Linux for the Timid, Part 2

No commitment Linux with a bite!

Welcome back, one and all, to another week at the Corner, the "SysAdmin's Corner", that is. Last time we chatted, I embarked on a crusade of sorts. Fresh from a review of tiny Linuxes, I decided it was time to offer Linux to the masses. Some of you bravely stepped forth and took the challenge, and from some of the e-mails I've received, you were entertained, perhaps even amazed. Still, while the single-diskette (or 2 or 7) offering from muLinux was cool in a "let's try this out" kind of way, it wasn't enough for those of you who are sysadmins at a megacorporation. Certainly not enough to start your fellow workers to abandon their Windows in favor of the Penguin (no matter how cute). You need more, um - how shall I say this? Ah, yes. You need something with more bite!

Tell me how this sounds. A full-featured, no-commitment Linux OS with networking, K Desktop Environment (KDE), 2.2.6 kernel (so you've got great support for modern hardware), a bevy of tools, network applications (e-mail, PPP), games, you name it, weighing in at a mere 150MB (44MB download size). No need to create a new Windows partition, and perfectly easy to remove if you decide this was a bad idea (you won't).

I'm talking about DragonLinux, a pretty amazing little distribution that owes its roots (if not its inspiration) to Slackware Linux. The official DragonLinux web site is at http://www.dragonlinux.org.

There is some weirdness, however, with the DragonLinux web site, at least as far as downloads are concerned. Only one of the download links really works (there are at least three there). In order to download the latest version complete with the super-cool KDE desktop included, surf on over to http://tonberry.angband.org/dragonlinux/ and pick up the version 0.8 download file (dragon80.zip) there. The file is pretty big at 44MB, but it's worth it and frankly a bit smaller than some other things I might suggest (and I might, too!).

When the dragon80.zip file is safely on your hard drive, you will want to unzip it using whatever Windows unzip tool you happen to like. If you are one of the Linux crowd and you want to provide this for your timid Windows friends, consider unzipping it with the Linux unzip command and copying the files onto a CD for them. The result is 33 files labeled setup.002 through setup.033 with an accompanying setup.exe. You can almost guess what is going to happen next, can't you?

Using the CD distribution (or the files in some kind of installation directory), execute the setup.exe file on your Windows 9x system. You can either open an MS-DOS prompt, or double-click on it from the installation directory using Windows Explorer (your file manager).

The first thing you will see is the Mindvision installer screen. I waited a couple of minutes, expecting the splash screen to go away with its warning of "Use of this software to distribute commercial software is strictly prohibited", but it doesn't. Friends, don't stand there looking foolish like your sad chronicler; click the logo and move on.

Next, you will get the traditional software install screen advising you to make sure you "exit all Windows programs before running this setup". Nothing unusual here. Click "Next" if you have shut down your other applications. (I always get a chuckle when I see that - close all applications ... what a hoot!) The install procedure offers you a default installation directory, which is C:LINUX. I changed it to D:LINUX because I had more space on that partition. More on this decision later. Click "Next", and the install software will tell you it has enough information to do this install. This is your last chance to change your mind. Click "Next", and DragonLinux will begin copying itself to your chosen installation directory. This part of the process takes a couple of minutes, and then you are done.

Now, about that decision of mine to use the D: drive instead of the default C: drive ... Part of what DragonLinux does is create a LINUX.BAT file in the installation directory. This is the file you execute to start DragonLinux. Unfortunately, it assumes installation to your C: drive. Luckily, this is not the end. For those of you who decided to accept the default, you can ignore the next couple of paragraphs.

For those who did try something weird, here's what you do. Find the line in the LINUX.BAT file that looks like this:

 linuxloadlin linuxvmlinuz root=/dev/hda1 rw

Using your Windows (or MS-DOS prompt) editor, change that hda1 to hda5 (for a single drive partitioned with a C: and D: drive). If your D: drive is a second (slave) IDE drive, try changing hda1 to hdb1. That should pretty much do it. Now, boot into MS-DOS mode and start DragonLinux. There are two ways of doing that (which I covered in the last installment). The first is to restart Windows in MS-DOS mode and do it all manually. The second is to create a Windows icon. Here's a refresher.

Method one: Click on the "Start" button and choose "Shutdown". The option you want here is "Restart computer in MS-DOS mode". When the system comes back up to the C:WINDOWS prompt, you start Linux like this:

     D:  (or C:, depending on your install)
     CD LINUX
     LINUX.BAT

Method two: To get a nice icon in a nice folder under that Start button, try this instead. Open an MS-DOS prompt by clicking on "Start", "Programs" and "MS-DOS Prompt". Change to your LINUX directory, and start LINUX.BAT. Windows will complain, telling you that "Program Requires MS-DOS Mode. Linux may not run well unless it is run in MS-DOS mode. Would you like to create a shortcut to this program that will run it in MS-DOS mode?" Click "Yes". Another box pops up, saying, "Select a folder to place shortcut in." In the drop-down list, you will see the DragonLinux folder. That's a good one, but you can pick what you like. Click "Next", and choose a name for this shortcut. How about "DragonLinux"?

Click "Next" again and choose an icon from the list. Click "Next" one more time, and you get to choose your MS-DOS configuration settings. Accept the default, which should be "Use my standard MS-DOS settings." Click "Finish", and you are done. You can now start DragonLinux by clicking "Start" and working your way up through Programs or whatever folder you chose.

Let's start DragonLinux now, using whichever method you prefer. A pile of wonderful information will scroll past as DragonLinux boots. When that is done, you will find yourself at the login: prompt. The first thing you do is log in as root. Since there is no password, the second thing you do is change root's password, like this:

 # passwd root

Now, create a non-root user with the command adduser. Just follow the prompts, and provide a password when asked. In my case, I created a user called "marcel". The reason I wanted to do that right away is this. If you are a new user to Linux (or a grey-haired old master), you do not want to work on your system as the superuser (root) unless, of course, you need to do system administration stuff. This is a bad habit to get into, and a good one (as bad habits go) for a Timid New User to avoid. It is best to get used to logging in early on. For you old-timers out there, remember that it's up to you to pass on the wisdom.

Log out of root by typing exit, and log back in as your new user. DragonLinux comes with a pretty straightforward X Window setup, which will work with most video cards. It is SVGA, but it still looks pretty good. Start the graphical environment with the command startx.

 $ startx

In a few seconds, you will find yourself in the KDE environment. Lots of cool things here. Experiment. Have fun. Play a game of poker or asteroids. If you find that your screen has a weird resolution (mine did - 640x480 in a 800x600 viewscreen), you can change the video modes by holding down the Ctrl and Alt keys while pressing the + on the numeric keypad. Most of all, have fun with this. Click on that big K in the bottom left-hand corner, and wander the menus. Try things out. Be not afraid.

When you decide it's time to boot back up into Windows, click on the x in the panel at the bottom of the screen. If you move your mouse over it, your should get a little bubble help that says "Logout". Click that, and you will be back to the Linux text screen. To shut down and return to Windows, type exit and log back in as root. Now you can shut down.

 # shutdown -r now

The system should boot back up into Windows normally.

This is a fair amount of stuff to cover, so I'm going to stop right here. Next time around, I'll show you how to get this thing networked, how to install additional software, and other things to make this an even more Exceptionally Cool Experience. Until next time ... don't be scared; give Linux a try. I promise, it won't hurt a bit.

______________________

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