Download the latest version of Ubuntu from their official site and burn the downloaded ISO file to a blank CD. Any good CD burning software should be able to handle writing ISO files to a disc.
When the CD finishes remove it and put it back into the drive so it auto plays and followed the instructions to boot into the Live CD. Live CD allows you to temporarily run Ubuntu and most of its features without doing anything to your installation of Windows. This is a good chance to see if you really like what Ubuntu has to offer before really committing.
After playing around in Ubuntu's environment for a bit you'll notice an examples folder on the desktop that has various types of files that can be opened using Ubuntu's default programs installed. For example, Ubuntu will use Open Office (a free alternative to Microsoft Office) to open DOC files.
Connecting to the Internet in Ubuntu
There was no obvious signs of how to connect to the Internet. After looking around the help pages built into the operating system you'll notice that connecting to the Internet is pretty simple, unless you have a USB ADSL modem. Being on an Orange broadband basic package means a USB ADSL modem has to be used without you own a router separately.
Being on the basic package means connecting to the Internet using a USB modem, not an Ethernet Live box that Orange provides on the upgraded package. So rebooting the computer and finding a web page came up with the instructions to extract some firmware, write a boot script etc. just to get the modem to connect.
After completing the modem installation in the Ubuntu's Live CD environment you'll be prompted to restart Ubuntu to get started. Restarting Ubuntu whilst using Live CD will just restart into Windows, so that's no good!
There had to be another answer. At this point I got fed up and went back to Windows. A few months later I plucked up the courage to try Ubuntu again but the Internet connection issue was still stick in my mind. So I searched around on Google more and searched the Ubuntu Forums. This is when I came across some luck. I found a thread in a forum thread where a guy made a USB ADSL modem manager program!
Was this going to end the problem? I thought. So after checking out the USB Modem Manager site and then following the link to the latest version, I downloaded the Debian file for it, .DEB. First thought was, being used to Windows, what the hell do I do with a Debian file? Is it a Ubuntu version of a Windows zip file or what?
I double clicked the Debian file downloaded to my desktop and voilà, it started to install the modem manager, great, must be just Ubuntu's version of a windows .EXE file. The program prompted me to unplug and plug my modem back in and it still did not work. So after a couple of times of re-extracting the firmware, disconnecting and reconnecting using the options in the manager, the progress bar for the Internet connection located in the top right went fully green, it must've worked.
I opened Firefox, typed in a URL and hey presto, the Internet worked. Fortunately, this USB modem manager does not require a restart so it's possible to run and test the Internet while using the Live CD, which I highly recommend doing.
Taking the Plunge with Ubuntu
With this caveat fixed, I took the plunge, backed up all my files onto an external hard drive and fully installed Ubuntu over Windows.
After trying it for just over 24 hours I became convinced that this was an operating system that I would have been using for the long term. I can copy large amounts of files from one hard drive to the other without my PC noticeably slowing or making music stutter, file transfers are seamless while doing other tasks.
I tried opening a video file and Ubuntu complained that it could not play that type of file, but it promptly came up with a message telling me I could download the required files to get it to work, so a click of the OK button and it was fixed. I tried playing an MP3 and the same happened, just a click of a message and Ubuntu located and installed the required files to play my music. These files need to be downloaded separately due to proprietary issues.
A few things take a while to get used to, such as the folder views it has and the prompts that come up occasionally requesting your password to be entered. This may seem odd to have to enter a password just to change the date / time. With Windows latest operating system, Vista, prompting for requests on more admin type tasks, the odd one or two from Ubuntu are manageable.
Playing Video Games and other Windows Software in Ubuntu
I do not play games much and have not attempted to do so yet, but I'll try WINE sometime and see if that works. WINE is a program to let you play Windows only software in Ubuntu. Could come in handy for Photoshop since the equivalent, GIMP, just does not cut it for some things I want to do, such as batch image processing.
Ubuntu is a flavor of Linux that is becoming a popular, free alternative to Windows. To get started, go to the Ubuntu site.
Hopefully this guide will help the average computer user out there decide whether they really want to take the plunge with a different, but free operating system. In summary, if you're prepared to spend a few hours to get used to it and to get it working the way you want, go for it!