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Installing Linux - not so easy...

Originally published 3/2/01 As many of you know, I spent time behind the lines during the browser wars as a technical evangelist. This does not mean that I'm shallow or completely biggoted when it comes to other ways of working on a computer. I love my PalmVx. I also love PocketPc, and if I could actually afford an IPAC and some wireless gadgets for it, I'd probably have one. I was an early Mac user (Sept. 1984).

So 2 weeks ago I plunked down $30 something bucks for a boxed copy of Linux, specifically RH7.0. This is not my first experience with Linux. I have run Red Hat before in versions 5 and 6, but never for more than a few days, due to frustration about lack of support for some of my hardware, difficulties in configurations, etc. I've heard that RH7 fixes a lot of issues and I wanted to try it. My friend Doc seems to love it. I have an old HP P166 with 32 MB of Ram, an S3 card, and a 2GB hard drive. What the heck.

Well, I've got my asbestos underware on because I'm sure I'll get flamed, lambasted, etc. Here goes:
I am technical, but I'm not a unix system administrator. I don't want to learn a bunch of new stuff just to install an OS. I should get walked through it.

Linux is hard - to install, to configure, to run. Anyone who says "oh, this is as easy as installing Windows 2000" or whatever is full of crap. Assume I'm an "average" user (which I'm not - I am pretty technical in the Windows world, and in general. My VCR does not say 12:00). I failed the first time I tried to install Red Hat 7.0, mostly because I tried to 'customize' what I wanted installed. I ended up going over the size limits of the partitions I created. Some files didn't copy over or install.

Then, once I got a good install, I tried to add a second ethernet card. The thought was that I'd use this machine as a firewall/router for my cable modem (not that I'd do anything that violates my terms of service, right?)

I tried to install a new LinkSys 10/100Tx. It says right on the box "text with Linux" and shows a penguin. Well, apparently, it was not tested with RH, or it was not tested with this version of the card, or blah blah blah unsupported blah blah blah. I tried to "make" the source code that came with the card (for turbolinux) on the RH box, but it didn't compile. I'm not a C programmer, so I can't tell you why. I then had several very nice emails with RH tech support. They walked me through some programs to make the machine spit back tech specs on the card, exact ROM versions, etc. Then they nicely told me that the card wasn't supported but I might try a site that had a driver that might work. Well, it not only didn't work, but it replaced some things that caused my first card to stop working. After that, I coulnd't get data into the machine except by downloading it to my windows box and copying via floppy. I gave up.

Format. Install again. Now I let the "workstation" install go by itself. It was happy with my original ethernet card, so I removed the Linksys one and left this as not-a-router. But I'd still like it to be secure. So I went to the FAQs, and tried to figure out how to make the box secure.

I then went to try to find sites that would explain the things the FAQ was telling me. In some version of plain english.

3/9 update: I never finished. The box works. I can log in and play with GNOME and KDE shell toys. I can make my desktop look good. I can't for some reason, mount the cd that a friend from Sun gave me with StarOffice on it - it complains about some funky file system that I probably don't know the parameters for. Mounted fine in Windows.

So, I guess I'm not tough enough or smart enough, or just frankly willing to put in enough effort to run Linux as a main machine. I'm disappointed in that I feel somehow out of the 'in crowd' of certai folks I know. And yet, if a machine is going to demand this much of my time and effort, I'm going to rebel - see "The Unfinished Revolution" for some not-so-revolutionary, yet practical, thoughts on this.

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Last update: 8/23/2002; 9:33:20 PM.