How to Install Linux
You’ve heard about the Linux operating system. But have you tried it on your PC? It’s easy to do – in many cases, you don’t even have to remove the Microsoft Windows OS you’re using now. And Linux is virtually cost-free. So what are you waiting for?
Sure, you can buy Lenovo laptops and Lenovo desktops with Linux pre-installed. If that’s too big a step, however, trying Linux on your current PC – or an older system you no longer use – is a great way to explore its features and decide if Linux is for you.
In this article, we’ll explore some commonly recommended steps to help new users install and test Linux. There’s a big world out there, and there are more ways to experience it on your PC than through Windows!
IMPORTANT: The instructions presented here are high-level and abbreviated compared to those provided by each Linux distributor. They’re meant only to help you decide if you’re capable of installing Linux on your PC. If you proceed, use the instructions provided by your Linux distributor. Lenovo is not responsible for any problems that occur if/when you install.
Install and test Linux on your PC
Linux is popular for its low cost, simplicity, and ability to run on systems with minimal RAM, disk space and other system resources. At its simplest, installing Linux on a PC takes four easy steps:
- Select and download your preferred Linux distribution
- Create your bootable installation media (CD/DVD, USB drive, etc.)
- Set your PC to boot from the CD/DVD or USB drive
- Run the installer and choose how to configure Linux
Once installed, there’s lots you can do to learn how Linux works, explore Linux-based software, and so on. But installing Linux, as we’ll explain below, really is as simple as 1, 2, 3 (and 4).
NOTE: There are many ways to install Linux, from loading it file-by-file onto a blank hard drive (sometimes called “Linux from scratch”) to installing it remotely over a network. However, to keep things simple in this article, we’ll assume you’re already using a Windows-based PC with which to download files, create boot media, and – ultimately – install Linux.
Select and download your preferred Linux distribution
The Linux OS dates to 1991 when a young Norwegian scholar set out to build an alternative PC operating system with open source programming code that other developers could then explore and enhance. The Linux OS kernel quickly evolved with help from coders around the world – ultimately rivaling Windows in terms of functionality. And while Linux itself remains free (a few providers ask for donations), different varieties of Linux have evolved over time, including some that offer proprietary, revenue-generating add-on features and services.
The result? Today, in addition to raw Linux, there are dozens of distinct Linux “distributions” you can choose from. Some remain minimalistic. Others have lots of bells and whistles, even offering a visual “desktop” like that used in Windows. For new users, downloading and installing one of these distributions is the fastest, easiest way to try Linux.
Your first step in installing Linux, then, is selecting a Linux distribution (or “distro”) to try. We can’t list the pros and cons of each one here. But to help you start your search, here are the distros that got the most traffic at the popular Linux review website Distro Watch in early 2021.
- MX Linux
- KDE neon
Once you’ve decided which Linux distribution to try, go to the corresponding website and download the latest .iso file. It’s typically easy to find, and you’ll need it to install Linux on your PC.
Create your installation media (disk, thumb drive, etc.)
Installing a new OS typically erases any existing data on your hard drive, so without complex disk partitioning or other procedures, you can’t easily install Linux on a PC using files that are resident on that PC. Instead, experts suggest installing Linux from a CD/DVD or USB drive (thumb drive) on which you’ve imaged your downloaded .iso file. [The installer software for some distros will partition your drive for you, but the installer does the heavy lifting.]
This process of creating a Linux installation CD/DVD or USB drive (generically called “installation media”) is slightly more complicated that simply copying the downloaded .iso file(s), however. For the media to be recognized as a bootable installation tool, each file needs to be in a specific location and order, especially the so-called bootloader. Because of this, most Linux distributions recommend using a dedicated tool or utility to create proper, bootable installation media.
MX Linux and Mint – both highly popular Linux distributions – offer their own tools to create bootable USB drives. MX Linux also suggests a utility called Rufus, as does another popular distribution called Ubuntu. Other sources list tools such as usbimager, Etcher and others.
Set your PC to boot from the CD/DVD or USB drive
With your bootable installation media created, the next step is telling your PC to boot from it. Normally, your PC starts up using the OS files stored on the hard drive. But you can change the “boot order” so it looks elsewhere – such as the CD/DVD drive or USB drive – for its start-up data.
One method involves editing your PC’s BIOS file. It controls many aspects of how your computer operates, so it’s typically the domain of expert PC users only, and any changes you make remain in place until you edit the file again. Fortunately, most systems offer a simpler, visual interface to reset the boot order – an ideal option if you just want to boot from the CD/DVD or USB drive once (to install and test your new OS), and then switch back again.
BEWARE: Do not proceed further without backing up the important data and personal files on your PC. If you install Linux as your sole OS, all currently saved data and files will be erased in the process. Even if you opt to run Linux alongside Windows, the partitioning process could affect some saved data.
To change your PC’s boot order one time, the first step is to start (or restart) it. Some systems will briefly show an on-screen prompt to “enter Setup mode” or something similar, while others require that you immediately press a specific key (F10, for example) to disrupt the normal boot and show the Setup menu instead. [If you’re not sure how your PC works in this regard, look it up before you start.]
Whatever method you choose, once you select the CD/DVD drive or USB drive to boot from, your PC will proceed to start up using the Linux distribution .iso file(s) on the installation media you inserted there.
NOTE: If you’re currently using Windows, a feature called Secure Boot Mode may block the above-described change to boot from the installation media rather than the hard drive. Most Linux distributions are designed to work around this feature, but if you encounter errors, Windows Help gives instructions to temporarily de-activate Secure Boot Mode.
Run the installer and choose how to configure Linux
Once you’ve changed the boot order, your PC will look to the designated CD/DVD or USB drive for its start-up information – and find your installation media’s bootloader file(s) instead. These files will determine what happens next and will differ based on the Linux distribution you chose.
Most, but not all, Linux distributions present a visual installation interface where you can make choices about how to install your new OS. Typical options include:
- Run Linux from the CD/DVD or USB drive: Many Linux distros can run directly from the installation media, without being permanently installed on your hard drive. It’s a great way to try Linux, but performance will be slower than if the files were stored on your PC.
- Install Linux alongside Windows: Some Linux distributions can be installed on a partitioned piece of your hard drive. You can keep both OSes available and choose between them at system start-up based on the tasks you’ll be undertaking.
- Install Linux as your sole OS: If you already know you want Linux as your new OS, or you’ve tested it through the installation media and are ready to take the plunge, all distros include the option to erase your hard drive and install Linux as your sole OS.
When you’re done, remove the installation media and return your system to its normal boot order. From then on, depending on the options you chose, your system will boot directly to Linux or dual-boot to either Linux and Windows (you’ll have to choose which OS to use each time you start up).
One final note: If you opt to replace Windows with Linux, be sure to save your original Windows product key or proof of purchase details. While many users love Linux, others eventually return to Windows – and it can’t be re-installed without the product key or something similar.