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What's this Linux thing?
Will My Computer Run Linux?
Is Linux Right for You?
Will My Peripherals Run Under Linux?
Should I Download Linux?
How Do I Install Linux?
How Can I Get on the Internet With Linux?
Can I Make Linux More Like Windows?
Can I Run Linux With Windows?
Can I Run My Web Site on Linux?
Can I Get Technical Support for Linux?

What is Linux?

Linux is a Unix-like, kernel-based, fully memory-protected, multitasking operating system originally developed by Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki in 1991 and distributed under the GNU General Public License.
Linux is a robust, powerful, compact, and free operating system that runs on a wide variety of hardware ranging from PCs and Macs to Amigas and Alphas and others. Linux is also a world wide group effort; thousands of developers around the world contribute to Linux, adding new features, fixing bugs, adding hardware and software support, and generally trying to improve things at every opportunity.

Open Source
Linux is more than just free, it's open-source software. That means you not only get access to the compiled programs that you run on your machine, you can also get the original computer code of the system, to examine and tweak at your leisure. (read about Open Source)

Linux is Growing!
All these benefits have attracted a lot of attention. In March 1998, Linux distributor Red Hat estimated that there were some 8 million Linux users worldwide, and that was before the recent big Linux push. Research firm International Data Corporation reports that the Linux server market alone, has grown to some 750,000 installations, and that number is still growing. There is about an 80 percent chance that your own Internet Service Provider is using Linux. Unofficially, there are possibly 15 million or more Linux users world wide. The numbers increase daily, and exact estimations are impossible since the operating system requires no official registration.

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Is Linux Right for You?

You want to switch from the DOS world (this definition includes Windows) to Linux?
Good! Linux is technically superior to DOS, MS Windows 9x+ and MS Windows NT.
You can learn Linux at your own pace because Linux & MSDOS & MS Windows coexist easily on the same machine at the same time.
But a word of warning: Depending on your needs, Linux might not be immediately useful for you.

Some main differences between MSDOS/Windows and Linux:

MSWindows runs MS Office, Corel WordPerfect and other Windows compatible software, as well as a good many games.
Linux runs the StarOffice Suite, Corel WordPerfect and the ApplixWare office suite, which are MS Office compatible. Linux also runs scores of general and technical software applications, but at this time there are fewer games.

MSWindows is generally regarded as easy to install and configure.
Linux can be difficult to install and configure, especially for novices.
MSWindows has an interface which is usually regarded as 'user friendly'. Although somewhat unstable, there are other third party interface add-ons available for Windows.
Linux has a selection of  user friendly graphical interfaces. Most are freely available and are regarded to be at least as easy to use and understand as the MSWindows interface. In fact one of them looks almost exactly like Windows 95, complete with "Start" button. You can choose any of the interfaces you may prefer.
MSWindows is notoriously unstable. It performs poorly and crashes are frequent.
Linux is rock solid and performs impeccably. Linux crashes are extremely rare.

It's up to you to decide what you need.
Linux gives you power, but it takes some time to learn how to fully harness it. Thus, if you mostly need commercial software, or if you don't feel like learning new commands and concepts, you had better look elsewhere. Be aware that many newcomers give up because of initial difficulties and learning curve.

Work is always underway to make Linux more simple to install and use. But don't expect to be fully proficient with it unless you read a lot of documentation and use it at least for a few months. Linux won't necessarily give you instant results.

In spite of these warnings, if you are the right user type you'll find the power that has made Linux so famous, and you will understand why Linux is poised to take over the computer world.

Remember, you can learn Linux at your own pace because Linux & MSDOS & MSWindows can coexist easily on the same machine at the same time.

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Will My Computer Run Linux?

One of the best things about Linux is that it can run on just about any basic computer hardware.

There are Linux versions for hardware from Intel (and compatibles), PowerPC chips, Sun Sparcs, DEC Alphas, and others. You don't need the latest and greatest system, either. Linux is very modular; it can be stripped down to run on as little as a 386 with 150MB of disk space and 2MB of RAM (though you'll want more disk space, processor power, and memory for running graphical desktops, development tools, and so on). Some developers have even created useful Linux versions that run off of a single floppy disk (the Linux Router Project).

