null  null
LINUX&"3" class="v2" height="18">By Susan Matteson
Publisher: Prentice Hall PTR
Pub Date: February 15, 2005
ISBN: 0-13-149419-8
Pages: 384
&"87%" class="v1"
Table of
Enter your Linux Desktop Garage
Don't just survive with Linux: thrive
Find tools & info to do practically everything, such as:
Ripping your CDs (&DVDs)
De-Spam-ifying your email
Capturing, editing, organizing your digital photos
Chatting with your Linux-deficient IM pals
Tracking your contacts, appointments, life
Transforming Firefox into easy blogware
Finding great substitutes for your Windows apps
Diving into a veritable plethora of games
Where you get the truth (unvarnished)
Where you get productive (quick)
Where Linux is fun (honest)
Your guide: Susan Matteson, real user, real expert
She reveals the fun stuff (from MP3s to desktop wallpaper)
Demystifies the essentials (from file management to passwords)
Simplifies the tasks they said were easy, but weren't (until now)
Where there's even more (plenty)
• Step-by-step instructions for both Mandrake & Fedora Linux
• Zero-hassle tips for managing & personalizing your PC
• Gnoppix Linux on CD-ROM (run Linux without touching
© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.
LINUX&"3" class="v2" height="18">By Susan Matteson
Publisher: Prentice Hall PTR
Pub Date: February 15, 2005
ISBN: 0-13-149419-8
Pages: 384
Table of
&"87%" class="v1"
The Garage
Preface: Why
a Book About
the Linux
What Is in
This Book
Used in This
What Is on
the CD
What Is on
the Web
About the
Chapter 1.
What Are You
Getting Into?
the Lingo
How to Get
a Linux
Disk Images
A Few
Startup and
Chapter 2.
Desktop Tour
The Desktop
Panels and
Your Files
Chapter 3.
System Tools
and Utilities
What Are
Tools and
Tools and
to the World
Chapter 4.
What's Your
What Can
You Change
on Your
Chapter 5.
Browse the
for Linux
on the Web
The Skinny
Chapter 6.
E-mail and
The Skinny
Chapter 7.
Contacts, and
with Your
The Skinny
Chapter 8.
and Software
Building D:
Section b,
Other Office
The Skinny
Chapter 9.
Photos and
Create and
Edit Images
Images and
The Skinny
Chapter 10.
Messaging and
and Instant
What Is
The Skinny
Chapter 11.
Music and
Play Music
The Skinny
Chapter 12.
Play Games
The Lost
Play of
Free Games
Other Free
The Skinny
Chapter 13.
The Skinny
Windows to
About the
Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products are claimed as
trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book, and the publisher was aware of a trademark claim,
the designations have been printed with initial capital letters or in all capitals.
The author and publisher have taken care in the preparation of this book, but make no expressed or implied
warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for
incidental or consequential damages in connection with or arising out of the use of the information or
programs contained herein.
The publisher offers excellent discounts on this book when ordered in quantity for bulk purchases or special
sales, which may include electronic versions and/or custom covers and content particular to your business,
training goals, marketing focus, and branding interests. For more information, please contact:
U. S. Corporate and Government Sales
(800) 382-3419
[email protected]
For sales outside the U. S., please contact:
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Visit us on the Web:
Library of Congress Catalog Number: 2004116158
Copyright © 2005 Pearson Education, Inc.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. This publication is protected by copyright, and
permission must be obtained from the publisher prior to any prohibited reproduction, storage in a retrieval
system, or transmission in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
likewise. For information regarding permissions, write to:
Pearson Education, Inc.
Rights and Contracts Department
One Lake Street
Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
Text printed in the United States on recycled paper at Edwards Brothers in Ann Arbor, MI.
First printing, February 2005
For Josh. A thousand wild monkeys couldn't break us apart. Of course, I'm not sure what we would be doing
with a thousand wild monkeys, but that's a question for another day.
The Garage Series
Street-smart books about technology
Each author presents a unique take on solving problems, using a fomat designed to replicate the experience of
Web searching.
Technology presented and organized by useful topicnot in a linear tutorial style.
Books that cover whatever needs to be covered to get the project done. Period.
Eben Hewitt, Java Garage. ISBN: 0321246233.
Tara Calishain, Web Search Garage. ISBN: 0131471481.
