Installing Ubuntu on an HP Stream Mini PC

c04526282When I heard the news a few weeks ago that HP was introducing a cute little blue mini PC that would only cost $180, my first thought was, “I want one!” And when I heard that the Stream Mini would ship with Windows 8.1 preinstalled, my second thought was, “And when I get it the first thing I’m going to do is install Ubuntu on it.”

Easier said than done.

The actual process of installing Ubuntu is not difficult. The difficulty proved to be in simply getting the Stream Mini to boot from a USB stick.

tl;dr

The HP Stream Mini has UEFI boot. If you hit F12 at boot, you get the UEFI boot selector screen, but that’s no good because it won’t show the USB stick. For HP devices like this you need to hit F10 on boot to access the UEFI/BIOS configuration tools. From this point I trust you can find the settings to change the boot order. Just put your USB stick ahead of the hard drive in the order and you’re set.

Actually, I do prefer to read the whole thing, no matter how long it is

Now, for those of you who want the full story, here’s how it goes. I’ll say up front that I primarily use a Mac, so my instructions for preparing the USB stick are Mac-only.

Actually, not quite true. Most of what I’m describing is done at the UNIX command line, so for a UNIX/Linux system, the experience should be similar to this, but you don’t have to convert the .iso file. Also, for the first couple of steps I’m using the Mac-only command diskutil. The instructions on the Raspberry Pi page mentioned in step 2 use the generic UNIX equivalents.

For Windows… you’re on your own. It involves crappy third-party apps you have to download and, well, yuck. I started out all of this trying to get it set up using the Windows 8.1 install that came on the HP Stream Mini, but I quickly gave up and switched to my Mac. (The official Ubuntu docs have instructions for Windows that I read before giving up.)

Step 1: Download Ubuntu

There are many options (including other Linux distros), but if you’re undecided, you probably want to get yourself a copy of the latest version (or latest LTS [Long Term Support] version) of Ubuntu Desktop. Be sure to go for the 64-bit version. At the time of this writing, Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS is the latest and greatest.

Step 2: Prepare your USB stick

Déjà vu? No, I really have written about this before. More or less. While there are some minor differences, this is basically the same process I described for preparing an SD card with Raspbian for a Raspberry Pi using a Mac.

You can read the even lengthier details there, but basically, you want to:

1) Insert a USB stick (I recommend at least 2 GB, but who can even find one under 4 GB these days?) into a USB port on the Mac. Make sure you don’t care about losing all of the data on this USB stick, because you will.

2) Open Terminal and save yourself some extra typing in the immediate future by starting with: sudo -s

3) Type diskutil list and press Enter to see a list of volumes. Look for your USB stick and note what it says at the right under IDENTIFIER. There’s a good chance it’s going to be disk1s1 but it could be something else. You just need to know the disk1 part. Don’t worry about the s1. Remember this for later.

4) Unmount the disk. Enter this command: diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk1 being sure to replace the 1 with whatever number you saw in the previous step.

5) Find your Ubuntu installer image. It’s probably in your Downloads folder. Type cd ~/Downloads and press Enter. Then type ls -al and look for the Ubuntu filename, which likely ends with .iso. You’re going to need to convert this into a .img file.

6) Run this command: hdiutil convert input.iso -format UDRW -o output.img but be sure to replace input.iso with the actual filename of your Ubuntu .iso file. You can also change output.img to whatever you want… or at least the output part. This is the filename for the new .img file.

7) Run ls -al again. Mac OS X probably “helpfully” stuck a .dmg extension on your .img file, so run this: mv output.img.dmg output.img replacing both instances of output as appropriate.

OK, now we are actually ready to write Ubuntu onto the USB stick. Run this command:

dd bs=1m if=output.img of=/dev/rdisk1

Be sure to use the correct name for your .img file, and the correct disk number in that rdisk1 bit. Note that the r I added stands for “raw” and it just makes the process go a bit faster.

Now, wait. It shouldn’t take too long, but it might be a minute or so. Once you get the # command prompt again, your USB stick is ready to go. You’ll probably also get a system dialogue box warning you that the disk you inserted is unreadable. Just ignore that. Remove the USB stick from your Mac and insert it into the (powered down) HP Stream Mini.

Step 3: Boot the HP Stream Mini and access the UEFI/BIOS configuration

With the USB stick in one of the HP Stream Mini’s USB ports, power on, then immediately press and hold (or, if you like, frantically tap repeatedly) the F10 key on your keyboard. This should bring up the UEFI/BIOS configuration tool.