Linux can also work well on many laptops, including most Apple PowerBooks, IBM ThinkPads, and Toshiba Tecras. (You'll find a list of supported laptops, as well as installation tips and tricks, at Linux Online's laptop page.)

Odds are very good that Linux will run on your Intel (or compatible) system or Macintosh's, at least on the base hardware (motherboard, memory, and processor). The biggest problem you might face is that you may not be so fortunate with your peripherals.

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Will My Peripherals Run Under Linux?

Yes and no. Most common peripherals, modems, printers, network adapters, and so on, work just fine under Linux. However, some work better than others, and some don't work at all - not yet. While hardware support development is an ongoing project, here are a few general guidelines for peripheral compatibility issues:

Older ISA cards: That NE2000-compatible network adapter, your old Sound Blaster 16, and the U.S. Robotics Sportster modem you've used for years should function perfectly under Linux. In fact, that's part of what makes Linux great: you can take advantage of old hardware that would otherwise hit the trash heap.

PCI cards: As a rule of thumb, ISA is a better bet under Linux than PCI, at least for now. For instance, many PCI modems tend to be "Windows" modems (see below), so they simply won't work under Linux. The latest PCI sound cards, such as the Turtle Beach Montego and Sound Blaster 64 PCI, aren't supported under Linux yet, although developers are constantly working on the problem. Since the Linux kernel is updated for free as the new devices gain support, it helps to have the latest Linux kernel when trying to work with PCI cards. Note that many PCI Ethernet and SCSI cards are supported. Check your distribution's supported hardware list for details.

Plug and Play: Plug and Play can make life easier under Windows by allowing the computer to automatically assign resources to the various cards in your system. Linux can do Plug and Play, but the function isn't nearly as seamless. Check out this how-to for help with your system. Depending on your hardware, you may have no problems, or you may have a boat load.

"Windows" peripherals: To keep costs down, some hardware makers have started selling products such as modems and printers as "Windows" products. These devices tend to be less expensive than their more universal counterparts, but they won't work under Linux. Why? Because Windows devices (such as the 3Com/U.S. Robotics Winmodem and the Lexmark Winwriter 200 printer) use software on the PC, and the system's CPU, to get their jobs done. Linux fans have managed to get some Windows printers up and running, at least partially. Check out this printing how-to for details.

USB: The market for USB peripherals is booming. Unfortunately neither Windows nor Linux have caught up yet. Work on supporting USB is ongoing.

For fairly complete and generally up to date lists of supported peripherals, you may want to refer to the hardware section at Linux Online and the hardware compatibility how-to from the Linux Documentation Project.

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Should I Download Linux Right Away?

Unless you are an expert, don't try to download Linux to install it for the first time.
First time installations are best done from a CD.
Once you have Linux installed you can upgrade easily online for free, but to avoid excessive hair-pulling, first time installations will be a lot easier if you just get yourself a copy on CD.
If you're really on a budget, you can get CDs with recent versions of Linux from the Linux Mall from under $3. US. Although these inexpensive copies do not include support options from the distributors, you should be able to install them with little difficulty.
The fully supported "Official Distribution" CDs are also available there with a starting price of around $50. US. This is well worth the price if you need installation handholding and other support.

Linux CDs
For less than $50, you can get a good book like Linux Unleashed or Linux: The Complete Reference that will include a CD-ROM full of Linux. These CD versions are far easier to install than the download, plus you get the added benefit of having handy written documentation around. If you're new to Linux, you'll most likely need the documents.  Again, these books, as well as the full-blown "Official Distribution" packages are available from the Linux Mall, and most packages include both documentation and some kind of online support from the distribution publishers.

Down loading the Kernel
If you insist on down loading Linux, you have a lot of options. If you're really brave you can simply download the kernel and build your own OS from the ground up. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, don't bother. Get yourself a complete distribution on CDROM, etc.. A distribution is a package that includes the Linux kernel and a variety of utilities and other software; useful things such as desktop managers, web browsers, software applications, etc..

