If you’re interested in installing Linux on your hard drive, but you’re a little worried about the prospect of partitioning your drive, there is a way for Windows users to avoid that learning curve. Wubi, which stands for Windows Ubuntu Installer, was designed to make dual-booting as easy as
pi pie. The project hasn’t been around very long, but it has already gotten to the point that it will be included on the Live CD (“desktop cd”) for Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, the Hardy Heron, due out next Thursday. I’m beta-testing the release, and it’s looking very good.
If you’re tech-savvy, the statement that it doesn’t require partitioning the hard drive probably makes you think I’m talking about a virtual machine or something, because dual-booting requires partitioning…usually. This is a special and confusing case. I think most of us are familiar with the concept of a .iso file. You might know it’s a disk image that looks like just a big file to whatever filesystem is holding it and whatever OS is running on that computer. You might also know that there’s another, different filesystem (ISO9660) embedded inside the big blob of a file the main filesystem sees.
You can mount the .iso on your drive to make the OS see it as if it was a real, physical CD. It’s the same idea. Wubi installs Ubuntu on an ext3-formatted drive embedded inside a disk image that sits right on your Windows NTFS partition, and then it convinces Windows’ bootloader to boot Linux at your request. OK, it’s almost the same idea. You see, there isn’t another OS mounting this disk image. Is your mind boggling the way mine did when I heard about this installing Linux inside Windows on NTFS magic? That’s totally normal. If it didn’t make sense, don’t worry about it. You can use it without understanding it. Assume it’s magic if you like. I just thought the geeks might find the explanation cool.
So, now that you may or may not understand how Wubi works, we can move onto how easy it is to install. When you insert the Ubuntu CD into your Windows machine next week, you will be greeted with the menu which, as you can see, has an option for Wubi.
The first option there is also an interesting one. It’s for doing a normal install, but it lets you avoid figuring out how to boot from CD. It manipulates things so that your computer is set to boot from CD on the next boot, which is pretty cool. Then, you will be greeted by the Wubi installer, which has taken a huge leap in usability in the last year. If you look at the following screenshot, everything is pretty basic.
Whatever it can pull from your Windows installation, like the timezone, it does. Regarding the Installation Size, I wouldn’t recommend going for less than 5GB unless you’re hurting for space. It can install on less, of course, but as you find and install applications you like, it will need to be bigger. 10GB is really what I prefer. Just give it your preferred username and password, and Wubi will begin its installation. When it’s done, it will ask you to reboot. The first thing you should notice is that your computer now asks if you want to run Windows or Ubuntu. Go ahead and choose Ubuntu, so you can take your new OS for a spin!
As with any technology, there is a downside, though. Suspend and hibernate, while somewhat tricky on some hardware on Linux in general, are impossible if you’re using this method to install an OS, so this may be the sort of thing you limit to desktop usage. If you never remember hibernate’s there, like me, you won’t care about it.
Mackenzie is a college student who likes to promote Linux and Free/Libre Software. Most of her free time is spent on the computer, helping new users, or hanging out with some of the friends she’s made in the Linux community. Check out her blog, Ubuntu Linux Tips & Tricks.
Images from Ubuntu.com