Friday, December 27, 2013

How to install and configure Debian

Debian is one of the many GNU/Linux operating systems. Ubuntu, perhaps the most popular GNU/Linux system, is based on Debian. Having used Ubuntu for a few months and irked by some persistent instability issues, documented in my previous post, I decided to try out the current version of Debian. Debian is supposed to be extremely stable, but for some reason the current version is codenamed 'Wheezy'. I hope this is not a reference to its performance!
In this post I explain what I did to install Debian and importantly to make it usable.

Installation
Last Friday I installed Debian on my laptop. I first backed up my data on an external hard disk and burned the Debian installation file on a CD. I restarted my computer and booted from the CD. Nothing happened. I saw the Ubuntu login screen instead of the Debian installer. The Debian website says something about how to get CDs to work but I wanted to try the USB drive option. This time it worked. Debian got installed. Well, that's to cut a long story short. It took nearly 6 hours to install Debian mainly because of a slow downloading stage when more than 1300 packages were obtained from a Debian server. This could have been avoided if I'd used a larger installation file I think. Also, I am on a 512 kbps connection -- not great for fast downloads.

During the installation, I didn't have to do much apart from selecting the default options whenever I was asked to. I even went out for a couple of hours in between, with the blue installation screen glowing in the dark house.

Getting started with Debian installation is not very easy. It's supposed to have become simpler over time but it's far from being as easy as installing Ubuntu. So I was worried about whether I would be able to handle the configuration after installation. I'm not a GNU/Linux expert and rely heavily on information on user forums and the Debian website.

Making my user account "powerful"
To my relief Debian got installed after an uncertain start. So I could begin with the configuration -- all the things I've described below. As the first step I had to gain superuser privilege. To add software or edit configuration files on Debian one needs to perform actions as a "superuser". I first added myself to the superuser group by following the instructions given in http://www.pathin.org/tutorials/howto-enable-sudo-on-user-account-debian-6-squeeze/

Getting wi-fi to work
After installation wi-fi did not work, as I'd expected. Many wi-fi chipsets require firmware that is not free. Debian in its pure form accepts only free software and firmware.

So I figured out which wireless chipset I have:
http://www.cyberciti.biz/faq/linux-find-wireless-driver-chipset/

I downloaded the package for the firmware for my wireless chipset: http://packages.debian.org/wheezy/all/firmware-iwlwifi/download

And I installed the package from the command line:
# dpkg -i filename.deb



Setting up the package manager
Packages in GNU/Linux are installation files for software. Packages should ideally be found and added from a package manager such as Synpatic that comes with Debian. In this process, installation is point-and-click and the command line is not needed.

By default only free packages are listed in Synaptic. These free packages are stored in Debian server mirrors around the world. To make Synaptic list non-free packages, I added these lines to the file sources.list in the folder /etc/apt/

deb http://ftp.de.debian.org/debian wheezy main non-free
deb http://ftp.de.debian.org/debian wheezy main contrib



To edit text documents I like to use gedit, one of many text editors available for GNU/Linux systems.

Fonts
If you're used to Windows or Mac and see a fresh Debian install you might be shocked at how bad or rough the fonts look. Many of the fonts we're used to are actually proprietary fonts owned by Microsoft or Apple. Free equivalents of common fonts are available but these are "free" in the price sense, not the "freedom" sense I think. Debian recommends that people use truly free fonts such as those in the Liberation series (Liberation sans, Liberation serif, etc.).

I am unfortunately too used to Microsoft fonts so I installed these fonts through Synaptic.



The Microsoft fonts installation file is ttf-mscorefonts-installer. Within this is contained Arial, Verdana, Times New Roman, Courier, etc. But these fonts don't look quite like what you might be used to. So I applied font smoothing by following the instructions given in https://wiki.debian.org/Fonts#Subpixel-hinting_and_Font-smoothing. This required me to create a new text file and copy-paste the code given.

Skype
Skype is a good example of a free application where "free" is like "free beer" but not "free speech". Skype is thankfully available for GNU/Linux systems (Debian, Ubuntu, Red Hat, etc.). I really need Skype for my work.

To install Skype I downloaded the .deb file (the extension for installation files in Debian) from the Skype website (http://www.skype.com/en/download-skype/skype-for-linux/) but ended up having to do some things to make it work, following the instructions given in https://wiki.debian.org/skype

Copying my files from an external hard disk
When you connect a USB drive or external hard disk to your computer you expect it to open. Not so easy in Debian! I had to mount my external hard disk following instructions in http://www.ehow.com/how_7223499_mount-usb-drive-debian-linux.html. But this seems to be a one-time process. When I connected the hard disk again it was automatically detected and I did not have to mount it.

