Sometimes it's easy to forget that we all had to start somewhere with Linux. When you're not used to the way it works, or the kind of concepts involved, Linux can seem like a foreign language. If you're struggling with free software, or if you know someone who needs help making the switch to Linux, we hope this feature will help.
Fedora is a great choice of distribution to start with. It's easy to install and just as easy to use. It's one of the most well-respected distributions available, and has a very tight relationship with its parent and chief sponsor, Red Hat. With Fedora, you have access to one of the largest communities in the world of Linux, and one of the the biggest selections of software to play with. In this mini-feature, we're going to walk you through your first steps installing and using Fedora 12 so that everyone can get started and have fun in the Linux community.
(If this really is your first time using Linux, you might want to read our extensive Linux newbie FAQ before you start, then, when you're up and running, check out our guide to fixing Linux problems yourself. Finally, place a bookmark to our searchable archive of Linux solutions - you never know when it might come in handy...)
So, the first step is to download Fedora and burn it to a DVD. To do that, visit http://fedoraproject.org/get-fedora and choose the right version for you. If you aren't too sure which version is the right one for you, download this one. Now put your newly burned DVD in the drive. After inserting and booting the machine, the first screen you'll see is the Fedora boot menu. You need to choose the first option, "Install or upgrade an existing system". In some rare cases, you may find that your computer is unable to progress any further. Before asking your questions on online forum, try the second option in the boot menu. This will use a failsafe graphics card driver and this should enable most people to get problematic machines up and running.
After you've selected your language and keyboard you'll be asked whether you want to test the install media. There's no reason to go through this lengthy process, and you should select 'Skip' to jump to the install stage directly. But if you do experience problems with the installation, especially later when the packages are being installed onto your machine, then it's worth coming back to this option.
The next screen asks you to name the computer. This can be a little confusing for most people, as they're not going to have any idea what the hostname should be. On an office network it's the only way to tell one machine from another, so the system administrator would need to ensure that each hostname is unique. On a home network, this isn't quite so important, and you can call your computer anything. After this, you need to create a root password for your distribution. Unlike many modern distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora still has an all-powerful administrator's account that's used for system administration. This is the password you'll need to access it.
Partition your drive
It's now time to choose how your hard drives are going to be used. If you're happy to lose all data on a single-drive system, just click on Next. If you have more than one drive, but you're still dedicating a whole device to Fedora, make sure it's selected in the drive list and click Next.
If you want keep partitions on the same drive you want to install Fedora on to, you'll need to click on the drop-down menu at the top of the window and choose between one of the following options:
- Shrink current system This will attempt to repurpose any free space assigned to an active partition, leaving enough room for Fedora to install itself alongside. If you choose this option, make sure you've got a copy of all the data on the drive you want to resize.
- Use free space Even if you already have partitions on the drive, this option will install a working Fedora installation into any free and unpartitioned space that's still available.
- Create custom layout Selecting this option will take you to the manual partition editing tool without any predefined setup. From here you can edit the partition table, editing, creating and deleting partitions on the selected drive. When creating your partitions, make sure you have at least a root partition with a mount point of / and a partition formatted as 'swap'.
- Click on Next and Write Changes To Disk to apply your choices to the drive. If you didn't make a backup of any data on the drive, it's now too late.
When Fedora detects an unformatted drive, it will offer to blank it for you. Be sure it definitely is unformatted already, though, or you may lose your data!
We're shortly going to introduce the bootloader. This is the menu you see when you first turn on your machine, and most of the time you can completely forget about it. If you've got more than one OS installed, you should be able to see them listed in the main area of this page. You can change the order in which they'll appear, and also change which boots by default if you don't make a manual selection at boot time.
We're almost there. Click on Next and Fedora will grab a package list of all the applications that are currently available. On the screen that follows you can install additional packages by selecting the Software Development and Web Server options at the top of the screen, and enable additional repositories in the lower panel. If you have a fast internet connection, we'd recommend enabling both the Fedora 12 and Fedora 12 Updates repositories. The first option in the list is the DVD in the drive, and if you disable this Fedora will grab packages from the internet rather than asking you to insert the disc into the drive.
