I'm still a bit of a Linux n00b myself, but I install EVERYTHING from source (running Slackware and all
) and this is basically how I understand it (IF I'M WRONG PLEASE CORRECT ME!):
./configure simply prepares the code to be compiled and makes sure you have the right compiler installed, etc.
make tells the compiler which source code to process (ie organizes everything) and compiles everything
make install actually "installs" the program
I know that's super vauge, but hopefully it gives you an idea...
Your best bet is to start reading those README and INSTALL files included in the source, they'll give you pretty clear instructions on what to do and save you quite a bit of time and frustration down the road. After installing a variety of software from source, you should start noticing specific files and from there be able to figure out what commands to use to install it.
For example, if there is a bin file in there called "configure", you'll probably have to run ./configure, followed by make and make install (make install always as root!). Many programs include this configure file, but some don't. Even when there isn't a configure bin file, there will be a makefile 99% of the time.
I have run into software that includes its own GUI "install wizard"...in this case you'd have to run something like ./programName_installer (again, read all the README and INSTALL files, these will tell you if this is the case).
Anyway, sorry this is so long, I hope that it was SLIGHTLY informative! Never be afraid to play with things and have patience, that's the best way to learn! Good luck