Learning Linux

Part 1 - Choosing and Installing a Linux Distribution

What is a Linux Distribution?

As an operating system, Linux is a flavor of the UNIX family of operating systems. Linux itself is a kernel, which is the core of the operating system. A Linux distribution consists of a collection of programs and files. Every Linux distribution has, as a minimum

An optional Graphical User Interface can provide a graphical interface to the operating system.

These items are the foundations to a Linux distribution. Since there are an inifinite combination of these basic items plus other tools, and they are all open source, this means that anyone can create their own special distribution. There are over 500 different public distributions - you can see a list of them at Linux Weekly News.

Choosing a Linux Distribution

Most people are more comfortable using a graphical user interface instead of a command line, so we will concentrate on those kinds of Linux distributions. One of the major differences in Linux distributions is in the graphical user interface.

The graphical display in Linux is controlled by the desktop manager. Unlike Microsoft Windows, Linux gives you many more choices when it comes to the desktop manager, so that is what you should concentrate on when you choose a Linux distribution. Someof the more popular desktop managers include KDE, Gnome, XFCE, LXDE, Fluxbox and Unity. Take some time to familiarize yourself with these so you can pick the one you will be happy with.

Here are some screen shots of some of the desktop managers from the Gentoo 12 Live DVD:

Figure 1. KDE Desktop

Figure 2. Gnome 3 Desktop

Figure 3. FluxBox Desktop

Figure 4. Enlightenment 16 Desktop

Figure 5. Openbox Desktop

Figure 6. LXDE Desktop

Figure 7. XFCE Desktop

Most distributions choose a single desktop as their default, then modify it to be pleasing to its users. The items that most often differ from distribution to distribution are

Installing your Distribution

Linux distributions also come in two distinct flavors:

Most Linux distributions have a program or script that allows the user to permanently install the distribution on storage, such as a hard disk or solid state drive. The installation programs vary greatly in how they work, but they all ask some basic questions of the user:

We will now use Linux Mint 12 to demonstrate a typical installation. We will install Linux to the entire hard drive. Since Linux Mint 12 is a Live CD, when we put it in the DVD drive and boot, it will start itself up in the computer's memory. We can then start the install program by clicking on the icon on the Linux Mint desktop. This will start up an install wizard.

The first thing the install program asks is your native language. This is the language that will be used by the Linux installation. Linux supports many different languages - you don't have to buy a language pack to get the language you want.

Figure 8. Language Request

Next the install program will ask how you want to install Linux. The selections here depend on what is on your hard disk already. It can ask to use the whole disk, install next to another operating system, update an already installed operating system, or something else.

Figure 9. Selecting an Installation Setup

If you select something else, you are taken to the mass storage partitioning screen, where you can resize, delete and add partitions to your hard disk. Remember that if you install alongside a Window installation, you must first clean up the Windows partition before you resize it to make room for Linux. Also remember that there can only be four primary partitions.

The partition screen is fairly easy to use. Pick the partition you want to work on, then pick the action you want to do.

Figure 10. Partitioning the Hard Disk

At this point, unlike many Linux install programs, the one for Linux Mint will start installing Linux and will then continue asking you questions about the installation. Most installers ask all the questions before starting the actual installation. From this point on, the installer will indicate what it is doing at the bottom of each of the install screens.

The installer now asks about what timezone you live in. It will optionally ask you whether your computer is already using local time or UTC. Most computers use local time. Since not all cities are supplied on the map, choose a major city that is also in your time zone. In the example, we are installing in the Pacific time zone, so we chose Los Angeles, even though we live in the Idaho Panhandle.

Figure 11. Selecting Time Zone

Next up is choosing the kind of keyboard you are using. The installer's guess on this is usually the correct one. In other words, if you have a generic U.S. keyboard, you don't have to go searching for the proper keyboard type; the default will work just fine.

Figure 12. Choosing a Keyboard

The installer now requests information about the main user who will be using the computer. Once Linux is installed, you can easily add other users, but this one is the main user. For Linux Mint, you are not asked for a root user password - the main user password is used for root user tasks.

The installer also requests a name for your computer. It makes one up if you don't provide one. This is the name that the outside world will see for the computer, so if you are concerned about such things, you should change this to a descriptiive name. Keep in mind that you can use letters, numbers and dashes in the name, but nothing else.

Figure 13. Creating a User Account

After a while (a much shorter time than if you were installing Windows), the installation will be finished. You will then be asked to restart your computer. If you do this, the CD/DVD you are using will eventually be automatically ejected so you can actually boot to the operating system you just installed on your mass storage device.

Figure 14. Restart the Computer

<< Part 0: Where to Install Linux | >> Part 2: Using the Linux GUI