Software

Operating systems

What is an operating system?

An operating system (OS) is a piece of software designed to help you organise and launch your electronic files and applications on your hard disk with the simple click of a button, icon or menu command.

Do I really need an operating system?

Well, if files and applications were made sufficiently "self-contained" so to speak by having the basics to tell the computer how to open and save files and how to communicate on a network to name a few, then you don't necessarily need a fancy OS to do it.

The OS is really about standardising and helping to save time for software developers when it comes to performing common tasks such as saving a file. The manufacturers of OS provide the software commands directly within the OS to handle these common tasks. Other software manufacturers merely piggy-back on the OS and let the OS do certain jobs while the software itself performs more specialised functions for the user to get his/her work done.

Beyond that, an OS is just a fancy software for organising the files and applications on your hard disk.

While it is possible to do away with an OS altogether, we need operating systems to run the latest software and to ensure basic tasks of saving, opening files, accessing network resources and so on are done in a standardised and consistent way. To make sure consumers see the value of buying an OS, extra OS features are added to give the impression they are integral and necessary for the running of any modern software and hardware system.

As we speak, commercial OS from Microsoft and Apple are advertised as more important than the applications that run on them. In truth, it should be the reverse. OS is the least important software.

Which operating system should I use to run my software?

The desktop operating systems available in the market today are:

  • Mac OS (versions 7/8/9/X)
  • Windows (versions 3.1/95/98/NT/Me/2000/XP)
  • BeOS
  • Solaris 8 (Sun Microsystems)
  • Linux (versions Corel/Red Hat/Debian/Suse/Mandrake/Slackware etc)

When you buy a computer from a commercial shop, there is usually not much choice of an OS other than the standard Windows and MacOS. Although a treat may be in stall for everyone soon when a truly united Linux operating system finally gets together with an easy enough interface and powerful enough to compete with its commercial counterparts.

If you are into the graphic designing and desktop publishing business and need a really easy-to-use computer, we recommend an Apple computer running Mac OS 9.2.2 (with extensions and Mac OS ROM updates provided by OSX plus our recommendations for increased performance and stability) or MacOS X operating system (i.e. version 10.3.5). But if you want to run a much greater range of software, even the more obscure ones not available on a Macintosh, you would be better off with a PC running a Windows operating system (Windows 98 is excellent and for greater stability try Windows XP Pro although you will have some problems running older software).

Want to have a pretty interface for Windows and enough security features to compete with Apple's OSX? We recommend Windows XP Pro.

Purchasing OSX and Windows XP Pro isn't going to be cheap. It helps if you're in the market for a new or a recent second-hand PC or Apple computer where at least the latest OS is supplied free as part of the computer. When upgrading the commercial OS, the cost is usually just bearable if you purchase upgrade disks. However, if you have to buy outright a brand new commercial OS from Apple or Microsoft, the cost might be prohibitive.

This is where the Linux OS comes into its own. You can purchase (or ask a friend to download for free) a very cheap installation file on CD for installing the latest Linux OS, and what you get closely matches the power, security, stability and now the fancy interface of the two main commercial OS. Combine this with no licensing costs and one can understand why more and more businesses are moving over to Linux as a viable and low-cost alternative to Microsoft Windows or OSX.

Or alternatively, you may wish to try the free Solaris 8 (minimum hardware requirements: x86 Pentium, 600MB HD and 64MB RAM) or BeOS (minimum hardware requirements: 133MHz Pentium, 600MB HD and 32MB RAM) if you have the software applications to run on these operating systems.

One big advantage of BeOS for PC is how you can install it and benefit from its colourful and easy-to-use multimedia-oriented interface without doing damage to an existing Windows installation. To find some good software to run on BeOS, try http://www.BeBits.com/. If you do try this OS, go for the BeOS Pro when it comes out.

As for Solaris 8, it is highly acclaimed worldwide for its great stability considered ideal for running servers thanks to its UNIX-based underpinnings. In fact, combined with its servers, Solaris 8 is said to be the number one OS vendor for servers in the US.

Originally written by Sun Microsystems for its own hardware (just like OSX is for Macintosh computers), Sun is starting to take tentative steps forward into the desktop OS market. To this end, Sun has provided a freely downloadable Personal edition of Solaris OS. It can run on a Sun workstation and, as a bonus, an Intel-based PC computer. Soon Solaris 8 will run compiled Linux programs thanks to an application called lxrun.

As far as installation goes, Solaris 8 lags behind its OS competitors. It still requires a long-winded text-based approach for setting it up, much like Linux in the early days. Beyond that, it has a neat graphical environment to run applications. But you will have to find applications. The Solaris 8 installation does not come with applications of any sort (apart from the OS itself).

Is there a good operating system version to go for?

