Note: this is the second part of a series on how I made my old computer a lean, mean Ubuntu machine.  You can read the first part here.

So lets get started on this.  We’re going to install a command-line version of Ubuntu, then we’re going to add to it just what we want and nothing more.  At the end we’ll have a pretty streamlined system.

The first thing we’ll need is a Ubuntu Minimal CD.  You can find the CD images here – be sure to choose the one that works for your system.  For mine I used the Ubuntu 8.04 “Hardy Heron” Minimal CD for 32-bit PC’s.  You’ll need to burn the mini.iso to a CD and then boot your system from that CD.  You’ll be greeted by a screen like this:

At the prompt you’ll need to type “cli” for command-line install.  The installer will walk you through the steps necessary to get a minimal version of Ubuntu on your system, including setting up your user account and password.  It will also ask you for information about partitions.  On my computer I made three partitions: a “swap” partition that was 1.5 GB, a “/” partition (where the operating system is actually installed) that was 15 GB and the rest of my hard drive is a “/home” partition for my music, pictures, etc.  I’m certain my partitions are much bigger than they need to be but I have a 160 GB hard drive in the computer so I’m not that worried if I have some unused space.

When the installer is finished, you’ll be instructed to remove the CD and reboot.  Once it finishes rebooting you’ll be greeted by a command prompt.  Type in your username and password.  Congratulations!  You’re running Ubuntu!  Though it doesn’t look like much right now, we’ll improve things very quickly.

You’ll now be staring at a screen with the following:


We’re now ready to start typing and install some software.  First comes which tells your computer how to draw stuff on the screen.  Type the following:

sudo aptitude install xorg

You’ll be asked to provide your sudo (or root) password which you setup during the installation process.  The computer will work a bit and then give you a list of “packages” it wants to install.  Tell it yes and it will download and install  It may take a bit depending on the speed of your computer and your internet connection.

Once we have installed, we need a window manager.  This is a set of programs that provide the graphical user interface for your computer.  There are lots of options but for my system I went with XFCE, the same window manager Xubuntu uses.  It looks nice, is full-featured, lightweight and easy to install.  Type the following:

sudo aptitude install xfce4

Once this is done you’ll have the basics ready to go.  We’re getting there!

There are two more things we’re going to install from the command line.  First is a login manager.  This is a program that helps your computer not only start the graphical user interface but also gives you a way to login to your system, much like you did earlier from the command-line when you typed your username and password.  Once again, there are lots of options but I use GNOME Display Manger (GDM).  Type the following:

sudo aptitude install gdm

Once it’s done, we’re almost ready to start the graphical user interface.  Up to now, we’ve been installing software from the command-line.  We’re now going to do that one last time and install Synaptic package manager.  It’s a program that lets you download and install other programs to your computer.  Once Synaptic is ready to go, we won’t be using the command-line much.  Type the following:

sudo aptitude install synaptic

Now, I’ve broken things into four separate steps and explained what we are installing for each one.  If you are the trusting sort, or if you want to get through this process quicker, you can always type the following:

sudo aptitude install xorg xfce4 gdm synaptic

This will download and install everything at once.

Once it’s done, we’ve got a basic system installed but we need to start things up manually the first time and then GDM will take over and start the interface from there on out.  Type the following:


If everything went according to plan, your computer will think for a bit and then you’ll be looking at the default XFCE desktop!

That’s a lot better than staring at a command-line huh?

Now we have a very basic installation of Ubuntu with XFCE as a window manager.  But wait!  Where’s the menu?  Well we’ll officially set one up later but for now you can right-click your mouse anywhere on the desktop and the menu will show up.  It took me awhile to figure this out so I thought I’d save you some time!

This is the skeleton on which we are going to add some programs and customize things.  We’ll talk about that more in the next post.