For many years, Linux was a powerful resource for business servers and web hosting, but Linux distributions were too technical and relied too heavily on the command line interface for the average home user. That has all changed, with a number of new distributions designed specifically for personal computing. At the front of that pack, Ubuntu is powerful enough to run critical servers, but simple enough for any home user to manage.
Whether you're new to Linux or looking to try a new distribution, getting started with Ubuntu is quick and easy.
There are several places on the Web where you can download Ubuntu, but your best bet is to go directly to the source: Ubuntu's Website. This way you know you're getting the most recent, stable release, and you don't have to worry about declining a bunch of adware during the download process. You may, however, be asked to donate to the many projects Ubuntu is currently working on. Donating is completely optional and, like most Linux distros, Ubuntu remains completely free.
The download file is an ISO image and well over 1GB, so in order to run it you will need a DVD burner and a blank DVD. It is also possible to load the Ubuntu image to a flash drive; however, this will require some additional software, such as Rufus USB Installer.
For earlier versions, images for a different type of computer, or if you prefer to download via peer-to-peer, there is an alternative download site which includes BitTorrent links, mirror sites, and network installers. Or if the standard ISO is too large, mini CD images are also available on their community site.
Whether this is your first foray into the world of Linux or you're an experienced Linux user, getting started with Ubuntu couldn't be easier. It uses a graphical installation, so you won't have to mess around with a console environment at all (unless you really want to).
Once you have burned the ISO image to a DVD or flash drive, simply restart your computer and boot from that device. You should be prompted with a screen that asks whether you want to "Try Ubuntu" or "Install Ubuntu." Click the install option.
Just like installing a new version of Windows, Ubuntu gives you a handful of options at the start You can download updates before the installation begins, which saves you time later. You'll be prompted to select where you want to installation to go, and have the opportunity to repartition your drive if necessary. You can erase the current disk for a fresh install, or you can create a dual-boot system, which keeps your existing operating system intact.
After you've select your installation options, you'll be asked to select a time zone, keyboard layout, and login information. Then all you have to do is sit back and wait for the installation to finish.
If you're not ready to commit just yet, you can run Ubuntu from LiveCD. Once you've burned the ISO image to disk, simply restart your PC and boot from your CD/DVD Rom drive. You won't be able to save any of your settings, but you can take Ubuntu for a test drive and have access to nearly all of its features.
Ubuntu is available on several platforms, including mobile phones, tablets, and web servers. While you can't just install Ubuntu to your mobile device, a number of devices are available with Ubuntu pre-installed. Unfortunately, availability is limited and current mobile devices don't support all networks. At this time, there aren't any Ubuntu phones available commercially in the US.
Ubuntu is a very popular OS for web servers, and most web hosts offer Ubuntu installation with their VPS and dedicated servers. If you are interested in hosting with Ubuntu, you can learn more on our Ubuntu Hosting page.
If you run into any issues with your installation, these helpful resources can guide you through the process:
- Ubuntu.com: this should be everyone's Ubuntu starting point. It contains all the downloads you need, online guides, and a very helpful community forum.
- How to Install Ubuntu: this WikiHow guide provides a step-by-step installation tutorial, complete with several pictures.
- Windows Dual Boot: this guide walks you through the steps necessary to install Ubuntu alongside your current Windows installation.
Getting Started with Ubuntu
Now that Ubuntu is installed, it's time to get everything connected and running. Fortunately, this is just as easy as the installation.
Ubuntu has built-in drivers for most modern hardware, so you shouldn't need to hunt down a driver file just to get your wireless card to work. However, similar to built-in drivers for Windows, there are some circumstances where you may want to install the driver yourself. For instance, the default video card drivers may not give you the same performance as the drivers available direct from the manufacturer.
When it comes to applications, Ubuntu comes preloaded with many of the most popular programs, including FireFox and LibreOffice. If you don't see the program you want, you can search for it in the Ubuntu Software Center. This is essentially Ubuntu's version of an app store, but all the apps are open source.
If you still can't find the program's you're looking for, you may need to visit the developer's website. While not every program will support Ubuntu, many of the most common applications are available for Linux. If they do, simply download the .deb file, double-click it, and Ubuntu will guide you through the installation process.
The first thing you will probably notice when Ubuntu loads is that your taskbar is not at the bottom of the screen. Ubuntu made the switch to a left-side taskbar (they call it the Launcher) several years ago. But once you get used to this difference, everything else should be fairly familiar. The Launcher gives you immediate access to many common applications, and can be customized based on your preferences.
