Installing Linux is a process which differs from distribution to distribution. If you have a good distribution, like Redhat or Debian, a lot of documentation will be provided by them.

Before you insert the boot disk make sure you have a hard copy of the installation manual! No really, this is essential. If you get stuck in the process of installing Linux, after you have repartioned (and thus erased) your harddrive, you'll have nowhere to go. If you have a hard copy of the installation manual you can probably figure out what to do.

Installing Linux is usually done in four steps:

  • (Re-)partitioning the harddrive
  • Setting up networking, and device drivers
  • Selecting packages
  • Installing packages

The first two are relatively easy to do. Good guidelines for (re-)partitioning your harddrive are:

Do not use more than twice your physical memory for swap
If you have 32MB of RAM, keep your swap partition smaller than 64MB. Would you rather have "out of memory" when trying to run netscape, or would you like waiting 30 minutes before it has started?
Use a small root partition
If you have a large harddrive you might not want to run checks at boottime if the system wasn't properly shut down (due to a powerfailure, for example). If you have a small root partition you can check it, boot it, and care about what is corrupted in /usr (the optional files) later.
Think first, partition later
Get out a pencil (yes, one of those archaic wooden things) and write down how you want your space to be divided. Look at this for a minute or so, and then repartition. It is not possible to repartition again without losing all your data!

Selecting packages is something that is different from distribution to distribution. Most distributions use their own packaging system. Redhat uses the advanced, and extremely nifty, rpm. Debian uses the even better dpkg, and Slackware uses the simple tgz. A good time to use the hard copy of the installation manual is now. Selecting packages takes time! Read the descriptions. If you don't know "what it does" and it sounds important, install it. You can remove junk later when you know what it does.

After that, you can make yourself some coffee and wait for the installation process to finish...

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