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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

How to Get Started with Linux, Part I

As much as I adore and promote Apple’s Mac computers as an alternative to Windows and Microsoft, I don’t want to ignore Linux and Open Source. Linux is a very economical way to have a safe, secure and reliable computing platform. It needn’t be a painful experience, despite the fact that Linux is somewhat less polished than Windows. I shall demonstrate how approachable Linux is in this series of posts...

I have chosen to use the Open Source edition of SUSE Linux 10 from Novell for this demonstration. SUSE Linux is my favourite distribution. It is well-supported and highly regarded; it is one of the top three distributions in the world and it will be around for a long, long time. (You may select a distribution that more closely matches your requirements by taking this terrific “Linux Distribution Chooser Quiz”: .)

The first thing you want to do is install Linux on your Windows PC. You may or may not wish to keep your existing Windows installation. If you choose to keep it, Linux will make room for itself on your hard disk by shrinking the Windows disk partition; then you can dual-boot between the two platforms.

You can download the SUSE Linux installation CDs (known as ISO images) from here and burn them to CD-R. Or you can purchase the CDs for a nominal charge from

Before you begin installing Linux, you should understand your local area network and Internet setup. If you are directly connected to the Internet through a cable or DSL modem, then you have no further networking concerns. But if you are behind a router, which is between you and the cable modem, then you need to take note of your IP address, as well as other networking information. This, in fact, is my situation at home. So I note that my static IP address (I have not used DHCP to assign me a dynamic IP address) is and my hostname is “IRONMAN.” The gateway address is and the name server (also known as DNS server) is

So now you are ready to proceed with installation. (Most steps will require you to click on “Next” to proceed to the next step.)

Step 1: Insert the first installation CD into the machine and reboot. At the boot menu, select “Installation.” A couple of minutes later takes you to Step 2.

Step 2: Select your national language (French, Spanish, German, etc.). The default is English.

Step 3: Check your CD media. This step is optional. I have confidence in the integrity of the ISO downloads (verified with md5sum) and the resulting CD-Rs – skipping this step saved me about 15 minutes.

Step 4: Agree to the License Agreement.

Step 5: If you arrive at the “Installation Mode” page, select “New Installation.” This page only appears if you have a previous Linux installation on your hard disk.

Step 6: Select your country and time zone.

Step 7: Select your preferred desktop environment. You have the choice of KDE or GNOME. I personally prefer KDE.

Step 8: Review your “Installation Settings.” If you have a previous Windows installation on your PC, its disk partition will be shrunken to make room for Linux. Windows and Linux will co-exist on your computer and you will be able to boot into either platform.

If you don’t wish to keep Windows, you can recover the disk space occupied by Windows for Linux’s use. To do this, perform the following steps:

  1. Click on “Partitioning.”
  2. Select “Create Custom Partition Setup.”
  3. At the “Hard disk” page, select “1: 1. IDE,...” (assuming you have only one hard drive)
  4. Click on “Use entire hard disk.”

Step 9: Click on “Accept,” followed by “Install” and you’re off and running! You will be prompted for each successive CD in the 5-CD set. This step takes about half an hour.

Once the system is installed, you need to configure it for your own use...

Step 10: Enter the password for the “root” user (aka the “system administrator” account).

Step 11: You’ve arrived at the “Network Configuration” page. If you have a local area network, i.e., you have a router between you and your cable modem, then you need to apply the information you took note of prior to installation, as mentioned above. Click on “Network Interfaces” and edit your particular network card's profile. In my case, I entered my “Static Address.” I entered my “Host Name” and “Name Server.” Under “Routing,” I entered the Gateway Address.

Step 12: Test Connection to the Internet and run the Online Update program. Here, we update the operating system software with the latest revisions available. This will take some time – be patient. As you proceed, install the “kernel patch.” You will see a cautionary note about the LILO boot loader – don’t worry about it.

When you’re all finished, the system will reboot.

Step 13: Create a new local user account. Choose the “Local” User Authentication Method. Enter your new user information (username and password).

Step 14: After skipping over the Release Notes, you will come upon the “Hardware Configuration” page. You may wish to select your desired screen resolution (the default is 1024x768). I selected 1280x1024 (to fit my 21” monitor) by clicking on the screen resolution field under Graphics Card and Monitor.

When you proceed after this step, your computer will start up in your preferred desktop environment – in my case, that’s KDE. And you’re done!

(A pop-up will eventually ask you if you wish to activate the SUSEWatcher services. Just say yes. Similar to automatic Windows Update, this will allow you to keep your Linux installation up-to-date.)

Now, that wasn’t painful, was it? Certainly, it’s no more complicated than installing Windows.

Here is a set of screenshots during the installation process that should make you feel much more comfortable. More verbose and detailed descriptions of the installation process can be found here and here, if you need further help.

As is, this basic installation provides many of the key applications you want. You can surf the Web with either Firefox or Konqueror. You can access your email with Kmail. You have OpenOffice, which is comparable to MS Office. You can play your audio CDs.

Next time, we’ll talk about adding some special multimedia capabilities to your Linux installation...


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