Setting up my wireless printer and scanner
I have a Canon MG3100 wireless printer and scanner at home. I set up my Canon printer using an installation file downloaded from the Canon website:

http://support-sg.canon-asia.com/contents/SG/EN/0100393702.html

Then I set up the scanner using the 'scangearmp' program from http://support-sg.canon-asia.com/contents/SG/EN/0100394102.html

Java for online banking
For doing online banking with my bank, I need to cross a login stage where Java is used. To set up Java I installed two packages: openjdk-7 and icedtea-7-plugin from Synaptic.


With all this my laptop became pretty much ready for use, but I'm sure I'll be doing more installations and tweaks in the coming weeks!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Windows to Ubuntu to Debian

I've been a Windows user for most of my life. I got to use Unix when I was graduate student and was really attracted to the command line. That was 10 years ago though. A few months back I wanted to make the switch to Ubuntu, a Unix-like system, because I didn't like the idea of upgrading to Windows 8. I don't want to be told that the new way of interacting with computers is to type and touch. And I don't want to be told a lot of other things that Windows tells people, or rather, forces people to accept. And Ubuntu is free of course (but "free" is a loaded word in software circles and I don't want to get into that now).

In June I borrowed my wife's four-year old Compaq 610 laptop which she no longer needed, got her permission to wipe out Windows Vista after telling her there's no going back, and proceeded to install Ubuntu 12.04. I used it for a few weeks and had to switch to my Windows computer to do some intensive documentation work for which I had to use MS Word. The switch lasted a couple of months largely because the laptop running Ubuntu had a dead battery and no webcam. I had to keep it charged at all times and couldn't do any video calls. This I remedied by purchasing a new battery and external web cam.

I moved back to Ubuntu and soon began to see problems during shutdown. Now any computer running GNU/Linux (which by the way is the right way to call 'Linux') needs to be customized to an extent that might appall Windows and Mac users who expect everything to be ready for them the first time the computer is booted. By the way, Ubuntu is one of the many distributions of GNU/Linux, although they don't make this very obvious on their website.

So the problem was that during shutdown the computer screen would flicker intensely and I could discern some error message about problems shutting down some program. First it was a program called 'speech-dispatcher', and after I tried to do something about this another program called 'acpid' started acting up. I couldn't find much help regarding this on the extensive Ubuntu forums, and I was upset that my laptop wasn't being very stable. Who wants to see their screen flickering or deal with shutdown problems? Shutting down is really one of the simplest things you can do with a computer. I had to do a hard shutdown by pressing the power button when the laptop froze during shutdown, which didn't happen every time but often enough to make me want to ditch Ubuntu.

I began to think of Debian, the GNU/Linux distribution that is behind Ubuntu. Debian is serious stuff. Installing it is not as easy as installing Ubuntu, and after installation a lot of things need to be done to make it actually usable. Also, Debian community forums speak to people with experience using GNU/Linux, unlike Ubuntu forums which are more accessible.

I installed Debian on my laptop yesterday and spent most of this morning doing a number of things to make it ready for use. I'll write about the installation and configuration in my next post...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Response to "MOOCs as neocolonialism – Who controls knowledge?"

A colleague from INASP sent me a link to this article:

http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=2013120517525882

The author asks if students around the world are concerned about the American nature of MOOCs. He asks this because he is an academic whose field of research is education. Generally speaking, students are not like him: they don't get philosophical about education. They want to learn. They want skills, knowledge, jobs. And many students from the South want to go to the North.

MOOCs offer unprecedented opportunities for students in the South who want to make something of themselves and not be oppressed in a dull local education environment, which is unfortunately common (I'm speaking as an Indian). Telling them that MOOCs are not appropriate for them would be another kind of oppression. And anyway they won't listen!

I think the real issue is how universities in the South will respond to MOOCs. I don't think I've come across any positive or progressive responses such as integration of MOOCs in the curricula, providing local technological support for students to take MOOCs alongside classes, developing their own online courses inspired by MOOCs, etc.

I don't think MOOCs were created as part of a neocolonialist agenda. The author says as much near the end of his essay. But with essays such as this, I wonder if universities in the South are getting convinced, without good enough reason, that MOOCs are a form of neocolonialism and therefore consider them with apathy or scorn. I think this is already happening.

