Get Started With Linux
Why install Linux? Because if you're looking for a fast, reliable, inexpensive operating system that can accommodate multiple users, act as an Internet server, and still support a slick, easy to use graphical interface, it fits the bill better than the alternative.
Reliability is Linux's ace in the hole. While the rumor that Linux never crashes is an exaggeration, it's close to the truth: It is very hard to crash a Linux system. Some installations have been known to run for years without a reboot.
Linux also runs on older machines that can't handle Windows; it will work beautifully, for example, on that old 486 gathering dust in the closet. And, of course, some folks are interested in Linux simply because it's not from Microsoft.
There's much to like about Linux, but getting started with it
can be intimidating. For one thing, there isn't only one Linux. Several companies
market their own distributions. Each has pros and cons, with their differences
lying mainly in installation procedures and in the accompanying software packages.
Major Linux distributions include those offered by
Keep in mind that there are nearly as many ways to install Linux "properly" as there are Linux users. What follows is one way of doing it, so you can get up and running and see what all the fuss is about. We'll assume you're already running Windows 95 or 98, but these instructions will also be useful for installing Linux on a box with no OS.
There are several ways to get a copy of Red Hat Linux. You can order it
Another alternative is to purchase a third-party copy online. You can get
third-party copies of Red Hat Linux online for much less than you'd pay to
buy it directly from Red Hat (which will cost you $80). We chose
The first step after acquiring the software is to set up a partition for
it on your hard drive. You'll need a third-party program to shrink existing
partitions and make room for the new ones. Our favorite hard disk partitioning
You'll need at least 500MB of available drive space to install Linux. Create this space by using your partitioning tool to shrink existing partitions, leaving a contiguous stretch of empty space on the drive. (This free space may be within a preexisting Extended Partition or on a completely unpartitioned portion of the drive.) Don't bother creating partitions for Linux in the empty space you create; we'll let Red Hat take care of that. After you've made some room, you're ready to move on.
If you purchased your copy of Red Hat Linux directly from Red Hat (or if you ordered the GPL version from Linux System Labs), the installation CD-ROM is bootable. If your PC supports bootable CDs, then you're set. If your installation CD-ROM came from another vendor, or your PC can't boot from a CD, it's time to make a boot disk.
While installing Linux isn't the enormous chore it once was, it's still
not the streamlined process you might wish it to be--especially because Linux
cannot automatically detect all the hardware on your system. You may need
to answer a lot of questions during the installation process, so you should
be armed with the correct answers before you start. Get them by going to Device
Manager: Right-click My Computer, select
If you made a boot floppy, insert it now. If not, insert your installation
CD-ROM and restart your computer. When you get a text-based welcome screen,
In a few minutes, the Red Hat logo should appear on your screen. Red Hat 6.1 features a graphical installation program that you control with your mouse, similar to the Windows installation procedure. It begins by asking you which language you speak. Using the mouse, highlight your native tongue and click Next.
The installer now wants to know which type of keyboard you're using. With rare exception, you should be able to get by with the default selection (Generic 101-key PC, U.S. English), so click Next.
Red Hat will now probe your system to find out which kind of mouse you're using. The next screen will display its findings. Make any needed changes and move on.
Now that you've provided the installer with basic information about your system, it's time to start the installation of your new operating system. Skip past the second welcome screen. When asked what type of installation you want to perform, choose Custom.
Red Hat now needs to set up its file system on your hard drive. Enter the Disk Druid--a tool that should be on your screen at this point.
You'll need to create two partitions within the empty space you created earlier. The first is your root partition, where all of your files will go. The second is a swap partition that, like Windows' swap file, complements your physical RAM.
To begin creating your root partition, click Add. Enter a single forward
Click Add again to set up your swap partition. Enter nothing for Mount
Disk Druid should now show the two partitions you added: a large root partition and a smaller swap partition. Select Next.
Your new partitions need formatting. Red Hat formats the swap partition first, giving you the option to "Check for bad blocks" during the format. It's a good idea to select this option. Then Red Hat formats your root partition (listed as "/"), and again it's a good idea to check for bad blocks.
Now configure the Linux Loader, known as LILO. This tiny program runs when your computer starts up, giving you the choice of loading Windows or booting into Linux.
First, make sure that "Create boot disk" is checked. It's a good idea to create such a disk to handle emergency situations, so have a blank disk ready.
You'll want LILO on your Master Boot Record, so make sure that the check
box next to "/dev/hda Master Boot Record (MBR)" is selected. You're probably
not ready to make Linux your main operating system, so to make sure Windows
boots first, check the box to the left of "Default boot image" and enter
If you need to configure a local area network, the next screen allows you to enter the information Linux will need to activate your network card. If you don't have a card or aren't using the one you have, click Next to skip this section.
Now Red Hat wants to know where you live, in a general sense. Scroll through the menu beneath the colorful world map to select the city nearest you (and in the same time zone), and click Next.
