How to Download and Install Linux (on Windows)

Now that users have a general idea of what Linux is, this article will explain how it can be installed on a computer, along with the type of Distribution that should be used.

The following topics will be covered in this tutorial:

  • Linux Distribution
  • Number of Distributions
  • What Is the Best Linux Distribution
  • Using a USB Drive to Install Linux
  • Using a CD-ROM to Install Linux
  • Using a Virtual Machine to Install Linux

What are Linux Distributions?

Linux is an entirely free, open-source kernel that is used by for-profit and non-profit companies, programmers, and organizations all over the world to create operating systems to fulfill their own distinct needs and requirements.

Most organizations keep their Linux operating systems private to avoid hacking attempts, while other groups make their operating systems public for everyone to use.

By definition, these types of Linux operating systems are known as Distributions (or Distros for short). There are hundreds of different Distributions (operating systems) available. Most of the developers have a particular purpose in mind, including running web servers, or running on network switches such as modems or routers.

Android is one of the most popular smartphone-based Linux Distributions available. There are also many other Distributions that offer good, solid personal computing.

The following is a list of some popular Linux Distributions (otherwise known as Linux Distros):

  • Archlinux is a favorite of developers. The system is independently designed for users who know how to develop their own operating systems.
  • CentOS is a Linux Distribution that’s primarily used for web and enterprise servers. It is based entirely on RedHat enterprise Distro and is a free enterprise class operating system.
  • Debian is a popularly stable, non-commercial Linux Distribution, that is user-oriented and widely used as a desktop Linux Distro. It functions strictly within the Linux protocols.
  • Fedora is another kernel-based Linux Distro, supported through an endeavor by RedHat known as the Fedora project. Popular among current desktop users, its versions have a short life cycle.
  • Gentoo is source-based Distribution. Users will configure the codes on their operating systems prior to installation. This is highly recommended for experienced users.
  • LinuxMint was launched in 2006 and is the most popular desktop Distribution on the market. In the entire computing world, it ranks as the fourth most-used operating system.
  • OpenSUSE is an excellent alternative to Microsoft Windows, as it is easy to use, easy to set up, and can even run on older computers containing outdated configurations.
  • RedHat Enterprise is another popular Linux Distribution that is enterprise-based. It is significantly different from the RedHat Linux that was previously discontinued in 2004. This commercial Distribution is popular among its customers.

One of the oldest kernel-based Linux operating systems is Slackware. It is similar to Unix in that the changes to its kernel are minimal, and it’s also a very simple-to-use desktop Distribution.

After Apple Mac OS and Microsoft Windows, the third most popular desktop operating system is Ubuntu. It is known for its desktop environment and is based on the Debian Linux Distribution.

What Is the Best Linux Distribution?

Best is a relative term in the computing world, as every Linux Distribution is designed for a specific purpose, and built to meet its target users’ demands.

The desktop Distributions shown above are available on the company’s respective websites entirely for free. It is recommended that users try each one individually in order to determine the Distribution that will best suit their needs. Each Distro has its own security, applications, and design.

For the purposes of this tutorial, Ubuntu will be used because it’s easy for most beginners to understand.

How to Install Linux

Using a USB Drive to Install Linux

There are a variety of different methods for installing Ubuntu on a computer.

The first one is by using a USB drive. This by far is the easiest method for installing any distribution on a computer, and can be done in a few short steps.

  1. Use this link to download the OS or .iso files onto a desktop or laptop computer.
  2. To make a bootable USB drive, download the free Universal USB Installer.
  3. From the dropdown, select a Ubuntu Distribution to put on the USB drive. Select the Ubuntu iso file that was downloaded in Step 1. To install Ubuntu, select the drive letter of the USB and click on the CREATE button.
  4. Click YES to install Ubuntu onto the USB.
  5. Once everything has been configured and installed on the user’s computer, a small window will pop up that says CONGRATULATIONS! The Ubuntu operating system has now been successfully saved to a USB drive and is ready to boot and to use.
Using a CD-ROM to Install Linux

For users who prefer using a CD-ROM to install Linux, here are the following steps:

  1. Use this link to download the OS or .iso files onto a laptop or desktop computer.
  2. Burn each of the files to a CD.
  3. Reboot the computer using the optical drive and follow any directions that are given.
Using A Virtual Machine to Install Linux

One of the most popular methods for installing a Linux operating system is through a virtual machine. Virtual installations give users the freedom to run Linux on their computer’s existing OS. Linux can be run with the simple click of a button while another operating system like Microsoft Windows is running in the background.