Boot menu and packages
Click Next and go and make a cup of tea while your distribution is installed and configured. After the installer has grabbed and configured all the packages it needs, it will eject the disc from your optical drive and reboot the machine, after which you'll need to create your user account for the machine. This is the account you're going to be using on a daily basis for normal operation. The username you enter will be used to log in, while your full name will be used for things like the the From address in emails. If you need more than one account for other people who are going to use the machine, you'll have to wait until you get to the desktop to add their information.
Finally, you just need to set the date and time for your system. You can do this either manually, using the calendar and the time selection widgets, or automatically across the internet by clicking on the Synchronise button. We'd recommend the latter if your machine is connected to the internet. Just click on Forward and Finish on the file page.
That's it! The Fedora login screen will now appear, and you can enter the username and password you just created to gain access to the Fedora desktop. You've now got Fedora up and running, and it's time to learn more about how to use it.
Step by step: install Fedora
Set your location: Define your keymap and default language. This can always be changed later.
Add any other operating systems to your boot menu and use 'Edit' to set the default.
The final step installs the packages off the disc. You can always add more packages later.
People who haven't used Linux before usually have a common misconception about its operating environment - that you need to use the command-line to achieve anything meaningful. This might have been true ten years ago, but the days when command line skills were a prerequisite for Linux usage are long gone. These days, you don't have to type a single command unless you actually want to. This is thanks to the rapid evolution of the Linux desktop, which has become the most powerful, configurable and usable way of interacting with your applications, files and the network. Linux is different to both OS X and Windows in that it offers a choice of desktop environment. This means that if you don't like the way system menus are handled, or the way windows are managed, you can install and try an alternative.
The two main desktops are called Gnome and KDE, and they try to cater for different types of user. Gnome, the default desktop for Fedora, takes a minimalist approach to configuration and visual complexity. The idea is that you spend less time messing around with settings and more time being productive. It's also the best choice if you're just getting started with the Linux desktop, as you're less likely to be overwhelmed by icons, menus and options. Try Gnome first and see how it fits your working and usage requirements. If you find yourself wanting more control over specific elements of the interface, such as how window borders are drawn, how icons are placed on the desktop you might want to try KDE, which you'll need to install manually.
KDE makes fewer assumptions than Gnome about what the user may or may not want to do, or what their level of expertise may be. You can change almost anything about its default appearance and how the desktop behaves. But this approach has the disadvantage of being less clear to new users, and less easy to use if you just want to get on and browse the internet or edit a few documents. It's also not as stable as Gnome in its current version, which might be an issue if you're installing Fedora in an office environment. But before you can decide whether KDE is worth a go, give Gnome a try first.
You can change almost anything about your desktop's appearance through the Appearances preferences panel.
You should find Fedora's Gnome desktop very easy to use. Despite a few graphical quirks, it works just like any other desktop environment. You can manage files, launch applications, switch between windows and edit documents in much the same way as you're used to. Double-click on your home folder, for example, and a file manager window will appear showing you the contents of the directory. By default, this includes directories for music, pictures and videos, just like any other operating system, and most applications place content into these respective folders.
If you're used to Microsoft Windows, Fedora's default configuration may appear upside down. The panel on the top of the screen is a close match for the panel at the bottom of a Windows display, for example, and this is where you access the launch menu in the top-left, and where you log out from and shut down your machine by clicking on your username. It's also used to hold the quick launch icons for your favourite applications, as well as several panel applications such as the time and date, system resource monitors and the two additional desktop menus - Places and System.
Places, as with Windows and OS X, is a list of the destinations you're most likely to need. At the top of the list, you'll find links to the folders within your home directory, and beneath these are links to the Computer and any external drives you might have connected. Computer, like My Computer in Windows, is just a top-level view of the devices connected to your machine, including the hard drive and any optical drives. Beneath this are two entries for accessing servers on the network, and beneath these you can search for files on your system or open files you've recently accessed with other Gnome-compatible applications.
The System menu is where you change your desktop's configuration and that of the system as a whole. Personal settings and appearance profiles - such as the background image and fonts - can be changed in the Preferences menu, while more important options are hidden in Administration.
The Administration menu is used for adding new applications and changing the way your system behaves. You can add new users, for instance, by selecting Users And Groups from the Administration menu, and clicking Add User from the window that appears. Nearly every task you perform in the Administration menu will ask you for your root account's password. This is the standard level of security on Fedora, and it means that only privileged users are able to make potentially system-breaking changes and updates.
