Linux Computer Setup Guide

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After A plea for Linux convinced you to install Linux, here are some hints to get you started with it. I will guide you through the process of preparation, installing Linux and some important programs, and basic configuration. If you have any comments or find yourself confused by something on this list, please leave a comment.

Before Installation

Time estimate: 1 day - 3 month

  1. If it is not already the case, install OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird as replacements of Office, Internet Explorer, Outlook.
    • Explain your users these programs and give them some months to change their habits. In the beginning, they will use both - that's OK. Encourage the use of these programs, e.g. by sending .odt-Files instead of .doc.
    • Try to convince your users that they will benefit from these changes. It is additional work for them, what will be their outcome?
  2. Backup your Data. !!
    • You can install Linux and leave the Windows as it was. However, this is a bit risky (as it resizes the partition), so back up any important files beforehand so that you could reinstall Windows in the worst case.
    • Backup up any relevant user data (Emails?), important software (that cannot be replaced easily), and whatever you don't want to loose.
      • (It just feels save when you did a backup to have a "just-in-case", even though, most of the time that I lost data it wasn't as existential than I thought at the beginning. --Pitpat 20:59, 3 December 2009 (UTC))
  3. Decide if you want to install both, Windows and Linux.
    • It is not recommended. Not for technical reason, but rather usability: you will need to install, configure, update all programms twice, and then, where do you put the data? Linux can access the data of windows, but not vice-versa. And do you really want to reboot just because you need to do X for some minutes?
    • If for some reason windows is needed, this is this the way to go. Install Windows first, then Linux.
  4. Download Linux.
    • This article will talk about Ubuntu 9.10, but most of the remarks are directly applicable to all flavors of Linux.
    • Other Distributions to consider/test: Fedora, OpenSuse - just read the wikipedia articles to get started.
    • You will have to burn a CD or DVD out of a ISO file. Please note that creating a CD with a ISO file on it is a different thing (here: useless) than burning a CD based on an ISO file. Not all burning programs may be able to burn a bootable CD.

Test Hardware

This is best done before you install! Using a Live CD or USB stick start up the computer. The Live version has all the drivers of the installed version. Check the following to make sure that your computer is compatible. Note that changes (installing, changing configuration) will be saved on the USB-stick, but not if you boot from CD-ROM. So it is recommended that you document all solutions that you found.

  1. Test Screen Resolutions
    • If the resolutions proposed in System > Preferences > Display are not to your satisfaction (e.g. you need/want something more than 800x600 :-), check if your graphic card is properly recognized.
    • For that, change your xorg.conf or find a procedure adapted to your graphic card. Error messages are found at /var/log/Xorg.0.log.
    • Note that sometimes you will have to configure your monitor, too (also in xorg.conf): the default monitor may not reflect all the power that your actual monitor has.
  2. Test WiFi Networking
    • Some manufacturers do not make drivers for Linux and the community has worked hard to correct this. Test your wireless networking works before installing! There are a few tricks for getting it working (using a program called Ndiswrapper, that uses Windows drivers under Linux. It can work well, but it is not recommended. Or easy!). One rule of thumb is that if your wireless does not work under one Linux distribution try another. Or give up. Note that wired networking will work out of the box in 99.9% of cases!
  3. Test Printer
    • Most Linux distributions can set up a printer with little fuss and in many cases automatically. Some printers can be VERY difficult or impossible to set up. Check compatibility with e.g.
    • If it doesn't print, try System > Administration > Printing > Troubleshooting first.
    • The Printing System is called "CUPS". Error messages are found at /var/log/cups/error_log
    • If you have an HP printer there is an excellent HP toolbox called HPLIP that can perform a lot of printer managing tasks.
  4. Test Sound
    • Sound Preferences - even per application!
    • Ubuntu uses Pulseaudio as SoundSystem. This gets a problem for Skype for example - where you may try the statically-linked ALSA-Version of Skype.
    • If you need your microphone input, test it too.


Time estimate: ~ 1 h

  1. Reconsider: Did you do a backup? Is the backup still recent enough?
  2. Boot from CD-ROM
    • Insert the Linux CD-ROM and reboot. If he starts as usual (so it didn't work), you reboot a second time and
    • go into BIOS. Press Del or F10 before Windows launches. In doubt, just press it repeatedly until something appears.
    • Search for "Boot Order" and put CD-ROM first.
  3. Follow the instructions by the installation dialog.
    • IMHO, installing Linux is even easier than installing Windows!

