Desktop Linux For The Windows Power User

Before We Begin

What Hardware Will It Run On?

One of the most attractive attributes of Linux is the relatively low level of system requirements needed by even the most modern distributions. Ubuntu's minimum system requirements are listed as simply 384 MB RAM and 4 GB of disk space.

The computers used for this guide are not bleeding-edge desktops or gaming rigs. On the contrary, both systems are very ordinary. They are typical office PCs chosen with Windows Vista in mind. The 32-bit test system was built to reflect PCs currently being replaced due to poor performance using Vista. The 64-bit system is newer and can handle Vista, but it's still just an office system. Note that I only use multiple test systems to check functionality, not to test performance, but here are the test-system specs if you are interested:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 32-Bit Test System64-Bit Test System
CPUIntel Pentium 4, 2.4 GHzAMD Athlon 64 X2, 2.0 GHz
MotherboardBiostar P4M80-M4Biostar NF61S-M2 TE
Memory512 MB DDR, 266 MHZ4 GB DDR2, 800 MHz
VideoRadeon 9550 256 MB DDR AGPNvidia GeForce 6100 Integrated
Hard DriveEIDE 7,200 RPMSATA 3 Gb/s, 7,200 RPM


It is highly recommended that you backup your vital data before you begin following this guide, especially if you are planning on installing it on the same hard drive with a Windows installation. It is also highly recommended that you read the entire article once through before following the directions.

This guide is going to require changes to your partition table and data loss is certainly possible. You will need to know how to burn an ISO file to a CD as well as how to set your BIOS to boot from the optical drive. You will also need to know some hard disk partitioning basics. If you want to dual-boot Ubuntu with Windows, make sure to install Windows first, since installing Ubuntu before Windows will most likely invite problems. If you don't trust the partitioner with the Ubuntu installation CD or just want to use your own partitioning solution beforehand, you'll need at least 10 GB of un-partitioned free space for Ubuntu in order to follow this guide. If you want to install Ubuntu on a second hard drive, with Windows on the first, just follow the directions for a blank hard drive.

Which Version Should I Choose?

First, you will need to download an ISO file from the official Ubuntu Web site. Your first choice is between version 9.04, which is the latest stable version, and 8.04 Long Term Support (LTS ). A new version of Ubuntu is released every six months, but an LTS release comes out every two years. The LTS is supported for three years, while non-LTS releases are maintained for two. If you are the type of person who wants the latest software, go for 9.04 and upgrade to the latest version every six months. On the other hand, if you want to get your system set up and leave it that way, go for 8.04 LTS and do an upgrade every two years.

How Many Bits Do I Need?

The next choice is between either the 32-bit or 64-bit edition of the version you choose. Keep in mind that, like Windows, the 64-bit edition of Ubuntu will have more compatibility issues than its 32-bit counterpart. Popular programs that won't run on the 64-bit edition include Google Earth and Adobe Flash 10.  Driver support also lags behind on the 64-bit platform. Ultimately the choice is yours, but the 32-bit editions are going to provide for a more painless experience. All screenshots have been taken from the 32-bit edition of Ubuntu 9.04, but the instructions are essentially the same for 8.04, 32-bit, and 64-bit editions.

  • jgv115
    An easier way of installing programs is in the terminal


    sudo apt-get install *app name here*

  • DjEaZy
    ... i'm a n00b in LINUX, but UBUNTU... it iz a nice start... the GUI iz easy to pick up... the rest iz reading forums... i got even crysis to work in Ubuntu... just the problem waz, that there waz no textures... with WINE and DX instaled the need for speed series runs pretty fine... all OpenGL games, that i played, run fine too... the interesting thing where you can consider using Ubuntu iz a old computer for internet browsing... if tha CPU iz approx 1Ghz, tha RAM 256Mb, and a 5 series GeForce or 9 Series Radeon to do the COMPIZ eyecandy... then YOU have a better-than-Vista visual and browsing experience...
  • wicko
    Meh, I've killed my XP install and I use Windows 7, which I actually like. Ubuntu doesn't cut it for me due to the lack of games.. otherwise I'd be all for alternatives.
  • arpikusz
    Great article. Really like that you outlined how to install all the "good little stuff" and not just the OS it self. Thumbs up!
  • thepinkpanther
    as soon as ubuntu can run .exe without a hitch, windows is out the...ugh...window.
  • Sir you are wrong. GoogleEarth and AdobeFlash is fully 64-bit compatible.

    One issue that you may encounter is GoogleGears that is 32bit only, but you can easily find Gears for 64 bit (without Google trade mark).
  • fordry06
    Ya, I have multiple games that will not work no matter what i do. I have tried configuring WINE manually and Play on Linux and Steam games will not function properly for me, neither does Trackmania. Im not sure if its becuse i have SLI or what but it simply doesn't work. I would love to use Linux as my primary OS, but when i install Windows 7 and ALL of my drivers are installed and working correctly automatically without any hassle, even nvidia video drivers, that is something that Linux is not capable of yet with alot of systems. Until the majority of programs and drivers work natively with Linux, it will just be a niche OS on desktop computers.
  • ahmshaegar
    Well, let's get this out of the way first: Linux is my primary OS. And I realize it's a kernel, so piss off you pedantic bastards.

    @thepinkpanther: Linux ain't Windows. Linux is Linux, so if your goal is to run Windows apps all day, I don't think choosing Linux as your primary OS makes the most sense.

    @fordry06: That certainly is a problem. Now, most hardware manufacturers don't disclose all the information about their hardware, so it's quite hard to write perfectly working drivers for OSes other than Windows. Although it's not Red Hat/SuSE/Ubuntu/(Insert Linux vendor here)'s fault, as a user, you don't really care about that, do you? Basically, for a lot of hardware out there, you have to fight to get it to work in Linux. For me, I got a bog standard laptop. In Ubuntu 9.04, pretty much everything I use worked out of the box. Now, certain things aren't working as well, such as my card reader only reading SD and MMC cards in Ubuntu... but I don't use anything other than SD cards. So for me, it's working just fine. For others... not so much. And regarding your games in Linux, see what I said above to thepinkpanther. Linux ain't Windows.

    Well, having gravitated away from games, and not being particularly loyal to any company or OS or anything, I really honestly don't care if I'm on *gasp* a Mac or Windows or Linux. So it all works out for me. Hey, if you really want me to get philosophical then let me just say that I think you can enjoy life best when you stop caring about all the trivial things. Why should I care what Microsoft has to say about Apple or vice versa? Why should I care when a Linux zealot declares the start of the nineteenth Crusade against Sata- er, Bill Gates?

    Flame on! or not.
  • Great article Adam! You are a man after my own heart! I rule over my computer with an iron fist and judiciously gut every MS OS I've own. I also drink no one's kool-aid (XP: 1.5GB Disk space, 19 running processes; Vista: 10GB Disk Space; 30 running processes). Ubuntu 9.04 is my primary OS and I absolutely love the amount of control I have. I now have no use for vista except for games. (Still working on that). :p
  • SpadeM
    If you need your hand held, then go buy a Mac.
    = Epic Win!
    Summed it up quite nicely