Linux support of audio adapters is specific to the Linux distribution and audio adapter you are using. You can avoid most audio configuration problems by making sure your audio adapter is explicitly supported by the Linux distribution you intend to run. Before you install Linux, check the hardware compatibility list and support pages for the distribution, as well as the web site for the audio adapter manufacturer.
Using an outdated Linux distribution and an older audio adapter is a recipe for trouble. Recent Linux distributions automatically detect and configure nearly all recent audio adapters and most older models. If your audio adapter is not detected but is AC97-compliant, you may be able to use the i810_audio module, which allows many AC97 audio chipsets to provide at least basic audio functionality.
If you have an older audio adapter, or a recent adapter that is not supported by your Linux distribution, you may be able to use the adapter by installing the Advanced Linux Sound Architecture (ALSA) drivers (http://www.alsa-project.org/). Unfortunately, installing ALSA drivers may be difficult for inexperienced users because it requires either compiling the ALSA drivers into the kernel or building them separately as modules. The good news is that ALSA is being incorporated as a standard part of the Linux kernel. When the next major version of the Linux kernel is released, every Linux distribution will by default use this much more capable sound card driver architecture.
The utilities used to configure a sound card vary by distribution. For example, Red Hat uses sndconfig, while for Slackware you must edit the Sound Support section of the file /etc/rc.d/rc.modules. For more information, refer to the documentation for your distribution.