In April, Canonical had a major, Long Term Service (LTS) release of its Ubuntu Linux distribution, both for the desktop and the server, code-named Hardy Heron. There was quite a bit of hype on the Net about the new features and how good it was. I had also previously blogged about how I believed servers to be the entry point for Linux into the small and solo law firm, as it provides the ability to have a powerful, stable server for not a lot of money (especially since you can always retask as the server an older desktop machine in your office). It also allows the more ambitious to host their own web, mail, blog and FTP server on the Internet. The issue then becomes one of service and support for that server from a qualified Linux tech. You have to pay someone to install, configure, and maintain that inexpensive server. I then asked myself whether the average, nontechnically handy lawyer could install and configure a Linux server. Since I had an older machine from when I upgraded my office desktop, I decided to give it a try.

First, I downloaded the image file from the Ubuntu web site and burned it to a CD (the non-tech lawyer may want to send for the CD). Then I booted the target PC from the Ubuntu disk and got a text menu from which I selected “Install Ubuntu Server.” What followed was a series of simple selections, like language, country, time zone, and keyboard layout. Next it autoconfigured the network settings. I was then prompted to select a partitioning method. This was the most confusing part of the process for a newbie to tech, and involved acronyms like LVM (which I had to look up in a Linux book to find out that meant logical volumes). The most straightforward method is “use entire disk”, which will format a drive of your choice before installing system files to it.

Next, I was asked to enter a full name and a short name for a non-administrator account, along with a password. I was then asked for an HTTP proxy (another term not familiar to the newbie), but I left it blank. The installer then asks you to select optional software to install (DNS, LAMP, Mail, OpenSSH, SQL database, print server, and file server). I selected all of them, but unless you expect to put your server on the Internet, you will probably only need DNS, Mail (if you want the server to handle your office e-mail), OpenSSH, Print Server and Samba File Server. After making selections, I continued the installation by pressing enter. I was asked for a mysql root user password. This password can be left blank. Lastly, you can choose to configure your mail server, but I left that blank and rebooted to complete installation.

After installation was complete, and I logged in (using a text-based login procedure), I ended up at a command prompt without a GUI interface. This is not good, as in these Windows/Mac days, the average user cannot really use a command line interface effectively anymore. However, I did find a blog post on how to install a GUI desktop on an Ubuntu LAMP server. Although it was originally written for the previous Ubuntu release, Gutsy Gibbon, it has been updated for Hardy Heron. He also provides a link from that post to one showing how to set up a web server, for those of you who want to do something more advanced than just serve up files and printers in your office.

I will try that out and write about it in a subsequent post, but I must also note a caution given in some of the Linux forums that GUIs can create server security issues, especially for those servers connected to the Internet. In light of all of the above, although the installation process was fairly straightforward, I cannot recommend that the average lawyer install and configure his/her own Linux server, as the command prompt interface is really beyond someone without some Linux expertise. Adding a GUI may well change that (and I will let you know), but it may well come at a price of security.