An Installation Comparison
Modern installations offer a nice, graphical process and for the most part, installing Linux today is a point-and-click experience with help every step of the way. Of course, a graphical installation makes a lot of assumptions that you might not necessarily want. Should all else fail, try the text-based installation. Most distributions still provide one, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
A Very Generic Install
Every installation is similar in many ways, though the order of the steps may vary slightly. After booting, you get a nice welcome screen usually followed by a request for the language you want to install in. Hot on the heels of this is some kind of basic peripheral selection, namely for your keyboard and mouse. You'll also be asked for the time zone you live in. Every installation will (somewhere near here) ask you for options on partitioning and formatting your drive. For most users, the defaults should be fine and your Windows partition (if you opted for a dual boot system) will be detected and set aside. This is also the point where you are asked to select a boot loader and to confirm the operating systems you want to be able to launch at boot time. Once again, this is particularly important if you are setting up a dual boot system.
After all these preliminary steps are taken care of, it is time to load your software. Some kind of default collection will be offered (ie: workstation, server, etc.) at which point your system starts to load. There may be one or more CDs to load depending on how much you asked for. Once this is over, it is time to configure your network connection, followed by the graphical window setup, also known as the X window system.
You will then get your first introduction to Linux security. The installer will ask you for an administrative user (root) password and provide you with the opportunity to create one or more additional users for day-to-day use. Under normal circumstances, the root user should not be used except to install software, or to update and administer your system in some fashion. The separation of administrative from regular users is one of the ways Linux protects your system from accidental or malicious damage.
Usually, that is pretty much it. The system will reboot and you'll be running Linux.
Installers tend to make fairly intelligent choices as you go. Nevertheless, you should still check to make sure that what is selected is what is indeed correct.
Remember that until you have actually formatted your drives, you can still change your mind about a great many of the decisions you made along the way. Just click the Back button (or use the <Tab> key to move to it) and reenter the information the way you intended.
Of course, my generic install is just that; generic. In order to give you an idea of just what you can expect when you go through the real thing, I have gone through three different installations using some of the more popular Linux distributions and detailed them for you here.
As of this writing, Mandrake 9.1 has just been released. RedHat 9 and SuSE 8.2 are expected shortly. I mention this because the screens you see may not be precisely as I describe here—not a great deal, but some things will be a bit different. That's why I want you to look at these install examples as examples. They are meant to prepare you for what you will experience during an installation.
The PC on which I did these installs already had Windows XP running. Half of the 60 gigabyte disk drive was unallocated. Actually, it was set up as a Windows D: drive but there was nothing on it and I simply deleted the drive. Let's start this look at Linux installations with one of the most popular distributions among Linux desktop users, Mandrake Linux.
Almost any modern PC can boot from a CD-ROM and this is the easiest way to do this. If your system will not boot from the CD, you can create a boot diskette. If this is a problem for you, put your first Linux CD into the drive and use Windows Explorer (the file manager) to look for a directory called "boot" on the CD. There will be a boot disk image there (the name may vary) and instructions on how to create the diskette.