Low-impact & the city 10: how to install Linux on your hard drive (alongside Windows)

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Posted Mar 6 2017 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org

This is the latest in a series of articles intended to help you become Windows- and corporate-software-free. So far I’ve switched to free / open source software on Windows, then I’ve downloaded the Linux operating system onto a datastick, then I’ve familiarised myself with Linux on the datastick, and now that I’m happy with Linux, I’m installing it on my hard drive. I’m not getting rid of Windows though – I’m installing it alongside Windows, in case I ever need it.

Background

At the moment, my hard drive is all Windows, and I’m running Linux from a datastick. But it runs slowly, because datasticks aren’t designed for swift data transfer – it’s like being on a little B-road compared to a motorway for data. So I’m working with my trusty techie advisor to give Linux its own space on the hard drive, and then I can choose whether to boot from Windows or Linux.

Later, after this is done, I can push the ‘boundary wall’ a bit further to give Linux more space. Eventually, I’ll delete Windows altogether, when I’m sure I don’t need it any more. This will free up more space, but I could keep it in the background in case I ever need it (for example, if a printer will only work with Windows – but nowadays almost all devices have a generic driver, compatible with Linux). Then whenever I buy a new machine, it won’t have Windows on at all, and I won’t be forced to give the corporate sector any money (for software at least – hardware is more difficult at the moment).

Various things have been built into Windows and corporate software to make it difficult for people to switch to free / open source software or operating system. Grrrrr. They’re losing though – it’s becoming much easier to switch. We want to put Linux onto the hard drive without trashing Windows, in case we still need it. There’s a risk, because Windows is picky, and only sees Windows. It assumes monopoly power, and if it senses something on your hard drive that isn’t Windows, it tells you there’s something wrong with your hard drive. So it’s saying that anything that isn’t Windows is an error! In other words, Windows is a xenophobic bully and Linux is cool.

However, if during the installation you tell Linux that it’s a dual boot (which means that you can boot from either Linux or Windows), it’s clever enough to get itself installed without upsetting Windows. So, you want it to do the automatic partitioning / dual boot, rather than manually trying to partition the hard drive yourself, because if you do, you’re more likely to do something that Windows will complain about.

Install wizard

So here goes.

First, open Linux from your datastick.

On the basic screen, you should have an icon called ‘install Linux Mint’. Double click it. A wizard will open that will guide you through the installation process. Here are a few tips:

  1. Choose your language.
  2. Don’t connect to the wi-fi network – you don’t need to yet (it doesn’t really matter if you do, but it’s better not to, in case you get stuck).
  3. You’ll be asked at some point if you want to install 3rd-party software. Tick this box – it just means that you can use some commercial software, like MP3s, or some jpegs.
  4. If this comes up – ‘unmount partitions that are in use?’ – click yes (but it probably won’t come up).
  5. ‘This computer currently has Windows on it. What would you like to do?’ It will give you several options. The one you want is either ‘Install Linux alongside Windows’ or ‘Something else’. If you don’t get the ‘Install Linux alongside Windows’ option, it means that Windows has been greedy and taken all available partitions (sections of the hard drive) for itself. If that’s the case, you need to find yourself a techie to free up a partition to accept Linux. Unless you’re really technical, you won’t be able to do this bit yourself. In most cases though, you’ll get the option to install alongside Windows.
  6. ‘Install Linux Mint alongside Windows’. Click ‘install now’.
  7. ‘Write the changes to disks? Yes, continue.
  8. ‘Where are you?’ Point to where you are on the map. Continue.
  9. ‘Language’. Choose your language and continue.
  10. ‘Your name’ etc. Add your name, whatever you want to call your computer, choose a username and password – or login automatically. You decide. It might be a good idea to add a password in case your computer is lost or stolen.
  11. ‘Encrypt my home folder’ – again, you decide. If you encrypt, it will protect your home folder with the same password. (If someone steals your computer, but can’t log into it, if they know what they’re doing they can take out the hard drive and get round your login password – so if you really want to be secure, tick the encrypt box).