Friday, November 15, 2013

My interview with SciDev.Net

Last month I was at the World Social Science Forum in Montreal to speak about AuthorAID online courses in research writing for academics in developing countries.

Brian Owens, a reporter from SciDev.Net, attended my talk and interviewed me about our plans. His article has recently been published: http://www.scidev.net/global/education/news/authoraid-to-add-online-courses-for-social-scientists.html

Monday, November 4, 2013

Open access and academic blogging

Open access and academic blogging are two ways through which the outcomes of scholarly research can reach the public.

Last month, I tweeted on these topics from the World Social Science Forum in Montreal, which led to an invitation to write a post on BMJ Blogs.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

An introduction to MOOCs for librarians in developing countries

A few weeks back I was invited to write a comment piece for LINK, the magazine of the ACU’s Libraries and Information Network, published by the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

LINK is available by subscription only, so I was delighted to receive permission to reproduce the comment on my blog. I have taken out the page containing my comment from the PDF newsletter (easy to do in Linux!), and here it is:

An introduction to MOOCs for librarians in developing countries

This article was originally commissioned for and published in LINK (Issue 18, October 2013), the magazine of the ACU’s Libraries and Information Network.
www.acu.ac.uk/publications

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

MOOCs are about students

MOOCs are sometimes covered in unlikely places, such as the Scholarly Kitchen, the blog of the Society for Scholarly Publishing.

A recent post, MOOCs and the cycle of hype, was refreshing because of the candor of the author, but once again it was about how traditional higher education can make sense of MOOCs. I made a couple of comments under the post, the second one fueled by a response to my first comment, and I thought I would put them together here:

I think MOOCs in computer science, statistics, and other quantitative disciplines present amazing opportunities for learning. I completed a rigorous 12-week edX MOOC in biostatistics early this year and it was better than pretty much any course I took at a Big Ten university as a graduate student of engineering.

I suppose I like to learn online. If MOOC providers figure out how to improve their completion rates and student engagement (I don’t think these are enormous challenges), more people might find that they like to learn online. It might simply be a better experience than attending classes—unless those classes happen to be on par with MOOCs. So while debates go on about whether online learning can ever be better than face-to-face learning, students—the consumers—might soon begin to do the opposite: wondering if it makes sense to go to university instead of taking MOOCs or MOOC-based degrees.

Employers want skills, not degrees. Unless someone has a degree from an elite institution globally or nationally, the degree itself doesn’t matter much. Students at elite colleges have great networking opportunities, but elsewhere students can bank only on their skills.

How many students around the world study at non-elite colleges? How many have no intention of studying beyond a bachelor’s degree? How many start getting anxious about finding a job well before they graduate? And when they start looking for jobs and interviewing, how many become frustrated that their university experience gave them few skills to work in the “real world”?

I think the answer to any of these questions is—the majority. And maybe the majority of students around the world would say yes to ALL of these questions. So this is a pretty large population of people who’re ready for change (MOOCs) and who might give up—I'm not saying today—what they’ve been used to (traditional degrees).

The key phrase in this argument is “around the world.” MOOCs have been for the world from the beginning. To take this a step further, Coursera has recently partnered with World Bank to make MOOCs more relevant for the developing world.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Paying for MOOCs: A problem for young adults in developing countries?

There's a great graphic on MOOCs at http://www.onlineschools.org/visual-academy/mooc-money/. It's called "How will the MOOCs make money?" (embedded below) and it reminded me of an email from a colleague in Somalia, whom I know through the AuthorAID project, about his disappointment upon learning that Coursera was going to charge for some courses. I'm given to understand that most people don't have credit cards in Somalia, so he can't pay for the courses although he said he can afford them. In my reply to him I said that a lot of young people in India also don't have credit cards. I got my first credit card in India when I was 29 (I had 5 in the US as a graduate student). Coursera allows PayPal payments, but the problem remains: young adults in developing countries may not have their own bank accounts.

Charging $30 or $50 for really high-quality courses, which many MOOCs are, is very reasonable, but I think this might make them inaccessible to many young, college-age adults in developing countries who are not quite connected to global financial networks.

