The most important factor in the installation of Linux is having the right hardware, as discussed in the Linux hardware requirements tutorial. The next most important factor is obtaining information about your hardware before you start the installation. The basic installation should take you no more than thirty to forty five minutes if you have the right hardware and information about it.
You can install RedHat from CD-ROM, ftp, http or hard-drive. I suggest that you buy the Red Hat Linux 7.2 boxed version or a book with the CD-ROM included (be sure it is the current version). The RedHat Linux Installation manual comes with the boxed version, but it is also available on-line. Once you obtain the distribution you will have three options to install RedHat: workstation, server or custom.
Note: You can create a boot diskette for RedHat Linux in DOS, Windows 95/98/2000 by using rawrite located in the dosutils directory of the distribution. Place a 1.4K formatted diskette in drive A, locate the directory images in the distribution, and type the following:
Where path is the path to the distribution in a hard-drive or CD-ROM. Suppose you downloaded the distribution in drive c:\redhat, then dosutils will be at c:\redhat\dosutils and images will be at c:\redhat\images.
A workstation installation removes any linux-related partitions on all installed hard drives (and uses all free unpartitioned disk space) to create a new Linux installation, and install a large variety of software automatically.
In order to perform a workstation installation you will need at least 1.5 GBytes of free hard-disk space. If you have more than two disk drives, be sure that this space is available in the first two hard-drives. I strongly suggest that you buy a second hard-drive and install Linux on it, if you have Windows NT/2000 installed in a hard-drive in your machine.
Use RedHat boot diskette(s) and insert the CD-ROM 1 in the drive (of course you can also change the BIOS and boot from the Read-Hat CD-ROM). A basic Linux kernel will load and run the installation script. Select workstation as the installation class. The workstation installation script will try to detect most of your hardware, but will ask at least what monitor you have, mouse, and TCP/IP information to setup networking. Be sure to create a boot diskette for your machine during the installation -- the script will prompt you to do so. If you have Windows installed it will not touch it, and Windows will continue to work as before.
The workstation installation script will also try to install dual-booting with Windows 95/98 if it finds it in a hard-drive. If you have Windows NT installed in your machine you will need to create dual-booting manually.
A server installation removes all existing partitions on all installed hard drives, so only choose server installation if you're sure you have nothing you want saved! This means that if you have Windows installed in ANY drive it will delete it and install Linux. As in the workstation installation it will partition the hard-drive(s) and install a variety of software packages, but it will not include many of the user-oriented packages present in the workstation installation.
In order to perform a server installation you will need at least 1.8GBytes of free hard-disk space. No dual-booting will be set up since no other operating system will exist in the machine (remember that a server installation deletes ALL other operating systems). Therefore, unless you are using your machine solely as a server, I suggest you do a workstation installation and then add the server software you may need. This also allows preserving a prior Windows installation when you install Linux.
Use RedHat boot diskette(s) and insert the CD-ROM 1 in the drive. A basic Linux kernel will load and run the installation script. Select server as the installation class. The script, like in the workstation case, will try to detect most of your hardware, but will ask at least what monitor you have, mouse, and TCP/IP information to setup networking. Be sure to create a boot diskette for your machine during the installation -- the script will prompt you to do so.
In a custom installation you will have to partition, or re-partition, the hard-drive, format the partitions, create the mounting point for the various file systems, select what packages you want to install, etc. RedHat Linux will still try to detect your hardware, but you may have to provide information and use additional tools to have all set up correctly.
I discourage you, unless you are very familiar with Linux, to do a custom installation. It will be much easier and take much less time to install RedHat Linux as a workstation and then add the packages you want, and delete the packages you do not want.
Summarizing, I suggest you always do a workstation installation and then adapt it to your needs, unless you are either a Linux expert or just want to run a server.