Linux has become comfortable. This is not only true for the variety and user-friendliness of the programs, but also for the installation routines. Thanks to well prepared documentation (e.g.B. the Ubuntu Wiki), a well-functioning Linux system can be set up today in a short time and without basic knowledge.
Choosing a Linux distribution
As distribution in the software area a composition of software to a well usable total package is called. The multitude of Linux distributions differs essentially in which programs are basically installed, how often updates are done and how much configuration the user usually wants to do manually.
In Germany most servers run with the distribution Debian; with the private PCs the distributions based on Debian Ubuntu and Linux Mint rank among the most popular systems. All tips in this collection of notes refer to these largely similar systems.
How Linux finally "looks like" depends only conditionally on the distribution. The graphic user interface and the actual operating system are – differently than with Windows – two different things. The Linux operating system supports a variety of user interfaces ("desktop environments"), which can be exchanged at any time after installation. Probably the best known user interfaces are GNOME and KDE. Personally, I prefer to use the Ubuntu and Linux Mint user interface Mate for years now.
The basic installation¶
Installing a Linux system today is very easy thanks to modern hardware detection and graphical installation wizards. The installation scheme is the same for almost all distributions:
- You download an ISO image file from the respective homepage. Personally, I currently prefer Linux Mint Ubuntu Edition with Mate desktop. Depending on the hardware you have to choose the 32- or 64-bit variant.
- You can create a bootable CD from this image with any burning program or a bootable USB stick with UNetBootin. A good tutorial on how to create an Ubuntu USB stick, which works the same way with Linux Mint, can be found here.
- You reboot the computer with an inserted boot CD or boot USB stick.
The boot order is determined by the BIOS of the computer. Corresponding settings are made in the BIOS menu, which can usually be opened with F2 (sometimes also with F4 , F8 or F12 ) when the computer is restarted.
Depending on the selected distribution, an installation wizard appears automatically (Debian), or a live system is booted (Ubuntu and Linux Mint), in which the installation wizard can be found as an icon on the desktop.
At the beginning of the installation routine, you set the username with associated password and preferred settings (keyboard layout, time zone, etc.). Later changes of these settings are also possible without effort.
The most important step of the installation is then to determine the hard disk partitions to be used. These can be set up either automatically or manually using an integrated partition program. The installation wizard then performs the basic installation fully automatically.
Recommendable: Create partitions manually
If the partitions are not set up automatically, the following partitioning is recommended, as long as there is enough hard disk space available:
- A medium sized partition (min. 10 GB, max. 30 GB) with mount point / for the base system
- A partition of any size (min. 10 GB) with mount point /home for own documents, configuration files, etc.
- A rather small partition (mostly 2 to 8 GB) as swap (extension of the RAM). The swap partition should generally be chosen as large as the available RAM. A swap partition is not mandatory, but is required, for example, when the computer is to be put into sleep mode.
A separate /home partition offers the advantage that the system can be reinstalled at any time without affecting your own data and settings. This also applies if multiple user accounts have been set up on the system.
As a Linux beginner these three partitions are completely sufficient. If you are asked whether these partitions should be created "primary" or "logical", you can choose "primary" with a clear conscience. On a certain numbering of the partitions ( sda1 , sda2 , etc.) does not have to be taken care of.
For each Linux partition, especially for the system partition / and the home partition /home , it is recommended to use EXT-4 as file system : it is very fast, very stable and virtually maintenance-free. Swap partitions do not have their own file system. For data partitions it is also recommended to use EXT-4 as file system, as long as you only want to access it with Linux.
If you like to use data also under Windows or MacOS (for example on a USB stick or an external hard disk), FAT32 should be used as file system for the respective partition. However, FAT32 does not support symlinks and is not case-sensitive. On external disks this file system is standard, because it is supported by nearly all devices.
Hint: Changes to file systems and partitioning can also be made later, for example with the program GParted; whereby a previous backup of the data is always recommended.
If necessary, additional partitions can be created during installation:
- (Optional:) An arbitrarily large data partition without fixed mount point for a further, later parallel installable or already installed operating system.
- (Optional:) A data partition of any size without a defined mount point for shared and/or encrypted files.
Optional: Password protected partitions
Linux is relatively safe as an operating system. However, if you leave a notebook unattended, for example, the best configurations are of no use to protect confidential data from unauthorized access. A hard disk can easily be removed and connected externally to another PC, and all data (passwords, possibly online banking data, emails, etc.) are stored on it. online banking data, emails, etc.) freely accessible..
If you want to store private data in a password-protected ("encrypted") area, you can choose one of the following options under Linux:
The partition can already be created during the installation – without defining a mount point – on a free (unformatted) area of a data medium.
