Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal), Reviewed In Depth

Installation Walkthrough

Exactly two years have passed since we did our first Ubuntu installation guide in Desktop Linux For The Windows Power User. So, we decided to cover the subject again. On this page, we'll take you through the installation procedure for Ubuntu 11.04.

If you don't want to perform a real installation of Ubuntu 11.04, you can still follow along using one of three alternate methods:

  • Live CD or USB thumb drive
  • Wubi
  • Virtual machine (such as Oracle VirtualBox)

The first step to any of the above usages is grabbing an Ubuntu 11.04 ISO file (you can grab the 32-bit version from us, right here). Canonical makes the choices very easy this time around. Simply choose Download and install if you're planning to use a virtual machine. Select Try it from a CD or USB stick if you're going to do a real installation or trying the operating system out live. The only real choice to make is whether you grab a 32 or 64-bit build, and that depends entirely on what your processor supports. Finally, click Run it from Windows if you want to use Wubi.

Live CD or USB Thumb Drive

Once you've downloaded the ISO file for Ubuntu 11.04, Canonical's Web site provides excellent instructions for creating a live CD or USB thumb drive. Directions are available for Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu users, and we verified that they all work.

Once the live media is created, reboot your system with the CD/USB inserted. Note that your BIOS or UEFI needs to be set to boot from the CD drive or a USB port.


Ubuntu can be installed within Windows via Wubi. Wubi allows you to install Ubuntu as you would any other Windows application. You don't need to download an ISO with Wubi; simply grab the 1.5 MB wubi.exe file and follow the wizard. The proper files are automatically downloaded from the Web during the setup process. Whenever you restart your machine, a boot loader gives you the option to boot into Ubuntu or Windows. In this way, Ubuntu can be easily uninstalled via the Add/Remove section of the Windows Control Panel, just like any other Windows application.

Virtual Machine

Hardware permitting, installing Ubuntu 11.04 to a virtual machine is another option. Oracle provides the cross-platform VirtualBox virtualization software for free, and we already have a guide for setting up Windows XP in VirtualBox. Simply follow the wizard, but set it up for Ubuntu Linux instead of Windows XP.

Note that this method requires that Unity 2D be installed after the installation in order to use the new GUI.

Installation Procedure

Whether you chose to install Ubuntu 11.04 onto a hard drive, run it inside of a virtual machine, or try it out live via a CD or USB thumb drive, you'll come to this screen first:

Choose Install Ubuntu if you want to install onto a hard drive or inside of a virtual machine. If you plan on simply trying it out from the Live CD/USB, choose Try Ubuntu.

The next screen shows whether or not your system has the minimum 4.4 GB of disk space, is plugged into a power source, or connected to the Internet. The disk space requirement is non-negotiable, while the other two are more like suggestions. If you're installing Ubuntu 11.04 onto a mobile system and the battery dies during the installation procedure, you will have to start over and may even incur data loss in a dual-boot scenario. If you are not connected to the Internet, the following two options won't be available to you.

If you do have active Internet access, you may choose to Download updates while installing and Install third-party software. The former applies critical updates during the installation as opposed to after it, while the latter installs all kinds of essential packages for audio and video playback.

The next window provides simple guided partitioning options. This screen will be different depending on the target hard drive. The first part of the screenshot below shows the options that appear if the target hard drive is clean. The second part of the screenshot shows the options available if Windows 7 is currently installed on the target hard drive.

After a guided partitioning scheme is chosen, you have the option to adjust the amount of disk space given to the new installation with a simple slider.

Choosing Something else from the guided options opens the advanced partition editor, which allows the user to create a custom partitioning scheme.

Now the installation begins; but the setup isn't quite finished yet. The next steps help you select your time zone and keyboard layout.

On the next screen some important choices must be made. Enter your name in the first box. The computer name automatically populates using the first name you entered combined with the motherboard or model number of your system. The user name box also automatically populates with your first name. Then you have to create a password. The strength of your password is displayed after it's entered, at which point you may want to consider creating a better password if it comes back as weak.

This page also contains two login options: Log in automatically and the default Require my password to log in. Below these, there is the option to encrypt the Home directory. While automatic login is definitely a time-saver, we have to recommend that you leave the default Require my password to log in option selected. When we installed Natty Narwhal on an older Pentium 4-based computer that couldn't support Unity, we experienced a hiccup with Log in automatically selected. The PC simply showed a blank desktop. No Panel, no Launcher, no log off; we had to reinstall. Besides, automatic login can always be enabled after installation via the Login Screen tool in the new Control Center.

Update: This situation appears to have been rectified in a recent update. However, if you're not connected to the Internet during installation, and cannot update during the installation, it is highly likely that this will still happen.

At this point there is nothing to do but read the slides and wait until the installation finishes. Below is a screenshot compilation of the installation slides for those of you who aren't following along.

Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • jryan388
    One problem I faced with the standard unity desktop is the horrible performance even on my Athlon II @ 3.6 and Radeon 5750. I upgraded on launch day, so maybe canonical fixed it by now, but the performance was absolutely abysmal. The easiest fix is the unity-2d package. Great performance, doesn't look any worse.
  • ksa-_-jed
    U should add more distros to the benchmarks like Debian, Fedora, and open SUSE.
  • shiftmx112
    Meh is exactly how I described 10.10 Still gonna try Unity.
  • Yuka
    11.04 sucks; plain and simple.

    Power users can do little to nothing to fix things between gnome3 and the buggy Unity.

