Installing Linux

June 15, 2021

Today, I took some of the first tangible steps into the world of Computer Science: with the help of my brother, I installed Linux on my old Laptop.

More precisely, we installed the Linux Mint (I use my current laptop for my work as a lawyer, and hence, it was not a good idea to install Linux there, as it could wipe out my existing data and/or otherwise interfere with my work). In the course of the installation process, I understood what a ‘bootable drive’ really means. But for that to understand, it was important to appreciate that the term ‘booting’ meant the process of starting a computer. After a computer is switched off, its main memory (the RAM) loses the files containing its operating system, as it is a volatile memory. Thus, during the booting process, the first thing that the CPU does is to load the ‘kernel’ (see below) of the operating system in its main memory. The program which initiates this process is called a ‘boot loader’ and the ‘Master Boot Record’ (MBR) tells the CPU where to find this boot loader. Thus, at the time of switching on a computer, the CPU hunts for the MBR, which is, basically, a pointer (like, a shortcut for files on Windows) that helps the BIOS to locate the boot loader which in turn loads the relevant parts of the operating system onto the RAM. Interestingly, there is a predetermined hierarchy which the processor would follow while hunting down the MBR. Typically, it would search for the MBR file on the computer’s own hard-drive before moving on to other drives (like flash-drives or CD-ROMs). This was important to know, as we were trying to install Linux using a Flash-drive (onto which an ISO file containing the Linux Mint was written). Thus, to prevent the BIOS from booting Windows 10 that was already installed onto its hard-drive, we pressed ‘Esc’ right after switching it on. This allowed us to change the said hierarchy, such that the next time the laptop was switched on, it would first search for an MBR on the flash drive. In this manner, we could ensure that the Laptop booted Linux Mint from the flash drive itself. Next, we needed to install Linux Mint on the harddrive of my laptop itself. To do this, we needed to wipe out all existing memory on the hard-drive.

After Linux was installed, I was introduced to the world of ‘Command Line interface’ of Linux. I was amazed to learn that one had to write specific commands to open specific folders or ‘directories’ in the filing System. Even more amazingly, one had to write specific commands to install and update software. I am sure, for performing most other functions, one has to rely on the CLI. In the process of installing some of the essential softwares, I learnt the following: