Installing Ubuntu on a Windows laptop: not ready for prime time

I’ll try to keep this short, but here is my experience trying to install Ubuntu on my Dell Inspiron 1100 running Windows XP SP2.

I’m an IT professional, and I keep hearing that Ubuntu is incredibly simple to install, etc. etc. So I finally get around to cleaning up the hard drive space necessary and downloading the Live CD. I figure the Inspiron 1100 has been around long enough and was popular enough that by now Ubuntu should be working pretty well on it.

I run the live CD and everything seems to be going fine until I launch the installer. Ubuntu is only displaying in a small 640×480 box in the middle of my screen… I figured once it was installed I could get the drivers to fix it. But the installer needs more screen space than 640×480 and all the buttons and part of the text end up being cut-off.

So I take the CD, boot back into Windows and hit the support forums. They’re full of references to “dapper” “fiesty” etc. that I can’t figure out and don’t see any references to on the Ubuntu site (eventually I find them in Wikipedia, they’re code names for different version of Ubuntu). I find out that I’m out of luck using the live CD… the installer absolutely must have more than a 640×480 resolution. So I’m going to have to use a text based installer on the “alternate cd.” It takes me a while to figure out how to download the alternate but I find it and three hours later, it’s downloaded and I’m ready to try again.

It starts up, things are going fine, and it gets to the partitioner. I pick the first option, to resize my existing partition and then use the free space. Next, next, enter the new size of the partition, ok, ok… oh no! Bright red screen, “UNKNOWN ERROR PARTITION FAILED.”

Time to restart and boot back into Windows… I get profile corruption and file system corruption errors. After running chdisk I’m able to run Windows, but my profile is corrupted and system restore won’t work. I also discover that my partition has been resized, but the new partition is missing.

I tried to use the GPart live CD to fix the partitions, but GPart won’t work because it can’t display on my laptop monitor.

So my next step will be to get Partition Magic or something to try to get the partition working.

I’ve done some research and I may need a BIOS update. But I’m a bit nervous about doing a BIOS update since my laptop’s out of warranty, and one wrong move while flashing the BIOS will ruin the motherboard. It looks like w/o the BIOS update, even after a full install of Ubuntu I might not be able to get more than the 640×480 box. And that’s just assuming I can get the partition working.

I’m not sure how much time I want to invest in this right now… I might give it another shot next week.

After 6 hours all I’ve got to show for it is a corrupt Windows profile and a smaller hard drive. So I can’t help but conclude that Ubuntu is still not ready for “prime time.”

Some thoughts:

1. There should perhaps be a bit more warning of what a user is getting into trying to install Ubuntu, especially on laptops. It seems that these display problems are common.

2. I can’t understand why the GUI installer needs to be larger than 640×480

3. Is there a reason the text installer can’t be included on the live cd?

4. Why doesn’t the partitioner work?

1 Comment

  1. A quick search brings up the solution using your laptop model + Ubuntu:

    1) Very very common, there is a lot of room for improvement in giving errors. The forums are pretty much essential for some situations. Too busy putting in useless programs like beryl to lure people searching after eye-candy in.
    2) Shouldn’t be such a low res in the first place.
    3) Not sure
    4) Ubuntu’s Gparted doesn’t support NTFS for shrinking and leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve used the Gparted CD for everything. For NTFS it is usually recommended to defrag and then turn off Windows swap before installing to prevent problems.

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