Fedora will automatically check for updates and notify you when it finds some that need to be installed - but you will need to enter the administrator's password!
The most commonly selected option from the Administration menu is Add/Remove Software. This is your portal to the world of free software, and you can augment your installation with thousands of other applications, tools and utilities. This is also where you install an alternative desktop environment, such as KDE, if you need to.
Most Linux distributions, including Fedora, use something called a package manager to get new applications from the internet. This is the app that's launched when you select Add/Remove Software from the Administration menu, and it grabs applications that have been specifically packaged for Fedora from either an official or third-party software repository. The advantage of this method is that you can be certain that official packages will work, and that they will be appropriately configured for your system. The disadvantage is that the very latest releases of software may not be in the repository.
To install an application, just click on the Add/Remove icon in the Administration menu to launch the package manager, and use the find field to search for the application you're interested in. You might want to install Stellarium, for instance, a fantastic desktop planetarium application for viewing a virtual representation of the night sky. Just type 'stellarium' into the find field, click on the Find button, and you'll see the package listed in the area on the right - it's the first on the list. The other two packages bundle the documentation and a utility that can be used to automatically align your telescope to the view provided by Stellarium.
You can install thousands of applications in this way, but things are slightly different if you want to install a complicated package, such as the KDE desktop or the Eclipse development environment. This is because there's no single package for either of these; instead, the whole installation is usually made up from dozens of separate packages. Fedora solves this problem by bundling some of the more important groups of packages together, and you can find these listed in the package manager under the Package Collections category listed on the left. To install the KDE desktop, for instance, skip through this list until you find KDE (K Desktop Environment). Select the package and click on Apply to install. You'll then be able to choose KDE from the drop-down menu in the login screen when you next log in.
Most of the time you need to use a package manager to install new apps, rather than downloading an executable.
Common tasks: Office work
Microsoft's Office suite of applications is universal. Almost everybody transfers documents across the internet formatted to load into Word or Excel, for example, and the lack of native versions of these applications on the Linux desktop is a common excuse for not using Linux in the first place. But you'll find that you can load and save 99.9% of documents in Microsoft-compatible formats on Linux without any problem, for free.
The magic responsible for this is a free suite of office applications called OpenOffice.org. It's a silly name for a powerful product that can genuinely compete with Microsoft's offering for all but the most complex of documents, and the suite can be found in under the Office submenu of the main Applications menu. The most useful application is Writer, the word processor, and you can load Microsoft Word files directly from the File > Open menu. When you've made your changes, just save the file to the same format. OpenOffice.org will warn you that some information may be lost, but unless you've done some heavy formatting or used a load of macros, there shouldn't be any problem with the file's recipient being able to read your version of the file.
When you're investing time creating and working on documents, you also need to make sure you back up and copy your files. The easiest way to do this is to burn them on to a disc. The Gnome desktop has a very simple front-end to disc burning, and this can be found by clicking on the CD/DVD Creator entry in the System Tools menu. This will open a special kind of file manager, and any files copied into this window can be burned on to a disc by clicking on Write To Disc. You can also generate an ISO image of your files, and you can burn this to a disc later or on a different machine.
Thanks to its MS Office compatibility, OpenOffice.org is one of the most important applications on Linux.
Common tasks: Burn with Brasero
If you need greater control over disc creation, you're better off using an application called Brasero, which dwells in the Sound & Video menu. Brasero uses a wizard-based GUI that asks you which kind of disc you're going to create first and will . You can build audio, video and data discs, and Brasero will attempt to convert files automatically as you add them to your project. With an audio CD, for example, music will be converted into the raw audio necessary for playback on a normal CD player.
Common tasks: Photo management
For a number of years, the unbeatable photo application on Linux has been Gimp - an application that's often likened to earlier versions of Adobe's Photoshop. But it's not the best option for simple photo editing, and it can't manage a collection. The best tool for this is called F-Spot, and you can launch it from the drop-down list that appears when you connect a digital camera to your system. Alternatively, launch it manually from the Graphics menu.
