While all Linux distributions are different, they ultimately all go through a similar install process. Rather than walking you through this process step-by-step like you could find in the distribution's documentation, this page addresses the issues you're most likely to encounter and recommendations for solving them.
There will be many cases where the distribution installer offers to make decisions for you. If you aren't sure, go with its recommendations. More often than not, the default options are fine.
For a lot of people, there might be one Windows program (or game) they just can't do without. Others would just like the security blanket of knowing they can return to their Windows installation if they need to. In these cases, by far the best option is to leave Windows running on one computer and install Linux on another. However, most people aren't made of money and don't have spare computers just lying around.
If you can't manage a second computer, then the next best scenario is adding a second hard drive to your existing computer. Doing so allows you to dual boot, which means that you can install Linux on the other drive and have a menu that comes up when you start the computer, asking whether you want to use Linux or Windows. Don't worry though if you don't have the room or funds for an additional hard drive. You still have one more option.
The third option is to resize how much room Windows gets on your hard drive, and install Linux in the space you've freed up.
Those who go with the first option can install on their new Linux box with impunity. Choosing option two means you just need to add the second hard drive, make sure you know which drive the second drive is, and then install. The installer will let you choose the hard drive to put Linux on. Just in case, back up your important data first, whether you're going with option two or three.
Speaking of option three, if you're going with this choice, you have some reading to do. It's best not to just jump in and start, make sure you understand what you're getting into first! Really it's not all that hard. However, you don't want to have to go back and reinstall Windows afterwards. That's just an assumption.
The process for setting up dual booting is very similar across distributions, so a resource for one works pretty well as a resource for most until you get into the distribution's installation instructions.
Some excellent materials that will help you prepare your system are:
- How to dual boot Linux and Windows
- A video on how to set up dual booting
- Creating a Dual-Boot Windows XP and Ubuntu Laptop
- The Windows Dual Boot HOWTO from Ubuntu.
GNOME or KDE?
As discussed in Choosing a Linux Distribution to Replace Your Windows Desktop, GNOME and KDE are the two major choices for your Linux GUI. Some people swear by one or the other, but really, it's a personal choice as to which you prefer. Often you have the option of installing both of these desktops. If you have the space, installing both lets you experiment and decide for yourself.
Another option is to try both GNOME and KDE in a bootable distribution before you install. Out of Fedora, Kubuntu, Mandriva, openSUSE, and Ubuntu, only Kubuntu doesn't come with GNOME, and Ubuntu doesn't come with KDE. The others come with both unless you download a GNOME- or KDE-only version.
Updating as Part of the Installation
No operating system or program is 100% secure. Even if it manages to be for five minutes, the next minute someone may find a vulnerability that they can exploit. It's imperative that you keep everything up to date, so start this good habit by allowing the installer update your newly-installed system unless you don't currently have Internet access. The cool thing is that by updating, you'll have all of the latest versions of any other software as well.
Getting the Apps You Want
Not every distribution installs the equivalents of popular Windows applications, such as Flash or Adobe Acrobat. Here's how to find and install the apps you'll need to make your Linux installation nice and polished.
Installing Acrobat Reader
You don't need Adobe's Acrobat Reader in order to read PDFs in Linux. There are a number of programs that come by default with your installation that will do the job. However, some PDFs come with features that you can only take advantage of with Acrobat Reader, so at some point you might decide that you want it.
To install Acrobat Reader in your distribution:
- Fedora - See the Unofficial Fedora FAQ.
- Kubuntu and Ubuntu - See the Acrobat Reader Installation Ubuntu Tutorial
- Mandriva - Purchase the Mandriva Linux PowerPack, or go to Adobe's download section.
- openSUSE - Use your package manager. Acrobat is in the Misc. Proprietary Packages section.
Depending on your distribution, you may need to download Adobe Flash Player or it may come on the installation media. Mandriva Club (paid) members will find Flash available in the Commercial packages section of their package manager. Everyone else will need to use these resources:
- Fedora's FedoraFAQ
- Kubuntu, use Ubuntu's UbuntuGuide
- Mandriva (unpaid) users can get Flash from Adobe's Flash site
- openSUSE users will find the Flash player in their package manager, in the Misc. Proprietary Packages section.
- Ubuntu's UbuntuGuide
Java is a popular programming language because you can write code without worrying which operating system you're dealing with. Some Java applications run from your desktop, while others run in your Web browser. A key bit of information is that you're looking for the Java Runtime Environment, otherwise known as the JRE.
To install Java in your distribution:
- Fedora - See the FedoraFAQ for a quick explanation.
- Kubuntu and Ubuntu - See the Java Design Concepts writeup
- Mandriva - Open up the Mandriva Linux Control Center and search for "java." Install the latest version of the OpenJDK Runtimme Environment.
- openSUSE - See the openSUSE document on Installing Sun's java on SUSE Linux.
Listening to MP3s
Plenty of people like to listen to music. Today a lot of the music either comes in MP3 files, or we put it into MP3 files. No matter how it gets there, we want to be able to listen! The problem is that the MP3 format is patented, which legally complicates a lot of things.
Mandriva users can listen to MP3s out of the box. Everyone else needs to do the following:
- Fedora - See the FedoraFAQ.
- Kubuntu - See the Kubuntu FAQ for how to add MP3 support.
- openSUSE - See the openSUSE Restricted Formats document.
- Ubuntu - See the Ubuntu Restricted Formats document.
Handling Graphics Cards
It is becoming more and more unusual these days for any Linux distribution to have problems with the graphics hardware on a PC. However, if you want to use all of the special features provided by that hardware, you will need to get the driver provided by the hardware manufacturer.
Installing ATI Drivers
If you're using an ATI graphics card, here's how to get the drivers for your particular distribution:
- Fedora's FedoraFAQ
- Kubuntu's ATI Driver hOWTO
- Mandriva's Wiki
- openSUSE's ATI Driver HOWTO
- Ubuntu's ATI Driver HOWTO and the UbuntuGuide
Installing nVIDIA Drivers
If you're using an NVIDIA graphics card, here's how to get the drivers for your particular distribution:
- Fedora - See the FedoraFAQ .
- Kubuntu and Ubuntu - See the nVIDIA Binary Driver HOWTO.
- Mandriva - See the Mandriva documentation about making more applications available and then search for the nVIDIA driver once you have added more software repositories.
- openSUSE - See the openSUSE nVIDIA documentation