Figuring Stuff Out

Archive for the ‘Linux’ Category

What’s an ISO?

Posted by Mike on March 18, 2007

If you’ve been looking at the distro’s that I mentioned, and have gotten to the download page, you might be asking yourself this very question. You see installing an operating system is not the same as installing an application, there’s a little more to it. This might seem daunting, and figuring out what to do with an ISO might not seem worth the bother, but persevere and you’ll find that it’s really not that tough.

An .iso is a file type that contains all the information to burn an installation CD. Once you’ve jumped through the hoops of getting it properly burned it will be the equivalent of a disk that would come in a box from a store, so that all you have to do is drop it in the tray and get going (almost). Sadly there are a couple steps that you need to take first, they aren’t tough but I’ll try to save you a little time and walk you through it.

First off you’re going to need to get the file. To do this go to the download page of the distro you want (I’ll use Ubuntu for now but the process is pretty similar for every distro) and select the version number that you want and that will work with your computer. There’s an importantChoosing the nearest Download site one point, Linux is not designed to be limited to just one type of cpu. So if you are running something other than a PC you aren’t out of luck. Long-time Mac users can get versions for power pc chips and newer Mac users just use thchoosing the specific archecturee same version as a PC person. If you are using PC bought in the last five years or a Mac with Intel inside you are going to want the generic 386 version. To get this you will want to click on the download link from the country that you want to download in (see screenshot to the left), and than download the desktop i-386 .iso link (see the other screenshot to the right). At this point you can decide to do a normal file download or use bittorrent. If you have a program for downloading torrents take that option, it will be faster for you, easier on the server of the host organization, and finally allow you to use bittorrent for a legitimate purpose (who knew?).

The above is one of those stages where you will need to take a little responsibility for yourself. If you try to install an improper version of the operating system on your computer things might get a little ugly (most likely nothing at all will happen, but you never know). I’m not going to go into details about that, but if you are a windows user you can head into you control panel and then to the system icon and it will tell you the basics about your computer.

Once you have the .iso on your computer the next step is to get it burned onto a disk. Sadly you can’t just slap it straight on to the disk and going, the iso has to be burned as a disk image. Some burning suites do this out of the box but if you don’t have the ability to “burn a disk image” you’ll need to get yourself app to do so.   If you are running windows, this is a free iso burner and instructions on how to use it, if you work in OS X it seems you can just use the included disk utility (perhaps Mac users can suggest some freeware/dedicated alternatives).  Once you have your ISO burned you’re technically ready to get up and going in installing your shiny new OS.

I’ll talk about partitioning and booting your computer from a disk in my next message.  For now I would suggest that you concentrate on backing up everything that you don’t want to lost should things go wrong (as they definitely can) and thinking about how you want to use your computer going forward (ie. do you want to give up on your current OS or do you want to use Linux alongside it).

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Posted in Linux, Mac, open source, Operating Systems, Windows | Leave a Comment »

Getting up and Waddling

Posted by Mike on March 11, 2007

Back to the main project at hand, selecting and installing a Linux distro on your computer.

But first a little self-congratulation, in an earlier post I crowed about my first search string but felt bad that my blog had not been helpful in solving the problem that my searcher was aiming to fix. As penance I posted up the command for exiting the command line in Ubuntu. As luck would have it, it seems that another poor soul found the process for getting out of Ubuntu a little confusing and came to my page in search of help today, hopefully he found the post in question and got some help.

Now that I’ve described a couple distros, the obvious question would be: “Why would I ever want to use Linux?” To be honest it’s a good one, but there are a number of good answers. Apart from the obvious Microsoft hating answer (which I don’t buy), the best reason is that it is free, in both senses of the word. This is not the place for a discussion of the open source philosophy, but let me say briefly that not only do you not have to pay any money for Linux, or most of it’s many many applications, you also are allowed to do anything you want with the code that runs it. For the non-coder geeks out there this is probably not super important, you likely don’t want to change the behaviour of your operating system substantially and might be a little scared at the very idea (I certainly was).  There are other reasons though.