Source credit: http://www.onlineschools.org/visual-academy/mooc-money/
How the MOOCs Will Make Money

Monday, August 26, 2013

Oral cultures and online learning

Some of my colleagues in Africa have told me that because they're from oral cultures they find it difficult to express themselves in writing, and this comes in the way of collaborating with people elsewhere. So when I began to work on introducing e-learning in the AuthorAID project, I was worried whether the participants, most of whom would come from Africa, would feel comfortable asking questions and sharing views through writing. We have been conducting workshops in Africa and other developing countries for more than five years, and we usually see a lot of lively interaction. Would the online medium suppress expression because people have to write and not talk?

After facilitating four AuthorAID online courses in the past year, I'm happy to say that has not happened. Instead, I see hundreds of posts in every online course and sometimes I find it hard to keep up!

Edith Wakida, a research administrator at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda, was one of the most active participants in a recent AuthorAID online course, and a forum post of hers led to a recent post on the AuthorAID blog, which is read by many researchers in developing countries. Her advice on the importance of following grant instructions has thus reached not only her fellow participants in the online course but a great number of developing country researchers through the blog.

So I think the online learning format, far from suppressing interaction or sharing, can facilitate greater and fuller expression of ideas and experiences even when the participants are from oral cultures and don't have much experience with e-learning. But creating the right virtual environment for such interaction to take place can be a challenge.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Online learning: Where are the voices from developing countries?

The founder of Udacity, one of the three major initiatives offering MOOCs (massive open online courses), has made the controversial prediction that in 50 years there might only be about 10 universities left in the world. In May 2013, the first MOOC-driven master’s degree program in computer science was announced by Georgia Tech and Udacity.

Anyone in the world can take MOOCs. From my home in India, I completed a free 3-month MOOC taught by professors at Harvard University. This experience led to a series of blog posts and also the realization that there are few voices from the developing world on MOOCs. An article on the World Bank EduTech blog adds support to this view. It’s not just about MOOCs but about ICT in higher education: I don’t see any blogs from developing countries in the top 50 higher education technology blogs.

I don't think ICT in higher education has to cost a lot of money. Based on my experience creating and teaching online courses on AuthorAID Moodle, I'm convinced that ICT can be hugely beneficial in a higher education context in developing countries, even under a tight budget.

I hope to find more voices from the developing world on learning and teaching online. For the time being, I'm happy to see a blog post on MOOCs from a Nigerian researcher. (Incidentally, she was one of the participants in a recent AuthorAID online course.)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Online training is THE thing!

"Is online training THE thing?" Vanesa Weyrauch, a member of the Politics & Ideas team asked in her blog post a few months back and presented an empirical account of the advantages of online training in the context of international development and capacity building.

I was fortunate to be invited by Vanesa to contribute a post, and it has just been put up. Read it here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Switching from MS Office to LibreOffice: Three weeks in

There's an MS Office for Mac but not for GNU/Linux. Although there's a roundabout way to get MS Office working on GNU/Linux (Ubuntu to be precise), the office software that's the default choice for people using a GNU/Linux system is LibreOffice or OpenOffice, both of which are free and open-source.

From the start of this month I've been using Ubuntu. The switch from Windows to Ubuntu has been largely smooth, but moving from MS Office to LibreOffice has been a bit challenging. There are many articles comparing these two, including a very interesting one that is focused on the compatibility between the two given that MS Office is so common and people often have to work on documents with or for other people. Compatibility is my main concern as well.

First, here's a list of some "office" tasks I did this month with LibreOffice:
  1. Worked on long text documents (50 pages or so) -- looked at comments inserted by others, included my own comments, used track changes, put together smaller documents created by others, etc.
  2. Used pivot tables and formulas in spreadsheets.
  3. Tinkered with spreadsheets with hundreds of rows and possibly a hundred columns.
  4. Added content to a document template with images.
  5. Looked at graphical analysis of data in a spreadsheet.
  6. Created a set of text slides for a talk.
And here are the problems I encountered:
  1. Comments included in MS Word are visible within LibreOffice Writer (the Word equivalent), but comments included using Writer are not visible when the document is opened again in MS Word. This happened irrespective of whether I saved the document in .DOC, .DOCX, or .ODT format. The last one is LibreOffice's native format, which Word opens -- although after presenting a couple of warnings that will make most people think that the document is corrupted! LibreOffice Writer can open, edit, and save documents in .DOC or .DOCX format, but the problem is with comments -- they are not visible in MS Word after being inserted with Writer.
  2. Graphical elements didn't translate well from MS Office to LibreOffice. An image in a Word document looked pretty strange when seen in Writer, and a colorful pie chart in a PowerPoint document was rendered in grey in Impress (the PowerPoint equivalent).
And here's the good stuff:
  1. Writer is great for general-purpose documentation. Users of MS Word might find that pretty much every functionality they use in Word is in Writer. But macros created in MS Office won't run readily on LibreOffice.
  2. I found that Pivot tables and formulas in Excel documents worked fine in LibreOffice Calc (the Excel equivalent), though there are some cosmetic changes in data analysis and presentation.
The problems have caused some discomfort but they haven't come in the way of my work. I like LibreOffice and I plan to keep using it. It's free, good, and made by the inspirational Document Foundation, that among others things is committed "to eliminate the digital divide in society by giving everyone access to office productivity tools free of charge to enable them to participate as full citizens in the 21st century."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