In the Macintosh world, Apple Computer, Inc. has developed System 7.5 or higher for the earliest PowerPC Macintosh computers, and System 7.1 for non-PowerPC types. For the world's best operating system, you have a choice of a less memory-hungry and very stable MacOS8.6, although the updates for MacOS9.2.2 by OSX is now just as stable, or the latest feature-rich, good-looking and highly stable MacOSX (version 10.3.5 is the absolute minimum for adequate performance, useful features and excellent stability). Actually you may have no choice in the matter with Apple forcing consumers to accept OSX as the default OS on the latest Macintosh computers.

In the PC world, Microsoft has expanded the range of operating systems from MS-DOS to include Windows 3.1, Windows 95 (1), Windows 98, Windows 98SE, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows ME and now—in case you didn't have enough choice—the latest Windows XP Home Edition and Professional versions (2). For the least memory requirements on older PCs not connected to a network, stick to Windows 95 or 98. For greater stability, use Windows 98. For better security on a network, use Windows NT/2000/XP. However, Microsoft has now brought the best of Windows 2000/NT and Windows 95/98/ME into an easy to use, very stable, more secure (compared to Windows 95/98/ME), and fancy-looking consumer desktop operating system called Windows XP.

If you must buy only one operating system for your latest PC and want something that's suitable for both personal and business use, go for Windows XP. To future-proof your OS, try Windows XP Pro-64 when it becomes available in 2005. This is Microsoft's answer to Apple's brilliant new interface of MacOSX.

Remember, neither Windows XP nor MacOSX are radically different in their approach to handling digital information in the normal everyday sense of the word, nor does one operating system have greater compatibility or support for new hardware devices than the other. They both merely look better to use, slightly more stable and simplify common tasks performed on previous versions of the operating system (although with the right freeware system extensions on older operating systems, you would probably not notice the difference other than the way it looks). If serious stability and something that looks good is what you really want from your operating system because your business requires it or you just like to look professional in whatever you do, then go for the latest operating system version. However, all the digital tasks you will ever likely to get done in the real world can be achieved with earlier operating system versions.

NOTE: Don't be surprised to find the editor of a PC magazine boasting how much Windows XP is better than MacOSX and similarly the editor of a Mac magazine claiming MacOSX is better than Windows XP. In truth, there is no real difference between the two. What is more important is what you do with the operating system and software applications. In other words, have you achieved something better for yourself and the rest of society using these tools? And can you run all the software you need — old and new — to achieve important goal(s) in your life?

Why do vendors want to sell me Windows NT or Windows 2000 Pro?

We have noticed cases where some inexperienced customers are having to pay for a copy of the business-oriented OS monstrosity known as Windows NT and Windows 2000 Pro. If all you ever want to do is download pictures from your digital camera, do some quick image manipulation work, and print the photographs on a colour inkjet printer, we feel having a copy of Windows NT/2000 is an overkill.

The same is true for people wanting to do some word processing/desktop publishing, accessing the Internet, and performing movie- and sound-editing work.

The reason why vendors are getting people to accept Windows NT/2000 Pro with their new PCs is because they are hoping their customers will come back soon complaining about not having enough memory on their PCs to do what they want beyond running the OS and looking fancy when the PC is turned on. When the customers return, all the vendors have to do is ask the customers to pay extra for the cost of upgrading the disk drive and/or add extra RAM (or in the worse situations tell customers they need another new PC) for the customers to do what they really want to do.

If you are not going to run an IT or multimedia business with multiple PCs or an intelligence organisation requiring security, stick to Microsoft Windows 98. If you must, consider Microsoft Windows XP (not the professional version) to help run the latest software unless you need slightly better security and are prepared for all the bells and whistles. Never accept anything else from a vendor until they explain exactly why they have selected the OS for your situation and have given you all the alternatives and only when you understand the difference.

It is your money. Don't spend any more than you have to.

Do I have other choices for a good operating system?

Fortunately there is another operating system available outside the influence of Microsoft and Apple. Known as Linux, you can now run Macintosh and PC software side-by-side on one single operating system. Already the latest Linux 2001 version will run Macintosh software using a well-tested extension tool and another special tool to download the ROM contents of your preferred Macintosh computer.

Please bear in mind that it is illegal to distribute the ROM contents of any Macintosh computer without the permission of Apple Computer, Inc. You may only do so if you have your own Macintosh computer or know someone who can lend you his/her Macintosh. Also, if you want to run Macintosh software on Linux, you may need to get some expert advice on setting up your operating system to do the job properly.

And by the time you read this, a rather important piece of software to allow all MS-DOS, Windows 3.1 and Windows 95/98 software to run on Linux would be available. The software tool for running Windows software is called WINE (WINE Is Not an Emulator), and should be freely available with the latest Linux version.

