One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

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The first in a series of articles chronicling the journey of a 30-something law student from Windows to Linux.

I got a call from a friend the other day asking, "What would it take to get me a Linux box?" I could hear the frustration in her voice. This wasn't the first time she experienced computer problems. Word-based viruses run rampant on college campuses, and being on a student's budget, she can't afford the top-of-the-line AV software. On this day, it seemed that another virus had snuck past the freeware she had loaded.

We had been discussing Linux for some time. I had given her an account on my wife's machine so she could play with it, and we had talked about what it was she needed from a computer. Being a law student, she had specific layout requirements for her work but no requirements for a specific word processor. She did need Acrobat Reader, a browser that would handle various sites she needed to access for her classwork and support for her printer, a Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 697. She also wanted to be able to move files to and from her Windows machine, in case something came up that Linux couldn't handle, and to use the two at the same time in her cramped office.

The only thing I had a question about was the printer, so I fired up YaST2 on my local SuSE box and navigated the printer dialog. Both a generic 690-series driver and one specifically for the 697 were listed. Everything else I knew we could do. "So, what's your budget?" I asked. "$500", she said. Can do; I knew where she could order a machine for $200 plus shipping. "I'd like a new monitor, too", she added. Her eyesight isn't the best, and the 14" CRT on her old machine was giving her headaches. Fortunately, I had a source for good used monitors, a rather large second-hand computer store downtown.

She picked me up, and we went down the store. When we got there, a sign out front advertised, "Back To School Special - Complete System, $299". The store had received a shipment of commercial Compaq systems: 933MHz Pentium III machines in a small form factor with 128MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, CD-ROM, integrated graphics, NIC and sound, modem, 17" S720 monitor, keyboard, scroll mouse. Almost everything she needed was sitting right there in front of us.

I was concerned about having only 128MB of RAM, though, because KDE (the desktop she wanted) tends to take up so much space. So, we negotiated a $20 upgrade to 256MB of RAM, and we also picked up a KVM switch and cables, plus a cheap Ethernet card for her Windows machine, to facilitate Samba. We walked out with the whole shooting match--tax, tag and title--for a handful of change under $400. "Holy [censored]", she said, "I just bought a Linux box." "Well, it's not a Linux box yet", I replied, "but we'll fix that."

We brought the system back to my house, and I proceeded to put SuSE 8.2 on it. I made sure several different word processors were loaded, as well as Samba, AcroReader and the sound goodies. So far, so good. The next step was to have her walk through a demo. She wanted to make the fonts bigger, so we fiddled around for a bit in the KDE Control Center. Under Appearances and Themes: Fonts, we found where she could change the font size for all the decorations and such that KDE controlled. I also showed her how to change the fonts in Galeon, and where the zoom control was.

We explored OpenOffice.org for a bit and discovered it didn't do tables the way she needed them formatted. KWord from KOffice did have tables as she liked them, so we proceeded to put a KWord icon on her desktop. To my personal delight, she discovered that in KDE 3.1, you can drag and drop from menus to task bar to desktop pretty much willy-nilly. We then connected to her school Web site to verify that Galeon digested its funky JavaScript properly and that Acrobat Reader was in fact version 5 and would read whatever her professors threw at her. At this point she was reasonably comfortable with the system as a standalone machine connected to my LAN.

What lies ahead of us, however, is the truly interesting part. A lot of work needs to be done once we actually get the machine to her office. I have to make sure the machine can access her dial-up connection from a local telco. We have to set up the printer and make sure it prints nicely. We'll need to make sure the KVM we purchased doesn't confuse X; if it does, I'll have to show her how to switch virtual consoles to avoid the issue or how to fix it if it happens. And the big task will be configuring Samba and her Windows machine so they talk to each other for both file sharing and printing. I also may want to set up dynamic DNS so I can get into the machine easily on her dial-up link and fix issues. It's only a 15-minute drive, but why waste gas when you can use SSH and neither of you has to get out of your PJs? As both of us are stuck on single phone lines and dial-up connections, I've already grabbed the latest version of GAIM and compiled it for her, so we can talk and fix at the same time. SuSE 8.2 actually deals nicely with having both GTK 1.x and GTK 2 on the same machine, so getting GAIM to work simply was a matter of making sure all the relevant -devel RPMs were loaded. This isn't quite as simple as it sounds, but then that's why I'm helping her.

