In many ways computers are this wobbling tower of intertwined standards, protocols, interfaces and files. Considering just how complex a modern Linux system is, it's astonishing that a Linux PC manages to successfully complete the delicate dance of powering up, launching the bootloader, handing over to the kernel, loading files of its file system, hopping through init and establishing an X graphical interface with interactive graphical desktop manager, wireless internet connection and all the other services that modern systems provide.
At any stage this wobbling tower can crash down – and when it does, we're here to help you pick up the pieces! Our guide starts at the beginning with troubleshooting the boot process, moving through basic hardware and system issues, then on to more generic hardware, networking and finally classic desktop problems.
Hopefully you'll come out of the darkness with at least a few invaluable nuggets of Linux knowledge to help make your Linux experience that little bit smoother and even more enjoyable. So lets turn the page and get fixing!
The first thing to do is be patient – the boot process may be trying to initialise a piece of hardware, or access the network before it's available. These can time out after a few minutes, either allowing boot to proceed or at least giving you an error message to work with.
In the good old days, distros used to stream reams of text up the screen as they were booting, until it became fashionable to hide this with a splash screen. Unfortunately, the splash screen also hides any error messages. You can disable the splash screen at the boot menu: if your computer starts booting without showing a menu, hold down Esc when it boots to call up the menu.
If there's a recovery or safe option, pick that, as it disables the splash screen and often sets safer (if potentially less efficient) boot options. Otherwise, put the highlight on your normal boot option and press E for edit. Find the line that starts with linux and look for options like quiet, splash or theme.
Delete these options and press F10 to continue booting. This won't fix your problem (unless the problem is the splash screen itself), but it will let you see what is going on and either get an error message or an idea of which stage of the boot is failing at. Then you can investigate further. If it appears to be a hardware detection issue, try disconnecting all unnecessary hardware, such as printers, scanners or USB rocket launchers. Once you can get past the problem, you can start to fix it.