A week or so ago I took a scary leap that turned out to be not so scary after all. I installed Ubuntu on my Vista PC. I've been researching this for a while now, and knew that I could dual-boot, so the plan was that I would install some flavor of Linux without getting rid of Vista. I assumed I would play with Linux for a few days, tire of it, and would be no worse for the wear when I moved back to Vista (which would still be installed and intact on my machine).

I was wrong.

I was wrong because I didn't know when I was planning this that I would fall head over heels in love with my new operating system. But oh, I sooooo did. So this is my story, in the hopes that perhaps it helps any of you SEO geekazoids who might have considered doing the same thing occasionally, but never had the kahunas to do it. (For those of you who made the switch ages ago, don't laugh too hard at those of us who were afraid to dip our toes in the desktop Linux waters).

First Decision: Which flavor of Linux Should I Get?

There are bazillions of different Linux distributions, which is usually abbreviated as "distros". (For the not-so-geeky, I like to use the term "flavors" because it just seems easier to understand). In any case, if you want to start your journey of Linux distro discovery, there's no better place than DistroWatch. I've spent about a year (on and off) wondering which one to choose, and I finally made the decision to go with Ubuntu…partly because Matt Cutts talks about it all the time, and partly because my research made it seem like the best way to go for me, because it was user-friendly enough. (I've actually switched to Kubuntu recently, and I'll explain why later).

Second Decision: How To Acquire Ubuntu?

Ubuntu can be downloaded for free from Ubuntu.com (and Kubuntu from Kubuntu.com), or you can request that a CD be mailed to you for free. However, that request takes 6-8 weeks, so it's not the best choice. The download however is very large (if memory serves, it was over 700 MB), and once downloaded, you must burn the ISO on cd, which is different than burning a regular cd. (Some instructions for that can be found here). So unless you have the ability and patience to download a huge file, and then hope you burn it correctly, I'd suggest you do what I did. Buy it. What? Buy a free OS? Yes, because the price is so incredibly cheap that it just doesn't make sense to do it any other way in my mind. There are lots of places to buy the cds, but I bought mine from On-Disk.com for a whopping $4.99 plus a little over a buck for shipping. It arrived in my mailbox a few days later, and I'm happy I chose that method. (If I had to do it over again, I'd choose the Kubuntu cd instead of the Ubuntu cd, but that part of the story is still yet to come).

Day of Reckoning: Arrival and Install of Ubuntu!

I was pretty excited to receive my new Ubuntu cd. I was all prepared too! I'd already found a great visual tutorial on how to install Ubuntu as a dual boot on my Vista system, so I felt ready. And although the version that the tutorial used is just lower than the one I purchased, I assumed it would be close enough that it would work fine, and I was right. It was a great little tutorial. (I have the latest version at the time of this post, 8.04, nicknamed Hardy Heron).

The first step…messing with the hard drive partitions…was what scared me the most. But because Vista makes it easy, and the tutorial shows exactly how to do it, it was a piece of cake. (Obviously, it goes without saying that you should always have backups before messing around with disk partitions, but since I'm always on your case to back up anyway, I'm sure that won't be an issue for you…right?). So, the partitioning went smoothly. The one thing I was uncertain about, but figured out, was whether or not I should leave the space I'd created for loading Ubuntu onto as unallocated or not. The answer is yes…leave it as unallocated space, after you've shrunk the Vista volume as directed in the instructions. In other words, if you follow the directions, you'll do it perfectly. (Don't wonder if maybe they left out the part about formatting because they didn't. Leave it unallocated. Don't format it.)

The next step, the actual install of Ubuntu also had my heart racing because after I first placed the Ubuntu cd in the drive and booted from the cd, the second screen DID NOT LOOK LIKE THE EXAMPLE SHOWN. In fact, it looked scary – almost like it was in the process of wiping out everything rather than giving me the chance to dual boot. But I panicked for no reason. It took a while…maybe 5 minutes or so of sweat-filled panic…before it finally went from the scary-looking, "might wipe everything out" screen, to the much less scary Welcome screen pictured in the tutorial. So, if you are faced with a scary screen between the Start or Install Ubuntu black screen pictured, and the Welcome (Pick a language) screen pictured, don't panic. It's ok. Just hold your breath for about 5 minutes and the Welcome screen will appear.

From that point on, it followed the tutorial exactly, and it all went very well. Whew! Installation was done, and I could now boot into either Ubuntu or Vista at boot up! Woot!