Why are people getting excited by the new operating system? Well firstly, Linux is free and open to all programmers and users alike (except Red Hat as of 2005). Thus anyone can see if another programmer is trying to commercialise the operating system or put in something they are not suppose to in the first place. Secondly, it seems to run software faster in a number of areas compared to Windows 95/98/2000/NT/XP. And thirdly, old computers can be used just as well as newer ones to run Linux with a high level of stability.

But on the negative side, Linux is certainly not as riveting in presentation as Windows XP or MacOSX. Well, one cannot complain about its presentation given the fact that Linux is free for all. And also, it can be difficult to configure properly for secure network use.

UPDATE
January 2004

The latest version of Linux appears to be gaining acceptance by more and more people worldwide because of its cost (virtually non-existent), reliability and reasonable features; and the fact that it is open-source, meaning anyone can see the changes being made by any programmer.

UPDATE
January 2005

The latest version of Linux, known as Debian, has focussed on improving its interface. Now the OS is reputed to be attractive enough to use by anyone. So why use Windows or OSX?

What is Linux exactly?

Linux is an implementation of the highly stable UNIX operating system written for any personal computer (PC or Mac), freely distributable under the terms of the GNU General Public License.

The Linux kernel, the heart of every Linux OS, was originally developed by Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki in Finland in 1991. Later, with help from many UNIX programmers and gurus on the internet, additional tools and applications helped the kernel to perform the tasks as we come to see of every good OS. Work is continuing to this day.

The original Linux and some derivatives of it making up the various versions of distributions we find today remain a free OS primarily because there are absolutely no proprietary source code making up the Linux kernel (i.e. the heart of the operating system).

The OS is flexible enough to run on the old PC 80386 (386s), but with additional drivers and some improvements to the kernel has seen Linux available on 80486, 80586, Pentium, PowerPC Macs, Sun Sparc, ARM and DEC Alpha hardware, and IBM System 390 mainframes. Even the original Amiga, Atari and VMEbus machines can run Linux with remarkable ease.

The range of software available today for Linux is extensive and much of it is free, making the OS an attractive proposition for some businesses considering how much it costs to purchase OS licenses from Apple and Microsoft and their third-party applications.

Which Linux operating system should I go for?

Since its inception in 1991, Linux is jumping on the bandwagon of having different operating system versions to suit the tastes of different customers just like Windows. As you probably know, Microsoft has generously provided Windows 95, 98, 2000, NT, Millenium, XP and now XP 64. Similarly, Linux comes in Standard Linux, Corel Linux Mandrake Linux, Xandros, Slackware, Fedora, Red Hat, Ubuntu, Gentoo, SuSE, Linux PPC YellowDog, and, of course, Debian (Woody). And these are just the more popular and well-known distributions (or distros) in the Linux range. In total, there could be literally hundreds of Linux versions to choose from.

For now, let us concentrate on the more popular Linux distributions mentioned above as these must have something going for them if people keep mentioning them online compared to the other more obscure types.

Until only recently, the most user-friendly and easiest-to-learn Linux operating system available in the world was Mandrake Linux. This specific distribution version of Linux was just as powerful as Red Hat, except that the idiosyncratic complexities of Red Hat were removed. For more serious Linux users wanting the extra grunt and power for all their computer work, try Slackware or Debian. Or for something inbetween, try Red Hat.

Several years ago, Red Hat was the first to make installation of Linux the easiest and simplest. As of 2005, Red Hat has become commercialised to the point where it may become the next Microsoft Windows in the Linux world. Rumours have it that the makers and distributors of Red Hat is a publicly-listed company backed by Intel and Netscape to name a few and therefore is under enough pressure to generate revenue for its shareholders. Money for the company is currently being raised on sales, support and training.

While Red Hat is a good version to have, most users want a Linux distribution to remain free while enjoying a simple installation. Fortunately a number of Linux distributions are free. As of 2005, we recommend Debian as the preferred free Linux version. Not only is Debian free, but has got so much easier to install and use and more attractive for the inexperienced users that it could potentially do away with Red Hat altogether. Combine this with its huge 6 CDs of additional free applications and users would wonder why anyone would bother with other Linux distributions given their limited applications and difficult installation procedures.

As we write this section, Debian has become the favoured Linux version over Mandrake Linux.

But if you are a UNIX-diehard and are happy to edit the settings in the startup files (it is said to be quite easy with lots of documentation online to help you), don't need all the fancy graphical user interfaces (or GUIs) to let you point-and-click the settings you want, and have the most simplistic and most compact distribution of Linux yet, try SlackWare. If choosing this distribution, go for version 4.0 which uses kernel 2.2.x for the greatest speed and stability. If you are a beginner to Linux, we don't recommend trying SlackWare.

