How to Install Linux

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Want to install Linux? It’s an easier process than you might think! You can even try Linux on your PC before you install it. If you don’t like that, just reboot and you’ll be back to Windows. Here’s how to get started with Linux.

Choose a Linux distribution and download it

First, you will need to choose a linux distribution that you want to use. Linux distributions bundle the Linux kernel and other software into a complete operating system that you can use. Different Linux distributions have different system tools, desktop environments, included applications, and visual themes.

Ubuntu and Linux Mint are still among the most popular Linux distributions. We really love Manjaro too. There are many, many other options – there is no wrong answer, although some Linux distributions are aimed at more technical and experienced users.

Once you have chosen the Linux distro you want, visit its website and download its installer. You will get an ISO file, which is a disk image file containing the installation files for the Linux distribution.

Sometimes you will be asked to choose between 32-bit and 64-bit distributions. Most modern computers have 64-bit compatible processors. If your computer was manufactured within the past decade, you should choose the 64-bit system. Linux distributions are removal of support for 32-bit systems.

RELATED: The best Linux distros for beginners

Create bootable installation media

To boot, try out, and install the Linux system you downloaded, you need to create bootable installation media from your ISO file.

You can do this in several ways. If you have a writable DVD that you want to use, you can burn the ISO file to a disc using the Windows “Burn Disc Image” function. However, you’ll probably want to use a USB flash drive instead: USB drives are faster than DVDs and will work on any computer with a DVD drive.

Here is what you will need create a bootable Linux USB drive in Windows:

The ISO file for the Linux distribution of your choice.
The free Rufus Software. Ubuntu official instructions recommends Rufus, too.
A minimum 4 GB USB drive. Some Linux distributions may need larger disks if they have larger installers, but 4 GB should be fine for most Linux distributions, including Ubuntu. (Warning: The contents of the USB flash drive you are using will be erased.)

Launch Rufus and insert your USB drive into your computer to get started. First, in the “Device” box, select your USB drive. Second, click on the “Select” button and browse to the ISO file you downloaded. Third, click on the “Start” button to create the USB drive.

Create an Ubuntu USB stick with Rufus

You can see some warnings. Accept the default options: click “Yes” if you are prompted to download additional files, then click “OK” if you are prompted to write in ISO mode. Finally, you will be warned that the Rufus will erase all files from your USB drive. Make sure you have backed up all important files and click “OK” to continue.

Rufus will create your installation USB drive, and you will see the progress bar at the bottom of the window fill up. When a full green bar indicates “Ready”, you can click “Close” to complete the process.

RELATED: How to easily create a bootable Linux USB drive

Boot your Linux installation media

If you are booting the Linux system on the same computer where you created the installation media, you don’t even need to unplug your USB drive. All you need to do is restart your PC and boot from linux installation media.

To do this, select the “Restart” option in Windows. Your PC can start automatically from the inserted USB drive and under Linux.

If your computer is simply restarting into Windows, you may need to press a certain key to access a boot device menu and select it during the installation process. Common keys that you may need to press during the boot process include F12, Escape, F2, and F10. You can see this key displayed on the screen during the boot process.

You may also need to go to your BIOS or UEFI firmware settings screen and change the boot order. The exact process will depend on your PC model. See your computer’s instructions for more information. (If you’ve built your own PC, see the motherboard instruction manual.)

RELATED: How to start your computer from a disk or USB stick

What about Secure Boot?

Modern PCs with UEFI firmware (typically PCs that came with Windows 10 or Windows 8) have a feature called Secure Boot. They are designed not to start untrusted operating systems, which should protect you from rootkits and other malware.

Some Linux distributions, like Ubuntu, are designed to work with Secure Boot and use a special Microsoft-signed boot loader, which lets them run on your system. Other Linux distributions may require that you turn off Secure Boot before you can boot.

However, in many situations your Linux distribution should just boot normally. If Linux starts up, don’t worry about Secure Boot. If you see a Secure Boot error message and Linux will not boot, consult your Linux distribution documentation for more information and consider disabling Secure Boot on your PC.

RELATED: How to Boot and Install Linux on UEFI PC with Secure Boot

Try Linux

With Linux started, you will get a “live” Linux desktop that you can use as if Linux were installed on your PC. It is not yet installed and has not changed your PC in any way. It works entirely on the USB drive you created (or the disc you burned).

For example, on Ubuntu, click “Try Ubuntu” instead of “Install Ubuntu” to try it out.

You can explore and use the Linux system. Keep in mind that it will probably run faster once installed on your PC’s internal memory. If you just want to play around with Linux a bit and don’t want to install it yet, you’re good to go: just restart your PC and remove the USB drive to restart Windows.

Ubuntu Nautilus File Manager on an Ubuntu 20.04 Desktop

If you want to try out multiple Linux distributions, you can repeat this process and try out more than one before choosing to install one.

(Not all Linux distributions offer a live environment that you can play around with before installing them, but the vast majority do.)

Warning: save before continuing

Before proceeding with the installation of Linux, we recommend that you back up your important files. You should always have recent backups, especially when handling your system in this way.

It should be possible to install Linux in a dual-boot scenario and have the Linux installer transparently resize your Windows partition without affecting your files. However, errors can occur while resizing partitions. And it would be possible to accidentally click on the wrong option and wipe your Windows partition.

So, before continuing, we encourage you to back up all your important data, just in case.

RELATED: What’s the best way to back up my computer?

Install linux

If you are happy with your Linux distribution and it works well on your PC, you can choose to install it. The Linux distribution will be installed on an internal system drive, just like Windows.

There are two ways to do this: You can install Linux in a “dual-boot” configuration, where it sits next to your Windows operating system on your hard drive and lets you choose which operating system you want to run each time. Or, you can install Linux on Windows, removing the Windows operating system and replacing it with Linux. If you have two hard drives, you can even install Linux on one of the hard drives and use them in a dual boot scenario.

We recommend that you install Linux in a dual boot configuration to give you the flexibility to use. If you know that you really don’t want to use Windows and want to reclaim some hard drive space, however, delete Windows. Remember that you will lose all your installed apps and any files that you did not back up.

To complete the installation process, run the installer from the Linux live system. It should be easy to find. This is usually an icon placed on the active desktop by default.

The installation wizard will guide you through the process. Go through the installer and choose the options you want to use. Read the options carefully to make sure you are installing Linux the way you want. In particular, you must be careful not to wipe your Windows system (unless you want to) or install Linux on the wrong drive.

Choose an installation type when installing Ubuntu

Once the installation process is complete, you will be prompted to restart your PC. Restart and remove the USB drive or DVD you installed Linux on. Your computer will boot Linux instead of Windows or, if you chose to install Linux in a dual-boot scenario, you will see a menu that will allow you to choose between Linux and Windows on each boot.

If you want to reinstall Windows later, you can always download Microsoft Windows installation media and use it to reinstall Windows.

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