Archive for March, 2010

My Linux Prescription (Reprinted)

March 3, 2010

Part One:

So, you’ve been thinking about switching to Linux. Don’t!

It takes a tremendous amount of dedication and work to switch over a PC to Linux. Not hardware, lifestyle. Your life is locked in the files and programs you use. It’s not a simple task to wipe all that out and start over again.

My prescription is to take it slow. I played with Linux for more than 2 years before I made the switch.

The first step is to get used to the software programs you’ll use under Linux. Firefox and Opera are free for Windows users. You can easily import your Internet Explorer bookmarks into either or both browsers.

If you are a Microsoft Office or Works user, download and install the latest version of LibreOffice. Make certain that you can open all your MS documents. Experiment with LibreOffice. Are all the important features you have come to depend on available?

If you are using Outlook, try Thunderbird. If you use a Web-based e-mail client like G-mail, don’t worry about it. That functions the same way on any OS.

Audacity is an audio editor/recorder that is available for Windows and Linux.

Songbird is another very poplar Linux media player that can be installed on Windows. Also try the VLC media player.

The GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP, is a popular Linux alternative to PhotoShop.

BleachBit, a tool for cleaning out temp files, is available for Windows and Linux.

XChat (an IRC client), Picasa (a digital image organizer), FreeMind (mind mapping software), and KompoZer (an easy to use WYSIWYG Web page editor/creator) are all available for Windows and Linux.

All of these programs and more are free to try. This is the first step on your path to Linux.

Part Two – The Live CD:

Once you are comfortable with the software you will be using in Linux, it’s time to find a distribution that you can live with. It’s like searching for your soul mate. You are going to be “married” to your chosen OS for a long time, so pick wisely. And don’t worry if you don’t like the one you’ve picked, “divorce” is as easy as wiping the drive and loading a different distro.

Here are my picks for beginners:


This is my first choice. PCLOS gives users more graphic front-end tools to configure and tweak your system. This eliminates the need to access the command line interface, which is unfamiliar to most new Linux users.

Also the KDE (K Desktop Environment) looks and acts just like the Windows desktop. So it’s very easy to find what you are looking for. For example, if you right-click on any empty space on the desktop you will get a context menu that contains all the tools you have come to know in Windows. The KDE makes it very simple to navigate around in your computer.

In addition, you have two separate control center applications that give you a comprehensive graphical user interface to customize the look of your system and configure hardware.

It also comes preloaded with Java and Flash. It contains a wealth of programs including a full office suite, graphics programs, CD/DVD burning software, media players, instant messenger, IRC chat, and much more. All of which can be accessed and used from a Live CD session.

Linux Mint:

This distro is Ubuntu on steroids. I recommend it above Ubuntu because it contains many of the multi-media support files that Ubuntu lacks.

While Mint does not have the tools that PCLinuxOS has, it still has enough graphical front-end programs to tweak and customize most common aspects. It also utilizes the Synaptic program manager to install any additional programs easily.

And because it’s Ubuntu based it has a separate update management program insuring that your system files are always current.

Third would have to be Ubuntu. It’s not as complete as my other two choices, but there is plenty of support information available on the Web to make even difficult tasks workable.

Ubuntu is more utilitarian. It’s a functional, no frills operating system that most Windows users will find rather spartan.

I still cannot recommend Ubuntu for first time Linux users. You will need to use quite a bit of command line operations to achieve certain mundane goals. Windows users almost never execute programs or functions from the command line and may find the practice frustrating, to put it mildly.

These are only a few of the distributions that can be run as a Live CD.

This is exactly how you need to run Linux. You will download the Live CD as an ISO image. You have to burn the image to a CD using burning software like Nero or another program. Once you have created the disk, you insert the disk into you CD-ROM drive and reboot the computer. Provided that your system is configured correctly to boot first from the CD drive, all you have to do is follow the on screen instructions to boot into Linux. (If not, you will need to access your computer’s BIOS to adjust these settings.)