At the top of the Launcher, you'll find the Ubuntu Button. Pressing this opens the Dash, which is a specialized search bar. When you enter a term in the search bar, the Dash will present applications, files, and folders that correspond with that term.
If you prefer to navigate using keyboard shortcuts, Ubuntu makes that simple as well. The first time you load Ubuntu a Keyboard Shortcuts screen pops up, listing several of the most common shortcuts you'll need.
Ubuntu allows you to work on multiple workspaces, or virtual desktops. These self-contained workspaces can be useful if you're working on multiple projects at one time. By default, this feature is disabled; however, it is simple to turn on. Go to the Dash and search for the Appearance application. In the appearance window, click on the Behavior tab and select “Enable Workspaces.”
To navigate between your workspaces, simply click the Workspace Switcher icon at the bottom of the Dock, or press the Ctrl, Alt, and an arrow key simultaneously.
Managing your files in Ubuntu couldn't be easier, because the OS sets strict limitations on where you can actually put your files. When you open the file manager, you are taken directly to your Home Folder. This is where all your personal files are stored.
It is also the only part of the Ubuntu storage system that users can write to, so you don't have to worry about accidentally saving files within a system or program folder by mistake.
For more information about getting started with Ubuntu, check out these helpful resources:
- Ubuntu: An Absolute Beginner's Guide: as the name implies, this short PDF book covers all the basics of setting up and working in Ubuntu.
- Ubuntu Manual Project: whether you're just starting out or looking to delve a little deeper into Ubuntu, this easy-to-follow guide walks you through everything you need to know to get the most out of your new OS.
- How to Ubuntu: this site contains several tutorials on everything from freeing up disk space to installing Spotify.
Like it's general user experience, Ubuntu makes administration as easy as possible. Most admin operations can be managed through a graphical environment. To get started, simply click on the System Settings icon in the Launcher. It looks like a gear with a wrench in front of it.
The settings menu allows you to adjust personal settings, such as the screen appearance, backgrounds, and privacy features. Under the Hardware section, you can manage connected devices, networking tools, and power settings. Under the System section, admins can edit user accounts, manage software, change system information and defaults, and manage system backups.
For a greater degree of customization and control, a command line interface is also available. To find it, simply open the Dash and search for “Terminal.” If you're using an alternative desktop environment, such as GNOME or Xfce, go to the Applications Menu > Accessories, or Applications Menu > System, and select Terminal.
Ubuntu's command line interface uses many traditional commands, like cd (change directory), cp (copy), and ls (list). For administrative privileges, simply add “sudo” before any command. And if you're unsure what a command is for, they have a very thorough help system.
To learn more about working with and administering Ubuntu, we recommend these great resources:
- Useful Commands in Ubuntu: this is an older post, but it contains a comprehensive list of commands for admins.
- Ubuntu Forums: this Ubuntu community offers advice on everything from installation, customization, and network configurations, as well as providing a community for admins and developers to discuss ideas and troubleshoot issues.
There are plenty of books available to help you get started with Ubuntu and learn advanced administrative techniques. Here are a few of our favorites:
- The Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux by Mark Sobell: this book offers a complete Ubuntu tutorial, whether you're brand new to the OS, or you're looking to tackle advanced administration.
- Ubuntu Unleased by Matthew Helmke: this book guides you through advanced techniques for using and managing a Ubuntu-based system.
- Ubuntu Linux Toolbox: 1000+ Commands for Ubuntu and Debian Power Users by Christopher Negus: this book is designed for experienced Ubuntu admins who want to master the Command Line interface.
Not that long ago, the average PC user only had two choices for their desktop computers: Windows or Mac. Linux operating systems were far too complicated, and not designed for casual use. Linux has come a long way, and Ubuntu is leading the effort to make Linux accessible to even the least-tech savvy home users.
Further Reading and Resources
We have more guides, tutorials, and infographics related to computer use:
- Linux Programming Introduction and Resources: this deep dive into Linux programming gets down into the kernel where all the action is.
- Network Programming with Internet Sockets: learn all about networking on the internet.
- Gentoo Introduction: find out all about the most configurable Linux distribution around — not for beginners.
Unix Programming Resources
If you really get into Linux and want to start creating programs for it, we have a great place for you to start learning: Unix Programming Resources.