Linux for the Timid, Part 4

When I say "no commitment", I mean "no commitment".

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the "Corner" for another week of no-commitment Linux. Based on the letters I've been getting, this method of introducing people to Linux seems to have been largely successful. In fact, one reader from Taiwan wrote to let me know that they had found the whole notion of DragonLinux interesting enough to create their own guide in traditional Chinese. For the benefit of those who might find a Chinese-language set of instructions useful, I am passing on the web site address. I should tell you right now that my Chinese is a bit rusty (actually, it is non-existent), so I cannot speak for the accuracy of the content.

   http://www.savs.hcc.edu.tw/~chuavv/dragon.htm

My plan (such as it is) is for this column to be the last in the "Linux for the Timid", after which we will move on to other things. On the off chance that there are still some of you who are squeamish about installing any amount of Linux on your PCs (or if you know someone who is that squeamish), then this article is for you. With muLinux and DragonLinux, you've got Linux without the need to reformat your hard drive or repartition. Simply by booting in DOS mode from Windows 9x, the power of the penguin is yours to try. This is the UMSDOS solution. Yet, some of you still wonder about Linux's very presence on your Windows system. Well, let me offer one more suggestion to convince you to try Linux.

How does this sound? We start with a no-commitment Linux that comes complete with a full KDE graphical desktop, networking tools (including Netscape), games, tools and a plethora of additional programs. Best of all, this Linux distribution runs directly from the CD-ROM. That's right: you can leave your hard disk completely untouched and still try Linux. Interested?

I'm talking about DemoLinux, which can be found at http://www.demolinux.org. DemoLinux is the handiwork of Vincent Balat, Roberto Cosmo and Jean-Vincent Loddo. All three are based at the University of Paris, where they are apparently so far ahead in their studies that they put together Linux distributions for fun. They also have quite the number of languages at their disposal. The site is available in French, English, Italian, German, Spanish and Portuguese. This version of DemoLinux is based on Mandrake; another version based on Debian is currently under development.

DemoLinux is distributed as an ISO9660 file, a CD-ROM image. The actual download file is pretty big no matter how you look at it, so a fast connection (or a friend with a fast connection) is essential. Uncompressed (cddemo.iso), the image is some 600MB. There is also a compressed version (cddemo.iso.gz, the one I downloaded) which rings in at around 200MB. Simply visit the above site, click on Download, choose a local mirror, then go out for coffee, beer, or sit down and watch "Frasier" reruns.

On the download page are instructions for burning your own CD. I used X-CD-Roast by Thomas Niederreiter to create my copy of the disk. You can get X-CD-Roast from http://www.fh-muenchen.de/rz/xcdroast. While this article isn't about CD writers per se (not to mention that the subject is pretty much an article on its own), I wanted to point out that I really like this program for doing CDs on Linux. With this program, though, I had to rename the image file from "cddemo.iso" to "cddemo.raw". If you are doing this using a Windows system, you may need to use the ".iso" or ".raw" extension, depending on your package. Keep in mind, as well, that if you download the compressed image, you will need a package that can uncompress GNU-zipped files. The Linux users out there already have that. A number of Windows compression/decompression utilities can handle it as well. For you Windows/DOS users, you can still get the GNU zip/unzip program by visiting http://www.gzip.org. Hey, it's free!

Depending on the computer system you are running, you may be able to change the configuration so that you can boot directly from the CD-ROM. On my test system (a Dell notebook with 64MB of RAM), I can go into the BIOS setup mode and change the boot sequence to floppy, followed by CD-ROM, followed by hard disk. That way, if I leave the diskette out, I can let the system boot from the DemoLinux CD. If your system does not let you boot from the CD, it gets a bit more complicated, but not much.

While logged in to your Windows 9x system, open a command prompt (or MS-DOS prompt, if you prefer). Put a blank diskette into your disk drive. Now change to your CD-ROM drive letter, and execute the following commands. We'll assume a CD-ROM drive letter of E: for this purpose. On your own system, use whatever letter your Windows 9x system has assigned for the CD-ROM.

     E:
     CD SUSE
     E:DOSUTILSRAWRITE

You will be asked for a file name. The correct answer is "BOOT.IMG". One more question remains: what is the letter of your disk drive? Well, I have only one, so it's pretty simple. The answer is "A:". After chugging away for a few minutes, your disk drive will have a shiny new DemoLinux boot diskette ready for operation. If you can't boot from CD-ROM, you can now boot from this diskette. By the way, you might have noticed the "SuSE" above. That's because Hubert Mantel from SuSE helped out with this part of the project.

