When you purchase a computer the chances are that it comes with MS-Windows pre-installed. The version of MS-Windows has been tuned and set up by the manufacturer or retailer to run well on the particular configuration you have purchased. Drivers for the particular devices, such as audio, video, and CD-ROM, will have been included in the installation. The computer is ready to turn on and get started in MS-Windows. It will just work (usually)!
To run GNU/Linux instead of MS-Windows (or in addition to MS-Windows) you need to install the system yourself. This entails obtaining a distribution of GNU/Linux, installing it, and configuring the device drivers to suit your particular setup. So some extra effort is usually required to get GNU/Linux up and running.
The GNU/Linux Operating System is built upon the foundation that is the Linux kernel. To install GNU/Linux on your PC you could start with installing the Linux kernel and then compiling and installing the GNU tools and other essential software that you need. But this approach is not for the light hearted. Luckily this is not the usual manner of installing a GNU/Linux system!
Many people have put a lot of effort into packaging things together into distributions so that installing GNU/Linux is a more straightforward exercise. GNU/Linux distributions typically provide the whole system as a collection of packages from which you choose those that you want install. Some packages are mandatory, and form the base installation. Other packages are then installed as you need them.
Until pre-installed GNU/Linux systems become more common chances are you will need to install a distribution yourself. The process is not trivial but it is straightforward. In Chapter 4 we will highlight the steps with just enough detail to get you through the installation process. In this chapter we review the options available in selecting a distribution of GNU/Linux to install.