Your new Linux installation


You're probably reading this because you asked me to install Linux on your computer, and I left your browser set to show this page.  After reading this, you might want to bookmark this page, then set your homepage to something more interesting to you (look through the menus of your web browser to see how to do it, they're not all the same, I can't provide a single set of instructions that'll apply to all browsers, and I don't want to have to work out a plethora of different instruction sets, and you'd have to work out which one applied to your case).  From time to time I might add to this page, and update information on it.  It's written in sections, if one topic isn't of interest to you, just skip down through to the next one.

If you were previously using Windows, Mac, or even a different version of Linux, you'll find things are a bit different from what you're used to.  Windows users are probably in for more re-learning of how to use a computer than Linux users.

Linux is an operating system, as are Windows and MacOS.  It's the underlying structure of how your computer works (hence why it's called an “operating system”).  Unlike Windows and Mac, there are many different versions of Linux, and many different user interfaces (what you may know as being the desktop).

Linux can be considered the core of a system, there are several main versions of Linux (e.g. Red Hat and Debian, to name just two), and many derivitives of them (e.g. CentOS and Fedora are derived from Red Hat, Ubuntu is derived from Debian, and Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu).  These distributions are the core plus many other software packages that might be of interest to you, some are general purpose, others are tailored for specific communities (e.g. ones with lots of scientific or music production packages).  Out of that short list, Ubuntu is one that's often recommended for new Linux users escaping from Windows, and Fedora is one of the larger ones aimed at more technically inclined users.  Each have their own loyal fanbase and support forums (some aimed at very technical support, others seem to be the blind leading the blind).

You might want to think of this along the lines of buying a new vehicle:  Do you want a car, a truck, a ute, a sedan?  Essentially, they're all an engine with wheels in a frame, they're all a vehicle, yet they're all different.  You have a choice of manufacturers (Ford, Holden, Toyota, etc), and each have a choice of models, maybe even the type of interior fittings.  When it comes to using your new vehicle, there are certain things that are common to most vehicles (steering wheel, seat belts, etc).  And certain things that are particular to certain vehicles (whether the fuel is petrol, gas, diesel, or electric, and when you need replacement parts for your Ford, you probably can't fit parts from Toyota).

A similar situation exists for your new computer.  Most computer systems have web browsers, email programs, word processors, etc., but they may not be the same program that you used on a different kind of computer.  They'll work in similar, but not identical, ways.  You may, or may not, be able to install the software you used on your previous computer, and it may be more painful to try and use such non-Linux software on your new computer than to use the ones provided with it.

For a new Linux user coming from Windows, there's another issue you'll have to deal with in a new way—hardware drivers.  For a lot of things you won't need any drivers (your sound card, mouse, keyboard) they'll simply work without you having to do anything, liberating you from that particular headache.  But for some things, you may still need drivers (e.g. some printers are already supported, others will require drivers).  But when it comes to installing drivers, you do not install Windows drivers (they're meant for the Windows operating system), you need hardware device drivers that are meant for Linux, and you'll need them for the version of Linux that you're using.

General software installation is different, too.  Most things are free, and most programs are available from software repositories for your version of Linux, rather than finding them on random websites.  There will be an application (or more than one) on your computer for finding new software, and updating the existing installations.  Doing an update will generally install all available updates for all of the software on your computer from the repository, and with some distributions this can be done automatically to a schedule.  You won't have to look after each program yourself, although it's usually possible to just update one thing if you want to (e.g. you wanted to quickly update one program you're using, and were pressed for time).  And software coming from repositories tends to get some amount of vetting and ongoing maintenance, certainly more than random software on a website by some unknown person.

Installing Linux

You can install Linux for free, there's plenty of distributions that are available for no cost.  Or, you can pay someone to do it for you.  I can install Linux for you (or other operating systems), the cost will depend on the amount of work required.

Just installing Linux to a blank drive, or wiping an old drive completely and installing Linux onto it is relatively straightforward, and can take anywhere from twenty minutes to a couple of hours (it depends on how long it takes me to download any Linux distribution that I haven't already downloaded, your computer's speed and how long it takes the installation to run, and how long it takes apply whatever software updates are now available for the packages that were included with the basic installation).