Installed – restart computer

After a couple of minutes, you’ll see ‘installing system’, and your machine will chunder away for 10 minute or so. You’ll then be asked to restart your computer. The screen will go black, then some white writing will appear (this is the ‘GRUB loader’). When this appears, take your datastick out.

Then it restarts. A ‘GRUB’ screen appears again, and you have 10 seconds to use your up/down keys to choose Linux or Windows. If you leave it, it will go to Linux. NB: every time you turn your computer on, you’ll get the ‘GRUB’ screen, then it will take you to Linux after a few seconds, unless you use the up/down buttons on your keyboard to navigate to Windows.

Click on your username and enter password. You’ll get a welcome screen. Untick the ‘show this dialogue at startup’ and you won’t see it again.

You can choose a desktop background. Right click on the desktop and you get a range of attractive photos, or you can load your own.

In the bottom right corner, hover over the icons to find the wi-fi. Find your connection, add your wi-fi password and get online.

Just maybe, when you restart your computer and you want to boot in Windows, because you’ve been doing things that Windows didn’t countenance, it will tell you that it’s going to spend an inordinate amount of time checking your disks for errors. It doesn’t need to do that, but if you press any key within 10 seconds, the check will be abandoned. This is just an example of Windows bullying you, and if it does a check, it will say that Linux is an error, because it doesn’t want you to use anything except Windows.

Updates and upgrades

Upgrades to the latest version of Linux will happen automatically, as long as you clicked LTS (long-term supported) when you downloaded Linux onto a datastick. It almost definitely will be LTS – you’d have to go out of your way for it not to be. When there’s a new version, you should get a wizard that will guide you through the upgrade and welcome you to the latest version.

Then in the bottom right corner, you’ll see a little shield icon. This is the update manager, and it will allow you to get security updates. It doesn’t do it automatically.

Open it and choose ‘optimise stability and security’ and click OK (this is the standard setting – not too slack and not too severe). It then gets a bit tedious, but just follow it through – you won’t have to do it again.

  1. ‘Do you want to switch to local mirror?’ Click OK and enter password again.
  2. You’ll then get a screen with ‘mirrors’ – you’ll be getting updates from a ‘mirror’ site, to prevent the main site being swamped and falling over. Choose one near you (we chose the University of Kent).
  3. ‘Update the cache’. This basically means ‘save’. Do what it says, and when you get a new screen, close it. You’ll be guided. We were sent back to the old screen, to install updates, and had to enter the password again.
  4. You’ll see ‘Mint update’. Basically, keep clicking on install updates and putting your password in. You might have to do this a lot initially until it’s satisfied, but you’ll have to do it less later.
  5. When it starts updating, it will chug away in the background for half an hour. You can work with this happening in the background.
  6. After a while, it will ask you whether you want to update level 5 (in a box on the left – it’s very clear) – the Linux kernel. You don’t want to update this. In fact, update levels 1, 2 and 3, but ignore levels 4 or 5. Just close the box at this point.

The version of Linux Mint that we downloaded to a datastick was four months old by the time we got around to installing it on the hard drive, so there were lots of updates. You can more or less ignore the update manager shield. It’s very secure. But every now and then – maybe once every couple of months, you can click on it and update it.

Add software / fonts / organise folders

Add all programmes etc. – as you did when you played with Linux after launching it from your datastick. But this time they’ll stay in place.

Flash: you’ll need Flash to play lots of video / audio content. Some browsers have Flash already installed, but the most popular free / open source browser, Firefox, doesn’t, and it’s difficult to install in Firefox. Firefox are trying to sort this out, but Adobe (who produce Flash) has had a bit of an on-off relationship with Linux. This should do it: go here and click on the drop-down menu. Choose APT for Debian and click the yellow download button in the bottom right of the screen. Click yes for the plugin, and enter your password. When it’s done, go here to check if it’s installed properly. If it has, you’ll see a big ‘yes’ at the top right of the screen. If that doesn’t work, and you really need Flash, you could download the Midori (free, open source) browser, that already has Flash installed – even if you only use it when you need Flash.

