The decision to install Linux is probably the best and most important choice you’ve ever made. You’ve taken the first step towards breaking free from the proprietary shackles and walled gardens of Microsoft and Apple, and embarked onto a road of free software, greater security, and rock-solid stability.
Here’s how to install Linux as a complete beginner:
Choose the Right Linux Distro
You need to make sure that the distro you choose is suitable for your needs.
You should take into account factors including community support, ease of use, and ease of installation. Some good Linux distros for beginners include, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and Pop!_OS.
Different distros have different hardware requirements. so check your CPU and memory are sufficient to run your chosen distro. If you have particularly old or unusual hardware, or are installing Linux on a Chromebook, check the architecture type.
Backup Your Important Data
You’ve probably owned your computer for some time, and it’s home to documents, photographs, music, and more. As you’ll be installing a fresh OS on your hard drive, you need to make sure that these are backed up safely.
Cloud storage is an option if you only have a small amount of data, while high capacity external ssd drives are a better option if you’re dealing with large quantities.
Don’t forget to back up your profile and passwords from your browser, as these will keep your history intact, and allow you to carry on browsing on Linux from exactly where you left off in Windows.
Download the Linux ISO
Once your data is safely squirrelled away, you’re ready to start the process of installing Linux.
We’re using Ubuntu, but the process will be similar for any beginner-friendly distro.
Open your browser and visit the Ubuntu Desktop download page.
Click on the green Download button and the ISO file should start to download automatically.
Your browser may ask you to choose a location for the download, so pick one you’ll be able to remember easily. Your desktop is a good choice.
Depending on your network speed, the download should take somewhere between 20 minutes and a few hours.
Create a Bootable Linux USB
You will need special software to write the ISO file and make sure it’s bootable. balenaEtcher is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux. Visit the Etcher download page, and save the appropriate version to your desktop.
Insert a USB drive into a spare port. All data on this drive will be erased, so make sure there’s nothing you need on it.
When both downloads are completed, double click on balenaEtcher, and agree to the conditions. Etcher will install and launch automatically.
Choose Flash from file, and select the ISO file you downloaded earlier, now click on Select target, to choose your USB drive. Hit Flash, and Etcher will write the Ubuntu ISO image to the USB drive.
Now restart your PC.
Boot From USB
To make sure your computer boots from your Linux USB rather than returning to Windows, you need to check the boot order in your PC’s BIOS.
Immediately after powering on your PC again, you will need to hit a shortcut key. This varies by manufacturer, but is usually, Del, F12, F8, or F2.
If you’re unsure, check your documentation. Booting into the BIOS is usually instant, you may need to use the arrow keys to navigate. Find the boot or boot order option, and ensure that USB is at the top of the list. Save and exit.
Your PC will now boot directly from the USB drive to the Ubuntu GRUB menu. Use the arrow keys to select “Try or Install Ubuntu“, then hit Return.
The Ubuntu live system will load, and after selecting a language, you can either try or install Ubuntu. By selecting “try”, you can ensure that Ubuntu is able to detect your hardware, connect to WiFi, and check out the default packages
If you’re happy to proceed click on the “Install Ubuntu” icon on the desktop.
Ubuntu will give you another opportunity to choose your language. Click “Continue” to select the keyboard layout, then continue again to get to the “Updates and other software” screen.
Configure Your New Linux System
If you want to install everything the Ubuntu devs have included in the distro, select “Normal installation“, if you’re concerned about disk space “Minimal installation” will give you a web browser, and basic functionality.
You should check the “Download updates while installing Ubuntu” to ensure that you have the latest packages installed as soon as you start your system.
The last checkbox is to install third-party software. Check this if you want maximum hardware compatibility, and the ability to play media using proprietary codecs.
The next screen gives you the opportunity to install Ubuntu alongside Windows – meaning that you’ll be able to boot into either OS when you turn on your system, or to completely erase the disk and use Ubuntu on its own, or do something else.
Choose “Erase disk and install Ubuntu“, then click on “Advanced features“. Here you can decide whether to use logical volume management (LVM), which allows you to to resize partitions while they’re in use.
You can instruct Linux to use the Z filesystem rather than the standard ext4. you can encrypt your filesystem to ensure that snoopers can’t root through your hard drive without permission.
Tick the box to enable encryption, and on the next screen, type in a strong security key.
This should not be the same as the password you will use to log in. If you check the box for “generate a recovery key”, the installer will create a key for you and store it on the live system.
You can then email it to yourself or store it in a suitable location.
If you opted to keep windows, you’ll see a slider which allows you to set the space allocated to Windows and Linux. The more space you give to one OS, the less will be available to the other. Drag the slider until you’re happy that both Windows and Linux have enough room, then click “Install now”, followed by “Continue. The partition resizing operation may take a few minutes.
While Ubuntu does use common sense when allocating disk space, you may want a more fine grained approach to partitioning.
You can access the more detailed partitioning tool by either selecting “Something else“, or by clicking the “advanced partitioning tool” link after you choose to install alongside Windows.
From here you can manually create and delete partitions using the “+” and “-“ buttons, as well as change the type and size of the filesystem with the “change” button.
Your Linux filesystem should be set as ext4, btrfs or zfs, and if you choose to dual boot, the Windows partition should be set to NTFS.
You may be tempted to create a swap partition, however since Ubuntu 18.04, this has been superseded by a swap file inside the root partition, and creating a separate swap partition is no longer recommended.
Over the next few screens, you will be asked to select your location and time zone, then choose a username and password, as well as a hostname for your machine.
Make sure to choose a secure password, and don’t reveal it to anyone else. You can also set whether your Linux machine automatically logs you in on boot or requires you to enter a password.
Ubuntu will now install itself to your hard drive, and fetch and install the most recent updates and drivers. Depending on your machine specs and your connection speed, this can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. While Ubuntu is installing, enjoy the slideshow highlighting what Ubuntu has to offer.
Once the installation completes, you have the option of staying within the live system, or rebooting into your new Linux desktop, choose the latter option, and when prompted, remove the USB stick and press Enter.
If you chose to dual boot with Windows, you can select either OS from the GRUB menu, otherwise, Congratulations! You’re now a full-time Linux user.
After You’ve Installed Linux on Your PC
Even if you chose to download updates during the install, there will still be some packages which need updating. Open a terminal, and enter:
sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade
Now copy your files from the cloud or your other USB, and find them a home on your new system, and don’t forget to restore your browser profile.
You can now start installing the programs you’re used to. Some popular software, such as steam, can be installed directly from the package manager, while other Windows software such as MS Office needs WINE or PlayOnLinux to work.