Step one in the boot sequence is to choose a display mode. At the boot prompt, you'll see a menu at the bottom that can be selected with your function keys. Each of those menu items includes information on what is meant by video modes, who wrote this distribution, various warnings about assumptions and so on. The warning is that not everything on the CD is GPL software, so large-scale distribution (as in, making hundreds of copies and sending them out with a magazine) is a no-no, particularly if you are trying to make money with the thing. The assumption (the primary one, anyhow) is that you are running a VESA 2.0-compliant video card. That pretty much covers any recent card. If you just want to get on with it, you can also simply specify your display in this way.

Entering 640 gets you a 640x480 display. For an 800x600 display (which is what I used), enter 800. Finally, enter 1024 to get a 1024x768 display size.

After pressing ENTER, DemoLinux boots. It looks for my hardware, SCSI cards, disks and disk partitions and so on. On booting, it immediately located by C: drive and assigned it as hda1, and then assigned my D: drive as hda5. It also picked up my PCMCIA card (a US Robotics 56K modem) and found the network card in my docking station (using 3Com module 3c59x). If you do happen to be on a network, you will now be asked for some information regarding your network configuration. This consists of your IP number, your netmask, the address of your name server, and a default gateway. In my office, I run a masqueraded local network with a 192.168.1.0 network. Here is what my settings looked like:

     Your IP number : 192.168.1.3
     Your netmask [default=255.255.255.0] : 255.255.255.0
     Your name server (optional) : 192.168.1.100
     Your gateway IP number (optional) : 192.168.1.100

After all that information goes in, the system finishes its boot sequence and launches KDE, the K Desktop Environment. What you are presented with is KDM, the KDE login screen. You will see only one account showing, with a single self-satisfied penguin as the representative icon. That is the "demo" account. At this time, there is no password (which we will talk about later). You can also log in as root. Also no password. If you just want to check things out, you should probably start with the demo account. The root account will let you modify system settings. For instance, the linuxconf module, netconf, is provided as an icon on the root desktop.

When the desktop comes up, the KDE file manager will start up with a warning about "WordPerfect". The developers wanted to get the WordPerfect personal edition on the CD, but were unable to get permission in time to get this version of the CD out. In other words, don't try clicking on this one. Nothing will happen. Other than that, this is a pretty complete distribution, with many toys/tools at your disposal. Netscape is there for surfing the Web. Play. Explore. You have a full Linux distribution, with absolutely no commitment whatsoever. If you want to delve a little deeper into Linux's secrets, and you want to use DemoLinux to do it, you may want to commit just a little tiny bit. "Why?" you ask. After all, wasn't this no-commitment thing the whole idea? I'll Tell you what. Play with it for a few minutes, then come back and read the rest of the article.

Time passes ...

Hi. Welcome back. You noticed it can be a bit slow, didn't you? That's because your CD-ROM is much slower than your hard drive (even if you have a super-cool 40x CD drive). The other thing that's happening is this. DemoLinux needs about 32MB to run at a decent speed, preferably 64 for good swapping of processes. If you try to run a whole lot of stuff, you are swapping in and out of memory and working off nothing but a slow CD-ROM drive. Luckily, there is a way to speed things up and extend the power of your DemoLinux experience. The cost is a meager 96MB of disk space. On your desktop, you probably noticed an icon with an anchor attached to a CD. This is the anchor program, which creates a small writable area on your hard disk. 64MB of the space goes to swap, and another 32 for configuration or transient files. The swap will greatly improve the performance, and as for that 32MB chunk ... if you remember way back near the beginning of this article, I mentioned changing the passwords. The catch with changing passwords (or anything else, for that matter) and running strictly off the CD is that a reboot gets rid of any changes you may have made. Anchoring DemoLinux would solve that problem as well. Let me just clarify this before I move on. You are still running from the CD. In no way are you installing DemoLinux onto your system.

If you choose to anchor DemoLinux, you will wind up creating a directory called linuxdmo on your Windows drive. When you are through, all you have to do is remove the directory with a DELTREE command.

And that, as they say, is a wrap. Next time, the Corner will begin a new series by trying to answer the question, "Just what is my Linux system trying to tell me? Should I be doing anything about it?" Okay, so that's two questions. No, I will not say, "Among the questions I will try to answer ... " Until next time ... don't be scared; give Linux a try. I promise, it won't hurt a bit.

______________________

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