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This chapter shows you how to install and configure a system suitable for personal use. As with all the case studies, this system starts with a stock Red Hat Linux 7.3 distribution, and additional software is installed as needed. First some background outlines the goals and applications of the configuration, and then the actual construction process is described in detail.
This section outlines the goals and motivations of this case study. It describes the type of user who will most likely be interested in this environment and defines some basic terms. You can skim through this section if you'd like, but do make sure you at least skim it, as you'll find the information useful when you read the actual case study.
The goal of this chapter is to demonstrate how a Linux system can meet a typical user's everyday needs. There really isn't anything in this chapter that you don't already know how to do—no magic installation tricks or configuration voodoo. All the software can be installed and configured by techniques similar to those discussed in Chapters 7 through 13; sometimes the process will be as simple as installing the appropriate Red Hat Package Manager (RPM), and other times you may have to install applications from source code or other packaging format.
You can view this chapter as a sort of potpourri of useful applications. This chapter won't go into detail on the nuances of installing or configuring the software, since you already know how to do that. Instead, it focuses on pointing you in the right direction in selecting and installing the software you need to meet your goals.
The final objective, really, is to produce a feature-complete desktop. You will frequently hear technology "experts" claim that Linux systems are not good desktop systems. Well, after this chapter you'll be able to decide that for yourself. The system described in this chapter has everything I need; if your needs are similar to mine, then you—like me—may never need to use a non-Linux operating system again.
Of course, maybe your needs are different. Perhaps you'll read this chapter, experiment with some of the applications yourself, and decide that in the end, Linux isn't viable as a desktop system for you. That's really the ultimate goal: to educate you enough so that you can make that determination yourself, and not take some "expert's" word for it.
Any problem can be easily solved, if you define the problem narrowly enough. So, you need to define the notion of a desktop system precisely enough so that you can create one. For the purposes of this example, a desktop system is simply a computer used for routine, everyday computing tasks. The tasks this chapter focuses on appear in the list that follows; if a system can support these basic, common tasks, then consider it a desktop system.
Office productivity (word processing, spreadsheets, and so on)
Hardware support (USB devices, storage devices, and so on)
Multimedia and entertainment (digital photography, games, and so on)
Connectivity (accessing your desktop remotely, accessing other systems)
These items are great, but to what is this desktop system being compared? Well, there are three other general classes of computer system:
Embedded devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDAs)
This book doesn't discuss embedded Linux, so you don't need to consider that. Additionally, a server is pretty straightforward: It's a machine dedicated to providing some specific feature or functionality (that is, a service) to other machines on a network. This leaves us with a workstation, which is a bit fuzzier.
Many people use the terms "desktop" and "workstation" interchangeably, but it's useful to draw a distinction between them. I've just defined a desktop. A workstation is usually a high-performance personal computer used for a specific task, rather than a general set of tasks. For example, the machine an architect or engineer uses to do computer-aided design work would be a workstation; similarly, the system a software engineer uses to develop applications would be a workstation, as would a computer used by a research scientist to run a "number-crunching" program.
Each of these examples is of a computer being used for a specific, highly demanding task. Building such a workstation is the subject of the case study you'll find in Chapter 15; this chapter focuses on configurations that you're more likely to find in a home or office rather than an engineering department.
Now that I've defined the goals and outlined what I'll be covering, it's time to talk about how the approach for meeting these goals. This section describes the kind of information you'll find in this chapter.
Recall that this chapter assumes that you're already familiar with the material in Part Three, which discussed the mechanics of installing and configuring software. This chapter points you in the right directions, to give you some idea of how to apply the mechanics you've already learned.
To that end, this chapter focuses on software. Several categories of software are discussed, and each category cites popular, functional software packages that fulfill the goals of the category. The software packages themselves are described briefly, their applicability is discussed, and alternatives are mentioned where appropriate. You'll also find information on any peculiar quirks of these packages, such as potential configuration pitfalls, licensing restrictions, and so on. Finally, I'll choose a package for the case study and explain the reason for my choice.
Once you've read the section on a given category of software, you'll have a general understanding of the options available to you in that category, some of their limitations, and a bit of insight into any difficulties you might encounter. In other words, you'll have a sense of the state of the art within that category. This understanding will allow you to apply the skills you've gained in Parts One through Three. You'll be able to either take the selections presented in this chapter verbatim to duplicate the configuration, or you'll be able to make an educated choice of an alternative.
To get started, the next section will describe the basics of the desktop system case study. You'll learn what the goals and requirements of the system are, and then read how the basic Red Hat Linux 7.3 system was installed as the core of that system.
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