The UbuntuExpress installer appears as a window on the live CD desktop. It asks for your language, keyboard layout, name, login name, password, location and timezone, and partitioning details. The interface is written in Python, invoking backend routines to act on your choices.


The current installer is ugly and confusing, especially in the partitioning stage. We want people to be amazed at how easy and pleasant the Ubuntu installation experience is. We also want them to be able to get work done while Ubuntu is installing.


Since we'll be doing a Qt-based interface as well for KubuntuExpress, the user interface must be cleanly separated from the functional installer backend. The Guadalinex installer already does this quite well, but both the front end and the back end need significant work to meet our requirements.


Invocation and overall design

The Live CD desktop contains an "Install Ubuntu Permanently" icon, consisting of an arrow overlaid on the Ubuntu logo. If there are any other icons on the desktop, the installer icon is the last one.


The installation window is not full screen, but just big enough to show the largest page (the partitioning tool). The window has the title "Install Ubuntu", and is not resizable.

At the bottom right of the window is a pair of equal-sized buttons, "◀ Back" (text left-aligned, activated by Alt+Left) and "Next ▶" (text right-aligned, activated by Enter or Alt+Right). At the first step, "◀ Back" is replaced by "Cancel" (text centered, with no icon, activated by Escape); at the last step, "Next ▶" is replaced by "Install" (text centered, with no icon, activated by Enter). These wording changes do not cause the buttons to jump about; they are wide enough for either wording at all times.


Ensuring that the Live CD boot process and Ubuntu Express is accessible will enable users with disabilities to independently install and configure Ubuntu. Most of the work is actually done in gfxboot to provide an accessible Live CD session surrounding Ubuntu Express itself. For details see: UbuntuExpress/Accessibility.


The first page of the installer lets you choose your preferred language, for the installation itself and for your Ubuntu account. On architectures where language selection is available in the boot loader, this defaults to that language; otherwise, it defaults to US English. This page also displays a welcome message and explanatory blurb in the selected language; the message is updated live as the selection changes. (This eliminates the appearance of wasting time if you did choose the appropriate language in the bootloader.)


Keyboard layout

The next step is asking for the keyboard layout; the selected layout applies both to the rest of the installer (so that answers to later questions can be typed successfully), and to the login screen of the system itself once it is installed. The default choice is the most likely keymap for the selected language.

If there is time: When the list appears, it is scrolled so that the default choice is as close as possible to the middle of the listbox.



Personal information


Until it is changed manually, the login name field is constantly updated to be equal to the first word in the person's name, converted to lower case and cropped if necessary to the maximum number of characters allowed. When the person first changes the field manually, it stops dynamically updating.

If "Next ▶" is activated while one or more of the fields have impossible values, no alert appears. Instead, errors are indicated next to the relevant fields with a mini red error icon ⊝ and a brief description of the error, and the first errant field should be focused (for mismatching passwords, this means the first password field). For example:

  • [ ] ⊝ You must enter a name.
    [ ] ⊝ You must enter a login name.
    [••••••• ][•••••• ] ⊝ Passwords must match.

If there is time: The name and login name fields actively prevent invalid values, by ignoring impossible characters, and by ignoring further entry in the login name field if if already contains 16 characters. The password field is more passive, reporting errors next to the field but not preventing them; otherwise people may not notice the prevention, and may think they have entered a password different from the one that was accepted.

If there is time: If a password is entered that is too short, is found in a dictionary, or is easily derived from the real name or login name, this is indicated using a mini warning icon and brief warning text ("Too short." or "Too obvious.") next to the password fields, as soon as focus leaves the first password field. These warnings do not prevent you from continuing, and they are subordinate to the "Passwords must match." error message.

Future work: "Who will be using this computer?" -- multiple names at once, to encourage use of individual accounts.


The "Time zone:" value should be text, not an option menu as shown in this mockup.

At a minimum, the map functions identically to that in the "Time zone" dialog of Gnome's "Time and Date" control panel.

If there is time: (for both the installer, and the "Time and Date" control panel itself)

  • The map does not zoom in. The zooming is disconcerting, it's not particularly useful, and it's hard to work out how to zoom out again.

  • Selecting a place in a particular timezone highlights the whole area of the world that shares that timezone.

  • The map behaves like a single-selection listbox: mousing down highlights the selected timezone (and update the values of the controls underneath), and dragging continues visibly changing the selection.

