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When you purchase a computer the chances are that it comes with MS/Windows pre-installed, and tuned by the manufacturer or retailer to run well on the particular hardware. Drivers for the audio, video, and CD-ROM, will have been included in the installation. The computer is ready to switch on and boot into MS/Windows. It will just work (usually)!

To run GNU/Linux instead of MS/Windows (or in addition to MS/Windows) you often need to install the system yourself. This entails obtaining a distribution of GNU/Linux, perhaps as a LiveCD to first test without installing, then installing it, and configuring the device drivers to suit your hardware.

The GNU/Linux Operating System is built on 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 makes up the operating system. This is not for the light hearted, and luckily this is not the usual path for 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 more straightforward. Distributions typically provide the whole system as a collection of packages from which you can choose. Some packages are mandatory, and form the base installation. Other packages are then installed as you need them.

In this chapter we review the options available in selecting a distribution of GNU/Linux to install. Chapter 4 will then step you through the installation process.


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