Probably a good idea for you to log into your VPS provider's control panel, manager or whatever they call it, so do …
… and there, in the dashboard, click on something that looks like Deploy a Linux Distribution, Launch a Linux Distribution or Setup Your Operating System.
Video: Install Your Linux Distribution
Select Your Linux Distribution
OK, so using linode as our example, there are over 20 Linux variants. Choices, choices.
I chose Ubuntu 12.04 LTS because I use its Desktop counterpart as well and the syntax is the same, so that's convenient. More importantly, this server is highly regarded as a stable, well-supported server. If you've been to Ubuntu Forums you'll also see that the community is active and helpful, and that's good for Linux newbies and tech-heads alike.
What's more, 12.04 is an LTS distribution, which means it's a Long Term Support edition with security updates being rolled out until 2015. Non-LTS editions, on the other hand, are not supported so long, which may mean having to upgrade earlier than you'd like.
At Linode at least, with both Ubuntu editions and with other distros there are 64bit versions, which many would prefer to 32bit. Not me. I think 32bit is faster, using less resources. Some will disagree but, researched, most folks concur.
So, if you like what I say, for your needs, check the radio box next to “Ubuntu 12.04 LTS”.
Select Disk Image Size
I set this to 6000MB, or 6gB, because I wanted to play with other servers too. (You can have as many distros as you want, but only have one booted, per Linode, at any one time.) By default, your distro will be set at your maximum VPS size, about 18gB. That's up to your preference. If you don't want to play with other distros, leave as default. You can resize a distro later, whenever you want, but have to boot down to do that.
“We recommend a swap partition not exceed 256-512 MB.” That's what they say. For most, 256 is fine. That's what I choose. Of course, we've got 360MB of regular RAM to eat up anyway before swap kicks in to save the day.
For secondary distros, you can create another swap or share the existing. Generally, you'd share the swap because, after all, you can only use one distro (have it booted up), potentially using the swap, at any given time.
Pop in whatever you like. We'll be changing it from the command line interface anyway, soon enough.
OK, here's what I have…
Back to the Dashboard
And now you have something to work with; a configuration profile, complete with main disk image and swap image.
Boot it up
Click on “Boot”. It will, and we'll have something to play with.
That's your lot for now. I'll be down the pub.