    I wouldn't even bother with 11.04 when 10.04 is rock solid.

  • davewolfgang
    I tried the upgrade, but unity is blech. I am still using the upgrade, but doing the classic.

    But I may go back to 10.10 for my EeePC.
  • adamovera
    jryan388One problem I faced with the standard unity desktop is the horrible performance even on my Athlon II @ 3.6 and Radeon 5750. I upgraded on launch day, so maybe canonical fixed it by now, but the performance was absolutely abysmal. The easiest fix is the unity-2d package. Great performance, doesn't look any worse.

    Wow, that isn't right, the old X2 test system which has a considerably older Nvidia card runs it great. What's the full specs?
  • adamovera
    ksa-_-jedU should add more distros to the benchmarks like Debian, Fedora, and open SUSE.

    Fedora 15/GNOME 3 coming up next. I have never had any luck whatsoever with openSUSE, will keep trying new versions as they come out though.
  • bellman80
    I tried 11.04. Unity was more annoying than useful. I installed the new Linux Mint instead, I'm a happy camper now.
  • Tamz_msc
    I'm going to stick with 10.04, because it has been running rock-solid without a glitch for almost a year. It was able to find drivers for my on-board audio which even Windows 7 could not find.

    Unity is not my cup of tea., though I'm looking forward to GNOME 3.0.

    Till then Lucid Lynx FTW!
  • RogueKitsune
    Unity is a nice idea, but not my cup of tea. Overall I am happy with the changes in 11.04. Right now i have my laptop(AMD Turion x2, radeon x1200)running it with no problems(everything worked out of the box)
  • Filiprino
    Well, Unity is a plug-in of Compiz so if you install Compiz-config GUI you can configure more options and a bunch of effects, window management utilites and shortcuts.
  • 3ul
    I think the performance issue in unity 3d is due to the vsync(not sure the name right or wrong) is on by default in compiz setting. Turning this off should fix the performance problem. This issue mostly affected by AMD card.

    BTW unity imo have bright future. This is 1st public release so expect some bugs. By the time unity matured, its going to be a great shell for gnome..
  • antemon
    I'm still waiting for better games for linux

    hope the big names in the industry follow suit with indie devs on this...
  • haplo602
    running the xubuntu variant so not bothered by unity. however ubuntu in general is a bloated mess. the only thing I like is automounter works out of the box.

    However I switched graphics cards and getting it to run again was not automatic. I expected a bit more :)
  • razor512
    the os is good but the UI sucks.

    The unity crap bar makes it hard to launch multiple windows of a program, requiring you to basically use options built into the program to open another window

    the side bar is annoying, when ever you go to click on something on the left side of the window, you can easily accidentally bring out that annoying menu

    the search bar is annoying and will at most drive new users away from ubuntu. Since it requires you to search for things, for a novice user if you don't know what specific option you are looking for but want to discover the options, this makes it hard to do.

    while hardware support has been getting better, the Os has also been getting slower overall. They need to shift their focus from bloat to speed.

    they need to take a lesson from professional software makers. Most new professional apps, eg check out the latest adobe audition or photoshop or maya 3d or the mental ray render engine
    Performance is always improved on the same hardware

    An upgrade is not really a upgrade if you are losing performance.

    Would you "upgrade" from a GTX480 to a GTX460?
  • killerclick
    Linux shouldn't try to be a desktop OS for grandma.

    It's strong in the server segment, it's nearly ubiquitous in the supercomputer segment and Android is now a force in the mobile market. It should build on that and leave the desktop market to Windows and OSX.
  • DSpider
    killerclickLinux shouldn't try to be a desktop OS for grandma.It's strong in the server segment, it's nearly ubiquitous in the supercomputer segment and Android is now a force in the mobile market. It should build on that and leave the desktop market to Windows and OSX.

    Why ? Linux can look like both of them and can do much more. OS for grandma ? Hahahaha. Don't compare Ubuntu to Linux in general. You think grandma can install Arch Linux or Gentoo ?
  • Spanky Deluxe
    I made the mistake of trying Ubuntu 11.04 a few weeks ago when I needed a Linux distro for my CUDA development machine. Can't believe the joke of a GUI that they're using now, Unity is one of the worst user experiences I've ever had. Took me ages to just find where to change the screen resolution - the search terms I put into the search box didn't bring it up. After a few hours I uninstalled it. I gave Fedora a try too but Gnome 3 wasn't much better in terms of usability. In the end I went back to good old Scientific Linux with it's 'traditional' Linux GUI.

    I don't know what these Linux folk are thinking. It seems they're trying to force GUIs that are only useful on Netbooks on everyone. Trust me, a Netbook GUI is a pile of poo on a 2560x1600 display - let alone a 3 monitor setup.

    I don't really understand the point in the whole oversimplification thing either. There is no way in hell that I would ever recommend Linux to any non 'pro' user. Not because of how complicated it may be, which they're trying to do away with here, but because a non 'pro' user would struggle to get support and would struggle to get the software they want. Windows is hardly a big premium on computer costs these days and besides which, if it were for a grandma who'd never used a computer before then I'd get her an iPad instead.

    It really looks like the movers and shakers behind these big Linux distros are disillusioned as to who their customers or potential customers are and they're messing up the GUI for the people that know and love Linux in a vain attempt to encourage a tiny tiny minority of new users. Linux as a whole just went seriously down in my regard.
  • winco
    Still no "shutdown when idle" power management? A big big drawback for me adopting Linux.
  • burnley14
    This should be the desktop background on a loop: