Install Ubuntu Like You Mean It

This is going to be a very brief overview of what I learned about installing Ubuntu on my Macintosh. Remember that my proficiency with all things Linux is very low on the list of impressive bodies of knowledge; I learned all of this from scrounging through Google searches, forums and Ubuntu’s own well-meaning but scattered documentation.

Get the Image

First thing you gotta do is get yourself the latest version of Ubuntu, mirrors for which can be found on this page. There are a lot of versions of Ubuntu available through the links here, and BitTorrent files are provided. The obvious choice might be to choose the standard desktop CD image. But I tried that one — twice — and it didn’t work for me. On the other hand, the alternate version, which forgoes the standard’s attractive, graphical installer for a no-frills, text-only version, worked perfectly for me each time I tried it. Ostensibly, this version offers more technical features, which might suggest that it’s harder to navigate and understand, but in truth, the basic steps and options are virtually identical.

Once you’ve got your image downloaded, you need to burn it to a CD using the Disk Utility software that comes standard with every Mac OS X installation. That’s easy, right? Well, this is where the standard desktop version failed me, as I couldn’t successfully burn a disk. Again, the alternate version worked like a charm.

Prepare Your Mac

Ubuntu installer CD now in hand, you then need to wipe your Mac clean, mostly because it’s necessary to partition the drive if you want to continue to have the option of booting into Mac OS X. There are methods around this, including one that uses a free Linux tool to create a new partition without forcing the destruction of all your current data, but I didn’t bother with it as it seemed to complicated. My old PowerBook didn’t have much in the way of valuable data on it, so I didn’t care, but suffice it to say, you should back up your data because you’re going to lose it.

To wipe the drive, grab your Mac OS X installation disks, which are crucial to have on hand. For my Titanium PowerBook G4 — an aging relic of the late nineties — I chose to stick with Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, rather than upgrade to Tiger. Pop the CD-ROM or DVD into the drive while in Mac OS X, launch the installer and you’ll be prompted to reboot. When the computer is up, you’ll be running from the installation disc, and you’ll be presented with the first screen of the installation process.

Partition the Drive

That’s not what you want, though; rather, you should go to the Utilties menu and select “Disk Utility.” Use this application to partition your drive (a basic primer can be found here) into two. I have an 80 gigabyte internal hard drive on that PowerBook, so I created a 45 gigabytes partition for Mac OS X and used the remainder for Ubuntu.

You may read that Ubuntu will actually require a third partition to use as its swap disk. I made the mistake of actually physically creating three partitions to account for this, but I learned that the Ubuntu installer would take care of that on its own, so there’s no need to worry about it.

All you need to worry about is ensuring that your Ubuntu partition is at least 10 gigabytes or so in size. Oh, and you also need to realize that the Ubuntu installer needs to identify its destination partition as ‘free space.’ At first, I thought that simply meant that nothing should be on it, but if you look at Disk Utility’sformat pull-down menu, you’ll see that ‘free space’ is actually a technical option to be performed during the partitioning process. Who knew? So designate the Ubuntu segment accordingly, and then click ‘Partition.’

You’re Done… Almost

Once the partitioning is complete, quit Disk Utility and return to the Mac OS X installer and complete the installation process. Boot into Mac OS X, insert the Ubuntu disk, and reboot again, this time holding the ‘C’ key down as the computer restarts. This will force it to read from the Ubuntu CD-ROM as it starts up.

You’ll then be taken into the Ubuntu installer, which will guide you through the process. It does a fairly good job of it, especially as it allows you to simply install the operating system where it finds the “largest available free space,” which should be that second partition that you created. The installer will then set everything else up and then allow you to boot right into Ubuntu after it’s done. It’s actually a very slick and impressive installer. The rest is easy; all you gotta do is learn how to use Linux.

  1. Thanks! I really appreciate you putting this up like you said you would. I’m in the process of burning the CD right now and will be installing shortly.


  2. 1) Grab the ISO of your choice

    2) Create new Parallels virtual machine, select OS type of ‘Linux’, OS Version of ‘Other Linux’

    3) Under Virtual Machine configuration editor, click CD-ROM pref and under ‘Emulation’ select ‘Use Image File’ and point it toward the ISO you just downloaded

    4) Start the VM. Click a bunch of “OK” buttons.

    5) Done.

    There are a few more nuances than that, but… dude. Intel Macs + Parallels = hot.

  3. I totally believe it, Dave, but you forgot step zero: Buy an Intel-based Macintosh. I still haven’t bitten the bullet yet, but when I do, Parallels is in my sights.

  4. Just out of curiosity, why? What’s your goal for the system once it’s up and going? I’m genuinely curious as I’ve seen so very much Ube-chatter of late. I remember going through all of this with Yellow Dog on blue & white G3s back in the day, but never fully understood the draw.

  5. Nice Khoi. Your description shows unfortunately all the troubles that a Mac user may run into. The main problem is that Mac OS X has its very own file system (HFS+) and that there is no reliable tool to resize a running OS X installation without reformatting the whole harddisk and so to reinstall your Mac OS X.

    It sounds like a shame but on a Windows machine you will not have that problem. But then you have the trouble with a suboptimal hardware support. That is the advantage of the Mac PPC version of the most Linux distributions that your Apple hardware works out of the box.

    So it is no wonder that the Ubuntu installer performs a complete installation without running in trouble.

    @Dave S.: Parallels seems to be the perfect tool for every webdesigner. It’s the first time that you can have some really running VMs on a Mac to validate your websites are running perfectly under Windows and Linux too. Parallels would be the best reason to better get an Intel-based Apple…

  6. Nicely done Khoi. I’ve been wanting to throw Ubuntu on my PowerBook for the past few months now and was just too damn busy to round up tutorials.

  7. QUOTE “my Titanium PowerBook G4 — an aging relic of the late nineties”

    Is that correct? I’m pretty sure the G4 PowerBook was launched some time after 2000.

    Apart from that, I quite enjoyed the article. I’ve been thinking of having a go at Linux just to see what the fuss is about, altough I am very happy using OS X. Rather than use Ubuntu I’m going to try Yellow Dog Linux. Wish me luck.

  8. GingerSex: You’re totally right, I got my Titanium PowerBook G4 in the fall of 2001. There I go again, feeling old before my time. Thanks for pointing that out.

  9. Dave S.

    I have Ubuntu running in Parallels but there is no video driver specific to the MacBook so the resolution max is 1024×768. Do you know of such a driver for Parallels or is that it?

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.