Brian P. Bilbrey
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2 - Before You Install

In This Chapter

Knowing where you want to go, and how you propose to get there is critical to the initial success of any Linux installation. This doesn't carry the same weight as Sir Edmund Hillary planning his team's assault on Everest, but if you become a typical Linux user, you are going to invest significant time and other personal resources in your Linux system. Here is where this book helps you set the goals and make the decisions that guide you to significant achievements with OpenLinux.

More than in any other chapter, this one contains opinions, blended with facts and procedures that are religiously adhered to by a vast number of seasoned Linux users - because they simply work. However, keep in mind that the culture of Linux is fiercely inividualistic, a veritable Wild West of the technology frontier. As you proceed through the following sections, you'll find that some parts are written in concrete, and some in sand with the tide rolling in. For the latter, we try to present two or three solutions.

Setting Your Goals

There are 14 million Linux users, according to some estimates. This tends to indicate that there are at least 14 million distinct uses for Linux - probably many more. That is to say, the permutations of installed software, GUI environment, customization, and other choices make each Linux box as unique as a fingerprint.

Designing your own unique Linux system means begins with an appraisal of personal needs and goals. figuring out some initial goals. Some people might prefer to have a machine that provides simple connectivity, a bit of word processing, Web browsing, and e-mail. Others want to do a little image editing, some dabble a bit in software development, and play MP3 files all day. It's time to make a few decisions.

Determining your system requirements

There are many roles that a capably equipped Linux system can fulfill. The following lists are not comprehensive, but are instead designed to stimulate your thinking. Business- and home-oriented tasks are artificially separated here, as most of the features and functions are necessary in both environments. The following lists are weighted according to personal perceptions of priority. Your catalog will no doubt be different.

Business system tasks

Home system tasks

While some pundits would disagree, we believe that the number one application for computers is e-mail. You may want to do any, all, or none of the other tasks, but a computer that doesn't have e-mail connectivity is a rare beast today. There are some other questions relating to the business and home system tasks that are more software- oriented, and we address those in a later section.

After looking at the preceding types of applications and adding your own ideas into the mix, you should have a good idea of where your priorities lie. When you know that, then it's time to ask the next question:

"Is there anything on these lists that I don't do now, but might if I could only learn (could afford, had time, and so on)?"

Every task listed has more than one contender from the ranks of free software. All but one are represented in the basic, downloadable Caldera OpenLinux distribution (no VoIP products). Other low-cost possibilities are available in a retail box version (where more money buys more features, including some commercial software). You can do just about anything you desire with Linux, limited only by your imagination and the need to work, sleep, have a life, and other minor intrusions.

The goal of this exercise is to choose sets of applications that you want to install. In addition, some types of applications are somewhat hardware-dependent, explicitly, multimedia, gaming, image manipulation, networking, and VoIPVoice Over IP (VoIP / Internet telephony).

Hardware Considerations

If your system goals are modest, then choosing hardware is easy. A simple personal system has been designed using Linux running on hardware consisting of left-over bits of string, a couple of broken light bulbs, a small rock, a toaster oven, and a Rubik's Cube® with an ego problem. Ok, we're exaggerating a bit. However, one Linux system is running, powered by potatoes ( Another sub-miniature (matchbox size, see Web server runs a minimal Linux installation.

The truth of the matter is that Linux runs on Intel processors, 80386 or better, on the PowerPC architecture, and on Alpha chip boxes. Most of what anyone wants to do can be easily satisfied by a Pentium 200 or better, with 64MB of RAM. Many server tasks are easily handled by 486 machines. Linux works great on old and generic hardware.

Occasionally, problems crop up as users try to install Linux on machines that are a little closer to the bleeding edge. We've seen many e-mail and newsgroup postings similar to the following statement:

"I have a ZenoZoom UltraBlast 2001 video card; you know, the one with 4-D acceleration and 128MB of SuperV HyperRAM. I was able to get 2048 @@ts 1432 resolution and 32 gazillion colors when I used it on Windows 98. Now I finally got Linux to recognize the card, but I can only get 600 x 800 at 256 colors. How can I make Linux use my card right?"