WordPress LMS versus Moodle

A few weeks back I met Vasumathi Sriganesh, a medical librarian who runs a fascinating non-profit called QMed Knowledge Foundation in Mumbai, India. We shared our experiences with the problem of availability and access to scholarly journals in developing countries. We also spoke about e-learning and how to run online courses. Vasumathi knew about Moodle but she had recently heard that WordPress has its own LMS or LMS-like features. This was news to me and I wanted to find out more.

A quick online search led me to this comparison of some options to make an LMS in WordPress: http://www.scholarixsolution.com/wp/wordpress-lms/.

The advantages of WordPress seem compelling, but not this one: “[WordPress is good if] your courses are independent learning courses and your users don’t have to interact with each other or an instructor”.

And here’s a pro-Wordpress piece from the makers of one of the plugins: http://www.learndash.com/advantages-of-wordpress-over-moodle/

One of the lines in this piece caught my attention: “…you would author all of your content within one Experience API (Tin Can API) compatible software packages such as Articulate or Captivate.”

Apparently the plugin is compatible with “Experience API”, a recent standard for e-learning content. But it sounds like one would need expensive authoring tools such as Articulate or Captivate to create modules in this standard. I don’t know if there are any free authoring tools for this purpose. Of course, one option is to present simple text and multimedia content, but then it may not be possible to track what learners have done.

Obviously more research is needed, but I've often noticed that people considering e-learning don't know enough about Moodle's constructionist philosophy of education, where students have the ability to share and create knowledge. When one has seen this happen, as I have, it’s hard to look at e-learning as just content.

When I wrote up a report following the recent AuthorAID online courses, I found a statistically significant correlation between a participant’s forum activity and whether they completed the course. For example, all participants who made more than the median number of posts completed the course. Then, two-thirds of the participants said that both the forum posts and course content were equally useful for their learning.

So I’m a firm believer in the value of interaction in an online course and I try to look to the heady Moodle philosophy (http://docs.moodle.org/24/en/Philosophy) for inspiration.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ten tips for learners taking MOOCs

This post is related to my series of posts on the INASP blog on MOOCs and educational development. The tips below are especially for learners in developing countries.
  1. Coursera, Udacity, and edX are the major providers of free MOOCs as of mid 2013. Check out their websites to find out which MOOCs could be right for you.
  2. Most MOOCs are video-based. As soon as you enroll in a MOOC, try opening a few videos to see whether they stream properly. If not, see if there are downloading options or text alternatives to the videos. If you can't see or download the videos and if text alternatives are missing or insufficient, the MOOC is probably not going to be a great experience.
  3. If you're going to be given access to a software application during the MOOC, check whether you will be able to use or buy this software after the MOOC ends. If not, the potential to apply what you learn could be affected.
  4. When the MOOC starts, give yourself a couple of weeks to try the content and assignments. You'll then know if the MOOC is right for you. If it's not, feel free to quit the MOOC. Most MOOCs have completion rates around 10% and one of the likely reasons is that a lot of students enroll in MOOCs without knowing if it's right for them. Don't feel bad about quitting a MOOC, but this is best done early. If you quit a MOOC, don't assume that MOOCs in general don't work for you. Maybe you need a different course, more spare time, or something else.
  5. Most MOOCs have weekly schedules. Once you join a MOOC, set aside time every week for going through the content, working on assignments, taking part in discussions, etc. Without a study schedule that you can stick to, it might be hard to keep up.
  6. MOOCs often have tens of thousands of students, so the discussion forums can be daunting if you've never taken a MOOC before. Don't worry about getting on top of the posts at the start of the course. Usually, whatever you need to do in an assignment is covered in the preceding course content. But keep an eye on the discussion forums: students may have pointed out technical problems with the course that may affect you too. Once you settle into the course, you might find it easier to use the discussion forums to make posts.
  7. Some MOOCs have group exercises and peer assessments. Follow instructions closely and be polite and positive as you work with other students.
  8. It can be difficult to keep up your motivation to complete a MOOC especially if other commitments get in the way. One way to motivate yourself is to discuss your MOOC with your family, friends, and colleagues, as well as on social media.
  9. Celebrate once you complete a MOOC! Tell people about it and add it to your CV.
  10. Look into ways to apply your learning soon after you complete a MOOC, otherwise you might forget what you've learned.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Installing Ubuntu: for non-geeks

