contents before going through your computer’s internal hard drive. This is important for installation.
If you’re using a CD, you’ll want to place USB CD/DVD ROM on top. Same deal.
Save your settings and restart your device.
Step 5: Install
Guide: Installing Ubuntu Desktop
If all goes well, you’ll see this screen upon restart. You now have the option to try Ubuntu without installation, or place it right in your drive. If you choose “Install Ubuntu,” you’ll be able to install it alongside your current OS, or wipe your drive and put in a clean install. The choice is yours!
Once you’ve taken your pick, the installation guide will pop up. It’s pretty easy to follow. The guide I linked above has screenshots and more details on how it goes. Simple, right?
At one point, your computer will restart to complete installation.
⚠️ There is an important step here that you shouldn’t skip. Open Setup again and go to the Boot Order screen. Do you remember the initial order? Put that sucker back the way it was and continue start up. Otherwise, it’ll go right back to loading your bootable drive and asking you to install again.
Step 6: Enjoy!
If you do everything right, you’ll have a brand new operating system ready to roll! Ubuntu has plenty of things to offer, so play around and customize it to your liking. Ubuntu Software Center has plenty of apps available.
⚠️ If you chose to encrypt your disk, you might encounter a blank screen during startup. Alt + Tab to reveal the passcode prompt and enter it. I’m not sure if that’s the case for every device, but that’s how it works on mine.
Software I’m Using
As I mentioned earlier, Ubuntu has plenty of customization options! With the Unity Tweak Tool, I was able to install icon packs for my launcher. I’m currently using Numix Circle. If you’re not crazy about Ubuntu’s default Unity launcher, you can even install other Linux desktop environments! I’m currently sticking with Unity to keep my install as vanilla as possible.
I was also able to find open-source alternatives for many of my usual software. Here are a few I’m using myself:
- Photoshop CC isn’t available on Linux, but GIMP is. I’ve use GIMP on and off for funsies, so I’m familiar with how to work it. It’s more than enough for photo editing. It even has VSCO-like presets!
- For illustration, there’s Inkscape which I’ve also used before.
- F.lux is a little rough on Linux, but Redshift does a great job of providing a warm filter for your screen at night.
- Chrome add-ons are also a little buggy, so I’ve switched to Firefox. For my favorite Chrome tab add-on, Momentum, there is the Firefox alternative, TabTrekker! Just as pretty and equally useful.
For coding, I use Sublime Text. I’ve also managed to install Rails with RVM, and it was a much smoother endeavor compared to installing it on Windows. All my other usual web development tools are working out swimmingly as well.
Of course, I could install Wine which would allow me to run Windows software, but as I said, I’m trying to go as vanilla as I can right now. That’s definitely an option for those who need Windows programs though! Maybe get a few Steam games running?
So here are my two laptop devices. An Ubuntu Acer and a Macbook Air. Not to mention my dual monitor Windows desktop! How’s that for tech agnosticism?
How about you? What’s your favorite operating system? Everyone’s got different needs and preferences. Let me know what you like!