Installing Linux: Smooth going, few problems


Technofile for June 20, 1999

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers

Caldera, a small company in Utah, sells a version of the Linux operating system that's very easy to install. It's a great way to try out Linux. I'll report this week on the basic installation, and next week I'll cover some of the ways Linux differs from Windows.

Caldera's version of the Linux operating system is called OpenLinux 2.2. It sells for $40 to $50. If you don't see it at a computer store, you can order it from Caldera at http://www.caldera-systems.com. (Caldera has an older and less advanced version, OpenLinux 1.3. You'll see it, too. Stay away from it.)

A quick note about Linux: It's an operating system for personal computers that was developed without any help or programming code from Microsoft. It can look like Windows in some ways but works very differently.

OpenLinux 2.2 comes with all the normal Linux operating system files. (Linux comes with more standard functions than Windows does, so you'll probably be surprised to find that OpenLinux 2.2 installs a Web server and an ftp server, to name just two of the many items left out of Windows.) Caldera OpenLinux 2.2 also includes the Linux versions of Netscape 4.61, WordPerfect 8 and StarOffice 5.0. It even installs a Photoshop-quality image editor.

I installed OpenLinux 2.2 on a PC that's standard in many ways but has more equipment than most PCs. It has an AMD K6 Pentium-class processor, 96 megabytes of memory, two standard hard drives, one SCSI hard drive, two CD-ROM drives, an ATI All-in-Wonder Pro video card (with a built-in TV tuner) and a Microsoft Intellimouse (with a middle wheel). The PC has an NEC E1100 monitor.

Caldera knows that nearly all newcomers to Linux will be Windows users, so it made the OpenLinux 2.2 installation program a standard Windows program. It runs Power Quest's Partition Magic to locate enough space on your main hard drive for Linux. It has to create a partition, or section of the drive, for Linux to boot from. You should have about 1 gigabyte free on your C: drive to install Linux and the two heavyweight extras, WordPerfect and StarOffice. (The installation program tells you what you can install based on how much free disk space it finds. You can quit the Linux installation program without endangering Windows.)

Pay attention to the way OpenLinux installs, because Windows will come back up when you'd think Linux should run. That's because the last step is the installation of Power Quest's Boot Magic (a simple matter), which will give you a choice of Linux or Windows with each reboot. This worked fine, but when I tried another installation on a PC with a very large hard drive (10 gigabytes) Boot Magic refused to do its thing. I've been told that PCs with drives larger than 8 gigabytes need the drive sectioned off into two or more partitions, so that the boot process can take place from a partition smaller than 8 gigabytes. (I haven't yet tried that on the other PC.)

OpenLinux 2.2 found and correctly identified everything on my PC. I had only three problems:

If I chose the wrong setting for my monitor (among a dozen or more possibilities) the installation failed just at the point where the desktop is supposed to appear, and running a manual, text-based setup always failed (I did this about 15 times) because of a bug in the text-based setup program. Picking the right setting for the monitor avoided the problem. (The wrong setting actually works fine under Windows, so I was lulled into thinking it was OK.)

When I ran the mouse-and-menu-based setup program for the mouse and monitor, the setup program ruined my mouse settings and made the mouse unusable because of a bug in dealing with the Intellimouse. This bug has since been fixed, but the CD won't have the fix. I'd recommend NOT running the X11R6 setup program no matter what. OpenLinux set up my mouse just fine without the setup program.

My Sound Blaster AWE32 sound card was left uninstalled. Getting it working was easy, but it took two passes through a kernel module setup program. (The first time I installed the "SB" module I got an error message, but I installed it anyway, and nothing happened. Going back and installing it again worked.)

Caldera OpenLinux 2.2 comes with the KDE desktop. It looks and works like a much better version of Windows. I'll tell you more about the desktop and describe some of the unusual features of Linux next week.


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