Oracle VM or other virtual machine software can be used to install Ubuntu using the following procedure.


Install VirtualBox

Use this link to download VirtualBox. There are several packages to choose from based on the user’s processor and OS. Select the appropriate package. For the purposes of this tutorial, VirtualBox 6.0.24 for Windows (released July 14th, 2020) was selected.

Open the setup file after the download has completed and follow these steps:

  1. Click the NEXT button.
  2. Select a directory to install VirtualBox and click the NEXT button.
  3. Select the Desktop Icon and click the NEXT button, then click the YES button.
  4. Click on the INSTALL button to install the software.
  5. Once VirtualBox has been installed, click on the FINISH button to start the program.


Download Ubuntu

Use this link to download Ubuntu.

You can choose between the 32-bit and 64-bit versions.


Use VirtualBox to Create a Machine

  1. Open the VirtualBox program and click on the gear icon that says NEW.
  2. Provide the name of the OS that will be installed in VirtualBox, then select Linux for the type and Ubuntu 32-bit or 64-bit for the version. Click the NEXT button.
  3. The RAM size needs to be allocated to the user’s Virtual OS which can be done by keeping the default 1024 MB (1 GB) RAM setting. Ubuntu runs faster and more efficiently with this setting. Click the NEXT button when finished.
  4. A virtual hard disk needs to be created to run the OS in VirtualBox. Select the create a virtual hard drive now option and click the CREATE button. The data/applications and OS installation files that are created and installed will be stored inside of the virtual hard disk.
  5. Choose the virtual hard disk (VHD) option, then click the NEXT button.
  6. Select the dynamically allocated option and click the NEXT button. The disk size will dynamically increase per the user’s requirements.
  7. For the file location and size, allocate the memory to the virtual hard drive and click the CREATE button. It’s recommended that users select the 8 GB option.
  8. The machine name will be located in the panel on the left side of the screen inside of the VirtualBox program. The machine, or PC containing an 8 GB hard disk and 1 GB of RAM, is now ready for use.


Install Ubuntu Onto the Machine

  1. Select the Ubuntu machine and click on the START button.
  2. Select the start-up disk where the new virtual machine will be used.
  3. From the virtual optical disk files, choose the Ubuntu iso file.
  4. Click the START button.
  5. Users have the option of running Ubuntu without going through the installation process, however, this tutorial will show the entire Ubuntu installation.
  6. After clicking on the INSTALL UBUNTU button, click CONTINUE.
  7. Select the erase disk and install Ubuntu option and click the INSTALL NOW button. This option installs the Ubuntu operating system onto the user’s virtual hard drive which won’t harm their PC or their Windows operating system.
  8. To set up the time zone, select a location and click the CONTINUE button.
  9. Select a keyboard layout. US English is the default setting, but it can be changed to other layouts. Click the CONTINUE button.
  10. Set up a username and password for the Ubuntu admin account. This information is required for installing software packages onto Ubuntu and is also needed to log into the OS. Fill in all of the details and select the log in automatically option to avoid requiring a username and password to log in each time. Click the CONTINUE button when finished.
  11. The installation process will begin at this point and could take up to half an hour to complete. Please wait until Ubuntu has finished installing.
  12. The Ubuntu desktop will appear after the installation is finished.


  • A Distribution, or Distro, is an operating system that’s based on the Linux kernel.
  • There are dozens of different Distributions to choose from. Some are designed to accomplish one purpose including running servers or acting as a network switch.
  • Because every Linux Distribution is different, it’s difficult to determine which one is the best.
  • Linux can be installed on a desktop or laptop computer using a virtual machine, a CD-ROM, or a USB drive.

George Whittaker is the editor of Linux Journal, and also a regular contributor. George has been writing about technology for two decades, and has been a Linux user for over 15 years. In his free time he enjoys programming, reading, and gaming.

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