Running a Linux Installation

Today, most Linux distributions come on bootable CD-ROMs. You can insert the CD-ROM in the drive, turn on the computer, and the installation routine starts up—if your BIOS is configured to boot from the CD-ROM drive. Details differ from one BIOS to another, but you can typically adjust this detail by entering the CMOS setup utility by pressing a key such as F2 or Delete early in the boot process. You can then locate and adjust the boot order option so that the CD-ROM drive comes first, as shown in Figure 21.4. If booting from the CD-ROM drive doesn't work for some reason, you can usually create a boot floppy disk or start the installation from DOS or Windows. Consult your distribution's documentation for details.

The details of Linux installation vary substantially, but as a general rule they proceed through several steps:

• Basic configuration The installation routines ask what language to use, what sort of keyboard and mouse you have, and so on. Distributions sometimes also ask you about SCSI host adapters and Ethernet cards.

• Package selection You must tell the system what programs to install. Increasingly, distributions offer simple options, such as desktop system or server configuration. These options select a large number of packages. Other distributions, such as Debian 2.1, require that you select packages on a more fine-grained basis, or offer such selection as an "advanced" installation option.

Part V

Figure 21.4

Modern BIOSs enable booting from a CD-ROM drive.

Figure 21.4

Modern BIOSs enable booting from a CD-ROM drive.

• Partitioning Distributions invariably provide some way for you to identify what partitions or free space you want to use. Figure 21.2, for instance, shows Corel Linux's partitioning screen.

• Package installation The installation process itself usually requires little or no user intervention. The installer simply installs the packages you've selected on the computer.

• X configuration Most distributions run a utility to help you configure the X Window System (X) for your hardware. In my experience, this is the single most-troublesome part of a Linux installation, because the process sometimes fails in one way or another.

If you're given the choice, tell the installer not to start X when Linux boots. If the X configuration doesn't work, the computer can lock itself into a cycle of trying to start X, and you'll be unable to use the computer except by logging in from a network connection. You might be able to fix this problem by typing linux single at the LILO boot: prompt when you boot. The system then boots up into single-user mode, without running X, and you can edit the X configuration to fix the problem. After you've installed Linux and convinced yourself that X works correctly, you can edit your /etc/inittab file to start Linux directly into X, as described in Chapter 12, in the section called "Configuring XFree86 for Your Video Card."

Chapter 21

• Miscellaneous configuration Most distributions let you configure additional aspects of the system. For instance, you might be asked whether you want to install a printer or configure your system's networking settings.

• Reboot After the system's done installing everything, it typically reboots and starts Linux.

These steps might or might not occur in precisely the order I've outlined here. For instance, you might be asked to configure a printer or Ethernet adapter before you configure X. Most distributions step you through all these procedures during installation, though.

If you run into problems installing Linux, you have two choices:

• Try another distribution Sometimes one distribution works on a computer, but another doesn't. The most common issues are support for very new hardware components, such as recent video cards or SCSI host adapters. If you want to try another distribution, try to find one that was released more recently than whatever distribution you've tried first.

• Look for help You can check the Linux newsgroups, the distribution's Web site, your Linux-using friends, or any other resources you can think of to try to find help.

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