If, however, you want me to back-up all your files beforehand, then restore them afterwards, that's harder to predict.  The last couple of jobs were four hours and seven hours, because of the sheer number of files that needed to be found, backed-up, and restored.  Bearing in mind that that was things like photos, emails, documents, web-browser bookmarks (but not its settings).  In nearly all cases that software from your old installation has to be abandoned, rarely is it transferable.

Either way, you should write down all your passwords for service you need to keep using.  If they were stored on your computer, chances are you'll lose them.  When I set up a system I will need a password for using your new system (you can change this afterwards), as a minimum.  If you want me to get email programs running again, I'll need a password to set that up, or you can do it when you collect your computer.  Again, you can change passwords later, and I recommend doing so (you'll never have to wonder if anyone who's worked on your computer has access if you change your passwords).

If you need a printer set up, I'll probably need the printer as well as your computer.  Most printers cannot be set up if they're not connected.  Bear in mind that many printers were designed only for Windows, and may not work on Linux.  The same applies for scanners and other hardware.

Using Linux

Many versions of Linux have categorised menus of the programs that are installed.  You'll find programs often used for office work in an office menu, internet software in an internet menu, etc.  This makes it easier to find something to do a task you have in mind, even if you're not sure of the name of the program you need.  Though sometimes you find programs in an odd place, if it fulfills multiple roles (you might find an email program listed in the office menu rather than internet; and PDF readers often end up in a graphics menu, or just general accessories).  You can edit the menus, and put programs where you'd prefer them to be (including being in more than one menu).

Have a look through the menus, see what's there, try a few things out if they seem useful or interesting.  At the same time, don't just randomly click on things, read first.

If you have a few programs that you frequently used, and don't want to always go through the menu to launch them, you can create shortcuts for them on the desktop and/or title bars.  Often you can do this by simply dragging the program icon out of the menu to where you want to place your shortcut, and a shortcut will be created there.  If you make a mistake you can simply delete the shortcut, it'll only remove the shortcut, the actual program will not be deleted.


Problems are found with software all the time (errors and security flaws), and decent software will be updated to fix them.  It's important to keep software up to date, you should probably check for updates at least weekly, if not daily, especially for any internet software.

Linux distributions provide updates, and most installations give you some kind of notification that updates are available for you.  Some can be configured to automatically fetch and installs update, though it may be more convenient to manage updates when you have free time to deal with them.

Some updates will require you to log out, or even reboot, so that the currently running software can be halted and the newly updated version will run instead.  For this reason, you may want to do update either before you want to use your computer, or after you've finished, rather than while you're using it.  Since some updates can be to fix security problems, you might want to do updates before starting to use your computer, especially if you will be doing things on the internet.

Another consideration is that sometimes updates can be a lengthy thing to complete, and you really ought to keep an eye on what you're computer's doing during the update.  You wouldn't want to be doing updates at a time when you're in a rush


Because it's easy to lose files it's important to make backups, and preferably backups should be made on a different diskdrive.  This protects you against accidental file deletions and hardware faults.  There are programs designed for doing backups, but you can simply copy files over to an external hard drive.  This may actually be easier to manage, and easier to restore a lost file, than figuring out how to use backup software.

Managing your backups is a lot easier if you save your files in a logical manner.  It also means that it'll be quicker to handle backing up and restoring files if you need to install a new operating system.  It can mean the difference between spending a few minutes or several hours.

It's worth remember that USB flash drives are easy to lose, and they're not the most reliable devices.  Consider them useful for temporarily copying files and moving them about, but not safe for long-term backup purposes.  You're better off using another hard drive.

File management

On a new system is a good time to start organising your files in a way that makes them easier to find later on.  Store pictures in a pictures folder, document in a documents folder, avoid storing things in conflicting places, use good filenames.  If you've restored data from an old installation, now's a good time to sort it into sensible locations.

Have a look at the menus of your file browser, or file manager, you'll often find that the F2 key is a hotkey to rename the currently selected file.  Take the opportunity to rename any files or folders with bad filenames.

I often find collections of accidentally created new folders with nothing in them.  Delete them, they just clutter your space.  Likewise, delete other junk files that you never needed, or don't need any more.

