You’re considering Linux as your replacement operating system, but there’s a problem: you don’t know how to install it.
Switching to Linux can be straightforward. Choose a Linux operating system (OS), write the installation media, and sit back and wait. But while simple, it comes with a few complications. Here we take a look at how to install Linux on your PC with minimal hassle.
What you need to install Linux
To install Linux on a computer or laptop, you will need:
A suitable target device (PC or laptop) – note that installing Linux destroys existing data on your computer, so a clean system is recommended
A downloaded Linux ISO file
Installation media (writable CD or DVD, or USB key)
That’s all we can say about it. However, you may spend some time choosing and downloading the ISO file before you are ready to begin.
Choose a Linux operating system (“Distro”)
Before continuing, you will need to choose and download a Linux operating system to install on the computer of your choice.
Various Linux operating systems (also known as “distros”, short for “distribution”) are widely used, from big names like Ubuntu and Mint to Fedora, Manjaro, Elementary and Pop! _OS. Each of them balances usability with productivity, as you would expect from a mainstream operating system.
While there is some difference between these operating systems (although all of them are Linux), you can expect similar levels of compatibility with your computer’s hardware.
Note on target device: You can use desktop or laptop to run Linux. Some versions of Linux are particularly suited to older hardware like low-specification laptops and netbooks. If this is something you have in mind, take the time to research your computer model to find the best Linux operating system for it.
Overall, take this as a rule of thumb: Choose a Linux distribution by first making sure it works with the hardware you plan to install it on.
How to download Linux on your PC
With your Linux operating system selected, you will be ready to download it to your computer to prepare the files for installation.
In most cases, a Linux distribution downloads in ISO format. This is a disk image format, which can be written to CD, DVD, or USB flash storage. You can expect ISO files to typically be around 2GB in size, although some more compact distros may be half that size.
As such, you will need to make sure that you have the necessary storage space on your download PC to store the ISO before preparing it for installation. Downloading is simply a matter of visiting the Linux distribution homepage and downloading the option that best suits the computer you plan to install Linux on.
Prepare Linux for Installation
With a Windows 10 or macOS computer, the operating system is preinstalled. However, you may have found yourself in a situation where the operating system needs to be reinstalled. In such cases, you would take the time to prepare the installation media, using an optical disc or a USB disc.
A similar process is required for installing Linux.
Windows 10 and macOS both make it easy to mount an ISO file in the operating system, allowing you to browse the contents of the disk image. However, writing the ISO file to the intended installation media is a bit trickier and requires a dedicated tool.
(MacOS users should check out our guide on mounting and burning ISO images on a Mac.)
Once the installation media has been created, safely remove it from your computer.
How to install Linux on a laptop
Installing Linux essentially requires that you tell your computer to boot from the installation media rather than the hard drive.
With your laptop turned off, connect the installation media and boot the laptop. If the media is detected, you will be able to start the installation process (or boot into Live mode, see below). This is a guided process, with steps for your region and location, connecting to the wireless network, and selecting a disk partition.
The exact steps involved will depend on the chosen Linux distribution. Note that if wireless networking is not an option, it is worth connecting the computer to Ethernet to allow downloading of updates during the installation process.
How to install Linux on your PC
Installing Linux on a desktop is very similar to installing on a laptop. There is arguably wider hardware support for desktops, but overall the process is the same.
Where it may differ is in the presence of an optical drive. As CD and DVD drives are increasingly scarce on laptops, it makes sense to use USB installation media; with an older desktop computer, you can probably use the optical drive for installation. While it might be slower, it can also be more convenient than looking for a USB drive.
Again, the exact steps required to install Linux on your computer will depend on the specific distribution. However, the guided process should help you make the right choices.
Forget the installation: how to get Linux on a computer without installing it
At this point, you should know how to install Linux on a laptop or desktop. But what if you want to run Linux on your computer without installing it? You have three options for running Linux without removing the existing operating system:
- Running Linux in Live Mode – Linux distributions have a bootable live CD environment (including USB media) that allows you to use the operating system without installing it
- Run Linux in a virtual machine – virtualization is a great way to run and get familiar with Linux without installing it on a physical hard drive
- Configure the Windows Subsystem for Linux – Windows 10 has an optional tool to run Linux, which is simple to activate and allows you to install a Linux distribution directly from the Microsoft Store
Whichever option you select, you will always be able to enjoy an extended Linux experience. This flexibility is one of the main reasons for the enduring success of Linux.
Congratulations, you have installed Linux on your computer
As you can see, installing Linux is not as complicated as you might think. All it needs is a suitable target computer, the right version of Linux, and the right installation media.
The installation process is guided in most cases, helping you make sure that your Linux computer is configured exactly the way you want it to be. And if you don’t have a spare computer, installing Linux on your existing PC with a virtual machine or Windows Subsystem for Linux is also an option, as is running Linux as Live. CD.
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