Friday, April 27, 2007

A simple guide

So you want to try linux, and you're totally clueless about how to do it. Here's a quick guide to help you out. (This isn't the only way, mind you, it's just a really basic way.)

First you will need:
1. One computer (preferably connected via ethernet to the internet.)
2. One hard drive that can be totally erased.*
3. One keyboard
4. One mouse
5. One monitor
6. One liveCD of your favorite ubuntu derivative.

So chances are you don't yet have number six, so let's go get it.

I'm going to go with the Linux Mint version (because it comes with just about everything you would need right out of the box.) Go to and click on download at the top of the page. Then under "Full edition" find your closest location and click on the "HTTP". This should redirect you to a page that has a download link for the cd. Again you want the full version. (If you're having a lot of trouble with this step, just click here to download.) You want to save this file somewhere that you can find it. This is the cd "image" which we'll use to burn the cd.

After the download is finished (which may be a while) you need to burn the image file to a cd. Most cd burning software will be able to do this. If you can't find anything that will burn a .iso file, you can use ImgBurn which is available for free here. (In ImgBurn you will want to select from the top menu mode->write. Under source you want the file we just downloaded. After you select this file, click the big cd icon at the bottom to begin burning the cd.)

Put the cd we just burned into the cd drive and restart the computer. Hopefully, the cd boots and you can get to the next step and skip the next paragraph. If it doesn't, you'll have to read the next paragraph.

Restart the computer again, but look right at the beginning and somewhere on the screen it should say something like "press del to run setup." You want to look for whatever key it says to hit to run setup. Sometimes it's delete. Sometimes it's F1 or another function key, so if you can't see what it is, just start hitting delete or random function keys right as the computer starts. You only have a couple seconds before the computer will boot. Now hopefully you get a scary looking screen called the BIOS. We're looking for something called the boot order. Many times it will be under the advanced tab at the top. There should be a guide somewhere on the page to show you how to navigate through the menus. After you find the boot order, you want to change it so that the cd drive is before/above the hard drive (again use the navigation guide if you're not sure how to change things.) Then after this is done, you want to "Save and Exit" which should be an option under one of the tab menus. Be very careful not to change anything else except the boot order!!! It will ask you if you really want to do this- don't worry, click yes. Now hopefully the cd boots and you can move to the next step.

Now you should be looking at a somewhat familiar desktop with a couple of icons, one of which says "Install." Double click on it.

Now it's easy. Just answer the questions it asks (like what language do you want and what time zone do you live in, etc.) When you get to partitioning, select the guided partition using the entire disk. Make sure to remember what you enter for your name and password. About twenty minutes after you finish answering all the questions, you'll have a brand new linux mint operating system ready for the internet or whatever else you want to do.

Congratulations and welcome to the world of open-source!

*You don't actually have to erase the entire disk, it's just easier that way. You can partition any way you would like- you could even keep your current windows os if you have enough room. I also, for example, like to make an added partition for my /home directory. If you're feeling adventurous select manual and see what you think- you can always go back.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Those damn Mac ads drive me crazy

These are great (although I'm not a novell fan.)

Here goes!

So the first thing I needed to do was move all my files (music, documents, etc.) to my external usb hard drive because I would need to reformat that drive in order to install linux. As I did this, I found that several of the folders with music files in them would not copy or even open. Luckily, I had most of that music saved somewhere else, but it did show me that the drive was in need of some work anyway, so this linux install was looking like a better idea already.

One thing I'll mention right now that I didn't know when I started is that windows and linux use different filesystems. Chances are any newer windows drive is formatted NTFS, but linux uses ext3. As of right now, linux (without some help from some software) only mounts NTFS drives as read-only, which means that you can open the files on the drive, but no changes can be made to any of the files and no new files can be saved to the drive. Linux Mint (available at is one version that comes with a utility for mounting NTFS drives read-write right out of the box if this is especially important for you. As far as I can tell (although I'm not totally sure about this) windows doesn't recognize the linux filesystem at all.

I had installed ubuntu on a different computer and couldn't figure out how to install some drivers necessary for viewing web pages (java, flash, embedded windows video.) This was totally unacceptable to me and fed my fear of switching, as everything I saw on the web about it was command line stuff with lots of sudo's and such. I envisioned hours of searching the web for the appropriate commands and endless frustration when it still didn't work.

Then my computer programmer friend sent me a link to the Linux Mint website. Mint is an altered version of ubuntu that includes all of these drivers, as well as the NTFS and FAT drive mounting utility I mentioned above and even some common wireless drivers. We installed it on the machine we on which had previously put the ubuntu, and it worked great right out of the box, so I decided to use it for the family computer at home.

Just a moment to assure you that I'm not a Linux Mint salesman. Lately, ubuntu has released their new feisty fawn version that has made installing plugins, drivers, and codecs easier, and I'm a big fan. I'm also a very big fan of the xubuntu version which uses the xfce desktop instead of gnome. I recently installed the alternate version of xubuntu on a machine with only 128mb of ram that I friend gave to me and was watching streaming video on the web in less than 45 minutes! You couldn't even wipe your ass running windows with 128mb ram!

I'd speak about installing the linux mint on the family machine, but there's really not much to say. It was pretty easy; since I was just going to erase the whole drive, I could use the guided partitioning using the entire disk (the partitioning seems to me to be the hardest part of the install.) Everything went smoothly and in about twenty minutes, I had a brand new linux mint os. I plugged in my ethernet cable, opened firefox and checked my email.

It was a beautiful day.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I've really done it now...

Well, here goes.

This is the running story of my switch from the Windows operating system to the linux operating system (from now on, I will just say OS.)
I'll start with a little background info.

I'm a first year computer science student at Southern Oregon University. I'm married to an extremely non-technical woman and have a brilliant baby girl. Until very recently, my experience with linux was limited to having some fedora cds that a friend gave me. He even made a partition on my hard drive in which to install a second linux OS, but I was consumed with fear.

A second os? Wouldn't that mess up the Windows os? How does this work? How do I tell it which one to boot? If my Windows programs won't work, what programs will I use? And finally (and most importantly) what does it look like?

I knew I could probably find out all of the technical things I needed on the web, but there was one more non-technical wife. If she couldn't check her email or get to her lyric sheets, there would be hell to pay.

So right about now you may be asking yourself, "Why would someone with a perfectly good Windows XP system want to go through the trouble of figuring all of this out?" Well, there are two reasons:
1. I have a deep hatred of everything corporate, and what could be more corporate than Microsoft?
2. I've had trouble with viruses, spyware, etc. It got to the point where I was running a ridiculous number of anti-this-and-that programs, all of which seemed to do nothing, and I had heard that linux was impervious to such attacks.

Finally, after going back to school and meeting a friend that's a computer programmer here in town, I decided I should do it... I should switch the family computer to linux. (Well, all of those reasons combined with the fact that my Windows os had slowed to the point that I couldn't even successfully burn a cd.)

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.