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First, go to the Storage menu and choose Boot Order. The dialogue below will appear.

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I recommend disabling UEFI Boot Sources as shown here. Then under Legacy Boot Sources look for your USB stick (not shown here because I didn’t have one inserted when I took the photo). Follow the instructions in the lower right of the box to select and change the order of the boot devices. Make sure your USB stick is above Hard Drive in the list. Press F10 to confirm.

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Now go to the File menu and choose Save Changes and Exit. The computer will now proceed to boot up from the USB stick.

Step 4: Run the Ubuntu installer

This is pretty straightforward. Unlike earlier Linux distributions, Ubuntu these days has a very polished installer program that should feel very familiar to anyone who’s ever installed Windows or Mac OS X on a computer before. There are several steps such as picking your language, location and keyboard layout, but just follow the on-screen instructions and wait for the process to complete, which in my experience took about 20 minutes.

After installation is complete, the system will ask you to reboot, then remove the USB stick and press Enter. Follow those instructions and in less than a minute you should be up and running with a clean install of Ubuntu!

Ubuntu hits the big time, for real this time

Ubuntu LinuxI just finished installing Ubuntu Linux 9.04 on my MacBook under Parallels Desktop. In the past, I’ve ventured boldly into the realm of triple-boot configurations to allow my Mac to run Mac OS X, Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux. But that involves modifying firmware and overriding the standard boot process, plus splitting your drive into 3 partitions and reciting dark incantations by the light of the full moon whilst drinking the blood of a calf slain with a silver blade.

Well OK, not that last bit. I’m not sure where that comes from (oh right, that was the part about installing Windows on the Mac). But suffice to say, while it certainly could be done, setting up triple-boot was not for the faint of heart, and once it was working, the question of whether it was all worth it loomed large. And no, I cannot think in non-clichés tonight.

When I got my new MacBook a couple months ago, I decided my days of triple boot were over. I was just going to go by the book (see what I mean?) and use Boot Camp. Well, sort of by the book. Never one to take the easy road, I wasn’t just using Boot Camp, but also running Parallels Desktop. And while you certainly can run a valid Boot Camp installation of Windows XP with an OEM license (the cheapest way to go, courtesy of Newegg.com) both directly via Boot Camp and also with Parallels, Microsoft doesn’t make it easy for you. It involves calling an automated Microsoft support line, and reciting dark incantations by the light of the full moon — I mean reciting a 48-digit number displayed on your screen, answering four simple questions asserting that you have only installed Windows on one computer and you would never, ever, ever, ever lie to Microsoft or Steve Ballmer will bite the head off a live goat and put it in your bed while you sleep, and then typing in a new 48-digit number the automated system recites back to you, while it slays a calf with a silver blade, yadda yadda.

Now where was I?

Oh yeah, Ubuntu. A new version of Ubuntu Linux is released every six months, the latest version, 9.04 (so named for being released in April 2009, get it?), having arrived on the world’s virtual doorstep earlier this week. Ubuntu releases all have clever, alliterative codenames too. This one is Jaunty Jackalope. I’ve been following Ubuntu (via the triple-boot ritual) since Gutsy Gibbon (7.10), through last year’s releases of Hardy Heron (8.04) and Intrepid Ibex (8.10), the latter of which powers this website, thanks to Slicehost.

I’ve been more and more impressed with each release of Ubuntu, as the Ubuntu development team has polished the user experience — especially the once-nightmarish installation process — and as the GNOME team has simultaneously polished the desktop software most Ubuntu users live in day-to-day. While I’m still a die-hard Mac lover, I’ll admit Microsoft has been making major improvements with its GUI design (despite other notorious issues) with Vista, and Ubuntu/GNOME has been getting better and better with each new release as well. But I really feel like 9.04, Jaunty Jackalope, has finally crossed the line where Ubuntu Linux now feels to me every bit as polished, professional, usable and pleasing as a commercial OS. The installation process is far easier, and faster, than a Windows installation, and the overall experience of the interface is clean, intuitive, and responsive.

So it occurs to me, even in this age of netbooks and Microsoft’s (and to a much lesser extent, Apple’s, at least where the Mac is concerned — iPhone is definitely their top focus these days) recent floundering, while Linux, Ubuntu in particular, is making inroads, it’s still just not going to be embraced wholeheartedly as a viable desktop alternative.