Kirk McElhearn, iPod & iTunes Garage. ISBN: 0131486454.
Marc Campbell, Web Design Garage. ISBN: 0131481991.
Don Jones, PHP-Nuke Garage. ISBN: 0131855166.
Dan Livingston, ActionScript 2.0 Garage. ISBN: 0131484753.
<a garage is where you work.
in a garage, you do your work, not somebody else's.
it's where you experiment and listen to the old ball
game. make music.
get away.
it's where you do projects for passion, make your own
rules, and
plot like an evil genius./>
{Irreverent. Culturally rooted.}
Edgy and fun. Lively writing. (The impersonal voice of an omniscient narrator is not allowed!)
[Eben Hewitt, series editor]
Check out the series at
Preface: Why a Book About the Linux Desktop?
Most Linux books are about running servers, writing bash scripts, or managing networks. You might have
these lofty Linux goals in mind, but no matter who you are, you probably want to do things like visit Web
sites, check your e-mail, or chat online. There are command-line programs to do those things, but why be so
limited? Whether you are a new Linux user or an experienced user who wants to learn more, we are all users
who spend time on the desktop.
Not long ago, to have Linux as your desktop operating system meant looking at clunky windows and jagged
fonts. You stared at long menus not knowing what most of the choices meant. You had to search and search to
find out how to do the simplest activity. In the past few years Linux has changed. Linux has programs,
utilities, and fun extras that are well designed and easy to use. Some programs in Linux today are better
looking and easier to use than many of those found in Windows. Linux is no longer an inconvenience. The
Linux desktop today lets you get your everyday tasks done while having fun with your computer.
All of this fun still needs a little figuring out from time to time. In this book, we will figure it all out. We go
through all the fun things we can do in Linux and learn how to get a little work done, too.
What Is in This Book
This book is full of self-help tips that will regrow your thinning hair, help you lose weight, make you money
on the real-estate market, cook you a turkey on a rotisserie, and sell you a new set of knives. Why, this book is
one great big late night TV infomercial. I'm lying. I do that. You'll learn.
This book is actually full of Linux. I love Linux. I love exploring Linux, and I bet you will, too. When I turn
on my computer, I have things to do. I bet you do, too. All the chapters and sections in this book are arranged
by the tasks that you need to do: from installing Linux, to setting up your preferences, to browsing online, to
e-mail, to office productivity, to all the fun things we do with our computers when we're supposed to be
working. Rather than telling you which programs you should use for different tasks, you will find reviews,
how-tos, and detailed descriptions of the most popular programs in each category. Linux is about choice, so I
want to give you all the information and tools you need to make your choices.
Conventions Used in This Book
• Program Info This is the quick reference information you need to start up a program. Anytime a
program is available on your main menu, you can find the path here. You can also find the terminal
command and URL for programs here.
• ToolKits What's the good of learning if you don't get to use it? The ToolKits give you a chance to put
what you learn to work.
• Under the Hood These tips contain extra bits of information and alternative methods
• Sidebars These asides give you fun facts about programs and topics.
• The Skinny While you have all of the tools you need to make your choice of programs yourself, you
might want a little opinion. The Skinny sums up the good, the bad, and the ugly in each program.
What Is on the CD
So, you are reading this book to learn more about Linux. To install Linux, you need an extra computer or
room on your hard drive to install it. You might just want to try out Linux and learn about it before taking the
big plunge. The CD in this book is a Linux live CD of the distribution Gnoppix. A Linux live CD is a Linux
distribution that will boot up and run right off the CD without having to install a whole operating system on
your computer. Gnoppix does not include every program that is covered in this book, but it provides you with
enough to get your feet wet. Use the CD to get comfortable with a few Linux programs, and then go on the
adventure and install a Linux distribution of your own.
You can read more about Linux live CDs in Topic 1. You can read more about Gnoppix at
To use the Gnoppix CD in this book, you need a PC with these requirements:
• PC with Intel-compatible CPU (i486 or later)
• Bootable CD-ROM drive
• At least 96 MB for graphics mode
• SVGA-compatible graphics card
Unfortunately, Gnoppix does not currently have a Mac version.