If you love the GUI approach to installing Linux and don't want to know how the system works, go for the latest Red Hat or, better still, try Xandros or Debian. Debian is best for the shear volume of free tools and applications available on 6 CDs while providing a simple installation interface to suit beginners.

Linux Caldera was developed for Novell Netware users. But its collection of free applications is limited. And installation could be a bit of a hit and miss affair. Linux SuSE is another distribution fast gaining popularity with its bundle of tools and applications. It could start to compete with Debian as the preferred Linux distribution in the next couple of years.

Fedora is the old version of Red Hat still in circulation by some enthusiasts. It remains in its beta version considered the least stable of all Linux OS and is used mainly for software testing.

Gentoo is not suitable for beginners and large amounts of bandwidth is necessary to download. Once downloaded it requires heaps of processor power to install and run. This distribution was designed on the idea that an OS installation should be compiled and optimised on-the-spot to suit your particular hardware setup.

There are other Linux distributions such as GoboLinux which attempts to drop the classical Linux filesystem organisation for a more intuitive one, but most require some experience with Linux.

Tell me more about Debian?

Debian 2.x is said to be the most popular non-commercial and totally free Linux OS distribution in the world. First created by Ian Murdock in 1993, Debian is produced and updated by hundreds of volunteer developers around the world (most of them are members of the Free Software Foundation or FSF) with the sole purpose of providing you with the best free, high-quality UNIX-compatible OS based on Torvalds's original Linux kernel, complete with a range of free applications.

The focus on making a free OS for everyone ensures you will never be forced to upgrade because a few developers want to drop support for older Linux OS versions. Whatever version of Debian you get will let you run any old or new Linux application you want. Furthermore it is an OS designed entirely for both Linux experts and the inexperienced users, meaning it comes with enough advanced features to keep the experts happy and yet still easy enough for anyone to use. It comes with all the software you need to run as a "server", "workstation" or "personal" OS. And Debian runs fast and is extremely stable on an old computer. It is considered so stable that a server running Debian would require at most a boot per year after a crash.

It is no wonder Corel has announced recently it would base its new distribution on Debian.

Debian comes in a 7 CD pack mainly because around 8,700 free software applications are included in the distribution. The set of 7 ISO image files for the CDs can be downloaded from http://www.debian.org/ (if running Debian on an x86/Pentium system, get the i386 set). Due to the size, you may also want to purchase the CDs from selected vendors for around $20.

If you want to choose one very good free Linux distribution as a possible replacement for, or complement, Windows or MacOSX, Debian is considered the best as of 2005. And since it is the most popular, you would be wise to start with Debian because there is a good chance a Debian guru could be just around the corner to give you all the help you need. Otherwise, if you are highly experienced in Linux and want to try something else, try Red Hat.

However, if you just want to try Linux to help get a feel of how it works and what it can do for you, try one of the live CD distributions of say Debian where you don't have to install Linux on your hard disk. Just boot off the Linux CD and it will display the Linux OS immediately on your desktop.

Why so many different distributions?

It is essentially because people saw the difficulty in installing Linux in the early days. And when the installation was complete, Linux wan't considered riveting in its presentation or easy to use when it came to using Linux for specific purposes. Since those early days, Linux has developed into different directions by people wanting to develop easy-to-install versions of Linux with additional utilities and applications to help the OS perform specific functions, whether it be a server/workstation combo or a personal OS.

Nowadays, some distributions have started to come out with the ability to do just about everything you want in one very easy to install and run package.

What are the alternatives for Linux?

Want to dip your fingers into Linux for a taste? Or you want to install Linux on a DOS partition for PC users? Well, you can run a version of Linux called ZipSlack which fits onto a 100MB Zip disk. It can be installed on a DOS partition or run straight off the Zip disk.

If you are a Windows die hard supporter and need a Linux version with user-oriented environments to make you feel right at home, Xandros Linux, Corel Linux, Caldera and Linux Mandrake are the ones to go for. If you want a secure, server-oriented Linux version, try Turbo Linux or Red Hat.

For something that has everything and allows users to work it out for themselves, try SuSE Linux.

For a Linux version that comes with heaps of free applications and an easy interface, try Debian, Xandros Linux or Linux Mandrake.

How much does Linux cost?

Ignoring Red Hat for the moment, just about everything else is free to download. Whether it is Debian, Linux Mandrake or some other distribution, you won't have to pay a cent except for your usual ISP charges for getting onto the Internet and downloading the files (or better still, go to your local public library or internet cafe and burn the files onto CD-Rs).

Due to the number of ISO image files available for say Debian (7 in all), you may wish to download just the first ISO image which has the complete installation files for loading your Linux OS. The rest of the ISO image files are just additional applications for running on Linux.