Depending on the Distro you use, you will learn a lot about how your computer works and slowly but surely become much more able to fix problems as they arise (it’s been nice to have access to an old computer that I don’t mind having to wipe out from time to time).  This strikes me as a really good reason for more people to get on board with Linux.  Working with OS X and Windows is great, they both take care of most of the difficult stuff of running our computer and look pretty good doing it. The problem is though, that when something goes wrong (and really it’s just a matter of time) most people are basically helpless.  Fooling around with the settings and building your own system (even in the straightforward and user friendly environment that Ubuntu presents) just arms you with a few more tricks up your sleeve when the bottom falls out.

OK, enough of that.  Another post will follow close behind this one with details on actually moving forward on the installation process.

Posted in Linux, open source, Operating Systems, semi-structured thoughts | Leave a Comment »

Selecting your Tux

Posted by Mike on February 28, 2007

Despite the title to this entry, this post is actually pretty gender neutral. I’m making a ?clever? pun on the official mascot for Linux (he’s the cutesy looking penguin off on the side there). Tux the Linux Penguin I’ve been trying to figure out how to go about describing my current ‘big’ project without writing a most un-blog-like long essay on the subject, so I’ve decided to to break it up into smallish digestible sections. Today will involve a discussion of the first step in the journey to true geekiness. Selecting your flavour of tux, your distro.

Yeah, one of the first things you’ll notice when you start looking into this whole Linux thing is that Linux users love the jargon, distro for instance is short for distribution. Linux is not one operating system like Windows or OS X, at least not from the perspective of users like you and me (only the most super geeky of the geeks will ever deal with it at the kernel level). Linux is released as a kernel, which is used as the basis upon which a distro is built. There are hundreds of distros of Linux that all aim to work for different types of users or types of use or levels of expertise or lots of other things. Each distro is maintained by a group of people who release updates for it at some type of interval (only a very few can be said to be updated regularly). These updates are sort of like the ones that OS X and Windows get (which can also come at pretty irregular intervals). The only way to figure out which brand of Linux is for you, is to look around at the various distros and try to decide which one you think sounds like a good fit. With that being said I feel I can suggest a few likely candidates that you might run into.

Ubuntu: This is the distro that I am currently using for my server (you probably want the Desktop version). It’s free to download (of course, all Linux is free by default, they may offer toUbuntu’s logo let you buy professional support though, which may not be such a bad idea if you are going to make Linux your sole operating system and aren’t used to it) and designed to be easy to install. Once you boot from your disk (I’ll explain that in a later post) you should be met with a nice graphical installation screen that will walk you through the steps of installing your ubuntu system. The entire point of the Ubuntu project is to make Linux a viable choice for non Linux geeks, once it’s on your computer you’ll have a nice spiffy GUI to work with and after learning the few differences in interfacing that exist between Linux and OS X or Windows you’ll be off to the races (you probably won’t ever even have to look at the command line if you don’t want to). The bonus obviously being that you are no longer tied to a proprietary system and nearly every application you could possibly want will be yours for $0 (this is also true of all Linux distros) Here are two good guides to things you should do and apps you should install as soon as you have ubuntu installed.

OpenSuse: is also designed by a big well organized group (Novell in the case) with an eye towards creating a Linux environment that non-geeks can feel comfortable in. OpenSuse is a free version of Suse, which Novell sells with a few extra bells and whistles aimed at corporate and network users, but you can buy technical support for it if you want. It sports an even nicer GUI for getting onto your computer and is also designed to be a pretty easy transition from either of the big two OS’s.

Knoppix (click on the American/British flag at the top left to go to the English version): is an option for those of you who are really unsure about Linux. The two distros above are designed to be simple, but you still have to go through the process of putting them onto your hard drive (which has the potential to wipe whatever else you have on there if you aren’t careful, always always back up everything you don’t want to lose before you try to install something like a Linux distro). Knoppix allows you to run a full Linux distro right off the CD, you can play with files and get used to the interface but it won’t make any major changes to your hard drive and once you take it out your original OS will come right back up. This is obviously not a great permanent solution but while you are trying to get your bearings it’s not a bad start.