Put the CD in your CD-ROM drive. Reboot your computer. You will need to make sure that your computer is
set up to boot from CD when a bootable CD is present. See Chapter 1, "What Are You Getting Into?" and the
"Under the Hood" note titled "CD Boot" on page 20 for more information about how to boot from your CD
What Is on the Web Site
At you will find lots of accompanying materials for this book. The
Web site has errata (those are errors, not porn), all of the URLs from each chapter, information and links for
newer versions of Linux software and Linux distributions, example files from the book, and more.
Everyone should write a book. It's great. You get to bother all of your friends and family to help be test cases
for you. You get to sound like you have "important" things to do. You get to spend way too much time at
coffee houses with your laptop. I had a lot of wonderful help, support, and encouragement from many people
in writing this book.
Eben Hewitt is a great writer, a great man, and a great friend. He has not only served to contribute good
feedback and encouragement, but he is also an inspiration in everything he does. Some people try to do the
best that they can; Eben works to do everything better than it has ever been done before. His ideas resulted in
this unique series of books. Eben, thank you for talking me into it.
I had three great technical editors working with me on this book. Shafer Stockton, Jonathan Garrison, and
Jonathan Bailes not only checked for technical errors; they went above and beyond what was required to make
constructive suggestions and convey new ideas.
Everyone at Pearson, Prentice Hall, and Addison Wesley has been terrific. John Neidhart, Lori Lyons, and the
rest of the professionals in the company have shown what an efficient and creative team of people they are.
I have been lucky to have the support of a wonderful group of friends and family. Thanks to Shafer for
introducing me to Linux and being patient when the newbie needed tech support over the years. Trevor
deserves violence and gratitude for making me use the Gimp until I liked it. It's hard for a designer to walk
away from Photoshop. The excitement that both of those Linux geeks show for Linux and for open source
software is an example for everyone to look to. I want to thank both Jenny and Bill for wanting to and trying
to help be test users. They might not have been able to get Linux running, but now they can try again with this
book to help them.
My biggest thanks go to Joshua. You were supportive through the late nights, the grumpy sleepless weeks,
and the frequent trips to the coffee houses. I love you. You are the reason for everything I do, and you're
darned cute, too.
About the Author
Susan Matteson is an avid Linux user, Web developer, and creative writer in Portland, Oregon. Susan has
contributed to Cold Fusion Developer's Journal and designed hundreds of Web sites. If you ask her what she
does for a living, she will tell you that she is a super secret agent spy for the government working to
interpolate Linux into every element of society, but that is when we just smile and try to ignore her.
Chapter 1. What Are You Getting Into?
So, you want to know what you're getting into by using Linux. I can tell you what you're getting into: trouble.
You're getting into trouble. That's what you usually hear about Linux. Linux has a reputation for being the
scary, complex operating system that only ubergeeks should use for running servers. Linux has a reputation
for being the operating system that you would never put on your mother's computer, or anyone's computer
who isn't a computer genius. Just like my reputation for being a genius, Linux's reputation for being the sole
domain of technophiles is not deserved. Actually, I'm not sure if my reputation as a genius exists within any
circles, but I think it's a good rumor to get started. Pass on to five friends that I'm a genius, will ya?
Linux has come a long way from the days when running Linux for everyday desktop tasks was difficult.
Linux today can be even easier than Windows to install and set up. Sure, there can be hiccups, but there are
errors and problems with using any operating system.
If Linux is so easy and great now, what's the trouble? You are getting into an operating system that the
minority of people use. Being in the minority means that you are going to run into a few situations that arise
because the rest of the worldsuch as Web site creators, hardware makers, and people sharing documents with
youuses a different operating system. The trouble spots we will run into as we go through this book learning
to use Linux are usually minor ones that can be fixed by thinking about the problem.
I suppose I'm not being very encouraging. I am being realistic. Tell you what, thoughI will give you two
different descriptions of Linux and let you pick the one that you like best.
The Slick Sales Guy Introduction to Linux
Welcome to using Linux!! With Linux, you will be able to browse the Internet, send and receive
e-mail, process as many words as you wantat no extra charge, I might add (wink)and build
spreadsheets until you are coughing up charts and graphs. There's no extra software to buy! You
can create graphics, chat online, and play games. Got a schedule? You can manage your
schedules and contacts and tasks. Wanna listen to your MP3 collection? We'll help you do it.
