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.comment: So You Think You Want to Use Linux - page 2

What Does It Take?

  • January 10, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Before doing anything else, our new user must appraise his or her computing skills. This is not easily done -- you might have used computers for a decade and never have installed an operating system, let alone done something as frightening and weird as run fdisk. This is more a psychological than a real concern, because if you come into Linux assuming expert knowledge, you're more likely to give up when nothing turns out the way you expect it to.

(It won't hurt, either, for the new user to contemplate why he or she wants to switch to Linux. Really. Though not difficult, undertaking Linux is also nontrivial. If a new user doesn't know why the move is being made, the chances of sticking around are slight, and the only result will be another uninformed Linux basher. Remember that setting up a useful Linux machine has a far lower price of admission than, say, diving into serious hacking. Linux can be tremendously complicated, but it needn't be. Yet a newbie who doesn't plan to exploit any of Linux's strengths, who is looking for a small, expensive television set with a keyboard, is probably better off with Microsoft products, which convert a computer into exactly that.)

In any case, it makes sense to do two things: Get a good, modern Linux distribution, and get an additional hard drive to put it on. A good, modern Linux distribution almost certainly does not come in the back of a book about Linux (and what I consider to be the best book on the subject, Running Linux, contains no CD). A new hard drive is both inexpensive and easy to install. You can get a good, big hard drive for very little money. Get the biggest you can afford; drive space is like runway length -- there's no such thing as too much.

Why a second drive? It's just plain foolish to make the jump all at once. You'll enjoy Linux a lot more if you can learn it at your leisure, able to boot to something else to do anything you absolutely have to do. Not that there's a tremendous amount of learning up front, though there are a lot of things to get used to.

A word of warning: If you do the two-drive system, choose at Linux setup for system time to be set to local time rather than the otherwise preferable GMT, or every time you boot back to Windows, that operating system will do you the "favor" of resetting your system clock. Alternately, tell Windows that your local time is GMT, which is how grownups compute anyway.

As to which distribution to choose there is no hard and fast rule. I have great liking for Caldera, whose current version is eDesktop 2.4. It has an excellent and easy to use installation procedure, and it will install nicely on a second hard drive, allowing you to set up a boot option as to which operating system you want to boot each time you start your computer. Your choice of distribution might be made by other factors, though. For instance, if you know someone who knows Linux well and who is interested in helping you, it makes sense to use that person's distribution. (An exception: The current Red Hat. Though it is the leading distribution in terms of sales, Red Hat has crawled far out on a limb with their current one. If a great many experts are avoiding it, the new user ought to take the hint.) Though I've not tried it myself, I understand that SuSE's installation is easy for the newbie. There's no rush: Look at the websites of the various distributions, the help systems and mailing lists (and archives thereof -- are they searchable?), and find one that's comfortable for you. Each distribution really does have its own attitude.

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