Otherwise, pay a reasonable fee depending on the number of CDs you want. For example, one web site distributing a version of Linux charges:


1 cdrom=$5.00

1-3 cdroms=$10.00

3-4 cdroms=$15.00

4-5 cdroms=$20.00
 

There may be an additional charge for postage and handling to international countries.

However, with the advent of the superfast broadband internet connection for a nominal price, it is rarely necessary to purchase the CDs. In roughly 30 minutes, you should be able to have the entire 7 CDs downloaded and burned onto CD-Rs ready for your Linux OS installation.

Do I need to know how to compile software on Linux?

It is a good idea to have some understanding of how to compile source code from third-party developers supplying free Linux software. Because Linux users enjoy and feel comfortable in knowing developers are supplying source code for programs so people can see what is happening, you will likely encounter this situation when you do install and use Linux on a regular basis.

However, because Debian, for example, has 8,700 fully compiled software applications on 6 of its 7 CD set, it is unlikely you will ever need another more obscure software to be compiled.

You could, in theory, not have to learn the techniques for compiling software applications at all.

NOTE: If you are serious in setting up a secure Linux server as opposed to Windows or MacOSX, you will be required to learn some programming and compiling skills. Although fortunately nowadays there are enough Linux resources to help you write the codes for creating a secure Linux server. And Linux developers are developing tools to simplify the entire process.

System requirements for Linux

System requirements are dependent on the type of Linux distribution you get. Most distributions of the free OS ask for surprisingly modest hardware requirements. In general, a PC with a 386 processor or higher with 4MB RAM and a CD-ROM with a floppy drive will be adequate for running the early Linux versions. A minimum of 32MB RAM, preferably 64MB, is required to run WINE for running your Windows applications under Linux. For more modern Linux distributions, try a Pentium I or higher. For Macintosh users, Linux PPC YellowDog requires any G3 or G4 computer running classic OS7/8/9 or OSX.

The only two exceptions to this rule is if you have the very latest Pentium IV PC or Macintosh G5 computer. Check Linux resources online to see if the latest Linux drivers are available for your computer, especially for things like the video/display card. For example, it is recommended when installing the Linux Debian (Woody) distribution that you have a minimum of 100MHz Pentium, 32MB RAM and no less than 1GB hard drive. But don't try to get something too fancy for your hardware to run Linux in case the drivers are not available.

Also, if you want to run the very latest Linux Mandrake, Linux Fedora or other distribution on a pre-Pentium machine, you might also get into trouble due to limited memory size, hard disk capacity, lack of drivers for older CD drives, and type of processor in use.

Stick to a hardware system that lies somewhere inbetween, or choose an older Linux distribution version online. For the majority of users having a Pentium I, II, III (and PowerPC Macintosh computers up to G4), there should be no trouble running Linux at all. Just make sure your PC has as a minimum a CD drive (since the first ISO image file burned on CD-R is likely to be bootable). Otherwise also get a floppy drive to create a floppy startup disk and insert the first CD-R into the tray of the CD drive to begin installing Linux.

Make sure the CD drive you use is based on ATAPI, SCSI or true IDE for the Linux installer to work.

As for hard disk space, conceivably you could run a minimal Linux system in under 80MB (mainly for the older Linux distributions). Today, you'll need at least 150MB and preferably 2GB if you want to install most of the free Linux software available in, say, the full Debian distribution.

How do I prepare the Linux CDs for installation?

The first thing to do is download the files containing the full Linux distribution you want.

Next, the files you have downloaded are probably in the ISO image file format. In which case, you should immediately open up the images and save the contents onto CD-R disks.

For example, for Macintosh users running the Classic Environment (i.e. OS8/9), the procedure to burn the ISO image files is as follows:

  1. Get enough CD-R disks for each ISO image files you have downloaded. CD-R disks should have a capacity of 670MB or more.
  2. Launch the Toast Titanium application for burning CDs.
  3. You will be presented with icons representing the settings for Toast. Choose "Other".
  4. In a submenu of choices such as "Video CD", "MP3 Disc", "DVD" and so on, choose "Disk Image".
  5. Three options are available for Disk Image: Select, Mount and Burn. The final tasks are simply to select the ISO image file. For example, the file may be called "dayton-2.3-20020704-install.iso"; mount the ISO image file; and burn the contents to your CD-R.

For Macintosh OSX users, you can use Disk Utility in the /Applications/Utilities/ folder. The procedure here is:

  1. Choose Images in the menu command.
  2. Select Burn...
  3. Open the ISO image file.
  4. Select a few options and burn the contents of the ISO image file to CD-R.

Another tool you may wish to try out is the shareware utility DiscBlaze. This one specialises in burning disk images to CD-Rs and is a little more intuitive than Apple's own Disk Utility.

