You heard about it, you are using it every day if you have a smart phone, but you never dared to get deeper into it and get your hands dirty.
Let me introduce you to Linux. I will not go into the history and details, nor will I explain here what the difference between Linux OS and Linux kernel is. All I will tell you before we dive into the installation is that you will find several Linux flavors out there and all of them will work for your hosting needs. But documentation is very important and the Linux flavor for which you will find plenty out there is Ubuntu. This is the version you will learn how to install in this how-to
Where to install
This is the first most important question. On what computer can I install Ubuntu? Well any pc not older than 5 years will do the job. The installation can be made side by side with Windows so you do not loose your present configuration, but here we will use a dedicated computer. Why? Because I’m sure that once you get used to it, you will understand that you do not need to pay for hosting and you can use your old computer and your internet connection (that you already pay for) to host your website, your blog or even your online store. And once you will understand that, you will want to do it. And of course you will have to keep your Ubuntu computer running all the time and you will not be able to switch from Windows to Linux… because that will take your website down and all your visitors will be unable to reach it!
So, go to the storage and get that old pc that the guy from Geek Squad told you was too old to be performant and let’s give it a new life.
To download Ubuntu, go to https://ubuntu.com/ and click on Download. Several options will appear and of course you will ask yourself which one to choose. For someone who just starts this adventure, the best option is Ubuntu Desktop. Ubuntu desktop comes with all you need to start your adventure, and just like on Ubuntu Server you will be able to install Apache, MySQL, PHP, WordPress and everything you need to host your website. Besides that Ubuntu Desktop comes with the powerful X Windows server pre-installed, so you will be able to point and click in a similar way you used to do with Windows.
Now which version should you choose? Usually on the download page you will find at least 2 versions. At the time this how-to is being written the versions showed are 18.04 and 19.10 The numbers have a meaning. 18.04 means that the version has been released in April 2018 and 19.10 means the version has been released in October 2019. However even it is newer, the version 19.10 has only a few months life and no updates will be available after July 2020. The 18.04 has it’s end of life scheduled for 2028. That means you will receive updates until then and you will NOT HAVE to upgrade to a different version (upgrades can be a pain).
So, we will choose Ubuntu 18.04 Desktop. Click on the button highlighted in yellow. If at the time of reading other versions are available, do a search on the versions end of life before choosing.
Once you click the version button you will be taken to the download page. The download should start automatically, but if it does not click the download now link. You can also donate on the same page, if you chose to.
Create the installation media
Now that you have the file (that is a DVD image) you need to create either a DVD containing that image or a bootable USB drive, that you will use during the installation. On Windows I use Rufus that you can download for free from SurceForge.
I prefer the portable version (that means it will just be an executable that does not need installation). Whichever version you choose remember that Rufus needs to be executed as Administrator so it has full access to the USB drive you will create.
If you choose to use a DVD…. Use your DVD writing software. In fact, in windows you can right click on the downloaded .iso file (ubuntu-18.04.3-desktop-amd64.iso) and choose “Burn disc image”. But this supposes that you have a DVD writer on your computer (they become les and less common) and your old computer has a working DVD reader (they tend to be the first to break, and it is possible the old computer you are using has a non-working DVD drive)
But let’s come back to Rufus. Right click the Rufus icon and chose Run as administrator. A pop up might show if you are not an administrator on your computer but chances are that you are an administrator. If you are not an administrator, you will need the Administrator password to continue.
Once Rufus started insert a USB drive into a USB port. It should detect the drive and the options should change automatically like in the picture below.
All you need to do now is click “SELECT” and choose the file you downloaded. Volume Label will change, and you are ready to click “START” to create the drive.
Chose “Write in ISO mode (Recommended) on the next pop-up and click ok. Then you will get a warning that all data on the device WILL BE DESTROYED. So, if you have important pictures on that drive click cancel, remove it and start over…. I think I should have said this before. If not just click OK. Rufus starts the process and it will take a little time. While it’s doing it’s job some windows messages might tell you that there was a problem with the drive. This is because Rufus is changing the partition table on it, so just ignore those messages. Once the process is finished The Status bar will be green and will display the word READY like in the image below. You can close Rufus, remove your USB drive and go to your old computer that is about to become your new server.
First research how to boot from USB for your computer. I wish I could help you here, and I will if you just live me a message, but every computer is different regarding this, even though they are all similar. But I do not want to give you instructions that will not match your hardware. Also plug in a network cable into the computer network card and then into your router. Linux needs an internet connection to install properly. Below you have the picture of a network card and a network cable.
Insert the newly created USB drive into an USB port and power up the computer and boot from USB. For now, all you can do is wait, and when the boot process has finished you will have two choices. Try Ubuntu or Install Ubuntu. If you choose just to try it you can but once you turn off your computer, all installations and configurations you make will be lost. And since this how-to is called “Install Linux” and not “Try Linux” we will choose the second option which will go through the installation process. REMEMBER THAT THIS PROCESS WILL ERASE EVERYTHING YOU HAVE ON THIS COMPUTER!” Click Install Ubuntu.
Next, we will Choose the keyboard layout. By default, you should get English (US), and just click “Continue” on this window.
On the next window we are asked what type of installation we want to make. Just leave the default options which are “Normal installation” and Download updates while installing Ubuntu and click Continue
We now shall decide how to divide the hard drive. I usually erase the entire disk, and I use LVM, but for a first install we will not use this option. Using the hard drive without LVM will give you a better understanding of how Ubuntu creates partitions. In the future you might want to redo this installation and use LVM but It will be a while before you get there. So just keep the default options and click Install Now.
The message that appears tells you that your hard drive will be erased. This is your last chance to cancel everything before you destroy all data you had on this hard drive. But since we are now decided to go through with the installation we will click Continue!
Now it’s time to tell Ubuntu “Where now is.” You can click a time zone, close to the city you are in and Ubuntu will update the time zone. Or you can type in the name of your city. I’m in Chicago so this is what I choose as time zone. Then click Continue.
We got to the part where we must create a user. Fill in all the fields and try not to forget your password. Yes, all computers can have the password reset if you have physical access to the computer and the drive is not encrypted but we will learn that in another how-to. So, for now please write down your password.
The first field is self-explanatory. For computer name you can give it a name that reflects the computer usage. If you plan to use it as a webserver you could call it www. Personally, I will call it since I already have a www server and other Ubuntu computers. My username is paul (chose yours – it has to be a single word) and the password. Password should be a strong one especially if you will expose the computer to the internet. To be strong a password should have small letters, CAPS, digits and special characters. Once you have filled in all the info, click Continue.
While Ubuntu installs …. Go get a coffee. And yes, I could use one too.a coffee.
Once the installation is completed you will get a notification and your only choice is to click “Restart Now”. At this point you should also remove your USB drive from the USB port.
Once the computer has restarted you are presented with the login screen. Click on your name and enter your password (you did write it down, didn’t you?!). Now start exploring! Below are some links to further reading.
Further ReadingLinux Pocket Guide: Essential Commands
Ubuntu Linux For Dummies
Linux For Dummies Quick Reference