This firmly illustrates Rule Number One for hardware: If you belong to the video-card- of-the-week club, then your Linux system probably won't take advantage of all its features. Fortunately, this doesn't extend to most other hardware. For example, while the processor churn and obsolescence rates are nearly as dramatic as that of video hardware, these CPU chips must have backward-compatibility and so changes in the processor affect Linux operations hardly at all (though faster processors are always nice).

Most books on Linux fill hundreds of pages with lists of hardware known to run on a given distribution. We avoid this approach for two reasons. First, by the time a book makes it into print, the lists are antiquated. Second, Linux is maturing at a rapid pace and device drivers are frequently updated for Linux as quickly as their Windows counterparts.

Linux is no different than other operating systems when it comes to hardware. Before installing any new operating system (or upgrading an existing hardware component), it's always a good idea to consult the hardware compatibility list on the site of your distribution's publisher. For Caldera, contains the links to specific versions of the current HCL (Hardware Compatibility List).

To assist you in determining the exact hardware you have installed, make use of the resources of your current operating system. For example, in the Windows Control Panel, the system utility allows you to query and identify most of your system's physical components. The information so gleaned is a good addition to the manuals that came with your PC and add-in hardware.

In the following pages, we're going to take a pass at each major sub-system, point out as many of the pros and cons as we can, provide pointers to the information you'll need for installation, and try to generalize some of the gotchas.


All Caldera OpenLinux products currently run on x86 processors, 386-compatible and better. Additionally, there is an OpenLinux version that runs on the Sparc64 architecture (found at There are other Linux distributions that run on Compaq Alpha processors and PowerPC chips, as well as the StrongARM and other RISC chips. There is an alpha release of the operating system (OS) from the Trillian Project for the new IA64 CPU from Intel, and a project to get a sub-set of Linux running on 286 chips. In short, the CPU is generally not an issue when installing Linux.


A good rule of thumb is the more RAM the better. That said, router/firewall applications have run happily on a 486 with 4MB of memory. If you want to run the X Window system, then 16MB is a bare minimum. Linux running with a few applications is usually very happy with 64 to 128MB, providing you're not running memory intensive application (for example, a large relational database). Under OpenLinux, the recommended minimum is 32MB.

Storage devices and space requirements

Disk drives are usually not a problem in this day and age. Every motherboard-based IDE controller we've come in contact with works as advertised. Common IDE and SCSI add-in controllers are usually supported, but like other hardware, driver development lags release of the hardware. Don't expect support for last month's controller, or perhaps even a six-month-old one, though often we have been pleasantly surprised with an early driver release.

Hard drives themselves are buffered from the system by the controller electronics, and are downward-compatibledownward compatible. That is, an "Ultra-ATA 66 7200 RPM" drive happily works attached to a controller that only offers a standard ATA-33 interface. Don't sweat the drives; check the controllers.

In terms of disk space requirements, these vary with the selected software packages and functions. Have a look at 'Software Decisions', later in this chapter for an estimate of needed storage space for the initial package installation options. On the other hand, if you are working with new hardware, then you probably won't have too much trouble finding 2GB of free drive space - the smallest desktop IDE hard drive we could find at a number of different online vendors was 6GB, with most falling in the 10GB-and-up range.

Partition Managers

Partition managers (PM), such as the special edition of Partition Magic that ships with the retail box version of Caldera's OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4, are wonderful pieces of software. Many times a PM can effectively resize a functional Windows partition, creating the space necessary for a Linux installation. Interestingly, all tools of this nature dramatically emphasize the absolute necessity for a good backup of your data prior to running the tool.

We advise that you should make and test a good backup, then wipe the hard drive down to bare metal and partition it yourself. Even if the partitioning tool appears to do its job correctly, there can always be problems down the road, as read-only files that were written in one place have been moved without the advice or consent of the parent program, leading to runtime errors.

Additionally, there are restrictions in the default sizes and selections that are available with the Caldera edition of Partition Magic that make us uncomfortable. For instance, the "Maximum" selection leaves only 100 MB of free space buffer in your Windows installation, without the opportunity to specify the size. Conversely, the full retail edition of Partition Magic has no such limitations.

Take advantage of this opportunity to freshen up your Windows installation if you plan to dual-boot the two operating systems. Back up your data and any downloaded programs, and repartition your drive yourself. See the beginning of Chapter 3 for more details on this process.