What I have learned so far from this process is the devil is in the details when you're dealing with someone--a friend, a client, a boss--who is brand new to Linux. The smallest thing--the ability to move icons from the task bar to the desktop or having the right kind of table in your word processor--can become a big issue. But working with new people on a daily basis and becoming familiar with all the weird and wonderful things a modern Linux system can do keeps you sharp. Helping new folks learn, be they friends, co-workers or some random person that shows up to a LUG install-fest, not only promotes Linux but is a good investment in your own skills, both technical and interpersonal. And from down here in the trenches, this is a happy thing.

Glenn Stone is a Red Hat Certified Engineer, sysadmin, technical writer, cover model and general Linux flunkie. He has been hand-building computers for fun and profit since 1999, and he is a happy denizen of the Pacific Northwest.

email: liawol.org!gs

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Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Linux is wonderful.

However, in some cases (uses), isn't it a lot easier to simply use OS X ? ... really now. Apple has some good hardware that will use both OX X and Linux.

OS X has lots of software ... , and it's UNIX.

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Hmm, go away and do soom more research..............................Hint use goggle.com.

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Don't forget, as Sun and others has pointed out, Linux is quite capable as a business desktop. With regards to both these POSIX-based OSes, Mac OS X and Linux, its not one over the other, but rather a choice based on needs.

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Whole article and author are naive:
1) law student can afford $30 for state-of the art AV sw (NOD from Eset, Outlook compatible, scans also all incomming emails for any email client). I bet there are others too.
2) I'm using Unix daily as an engineer, and I still haven't managed to configure my home Linux box to be a Windows replacement! I would strongly advice all casual users to stick with well suported OS'es like M$Windoze or OS X. You need a deep knowledge of Linux to be able to configure and maintain it, individual compilation of software is inevitable. I'm a geek and still spending evenings to switch to Linux. Godd luck to all!

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

I find it interesting that an educated/experienced computer user like yourself cannot get Linux to replace Ms windows when a home user like myself has...
Very strange indeed. Maybe you are trying to hard. Took me a week.

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Your point about $30 antivirus software is irrelevant. I just switched my dad over from Windows to Red Hat. I bought his computer for him and made him get Norton SystemWorks when I did. The problem is, he has a dialup connection, doesn't want broadband and only reads email. Why spend 2 hours downloading and installing patches from WindowsUpdate, the latest AntiVirus definitions from Symantec and the latest spyware removal profile from Ad-Aware when he wants to turn the computer on, get email and then turn it off? I don't blame him.

He's on Linux now and all of that crap in order to keep email retreival up and functional is gone. He's perfectly happy.

I bet the girl in the article had antivirus as well.

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

To get an idea of Linux configuration issues, one can always peruse the manuals:

http://www.redhat.com/docs/manuals/linux/RHL-9-Manual

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Okay..for the OS X comment, isn't OS X, Linux?

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

No, it's BSD :)

Darwin, to be specific. There's also Open Darwin.

Re: One Too Idiocy in action: Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Ge

Anonymous's picture

I can't afford $50 dollars for decent anti-virus yet I can spend 10 times that for an operating system that will hobble my productivity. Yeah, good article.

Re: Hobbled indeed!