I often find lots of junk files when people save something from a webpage.  Instead of just saving the bit they want, they save the entire page and all the objects in it.  If all you wanted was a picture, just save that and delete the rest.


Now's a good time set good passwords.  Don't use the same password in different places, if one gets hacked that makes it easier for them to hack other places that you participate in.  Every password should be different.

Good passwords aren't guessable.  They shouldn't be names of friends, pets, relatives, or dates.  I don't go along with the standard advice of mixing capital letters, numbers, and symbols, but sometimes you're forced into having to do that.  They're hard to type and remember, but not hard to crack.  Pass phrases, where you run three or more words together are very difficult to guess or crack, but easier to remember and type.

e.g. 50stupidpollies or bookflowermoon

Passwords are easy to forget, so it helps to store them somewhere.  There are programs for that, but a simple approach is get an old-fashioned address book, and handwrite them down.  Keep your passwords where they can't be easily nicked along with your computer.  If you have to change a password, update your notes, and also note the date(s) you set the passwords, note down any useful details to go with the account (name of the service, usernames, contact details, etc).  This helps you keep track of things.

Some services let you choose reminders to help unlock them again when you forget a password.  Unfortunately they usually ask you to fill in answers that other people could guess at (names of your parents and pets, etc).  I recommend faking such details if you're forced to provide them, though do use real phone numbers or email addresses if you want to be able reclaim access to a service that you've been locked out of.

Your computer will prompt you to enter your password when you try to do changes to your computer that will affect the system.  This is a good thing and is there to protect you, do not disable the feature.  On the other hand, websites that want to hack your computer will try to pretend they're doing something useful for you and try to get you to enter your password when you really should not.  Take the time to learn what your system password prompts look like, and what the password prompts in your web browser looks like, so you can spot the ones you should ignore.  Websites that claim they've found viruses, or that you need to install some plugin, are usually lying.

Some things don't work

It's not uncommon to find that some things (bluetooth, wi-fi, graphics, sound, printers, etc) don't work on Linux that did work on Windows, or only work in a very basic manner.  The usual reason is that the manufacturer only built the thing to work with Windows, though some do support Linux as well.  For devices from suppliers those that provide no support, the only way hardware does work is if someone else has discovered how to make it work.  They'll have to have had a need to do that, in the first place, and have had access to the same hardware.  And it'll depend on various factors if they succeed.

And from time to time, you'll find things that didn't used to work suddenly spring to life, as someone has discovered how to use them, and a recent update has enabled the hardware on your computer.

Unfortunately the converse is true, as well.  Sometimes things that used to work might stop working.  Usually that's due to an update triggering a change, and nobody who worked on that update had the same hardware as you, so they weren't aware that their changes had that effect.

Resolving problems

All computer systems face the potential that something mightn't work and you need help to resolve the problem.  If you're completely non-technical you might have to have someone else attempt to resolve the issue for you.  If you want to have a go for yourself, you can try doing an internet search describing your problem, or you can try joining a forum or mailing list for your particular Linux distribution.

Though be warned that some forums have bad advice from people who don't really know what they're doing, abusive behaviour from know-it-alls who get aggressive towards people who can't fix things for themselves, or towards people who don't appear to have tried to find a solution before asking for help.  It's best to read through forums before making a post, to see if your issue has already been mentioned, and to guage how people behave on them.


Generally speaking, anti-virus software isn't needed on Linux, it's just not vulnerable in the same way as Windows is.  It's not immune, but not massively vulnerable like Windows is.  Few people need to run anti-virus software on Linux, and it's often only installed to protect other Windows machines on the same network rather than the Linux installation, itself.

With Windows, merely being on a network and receiving malicious emails or viewing websites with malicious content can be enough to infect your system.  On Linux you have personally allow nasty things to run before they can infect your system.  Virtually no anti-virus system will protect you from the things that you do yourself.

Most Linux software comes from Linux software repositories (rather than random websites), and they should be vetting the software before making it publicly available.  If you are going to install external software, it is at your own risk, and you should limit it to things with a proven track record (e.g. Google Chrome web browser, Skype, Zoom) and only from their own websites.

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