When F-Spot's running, you can import your current photo collection from either a camera or a folder. Photos are then listed across a timeline, with thumbnail previews in the main window. Double clicking on any of these images will open the Edit window, and you can quickly perform simple tasks from here, such as crop, redeye removal and contrast/brightness/exposure balance. Most of the time these adjustments are all that you need to get the best from your photos, and these changes are non-destructive. If you ever want to revert to the original photo, just select Original from the Version menu that appears in the Histogram section of Edit mode. You can also tag your photos for easy retrieval, and add comments and descriptions.
If you want to share your photos, use the File > Export menu option. You can choose between many of the most popular online services, including Flickr, Picasa and SmugMug, and F-Spot will handle the conversion and the upload automatically. You can also generate a complete website in a folder that can then be transferred to your online hosting account or even emailed to people, or create a CD where the photos will automatically be burned on to the disc.
Import your photos from a digital camera, then manage your collection and make simple edits through F-Spot.
Common tasks: Online communication
For the traditionalists, email is still a fundamental part of the operating system, and while many of us tend to use webmail for casual use, there's nothing quite like using a full-featured application. The Gnome desktop includes an excellent email client called Evolution, and this can be found in the Office menu. When it's first launched, you'll need to add the details for an email service. You should already have these details handy, but you can also access many online email services using their IMAP or POP servers.
With Google Mail, for example, if you enable IMAP in your online setttings, you can configure Evolution to access your Gmail by using IMAP. Just enter a receiving server address of imap.gmail.com, enable SSL encryption and password authentication, and use your Google Mail address for your username, and your online password. For sending email, use smtp.gmail.com as the server, using login authentication and the same account credentials as before. You will then be able to use Evolution as a drop-in replacement for Google Mail.
As for instant messaging, many of us use it to keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues. The typical IM application will show you who's online and let you type messages that are sent to your contact immediately. On Microsoft Windows, instant messaging usually means using Microsoft's own messenger software, complete with its invasive advertising and restrictive GUI. But you may also have come across Yahoo Instant Messenger and Google Talk, two more applications that do exactly the same thing. Normally you need to use a different client application for each network of contacts you want to keep in touch with, but on Linux the best instant messaging clients will access more than one network simultaneously.
With the latest release of Fedora, the instant messenger client of choice is called Empathy. This can be found by clicking through the Internet menu. But before you can waste your time chatting to people, you need to spend a few minutes setting up each network you want to communicate across. From the Account window, click on the Add button, and from the window that appears, choose the network you'd like to configure from the drop-down list. If you don't already have an account, you can create one, or enter the details if you're already using one. We had a few problems configuring Google Talk with the default values, and we found we had to open the advanced options for the account, enable Encryption Required and define the server as talk.google.com.
Finally there's Twitter, the micro-blogging craze. The best Gnome client we've found is called Twitux, and you'll need to install this through Add/Remove Software in the Administration menu. You can then launch the app from the Internet menu and it will ask you for your account name and password, after which it will load your latest list of tweets. If you open the preferences panel, you can enable on-screen notifications, which most of the time means you don't even need to open Twitux to see any new messages. They're briefly displayed on your desktop as each is received.
Microblogging services, such as Twitter, seem to be taking over from both email and instant messaging.
Common tasks: Playing music
While it's true that there isn't a native version of iTunes for Linux, there are a couple of perfect replacements. The default option is called RhythmBox, and this can be found in the Sound & Video menu. RhythmBox can be used to play your music, build a collection, subscribe to podcasts, listen to internet radio and online shopping. Just drag and drop files or locations into the Library list on the left of the main window.
You won't be able to listen to MP3 files, or synchronise these with music players, but you will be able to listen to music in open formats. You can also download music from within the application using either the Jamendo service or Magnatune, both of which can be found in the Stores section of the content list on the left. Music on Jamendo is licensed under the creative commons, and you can download and listen to it freely. If you like what you hear, then it's worth rewarding the artist by right-clicking on the music and making some sort of donation.
Magnatune is slightly different in that you can purchase and download whole albums, but you can still listen to its complete catalogue of music through RhythmBox, and the company has a very progressive and open attitude to downloadable music. Magnatune even encourages you to give copies of the music you buy to three friends, and there's no digital rights management (DRM) whatsoever in any of the downloads.
Rhythmbox can used to be purchase songs and donate to artists who create music using open source licences.
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