Why is that? Well, obviously Microsoft doesn’t want that to happen. Linux really much more of a threat to Microsoft than it is to Apple. Even though all three OSes can run on Macs, people as a rule just aren’t buying Macs to not run Mac OS X. I’m sure it happens but… really… why? So the major hit to commercial OS developers comes when a user buys a non-Apple computer and decides to install and use Linux (Ubuntu or otherwise) as their primary/sole OS instead of Windows. So even as Linux, and the world of free, high-quality software that comes with it, reaches maturity, and Microsoft gives us an OS that is best known as the butt of jokes (not to mention viruses and malware of all sorts), why aren’t more people switching?

Ultimately there must be some software that users are relying on for Windows that they just can’t get for Linux. It’s the same argument often leveled against Macs: “not enough software.” It’s a straw man argument. Sure there is vastly more software written for Windows than for the other OSes, but 99.9% of that Windows-only software is: a) highly specialized tools for specific industries, b) utter crap, or usually c) both. Especially when we’re talking about consumer software, whatever it is you want to do can be done just as easily on Windows, Mac or Linux. The software exists. Often between Macs and Windows it’s the same software, ported from one OS to the other or developed concurrently. With Linux it’s usually open source alternatives that are every bit as feature-rich as their commercial counterparts.

Linux has decent free options for managing photos, listening to MP3s, editing video, and all of the office tasks covered by iLife and iWork on the Mac, or by Microsoft Office and the parade of unimaginatively named Microsoft tools or OEM add-on crapware that generally comes preinstalled on Windows PCs.

Except one.

No disrespect to the developers of GIMP, but the one software program Linux absolutely needs in order to be taken seriously as a desktop OS is Photoshop. That’s it. Once Adobe stops wasting its time writing terrible custom installers and decides instead to devote those resources to porting Creative Suite to Linux, it will be all over. Windows will never go away, I’m sure, but it will be reduced to a niche OS: it will live on mainly to support legacy point-of-sale systems and industrial fabrication applications and the other arcane and ugly commercial applications that companies generally deployed in huge numbers back in the Windows NT 3.51 era and have left untouched for more than a decade.

Adobe, it’s all up to you. You owe the world a karmic debt after Bridge.

Speechless? Obviously not.

I’ve been on a big Ubuntu kick lately. Ubuntu is the Linux distribution (derived from Debian) that is finally within sight of the elusive goal of producing a “desktop Linux for the masses” as they say. The latest version just came out last week. I’m so impressed with it that it’s distracted me significantly from the upcoming release of the next version Mac OS X. (OK, I do still remember that it’s coming up this Friday, and yes I probably will be queuing up outside the Apple Store this Friday.)

Anyway, I’ve also spent a lot of time reading everything I can pertaining to the new Ubuntu release, including, with great relish, articles wherein longtime Windows users profess their star-crossed love for this newest Linux release. Often the comments are as interesting (or more) than the article itself. Such was the case with this article from the UK branch of ZDNet. A comment there was so funny that I feel I must simply share it here in its entirety:

Microsoft’s now promoting Vista with a campaign called “100 reasons why everyone’s so speechless”.

I looked. #23 is “Because it’s like a digital candy store.”

Puh-leeze. Bring up the Adept Manager in Ubuntu. Now _that’s_ a digital candy store. Over 20000 applications for doing almost anything you can imagine, and quite a few things you can’t. Running Vista is like being in a candy store that only sells black liquorice (I _hate_ black liquorice) at exorbitant prices. Oh, and you’re only allowed to eat the candy in the store. Plus each individual piece is really small and is wrapped in seven layers of cellophane, and the store won’t let you throw the wrappers away. You have to take them with you and throw them away at home. Plus they set off a grenade in the chocolate store across the street in the middle of the night and mugged the proprietors of the penny candy stand. Oh, and Microsoft are the ones behind the urban legend that red M&Ms cause cancer. That’s the kind of candy store Vista is.

The Microsoft page in question, 100 Reasons You’ll Be Speechless, is pretty ridiculous. I have yet to encounter in my day-to-day life a single person who has even acknowledged using Vista, much less anyone who’s actually impressed with it. But as I perused the first dozen or so “reasons,” I could find nothing that isn’t already more-or-less present in Mac OS X, Ubuntu, or some readily available specialty device (like AppleTV) that interfaces easily with one or both of those OSes. And I won’t even get started on the usual litany of complaints about Windows. But the “100 Reasons” probably still makes for an entertaining read… if you’re really desperate for entertainment. (Then again, you probably have plenty of other, superior sources of entertainment at your disposal at this very moment, so why not choose them instead?)