What to Know Before Installing Linux

Before you start

Objectives: familiarize yourself with typical installation process of any Linux distribution.

Prerequisites: no prerequisites.

Key terms: installation, linux, use, distribution, boot, network, process, cd, packages, server, based


Distribution

As you should already know, Linux actually comes in distributions. The first thing we need to do is choose the Linux distribution which we will install. To get the distribution the best thing to do is to go to the official site of that distribution and download it. Besides official sites, there are some independent ones which we can use to get distributions as well. One ot the most popular one is distrowatch.com. This site keeps track of bunch of different Linux distributions, so we can easily compare them. The most common way to get a distribution is to download it from the Internet, but we will often be able to get it on the CD or DVD.

Installation Methods

When we start the installation we will typically be able to choose how to perform the installation. We can use the GUI to do it, and in this way we use our mouse and keyboard to make the choices from the graphical screens, just like in Windows installation process. We can also do a text based install, in which we type in our choices like commands in command line. Also, we can do a scripted install in which we use a file with stored answers. Those answers are read by the install program during the installation. This is typically used for automated installations on multiple computers.

Installation Process

There are many ways in which we can install Linux. We can do a standard install from the CD or DVD, do network based install, and so on. Typically, the easiest method is the installation from the CD or DVD. This way we simply boot of the CD and follow the installation instructions. If we don’t have a bootable CD-ROM, we can use bootable floppies. Network based installation is great if we have to install Linux on multiple computers at the same time, or if we simply don’t have installation CDs. When doing installation from the network, we will actually boot into a limited version of Linux, while all other components will be loaded from the network during the installation process. Network location can be a NFS server, FTP server, HTTP server, Windows shared folder or SAMBA share. We can also use disk imaging to perform the installation. In this method, first we install Linux on one computer. Then we use imaging tools to copy the image to other computers, which typically must have identical hardware as the source computer.
In spite of different installation methods and types, there are some general steps that we will go trough while installing Linux. Some of the steps will always be performed, but some of them depend on the distribution that we install.
The first thing we have to do is to boot into Linux. This can be done by using boot floppy, boot CD or a network boot images. Once we boot, we will typically select the keyboard language, time zone, and things like that. The next thing we have to do is to partition and format the volumes. Remember that Linux has its own files system. From this step on things are different based on distribution that we actually install. Steps that will typically happen however are choosing the software packages that we will install. Also, we will typically configure networking devices, configure the GUI or XWindows, configure users and set the root password. The root is the super user account which is always created during the installation. After the installation we can use that account to log on to Linux by typing the root as the user name. However, it is recommended to create and use a user other than the root user for daily tasks. On some distributions we will also have to configure the boot loader during the installation. The last thing that always happens is the reboot, and after that we can use our Linux installation.

Software Packages

Software packages that we choose to install on our Linux distribution should depend on what are we going to use our Linux for. We can use it as a workstation or as a server. If we chose the workstation we will typically install packages that are intended for end users. This includes things like XWindows, Gnome, KDE, text processors, video and graphics tools, music and video players, etc. For server installation we should avoid packages intended for end users. For servers we will typically use things like Apache, Samba, DNS, DHCP, database, etc. In Linux world we will often see servers without a GUI interface. As we will see in our example, the whole installation process is not that complicated any more. Today we can compare it with the Windows installation process and in some cases it is even more simpler.

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