A few weeks into the school year I was hired to teach computer science at a small private school. The catch was that the school's computers were running an unsupported version of Windows without virus protection. To my disappointment, each week of class one or two more machines developed viruses, rendering them unusable. The school does not have a budget for new computers, thus beginning my exploration into ubermix.
Easy is a Relative Term
ubermix is a free operating system based on Ubuntu, the most popular distribution of the open-source Linux OS. It was created with K-12 education in mind and, as someone lacking experience installing operating systems, I was happy to read that the developers specifically intended to reduce the complexity of installing an OS when they created it. Now that I have ubermix running on several machines that just a week ago were beginning to collect dust, I can confirm that, yes, installing ubermix can be a quick and straightforward process.
However, I experienced a few bumps along this quick and easy road.
Installing ubermix involves downloading their file, finding out the name your computer assigns to your USB stick or key, then running one command to copy and install ubermix on your USB. Then you use the USB stick to boot and install ubermix on one or more computers.
The first question I faced when I got to the ubermix download and install page was, "Which version should I choose?" Like a true novice, I decided to go with the first option in the chart, ubermix-key2.11.img. Once it downloaded, my instinct was to drag and drop the operating system onto my flash drive and begin installing it on the damaged computers.
However, after redirecting to the installation instructions page, I saw that it may not be so simple. Creating a USB key is a different and, for the uninitiated, more cryptic process than the typical download and install. For Mac users such as myself, it requires going to the Terminal software window and typing in a few commands.
For example, here is the command typed in a Terminal window to install ubermix on a flash drive using a Mac:
sudo dd if=ubermix-key2.11.img of=/dev/diskX
This command is less frightening than it might appear. Here is what each part of the command does:
sudotells your computer to run the command as an administrator. When you press enter to submit the command, you might need to enter the administrator password before the command runs.
ddis a command to use a device driver (= dd, get it?) to convert and copy a file.
ddcommand to use the file name to the right of the equal sign.
ubermix-key2.11.imgis the file name of the ubermix file you downloaded to your computer. You might use the Terminal window to navigate to the folder where this file is located.
ddcommand to write output from the command to the specific file location to the right of the equal sign.
/dev/diskXis the volume and device name your computer assigns to your USB stick or key. Computers might use different volume and device names.
In plain English, this command says to your computer, “run this command as an administrator then use a bit of software (the device driver) to convert and copy this file (ubermix) to this location (your USB key).”
I believe that even those who have never so much as opened a Terminal window have a good shot at successfully creating the USB key.
Common Problems You Might Encounter
I began on ubermix's installation page, and found the first few steps of the installation guide relatively straight forward. However, Step 8 threw me a doozy. This is where the instructions begin to look more technical than users such as myself might be comfortable with. Only seldomly do I navigate my way around using the Terminal window. However, I’ve explained above details about the
dd command you use to install ubermix on your USB key.
For others in the same boat, here are a few scenarios not included on the ubermix installation page that might help the process proceed more smoothly.
Where is my file?
When I first typed the command
sudo dd if=ubermix-key2.11.img of=/dev/diskX, I got the message “No such file or directory.” This is because I neglected to use the Terminal software to navigate into the Downloads directory where ubermix was downloaded. Getting to the correct directory can be done by simply typing
cd Downloads (
cd is the command line version of clicking on a directory in the Finder window).
cd, it is a good idea to type the
ls command just to be sure ubermix is actually in the Downloads directory (
ls is short for list). If the ubermix file is not listed, type
cd ../ to go up one level and get back to the home directory and then
cd again followed by the directory name where ubermix was downloaded.
sudo command prompts the user for a password. At this point I felt as though I was working inside a mysterious black box, so when prompted for a password I initially froze. Was the flashdrive that my school provided to me password protected? Or was the computer asking me for the password to my own machine? Fortunately it was the latter, the administrator password set when I first bought the computer.
After entering the password to my computer the process was almost over. However, I didn't receive any message from the command line saying "done", "complete", or even an indication that anything was happening at all. However, the blinking light on my flashdrive reassured me, and when it stopped flashing I ejected it, eager to try out the installation process the following day at school.
The final stumbling block came during installation. Unfortunately, choosing the first version of ubermix from the download page at the beginning of the process proved to be a poor decision. The machines at our school are quite old Dell PCs, so I should have gone with ubermix Lite. As such, I had to go through the steps to create the USB key a second time, this time for ubermix Lite.
This whole process took under two hours, and I can now install ubermix on any machine at our school in less than five minutes. Our computer lab now has six, fully functional, computers that last week were unable to connect to the internet or perform most other meaningful tasks, and I am prepared for the day our next unsupported Windows machine ends up with a virus.
In spite of my reservations and errors along the way, I give ubermix two thumbs up and encourage anyone with older machines, low-end laptops, netbooks, and perhaps even Chromebooks, to give this operating system a try.