Since I had to install both Windows and Ubuntu from scratch, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to compare the two operating systems' basic installation procedures. Thus, I tracked the time it took to carry out all installation tasks for both operating systems, and report the results below.
As I'm configuring my computer to dual-boot between two operating systems, partitioning the hard drive is not as simple as if I was installing a single operating system. I spent a while planning my partitions, and here's what I decided on (if you don't care about partitions, skip to the “installation comparision” section):
- Hard drive 1 (120GB):
- 38GB NTFS partition for Windows XP
- 12GB ext3 partition for / (Ubuntu’s root directory; equivalent to C:\ in Windows)
- 12GB ext3 partition for /data (a directory I will use to keep my home directory in)
- 39GB FAT32 partition for sharing data
- 12GB blank partition, for future Linux installs (so I don’t have to format over my current install if/when I upgrade)
- Hard drive 2 (120GB)
- 120GB FAT32 partition for sharing data
The /data partition is a separate partition I’ll use to hold my /home directory. Most user configuration files in Linux are saved in the /home/username directory, and thus by putting /home on a separate partition, future upgrades (and/or installing other Linux distributions) will be easier (since the entire root directory can be reformatted without losing most user files). However, mounting the partition as /home itself would mean that I could only have one installation’s configuration files in that partition at once (somewhat defeating the purpose); by mounting it as /data I can have multiple home directories in that partition (e.g., /data/homedapper, /data/homedebian) without them affecting each other. To do this, I first installed the entire operating system to the / partition, then later booted into a LiveCD, mounted the two partitions (/ and /data), and moved the home directory from / to /data/homedapper (creating a link from /home to /data/homedapper). Long story short, this partitioning plan makes installing Ubuntu a bit harder, but should make long-term maintenance of the system easier (thanks to metoo from this Ubuntu Forums thread for this plan).
I started the install shortly after 11:30 pm; by 4:00am I had functioning installations of both Ubuntu and Windows XP. By functioning installation I mean that I had a working operating system, network access, office suite, photo editor, and virus scanner (in Windows) that were all up-to-date on security patches. I did not have to contact support or consult additional resources (outside of what I already knew or had researched) for either installation. My computer is an approximately 3-year-old Dell Dimension 4600, which I've upgraded with additional (non-Dell) memory, hard drives, and DVD drives. For a comparison of the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of the installation procedures, see tables 1 and 2.
Table 1: Amount of time (in minutes) specific tasks took while installing either Windows XP (SP2, from CD) or Ubuntu 6.06 (via the graphical installer on the LiveCD). Default options were selected wherever possible.
|Task||Windows XP (min)||Ubuntu 6.06 (min)|
|Install OS (including partitioning)||51||29|
|Update OS||13||8 1|
|Install and run virus scanner||12||0 (not needed)|
|Install and update office suite||29 2||0 3|
|Install photo editor, IM client(s), Firefox||10 ||0 3|
|Move home directory to new partition || - (not ||22|
|Total install time (start to finish)||120||62|
2 Due to not owning Office XP's version of PowerPoint, I had to install both Office 2000 (for PowerPoint) and Office XP (for Word and Excel). This approximately doubled the install time.
3 Programs were installed by default with the OS.
Since Windows wants to think it’s the only operating system on a computer, most guides suggest installing Windows first (Windows overwrites the master boot record during its install, which would prevent an existing Ubuntu installation from booting). Thus, I installed Windows first.
This was the first time that I’d installed Windows XP from CD (though I’d installed Windows 98, 95, 3.1, and DOS from scratch before). The installer was simple to use (easier than Windows 98 / 95); other than partitioning the drive, there were no technically complex menus anywhere in the process.
Unfortunately, the Windows XP installer left me without a working network connection or sound. After a bit of searching, I discovered that Windows had not installed drivers for either my network card or sound card (which were Dell defaults); to install the drivers, I had to break out one of my Dell system CDs and fight through some awkward menus to figure out which drivers I had to install. It was a non-intuitive process, partially because the Dell system CD didn't list my computer model in its list of supported computers, but also because Windows never made it clear that it hadn't loaded drivers for the cards.
After installing the operating system, I installed Microsoft Office; this was more complicated than it could have been because the Office XP set that came with my computer lacked PowerPoint (which I use for writing lectures). Thus, I had to install both Office 2000 (which I have PowerPoint in), and then subsequently install Office XP. After installing each version, I had to go to Office Update and download security updates for Microsoft Office. I never got any notice or warning that there were security updates for Office (and, in fact, had to find the Office Update site on my own); I just knew from prior experience that there probably were updates available. Sure enough, both Office 2000 and Office XP had numerous security updates that needed to be downloaded.
To finish the installation I had to install Photoshop from CD, and download and install my instant messenger clients and Firefox. All told, the Windows XP installation took about 2 hours from start to finish.
