Prepare for the Penguin
Take an inventory of your system
The key to a successful Linux install is preparation. Know your system inside and out. Most modern Linux installs are deft at automatically detecting your hardware configuration, but if you hit a snag, you'll need to know what's in your box.
-----> I recommend Belarc advisor to give you a clear snapshot of your hardware. You can download it for free from Belarc.
Get a couple of books
Some may scoff, but besides the AntiOnline Member's assistance a combination of Linux documentation and an independent guide to Linux installs will serve you well. The documentation will guide you through the proper steps and tell you what to expect from your particular distribution of Linux. The independent guide can elaborate and explain a little more about how Linux works.
You can get documentation when you download Linux, or in the box when you buy it. For the other book, I used "Complete Idiot's Guide to Linux", but Linux Online has a selection of basic Linux books.
Pick your distribution Try LinuxIso.org
For first-timers, I recommend a version of Mandrake or Caldera. Caldera's better for experimenting, but it's not as powerful. If you still want an easy install but with full power, try Mandrake. There are many packages of Mandrake and Caldera, including Macmillan and Corel.
(I started w/ Red Hat myself.)
Decide how you're going to boot
If you've got a separate machine that you'll devote to Linux, you don't need to worry about booting up. However, if you're installing Linux on a machine with Windows or another operating system, you'll need to create a partition before you start.
You may hear that you should never install Linux before Windows. This isn't true, but it's not a bad idea to install Windows first. (LILO, the Linux multiboot manager, originally didn't work well with Windows NT, but that's no longer true. Plus, Red Hat now has GRUB, which is a much nicer boot manager than LILO.)
Begin the partitioning
Whether you're going multiboot or not, you'll need to partition your hard drive. You can use PartitionMagic to resize your partitions, but Linux will do the main partitioning for you.
Now, if you're sure, let's get on with the installation.
Boot Up for a Linux Install
I like installing Linux from a bootable CD. That saves the hassle of loading a Linux boot floppy, then a CD-ROM. So if your BIOS allows, make your CD-ROM the first boot device, then the floppy, then the hard drive. You'll find that option under "Advanced Setup" in some BIOS setups, or under "BootTK" in others.
Get into BIOS
Try pressing F1, F2, or the Delete key during startup. Or look for a message that says something like, "Click X now to change system settings." And, not to be a drag, but if you're not familiar with the BIOS, you might want to think twice about installing Linux.
Begin the Linux Install
It seems as if every Linux distribution uses a slightly different installer.
Well, that's the point of many Linux distros: to deliver an easier installation. We're focusing on the things they all tend to have in common. If your installation doesn't sound quite like ours, don't worry. It probably isn't, and that doesn't mean anything is wrong.
The Linux installer's inquisitive nature
Today's graphical Linux installers are all about questions. What language would you like? What keyboard do you have? A two- or a three-button mouse? If you can't answer those questions, then stop. You're not allowed to install Linux.
If you can answer those questions, there are more difficult ones. Are you installing a workstation or server? (Workstation.) What desktop environment? (I'd go for KDE.) Read the manual as you go along.
Not just Root, but users, too
Linux is a multi-user environment by nature. One particular account, Root, can do anything on the system, from setting up accounts to erasing bits that shouldn't be erased. You shouldn't do your daily computing in the Root (God-mode, if you will) account. That means you must create at least one account for daily use.
Will more than one person be using the system? Create an account and password for each user.
Configure X Window
Right about now, your Linux install probably has either automatically detected the graphics card and monitor in your system, or asked you to tell it just what it's talking to.
X Window configuration doesn't have to hurt.
If you did your research, you should know the names of your monitor and your graphics accelerator. You also should know what graphics chip you have on your video board, and what native resolutions and color depths it supports. And if you really did your homework, you even know the preferred refresh rate for your monitor.
If you're lucky, your Linux distro managed to identify your graphics hardware and all you have to do is hit the "test this configuration" button. Worst case? You'll have to manually enter the specs you want to run your monitor at.
Don't sweat it, just make sure you test the configuration before you go on to the next step. (It's annoying to boot your system, only to be forced to go into command-line mode to configure X Window so you actually can see it.)
Got that book?
Nothing quite like waiting for files to copy from the installation CD.
Reboot Your New Linux Machine
Don't forget to remove the install CD!
If you don't, instead of booting into your new Linux install, you'll run the setup all over again. Sounds simple, but we've all forgotten this one. At least I have, but no more than, uh, twice.
As your machine boots Linux, you should see a whole mess of text scrolling up the screen. That's normal. At some point the text will stop scrolling. You'll either see a text-based login prompt (localhost login:) or a brightly colored desktop with a login prompt.
Once the text prompt comes up, type in "Root," then your root password. After you log in, type "startx." That will launch the windows manager, and you'll get the pretty, colored desktop and windows.