This is the first of a series of tutorials which are intended to help get you started with Linux. The tutorials are aimed at the complete beginner, and I'll try to provide plenty of links for more detailed information. Although Linux is available for many different system architectures, we will only be considering the normal Intel-compatible PC version here.What is Linux?
Linux is an operating system, an environment in which you run programs to do useful things, such as browsing, email and writing begging letters to your bank manager. In that respect it does the same job as Windows. But Linux isn't Windows, and it isn't a clone of Windows, although the user interface may look very similar. It's a totally different system which does many things in different ways, so don't expect to dive in and be fully at home with Linux until you've gone through a learning period.Linux is not Windows
Linux (in the broad sense) isn't the product of a single organisation. Different organisations and individuals develop different parts of it. Nearly everything is free in both senses of the word - free of cost, and free of usage restrictions. Anyone with the necessary skill could gather the various parts from internet sources and build their own Linux system from scratch. But for the rest of us there is a much simpler way, which is to download or buy a 'distribution' (or distro for short).
A distribution is a collection of all the necessary parts for a complete system, together with an installer and some configuration utilities, supplied on one or more CDs or a DVD. There are numerous distributions, both free and commercial, and many are for specialist purposes such as servers and firewalls. But here we will only be talking about mainstream user-friendly desktop systems, of which there are perhaps half a dozen good choices for the beginner. As well as the operating system itself, these distributions include a large selection of applications covering all the usual things that people want to do on their PCs, and they also maintain large online repositories of software in a format which is easily installable.Distrowatch (news and information about Linux distros)What hardware do I need?
A modern fully-featured Linux system will run without limitations on the sort of hardware which would be recommended for Windows XP. For more average (not power-user) use, hardware of the Windows 2000 standard would be fine. About 4 GB or more disk space is needed (you could manage with 2 GB, but that will limit your expansion possibilities). At least for your first foray into Linux, a desktop PC would be preferable to a laptop, because laptops use proprietary hardware for which the manufacturers only supply Windows drivers.
nVidia graphics are currently (end 2007) the best bet, as the company provides excellent full-featured Linux drivers. AMD is not so well supported. In either case Linux has its own drivers which can be used, but these don't provide all the features of the proprietary ones (particularly for gaming use). Most sound cards and onboard sound systems work without problems.Information about hardware compatibilityWhich distribution should I use?
Of course there's no single answer to this which will suit everyone, because tastes vary widely. So I'm going to list a few suggestions in no particular order, and you can follow the links to learn more about them. For the tutorials I will be using PCLinuxOS, which is arguably the most user-friendly of all. PCLinuxOS and Mepis are supplied as live CDs which intially run entirely from the CD without touching your hard drive, so you can try them out before you commit yourself.
Mandriva http://www.mandrivalinux.com/Where do I get it from?
The usual way is to download a CD image from the distribution website and write this to a CD. The downloaded files are typically 650 -700 MB, so you wouldn't want to do this if you only have a dialup connection. The files are ISO9660 images, and you have to write these to CD as images
, not as data files. Most CD burning software can do this, but not all. It's a good idea to write the images at a slowish speed to ensure a good result.
You can buy the CDs at modest prices from Linux duplicating organisations such as The Linux Shop
and Cheep Linux
.Any other preparation?
You have to set up your PC so that it boots from CD first. During the early part of the boot you press a particular key (often Del or F1) to enter the BIOS setup utility, and then you find the 'Boot priority' section and arrange it so that the CD-Rom is first. Your motherboard manual will have the details.
If you're planning to install Linux on a machine which already has Windows occupying the entire hard disk, the Linux installer will be able to shrink the Windows partition to make room for Linux (so long as there's enough empty space) but you must defrag the Windows drive(s) before you start.
You're now ready to install Linux, and this will be described in the second tutorial.