I want to move to Linux but How?

Lets start off by making a couple of assumptions:

  • You have a home computer running Windows using an Intel processor.

  • You use your computer mainly for writing simple documents, email, browsing the web, listening to the radio over the Internet, balancing your checkbook and a few simple games like Solitaire.

  • You are willing to invest some time and effort to make the transition to Linux, but you want to continue doing the things you do today.

If this sounds like you, we will show you how to make the move. If you are really addicted to high resolution action games. Well we can help you too. If you have some sophisticated application you use occasionally. We will still be able to use it since we are not removing windows initially, only adding Linux in a separate space.

The basic idea is to start by transitioning your applications from the usual Microsoft applications to multi-platform applications. Multi-platform applications are those applications which can run on both Windows and Linux. Even if you only change the applications you use, you will benefit, because these multi-platform tools are often as good or better than their Windows counterparts.

How can I try Linux?

Lets assume for a minute, you, or a friend of yours, has heard about Linux, and wants to see what all the Hoopla is about for him/herself.

The answer, of course, is for you to download a copy of Knoppix, and make a Live CD. But, even the live CD does not always work as expected. So it is probably not the best idea to simply hand them a CD and say “Here do it yourself.” If this seems to defeat the purpose of Knoppix it isn’t. Knoppix is supposed to run on anything with an Intel type processor. Well it often will, but that does not mean that it can guess everything correctly.

If you want to have a good demo of Knoppix, it would be a smart idea for you to be the showman, at least initially. Often all this means is, reassuring your audience that this will NOT damage their computer or current applications, since it runs from the CD not the hard disk.

Boot the computer from the CD and try the default values first. If all goes well, take them on a tour of the system. If something goes wrong, don’t panic. Just restart the system again, and when it prompts you to boot, press the F3 key to view the options you can pass to the system. For example, when I boot Knoppix on this system I used the boot parameters: smp dopcmcia. The first parameter directed the CD to use the Version 2.6 kernel instead of the 2.4 kernel. The second parameter instructs the kernel to look for pcmcia devices. As it happens, my network card is a pcmcia card.

Once you have the system up and working, you should show your friend what you did. It will reassure them that they can do it too. Additionally it will show them how they can take charge of their own computing environment. This is an empowering feeling for someone who has struggled with Windows for a while. It also goes to the heart of what makes Linux so powerful. It puts the power to change it in your hands.

Multi-platform application, First steps.

Before changing your operating system, it is a good idea to start using some of the same applications you will eventually want on your Linux system. A number of the major open source programs have been compiled to allow them to run on several different operating systems. Making this transition from your window applications to Open Source programs, allows you to start slowly and build confidence before committing yourself.

So lets make a table of the applications enumerated above in the assumptions, and see if we can find a suitable multi-platform tool to substitute.

Comparison of Window and Multi-platform Apps.
Application Type Windows App(s) Multi-platform App(s) Screen Shots
Word Processing Word OpenOffice
Word Processing Word Abiword
Email Program Outlook Thunderbird
Web Browser Internet Explorer Mozilla
Web Browser Internet Explorer Opera
Web Browser Internet Explorer Firefox
Streaming Music and Video Windows Media Player Real Player
Streaming Music and Video Windows Media Player Xmms
Streaming Music Winamp Zinf
Check Book Program Quicken MoneyDance

If you are interested in learning about more applications which come from the Open Source community and have been ported to windows, have a look at The Open CD. This CD contains many more programs which can run in the Windows environment.

Why start with Application?

If you think about working on a computer, you will realize that we spend much more time and effort mastering the applications we use than the operating system. The operating system, provides the structure for the applications, and allows them to access the files and resources needed by the applications, but in fact we are mostly dealing with the individual applications. This emphasis on the applications is by design. The operating system is really designed to be invisible to the user most of the time. So we are starting our transition by working from the application level.

So if we spend most of our time in applications, why not leave the operating system alone, and just replace the applications? Anyone want to answer that question?

One answer would probably involve pointing out that if it weren’t for Linux, or at least an open source operating system, these applications would probably never have come into existence. But the end user is more interested in, why do I want to run these applications on Linux?

Another answer for many people is the lack or at least scarcity of viruses on Linux. This is in part due to the smaller number of users for Linux. But it is also due to the fact that security was build into the Unix/Linux operating systems from the beginning. In windows, most users only login to the system at the admin user level. Now you can do this in Linux, but it is discouraged. The practical effect of this is that a virus can not affect as much of the system, since the applications and settings are not owned by the user but by the administrator. So for the time being, Linux is more secure for most users than Windows.

