Add Linux and stir...
by Alan Zisman (c)
1999. First published
in Vancouver Computes,
In last month?s column, we
started off on a theme
that might be called ?two heads are better than one?, looking at my
to run two not-yet industry-standard operating systems, Windows 2000
Linux on one notebook. In that episode, we took a pre-release look at
with Windows 2000, due from Microsoft ?real soon now?.
After getting W2K up and running, with computing
getting back to being
hum drum enough to take things for granted, it was time to shake things
up again. Time for another OS?in this case, Linux. Linux is perhaps the
best known example of Open Source software?software that can be
freely along with the source code, allowing those of us of a
bent (not me, however), to see how it works and make any desired
modifications, or additions.
From modest beginnings, Linux has emerged as the
darling of the ?Anyone
But Microsoft? set, and has been gaining support, users, and
over the past few years. It?s been a while since I last tried out
and I thought it was time to give it another look, to see how it?s
and how it?s looking as an option?not for a programmer or hacker, not
a server, but for a desktop system.
Linux comes in the form of ?distributions??packages
combining the basic
system with varying setup routines and added extras. These might be
from the Net, included on CD in books, or increasingly, in packages
in all the standard software outlets. Perhaps the best-known is Red
distribution?currently in version 6. I used Red Hat 5.2 the last time I
tried out Linux.
This time, I tried Caldera?s Open Linux 2.2. Caldera?s
version is known
for a slick setup program, and includes versions of PowerQuest?s
Magic to create Linux disk partitions while leaving your existing
files intact, and Boot Magic to simplify booting between different
systems. Caldera accepts that most users already have Windows 9x on
computers, and aren?t yet ready to nuke it and devote themselves 100%
Linux, needing sometimes to boot to Win9x, if only to play games that
yet available in Linux versions.
That makes a lot of sense, though it?s not yet
perfect. The limited-feature
version of Partition Magic, for example, limited users to creating some
oddly-sized Linux partitions?a 300 meg one that was much too small, a 1
gig one, that was adequate, but tight, or maxed-out one that barely
enough room for the Windows system. I picked the 1 gig option. And
installing Open Linux, Boot Magic refused to install?it seems it needs
to go onto a FAT partition that starts and stops within the first 1024
cylinders of a hard drive?but doesn?t let you know this, until it?s too
late. (And how big is 1024 cylinders?) Even the full, commercial
has this limitation?and also doesn?t bother mentioning it anywhere!
But the Open Linux setup is lovely?graphical, slick,
There are only a few questions to answer, and while you?re answering
the Linux files are already being copied in the background. Afterwards,
while you?re waiting, the setup program lets you play Tetris, while the
file copying continues. One loss?users can choose a minimal, typical,
?full-commercial? installation, but there?s no fine-tuning. Unlike the
Red Hat installation, you can?t choose the individual packages to
get web server software installed whether you want it or not.
But in about 20 minutes, it reboots into Linux. Not to
a command line
terminal, but right into the KDE graphical environment. Complete with
wizard waiting with the last few steps to customize your environment.
a Windows look-and-feel? Or Macintosh? It?s all possible, and easy.
The ?full-commercial? installation gave me Netscape
Word Perfect 8.0, and Star Office Suite all installed, along with a
of games, utilities, the Gimp graphics program, and more? pretty much a
system ready to go to work?though taking up nearly 900 megs of the 1
partition. Though there are too many initial sub-menus on the KDE Start
Menu, a little experimentation found the Menu Editor, which let me
the menus (just as I do on most Windows systems, given the chance).
(Since Boot Magic wouldn?t load, some clever readers
may be wondering
how can I boot between operating systems. To do this, I boot to a DOS
and set either one or the other partition active?when I reboot, that?s
the operating system that automatically starts up. Clumsy, but workable
This year?s Linux seems much closer to being usable by the millions
of users who just want a system that they can install, turn on, and
With the application software already installed, it?s possible to get
to work or to browse the Net, or even to exchange files with Microsoft
Corel is currently beta-testing a Linux distribution
that they promise
will make it even easier for Windows users to make the switch. Maybe
give that a try when it?s out. If so, I?ll let you know what I think.