Watch movies, create a Web site, print on genu-ine paper!
Here at Slick Sales Guy Linux, we have it all for you! How much would you pay for so much
fun, so much productivity, so much stability? Did we mention that in Linux you won't see that
Windows Blue Screen of Death? How much would you pay now? Did you know that Linux
comes with free candy, balloons, kittens, puppies, and clowns! How much would you pay now?
Windows averages $150$200. Additional software can cost you hundreds or thousands more.
Linux is free! Act now, and we'll even toss in the ability to participate in the development of new
software! All for free!
I usually don't trust any sales guy, but everything he just said is true. I might have to check into the free candy,
balloons, kittens, puppies, and clowns part, but let's trust him on that for the moment. Linux is free. Linux
distributions do come with all of that software included. With Linux, you have the opportunity to participate
in the development of new software as well. It's as wonderful as a barrel full of fuzzy monkeys, but here I
come again with that realism.
The Susan Introduction to Linux
Using Linux on the desktop is great. When you are working with the most common tasks and
programs in Linux, you're golden. Bob's your uncle. You're a pig in a blanket. You'rejust insert
your own regional, colloquial phrase here that means you won't have any trouble getting things
done or figuring out how to do what you want to do. I'm not going to lie to you, though: Once
you step outside the boundaries of common tasks, you need to be prepared to finagle, tweak, and
fight with things. You need to be prepared to search for help. A lot of computer tasks have not
been perfected in Linux yet. A lot of open source software projects are unpolished,
undocumented, and hard to use.
The trouble that you might run into does have its rewards. Linux is stable. You don't have to
restart Linux all the time. You can customize almost everything on your entire desktop. You can
have a say in new versions of programs. You can be the smartest, most computer-savvy person
on your block.
Again, all of that is true. Whichever way you choose to look at using Linux on the desktop, just know that
we're in for a fun ride together.
So, what are you getting into? You're getting into an adventure. Adventures are good. Adventures are fun.
They make movies about people having adventures. How much adventure you get depends on why you're
here. If you're here because your office switched over to Linux and now you have to figure out how to get all
of your work done, your adventure may be as easy as learning new programs and setting up preferences. If
you're here because you want to try something new, your adventure can be as broad, as easy or annoying, and
as in-depth as you want. In either instance, be prepared for a lot of "Ah-ha!" moments of discovery when you
are proud of how damned smart you are. Be prepared for a lot of frustrating moments when you question what
you're doing using Linux and question your own sanity. Be prepared to learn a lot.
That's what you're getting into, but now you need to know the requirements. I'm not talking about system
requirements. I'm talking about my requirements of you. I have a demand.
I am going to demand that you have fun.
Don't look for everything to be just like it is in Windows or on a Mac; it's not the same. It is okay that things
aren't the same. You will find enough similarities to your old OS in programs we cover that you won't feel like
you are a stranger in a strange land. As you start using Linux on the desktop, if something doesn't work the
way you think it should, or if you can't figure out a problem that pops up, don't throw your mouse across the
room. Don't kick your dog or look for your copy of Windows. Take the tough stuff and look at it like a giant
puzzle; be logical, use the tools in this book, and find solutions. Most of all, keep having fun. No matter what
operating system you use, the only way to survive working with computers is to keep having fun, no matter
what you are doing.
Mastering the Lingo
Remember that part in Airplane! when the two guys are talking and the stewardess doesn't understand them?
Then the Mom from "Leave It to Beaver" stands up and says, "Stewardess, I speak Jive." I've got your June
Cleaver right here. I would never name my son Beaver Cleaver, but I can help out with the Linux Jive. Figure
1.1 shows the relationship of the terms. You can find more definitions in the Glossary, but here are a few of
the most common terms.
Figure 1.1. Everyone likes charts. Here is a breakdown of the relationship of some Linux lingo from a user's point
of view.
Linux is commonly used as a term for the whole operating system, for the desktop, for the community, for lots
of things. Linux is actually just the kernel. "What's the kernel?" you are asking. Don't think about corn.
There's no corn involved. You can think of the kernel as the engine of your operating system. The kernel is
the "Little Engine That Could" that runs underneath it all. The Linux kernel is responsible for security,
allocation of resources, and the lowest-level hardware interfaces. The name Linux comes from the UNIX
operating system and a man from Finland, Linus Torvalds. There are lots of interesting stories about the name
Linux, but none of them will help you get online or check your e-mail, so I will leave that interesting history
for you to look up online.