Gentoo: This distro is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from those mentioned above. Traditionally this made you start at the most basic level of an Gentoo logoOS (remember I mentioned the Kernel earlier?), they’ve gotten a little more user friendly since those days (there’s even a live CD like Knoppix available now) but if you choose to install this thing you are going to be investing a lot of time and energy, and the possibility of failure remains very real. I would suggest that you give this one a pass if you are looking for a distro to put on your main computer (there’s just to much room to screw it up), but if you want to learn a lot about Linux and Unix and your computer and networking and everything else that we will talk about on this blog it’s a great way to do so (although frustration and rage will also probably be your constant companions during the process). Other than the learning process involved in getting this set up, and keeping it set up, there are a number of features in Gentoo that appeal to power users (including the most common one, that it will make your system run faster)

Well that’s probably more than enough for now. If you are interested in trying out Linux make sure to shop around and read lots of guides before you make the plunge with any one distro. Also if you want to jump ahead and start installing one make sure to read up a lot on the process of partitioning your drive (as it’s where most of the risk in installing a new operating system resides), especially if you are going to try to keep your original operating system on your computer.

Posted in Gentoo, knoppix, Linux, open source, Operating Systems, Suse, ubuntu | 1 Comment »

My first search string!

Posted by Mike on February 23, 2007

Another short one this morning. Sometime yesterday I had my first visitor from a web search engine. I’m really digging the dashboard on this WordPress software, not only does it give me a count of how many of you brave souls have actually come to my site but it also provides nifty little details like the search terms that people used to wind up here.a search string that led to my blog It seems that in my case the phrase that brought my first web search visitor was “how do I power down the ubuntu command line?” Unfortunately for that brave soul I haven’t actually written anything about that particular subject yet. Luckily it’s something that I know, so I’ll rectify that situation right now (to little to late perhaps). To completely shut-down the system type ‘shutdown’ and press enter, if you just want to leave the console in the GUI type ‘quit’, alternatively if you just want to log out as your current user name type ‘logout’, and viola question answered. Perhaps someone else will be helped out by this little post, or they can check out this handy resource on basic commands.

Posted in command line, Linux, Operating Systems, ubuntu | 1 Comment »

Command Line Woes

Posted by Mike on February 19, 2007

The project I’m currently working on is turning the old pentium III that I grabbed from my parents into a webserver using Ubuntu’s server distribution. I’m a big fan of using what’s shiny and new – as long as you forget about the 6 year old computer – so I’m using 6.10 Edgy Eft (they sure do have cute names). Perhaps the defining feature of ubuntu server (at least from my perspective) is that it has no GUI (graphical user interface for those not in the know) so absolutely everything I want to do has to be negotiated from the command line. I’ve had to go into the command prompt in Windows to do really simple things a few times before, and I fooled around with a few desktop distributions of Linux before I came up with this latest hare-brained scheme, so I have a little bit of experience communicating with a computer in text form. The last time I worked in an exclusively command line environment though, was DOS in the early 90’s on my Dad’s 386, and I only really knew enough to start up games.

The command line is an interesting beast, some people seem to swear by it while others argue that in most cases it is unnecessary (and that includes some certified computer geeks). I think I’m going to wind up coming down somewhere in the middle. I made early attempts at setting up my pIII as a web server using the GUI version of Ubuntu and Suse, but due to the system’s limitations I generally wound up smasing into a wall with the programs or somehow breaking the GUI. Since I switched over to the server, the only mistakes have been the result of my misunderstandings, which generally stem from tyring to use tutorials I find on the web to closely (I’ll explain that more in a later post). I think perhaps I’m starting to get a slightly better handle on how things work and have taken out what appears to be a very helpful book for a person in my situation from the library, those techie books sure aren’t cheap.

I doubt I’ll ever fully qualify as a true command line geek, but hopefully this experience will at least enable me to gain a slightly better understanding just what’s going on ‘under the hood.’

Posted in command line, Linux, Windows | 6 Comments »