For PC users, check to see what Microsoft Windows has available for burning CDs. Or use the Toast software.

How do I install Linux?

Now comes the fun part in this whole Linux situation. Once you have downloaded the entire Linux distribution from the internet and burned the ISO image files onto CD-R disks, the next step of installing the OS can turn out to be either a complicated or simple affair.

It depends on how modern and up-to-date is your Linux distribution. For example, the older Linux distributions may require some fiddling around in the BIOS settings and to download some additional drivers for your PC to ensure a smooth ride through the entire Linux installation process.

For example, one Linux guru said it would be wise "to check your video card chipset before you install the OS". You''ll need to know what this is to select you correct Xfree86 video "server". For further details, please visit http://www.xfree86.org/4.1.0/Status.html. But advice from another Linux guru suggested this is only necessary if you intend to run Windows X because of the restrictions on the supported video hardware. Otherwise any MDA, Hercules, CGA, EGA, VGA or Super VGA video card and monitor will do when running pure Linux.

We hear a few readers have already been turned off by this.

Don't worry. For the more up-to-date Linux distributions, the installation is fairly smooth with just a few decisions to make. Also the developers have taken the hard work out of configuring Linux by choosing the most common and useful settings after installation.

Assuming you have one of the latest Linux distributions, the basic procedure for installing Linux is as follows:

  1. Backup all your existing files before installing Linux. If anything goes wrong, you may lose your files because of the way Linux reformats the hard disk. In fact, you may be wise to use a tool called Partition Magic to create an independent hard disk partition devoted entirely to Linux. Or better still, find an older PC and use it as a test model to see how Linux works.

    NOTE: The live distribution versions of Linux do not require you to reformat a hard disk. All you need to do is run it off the CD to enter the world of Linux. So you should be safe not to back up your files.

    WARNING: You should have backed up all your data before partitioning your hard disk. If this is not possible, do not proceed.

  2. For older Linux distributions, you may need to create a boot/startup floppy disk for inserting into the floppy drive. Nowadays, the latest Linux distributions come as ISO image files downloaded from the internet with the first ISO image file containing the full Linux OS installation plus the system startup files needed to boot up from a disk (the rest of the images are additional software applications). Just open up the ISO image file and burn it onto a single CD-R/CD-RW disk and start using it to boot off and install the OS.
  3. Go into your BIOS settings. For PC systems with a "PnP OS" option in the BIOS, set this to No. Also go into the boot drives section of BIOS and make sure your PC can boot off the CD. If you can't boot off the CD for your machine, you must create a bootable floppy disk by going into Windows as usual, load the Linux CD, and run a utility called rawrite.exe. You will probably find this in the Tools folder on the Linux CD.
  4. If you haven't done so already, you should partition your hard disk for MS-DOS (with Windows) and Linux. Partitioning means dividing your hard disk into smaller hard disks so you can boot off any of the hard disks using a different OS of your choice. You don't have to if you intend to run only Linux. But if you want the option to run MS-DOS (and naturally Microsoft Windows) as well as Linux, you should create a partition devoted entirely to Linux and the other partition for all your MS-DOS/Windows stuff. Perhaps as a better solution, try Partition Magic to partition your hard disk non-destructively by moving your files (i.e. MS-DOS with Windows running from it and all your data) to the correct partition while freeing space on the hard disk for a second partition designed exclusively for use by Linux. But even then we strongly recommend backing up your files. We cannot stress this enough.

    NOTE: If you don't have Partition Magic, use MS-DOS own utility called fdisk.exe to create the partition. If you do use this latter utility, create an MS-DOS bootable floppy disk by typing in MS-DOS:

    format /s a:

    Now copy fdisk.exe and the format.com files to the floppy disk. Use this floppy disk to boot your PC into MS-DOS and run the fdisk utility. But only after you have backed up your data.

    You have been warned!

  5. Insert the first Linux CD into the CD drive.
  6. Boot the system off of the Linux CD (or Linux floppy disk for those who can't boot from a CD).
  7. The Welcome screen appears followed by a prompt that says "boot:" at the bottom. Type at this prompt:

    vanilla

    This will install the widest range of drivers for the greatest compatibility. If you want something more compact, type "compact" instead. For Debian, try typing "bf24".

  8. Ignoring any dependency errors as the kernel loads, the Release Notes screen should be displayed. Click the Continue button.
  9. You will see the Installation Menu.
  10. Next, we shall partition further the hard disk that is being devoted to Linux using Linux's own fdisk.exe or cfdisk.exe. We do this because Linux requires at least two and preferably three sub-partitions called the root filesystem, standard filesystem and a swap partition. This is Linux language for "holding all your files in one partition for the Linux OS" (make it no more than 500MB), "holding all your files for your applications and data in a second partition", and "setting up virtual RAM for Linux in the third partition" respectively. You can have more than two filesystem partitions in Linux, but you must have one swap partition. This is how Linux works. To create a Linux partition along these lines, select "Alternative1: Partition a Hard Disk" from the Installation menu and press the Enter key. The cfdisk partitioning utility for Linux is launched.

