If you’ve heard about Linux and feel like giving it a go or if you want to try Linux but you’re too afraid it’ll shew up your computer, this article is for you. Read it, feel free to take what you need and ignore the rest. This is not a tutorial, it’s a README-FIRST-like article. It should help you to take that first dive.
Oh yeah. First, I’m not trying to promote anything; Not Linux, not Fedora Core and not KDE/GNOME. Test for yourself, find what suits you best, and use it. Second, English is not my first language, I apologize in advance for what I’m about to do to it.
Or: Make sure you have a good deal of spare time.
Linux is not Windows; while most Linux distributions can be installed and configured using graphical (GUI) tools, some tasks are easier to accomplish using the command line (cmd.exe/command.com like) interface. Be aware that Linux’ learning curve can be daunting at times, but once you get going, the reward is well worth the effort!
A couple of small examples: Burning an ISO image can be accomplished by a mouse click-fest in K3B or by typing a “cdrecord dev=ATAPI:1,0,0 speed=48 filename.iso” command in a console. A full system backup can be accomplished by typing “tar -czpf /media/backup-drive/$HOSTNAME-$(date +%F).tgz” or again, by clicking your mouse to death in a graphical application.
2. Don’t give up:
Decide, in advance, that you don’t give up. Period.
3. Try a Linux LiveCD First:
Download the ISO, burn it and give it a try. It’ll boot from the CD without touching your Windows partitions. Play around with it. Still find Linux interesting? Time to move to one of the fully-featured Linux distributions. (Though all of them can be installed and used as your primary OS.)
Here’s a couple of good options:
Both Knoppix and Ubuntu will run just fine on any Windows-XP able machines. Use DSL (Damn Small Linux) if you plan on using older hardware. It’s a 50MB wonder-OS that can run on a 486/66 with 16MB RAM and boot from a USB flash drive. Again, these LiveCD Linuxes are designed to be used without touching the main drive; your Windows will be safe in their hands. (Unless you do something really stupid…)
4. Choose a Linux distribution:
First and foremost, no matter what you choose, remember this: Linux is Linux is Linux is Linux. Linux distributions may have different install procedure, software package management (Kind of like MSI under Windows) and different configuration tools, but in essence, they are all the same. Don’t buy into the “My Linux r00l3z! Your Linux s0x3rz!” hype. (Sorry to the lousy Elite-speak…)
I personally use the Fedora Core 3/4 (http://fedora.redhat.com/) but it’s a matter of personal taste. Other fine options:
5. Internet connection:
It’s good to have a backup machine (running your regular OS) that has an Internet connection. It’s much easier to search google or your favorite Linux forum when you don’t need to dual boot for it.
6. Older Hardware:
Linux runs nicely on older hardware. Feel free to use that old AMD K6 500 or Pentium 3/450 with an ancient ATI Rage Pro 128. If you have sufficient memory, it will work wonders! (And will keep the Internet connection on your main Windows machine running.)
I’ve got an ancient Dell Inspiron 7000 laptop with a 366Mhz Intel PII, 256MB and a 10GB drive. While I can’t run Doom3 on it (See Linux software), it’s more then sufficient for writing code, reading emails, writing design documents and browsing the net.
Just in case you’ve been living on Mars: www.gooogle.com. Assume that your questions have been asked (and answered) 10,000 times before. Seek and you shall find!
8. Read the Manuals:
9. Help Forums:
Make sure you’ve got a good Linux forum in advance. Don’t be afraid to sound stupid. We all made some amazingly stupid mistakes in the past (rm -rf / anyone?).
10. Take Notes:
Make a note of everything you do. You may need it in the future.
11. Use Linux Software:
Or: Don’t plan on using Windows software under Linux.
While you may get lucky and get wine (Windows emulation layer, http://www.winehq.org) to run your favorite Windows application or game, it’s a matter of pure chance.
Linux has a very long list of native applications that will come pre-configured with your favorite distribution, ranging from the KDE (http://www.kde.org) and GNOME (http://www.gnome.org) desktop environments, Open Office (http://www.openoffice.org/) Office suite, Evolution outlook-like email/group-ware client (http://www.gnome.org/projects/evolution/), K3B Nero like CD authoring software (http://www.k3b.org) and the list goes on and on.
Better yet, several games were ported to Linux: among them are Quake 1/2/3, Doom3, Unreal, UT, UT2K3/4, Enemy Territory and America’s Army. You’ll need the original CD in order to install them, of course.
12. Hardware check list:
Before you begin, search Linux Compatible (http://www.linuxcompatible.org/compatibility.html) for your hardware.
12.3. Disk drive controllers:
Most sound cards are supported out of the box, at least the basic functionality. 5.1 or above may require some extra configuration, but should work.
For more information, go to The Alsa Project (http://www.alsa-project.org/alsa-doc/) support matrix.
About the author:
I’m a 31 y/o software engineer from Ramat-Gan Israel. I mostly write kernel-level code under both Linux and Windows. I have been using Linux since 1998.
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