Your career in Linux starts way before the first installation. Usually it starts with curiosity. Your or your friend’s curiosity. Some people have Linux on their computers for years and did not install it themselves. Well, most people using Windows did not install it themselves, either.
So before we go ahead and install an operating system (see the Wikipedia-entry on Operating Systems), we need to know some things about our computer. We assume that you have heard about partitions (If not, you can read up on the basics at Dee-Ann LeBlanc’s Linux Partitions: A Primer ), know how to change settings in the BIOS to boot from CD (See: Booting From CD), and we assume that you know how to use the mouse and the keyboard.
Get to know your hardware and find out if it is compatible with Linux before you begin to install. See Hardware and Compatibility
As you might know, Linux is only the main part of the system you are going to install (What is a Kernel, What is GNU not). There are many other applications that are needed in order to actually do something useful with a computer. All those applications are bundled together into packages and put on CDs by so-called Distributions. These distributions, or “Distros”, also provide a program that leads through the installation process, as well as programs that help configuring the system after the installation. Modern distributions include just about all the software you will ever need in Linux, provided that this software exists. They usually come on CD or DVD and usually also provide a means of installing software straight from the internet. Please read the installation guide for your chosen distribution prior to beginning your install. It can save you a lot of trouble. See Installation Guides for information on where you can find these documents. You might also want to have a look at the slideshow showing the installation for your chosen distro at http://shots.osdir.com/. This will give you a good idea of what to expect. A picture is worth a thousand words.
If you have worked with Windows or DOS, you are used to having partitions named after Drive-Letters. Forget about that. In Linux, partitions are named after the technology they use (SCSI or EIDE) a letter for the actual drive on that bus and a number for the partition on that drive. ”/dev/” is always prefixed, since all devices in Linux are found in that directory. (Does not make sense? Read on, it will )
”/dev/hda1” is the first partition on the primary master on the EIDE-bus. ”/dev/sdb3” is the third partition on the second device on the SCSI-bus.
Depending how your PC-vendor has pre-configured your box, your actual setup may vary. While windows might be installed in one partition (C:, or better /dev/hda1), you might also have three partitions:”/dev/hda1” is your “C:”, ”/dev/hda5” is “D:” and ”/dev/hda6” is “E:”. Numbers 2, 3, and 4 are omited due to limitations in DOS/Windows. Again, for details on partitions under Linux, visit Dee-Ann LeBlanc’s Linux Partitions: A Primer.
Installing a new operating system on a computer needs at least one partition. That means that there has to be some space available on the harddrive. New computers have all space assigned to DOS/Windows, and so it is not available for installing Linux (even if there is plenty of free space inside those premade partitions.
So you will need to resize those existing partitions or delete them. You can use commercial tools like “PartitionMagic” or tools that come with some distributions. Or you can simply delete existing partitions. All these methods have in common that you could or in some cases will lose data. So back-up anything valuable on your PC. You have been warned.
Partitioning can be done easily from within the installer, so this is not really “Before you install”, but you need to know where you are going before you pop in that installation CD. See Preparing Drive for more information.
We have put together some links to Linux-Distributors. If you want to buy or download a linux-distribution, you can visit these sites. If you are downloading the ISO-images of the installation-media, be sure that the file did not get corrupted during the transmission. Usually you can use the MD5-checksum to verify the file’s integrity. There is information on how to do this in at LinuxISO.org under Verifying ISO Images.