IDE/ATAPI CDROM drives are well supported. IDE CD-R/RW drives are installed by OpenLinux as normal CDROM devices, and must be specially configured to for use them as a CD-R (Compact Disc Recordable) device. SCSI CD/CD-R/CD-RW devices are supported if the controller is supported. Floppy drives have no noted problems, and can generally be used to store far more data than is available when formatting them under other operating systems. We have successfully formatted HD floppies to 1.722MB for use with Tomsrtbt (aka Tom's Root Boot, a rescue floppy system, at on several systems.

SCSI, IDE and floppy channel tape drives are generally supported, though finding the specific manufacturer and model on the HCL is a good move prior to making a purchase. Also well supported are, storage devices such as the Jazz and Zip drives from Iomega, and the Imation's LS-120 "Super Floppy" drives are well supported.


The safe money says, "Buy and use sound cards from Creative and Ensoniq." We have heard that recommendation too many times to discount it entirely. Additionally, sound drivers often do not take advantage of the features of the latest and greatest versions of sound cards. Voyetra/Turtle Beach cards are supported, as well as many other cards and built-into-the-motherboard sound systems based upon a variety of chips. Again, check the HCL for best results.


Video cards are perhaps the second most problematic bit of hardware in your system, after modems. Of course, this is less true this year than in the past. Linux installers, and Caldera's Lizard in particular, have paid careful attention to detail in the video card detection and setup arena. This is also predicted to get better in the near future as Xfree86 4.0, the most recent release of the open source graphical environment server software, is incorporated into new versions of the major distributions.

To restate our point above, video cards are perhaps the most frequently upgraded piece of hardware in today's PC. This is usually to take advantage of the latest and hottest games. Gaming under Linux is a small, but rapidly growing market segment, which has the ability to push video card driver development forward quite rapidly. Today, we can only recommend buying video cards that you can verify work with Linux. Don't buy something that was released last week - you'll likely be disappointed.


Caldera's installation routine often detects monitors and enters the correct specifications into the applicable fields automatically. When it doesn't, there are three pieces of information that are vital to know about your monitor: the horizontal and vertical scanning frequencies, and the maximum display resolution. This information is found in the specifications part of the manual that came with your monitor. Inquire of the manufacturer or reseller if you do not have this information.

Most tubes in this day and age are multi-sync devices, with no single, specified number. Instead, the required figures are given in a range, as shown in this excerpt from a fictitious monitor manual.

Resolution            1600 x 1200 maximum
Display Colors        Unlimited
Scanning Frequency    Horizontal: 30-86 KHz; Vertical: 40-150Hz

Provided that the installer recognizes and displays your monitor designation correctly, ensure that the correct frequency numbers have been entered. Trying to run some displays at rates for which they were not designed may damage the monitor. The frequencies may be shown as a list of discrete, comma-separated values (for example: 31.5, 43.6, 54.7), rather than a continuous range. Either type of information may be entered at the time of configuration.

Although it's unrelated to function, small dot-pitch and high vertical refresh rate monitors and video cards are generally easier on the eyes. In addition, if you do significant amounts of fine work on the computer (other than games, for instance), a bigger monitor is always better. Just as you can make your system peppier with more RAM, you can ease the computing experience for your eyes by upgrading your monitor to the biggest size that you can afford.


In a daring display of the old adage about exceptions proving the rule, here is the list of modems recognized and usable by OpenLinux 2.4.