Jitsi: I gave up on Jitsi (a free/open source alternative to Skype). I don’t like having to use Skype, as it’s owned by Microsoft, and your communications really aren’t secure with anything corporate-owned. Installing Jitsi seemed fine to Windows – it involved a wizard. But when trying to install it to Linux, I was taken to a page that said ‘Hi Linux geeks’, which didn’t bode well, because I’m really not a geek. And sure enough, I couldn’t understand what they wanted me to do. So if you want Jitsi, or another free Skype alternative, I suggest you talk to a techie. If and when I find out how to do it, I’ll add it to the ‘further information’ section.

Desktop: there’s a little desk icon in the bottom left corner, near the menu, which will take you to the desktop wherever you are.

Folders: if you backup your files and folders in the cloud, then use software manager to install the programme you use. For example, if you use Dropbox (I know, corporate – but let’s change that later), on the menu, click on ‘software manager’, enter your password and put Dropbox in the search box. Install the ‘nemo’ version, for Linux, after which it will spend some time adding your folders and files from the cloud to a Dropbox folder on your computer, and synching so that when you amend any file, it updates in Dropbox too.

Navigation: here’s a tip – navigate around your folders. When you find the one you go to most, click bookmarks / add to bookmarks to add the folder to the left column of the menu for easy access.

Fonts: you may have noticed that you’ve lost some fonts that you had in Windows. There is information online on installing fonts, but not much for the beginner. Here’s an easy way to install a font. Search online – install ‘name of font you want’ – and download to your desktop. Then, on the desktop, you should have a ‘home’ folder – double-click on it. Right click and ‘create new folder’. Name it .fonts (the dot is important). If it disappears, click View / show hidden files and it will come back. Copy and paste the downloaded font into this new folder and restart your computer. The font should now be installed.

And you’re Windows-free

Well, not 100%. It’s still sitting on your hard drive in case you need it. When you’ve been using Linux for a while, and realise that you don’t need Windows any more, you’ll be mentally Windows-free. Then when it’s time to buy a new machine, you can buy one with Linux installed but no Windows, so you won’t have to pay Microsoft anything. Or you could buy a second-hand machine with Windows, and replace it with Linux – as it’s second-hand you still don’t pay Windows anything.

Buying a Linux laptop will be the next article in the series. However, I might get a few more years out of my old laptop by using Linux. With Windows, it sometimes made worrying noises – but with Linux it’s really quiet. Don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it feels like a good thing. My old laptop really isn’t well though – one of its hinges has gone too, so I daren’t take it anywhere in case it falls apart. So there will definitely be an article about buying a new laptop (or at least a second-hand one) with Linux on soon.

And what about Macs?

Well, as this series is all about escaping corporate clutches, the only advice we can give about Apple, a company that displays all the negative traits of the corporate sector that we vigorously oppose at Lowimpact.org, and always does its best to tie its customers into their proprietary software, is to avoid it.

You’ll find articles online that praise Apple, and its welcoming attitude to open source. This highlights the difference between the open source movement and the free software movement. Open source people are not necessarily non-corporate people – they are slightly less enightened beings who will happily support the corporate sector. Free software people, on the other hand, of course support open source software, but also focus on the ‘free’ aspect – but free not just as in ‘gratis’ but also as in ‘freedom’. Free speech as well as free beer, as they say. More here.

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This is one of a series of articles to help you jettison corporate software altogether.

  1. Switching to open source software – blogged here
  2. Getting Linux onto a datastick – blogged here
  3. Learning to use Linux – blogged here
  4. Installing Linux on your hard-drive (this article)
  5. Get a new (or second-hand) laptop with Linux (coming soon)
  6. Getting Linux via a ‘raspberry pi’ (easy, and much cheaper than a laptop)