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Beginning in Linux The Installation Process

Beginning in Linux The Installation Process

I got to send this little tidbit out to those that are afraid to explore or go through the work and hassle of building a Linux System the way I'm going at it. There is a product available that will let you get familiar with some of the products that are available within a Linux System. The good news about this product, according to the manufacture, is it runs under Windows. Installation of this product doesn't require the pain of Partitioning a hard drive, or a lot of technical skills to get started on the Linux path from the information I have read on the WWW. Another redeeming quality is that it is reasonably priced at twenty dollars US. I have included a link at the end of this article for the curious. Do a little digging if you want more information. I'm sure more information is available on the WWW about this product

Last time I said I would cover the installation of Linux in this article, and I will but there are a few preparatory issues to cover first. Backups and identifying key hardware information are the first two steps of a good installation. A few minutes spent preparing and gathering information and backing up the system just makes good sense. It is impossible to find out what the IRQ was being used for a NIC card in the middle of a system install. If the phone rings in the middle of the installation and you format the wrong drive while trying to beat off that pesky salesman. Then a backup becomes a necessity. Believe me we all make mistakes.

Having lost two disk drives and having experienced many an installation of software that has gone horribly wrong, I have become a Backup zealot. I run Drive Image 4.0 as a backup tool. I love this tool, because I can use my CD writer to do the backups on CD Rewritable Disks. One of these Rewritable disks can be rewritten up to a thousand times and they are much faster to read for the restore process than a tape. I used to backup my system with a tape drive system and it took all night to backup 9gig of data. I can do the same process with my CD burner in less than three hours using data compression. The only caution about this is to be sure the disks you buy for your burner are rated to work at the top speed of the CD burner. If you burn a disk at a speed faster than the disk is capable of handing the disk will not be readable. Matching the speed of the media to the speed of the drive is key. Faster media than the CD burner is OK. Faster drive than media is an issue if the software doesn't allow for speed adjustments. I always forget to downshift the speed of the drive so I've learned to buy media that matches my drive or that is faster than my drive. Unfortunately this product doesn't seem to backup Mandrake Linux well. I'll cover this in another article after some additional research. Since I want to protect my Windows system in this case all is well after a backup.

After backing up my hard drives and identifying all the cards along with the IRQs they are using, I was almost ready to start the installation. I had to identify which hard drive had enough space on it for Linux. That was easy. I had installed an old SCSI drive that I had picked up at auction just for this project. A 23gig hard drive is overkill for a beginners system, so I reformatted the drive leaving 10 gigs for future use by something else using Partition Magic. OK, I should point out that most Linux Gurus would use another tool but I'm not a Linux Guru. I was using tools I had on hand and that I was familiar with to get the job done fast and in my comfort zone. If you don't have this tool then don't. There is one more thing left to do before we start the installation of our new toy: read the manuals. Then read the manuals again. It's better to be bored by reading the same information twice than to have nagging questions in your mind or making a huge mistake during the installation.

I started the install after all the above preparation backup, read the manual, and pre-partitioned the selected hard drive. Formatting the hard drive turned out to be an unnecessary step, but it gave me a comfortable feeling. With my system ready and all my notes scattered about I inserted the first disk of the Mandrake system in the CD reader and set the BIOS to boot from CD. Nothing happened, except Windows booted up as usual. I was sure I had set the BIOS to boot from CD. So I tagged restart and intercepted the reboot in the BIOS setup. Double-checking my PC's setup I saw that it was set to boot from CD followed by Diskette and finally IDE0. Scratching my head I checked the CD drive. The disk was there, so I closed the drive and proceeded to reboot again. Same results. The book covered that some systems wouldn't boot from CD, and the book covered how to build a Setup diskette within Windows. Back to the books I go, and thirty minutes later, Linux Boot Diskette and CD in hand, I'm ready for round two.

This time my system boots from the newly created Boot Diskette and the installation is on. The first thing that Mandrake wanted was what Language followed by Installation Class. I took Recommended and Development as my options. I wanted to see what default installation included, and this was just the beginning of a long process of discovery.

I don't want to replace the installation book from Mandrake, so I'll cover a couple of areas that seem weak in the book. I'll leave the rest of the basic installation process to the Mandrake experts. The installation manual seems weak on information about partitioning a hard drive for your installation of Linux and on setting the boot partition along with GRUB and LILO. Both these items are intertwined very tightly if you want to use another Boot Manger. Which is exactly what I wanted. So I ended up out on the World Wide Web doing some research. I found two ways to get where I wanted to be. The first way was extremely dangerous, and I won't cover it. The second way is the way it should be done, which I will cover.

If you have a Boot Manager other than Grub or LILO you would like to use, try this one. The real key is to Partition the hard drive correctly. Then you force Mandrake to drop Grub or LILO in place on the second drive. I partitioned my second drive with the following partitions using DISKDRAKE. They are listed in order from the very front of the drive, and all within an Extended Partition. The first was "/boot" followed by "/", "swap", "/home", "/usr", and finally "/var". If you pay close attention to what DISKDRAKE is doing you can tell where the "/boot" partition is being installed by ID. Each one of these partitions is assigned an ID like SDA1. My understanding of this designation is as follows. S in the first position stands for SCSI, and if it were H it would stand for an IDE hard drive. The second letter seems to be a constant D for drive or device. The third position is a drive number or a letter, depending on how you look at it. So the first drive is "A" ,the second "B", the third "C", and on it goes. The next position is the designator for the partition on the drive. Now we can have multiple partitions on a drive. If I had been installing to a second IDE drive instead of my first SCSI drive the ID might have been HDB1.

I determined that "/boot" was at SDA1. When I got to the point of installing a boot loader during the installation I chose SDA1. On finishing the installation Linux wants to reboot the system. When I allowed the system to reboot I got Boot Manger. I boot up Windows and go to Boot Manger's configuration tool, and Linux is now an option that can be added to Boot Manger. With Linux added to Boot Manager it's time to reboot one more time. When Boot Manager's options popup I have a choice of two Operating systems. I choose Linux and start Grub, which five seconds later automatically kicks my default Linux system.

Success! Linux is installed. All you have to do is follow the book, or the Online Manual if you're doing it the Hacker's way, and pulling everything from the Web. If I can do it anyone can. Just read everything very carefully, twice. Don't start the install if you have any nagging questions. Instead continue your research until that question is answered, or a solid groundwork is in place that will enable an educated guess.

In conclusion I have to say that the World Wide Web is going to be your best friend in a Linux world. The install is as easy under Mandrake as a Windows install with a few caveats. The more you read the easier it becomes. The install process does require some intelligence for either system. If your equipment is on the supported list, and you follow the book carefully after doing your homework, the basic install is within your grasp. If you are leaning towards a more complex install, more preparation is required. I suggest that the beginning user start with a basic installation. Play with the results for a while. Poke around just to get a feeling for the toys available under Linux. It's a growing process. ;-)

Main page to download or access Mandrake7.2 documents

Mandrake on line User/Installation Manual

Mandrake on line Reference Manual

Linux for Windows

Sites with Helpful Information

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at) or paperboy(at), and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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Most Recent Comments
Jack Folse 11/07/01 05:07:00 PM EST

Re your article "Beginnin in Linus" featured FIRST in Linus Business Week was not so good.
I clicked on the "next" box that was on the right of "1 of 7" at the bottom of the beginning article. Went to a subscription service trying to sell magazines. Sure would like to read your article.
Is it anywhere on the internet?