Linux Installation and X-Windows

If you are a seasoned hacker—someone who can code a device driver with the left hand, install a 200-node network with the right, all while reciting the pinouts of a parallel port-then skip this article.

Now to install X-Windows. I called David for just a couple of clues. “You're on your own. I didn't install X.” I politely hung up as he explained how he was writing an amazing device driver with his left hand and installing a 200-node network with his right.

With the benefit of hindsight, I highly recommend that before you attempt to install X, you have on hand information about your monitor-specifically bandwidth, horizontal synchronization, and vertical refresh rate. The data should be in your monitor manual. If not, the Linux guides suggest looking in the files called “modeDB.txt” or “Monitors” located in /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/doc. Best to have the actual monitor guide. Also you should know what type of video card you have. If you have MS-DOS 6.0 or later, the MSD program will give you that information. In Linux, a program called SuperProbe will also tell you.

Installation is relatively easy, but is only half the job. Again, all this applies to Slackware Professional.

Change to the /usr/X11R6/lib/ConfigXF subdirectory (watch for capitalization!) and run ConfigXF. The program will first ask for information about your mouse, if you have one. I have a Logitech mouse so I selected the Microsoft option. The guides suggest this, saying that only if you have an older Logitech mouse should you choose the Logitech option. After this, I agreed with the given defaults and having /dev/mouse as the path.

Onward to video cards. From the massive list, I chose the Cirrus GD-5426. Next came a monitor list, and I opted for generic VESA SVGA. After this, it asks you questions regarding virtual desktop size and other things. Since I didn't understand half of the questions, I just accepted the defaults. Eventually, you get to a screen where you can save the set up, tune the set up, quit, and other choices. For me the option to tune the set up just didn't work, producing a variety of errors.

What did work is this: saving the set up to the default choice. Edit /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/XF86Config, looking for the section called “Monitor”. You'll note that Bandwidth, HorizSync, and VertRefresh are marked with “EDIT THIS!!!” It took me too many times to realize that when the X-installation program said you should edit the XF86Config file that you really had to edit it. Now the crucial part: replace the information in the file with the information from your monitor manual.

Novice Note: Take a few minutes and learn to use the text editor vi. Not only is this editor ubiquitous and small, but many other programs use similar commands. For instance, the :q that will quit vi will also get you out of the man program.

For example, I entered the following for my CTX CMS-1561 Multiscan monitor:

Bandwidth 100
HorizSync 30-60
VertRefresh 50-90

In addition to these changes, I also added lines that appeared in the Linux manuals but not in the XF86Config file. They probably aren't needed, but what the heck. Under “Keyboard” I added:

AutoRepeat 500 5

Under section “Screen”, subsection “Display” I added:

Depth 8

Save the file. Start X-Windows with startx (or xstart) and, with luck, it will run. If it doesn't, get the Linux manual, skip the automatic installation altogether, and carefully do it yourself, checking that the information in the Config files match your set-up.

Whew! Linux works. X-Windows works. What next? Well, I could install the XAP disk set to give me programs to use when I am in X. Doom could finally come out of hiding. Or I could install TeX and see what those Klingon fonts look like. Or I could tackle SLIP and see if I can get working access to the Internet. Or I could even reassert my latent geekdom and write a “Hello world!” program in GNU C/C++. Linux has so much to explore-but then, that's the fun. Watch out David and all you other Unix gods-we're coming up the ladder!

Dean Oisboid (, owner of Garlic Software, is a database consultant, Unix beginner, and avowed Doom addict.