1&1 Speedster 14400
AT&T 1428VQE Chipset
Aceex 1496
CompuTime RalleyCom 336
Creatix 14400
Creatix 144VFi PhoneMaster
Creatix LC 288 FC
Dago Speed 14400
Discovery 2400 AM
Dr. Neuhaus Cybermod V.34
Dr. Neuhaus FURY 14.4 TI
Dr. Neuhaus Smarty
Dynalink 9624AP
ELSA MicroLink ISDN/TLV.34
ELSA MicroLink ISDN/TLpro
ELSA Microlink 28.8 TQV
GVC V.34 (Rockwell Chipset)
Generic 14.4 Modem (Rockwell Chipset)
Generic 28.8 Modem (Rockwell Chipset)
Generic 56k Modem (Rockwell Chipset)
Generic ZyXEL
Generic modem
Hayes Accura 33.6
Hayes Optima 28.8
IDC 1914BXL 19.2 Fax modem
Intel 14.4E/400e
Intel High-Speed (14400) Internal
Kortex Adaptix 56000
Microcom DeskPorte Fast+
Motorola ModemSURFR 28.8 External
Multitech MT1432BA/MT1932ZDX/MT2834ZDX
Practical Peripherals PM14400FXMT
SupraFaxModem 288 V34
TKR Terbo Line
TKR TriStar
Telebit FastBlazer
Trust Communicator 28 K8
U.S. Robotics Courier 56k
U.S. Robotics Courier V.34 + V.FAST
U.S. Robotics Courier/Sportster V.34
U.S. Robotics Courier/Sportster V.34 Fax
U.S. Robotics Courier/Sportster V90
U.S. Robotics Courier/Sportster v32bis
U.S. Robotics Courier/Sportster v32bis
U.S. Robotics I-Modem
U.S. Robotics Sportster 33.6K External FAX
U.S. Robotics Sportster 33.6K External FAX/Voice
U.S. Robotics Sportster 33.6K Internal FAX
U.S. Robotics Sportster 56K External FAX
U.S. Robotics Sportster 56K Internal FAX
U.S. Robotics Sportster 56K
U.S. Robotics Sportster Message Plus
U.S. Robotics modem
XLink V.34 + V.FC
Xircom CreditCard Modem CM-56T (PCMCIA)
Yanco NetSpeed ESV33.6
Zoltrix 14400 faxmodem
Zoom MX/S
ZyXEL 1496E
ZyXEL 1496EG
ZyXEL 2864
ZyXEL 2864I

Big kudos to Caldera for being the first Linux distribution we've worked with to recognize that many systems have modems installed in them, and that these devices should be recognized and running by the time OS installation is complete. You can select from the preceding list (if your modem is on it) and get the connectivity ball rolling.

If your modem isn't listed, you may wonder what kind to buy. The best answer is to purchase an external modem because they have several advantages. They are connected to an external serial port, and are always bottom-line Hayes-compatible in their command sets. They have indicator LED's which make debugging bad connections much easier. Additionally, if the modem locks up, it can be power-cycled without rebooting your computer.

That said, the vast majority of modems that are shipped with (or built into) PCs today do not work with Linux. Sorry. A Web page that lists many, many modems, and whether they have been found to be operational under Linux is located at

The one type of modem that usually doesn't work with Linux is often referred to as a Winmodem. The technically correct term is a host-based modem, where the processing that was previously done by electronics on the modem has been transferred to the system CPU. This makes some kind of sense under Windows 9x, since there are plenty of spare CPU cycles in those single-tasking operating systems. Linux users generally regard this sort of compromise as silly, and the effort to support host-based modems under Linux appears to have gone offline at the time of this writing.


In addition to their excellent work with video cards, monitors, and modems, Caldera has pulled together some stellar support for printers. Listed in the file /usr/lib/coas/repository/printermodels, there are 277 distinct printer models that are supported by eDesktop, including recent models of inkjet printers from Canon that we haven't spotted in any other distribution. In all, printers (some just for one model, others covering entire product families) from the following manufacturers are supported:


Network interface cards

10BaseT and 10/100BaseT Ethernet ® Network Interface Cards (NICs) are generally supported. Unfortunately, there have been a variety of problems with NICs that have had the underlying chipset change without a corresponding modification to the card designation. The HCL should guide you in your choices here. We have personally had success with specific 3Com, DLink, LinkSys, and Kingston products.

Some possible configurations of Linux are multi-homed. This means that they have more than one NIC in the system. This setup allows Linux to provide firewall, routing, and Internet connection sharing services for the home or office, by having one card on the public network and another on the private, internal network.


There's good news and bad news when it comes to mice. Fortunately, the bad news is minor - in OpenLinux eServer 2.3, the installer has a bug in it when performing mouse selection. Take the default selection, even if you have a wheel mouse or some other device. You can modify the mouse specification using COAS or Webmin (GUI- and browser-based administration tools) after installation. If you're loading eDesktop 2.4, this flaw is no longer apparent and the mouse support appears to be rock-solid.