If people want to argue over whether it is proper to use the term Linux to mean the whole operating system,
they might want to find more interesting things to do with their lives. Language is flexible, and Linux has
become the common term for an operating system based on the Linux kernel.
Distribution (Distro)
Distribution: The act of dispersing or the condition of being dispersed; diffusion.
The regular definition of distribution also applies to a Linux distribution. There is no central corporation
behind Linux to put everything together for us. Open source software programs are often developed
independently from one another. I know I don't want to sit at my computer gathering and installing every
single program that I will need on my computer. You probably don't want to do that, either. Thus, we have the
distribution, or distro. A Linux distribution includes the Linux kernel, the X Window System, an installer, and
a collection of programs all put together for you on a neat little CD (or multiple CDs), to use as an operating
system. There are more distributions than . . . here's where I get stuck trying to find the right cliché for the
situation. There are more distributions than stars in the sky? Rats in the sewers? Lint in my dryer? More
distributions than you can shake a monkey at? Anyway, there are lots of distributions.
For-profit companies, such as Mandrake and Red Hat, make some distributions; others, such as Debian and
Gentoo, are part of a community effort. Organizations and individuals create even more distributions. Each of
the distros has its merits, its oddities, its champions, and its detractors.
X is the name of the specification for windowing operations in Linux; it's also called the X Window System.
X is what runs your graphical user interface (GUI). X can run on many operating systems besides Linux.
Many distributions have used the XFree86 program for years. Newer distributions are also starting to use a
new offshoot of XFree86, Which version of X you have will usually not matter to you while
performing everyday tasks. You will need to know only what version of X you are running if you run into an
issue that requires you to start the X Window System from the command line or to edit your configuration
Desktop Environment
The next important term is desktop environment. This is a place where we fork off from the structure you are
used to in Windows or Mac OS. One of the cool things about Linux is that you always have choices. Your
desktop environment is the GUI that you will be looking at. It's all the eye candy. Unlike in other operating
systems, you can choose the desktop environment in Linux. You can choose to have a simple or complex
desktop environment. Whereas the two main environments, KDE and GNOME, will look familiar to you
because they're similar to what you are used to, many other desktop environments will give you a more
innovative experience.
Window Manager
The window manager is just what it says it is: It controls those windows that programs pop up in. I don't need
to tell you this. You're smart. You can guess and figure out this stuff. The reason you even need to know this
term is that you also can choose which window manager to use in Linux. Until you are ready to experiment
more, it's best to stick with the window manager that came with your desktop environment.
Widget Set
The widget set is the set of check boxes, buttons, scrollbars, menus, and other things that make up the controls
of any window that you are in. Let me give you the strict, technical definition: It's the stuff you can click on to
make things do stuff. Again, you have a choice of which widget set to use. You can change from the default
that comes with your desktop environment, or you can play around with other themes. Now you know a new
term, and now you're smarter. We all feel better about that.
Okay, I made up spoofkata, but I can define my made-up word. You might be a messy person or a neat
person. The messy people have a layer of random junk, food, spilled beverages, sticky notes, or papers on
their desks. That's spoofkata. You might have trouble finding your mouse on your desk some days. You might
have to cut through the sticky notes on the edges of your monitor like you are chopping out a trail in the
Amazon jungle, and I don't mean the online Amazon. I usually have only a medium level of spoofkata,
consisting of an empty glass and lots of burned CDs. When using Linux, please sweep the spoofkata aside, for
optimum results.
You know what programs are. Hey, I put the term in the cool little diagram that I wanted to make, so it
deserved to get a heading all its own.
This is a carbon-based life form with opposable thumbs (though I suppose that's not required), at least a
modicum of logical reasoning ability to figure out problems that come up, and a damned fine judge of buying
books. You bought this, so you must be smart.
How to Get a Linux Distribution
If An Old Dead Poet Wrote a Linux Book
I like to get Linux at the store in a box.
I like to get Linux with some brand new socks.
I like to buy Linux from a Web site.
Then the nice people ship the CDs to my house.
Uh-oh, that didn't rhymewhich makes this also not rhyme.
