Getting familiar with Linux is a smart move for a system administrator. Fortunately, there are several dozen ways to download, install, and practice Linux. When it comes to choosing which distribution to start with, there's real value in picking the one that sets the pace for large installations and the hybrid cloud. By learning Red Hat Enterprise Linux (sometimes referred to as RHEL), you'll gain experience with tools used in some of the largest deployments. And thanks to the Red Hat Developer program, you can learn Red Hat Enterprise Linux and use it at no cost.
To get an authentic copy of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8, create a developer account with developers.redhat.com.
Take note of the username and passphrase you choose, as you'll need these later when registering your RHEL install.
The installer image contains everything you need to develop on or administer a Red Hat Enterprise Linux system, so it might take several minutes to download. If you still use optical discs, you can burn the ISO to DVD, or you can use the open source Etcher application to write the ISO file to a USB thumb drive. Etcher is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
If you're on Linux already, you can bypass Etcher and burn the image to a thumb drive with the dd command. To do so, attach the thumb drive you want to use, and run the lsblk command to locate the thumb drive on your system:
NAME RM SIZE RO TYPE MOUNTPOINT sdx 1 7.8G 0 disk └─sdx1 1 7.8G 0 part /run/media/seth/thumb nvme0n1 0 238.5G 0 disk ├─nvme0n1p1 0 3G 0 part /boot └─nvme0n1p2 0 235.5G 0 part └─luks-4ec4...41e4 0 235.5G 0 crypt ├─RHEL7-Root 0 50G 0 lvm / ├─RHEL7-Home 0 100G 0 lvm /home └─RHEL7-Swap 0 8G 0 lvm [SWAP]
In this example, device /dev/sdx is the target thumb drive. To write the ISO directly to the drive with dd, type the following:
sudo dd if=~/Download/rhel-8.0-x86_64-dvd.iso of=/dev/sdx bs=4M status=progress
Boot the install media
When you're ready to install, attach the USB thumb drive to your target computer and reboot. Installing an operating system onto a computer, by design, erases all existing information from the computer, so do not install your developer copy of RHEL onto a computer containing important data. There are ways to "dual boot," but this is considered an advanced procedure requiring disk partitioning and careful data management, so it's out of scope for this article.
If you are in doubt, try installing RHEL in a virtual machine instead.
Once you insert the thumb drive to install, rebooting to the Linux image it contains may require manual intervention. Most computers' firmware boots from the first internal hard drive, not from an external thumb drive. You can configure these firmware settings in UEFI (BIOS on some systems). The method of getting into the UEFI or BIOS interface differs between motherboard vendors, but it usually involves pressing a function key just after powering on, or sometimes the Del, Backspace, or Esc key. Read the messages on your screen during boot for tips, or refer to your computer vendor's documentation.
Once you enter the UEFI or BIOS interface, locate the Boot settings menu and promote external USB drives to the first priority so your computer looks for a thumb drive first, and then falls back on the internal drive if none are found.
Depending on the computer, you may also need to deactivate Secure Boot, a firmware routine that checks for Microsoft certificates before allowing your computer to boot. Not all motherboard vendors call the technology by the same name, so you might have to, for instance, deactivate Trusted Boot, or enable Disable Secure Boot, or whatever else the UEFI or BIOS programmers chose to call the option.
Once you've booted the RHEL installer, it guides you through the process. The Anaconda install wizard is powerful, yet famously simple, providing you with sane defaults with the option to adjust the configuration to your preference.
Click through each item in the Anaconda installer, or just review the ones you want to change. No matter what, take time to review the Installation Destination option, which by default tries to not overwrite whatever is installed on the drive. This option offers the benefit of preserving your existing data, but if you do so, there may not be enough room for another OS on the drive. It's generally best to dedicate a computer to a single operating system: you avoid potential boot loader issues, and you always have the OS available when you need it.