The Playing Around With Ubuntu Phase

I had my eyes glued to the Ubuntu screens for the next umpteen hours. I really don't know how long it was, because I just became bleary-eyed as I wandered the vast and wonderful Ubuntu landscape. I got terribly annoyed when I occasionally had to boot back into Vista to remember some program setting or password or something, but I only had to do that maybe 3 times. After that, I was pretty much hooked on Ubuntu, and it didn't even take 24 hours for me to realize that there was no looking back. Vista was basically history for me. I've still got it loaded as a dual boot option, but I'll never load it unless I just absolutely have to for some obscure reason or another. I'm hooked…totally.

One thing…as the days went on, I realized that Ubuntu comes with the Gnome desktop (the look and feel), whereas Kubuntu comes with the KDE desktop. This is really a matter of preference, and both have their pros and cons, and loyal followers. I have switched from the Gnome desktop to the KDE desktop (which means I'm now running Kubuntu instead of Ubuntu), because I like it better. If you are migrating from Windows, you'll probably like it better too. It's more familiar, so you won't have as hard a time getting adjusted to the differences between Linux and Windows. I also like some of the apps that come with it better, and it just generally makes everything just a bit easier for Windows folks. So, if you've read this far, you'll now know that I recommend you get Kubuntu instead of Ubuntu, and why. But you can absolutely run both, so it's not like you're stuck with one or the other. I just think Kubuntu is your best bet at first.

So What's The Appeal?

Look, I'll be honest. My main reasoning for even considering switching was that I want to get away from having to constantly pay for upgrades. I like free. I really don't mind paying for a product once. But once I've paid for it, I want to be able to use it, and upgrade it, forever…for free. Sure, I'm a cheapskate, I know that. But I also don't mind paying for things. In fact, very often, I'll donate to the authors of free software, plugins, etc. I'm one of those people who actually use the PayPal donate buttons if I like an app or plugin. So, I'm not against paying people for their time and hard work. I just don't want to have to keep on paying. So, there you have it. My main reason for wanting to move to an open source operating system. The thing is…that's not the main reason I'm so hooked on it now. I love it cuz…it's just darn cool!

It does way cool stuff like allow you to have multiple desktops that you can flip between. I love that feature! I've got my main desktop where most of my work apps are open in windows, and they fill up my large 22" screen. But I can put other apps on other desktops that I only need once in a while, but when I need them, I need them fast. Bam! Click a desktop and get the info I need because it's just sitting there waiting for me. Sweeeeeet. I even have one desktop that is completely blank. Not a single thing on it…like a blank canvas just waiting for the day when I need it.

I love being able to peruse tons of free applications via the built-in downloader/installer that is called the Synaptic Package Manager in Ubuntu, and the Adept Manager in Kubuntu. (I guess in this case "package" is another name for "app" or "software" or something like that. Don't shoot me if I'm wrong, but that's what I've been assuming). I've been able to find great Linux replacements for almost every Windows app that I use, and it's a breeze to just mark an app for installation, and once you've chosen the ones you want, hit the Apply button, and sit back. The apps will be downloaded and installed for you. How sweet is that? And for those apps you've grown used to in Windows that don't have replacements in Linux? I run the Windows versions within Kubuntu. Yes, that's right, generally speaking, you can run Windows apps on it as well, using something called Wine. So, really, there's nothing keeping me tied to Windows. And that feels, oh so good.

So that's my little story. I know it's not related to SEO, but every now and then, I'm entitled to go offtrack a little. :)

P.S. You will find yourself in unfamiliar ground occasionally. There's new terminology to learn, and you'll occasionally need to actually type DOS-like commands in a terminal window from time to time. It's a little unsettling, but generally, you just copy/paste whatever you're told to type in the window, and just trust that it will work. It pretty much does, even if you don't have a clue what you just typed. But it won't be long before you actually start understanding some of what you just typed. (And that's when you inner geekiness really gets to shine!). :) Have fun.

P.P.S. Note that I have not yet tackled networking this PC with others, so I have no idea how that will go.

P.P.P.S. Wondering how I went from Ubuntu to Kubuntu? It's simple really. I opened a terminal window and typed: sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop

If you want the full-on tutorial for moving to Kubuntu after installing Ubuntu, you can that get here.

I haven't taken screenshots yet, but plenty others have, so if you want some visual idea of what Kubuntu is all about, you can see some nice screenshots here.