Anonymous's picture

Chances are your productivity has *already* been hobbled by all those Windows worms:

QHosts Trojan Horse
W32/Swen.A Worm
W32/Sobig.F Worm
W32/Welchia worm
W32/Blaster worm

What's the question? Doesn't matter. Linux is the answer

Anonymous's picture

It's that view of 99.9% of the Linux (loonix) community that irritates me. No pragmatism at all, just a lot of zealotry.

Re: What's the question? Doesn't matter. Linux is the answer

Anonymous's picture

The ooool zeatotry line. Hell if one can use a pc and not be subjected to all the win32 virus's/worms/expliots wuy not. If that means using Linux on a x86 box- yessereeebob!! No zealotory at all, just plain common sense.

Re: What's the question? Doesn't matter. Linux is the answer

Anonymous's picture

And so why exactly are you reading Linux Journal?

Anyway, my mother uses Redhat Linux and she loves it. I've had to do some work for her to help set it up but I would have had to do that with windows too...and this way she saved a few hundred bucks on programs. Why not?

Re: Linux is the answer to a growing problem

Anonymous's picture

I guess pragmatism to you is to pretend that no damage was *ever* done as a result of these worms!

Re: Linux is the answer to a growing problem

Anonymous's picture

yes we must keep our compassion alive for our brothers who are infected with windows. However we also must never never have sex with them.

:-)

Re: Linux is the answer to a growing problem

Anonymous's picture

You are the problem. Not the solution.

Re: Linux is the answer to a growing problem

Anonymous's picture

That counter culture linux mentality doesnt help the cause. Linux is a great OS.....it needs some work to make it Windows-user friendlier, and it will get there relatively soon. I think of millions of WIndows Users out there now that arent getting the full use of their computers because even it is too technical for them, that is proof that linux is going to have to be even easier to use. The only reason I even have XP running on my home workstation is for the GAMES. I always said, if you want to spread the linux disease to the joe schmoe user, start writing games like the Delta Force series, Counter Strike, etc......name 30 of the top selling 3D games out there for linux and you could kiss my XP box adios!

Re: Linux is the answer to a growing problem

Anonymous's picture

The trend is towards consoles...

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Ithought it was a good atricle to get users to try Linux and lose some of their anxiety and fear. Not technially enlightening but stil informative and worth reading. Overdoneit!

Gaim

Anonymous's picture

When installing Gaim on an RPM-based SuSE system, why compile it when there are always perfectly good SuSE RPMs of Gaim (and plenty of other GNOME/GTK apps) at http://www.usr-local-bin.org

Using APT makes it even easier to then keep up with future updates, were you planning to rebuild it for your friend everything an update came out (say, for the next time an important IM network (ie the one she uses) changes it's protocol)

Re: Gaim

Anonymous's picture

Thank you, for this excellent link and the reference to APT.

I tried APT on my SuSE 8.2 as a non-geek and I'm absolutely convinced ;)

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Why did you bought her a new computer ? It would have been cheaper and a better solution, to buy Netraverse Win4Linux ($69), the used monitor and the memory upgrade, and put everything on a single machine, you are restricted to Win9x and ME but it works incredibly well (and really fast too). My normal setup has Linux on display :0 and Windows on display :1 and it's easy to change with just a key press. I've an automated system restore script that rebuild completly my Windows environment if something goes wrong, but in the 6 months I'm using it now, everything works, without a single glitch.

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

From the article (that you didn't read):

" ...She also wanted to be able to move files to and from her Windows machine, in case something came up that Linux couldn't handle, and to use the two at the same time in her cramped office." (my emphasis)

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

How about trying Lindows??

I know, I know people are going to say it's the Microsoft of Linux and is not "really" like the tried and true OS's like Red Hat and Suse but I have moved 5 friends of mine to Lindows without much problem and have been keeping up with them.

First off I got a copy of Lindows. $50 then I got a copy of code weavers crossover office. (www.codeweavers.com) for $50 per machine.

As most people know crossover office allows you to run MS office on linux (Office 97, 2000 and XP) It also installs all the patches, makes the shorcuts (Which works very well in KDE on Lindows) and file associations (So when you double click on a word doc MS word opens.)

