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What is the Linux Installation Project?

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An InstallFest Every Month

At 9am-ish every third Saturday of the month, people flock to NTLUG to have Linux installed on their computers or to seek general troubleshooting assistance. Normally, most LUGs hold special meetings only on occasions which are called InstallFests. Since every month is an InstallFest, NTLUG chooses to hold an annual Linux Fair instead.

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But, why do installs only on special occasions? Every month there are people that are new to the meetings who are interested in help in geting their first Linux up and running. Likewise there is always opportunity for troubleshooting an existing installation. Instead of just doing Linux installs at special meeting, why not do them at ALL of the meetings.

This was the vision of Kendall Clark, one of our founders and former president. He worked with Mike Dunn and Bill Petersen to form the Linux Installation Project (LIP).

Since then, NTLUG has helped install Linux on literally hundreds of computers.

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So you are thinking of installing Linux on your computer. The Linux Installation Project starts at 9am. We look forward to helping anyone install GNU/Linux (hereafter a whole distribution will be referred to as just Linux) on their system. The Linux Installation Project usually lasts until 11am, but frequently takes longer.

To make this a pleasant and rewarding experience, there are a few guidelines that you should read:

1.  Bring the Whole Computer With You

To do a Linux install you are going to need the whole computer. This includes the computer itself, the monitor, the keyboard, and a mouse. You would be surprised how many people forget the power cord for the monitor and the computer so be sure to bring those too. It is usually not necessary to bring peripherals like printers, unless you are needing or wanting help in configuring that as well.

If you want to have a Microsoft© operating system available on the computer when you are finished (along with the new Linux install), you must bring the install disk for the MS system with you. This is called a “Dual Boot” system. Please read the information below about dual booting.

If you have a Linux system installed, and just want help with a problem, bring it on! If the problem involves a particular piece of hardware, bring that hardware along with the rest of your system. We are willing to help troubleshoot any and all hardware configurations. But as with anything, we can not guarantee a successful resolution for every scenario.

2.  Read Up On Linux Distributions and Pick One That You Would Like To Try

Linux is packaged with other software to make a complete distribution (a disro). There are allot of distros out there (look at for the current list or browse the small list at NTLUG). Before picking anything please do a quick assessment of the hardware you are going to install this on. There are different criteria for each distribution, but generally they break down into three classes.

2.1  Major Consumer Distributions

Fedora, openSUSE, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Debian, etc. are designed to run on equipment that will easily run Microsoft XP®. This is pretty much going to exclude any system with less than 128 Meg of RAM, and a processor less than about 900MHz. Is it possible to run these distros on a 600 MHz processor with 96 Meg of ram? Yes, but it will be about as satisfying as running XP® on such a system; slow and buggy. Consumer based distributions are better for newer platforms since they are updated more regularly. However, newer does involve some risk.

2.2  Enterprise Distributions

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server/Desktop (SLES/SLED) are designed primarily for servers (RHEL and SLES) and for corporate desktops and laptops (SLED). The difference is that these distributions usually do not work well with the latest and greatest hardware, but they are designed to be stable and have active support. Support for these distributions usually costs money ($300+/year for servers, $120+/year for desktops). In general, those distributions are not recommended for a new Linux user just because of the limited platform support and support costs.

2.3  Smaller Machine Linux Distributions

Linux distributions such as Puppy, Feather, Vector, and DSL (Damn Small Linux) do not require large amounts of RAM or heavy processing power. Even a Pentium I 90MHz processor with 32 Meg of RAM should work with these distros. Most are available as a “Live CD” which can be booted without installing anything to see how well it works. Note that live Cd's will function a bit slow compared to an installed system. Keep in mind that, once a distribution is installed, you can add almost any Linux-based software to it. Do not reject a particular distribution just because it does not come with everything you want pre-installed.

Please download the distribution you want to try, and burn it to a disk (CD/DVD). This is a different kind of burn from just putting a copy of the file (the .iso file that you downloaded) onto a disk. In any piece of burning software there is an option called “Burn ISO” or “Burn Image” that will make a functioning disk. After you burn it, look at it in Windows Explorer. If there is just one big file on the disk, you did not do it right. If you cannot get a working disk, do not worry about it. Bring the file and a disk to the LIP, and we can burn the disk. We usually have current copies of Linux distributions on hand, also. If you lack a good way to do a download we can provide a disk. We may not have every possible version of every distribution, but we will have something that will work.

3.  Back Up Any Data That You Want To Save

If the computer that you are installing to has any data that you do not want to lose, copy the data off before arriving at the LIP (or before installing on your own). There are several reasons for this:

  1. If you are making a single boot, (Linux only) machine, all data on the partition that you install to will be written over and lost permanently. Data on other partitions can very easily be written over also. All it takes is a single error, and the data is gone, and is probably not recoverable. Back it up!.
  2. If you are going to make a dual boot machine (one which has a functioning Microsoft® system on it along with Linux), there is a very real possibility that the Microsoft® installation will be destroyed. If you cannot tolerate this possibility DO NOT INSTALL LINUX ON THIS MACHINE. To install a second operating system on any machine requires empty space on the hard drive which is not part of the MS partition. This usually requires shrinking the partition that has XP® or Vista® on it and this can cause problems. To minimize the risk of corruption during a resizing operation, you MUST defragment your drive prior attempting the operation. Also, compressed and/or encrypted drives will NOT be supported for a dual boot configuration. You have been warned.

A safer technique for dual boot configuration is to buy a second hard drive, and install Linux on that. There is still a possibility that the MS system will be in-accessible after the Linux install (which is why the MS install disk must be available), but it should be recoverable. Hard drives are cheap. Used computers which cannot run Vista© are very inexpensive and will make super Linux boxes. Avoid dual booting wherever possible.

4.  Avoid the pitfalls.

There are some things that you should consider before installing Linux.

Some installs fail because the hardware is not working properly. This is not a Linux problem. Installing any operating system puts great strain on the computer system. The processor will have to run for up to an hour at 100% of capacity. If the cooling system is not capable of handling this the system will seize, and it will not be possible to install Linux, or any other OS until the problem is fixed.

Another problem we have seen is with very old CDROM drives. The install process must read as much as 700Megs of data off the CD disk. A 1X CDROM drive might not be able to read data fast enough to keep up with the install, or it will introduce errors. This sometimes causes an install to fail.

Installations to anything except standard desktop systems introduce different problems. Servers with RAID cards can be a problem because they need special drivers just for the install. Very old systems (486, 386, 286, Atari, TRS-80, etc.) require special distributions and usually specialized knowledge. Google is your friend, and we will try anything. Just do not count on having that dual processor 133MHz Pentium I RAID server up and running for enterprise service tomorrow (even contemporary Windows OS's will have a difficult time of installing).

Laptops are a special case. There are many different laptops made today, each with its own combination of video card, sound card, special keys, web cams, USB devices, wireless, Bluetooth, etc. Linux can be installed on virtually any laptop, but on virtually NO laptop will everything work on first boot. All those special devices are going to take some work to make right. On a desktop you can always change the sound card if the one you have is just not supported; on a laptop that is not possible. Since you are limited to one hard drive in a laptop, dual booting is going to be a problem (see Back Up, above). If you are going to do a laptop install, plan on re-installing the Microsoft Operating System at the same time. Please do not ask us to guarantee the integrity of your MS system.

Page last modified on September 29, 2008, at 12:36 AM