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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 might not necessarily be what you 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're also asked for your time zone. Somewhere near here, every installation asks you for options on partitioning and formatting your drive. For most users, the defaults are fine, and your Windows partition (if you opted for a dual-boot system) is 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 of these preliminary steps, it is time to load your software. Some kind of default collection is offered (workstation, server, and so on), 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.

That's when you get your first introduction to Linux security. The installer asks you for an administrative user (root) password and provides 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 reboots, and you're running Linux.


Installers tend to make fairly intelligent choices along the way. Nevertheless, you should still check to make sure that what is selected is indeed correct.

Another source of information is the distribution itself. Most Linux distribution CDs have extensive installation information on the CD, in the box (if you purchased it), or on the distribution's web site. If you are feeling less than adventurous, print out a copy before you begin your installation.

Remember that until you have actually formatted your drives, you can still change your mind about many of the decisions you make 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. To give you an idea of just what you can expect when you go through the real thing, I will walk you through three different installations using some of the more popular Linux distributions.


As of this writing, Mandrake 10.0 was just released, Fedora Core 1 was out with version 2 in test, and SUSE 9.1 was the also a new kid on the block. I mention this release information because the screens you see may not be precisely as I describe here—probably nothing major, but some things may 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.


Almost any modern PC can boot from a CD-ROM, and this is the easiest way to install. If your system cannot 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.

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