One other reason has to do with the fact that most Linux systems come complete on the installation disks. What this means is that you get a complete system during the install. This may not seem like such a big deal, but think about it this way. If you wanted a computer with Windows. You would need to purchase Word, and Quicken separately, as per our example above. In Linux, on the other hand, it would all come on the install disks. Additionally, many all the applications you will use in Linux are either on the CDs, or available for download. For most windows users, this is an unheard of situation.

OK, now lets install the Operating System.

Now we have moved our daily activities over to multi-platform applications, and we are pleased them. We are ready to take the plunge into the Linux operating system. Where should we start?

At this point you should consider purchasing a second hard disk for your computer. By adding this piece of hardware you can make the transition smoother and still have a fall back position in case something requires Windows. Yes, I know you want to throw out windows and have done with it. That is a worthy goal, but sometimes you need windows to run some application which is only available in windows. Or like my kids, you want to play windows games sometimes.

So you should look into getting a second IDE hard disk for your computer. Given todays prices, I can get a 40 Gigabyte hard disk for about $60. What this will allow you to do is install Linux on your second hard disk. This is the easiest route for most people since they do not know how to repartition their current hard drive to accommodate Linux. Most computer motherboards today come with 2 IDE controller chips already installed. If your computer is a typical desktop machine, you have one hard disk and one CD drive in it. Both of these will run on a single IDE controller chip. So the second hard disk can be attached to the other IDE controller. If you would like to do this yourself you can refer to this tutorial from About.com.

The other option to make room for Linux is to repartition your hard disk. I will point you toward a tutorial Archer’s Hard Disk Management. Be sure to backup your hard disk before starting. If you have the right tools this is a workable solution, but it is not for the faint of heart. Why, if you make a mistake, you could lose all your programs and data.

So you now have space to install Linux, were to now? The best answer is to find an install fest at a local Linux users group. There you will be able to tap into the knowledge of a group of people who have done Linux installs before. If you do not have access to a users group, or you would rather do it yourself. You should go to the web site of the distribution you want to install and read the installation instructions. If you have the CDs already, it is normally on the first CD. Read it from beginning to end and if there is something you don’t understand look it up.

The one part of the install which often causes confusion is where to install the boot loader. On most of the newer Linux installations, it is Grub. The trick is to install Grub in the master boot record of the first hard disk. Grub will allow you to select which operating system you want to run at boot time.

I want to learn how to install Linux myself

knoppix-installer

The following is taken directly from the knoppix installer web page: Knoppix Installer. So I did not write it, only copied it.

You CAN install newer versions of Knoppix on hard disk, if you wish, though installation is not required for productive use. If you want to do this, you should just make sure there is some empty space on your hard drive so you can create at least 2 Linux partitions, one for the System (for Knoppix, minimal approx. 3 GB) and about minimal 200MB for httpSwap during the installation process. It is VERY important that the swap space partition is of type “Linux Swap space” (or equivelent“). A partitioning program is integrated in the knoppix-installer.

It’s recommend to use 5 GB for root partition and 400 MB for swap partition.

(NOTE: Be sure the root partition is the first partition on the drive, is formatted with ext2 or ext3, and is set to “active.” The swap partition must be formatted with “linux-swap.” Installation and subsequent booting will not continue otherwise.)

You should get Knoppix version 3.4 and type “sudo knoppix-installer” in the shell if you want to do this. Please ALWAYS make sure that you have a working backup of your important data prior to experimenting with ANY new software, no matter if Windows, Linux or anything else.

In knoppix-installer, arrow keys move focus and space bar selects options.

Note: Do not use “knx-hdinstall” anymore. “knx-hdinstall” is no longer maintained, use “knoppix-installer” instead.

Or the Knopper FAQ on doing it manually. httphttp://download.linuxtag.org/knoppix/KNOPPIX-FAQ-EN.txt

Once knoppix is installed on a hard disk, it’s no longer a Knoppix;-) it’s a uncompressed complete Debian GNU/Linux.