    NOTE: We recommend the virtual memory/swap file to be at least 3 times the amount of RAM you've got for multimedia use.

  11. If installing Debian onto the hard disk, select /dev/hda for IDE drives or /dev/sda for SCSI drives. If you only have one hard disk, it will be highlighted for you automatically.
  12. Click the Continue button.
  13. Use the arrow keys to select the partitions and the menu selections you want to perform on them. Start with Delete and once the partitions have been deleted, select Write to update the partition table.
  14. Select Quit and press Enter key to get you back to the installation menu.
  15. Choose "Configure the Keyboard" and press Enter. "US English (QWERTY)" is the default keyboard setting. Press the Enter key if you are happy with this selection.
  16. Choose "Install Kernel and Driver modules" for installation.
  17. Configure device modules such as network cards.
  18. Unless you're running OS/2, answer "Yes" for installing LILO (LInux LOader). LILO is a program for allowing you a choice of OS to boot, either Linux or other operating systems at startup.
  19. Depending on your Linux distribution, you may get additional menu items to help you configure your new OS. They may include modem devices, mouse and time zone. It may also prompt you to create user accounts or put a password on the root (administration) account. Just follow the prompts. It is all pretty straightforward.
  20. You will get to a point where finally you can boot Linux off your hard disk. Just login as root. Or, if you are booting using LILO, you can hold down the Shift key or Control key during boot until a boot prompt is presented to you. Press the Tab key to see a list of OS options to boot from, such as Linux, MS-DOS or other operating systems.

How do I configure Linux?

Mouse speed

BR>Mouse speed may be slow on launching the installed Linux OS for the first time. To adjust the speed:

(i) Click the Control Centre button to access OS settings.

(ii) Find the Input Devices setting.

(iii) Click the + sign to open the setting.

(iv) Click on Mouse.

(v) Adjust the sliders for acceleration and threshold to the desired setting.

(vi) Click the OK button.

Networking

The default network settings is DHCP. This helps Linux to automatically ontain an IP address from the DHCP server. If you want to assign static values for IP address, default gateway and DNS servers:

(i) Click the Control Centre button to access OS settings.

(ii) Find the Network setting.

(iii) Click the + sign to open the setting.

(iv) Click on TCP/IP.

(v) Enter the static values in the appropriate field boxes.

(vi) Click the OK button.

The Windows Workgroups selection under the Network setting allows you to type a workgroup or domain name and type of access in the same way as you would do in Windows. For type of access, use Share for peer networks, and User for server-based networks.

Remote Printing

To add a shared printer on a network which is connected to a Windows system:

(i) Click on the text editor icon.

(ii) With the text editor open, open the smb.conf file. The location is /etc/samba/smb.conf.

(iii) Find the line that says "invalid users=root".

(iv) Add a hash # in front of this line (i.e. #invalid users=root).

(v) Add the following two lines if required based on the passwords you set:

null passwords=yes

min password length=1

(vi) Save the file.

(vii) Exit the text editor.

(viii) Reboot the OS.

(ix) Click the Control Center button.

(x) Find the Printers setting.

(xi) Click the + sign next to the Printers setting.

(xii) Click the Add button on the right side of the Control Center window.

(xiii) Int he Add Printer window, select "remotely on the Network".

(xiv) Select "Windows" network type.

(xv) Click the Browse button.

(xvi) If you get a login window, ignore it. Just check the Windows workgroup name is displayed correctly.

(xvii) Click the OK button.

(xviii) A browse window will open where you can select your preferred printer.

(xix) Type a name for your printer.

(xx) Click the Next button.

(xxi) Choose the printer manufacturer and model to help Linux load the correct printer driver.

Is Linux gaining popularity?

The Linux operating system is gaining popularity among businesses and individuals because it is basically free or very low-cost to run. And with more and more 'open source' programs becoming available on Linux, there is a real possibility it could undermine other commercial software companies making money with software built for MacOS or Windows.

Already Hewlett-Packard Australia has announced it will sell desktop PCs later in 2004 to run on the Linux operating system (i.e. Suse 9.x Professional). This is a bold and exciting move from a progressive company considering how virtually all desktop PCs sold by other computer manufacturers such as Dell and IBM have Microsoft Windows as the dominant operating system.

Are there security problems with Linux?