I like to download Linux from Web sites.
I like to not think about the fact that we are all covered in dust mites.
I like to get Linux in many different ways.
I like to pretend I am Willie Mays.
Well, I don't really like to pretend to be a dead man,
But it rhymed better than pretending to be Gilligan.
Was that in iambic pentameter? Don't ever show that to my high
school English teacher. Remember, you are propagating the rumor
that I'm a genius. Pretend you liked that poem, and move on.
Walk into your local software store, and you're going to see a lot of copies of Windows. Walk by all of that.
You will then see boxes of software that runs only on Windows. Keep walking. Linux is a little harder to get
hold of than other operating systems simply because of its status as an underdog. The store isn't your only
option. Linux is used by a computer-savvy group of people, they have savvy ways to distribute Linux to you.
Go to the Store
So you're in the software store, and you walked by all of those boxes with the Windows symbol on them.
Somewhere in the store are probably some boxed copies of Linux. Linux isn't a big seller in stores yet, so you
might have a hard time finding it. Look back by those copies of the encyclopedia programs or the
cemetery-planning software. Linux is there somewhere. Many stores carry copies of popular distributions
such as Mandrake and SUSE. Red Hat used to be among those easy to find in stores, but that changed when
the company switched to releasing its enterprise edition for companies and leaving the home version to the
new Fedora distribution. Wal-Mart has also started selling PCs preloaded with Linspire Linux. Boxed
distributions average between $50 and $150 in price, with choices of different levels of editions. When you
buy a boxed distribution, you get much more than just an OS for your money; you get most of the programs
you need as well.
Why bother to buy Linux in a box? You get handy manuals with colorful logos plastered all over them. Who
wouldn't want that? If you feel lost with this whole Linux thing or don't consider yourself to be technically
inclined, buying a packaged distribution that includes manuals might be helpful. The manuals explain very
basic concepts, such as using menus and moving windows. They then move on to talk about how to perform
certain tasks. You will inevitably need to go beyond the manual and its limitations, but that's why you are
reading this book. Another great reason to buy the boxed distribution is that you get to financially contribute
to the software that you are using and to the companies that put everything together for you. If you cannot
contribute to the open source software community by programming, buying a distribution is an easy way to
give back.
Buy Online
If you go to the Web sites of many Linux distributions, you will see links so that you can purchase copies
online. Just as with buying a packaged set of disks and manuals in the store, buying a Linux distro online
gives you the chance to financially contribute to your favorite distribution and to open source software. Most
of the time with purchasing online, you will have the boxed set sent to you by mail. This method works if you
don't need instant gratification.
Download CD Images
Did I mention that Linux is free? Let me say it again. Linux is free. You can get your copy of Linux by
downloading it off the Internet. Unless you are into self-torture, you will want to have a broadband connection
to download any distro. Although there is a possibility of doing a network install, that can be another form of
self-torture. Your best bet is to download CD images, called ISOs. A great Web site to visit for any
distribution that you want is Distro Watch has descriptions and links to most of
the distributions available, a top 10 list of the major distributions, and pricing so you know which ones are
free and which are commercial distros. The information pages for each distribution also list which versions of
popular programs are included.
Many people don't know about it, but BitTorrent is a great way to
download Linux ISOs for many distributions. BitTorrent is a
peer-to-peer file-sharing program. To download files, you use a
search engine to find a torrent file, download that pointer file, and use
the BitTorrent software to open that file. BitTorrent finds other users
sharingwhat you want and downloads the file in small bits. While
downloading, you are also sharing. The download is a bit slow, but
you relieve the traffic burden on many universities and volunteers
running mirror sites by using BitTorrent.
Use the CD in This Book
Go look in the back flap of the book. What's there? Linux! There are a few Linux distributions that run off a
bootable CD, a live CD distro. Knoppix and Gnoppix are among the most popular live CD versions.
Mandrake also has a live CD distro called MandrakeMove. Most people use these distros so that they can
easily boot into Linux from any PC. I have used Knoppix before to get quickly online after rendering my
computer unable to boot by doing something way too smart to admit to. I just put in Knoppix, rebooted, and
got online to look up how to fix the computer. You can use this distro to try out many of the programs and
tools in this book. If you are still deciding whether to run Linux on your desktop, use this CD to test-drive a
few features.