Ubuntu is a free Linux-based operating system. I obtained the most recent desktop release of Ubuntu from their download page; it's distributed as a LiveCD image, which I downloaded and burned to a CD. This does require a computer with a working CD burner and net connection; however, Ubuntu also ships free CDs to anyone who wants them (and, if you must spend money on an operating system to be happy, you can buy DVDs of Ubuntu 6.06 at Amazon).
The first step of installing Ubuntu is to boot your computer with Ubuntu's LiveCD; this brings you into a fully functioning Ubuntu installation without modifying anything on your hard drive. Thus, you immediately know if Ubuntu doesn't work with any of your hardware, and can figure out how to work around any problems before doing the actual installation. I tried out the LiveCD a few days before doing the installation, and didn't find any hardware recognition issues (the system worked perfectly).
Ubuntu's installation procedure is about as simple as can be; all the questions are well-worded and easy to answer (e.g., what username do you want to use, where are you located, what do you want to call your computer). There wasn't a single question about hardware, which was refreshing.
The most complicated portion of the installation was setting up the partitions, though the partitioner Ubuntu uses (
After the installation was finished, the computer rebooted into Ubuntu. At this point the system was working perfectly, and most of the software I wanted was already installed. Open Office 2.0 (an open-source equivalent to MS Office), The Gimp (an open-source equivalent to Photoshop), Gaim (an open-source instant messaging client), and Firefox were all installed (and properly configured) right out of the box. Ubuntu also installed the Grub boot loader to deal with the dual-boot situation; no configuration on my part was required.
Security updates were much easier to manage in Ubuntu than in Windows XP. In Windows XP, the operating system's basic updates were automatically downloaded in two separate chunks (requiring me to install the first batch, reboot, then reboot again later once more had been downloaded). However, updates for Office and other programs were not automatically downloaded (and I was not even notified of their presence). In contrast, Ubuntu's automatic updater application notified me shortly after booting that a number of updates were available; the updater had searched for and found updates for all programs installed on my computer. After reviewing the list of updates, all I had to do was click “OK,” and Ubuntu downloaded and installed all the updates. The system suggested (but did not require) that I reboot after they were installed; after rebooting, the updater application notified me that my system was completely up to date.
From start to finish, the entire Ubuntu install took approximately one hour, including the time it took me to boot into a LiveCD and move the home directory to the /data partition. Assuming that all hardware was recognized and supported by Ubuntu (which would be easy to check via a LiveCD), I have no doubt that a computer novice could easily install Ubuntu by themselves.
Table 2: Comparison of Windows XP and Ubuntu 6.06's install procedures.
|Item||Windows XP||Ubuntu 6.06|
|Most technically demanding part of install||Installing drivers from Dell's CD||Partitioning|
|Number of reboots required ||6||3 |
|Number of CDs used during entire install||6||1|
|System status after base OS install||Network and sound not functioning||System fully functional|
|Minutes to first program-based ad popping up||56 (McAfee attempted to sell me additional security services after I installed their virus scanner)||n/a (no ads)|
|Minutes to first junk desktop items being placed||155 (Microsoft Money added desktop icons for commercial banking and lending services)||n/a (no junk desktop items placed)|
Windows XP and Ubuntu 6.06 were both quick to install; each install was complete in less than two hours. Windows took about twice as long as Ubuntu to install, primarily because of the additional time required to install (and update) non-OS software packages.
The largest potential problem with both operating system installations is hardware recognition (as I encountered with Windows XP). Ubuntu's use of a LiveCD is an advantage here, as it allows new users to test their system before formatting their hard drive. However, more hardware is generally supported in Windows than in Ubuntu, as many manufacturers build Windows-specific drivers (but do not make Linux drivers).
Window's reliance on commercial software adds to the difficulty and annoyance of its install. In Ubuntu, a lot of software is installed by default, and additional packages can be searched for and installed (for free) from an easy-to-use “add/remove programs” menu (note: the primary exception to this are programs to play specific media formats, some of which suffer from patent issues and thus can be more difficult to obtain in Linux than in Windows, though EasyUbuntu and Ubuntu's help pages deal with this). In Windows, many basic software packages (e.g., office suite, photo editing software, IM clients) are not installed by default, and must be downloaded or purchased from a variety of websites or companies. This commercial software also increases the chances of ads appearing on the computer, as happened to me many times during the Windows installation, but never in Ubuntu.
Linux is typically considered to be an extremely difficult operating system to install. I believe Ubuntu challenges that perception.
As a final note, this post is based on the experiences of one person installing these operating systems on a single machine; it is unclear how generalizable these data are. Additionally, users should not underestimate the potential difficulty of switching from Windows to Linux; troubleshooting and administering Linux installations is vastly different from (though not necessarily more difficult than) troubleshooting and administering Windows systems.