My laptop currently does not have an OS, I used to run Ubuntu 10.10 back in the day, then converted to Windows 7, but recently had to wipe my hard drive and want to try out Ubuntu 13.10. I have tried downloading the zip from the Ubuntu website, then extracting it to my external hard drive, but my laptop will not run Ubuntu from that. how can I convert it into a format that a computer with no operating system will read it? Some sort of disk file type, perhaps? Help!
Simply copying the files to a drive will not work! You need to use an ISO image writing application (Windows 7 has one built in). You'll then have to enter your BIOS and make sure your external HDD is selected as a boot option.
EDIT: This will only work if you're burning to a CD/DVD. If you want to burn to a flash drive, take a look at http://www.pendrivelinux.com/. You'll probably have to do this first, then install onto your external HDD during installation. You can do this when it asks you about partitioning (select "something else" I think).