Last Sunday I installed Ubuntu on an old laptop that was lying around the house.

Ubuntu is perhaps the most popular variety of GNU/Linux in use. Ubuntu is not only free but is backed by a stable and socially minded organization. For a while I've been thinking about whether an operating system like Ubuntu would be practical in the context of ICTD (information and communication technologies for development).

My first objective was to try out Ubuntu from the point of view of someone working from home. I am my IT help desk. If there's a problem with my computer, I'd better figure out how to fix it myself.

My second objective was to find out if I can live without MS Office, among other things. There's LibreOffice and OpenOffice for Ubuntu, but they're not the same as MS Office that I bet is used by at least 95% of the people I have ever exchanged documents with.

Coming back to the installation, here are the specs of my laptop:
  • Compaq 610
  • Bought in October 2009 for approx Rs. 40,000 (Indian Rupees), roughly $800
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GHz
  • RAM: 3 GB
The laptop came with Windows Vista and MS Office. It was in use until about a year back, when the battery died completely (the laptop doesn't last a second if it's not plugged in), Windows became unacceptably sluggish, and -- thankfully -- there was no longer a need for the laptop.

Installation

Step 1: I bought a 1 TB (or 1000 GB) external hard disk for about Rs. 5,000 ($100) from the famous Alfa store in Mumbai (massive discounts on pretty much anything from almonds to, well, hard disks). I copied all the data from the old laptop to the hard disk. Copying about 200 GB took a couple of hours I think.

A 1 TB hard disk: Not larger than a wallet!

Step 2: I downloaded Ubuntu version 12.04 from the Ubuntu website. This is the long-term support version so it seemed like the safest option. The installation file was 693 MB and took me a couple of hours to download.

Step 3: I used the instructions given on the Ubuntu site to burn the Ubuntu installation file on a CD. Note: You don't need a CD burning software to do this. A free software is recommended on the Ubuntu site. (By the way, I had to search for "installation" to get to the instructions -- would have been nice if there was a clear link to the installation instructions on the homepage.)

Step 4: I began the installation. I kept the CD inserted in the computer, said bye to Windows, and restarted the laptop. Generally speaking, if a CD is in a computer at the time of restarting, the CD is read to see if there's anything like an operating system on it.

A glitch

After restarting, the screen I got wasn't the same as what's shown in the installation instructions.

That's me looking at the options during Ubuntu installation from a CD. Not what I expected.

I soon began to get strange error messages in green at the top of the screen. Then a black screen with more incomprehensible error messages, starting with the phrase "Kernel panic". It was troubling to say the least.

I went back to the Ubuntu site to read the instructions more closely. I spotted the problem: I had burned the installation file on a CD when I had to do it on a DVD! Apparently a CD doesn't have enough space.

I don't have any blank DVDs so I went for the other approach: installing from a USB stick.

Ubuntu fits on a 2 GB pen drive.

Reattempting installation

I inserted the USB stick in the laptop and restarted it (after saying bye to Windows one more time). Just when the computer was restarting (the black screen with the messages we don't read), I pressed F9. You may need to press another key -- see what keys are recommended at the bottom of the first screen that appears when you restart your computer. You need to be quick!

I was given a few options, and one was "boot from USB hard disk" or something like that. I selected this.

It worked!

I saw almost exactly the same series of screens that the Ubuntu site says you'll see when you do the installation.

I wiped out Windows during the installation, but you can choose to keep it alongside Ubuntu. This is a clear step during the installation and you don't have to worry about tinkering with any settings to keep Windows.

After I'd done my part, the installation proceeded automatically and after perhaps an hour I was treated with the sight of the beautiful Ubuntu desktop:

Doesn't that look inviting?


Excluding the first failed attempt, installation to the point of seeing the Ubuntu desktop took about 3 hours. Not too bad as preparation for a new computing experience.