Crossover office also runs Quicken, Visio, Photoshop and several other Windows only at this time apps so you don't have to lose them.

Using that config myself I am able at work to use Outlook to connect to our exchange server (I am the only person in my office of 500 users not using Windows 2000. And the only one not to get hit by the blaster worm.)

Printing in Lindows using CUPS and has a SIMPLE config tool! Takes no more time to use it then to use the printer and fax tool in windows.

Setting up file sharing in Lindows is a snap. Very easy to map drives on windows networks. Very easy to share folders. Also in Lindows you can share single files on a windows network. (With out sharing any folders.)

Then there is click and run. People blast it because it's a pay service for free software. But for the $5 a month fee you pay you get 1000's of tested apps. (Tested to run and install well in the most recent 2 releases.) that you don't have to search the web for that you KNOW will work on your version of Linux. (You can also go to www.openlindows.com to get a lot of the major apps in click and run for free.)

But instance I use Gaim for my instant messenger (Which comes with Lindows by default) Gaim allows you to use Yahoo, MSN, Jabber, AOL, ICQ etc all in one application. Well 2 weeks ago Yahoo announced it was kicking all 3rd party IM apps off their networks by changing their software. Well I was panic stricken cause I love Gaim and I love using it with Lindows. So I wrote Tech Support (Which also comes with your $5 a month fee for click and run) and asked what they were going to do. They told me to check click and run in a couple of hours. A couple of hours later they put an alert into the click and run app (Which shows up as an icon next to the clock if click and run is running) In the alert Lindows told people to download the newest real version of Yahoo that was on their click and run service so you could still chat while they contacted the Gaim company to help them update the Gaim app. A few days later there was another message telling me that the problem was fixed and to go to the click and run downloads using a link and install the newest version, simple as that and I am back up and working.

The coolest part about the above story is that my 5 friends were able to do the same thing with out my help. When I asked 3 of them did they have problems with Yahoo in Gaim they told me, hey click and run let me know what to do and I am fine.

Anyway my point is that Lindows is Very, VERY easy to use. (Oh and the install if you use the whole hard drive takes 10 minutes on most computers from start till when you first log in.)

Anyway, good luck and I will check back here time to time for updates and also update my story :-)

My opinion is that Lindows is the closest to windows out of the other big Linux distros.

Tyrone Miles MCSE, Linux +, A+ and CCNA. (I know a Linux freak that has his MCSE! YUCK! But hey Windows keeps breaking and I keep making money! LOL! )

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Click and run? Oh, you mean apt-get! Why, oh why, do people bother to give Lindows so much credit for something that they got directly from Debian? (Coincidentally, I have heard that it's possible to make click-and-run use Debian's repositories, thereby bypassing the monthly service fee and providing you with better packages.)

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

If you are worried about security & viruses, I wouldn't bother with Lindows. Much like windows it gives the default user administrator permissions, and even tells you during installation that setting a root password is optional (really!). Since we are dealing with someone new to Linux who is retreating from the constant infections of Windows, best not leave them in a pseudo-linux environment where the potential for malicious scripts to do harm is so great.
Under a proper linux distro with sensible permissions no script would be able to damage anything except the users homedir.

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Im an IT admin who has deployed Linux, and to be honest if you know your software "well" deploying Linux for windows users isnt that bad. One of my favourite programs is codeweavers crossover for running Office 2000, Photoshop, IE(yuk),Quicken on Linux. Also if you have KDE 3.1 konqueror does everything you need really, why worry about another browser when konqueror gives a user that integrated "click and go feel" they like with Windows. Also updating to OpenOffice 1.1 is a must if you wan't to use doc's and excel even turn that ugly virus carrying doc into a pdf (some companies prefere not to have .doc file sent to them but are fine with pdf's).