The caveat to using a live CD distribution is that what you get on the CD is what you get, no changing
desktop environments or installing software. The best use of a live CD is for a little exploring. After
exploring, go ahead and take the plunge to installing a full Linux distribution.
Accost the Nearest Geeky-Looking Man or Woman Wearing Some Piece of Clothing with a
Penguin on It, Steal Their Laptop, and Run Really Fast
Umm, no, actually don't do that. I think you might get arrested or something.
Which Distro?
You can choose from many, many different Linux distributions. Some distributions are well established and
stable, while others are a bit experimental. In choosing which Linux distribution you want to start out with, or
even which distros you might want to try later, just look at who you are and what you need. Some major
factors to consider in choosing a distribution are the ease of the installation, the stability, the availability of
programs, whether there is a good-size community of users who can help you, how much work you want to do
on system configuration and software installation, and your own level of technical knowledge.
Now, let's talk about the zealots. Linux seems to breed zealots, people who are religiously dedicated to their
distribution of choice. These are the people who will be all around as soon as you decide on a Linux
distribution. A lot of Linux enthusiasts have strong words for any distribution that isn't the one they like. You
have to shrug off the comments and just use the distro and the programs that work well for you. Read up on
the features and tools of each distribution. See which one sounds best for you. You can find links for these
distributions in the list at the end of the chapter.
The Distribution Cavalcade
Debian is a distro that is generally considered best suited for more experienced users. It is a
"social distribution," meaning that there is no big corporation putting the distro together. Debian
is created and maintained by a community of users. Debian exists in three states: unstable,
testing, and stable. Any new packages go into unstable and then move through the chain
Install: Debian is notorious for having one of the more cryptic installations. The install is text
based and is aimed at the confident and experienced user. The new installer promises to be a little
friendlier and offers a GUI option for the text-phobic.
Pros: Apt, a great installation tool, was developed on Debian and is definitely a plus to use for
installing new software. The system of keeping the distro in three states is one of the smarter
ways for handling the addition of new programs.
Cons: The installer doesn't really install everything that most people will need. Post-install, you
need to use Apt to add most of the software you want. The unstable, testing, and stable scheme
doesn't offer much of the instant gratification that we are all used to as computer and Internet
users. The stable version can look outdated to someone looking for the newest versions of
Availability: Download ISOs or buy from the list of vendors on Debian's site.
Cost: Free to download; minimal cost for CDs, averaging around $20.
In 2003, Red Hat split its distribution into a home (or hobbyist) edition, Fedora, and a
professional distribution, Red Hat Enterprise. The idea is that Fedora will be the proving ground
for new versions. Red Hat borrowed the Fedora name from an existing distro and merged with its
developers' efforts. Fedora Core 1 was essentially Red Hat 10, and further development
continues from there.
Install: I think that Fedora can now give Mandrake some competition for easiest installer. The
Anaconda installation program simplifies every question, while still allowing advanced users to
customize many aspects of the install. Help menus are always visible.
Pros: Red Hat, and now Fedora, is one of the more ubiquitous Linux distributions. Enjoying that
popularity can make finding help for Fedora or finding packages quite easy. There is a port of
Debian's great Apt tool for RPMs (packaged programs) now, so Fedora can use either Apt or
Yum (both similar and convenient tools for updating). Fedora also uses the Red Hat Network for
updates. Many of the system tools have easy-to-use GUI front ends that will appeal to new users
as well as experienced users who forget a command from time to time. A group of developers is
working on a PPC (the type of processor in Apple computers) version of Fedora that will run on
Cons: Many disliked Red Hat's transition to Fedora and still hold a grudge. There are also rumors
that Red Hat is controlling much of Fedora's development, without allowing for the community
input the company had promised. Mandrake makes some tasks automatic that Fedora users will
need to do manually.
Availability: Fedora hosts ISO images for download from mirrors. Red Hat's Enterprise version,
with support included, can be purchased from Red Hat.
Cost: Download is free. Red Hat has many pricing tiers.
This is one of the newer choices among the most popular Linux distributions. Gentoo will run on
PCs or Macs. Gentoo is so flexible because it is not package based; most of the programs must
be compiled on your machine. The distribution is another social distribution run by its
community of users.
