How to Install the Linux Operating System?
Yet, installing Linux can be almost preternaturally simple, especially when compared to wrestling with a Windows upgrade on an old system. If you're new to Linux, any desktop-oriented commercial distribution should work, but we prefer SUSE LINUX from Novell (www.novell.com). No matter which distribution, or distro, you choose (see the "Choosing A Linux Distribution" sidebar for more), you'll follow roughly the same steps outlined in this article to install it.
Choose A PC For LinuxBefore you install Linux, you must choose a PC to install the distribution on. Depending on your inventory of PCs and your financial situation, you have several options, including:
Buy a new PC with Linux preinstalled. Though major vendors such as HP (www.hp.com), IBM (www.ibm.com), and Dell (www.dell.com) are increasingly supporting Linux, you'll have better luck working with smaller online and local Linux-oriented dealers who custom-build PCs.
Recycle an older PC. If Windows 98 can run on that old machine, chances are a modern, graphical Linux distro will, too.
Figure 1. SUSE's installer software detects existing operating systems and offers you the option of booting one of those or installing Linux.
If you're planning to install Linux, keep these things in mind:
You can get information about whether your current hardware and peripherals will work with a particular distro at Linux Compatible (www.linuxcompatible.org).
Many inexpensive modems and printers (also known as winmodems and winprinters) will only work with Windows. LinuxPrinting.org (www.linuxprinting.org) has a database of Linux-compatible printers and articles about printing. Linmodems.org (www.linmodems.org) offers information about using winmodems under Linux.
Consider installing your distribution on a spare hard drive, which lets you avoid overwriting any data.
Prepare The SystemBefore you install a Linux distribution, there are numerous things you'll want to do first, including the following:
Figure 2. On some systems the installer will display installation options as a text-oriented application.
- Turn on your PC, and insert the distribution's first installation CD or DVD, depending on the distribution, into the CD/DVD-ROM drive. You'll see a boot menu, as shown in Figure 1, with various options, depending on what's already installed on your system. Choose the option to install Linux on the system.
- When the installation CD boots, you have about 10 to 20 seconds to select the Installation option before the default option, Boot From Hard Disk, is automatically selected. This prevents "accidental" installations, especially in the event the installation CD is left in the PC after an installation has already been done.
- The opening installation screen lets you choose a language for the installation, after which the installer probes your system for information about what hardware is installed and what hard drive partitions exist. SUSE 9.1 displays defaults it calculates for your system and lets you choose to accept those defaults (click OK) or modify those selections to customize your installation, as shown in Figure 2.
- System. This will display system data about the CPU, drives, network, video and sound cards, and other peripherals. You can view or write the data to a file.
- Installation mode. When an OS is already installed on a system, this option will let you do a new installation over an existing Linux OS, update or repair an existing Linux installation, or boot the PC from the existing OS.
- Keyboard layout. If you want to fine-tune the keyboard defaults, choose this option and use the Expert Settings option at the bottom of the keyboard setup screen. This lets you disable the CAPS LOCK key, turn the CAPS LOCK/NUM LOCK keys on or off at boot-up, and more.
- Mouse. The installer will probably detect and configure your mouse properly, but you may want to choose your mouse with this option and test it to make sure.
- Partitioning. This option lets you determine how your hard drive space is allocated and used (more on this option later).
- Software. The option lets you determine which software you want to install (more on this later).
- Booting. This lets you determine how your system will boot, with such options available as booting to Windows or another OS when the system starts up.
- Time zone. This option lets you select the appropriate time zone for your situation. The default is Pacific Time.
- Language. The default language for this distribution is English, American, but you can change it to a language that's appropriate for your situation.
- Default runlevel. Runlevel specifies how Linux will operate. Options include running the system as a single- or multiuser machine, as a networked machine, and using a GUI (graphical user interface) Windows manager or not. The default is 5, which sets the system to run as a networked multiuser system with a graphical login.
Figure 3. This image shows a typical sample partition table.
PartitioningPartitioning a hard drive is like dividing up a large drawer with dividers; instead of having one big space, you have two or more smaller spaces within that same area. Figure 3 shows an example of what a partition table looks like. Linux requires at least two partitions. A swap partition, which is double the amount in size of the system's RAM, is used for overflow (such as when programs that are running under Linux require more space for data storage than is available from RAM), and aroot partition, which is used to store system files.
The SUSE installer will detect the amount of available drive space and make a Best Guess partition table. This creates a swap partition and allocates any unallocated drive space into a single Linux partition. Existing partitions, such as those used for Windows, are left alone as long as there is enough for Linux.
If your entire hard drive is already partitioned for Windows, don't worry; the installer can automatically resize existing partitions to make room for Linux, as shown in Figure 4. The default partition scheme is usually just fine, but we prefer to keep our partitions between 10 and 20GB and save the rest of the hard drive for future expansion.
To modify the default partition scheme, click the Partition link. You'll see a list of proposed partitions with three choices: accept the partition table as is, modify the proposed partition table, or create a custom partition table from scratch. Proceed carefully and follow the directions listed to the left of the partitioning window. This is where it pays to back up your data beforehand and/or have a spare hard drive because partitioning has the potential to permanently erase data from your drive.
Figure 4. You can resize an existing partition simply by using a slider.
You can also select software by a group. For example, you could choose Multimedia, GNOME, or Office applications to get all the software packages in those categories rather than the subset of packages installed by default. In addition, you could choose packages from the Package Groups option for a more fine-grained selection process. Click Productivity and you'll see a list of hundreds of packages. Clicking Office will give you a short list of office applications. Clicking Spreadsheets gives you a short list of spreadsheets, as shown in Figure 5. You can also search for a package by name.
With your first installation, you may not care about choosing packages. It's probable you won't recognize or know what most of them do. Eventually, however, you will want to review the packages or search for ones you've heard about. Most open-source software is easy to download and install.
After you've selected the packages you want, the SUSE installer will report any conflicts between the packages you've selected and any that require packages that you haven't selected. It also gives you a one-click solution to continue.
Figure 5. Linux distributions will give you the option of choosing software packages by category.
After the software is copied, the installer will proceed to the system-configuration steps, which include the following:
- Enter a root password. You'll enter a root password here twice. Don't forget what it is, either. Write it down if necessary. If you forget your root password you may have to reinstall your system from scratch to make any changes to it. You can change the password later, but only if you remember it.
- Configure the network. The installer will most likely figure out what your network configuration is. You can edit this, however. For example, you may choose another option than the default of a DHCP configuration.
- Test the Internet connection. At this point check the option to test your Internet connection. The installer will then initialize your Internet connection, connect to the SUSE server, and check if there are any updates or patches available for the SUSE version you've just installed. If there are, you can choose to download and install them now (your best bet) or later.
- Determine a user authentication method. Is your system a standalone PC or is it connected to a network? If it's a standalone, check Stand-Alone Machine. If you're installing Linux on a network client PC, you may want to touch base with your network administrator. This is relevant only if you're using network authentication for your PC on a LAN (local-area network).
- Read the release notes. Skim the release notes for the particular distribution you're using if you like, but otherwise you're almost finished.
- Configure the hardware. If you like, you can modify configurations for a graphics or sound card, monitor, printer, and more. You can also simply accept the defaults, which should work fine.
- The installation is now complete. Go ahead and reboot the system, but don't forget to remove the last install CD.
You'll find the GUI of your new system familiar, though you may be surprised by the number and variety of available programs. Set aside some time to explore the Start menu items, as well as to experiment with configuring your desktop and application launch panel. Before you know it, you'll wonder how you managed with Windows.