True Freedom of Choice
When it comes to using computers, I, like most people, use general software. Typically, I use my computer as a tool for a few primary tasks: web browsing, sending and receiving e-mail, home financial bookkeeping and word processing. Knowing this, why would I start looking to change my operating system, when most of the applications I need to run are provided by one vendor?
Did I want to switch because I longed for the "good old days" when you knew, or at least could have a good idea about, what making a change to your computer would cause that computer to do? Was it because I suspected some better operating system was out there? Was I concerned, after reading my End User License Agreement, that use of the operating system implied a right for the vendor to gain access to my machine and apply unnecessary or unwanted updates? In a nutshell, the answer to all these questions was "yes".
For the better part of a week, I sought and reviewed alternative operating systems for my PC. What I wanted was a non-Microsoft operating system for my x86-based PC, but one that was more or less widely distributed and supported by either a corporate entity a very active community. Additionally, due to my job requirements, I needed to have applications available on this new platform that could open and save documents created with Microsoft Office. In the end, I decided that Linux would suit my needs well because of the large community of users available who were ready, willing and able to help me become the newest member of their community.
After choosing Linux as my new operating system, I thought my selection work was complete. However, as a Linux user, there is another choice to be made--the Linux distribution. Distribution preference are largely driven by personal taste and support requirements. Geography plays a role as well. For those users here in America, Red Hat is the dominant distribution, while SuSE is the leading distribution in Europe.
Several of my friends and coworkers voiced an almost unanimous recommendation that I install the Red Hat distribution. I'm positive their recommendations had less to do with a technical superiority of this distribution than it did with the fact that RH is such a recognizable name in the realm of Linux. Other people may recommend Mandrake, SuSE, Debian, Lindows, Corel and so on, based on their personal preferences and requirements. As far as application compatibility is concerned, each distribution pretty much runs the same software. Where the distributions differ is ease of installation of both the operating system and subsequent applications and corporate support. If you have a requirement to provide a specific level of support for an environment, or if you feel less adventurous in terms of searching for device drivers or troubleshooting problems, I would recommend you stick with one of the more widely distributed versions, such as Red Hat, SuSE or Mandrake. Doing so will likely make your experience of installing Linux less intimidating and more fulfilling.
For my installation, I chose Red Hat 7.3 for several reasons. First, it was the one recommended by my pals at work. Next, I wanted to purchase the media rather than download it, and although other distributions were available at the computer store near my home, Red Hat was the only distribution of Linux on the shelf at the time. Finally, I chose Red Hat because of the included ability to download updates via the Red Hat network and the free 30 days of installation support.
After a week of researching and deciding, I was ready to install Linux on my home computer. Although I had the option to install my new operating system alongside my existing Windows installation, I chose to perform a wholesale switch to Linux. I did this to ensure that I would live in this new operating system and not fall back on my Windows applications. Going cold turkey, I expunged from my machine an operating system that I have lived with, in one form or another, for close to ten years.
I'm pleased to say that I have been with Linux for over a month now, and due to my overwhelmingly positive experience, I have no intention of reinstalling Windows.
One of the selling points of Linux is it's a rather lightweight but robust operating system. Even if your machine is less powerful than my 1.2GHz desktop system with 512MB of RAM, depending on the services that you start on your system, you will experience a faster operating system. In fact, if you are interested in only the character-based shell terminals available with Linux, you can have a fairly robust system using a 486 processor machine with 32MB or less of RAM.
Prior to my installation, I backed up certain documents that I wanted to keep. I also exported my e-mail addresses from Outlook to both a comma-delimited text file and V-cards. During this time, I also read the installation guide that Red Hat included in their package. After I prepared myself with this data backup and extra bit of research, I inserted the first Red Hat CD and restarted my machine.
After the machine went through its power-up tests, I was greeted with a descriptive screen welcoming me and telling me how to start up the Linux installation. Simply put, pressing Enter started me down the path to my new operating system. Soon, I was watching Linux load the requisite hardware drivers required to get me through the installation, followed shortly by the greeting of the Red Hat logo splash screen.
After a few moments, the Red Hat logo screen disappeared, and I was presented with a screen introducing me to the installation configuration. For anyone who has installed an operating system or application for Windows, the graphical tool presented by Red Hat is a similarly intuitive interface. If you haven't installed an operating system before, don't fear. The screens presented by the installer are extremely explanatory about what the system is requesting and why it is requesting the information. If you run into problems, you can get assistance from the on-screen help or by calling Red Hat installation support.
First, I was asked the type of boot loader I wanted to use. The boot loader is similar to the menu you receive on a Windows system when choosing which version of their operating system to load in a multiboot scenario. GRUB, which is the newest generation of boot loader, is recommended unless you have a specific need to run LILO.
Next, I was asked what type of installation I wanted: Workstation, Server, Laptop or Custom. Having no idea what I really wanted, I had read in the Installation Guide there is a way to install everything that shipped with the operating system. Since I wasn't short on space, I chose the "Custom" installation, and then when I was prompted to select the packages I wanted to install, I scrolled to the bottom and chose "Everything", which installed all the features that shipped with the OS.
After answering some cursory questions about the networking interface on my machine and the type of password mechanism that I wanted, the system asked if I wanted to install the firewall that ships with the OS. Since I run my at-home system behind a hardware firewall, I chose not to initiate the firewall application. On other screens, choosing the defaults is usually sufficient to get you up and running.
Next, I was prompted to tell the system how I wanted to partition my hard drive. Because filesystem installation is one of the more complex steps in any operating system installation, I was pleased to see that Red Hat included an option that allows for automatic partitioning of the drive. I chose this option and then deleted all existing partitions.
After this, the installation began. Selecting Next here would cause the system to format the drive, and I would be kissing my data "goodbye." Up to this point, I could roll back my changes and still go back to my Windows system.
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