The advantage of this method is that it is relatively easy to set up and the encrypted partition is independent of the system. Thus the protected area can remain locked also on a running computer.
The disadvantage of this method is that any unauthorized person with hardware access can change the operating system without hindrance, for example to install Trojans or keyboard or data loggers.
A password prompt appears at startup. Only when the password is entered correctly, the system partition is decrypted and the computer boots.
The advantage of this method is that no unauthorized person has access to parts of the system or to personal files if he finds the computer switched off.
The disadvantage of this method is that it does not provide any encryption protection for a running computer – the system partition is then always open. Moreover, this method requires advanced Linux knowledge and is thus hardly suitable for beginners.
Both methods are described in more detail in the section Backup.
Install additional packages¶
After a successful basic installation, further adjustments are usually made. There are two main reasons for this:
- On the one hand, users may want to install additional software according to their own preferences. The amount of available software usually does not fit on a CD, DVD, or USB stick. Furthermore, the programs are constantly being developed and may have been updated in the meantime.
- On the other hand, depending on the Linux distribution, only software packages that meet certain criteria (e.g. have certain license conditions) are included in the package. Some important packages, even if they are freely available, have to be installed manually.
Package management via graphical user interface¶
Depending on the Linux distribution, there are different graphical management programs that can be used to install, update or remove programs:
- Under Debian and Ubuntu there is Synaptic,
- Under Linux Mint, the program mintinstall is preinstalled, which is based on Synaptic and offers a very comfortable (but somewhat slow) graphical user interface.
The above programs can only be used if the logged in user is allowed to give himself SuperUser rights temporarily; if there is only one user account, which you have set up yourself during the installation, this is always the case with this account. You only have to enter your user password when starting the application management to run the application in SuperUser mode.
The graphical application management programs can be used intuitively with the mouse without further training:
- First click on the respective program category (e.g. graphics and image processing) to list all available programs.
- If one clicks then on desired program, then one gets a detailed view whether the program is installed, which functions the program offers, and which evaluation it received on the average from users.
Just below the main heading, there is a status line that can be used to install or remove the respective program with one click.
Package management using apt ¶
The Debian/Ubuntu/Linux Mint graphical management programs indirectly use the shell application apt ("Advanced Packaging Tool") to manage and update the installed programs and code libraries. In a shell window ("Terminal") apt can also be used directly. There are the following possibilities to call the program:
- With apt-get update the list of available packages can be updated. To do this, apt checks whether the
- Search for an eligible package with apt-cache search keyword,
- Install an available package with apt-get install paketname.
As a simpler and better alternative the program aptitude can be used. Here it is sufficient to use the two call variants apt-get and "apt-cache" to be replaced by aptitude:
If you try to install a program that is already installed using sudo aptitude install paketname, the call has no effect. With sudo aptitude remove paketname a program can be uninstalled again. For more info on aptitude, see the Administrator Programs section
Depending on preference and application purpose, there is a wide range of distributions:
Some Linux variants are designed to be loaded from an external data medium (CD, USB stick) and be used without installation from it. Ubuntu and LinuxMint can also be used as live systems if necessary, for example for recovery purposes.
Extremely configurable distributions (for example Gentoo, Arch):
With some distributions, it is normal to always compile the Linux kernel and programs yourself from source, i.e. translate them into executable machine code. This offers maximum control over the running programs and can bring significant speed advantages in the running system. To be able to use the potential of such distributions, one should be familiar with Linux and hardware basics.
distributions from commercial providers (for example Red Hat Enterprise, Fedora, Mandrivia):
These distributions are developed and maintained by companies and are especially interesting for business customers who depend on commercial technical support at any time.
Older computers with a single processor (e.g. Intel Celeron, Intel Core2Duo, Intel Atom) require a 32-bit system, but for newer multi-core processors 64-bit systems are recommended.
If you are not sure which system type is the right one (e.g. because you don’t know what kind of processor is built in), a search engine query may help you. In addition, an (accidental) attempt to boot a machine with a mismatched system will not cause any damage, because it will be interrupted immediately and an appropriate error message will be displayed.
Linux can also be installed parallel to an existing Windows system. However, I do not recommend this, because Windows often does not get along with this already during the boot process.
It is also possible to install an additional Linux system on another partition, e.g. for experimental purposes. Such a system should not use a separate /home partition, however, to avoid conflicts with individual users’ personal settings for the main system.
Personally, I think this variant is cumbersome, because only one version can be used at a time: So every change of the working platform means a reboot. In my opinion, with today’s computer performance, it is more advisable to implement an experimental platform without much effort using Vagrant in the form of a virtual operating system.