Linux Distributions
You can go directly to the distribution makers-- TurboLinux, Red Hat, Caldera, Debian, or Slackware and others. Even better, you can obtain the latest releases at a discount price from a site like the Linux Mall. They have (almost) free CDs for more than a dozen distributions. Each distribution has its fans and particular features. Red Hat is popular, in part because of its relatively easy installation interface. Debian has a reputation for throwing in everything and the kitchen sink with its distribution. Caldera Open Linux comes complete with NetWare support and one of the easiest installation routines. TurboLinux is also full featured and easy to install. Corel is soon to release perhaps the best distribution yet.

Once you decide which distribution you want to use, you'll need to check out the distributor's installation instructions, as they vary a bit from vendor to vendor.

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How Do I Install Linux?

Unless you are an expert, somehow get yourself a copy on a CD.
Linux installations range from a super simple, 30 minute quick installation to a hair pulling marathon, depending on your choice of distribution, your hardware, and your knowledge of your system and connection info., etc..
Linux installation utilities generally require you to know more about your system than you might expect.
Linux doesn't necessarily support all the hardware that you may have, especially if you have 'Win Modems' etc.. (see Will My Peripherals Run Under Linux?)

Before You Start
The best thing you can do to make things go as smoothly as possible is create a list of your computer's components. Unlike Windows, which generally does a pretty good job of identifying hardware and configuring itself, Linux may still need some help. Installations become easier every day, but to be safe, jot down the following:

Make, model, and interface for your CD-ROM drive
Make and model of your SCSI adapter (if you have one)
What type of mouse you have
The make, model, and memory size of your graphics card
The make, model, and refresh rates for your monitor
Any networking information you may have (IP address, netmask, gateway address, DNS addresses, domain name, or type of network card)

During installation, Linux may ask you for any or all of this system information.  If you don't have it, you may have to start installation all over again once you get hold of the required settings.

Installing from a CD:
As for the actual install, you have several options. The easiest way is with a CD-ROM version of Linux, and a PC that supports booting from the CD drive (newer systems do). In that case, you'll often just have to drop the disk in your drive, set your system's BIOS to boot from the CD, and follow the installation instructions that pop up on the screen.

Install from DOS:
If your system can't boot from the CD, you'll need to install from a DOS directory or work from a boot disk. Some commercial distributions of Linux, including those from Caldera and Red Hat, come with 3.5 inch boot disks. Other distributions include instructions on how to create the disks yourself. You can also check this installation how-to for more information on creating the disks and installing Linux from a CD. You could also need these disks if you plan on installing Linux from a hard disk or via Network File System (NFS).

Installing Specific Flavors:
Your distribution's Web site should have all the details you need to know about installing its specific flavor of Linux. If it doesn't, or if the documentation seems too difficult to understand, you may want to use another distribution. You should have good luck with Corel, Caldera, TurboLinux, Red Hat, Debian, and Slackware.

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Can I Get on the Internet With Linux?

Linux could require you to know a bit more about your connection than you may be used to. Most of the information you need may be provided by your Internet Service Provider. There is about an 80% chance that they are already using Linux themselves. Although most distributions make it a simple chore, there is plenty of documentation and some useful utilities that you can use if you get stuck.

Before you start:
First, you need to make sure that you have installed all the necessary protocols, utilities, and modules when you set up your Linux system. In many cases, you'll already have everything you need installed, such as TCP/IP, the basic network protocol, PPD, which connects you to your ISP; and chat, which tells PPD how to connect when you set up Linux. Check your distribution's documentation for details, or read this Linux networking how-to for step-by-step instructions.