A Linux Live CD will not install any data to your existing hard drives. When you have finished your Live CD session, you will shut down your computer in the usual manner, remove the Live CD, and then reboot back into Windows.

The Live CD will allow you to access any data files on your PC.

At this point, do not install Linux. Spend some time, 10 or more hours total (not all at once), playing with Linux. Explore, access, experiment. Become comfortable using Linux. And find a distro that you think you can live with. If Linux doesn’t appeal to you, by all means stick with Windows. The goal is to use what makes you happy.

Part Three – Prep Work:

Now that you have had some time to experiment with Linux, it’s time to consider loading the operating system to a hard drive.

However, the first step is to backup all of your important and necessary Windows files. This includes all your data files in the My Documents folder, any system sound files in your Media folder, all your Internet Explorer favorites or bookmarks from other browsers (all of these can be ported into Linux), any wallpaper images you wish to reuse, and your Fonts folder (most Windows fonts can be loaded in Linux).

All of these files should be backed up to CD/DVD media. If you were doing regular backups, you should have all this backed up already. But make another copy to ensure all your files are current.

The next step is to buy a new hard drive. You could use your existing hard drive. However, if you should change your mind, you may need to go back to Windows. The easiest way to do that would be to simply change hard drives.

Dual booting (booting from one of two or more operating systems from a single hard drive) is a possibility, but two systems would take up a lot of hard drive space needlessly. It’s in your best interest to have plenty of free space for storage.

Again, you could throw caution to the wind and just wipe your Windows installation and load Linux. For our purposes right now it would be better to have the option to return to Windows in the event that you decide that Linux is not an acceptable alternative.

In other words, my prescription is to take two hard drives and come back later for further treatment.

Part Four – Partitioning the Drive:

Now that you have spent enough time working with Linux, backed up all your important documents, and have a new hard drive ready to go, let’s load Linux.

Install the new hard drive and boot your system from the Live CD.

Before installing, you need to know how to set up (partition) your new hard drive for Linux.

The best method is to partition the drive into three sections. Section one will contain the Root directory. This is the operating system files and program files. Section two will contain the swap file. This area can be used by the operating system if the RAM becomes too full during any operation. Most users have more than enough RAM to handle just about anything, but it’s still a good idea to have a swap file. Section three will contain your Home folder. This is the equivalent of the My Documents folder found in Windows. However, the Home folder in Linux will also contain special hidden folders and files that programs will use for your account.

Let’s say you are loading a 160 Gigabyte hard drive. You only need to set aside about 40 GB for the Root directory (usually symbolized by this / mark). The Swap file will take 3 or 4 GB, but you can specify more or less. And the rest of the drive will be given to the Home directory.

|—— /Root ——|
|– Swap –|
|——————– /Home ——————–|

If you have a much larger hard drive, say 500 GB, you can divide the drive into four partitions:

|—— /Root ——|
|– Swap –|
|——————– /Home ——————–|
|——————– NTFS ———————|

Yeah, you read that right. NTFS. A Windows partition. No, not for Windows. This is a empty formatted partition.

Why? To archive data or for storage. This partition can be easily accessed by Linux. But you do not have the problem of permissions. Once the partition is created, it remains intact even if you decide to change distros or you need to re-install your distro or you decide to wipe out Linux and load a Windows operating system (XP, Vista or 7) in its place.

You can also use the NTFS partition to as a holding area to create your own Live CD from your completed Linux installation.

By default in most Linux distros, the NTFS partition is not mounted. You can right-click on the drive and select “Mount” to access the drive. By keeping the drive unmounted, the system is helping to protect the information contained on the drive. But you can choose to have the drive mounted on start up.

Each Linux distro has a different method for partitioning the drive. This is usually done as a step during the installation process. So check with your chosen distribution’s Web site for instructions.

And welcome to freedom.


Update (July 24, 2013):

My number one choice for beginners is now Linux Mint 17.0.