How to install Ubuntu safely with non-US keyboards

I use Fedora Workstation on my desktop computer for all my daily work, and Fedora Workstation is the only operating system that I ever recommend to others. But sometimes I like to try out other operating systems on my travel laptop just for a change of pace. In light of the recent announcement that Ubuntu is switching back to GNOME, I decided Ubuntu would be a good choice. If you’ll pardon the pun, this is the time for a show of unity between GNOME and Ubuntu, which is soon going to be our largest distributor by far, and that means we all ought to be more familiar with where Ubuntu users are coming from. And besides, this is a System76 laptop with an Ubuntu key on the keyboard, so it seems appropriate anyway.

I have just two constraints:

  • Must have full-disk encryption. Anything less is totally unacceptable.
  • Must have non-US keyboard layout for both installed system and encryption passphrase.

The problem is that Ubuntu’s installer asks for the disk encryption passphrase before allowing you to set the keyboard layout, and there seems to be no way to avoid this. If I type my passphrase before setting the keyboard layout, it obviously won’t work to unlock the installed system. The only workaround I could think of is to manually work out how to type my passphrase the first time on a US keyboard, but this is a huge pain. I have no trouble installing Ubuntu if I settle for home directory encryption, because the installer asks you to choose to encrypt your home directory after setting keyboard layout. But I don’t consider encrypting only the home directory to be acceptable. What a shame!

When I started writing this blog post, I thought all hope was lost and I’d just have to give up on Ubuntu, so I was writing this post to complain and hope against hope that somebody would fix it. But then I discovered that keyboard layout options are available from Unity’s top bar, in the top-right corner of the screen nestled between the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth menus. Just click on Text Entry Settings and you’ll be good to go. Pretty hidden, but it’s there. You’re welcome, Internet!

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