Set up your connection:
Once you have everything installed, you need to set up your connection. If you know your settings from your ISP, Linux should set you up fairly quickly. If you get stuck, these PPP and ISP hookup how-tos hold all the details you need to configure your system to dial out and connect to your ISP.
An easier way is to install any of the more user-friendly graphical PPP clients, such as X-ISP, kppp, GnomePPP, or EzPPP. These utilities function much like Dial-Up Networking in Windows. You simply enter your login ID, password, ISP's phone number, DNS addresses, and such. The utility takes care of the rest.

Linux distributions:
Many distributions including Corel, Caldera, TurboLinux, Red Hat, and Debian anticipate that you'll want to get connected to the internet, and they include everything you need in their setup routines. You get all the protocols, Web browsers like Netscape Navigator and Lynx, email programs, and graphical setup and administration utilities without having to download anything.

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Can I Make Linux More Like Windows?

Actually there are some things you can do to make Linux more like Windows, at least from the standpoint of ease of use. Primarily, these consist of getting a good X Windows desktop manager and installing graphical utilities that make common tasks easier. Most of these should already be included with your Linux CD distribution.

Desktop Managers:
The X Windows system has been around for 15 years - long before Microsoft 'borrowed' from it. It provides the foundation for graphical user interfaces (GUIs) under Linux. Basically, Linux sets up an "X server" on your system so it knows about the capabilities of your graphics card and display. X-based "desktop managers" can then run on the server. These desktop managers provide the graphical interface, and some of them look a lot like Windows or Windows 95. Most distributions of Linux include these free interfaces and utilities. Check with your distribution to verify what is included.

Though dozens of desktop managers are freely available, a few have been getting attention recently. K Desktop Environment (KDE) is building a complete set of graphical tools for Unix and Linux. With graphical file management, easily configured menus, and loads of utilities, KDE can be a help for those who want yet another graphical interface on their Linux desktop.

Free, User-Friendly Software:
Some people don't like KDE for philosophical reasons. KDE is built using a commercial GUI toolkit called Qt. Some programmers in the Linux community created their own environment based entirely on free software. Thus, the GNU Network Object Model Environment (GNOME) was born.

Whether you choose to purchase a commercial desktop, or stay with the widely used free desktops, will depend on how much you trust the extensively tested free software, and on how much you trust the commercial versions. You could also decide on which may have the look and the utilities you want. But either one will let you make Linux look and feel a lot more like Windows, without the Microsoft logo - if that's what you want.

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Can I Run Linux With Windows?

If you want to run Linux but also need to use Windows applications, you can run both operating systems on the same machine. You simply set up a dual boot system that lets you decide whether to run Windows or Linux when you start the machine. Lilo is included with most Linux distributions, and will let you easily dual boot your choice of Linux or Windows.

Run Windows or Linux:
You can do this either by partitioning a fresh hard drive to have both DOS/Windows and Linux partitions, or by repartitioning your existing drive with a utility that doesn't destroy your current data. (V Communications' System Commander Deluxe or Partition Commander. You'll then need to install Linux on your new Linux partition and set up LILO (included with Linux) or a commercial boot manager to let you choose either Windows or Linux on start-up. Check out this Linux and Win 95 how-to for more details.
However, if you have some degree of experience, and especially if you are putting Linux and Windows onto a new hard drive, you shouldn't need anything but your Linux and Windows CDs to set up your partitions and dual boot options without spending any money on extra programs. Read the installation documentation that comes with your Linux distribution.

Run Windows occasionally:
If you only need to run a couple Windows applications every once in a while, check out Wine. This freeware utility emulates Windows well enough to run many Windows applications under Linux. The Wine site provides a database of supported applications, so you can get an idea of what works and what doesn't.

Run Windows in Linux:
There's another option: VMware for Linux actually runs a copy of Windows 3.1, 95, 98, 2000, NT 4.0, or any of several other operating systems inside Linux. The major issue with VMware is that it boosts your system requirements beyond what either Linux or Windows needs on its own. You'll need at least a Pentium with 64MB of RAM, though VMware suggests a Pentium II with at least 96MB for best performance. Still, if you love Linux but have to run Windows at the same time without rebooting, VMware may provide a feasible option.
Can run many copies of Windows on one PC, all while Linux is doing its normal functions, without requiring a reboot. In other words, you could have Windows 98 and Windows 2000 running separately from each other in your Linux PC.
It keeps the Windows operating system and all Windows programs isolated from Linux. A crash in Windows has no effect at all on your Linux PC functionality.
VMWare connects the Linux and Windows operating systems to each other by a virtual network within the PC. No networking card is needed. It also allows quick cut-and-paste operations between Windows and Linux. If your hardware is sufficient to support it, VMWare could change your computing life.

