28 April 2010

Installing Windows 7 & Ubuntu UNR side-by-side on Dell Mini

I received my Dell Mini 1012 netbook just recently, which came with Windows 7 Starter, and I've decided to partition the drive and install Ubuntu UNR 9.10 on it to have a dual-booting netbook. Here's how I did it, and it was easy.

The netbook had Windows pre-installed, and I liked it well enough that I really don't want to have to reinstall it. That meant I can't start from scratch: ie, I can't just reformat the entire drive, partition it properly, then install Windows and Ubuntu separately. I had to keep the Windows volume intact. The trick is that I also don't want to cripple the Windows installation, or else I'd have to repair Windows (which I also don't want to do).

If you're a nitpicky power user who wants configurations galore, I suggest you read this instead: How to install Windows 7 and Ubuntu side by side. It's a lot of work, but you get lots of expert options. That's not for me. I want a simple, lazy, and smooth experience so that I can get back to doing something else. Having said that, you might want to read those instructions anyway to get a deeper understanding of what's going on here.

The Plan
  1. resize the Windows volume, shrink it to say 30 GB, so that I get a 100 GB free space
  2. install UNR into that 100 GB free space
  3. reboot and enjoy

In hindsight, keeping the free space (into which UNR will be installed) larger than the Windows volume turned out to be extremely useful in keeping this process simple. So my recommendation is that you make sure there's more free space than all the other volumes individually.

If you want to just try out Ubuntu, use a Live CD or a bootable thumb drive version instead. Or use WUBI install. If you're serious about using Ubuntu, why not have at least a slightly larger volume for UNR than Windows (say larger by 1 GB). As for me, I will rarely use Windows, so I have 100 GB free space for the UNR install, and shrank the Windows volume to about 30 GB.

If you decide to have less space for UNR than Windows, I suggest reading this instead: How to install Windows 7 and Ubuntu side by side. If you made the lazy choice and decided to have more space for UNR than Windows, then read on for the details to implementing The Plan.

1. Resize / shrink the Windows volume

Do NOT do this via Ubuntu or through GParted. Just don't. If you do use those, you're liable to break the Windows installation, requiring you to repair it with a Windows install disk. I don't have a Windows install disk since this netbook doesn't have a DVD drive, and Windows was pre-installed. Anyway, why bother when you can just shrink the Windows volume from within Windows 7. Follow my instructions here to do that.

2. Install UNR

This needs to be broken down into two steps, call it 2A and 2B.

2A. Make a Ubuntu UNR installation USB thumb drive
If you follow the instructions on the official Ubuntu UNR download page, you'll be frustrated as I had become. Basically, only the first step is correct without qualifications. So go ahead, go there and download the iso file. I'll wait.

Oh, and I assume you're doing this in Windows 7. I tried doing this on Mac OS X and it took more steps, more work, more grief. I want to be lazy and for things to work. Macs usually is the lazier and the "it just works" choice over Windows, but this is not one of those cases. [1]

The official instruction's second step would lead you to read this mess of an instruction page:  InstallationFromUSBStick. If you read carefully, you'll notice it says "To install the i386 desktop version to a flash drive from a disk image on Windows, use the incredibly easy process described at http://www.pendrivelinux.com/create-a-ubuntu-9-10-live-usb-in-windows/."

Ignore that line (even though it's supposed to be a "known issue"). It didn't work for me. Maybe it only works for desktop versions on a desktop machine. All I know is it didn't work under Windows 7 for installing UNR on the Mini 1012, today April 28th. Granted when I did that I was logged in as not an administrator account, so maybe that's why, but I didn't check

Instead, use the original alternative installation process, ie, follow the line saying "Alternatively you can use Unetbootin to create a bootable usb drive. http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/ ".

So download that, and use it to copy the iso image onto a USB thumb drive. I actually used a 2GB SD card and it worked on this Dell Mini 1012! But I also confirmed it worked with a 1GB USB thumb drive afterward. Awesome!

2B. Boot netbook off of thumb drive and install UNR
When Unetbootin is done its work, it'll prompt you to restart the computer. Click that button. When the netbook restarts, it should tell you which function key to press to go into the BIOS settings. It's F2 on my Dell Mini.

In the BIOS, set the boot drive so the USB thumb drive is first in the order. It may show up as a removable device instead of a USB device. Exit the BIOS setup screen, saving the changes. As the netbook reboots, it'll stop at a screen asking you to choose between default, help, and an OEM option. Hit enter key to choose default. And let it boot up to Ubuntu UNR!

Once the Ubuntu desktop shows up, click on the install icon. There's going to be some simple information screens asking for your name and such. Fill that out. The "hard" part is step 4, the screen asking for information to Prepare disk space.  Here is where our initial lazy decision to free up more free space than each of the other existing volumes come in handy:

Click on Use the largest continuous free space, then click Forward.

You've just avoided fiddling around with creating an extended volume through Windows, then allocating partitions in that extended volume for swap and root. Yay! Less work!

Keep clicking Forward and finally Install to make it happen! [2]

3. Reboot and Enjoy!

Well, wait until the installer says it's done before rebooting, but yeah, that's it.

[1] I ran into some seriously difficult to troubleshoot USB thumbdrive problems that I suspect started from following the official installation instructions for making the bootable thumbdrive on a Mac. The thumbdrive looks fine from Mac OS X, but it wouldn't boot up my Dell Mini. When I took the thumbdrive and took a look at it on Windows, it wouldn't mount, and it appeared read-only so I couldn't format the drive and start over!

I ended up erasing the thumb-drive clean on a Mac, then formatted it into a FAT32 volume. And even then it wouldn't show up properly on Windows.  Here's where Windows 7 has to take the blame too.  Apparently there's some obscure-ish problem with Windows 7 not mounting flash thumb-drives sometimes. There's some details here: Disk Management Console view is not up-to-date.

Again, the official reply there didn't help. But this person's experience proved useful though lacking details. I tried several times without success, until I uninstalled the USB mass storage driver, the driver for the thumb-drive, and the driver of some mysterious storage volume that shows up only when the troubled thumb-drive is plugged in. When all three were uninstalled, unplugging then re-plugging in the thumb-drive solved the problem.

The thumb-drive showed up, I erased it again, formatted it again in FAT32, and continued on with the steps I described above. I suspect had I not used the Mac instructions at all, I would've avoided all this grief.

[2] The detail I left out describing is that the UNR installer will install a new boot loader (GRUB) on the disk. It's compatible with Windows 7's boot loader though, so when you restart, a screen will show up allowing you to choose whether you want to boot into Ubuntu or Windows 7. You can change it by clicking the Advanced button above the Install button to bring up options for not installing GRUB, but don't do that. The default is for it to be installed, so just leave it, as that's what makes the dual booting system working.

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