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We now have taken a broad overview of the world of Linux, including a brief history and an examination of the advantages and disadvantages of Linux versus Windows. However, we won’t be able to do much of anything with Linux unless we install it. Although this is not a particularly difficult process, you should realize that installing any operating system is a very important step.
The most obvious reason is that you cannot use the operating system until you install it. However, there are other reasons why the installation is very important. The manner in which you install the operating system and the options you select during installation will determine what features your operating system has and, to some extent, how it behaves on your machine. For this reason, you must pay very close attention to this process. This process is critical, but it’s not particularly difficult if you proceed carefully; still, there are pitfalls you will need to avoid. It is recommended that you read this entire chapter before attempting the install. You should not simply start at the beginning of the chapter and follow along as you read. Read through the entire chapter one time, making certain that you understand all the issues involved, and then go through the chapter a second time while you actually perform an installation. Pay particular attention to any Notes in the text. These Notes are designed to highlight potential problems or specific issues that will require particularly close attention on your part. That way, you will be aware of any potential problems before you start the installation process. If after reading this chapter you still are not comfortable with the install process, it might be a good idea to also read the installation instructions that came with your version of Linux. After you carefully read this chapter and are certain you understand the material, then simply pay attention to the installation process itself and you should do just fine.
It may seem odd to recommend that you pay attention to the installation process, but this admonition comes from long experience. It is not uncommon for beginners to rush through parts of the install and end up doing some things very wrong. If you simply pay careful attention to each screen and read any instructions, you should be fine. The install process is not that difficult; in fact, it is no more difficult than installing Windows and, in same ways, even less difficult. Of course in the worst-case scenario, should you totally botch the installation, you can simply reinstall the operating system. You cannot damage the hardware by doing a bad installation. However, you can render your machine unusable until a reinstall is accomplished.
If you really botch the installation, you will have to repartition your hard drive and reinstall the operating system. This chapter discusses the process of partitioning a hard drive. It is a very good idea either to perform your first Linux installation on an old machine that does not have any important data or to make sure you have made backups of all your data before beginning the installation process. In fact, if you are not using an old machine that has no data, it is absolutely critical that you back up all data before starting. Failing to do so can lead to a loss of all of your data.
This introduction might have left you frightened. Remember that if you first carefully read the instructions in this chapter and perhaps any documentation that came with your Linux distribution, you should be fine. Most readers who read and follow the instructions carefully will have no problems installing. However, for those readers who just don’t want to try it, there are a number of major computer stores that offer PCs that come with Linux already installed. Usually they are much cheaper than a Windows PC. You can always purchase one of those and skip the installation process. The key, if you choose to install yourself, is to read this chapter and your distribution’s documentation before installing.
This book uses Red Hat Linux for all examples; however, the installation of other distributions such as SuSE or Mandrake will have a great many similarities. In fact, the installation process of any Linux distribution is likely to have more similarities than differences. If you are using one of the other major Linux distributions, don’t worry. The material in this chapter, combined with the documentation that came with your particular Linux distribution, should still be enough for you to install Linux. Also keep in mind that when you are through the installation, the other tasks in this book are common to all major Linux distributions.
Before you embark on the installation of Red Hat 9.0, or any software for that matter, you should make sure that your system will support it. The minimum hardware specifications to run a particular software package are also referred to as its system requirements. These minimum requirements are usually determined by the operating system vendor. System requirements are yet another reason to consider moving to Linux. The Linux operating system does not require an expensive high-end PC in order to run. In fact, Linux has been successfully installed and run on machines that literally were thrown away by small businesses. Red Hat puts the specifications for its Professional Edition at a Pentium II 400MHz or faster processor, 28 megabytes of RAM, 1.3 gigabytes of hard drive space, a mouse, and a CD-ROM. The Personal Edition, which this book focuses on, can be installed on a Pentium II 200MHz processor with only 64 megabytes of RAM. To give you a perspective on how low these system requirements are, remember that these are Pentium II machines. Pentium IV is the current model of Intel processor as of this writing. You also would have a difficult time finding a new computer that had less than 128 megabytes of RAM. In fact, even low-end PCs tend to have 256 megabytes of RAM and at least 10 gigabytes of hard drive space. If you purchased a new machine anytime in the last 18 months, Linux probably will install and run just fine on it. In fact, Linux will work on machines so old and outdated that they are not even sold in stores any longer and have not been for several years. This means that you don’t need an expensive PC to run Linux or even a new machine.
It is critical that you realize that the manufacturer’s minimum recommended hardware is just that, a bare minimum. If you choose to use a PC that only has that bare minimum, you will find that it performs quite sluggishly, although it will work. You will usually want more than the minimum requirements for any software you use. Fortunately, any system purchased new in the last two years is likely to be more than enough for Linux. However, the author’s personal recommended minimums, which exceed the manufacturer’s minimum standards, are a Pentium III 500, 128 megabytes of RAM, and a 5-gigabyte hard drive. Fortunately, the machine just described would have been considered new in about 1999. That means that you still won’t need to purchase an expensive new computer to run Linux. The rule of thumb on any PC, however, is that there is no such thing as too much power. Today you can purchase a brand new Pentium IV with 512 megabytes of RAM and a 20-gigabyte hard drive for less than $500 from virtually any major computer store.
You can obtain Linux from a variety of sources. Most local computer stores such as Best Buy™ and Microcenter™ carry the major distributions of Linux. You also can order or download Linux from the several Web sites, some of which are listed here. Some of these sites offer a Linux distribution for free, and others for a small fee.
These are various distribution Web sites:
These are generic Linux Web sites:
These sites offer very inexpensive or free Linux CDs:
Unless you are a particularly savvy reader, it is recommended that you purchase a commercial version of Linux, such as Red Hat 9.0. The installation is much easier, and there is extensive documentation included. If you download, you will have a more complicated time with the installation. You might need to transfer the installation files to one or more CDs before beginning the installation.
The installation described in this chapter was done with a commercial version of Red Hat 9.0, purchased for about $50 at one of the major computer stores. There was nothing special purchased or added. The author simply bought Red Hat 9.0 Personal Edition off the shelf exactly as you would find it. However, it should be stressed that this installation can be done with Linux versions obtained from other sources, and anywhere you obtain Red Hat Linux, the installation should be much the same. Even other Linux distributions such as Mandrake, Debian, and SuSE should be very similar.
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