At this point you need to select a root password. This is an important step. Linux is a multiuser operating system and every Linux installation needs a user called "root" to function as the system administrator. That's you, so select a secure password and don't forget it.
The root account lets you do just about anything to your system and should be used only for administration and maintenance. For daily use, it's best to create a separate user account for yourself. Below the area where you entered your root password, enter an account name, a password (you need to enter it twice), and a descriptive name for the account--your full name is fine. Click Add to activate the account, and then Next to move on.
The next screen, Authentication Configuration, offers several types of password services that can be used with Red Hat. The defaults are fine, so simply select Next.
Red Hat's Linux distribution offers more than an operating system. Its CD-ROM also contains a huge library of powerful software such as The Gimp, an image manipulation tool that rivals Photoshop, and Apache, a popular Web server.
So you can now specify which applications you want installed. The installer preselects a number of software packages, including basic Internet applications such as an e-mail client, Telnet, FTP, and a Web browser. Among the other packages are system drivers and libraries. By default, the DOS/Windows Connectivity and Kernel Development packages are not selected, but you should select them.
The X Windows System gives you a graphical interface that lets you interact with your Linux system similar to the way you do with Windows. Unlike Windows, however, X Windows doesn't dictate how your on-screen environment is going to look--the Window Manager will do that. There are dozens of Window Managers available; some mimic the Windows 95/98 user interface, and one mimics the Mac. Others are like nothing you've ever seen. GNOME and KDE are both "desktop environments"--they go beyond the Window Manager to provide a host of tools and applications that make Linux just a tad friendlier for the novice.
I'm telling you about these things now because you need to make sure that you install all the necessary X Windows packages, including GNOME and KDE. GNOME is probably selected in the menu you're staring at; you'll have to select KDE manually to get it installed.
If you want to get into the real nitty-gritty, choose "Select individual packages"--but only if you have plenty of time to read dozens of esoteric descriptions.
After you've selected the packages you want, click Next.
Now it's time to set up your computer to use X Windows. The setup program will probe your system for information about your video card and monitor, displaying the results of its search for your approval, along with what it thinks should be the correct driver software. If all this information seems correct, then click "Test this Configuration" to make sure these settings work.
If all goes well, a dialog box will appear politely inquiring if you can see it. Assuming you can, click Yes. You'll be sent back to the X Configuration screen. If you'd like X Windows to start when you boot, offering an NT-like user name and password dialog box (instead of a text-mode login prompt), check the box next to "Use Graphical Login." Select Next to continue.
If Red Hat isn't able to determine your video settings, or if the information returned isn't correct, you'll need to select the check box next to Customize X Configuration to manually enter the settings for your graphics hardware. The report you printed with the Windows Device Manager should be helpful.
Red Hat will now advise you that it's finally ready to install and that
an installation log will be created. Select Next and watch with glee as the
software is copied to your hard disk. If your screen goes blank during this
process, don't panic. That's the installer's screen saver kicking in. Press
After Red Hat has placed all items where they need to be, you'll create your boot disk. Insert a blank floppy and click Next.
When the installer finishes its work, Red Hat presents a screen congratulating
you on a successful installation. You're asked to remove all media from your
drives and press
After your computer restarts, you'll see a prompt on your screen that says
LILO:. Your computer is waiting for you to tell it which operating system
you'd like to use. If you do nothing or press
The screen eventually clears and presents you with a login prompt. Type
Congratulations, you're a Linux user! But you still need to take care of one last configuration chore: Telling Linux how you connect to the Internet. The easiest way to do so is with a little KDE application called Kppp. (This is why we told you earlier to install KDE as well as GNOME.)
If you're not in an X session already, type
Click the foot icon on the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, and then
Now click the IP Setup tab. If your ISP has given you a static IP address (meaning you use the same IP address every time you connect), choose Static. If your ISP assigns you a different address for each login, select Dynamic. Now click the DNS tab and enter your ISP's domain name and domain name server addresses. You probably don't need to muck around with the Gateway, Login Script, or Accounting Information options. Click OK and go back to Kppp's main setup screen.
Your next step is to tell Kppp where your modem is located. Select the Device tab, and choose the location of your modem from the pull-down menu. Try the default setting first: /dev/modem. When you try to connect to your ISP, Kppp will let you know if it can't find the thing. If that happens, try the four /dev/ttyS settings (/dev/ttyS0 through /dev/ttyS3) in turn until you find the one that works.
You're almost done. Click OK and you'll find yourself back at the main Kppp dialog box. Enter your user name and password, and then click Connect. If all goes well, you'll establish a PPP connection with your ISP.
To further your adventures in Linux, we recommend you purchase a beginner's
guide. There are dozens of such titles, but these two are particularly good:
You can also get lots of help on the Web. Following are some links that should get you started.
PC World Online's Here's How department will be revisiting Linux from time
to time. Let us know what you need help with by sending e-mail to