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[ubuntu] Installing to a laptop from scratch

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http://ubuntuforums.org – I have an x86_64 laptop running Windows 7 whose disk got corrupted beyond repair. I'd like to buy a new hard drive for the laptop and install a flavor of Unix to practice on. I used FreeBSD some years ago, but it's been a while. I asked a system admin friend for recommendations of free versions of Unix, and he suggested I check out Ubuntu and CentOS. He thought Ubuntu might be a little more user-friendly. I guess I'll need to download to a DVD, then use that to partition and format the drive and install the OS. Is this a fairly straightforward process with Ubuntu? (Hardware)