Making a selection from the map causes the "Nearest city:" and the "Time zone:" values to update. Making a selection from the "Nearest city:" combo box causes the map and the "Time zone:" value to update.


See UbuntuExpress/PartitioningTool.

Future work: Let people transfer (non-dot?) files from their home folder.

Ready to install


The final page summarizes the information entered in the previous steps, in a text box from which it can be copied for printing/e-mailing/etc. This box is hidden by default using an expander control.

Clicking "Install" closes the installer window, and opens a separate progress window.

Progress information

The progress window contains a single progress bar that fills up only once. Partitioning is allocated 10% of the size of the progress bar; this may be tweaked if it is either too much or too little for most systems.

During installation of language packs, and only during that stage, a "Skip" button is present next to that text. This lets people avoid installing the language packs, without requiring a question to be answered about them.


Future work: An animated demo of Ubuntu's benefits is shown during the installation process, à la Windows 95. The demo is in a section with an expander (expanded by default), so it can be collapsed for people who want to see just the progress.



Since the Guadalinex team has already implemented a significant amount of this, we will use their work as a base. However, discounting minor user interface tweaks, the current code base has the problem that it duplicates both code and translatable strings from the installer, which causes problems such as desynchronisation of functionality with the installer (e.g. username/password validation in current ubuntu-express produces different results from the installer's validation code) and the loss of many existing translations of strings from the installer.

I believe that both issues can be solved by borrowing infrastructure from oem-config, where I had to address similar problems and did so using a debconf protocol filter: debconf-using code (e.g. installer code) can be run unmodified inside a wrapper that runs custom user interface code rather than a standard debconf frontend, and translated strings can be extracted directly from the debconf database. -- ColinWatson

Aside from that, a quick glance over the Guadalinex code suggests that its user interface has reasonably good separation between frontend and backend: the frontend asks all questions up-front and then runs widget-set-independent backend code that feeds answers into the debconf database and performs the installation proper. (Integration with oem-config may suggest answers reaching the debconf database while the frontend is running, but that's OK.)


  • Move debconffilter from oem-config into debconf proper.


It has been decided not to include a page asking for the computer name in the installer, for several reasons.

  • UbuntuExpress is for installing a desktop, not a server. For a desktop, the hostname from DHCP/DNS if available -- and "Name of Person’s Computer" otherwise -- is a reasonable default, RFC 1178 notwithstanding.

  • Ubuntu no longer ships an MTA by default, making renaming the computer (the primary concern of RFC 1178) much less painful.
  • Gnome's "Network Preferences" allow the computer to be renamed, making renaming even less painful. If this does not change the hostname everywhere it should, that is a bug that should be fixed.
  • Choosing a custom name is the slowest part of the installer (since people spend time thinking about it), so cutting the page is a substantial win.

If the page had been necessary, it would have appeared like this.
The field would have been restricted to ASCII characters. The name would have been used as-is for Avahi configuration, with a normalized version used as the hostname. The hostname would have had quote marks and brackets stripped, and other punctuation and spaces converted to dashes, this conversion being presented live during the input.


  • Using a non-fullscreen window for installing an entire operating system may be handy, but it also seems unusually understated. It's possible that this will be more disconcerting than convenient for most people.
  • A demo of Ubuntu's benefits would make in the installer if it was full-screen, but while it's just another window, why not make the demo a separate program that people can run independently of the installer instead?
    • => Why not both. Have it play during install, and allow people to watch it from the livecd as well, to get a feel of the system. -> pop up a notify balloon about a "feature introduction/preview"?


  • Seconded on Matthew's point. A full-screen installer feels safer, but it's not a big deal. OS 9 installed without a full-screen installer and noone was scared by it.

For alternative mockups of the "Personal information" and "Computer name" sections, see UbuntuExpress/GnomeUserInterface/Alternatives.


  • Some people feel that you should have more screens and less information per screen. I think you can have a lot of information on one screen without cluttering too much. Here's an example while I was playing with XUL a few weeks ago: - one day when I get the hang of the d-i backend I will attempt to put together a mozilla based installer for Ubuntu.


  • The demo should also be translatable through rosetta. If we opt for images with some form of text layered on top, the xcf source of these should be available to translators, and a web interface for providing translated images should be implemented.


  • Ubuntu should provide a option to download support (packages) for Restricted Formats to remain competitive with other popular linux distributions (such as Open Suse - it contains the same option during installation process, Mandriva, etc...).



UbuntuExpress/GnomeUserInterface (last edited 2008-08-06 16:19:54 by localhost)