Install: Got some free time? Then Gentoo is for you. The install is text based and could arguably
be most appropriate for advanced users. The installation process takes a very long time because
Gentoo compiles programs upon install. There are three install options, each needing a LiveCD
from Gentoo, that span from very customizable to just the base system.
Pros: Gentoo's Portage software-distribution system can be great for users who want the latest
versions of things such as desktop environments that are more difficult to update on your own.
Gentoo runs efficiently because it is customized to your system.
Cons: Did I mention time? Let me say it again: time. It's not just necessary on the install, either;
system updates take time and are best done overnight. Even the geekiest friends I know running
Gentoo talk about switching to something that they don't have to wait for. You also need to know
your commands because there are not a lot of GUI tools.
Availability: Download one of three LiveCD versions.
Cost: Free.
Linspire used to be called Lindows until Microsoft sued them over the name. Linspire might be
the best distro available for working right out of the box. Multimedia plug-ins and emulation
software are preinstalled.
Install: Buy Linspire on one of those preinstalled PCs, and there's nothing to worry about. If you
buy the distro separately, the install goes smoothly and could be completed by a new user
without much assitance.
Pros: Linspire is a commercial distribution, and, just like other commercial OSs, is a nicely
put-together system. Many tools and menus look like the Windows equivalents. CrossOver
Office, a popular program for running Windows software, comes with Linspire. It's a distro fit to
put my mother on with minimal worryyou'd have to meet my mother.
Cons: Cost shouldn't be a negative when we're talking about computer software, but in the Linux
world, Linspire's cost might be a sticking point for some users. Just as with other commercial
operating systems, you will be waiting on the company for updates, and you won't find many
compiled packages online. If you like company support, you do have that, but you do not have
many fellow users to ask for help.
Availability: Buy the distro from Linspire's online store or on a PC at Wal-Mart.
Cost: Different versions range from $49 to $149.
Mandrake has been around for a while, like many of the major distros, and has garnered
reputations, both good and bad. On the good side, it's the distribution most recommended to new
users because Mandrake has always focused on ease of use, with many tools and wizards. On the
bad side, some users don't like how some of those tools and wizards work.
Install: The Mandrake install is cake. All of the steps are in a screen-by-screen setup. A user
could conceivably just choose Next on all of the default choices and still do alright.
Pros: There are a lot of users and help out there for a new Mandrake user. Users can also play
with programs in the Mandrake Cooker, a repository for new programs that are still being
worked on. Functions that would be painful in other distros are effortless with the Mandrake
Control Center. Mandrake also has a version for Macs.
Cons: Releases tend to be innovative, with all the latest versions of everything, but those latest
versions can result in buggy releases. Device configuration can be confusing, but that's true in
many distros. Be careful with Cooker packages; software from the Mandrake Cooker is
sometimes unstable.
Availability: Download, buy CDs online, order CDs, or buy retail.
Cost: Buying CDs averages $49$229. If you download, Mandrake requests a donation and
membership in the Mandrakelinux Users Club.
Slackware is the Linux grandpa, having been around since 1992. Just like Grandpa, Slackware
wants none of your newfangled GUIs and tools. This distro had to walk to Linux uphill both
ways, and so should you.
Install: The install is text based and aimed at experienced users. All you have to do is look at
Slackware's installation FAQ to see the caliber of questions about the installation.
Pros: This is Linux for the purist who believes in no frills. The distro is always stable, and even
though releases are infrequent, update packages are put out regularly. Slackware users are
dedicated and very knowledgeable. Find a friendly, helpful one, and you will want to hang on.
Cons: Slackware is like a parent punishing you for your own good. Everything is configured
through the command line, nothing is automatic, and you should be a good kid and eat your
spinach. Some of the more difficult areas for a new user to configure in this scheme are hardware
because there is no autodetect as other distros have.
Availability: Download images from mirror sites or buy disks from Slackware's online store.
Cost: Free to download, $39.95 from the online store.
Sun Java Desktop System
The initial version of Sun's JDS is labeled as an enterprise one aimed at business users. JDS uses
GNOME only and includes most features you would expect in any distro. As with the other
commercial Linux distros, JDS has a lot of the open source software that you find in other
distributions, but it brands the programs with logos and themes so that the colors all match. One
difference is the inclusion of the Java runtime environment. A few of the standard applications
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