GNU/Linux Desktop Survival Guide
by Graham Williams
When you purchase a computer the chances are that it comes with MS/Windows pre-installed, and tuned by the manufacturer or retailer to run well on the particular hardware. Drivers for the audio, video, and CD-ROM, will have been included in the installation. The computer is ready to switch on and boot into MS/Windows. It will just work (usually)!
To run the freely available and openly supported GNU/Linux instead of prorietary and closed source and secret MS/Windows (or in addition to MS/Windows) you often need to install the system yourself. This entails obtaining a distribution of GNU/Linux, perhaps as a LiveCD (see Section 5.1.2) to first test without installing, then installing it, and configuring the device drivers to suit your hardware.
The GNU/Linux Operating System is built on the Linux kernel. To install GNU/Linux on your PC you could start with installing the Linux kernel and then compiling and installing the GNU tools and other essential software that makes up the operating system. This is not a trivial task and can require some sophisticcated computing skills. However we benefit greatly from the tremendous contributions many people have made to ensure installing GNU/Linux is accessible to everyone.
Many people over many years have put a lot of effort into packaging things together into Distributions so that installing GNU/Linux is now straightforward. Distributions typically provide the whole system as a collection of packages from which you can choose the packages to install to suite your own requirements. Some packages are mandatory, and form the base installation. Other packages are then installed as you need them.
In this chapter we review the options available in selecting a distribution of GNU/Linux to install. Chapter 5 will then step you through the installation process. Up front, our recommendation is to install the Ubuntu distribution, which is based on Debian GNU/Linux and can come with vendor support from Canonical, though it is not a requirement. For a resource limited machine (an older server with 1GB RAM or less, for example) then Lubuntu is recommended. Debian is an excellent alternative choice.