Assuming you backed up all of the data on this computer, select the option to make space available on your drive, and then delete all partitions for a fresh start.
The Software Selection setting allows you to customize the software that gets installed along with the OS. If you're new to Linux or to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, then the Workstation profile is the best way to get familiar with the system. This option provides familiar tools—a desktop, a file manager, and so on. Install all the software groups listed on the right that appeal to you, including the GNOME Applications, Office Suite and Productivity, Development Tools, and Container Management.
Finally, click on the Profile option and select the appropriate role depending on how you intend to use this computer. These decisions aren't permanent—you can change them later as you get more familiar with the system and what it offers.
When you're ready to install (and you're confident that any existing data on this computer is expendable), click the Begin Installation button.
The rest of the install is automated, so it's safe to step away. At the end of the process, click Reboot to boot into RHEL 8.
After your new system boots for the first time, you must agree to the license. Read through the End User License Agreement, and select Accept when satisfied. Click the Done button to continue.
The other item for the first boot, Subscription Manager, warns you that your system is not yet registered. You'll tend to that later, so click Finish Configuration to move on.
Log into your new system and have a look around. If you've used other Linux distributions before, you'll find the same GNOME desktop you know from Fedora, Ubuntu, and others. If you're new to Linux, you might be surprised at how familiar the interface feels with its mix of all the best conventions from traditional desktops and progressive mobile interfaces. Most everything works as you'd expect. The system tray in the top right corner contains your essential daily settings, such as your wireless and wired network settings, volume, screen brightness, and so on. The Activities menu (accessible either by moving your mouse to the top left corner or by hitting the Super, or Windows, key on your keyboard) provides all of the usual applications.
But first things first: you need to configure your software sources for updates. On Linux, the preferred manner of installing and maintaining software is through a distribution's software repositories (MacOS and Windows are beginning to mimic this with their app stores). To gain access to Red Hat's repositories, you must register your system and then attach it to the default set of repositories.
Click the Activities menu (1) in the top left of your desktop, and then click the Show Applications button (2) at the bottom of the left dock.
In the Subscription Manager window, enter your Red Hat Developer account username and passphrase. All other fields are optional, depending on your level of support. If you're self-supporting this system to learn Red Hat Enterprise Linux, then leave the other fields empty.
You can also register from a terminal:
sudo subscription-manager register
After registering your system with Red Hat, you have access to dozens of software repositories, offering collections of software for every niche and discipline. To view the repositories available to you, click on the Activities menu, and launch Software. When an application runs on the GNOME desktop, an application menu appears on the top bar. This menu often contains general options, such as Preferences and Quit. Click the Software application menu and select Software Repositories.
Click to enable or disable any repository in the displayed list.
Alternately, you can add the default set of repositories from the terminal:
sudo subscription-manager attach
You can also view available repositories:
sudo subscription-manager repos --list
Red Hat provides you with all the software you need to get work done, but there's more software out there than just IDEs and office suites. To give your system a boost in the everyday workstation department, there's Flatpak, a universal packaging format for Linux. One of the largest repositories of flatpaks is flathub.org, which provides a wide variety of applications, including the VLC media player, GNU Octave, and Steam (so you can game while waiting for servers to provision!)
To add Flathub to your system, open Firefox and go to flatpak.org/setup/Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Skip the first step, and download the Flathub installer. Once the download finishes, open the Flathub installer in Software and click Install.
After you've added software repositories and Flathub, either log out of your desktop or just restart your computer.
Log back in and launch Software. Wait for the new repository configurations to load. Depending on what you've added, this process may take several minutes.
Once everything's loaded and refreshed, you can browse and install software at your leisure. There's a lot to explore, so pace yourself!
Red Hat Enterprise Linux offers a predictable, stable environment for development and infrastructure. Learn it now—develop your applications, microservices, and containers on it, or learn to build your platform on it—and you'll experience unmatched flexibility and extensibility. Try it today.