Godot’s Instructions To Install A Knoppix Cd On A Hard Disk, Booting From A Knoppix cd

Again I did not write this page, so don’t blame me if it does not work. It came from Godot’s Install

  1. # boot from your Knoppix cd, and make sure you become root:

    sudo su -

  2. # assume you will install the Knoppix cd on /dev/hda3 (make sure it is large enough, say 800 megabyte, to hold at least the Knoppix iso image and the filesystem’s management data). Propagate this preference:

    export PARTIT=/dev/hda3

  3. # export a few preferences:

    export TARGET=/target; export BOOT=$TARGET/boot; export LILO=$BOOT/lilo.conf

  4. # create a filesystem on that partition:

    mkfs.ext3 $PARTIT

  5. # create a mount point $TARGET for that new partition and mount it:

    mkdir $TARGET; mount -t auto $PARTIT $TARGET

  6. # copy the Knoppix cd to hard disk (this may take a while):

    time cp -a /cdrom/* $TARGET

  7. # mount the Knoppix image’s boot floppy:

    mkdir /floppy; mount -t vfat -o loop /cdrom/KNOPPIX/boot.img /floppy/

  8. # prepare the hard disk image’s boot directory:

    mkdir $BOOT; cp /boot/System.map $BOOT/; cp /floppy/* $BOOT/

  9. # unmount the floppy:

    umount /floppy

  10. # determine which root device you are currently using:

    export THISROOT=`grep root= /etc/lilo.conf|head -1|cut -d= -f2-`; echo your root partition is :$THISROOT:

  11. # generate a lilo.conf which is configured automagically:

    genliloconf /dev/hda $THISROOT “” $BOOT/vmlinuz > $LILO

  12. # add a mysterious line to this newly generated lilo.conf file:

    echo image=/boot/vmlinuz append=\“lang=us noprompt dma ramdisk_size=100000 init=/etc/init initrd=miniroot.gz __BOOT_IMAGE=knoppix\” root=$PARTIT read-only initrd=/boot/miniroot.gz label=“KnoppixCd” >> $LILO

  13. # overlink the cdrom’s /boot:

    ln -sf $BOOT /

  14. # execute lilo on this new lilo.conf:

    lilo -C /boot/lilo.conf

  15. # you may wish to add the line specifying the mount point of the newly installed Knoppix cd to the /etc/fstab of your other unix installations:

    echo $THISROOT $TARGET auto defaults 0 0

  16. # you can now reboot your machine an select ‘KnoppixCd’ from your lilo menu

The recommended method of Install

If you really want to do the install yourself, Please do. But I recommend you either do it at an Install Fest, where there will be more experienced people to help you. Or invite a friend, who has installed Linux before, to help you over a couple of beers while you do the install.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I want you to learn how to do the install yourself. It is just the first time I know how a seemingly simple mistake can cause you to loose a lot of time and files. To be honest, I often do installs more than once. The first time I get a chance to see how all the steps work and what to improve the next time.

So where to now that the install works

At this point you should have a working Linux install on your computer. Explore it, play with it, but what ever you do, use it. Linux is there for you to explore, so why wait. Go out and explore Linux today. Tomorrow you will be glad you did.

One of the advantages of this type of setup, known as a dual boot machine, is you have not lost windows. You have gained a second operating system. Since you still have windows you can select it at boot time and return to it if needed. In the future, when you are comfortable with Linux, you can always reclaim the hard disk space by deleting the Windows partitions and using them for other purposes.

We have not discussed programs which allow you to run Windows applications under Linux. The original one is called Wine, a windows emulation program There is also a program from CodeWeavers called CrossOver Office, for running Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes. Then there are the commercial products, ie, you need to purchase them and have a windows license to use, Win4Lin which allows windows emulation under Linux. Additionally for heavy duty use of Windows under Linux I would recommend VMWare, which gives you a complete windows machine inside Linux. It builds on the Virtual Machine idea of software. Although VMware is the most expensive at $189 it is also the most capable of the emulators. I think a discussion of windows emulation is beyond the scope of this talk.

A good place to start learning about Linux is right here on the Linuxpcug site using the Rute User’s Tutorial and Exposition we have here on our web site.

Another good source of information on the Debian system is their Documentation page.

OK, for those of you who know me, I have started a transition from Redhat Linux to Knoppix/Debian due to problems and frustrations with Fedora Core. I hope to talk about this and other issues involved in picking a Linux Distribution in a future talk. For now, I recommend you have a look at Knoppix if you are considering choosing a Linux Distribution.


Written by John F. Moore

Last Revised: Wed Nov 2 15:01:09 EDT 2016

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