Newcomers to Ubuntu have any number of problems, but some of them are fairly common. Here are three I see a lot, and easy ways to avoid them.
Misburning the ISO, or making a data CD with the ISO on it. If you’ve never burned an ISO to a CD, it’s important to get it right, or it won’t boot and you will have probably wasted a CD too.
An ISO is like a picture of a CD — if you could take a picture of the underside of a disc and store that on your computer, that’s more or less what an ISO image would be. Now imagine if you could take that same picture and somehow photocopy it to the underside of another CD. You’d have a perfect mirror image of the original, from start to finish.
There are dozens of ways to burn ISOs to CDs — plenty of Windows programs will do it for you, and there are probably lots of applications for Macs too. It’s not an infallible process though. Low-grade CDs will spoil a “photocopy,” or burning it too fast sometimes causes the disc to sprout up an error. I also use CDRWs, and over time, they start to pick up errors and ruin the ISOs I make.
A shoddy CD writer can also interfere with the quality of the CD. And if anything is in error on the disc, Ubuntu will find it — probably at the least opportune time — and halt the process without giving you much of an option. So use the best equipment you can (don’t buy anything new, just don’t use the dusty old laptop from 1999 to do it), and the most reasonable CDs.
And take the time to make sure your downloaded image is intact too. Check the md5sum, which will tell you if the file you downloaded matches the file you asked for. It’s always possible something got scrambled in transit.
The best advice I have for ISO burning is to set the burner to 4x speed, and take your time. Even if it’s a 104x super-duper double-wide ultra-scuzzy burner — slow it down and do it right. And don’t surf for lolcats while you’re burning. Walk away from the machine and let it do its thing. Your incessant interruptions might spoil the process.
As far as burning applications, they’re all different, so I don’t have much to offer there. The Psychocats help pages are the best on that topic, particularly if you come from a Windows background, so I’ll let them do the talking.
Lastly, once it’s burned and you’ve booted up your computer to the CD menu, take a few minutes and check the disc integrity. Five minutes there will spare you a half an hour later, if it’s not intact.
Downloading source packages from elsewhere on the Internet, and trying to compile them. I did this too when I started out. Someone suggested ndiswrapper as a solution to a wireless problem, so like a faithful Windows power user, I searched for ndiswrapper on Google, found the home page, downloaded the most recent version, decompressed it and …
And then what? Nothing, that’s what. I had no idea what or why I had downloaded it, but there it was. And the wireless still didn’t work.
Step back for a second. You’re in a different world now. We all share on this side of the fence, which means we generally trust people to compile software for us. Don’t look for software, particularly software that makes things work, on the general Internet. Instead, use Ubuntu itself to find the software you need.
Ubuntu knows how to download and install those things for you. It seems funny at first — I know I didn’t trust it, really — but if you let the system do what it’s supposed to, things usually work quite smoothly. If you download strange libraries from elsewhere on the ‘Net and try to integrate them into your system, you’ll probably end up with a screwy installation.
Later, after you’re more experienced, you can compile and build software from source packages you downloaded elsewhere. In the mean time, unless it’s absolutely critical — and by that I mean, “The computer won’t turn on unless I fold this USB-BIOS keyboard patch into the RC kernel!” — learn how to use Synaptic and its counterparts to install (and uninstall) software from your system. It’s all menu-driven, it’s all GUI-based, and it’s all delightfully easy, particularly for ex-Windows power users.
Don’t go straight to Compiz. Compiz is cool. Compiz is neat. But if you’re on Day Two of your Linux adventure, jumping feet first into Compiz and all the desktop effects is akin to leaping into the deep end of the pool without your water wings on.
Compiz is not advanced stuff — it used to be, and we used to dissuade newcomers from installing it, because it tended to break more things than it fixed. Too many people were screaming for help in the Desktop Effects subforum, blaming Compiz or Beryl for ruining their mission-critical NASA-reliant $3000 supercooled laptop.
Nowadays, Compiz is generally working automatically, or not. It requires a special level of hardware, and Ubuntu knows (usually) if it’s a good idea for you or not. If you’re one of the lucky ones — and there are a lot of those lucky ones — you just flick a switch and all of a sudden it’s like the disco dance scene from Saturday Night Fever.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a good place to start if, like I said, this is early in your Linux adventure. Take the time to figure out where the important things are — like your Home folder, and the Preferences menu, and how to configure your e-mail — before you add all the fancy flip-flops, fireballs and jelly windows.
By all means try it out. But walk before you run.
The key to getting used to Ubuntu, or Linux, is knowing that this is a little different than things used to be. If you can avoid some of these common errors early in your experience, you’ll improve your chances of adopting Linux permanently.