After Installation

That's where the real work starts. Warning: This can take from 1 day to 1 week.

Install Updates

Recommended settings for Linux updates

Go to System > Administration > Software sources. Here you can configure the update process. In the tab Updates, I would recommend the settings: important&recommended updates, check daily for updates, install security updates without confirmation.

If you choose to manually install updates, make sure you do it every week to month.

Then do the update. System > Administration > Update Manager. If there is nothing listed, click on check, and then many (read: several hundred's of MB) updates will show up. Click install updates.

User Management

If more than 1 person is using the computer: After reading User and Rights Management, create the users and assign their rights.

(Stub: Yes and possibly introduce command line equivalents for the click click click approach above - sudo apt-get update etc.)

Install Necessary Software

In Linux, the most useful software is already installed by default. Whenever you want to install some software, first search this software in the Ubuntu Software center or, in case that you know his name, System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager. (In case you need to download the sources, there will always be a file "INSTALL" or "README" or similar that explains how to compile - but it will always take at least 15 Minutes to get it run.)

Here are some package I found useful on ALL Ubuntu installations:

  • ttf-mscorefonts-installer
    • The fonts that are packaged with windows. If you have layout problems when opening the same file in OpenOffice/Windows and OpenOffice/Linux, you will need this.
  • localepurge
    • Automatically deletes unneeded language files. Or is there any chance you will ever need a japanese translation?
  • flashplugin-nonfree
    • This installs the Flashplugin for Firefox & Co. You can't install these kinds of plugin from within firefox.

Install Useful Software

Many useful programs are already installed by default. You may need to add these depending on your needs:

  • sshd or vnc (Remote control and management)
    • Via those program you can access this computer from the network. With sshd, you can login into another's command line; with vnc you can even have a desktop and screen like this computer would. You can also use Windows machines to log into Linux machines (the respective clients are called PuTTY and UltraVNC)
    • Set good passwords and make sure that you know about the security implications of this.
  • dia or inkscape (Drawing)
    • You can draw diagrams and other vector graphics with it.
    • Dia is specialised on Diagrams (in general: boxes combined with arrows), whereas Inkscape can be used for any type of Clipart/Graphic.
  • Shutter (Screen-shot)
    • Shutter is an excellent screen-shot program with superb annotation facilities. Very impressive. Useful for making manuals and step by step instructions for software.
  • Scribus or LyX (Layout Word Processor)
    • Excellent DTP (Desktop Publishing) program. Very good PDF export for high quality printing. Good Typography.
  • VLC (Media Player)
    • To play DVDs, MP3s or more exotic audio/video files (e.g. Quicktime), VLC will come handy.

Where to Find Help

The easiest way to find help is to find someone who had the same problem as you. And with the bias of Forum, Wiki, Mailing-Lists, this really is the fastest method. Even when it's tempting to just create a new Post, try to find the answer yourself first - firstly, because you will learn much more by doing it, and secondly to avoid that the forum is asked the same question over and over again.


Sometimes help is nearer than you think: already installed on your computer. For almost every installed program you can type

 man [name of program]

where [name of program] is the name of the binary or config file.


 $ man passwd
      passwd - change user password
      passwd [options] [LOGIN]
      The passwd command changes passwords for user accounts.
 Type Q to exit, arrows to scroll, / to search

Forum, Wiki

  • You will find much novice information at Ubuntu Wiki, often in form of step-by-step tutorials.
  • Also check out this page if you're searching a program "like XXX" and don't know where to start.
  • Bugs are often tracked at Launchpad, if you encounter strange behaviour you can search for solutions here.
  • Solid-rocket linux user/admin education can be found at TLDP, for example.


  • Community also means that information is not necessarily centralised. Many neat tricks can be found at blogs, and even detailed background information are often on private homepages. Just search for it!

YWAM itself

Don't forget that some YWAMers are IT guys! You could ask for help at YWAM IT, for example.

You can find some Linux articles in Category:Linux.


It's time to release you into the world of Linux!
Enjoy it, but take some breaks to eat and sleep sometimes - it can be addictive :-)