As open-source software gains in popularity, an anonymous individual with access to an unprotected computer in a university lab has managed to make a subtle code change in the heart of the Linux operating system known as the kernel. Apparently, someone managed to change two equal signs designed to make a comparison of two values in C programming to a single equal sign which is for setting a value. So instead of checking whether a thread was being called by the root user, the modification told the low-level subroutine called Wait4() to assume the root user was making the call. As a result, anyone who knew about this flaw could exploit it to gain full system control of anyone's Linux computer.

Fortunately, the people whose job to merge thousands of suggested changes from worldwide developers using tools such as BitKeeper noticed the problem within 24 hours before it could have been distributed to the rest of the Linux community. But does this mean other flaws could have bypassed all the automated checks available to people like the Linux creator Mr Linus Torvalds?

That's the question on the minds of many journalists who picked up on the story and turned an ordinary incident into a major event.

Why? Perhaps someone out there was hoping to seize on a moment to show the vulnerability of the open-source methodologies in the hope of getting more people to buy or at least stick with the sophisticated commercial operating systems of Windows and MacOS.

Certainly there is a movement as we speak in schools and universities towards alternative systems such as Linux and other free software instead of the "Microsoft [or Apple] is the only way" approach. With more and more people seeing the benefits of open-source, could free software be on the verge of posing a major threat to the commercial interests of Microsoft, Apple Computer, Inc. and other software manufacturers because of their wider acceptance?

And if so, can Microsoft, Adobe, Apple and other commercial software manufacturers continue to blame lower profits in recent years as due entirely to piracy if more and more people are learning to choose the freeware and low-cost shareware alternatives?

Whatever the truth, rumours have it that Microsoft is looking closely into the open-source movement with an eye of concern. As part of an experiment, Microsoft has tried to share part of its source code online with varying levels of success. Part of the problem is that working on the source code as provided by Microsoft does not guarantee changes are incorporated into the final release. Also, the effort is usually not rewarded with a free copy of the final Microsoft product. Linux is a different matter.

Now there is an effort by Microsoft to support a company called SCO through a signed deal allegedly to help the company earn licensing rights on Unix. And given how close Unix and Linux users work together when it comes to developing open-source software to rival those on Windows, Microsoft is keen to see whether it can have an influence in this area through SCO.

Some open-source programmers are viewing the move by Microsoft as an attempt to derail the open-source movement.

Is it true?

The future of the OS

Mac OSX is heading that way, and now the next instalment of Windows XP known as "Longhorn" will make it a reality in late 2006.

Apart from Windows "Longhorn" 64-bit native OS sporting an attractive interface (not dissimilar to Windows XP), the new Windows will be designed to work in a natural, intuitive manner and will guide you through all the essential tasks you are ever likely to do on a computer.

When you, for example, connect your digital camera to your computer, the current OS will automatically sense the presence of the camera and open a software tool for you to download and store your photos into a database. In the next major Windows and OSX upgrade, all the things you want to do with your photos will be presented to you. Want to email your photos to someone? No problem. Press a button for sending photos and the software will do almost all the work for you. Print your photos on different page sizes will be a breeze. And you can instantly edit your photos to remove red eye effects, balance contrast and so on. All this while being guided by the OS to achieve the things you want.

On the negative side, the commercial OS of Windows 64 and "Longhorn" and Apple's own OSX will send back more statistical information about who you are (from the registration details you have given in your software and OS) and what you do on your computer.

Did you know Windows XP's own built-in firewall is designed to protect against only inbound threats, not the ones coming from your software programs to the internet from your computer? This is because Microsoft (and Apple) wants to learn more about you, your habits and the things you do, the type of software you use to achieve your goal(s), and so on.

Microsoft and Apple will claim this is to help them improve their OS to give users a better experience in the future as well as to protect their intellectual property and those of their software partners. The reality is, the companies can learn a hell of a lot about you while you are online if you're not too careful. Security of your OS will improve, but privacy will not when you are online. As Microsoft once said about its.net tools, to gain greater security you must compromise on your privacy when using the company's own software.

However, if you want to bypass certain restrictions placed in the files you create by the new OS, avoid your OS sending potentially personal information to software companies and achieve more things, more specialised software will be required. If necessary, the ability to emulate old OS versions and the software available for them may be important.

Again this would explain why people are choosing Linux over the commercial stuff to help provide this level of advanced flexibility and privacy, as well as security (with the help of a Linux guru) and stability.

Think of commercial OS as the fancy-looking lazy person's tool for achieving only the essential things you ever want to do with your computer. If you ever want to do more with less restrictions, buy the latest software from third-party manufacturers.

On the other hand, if you want to break free from virtually all restrictions and statistical spyware tools placed in commercial OS and still be able to run older software, try the open-source OS known as Linux.