Linux Step By Steps
The Curve
A Beginner's Guide To Linux Proficiency
By Randy Donohoe

      "The Curve" is a continuing series of articles to help you master the learning curve of the Linux operating system. If you've wanted to try Linux, but don't have a college or university nearby, a friend using it, or a local Linux User Group (LUG), here's your reasonably assured of success chance. If you have one or more of the resources mentioned, you can enjoy the social contacts inherent in them, and still use the column as an additional resource. If you have one or more of the mentioned resources, but are a nonsocial animal and want to learn on your own, this column is for you critters, too. I only have one friend using it, so for the most part it's just me, the voices in the wall near my keyboard, and what I gather from the Net. The whole purpose of this column is to share with you what can be found on the Net, in a logical, easy -to-follow format, but you'll have to get your own wall with voices. The column will be, for the most part, linear, so it'll be to your advantage to read prior articles if you miss them. I reserve the right to digress at times, if for no other reason than I forgot to take my medications, again.

      The writing will be as non-technical as possible, with respect to a computer operating system, and where technical, I'll explain profoundly. I will try to keep it on the light side, with a little humor thrown in occasionally, sort of like your friends throwing lit firecrackers under your covers at 2AM. Each week will deal with the next progressive step (IMHO) in learning Linux and I'll keep the steps managable. My experience is limited, but by using the Net I've gone from using Windows to being able to setup, run, maintain, and perform most everyday tasks in Linux. If, through inexperience, I drag you through gravel, mud, and broken glass, I'm counting on you and the gurus out there to e-mail me and get us back on the paved road. I'm sure the gurus might mail a little more, like what other professions I also wouldn't be suitable for, anecdotes about my lineage and intelligence, etc.. The rest of this article is background you'll need to get started. If you're of reasonable intelligence, not terrified of your computer, and want to give Linux a try, let's go.

      I won't bore you with a long history of Linux, but I'll tell you a few things that make it the phenomenon it is. In 1991, Linus Torvalds was a computer science major at the University of Helsinki. To avoid the cost of buying a license for a commercial version of Unix, he decided to write his own. He did and put it on the Net, inviting others to help with it. Thousands of people have since responded and Linux today is everywhere. Linux delivers a large percentage of the Web pages you view, your ISP uses it extensively, more and more point-of -sale devices (aka cash registers) use it, companies and governments are using it on the desktop, and consumers are increasingly using it for their home computers. Your use of Linux is inevitable.

      What makes Linux attractive to all these different groups? It's free and it's designed to be a networked system. You can download a copy of a Linux distribution for free on hundreds of sites on the Net. It's perfectly legal because Linus Torvalds licensed it as Open Source. You can download it, use it at home or in a business, change its code, copy and give to friends and family, use it in electronic devices you sell, all for free. This is all possible because Linus made it Open Source and because thousands of people throughout the world work on its development voluntarily. Linux is also an operating system designed from the ground up to be networked. You have a root operator, what most people know as a system administrator, and any number of users, each with their own desktop. Anyone sharing an internet connection will appreciate this. One final note on the system, it'll run on anything from a MP3 player to an IBM S/390 mainframe computer.

      When you decide to try Linux you don't have to give up your present operating system. You create what's called a dual-boot system, meaning you can run Linux and your present operating system on the same computer. IBM has a great primer on starting in Linux , available at (this is longer than the restroom line beside the beer stand in the stadium at halftime), faq/?open&l=252.t=grl.p=LinuxFAQ. There are many flavors of Linux, called distibutions. The first thing you'll need to do to get started is look at the different distributions. CNet, at and the Duke of URL, at have good reviews of the different distributions. Linux Central at and Cheapbytes at sell cds at unbelievable prices. My personal favorites are Caldera eDesktop (rock solid, easy install) at, Mandrake 8.0 (easy install, everything under the sun, eye candy) at, and Libranet (stable, uncluttered, apt package system) at As you go to the different sites, go to their support pages , mailing list archives, and hardware compatibility pages, these will be very important if you pick that paticular distibution.

      Take a look at the sites I've suggested and the links you'll find there. Maybe find out what hardware you have in your computer and compare it to the hardware compatibility lists. The IBM site and CNet are worth a bit of time, look over them good. I'll be back next week and we'll talk about what you have to do to actually get Linux on your computer.

Randy Donohoe

Copyright 2001 Randy Donohoe