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

I think you missed the point, being a admin type. It's on the user end where 'they' have to use, configure, and maintain the box that this article is about. It would be nice to have one of 'you' around to help out all the time. Thanks!

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Sure, helpdesks are what they are called...

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Good stuff. Can't wait to read part II.

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

I always felt that the best way to get going is to read a good book. After reading/browsing Marcel Gagne's first book, Linux System Administration, A User's Guide, I felt quite comfortable with the OS. I heard his second book, Moving to Linux: Kiss the Blue Screen of Death Goodbye!, is not bad at all, and would advise any new user to pick up a copy. Please see review here: (http://www.unixreview.com/documents/s=8887/ur0309k/).

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

A good non-techie article. More Linux geeks need to remember what its like to not be a geek.

For some people computers are just a tool, they just want it to work.

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Yes. We do need more non-techie articles. We have Tux, who looks inviting... maybe we need more articles that can be associated with the way Tux looks. :)

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

I look forward to a bit more detail when you cover printer sharing between Windows and Linux.

Sharing printer easy (4 steps)

Anonymous's picture

Sharing printer easy:

i) connect the printer to the linux box
ii) setup the printer in linux
iii) configure samba to share the printer.
iv) add the shared printer to Windows using the "Add Printer" wizard

Read your linux distribution's docs for more information about configuring printers.

Read the O'Reilly Samba docs for more information about samba printing:

http://au1.samba.org/samba/docs/using_samba/ch10.html

Re: One Too Many Viruses: Converting a Non-Geek to Linux, Part 1

Anonymous's picture

Printer sharing isn't that hard.

The most painless solution is to get a router with a parallel port on it for your printer (like a D-Link DI-707P), and then you just have to configure the windows and the linux box. the linux box can print to it natively (it's just LPD), and the windows box needs drivers provided on the CD that comes with the router.

If you want to share the printer from the linux box, you can use samba/cups, and that shouldn't be too hard to do (though I've never tried). If you want to share from the windows box, same thing, samba/cups, just configure as a client instead of a server :)

SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

I noticed you're certified in Red Hat, but you installed SuSE.
Why? (Just wondering....)

Re: SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Yes, since Red Hat has exited the home market.

Re: SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Actually it seems that Red Hat has a product for the the consumer market -- (http://www.redhat.com/software/workstation/).

Re: SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

See http://fedora.redhat.com

Redhat has NOT abandoned the home user. Fedora will be more efficiant than the current retail distrobution channel.

Re: SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Bullshit

Re: SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Bottom line is, the Fedora distribution will be a bleeding/leading edge release aimed at hackers. Further more, it would be Red Hat sponsored but not a Red Hat branded product and lastly, it would not be supported by Red Hat. Exactly what the average home user needs!

Re: SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Will I see shrinkwrapped Fedora boxes in my local bookhops and big box stores?

If Fedora is only available online, it will effectively be hidden.

Re: SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

That is true, not too many people have heard of the internet at this point in time.

Re: SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Reaslistically downloading a Linux distro is going to require one to have a broadband connection of some kind. I haven't looked at Fedora to see if they supply ISO images or if they have an FTP install procedure available. For a non-tech user a CD set from a box is going to be the best way to go IMHO. SuSE Personal isn't very expensive and with the gobs of applications it comes with it's a very good deal for the money.
To get any like that under Windows with legally purchased copies of all of the software is a very expensive prospect.

Re: SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

I am sure some on the Internet will be selling a Fedora CD set for $5 USD.

Re: SuSE?

Anonymous's picture

Linuxcare is already selling the beta for $5. Only problem I have is that mp3 software is all removed from fedora now that they have merged with redhat. So if you want to use the same formats that your mp3 player uses you need to either find other sources for the software or you are out of luck.PS I sure wish someone would package and solve the legal issues for this in the US. I would pay a few bucks if it would work.

Re: SuSE?

Anonymous's picture
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