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Can I Run My Web Site on Linux?

The Internet provided most of the momentum that Linux has today, and the Internet is mainly responsible for it's excellence. So it's not too surprising that there are plenty of tools available to help you set up and run a Web site under Linux. In fact, many ISP's run their own servers on Linux.

Find a Host:
If you want to set up a site to run on Linux, your easiest option is to find a Web host that offers Linux servers, such as CI Host or Web Serve Pro. This way, you don't have to deal with the hassle of maintaining your own servers 24 hours a day and the cost of dedicated network connections.

If you do want to host your own site or you're planning to set up an intranet, you should know that all of the most popular Linux distributions come complete with everything you need to get a Web site up and running.

Choose a Web Server:
The most important part, besides the Linux operating system itself, is the Web server. Usually, it will be Apache. This is the widely popular server, and it's all that most people will ever need. Apache is a feature packed, speedy server that has the power to run large corporate Web sites, and your personal site. You'll find all the installation and configuration information you need on Apache's documentation page.

When you set up your Web server, you'll need to make sure that your system is properly connected to your network. You may also want to set up a firewall to protect your site from unauthorized entry by people with malicious intent. Whatever you need to do with your Web site, there are Linux tools to do the job.

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Where Can I Get Technical Support for Linux?

Whether you're an individual looking for free support, or a corporation willing to pay extra for 24hr/7 day/week tech help, Linux has plenty to offer.

If you purchased a commercial copy of a Linux distribution from a company such as TurboLinux, Red Hat, or Caldera, etc., you're entitled to 30 to 90 days of free installation support via email. After that, they usually won't answer directly to questions which are already in the documentation, etc.. Instead, they may refer you to the correct document source for answers. However, most responsible distributors will always answer to real problems, even after the initial support time has expired. This is especially true if there are incompatibility issues which both the distributor, and the user want resolved. These issues may be concerned with hardware and software compatibility, etc.. Check with the distributor of the Linux flavor you choose, for details.

Community help:
If you can't get a direct answer from your distributor, you still don't have to open your wallet. The Linux Documentation Project maintains dozens of how-to files covering just about every imaginable subject, including installation, DOS emulation, networking, and using Cyrillic characters.

Check out newsgroups:
Check out the wide variety of Linux based Usenet newsgroups, including comp.os.linux.misc, comp.os.linux.setup, comp.os.linux.questions, and alt.os.linux. If someone hasn't already asked and answered your question, you can always post it yourself. Linux users have a good track record of answering questions for newbies. There's even a Linux mailing list for beginners. Just send email to with linux-newbie in the body of the message. You'll also find a wide assortment of other Linux lists at Linux Online.

At Linux Online, there are several great sites loaded with additional Linux information. A couple of the favorites are Slashdot and Linuxberg.

Commercial support:
If that's not enough help for you, you may need to spend some money. If your company needs Linux support, even around the clock, it's available. Both Red Hat and Caldera offer full-time, phone-based tech support help, either on a per-incident or annual contract basis. Other Linux support operations are available also. LinuxCare offers a variety of support options, including its free, searchable Linux Knowledgebase. You can purchase tech support, consulting, and development services from them if your needs progress.

Other Linux users:
Linux user groups have begun around the world. Yahoo has a good list of them. If you have one in your area, you could make contact with the local gurus to get their help with any Linux questions. These groups may sometimes hold "Install Fests" which are a like a combination technical support session & pizza party, where Linux experts help newbies get Linux up and running.

So even if you do get stuck, you should usually be able to find someone who can help you get on track.

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