In the following article, I refer to the GNU/Linux OS and various FOSS projects under the catch-all name of "Linux". It just scans better. . .

Tux Getting started with Linux

It's not surprising that the first question many Linux wannabe-users ask is "What distro should I use?" - Linux has a bewildering array of choices for almost every task, and your first concern is to get it right with your distro choice.

Isn't it?

Well, actually. . . No. IMHO, there's another question that should come first. It's the question of your hard drive. Another common question from those who are about to take their plunge into the world of the penguin: "How should I partition my hard drive?" Most of the time, they'll be answered by people who will helpfully explain how to carve up their disc.

Most of the advice I've ever seen given, however, has been bad. Mainly because it's always assumed that partitioning is a secondary concern that comes after choosing a distro. This mistake has serious knock-on consequences down the road.

So, here is how I think:

Before you can install any Linux distro, you must first make room for it on your hard drive. A full installation can be quite big, but you're mostly going to expect 2GB to be enough for the basic system. In these days, it's hard to buy a hard drive smaller than 40GB, so you should have no trouble finding room. However, what partitions should that space be split into?

Well, here's the golden rule. This is the single most important piece of advice I can give you when it comes to your first ever Linux install, so if you take nothing else away from this page, take this: Leave as much of your hard drive unpartitioned as possible.

This is where everybody goes wrong. They think . o O (I have 100GB free hard drive space, therefore I need to create 100GB of partitions to put my 2GB Linux distro on.) No! Leave that space alone!

Partitioning your whole hard drive at once leads to huge problems later on. Your chances of getting exactly the right scheme first time are zero, no matter how many people give you advice. You'll have distro problems, space problems, upgrade problems, all kinds of problems. To keep your PC as flexible as possible, base your partitioning scheme on what you NEED, not on what you HAVE.

With this philosophy in mind, here is how you should approach partitioning. You will need:

That should add up to a single-digit number of GB used up for your total Linux system. This leaves you with a number of GB free, which you can use later to expand your partitions, add new partitions, or add new Linux distros.

I hope now you see why I place such value on leaving disk space free. It turns hugely important problems into trivial inconsequentialities. It no longer matters if you need to change your partitioning scheme, there's plenty of room to do so. It no longer matters if you choose the wrong distro, there's plenty of room for a new one. You still have enormous flexibility even after you've done all your installing.

So, now that we've sorted out the really important problem, let's move on to the trivial one: What distro to use?

Well, that all depends on what you really want a distro to do. Slackware, Gentoo, LFS, all are good choices if you want to really get in and learn how Linux works, but have steep learning curves. Fedora, Suse, Mandriva, these are all good choices if you want an up-and-running distro as soon as possible. Debian is a good all-rounder. They're all free, why not download and install several? You've got plenty of disk space to use! Why not install Slackware, Debian, and Suse and have a play around with each one?

If you like the idea of having a go with several distros, you need to know:

This concludes my advice on how to get started with Linux. I hope you found it helpful.

If you have any feedback, good or bad, about this article, mail me.

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