Now the good news. If the hardware is right - that is, a recent motherboard with an implementation of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) that's not buggy - then your USB mouse not only works after installation, but during the actual install! The USB patch is a feature that Caldera has added to their installation and running kernels starting with the 2.4 series.

A sidelight on wheel mice: the wheel works in some applications. Not all applications, and not always in the expected manner. Certainly the wheel functions well as a middle button. However, in a browser, instead of the scrolling feature that is available under Windows' applications, the middle button (wheel) is interpreted as "open selected link in new window." This is handy, but potentially startling behavior until you get used to it.

Software Decisions

Based upon an installation of OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4, there are seven distinct options in terms of package group selection:

Each is addressed below here, for the purposes of deciding on storage requirements. Additional information on these options is available in Chapter 3, Appendix B, and online at the Caldera Web site, There two general rules that we apply to this part of the decision-making process.

Rule 1: First, Assume that you are going to add more data and additional functionality at a faster rate than you have in the past. Let's suppose you started off two years ago with a Windows installation and 4GB of free space. In the intervening time, you have added programs and data that total another 2GB, leaving 2GB free. With the rate at which files like digital images and MP3 files accumulate, assume that you'll chew up another 2GB in the coming year, without even counting your Linux installation! You're out of space now, whether you knew it or not.

Rule 2: You should double any space requirements that you have determined by applying Rule 1. Hard drives are like garages - they fill up faster than anticipated.

All of the installation types discussed here are independent of any commercial packages that ship with the retail box versions of Caldera OpenLinux. The installations discussed in this chapter as well as Chapter 3 are based upon the non-commercial, freely downloadable version of OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4.

Minimum Installation

This setup requires only 220MB of space, but has minimum functionality. This It is an ideal core installation for setting up a server, or a space-constrained machine where adding packages/functionality is going to be a one-at-a-time process. You can also use this installation option to give yourself a working base operating system, and then add packages and functionality a little at a time.


Recommended installs all of the basic requirements for workstation and server use. You'll need 750 MB of hard disk space to perform this installation. The graphical user environment is installed (X Window system plus KDE), along with a variety of user and server packages.

All Packages

At 1,310 MB, this option installs (surprise) all the packages on the non-commercial install CD-ROM. The package selection includes software development tools for many different languages, graphic manipulation software, text processing utilities, all server programs, and much more. This is also disparagingly called a "kitchen-sink install" by Linux aficionados who are in favor of installing the tools you use and no more. We see that point of view, and gently suggest that until you know what you want to use, let the experimentation continue in the easiest possible manner, by having many a multitude of software packages installed and ready-at-hand.

Business Workstation

This 610 MB package selection offers the KDE environment, business productivity software, and Internet connectivity tools. This is a good basic install for someone who doesn't want to do any software development.

Development Workstation

At 910 MB of required space, Development Workstation installs most of the packages from Business Workstation, and adds the tools for editing and debugging software. Language development support includes C/C++, Fortran, Java, Perl, Python and Tcl/Tk.

Home Computer

So far as we can tell, Home Computer is a clone of Business Workstation, with games added in. It takes up 730 MB.


The Custom installation choice permits a user-selected subset of functionality to be installed, by editing a list of packages that you create on a diskette. The space requirements for this alternative vary with the selections made. This is usually only done for the purposes of making a repeatable installation set for corporate use. This option requires a floppy with the appropriate file containing the list of packages. See Chapter 3 for more details.

Our personal preference for getting to know Linux is to use the third option: All Packages. We have installed special purpose machines with subsets of the package selection (for servers and such), but for learning to love Linux, there's nothing like a large sandbox full of toys in which to play. For this purpose, we recommend no less than 2GB of free space for installing OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4.

Planning Your Installation

The best way to track changes and/or modifications to any operating system is to document your activities in a log book. Windows systems are perceived, rightly or otherwise, as being simple enough that logging system activity is unnecessary. We disagree with that statement, and strongly encourage that you keep a log book for every computer system for which you are solely responsible.

You can, of course, attempt to keep a log for a machine that is shared with, for instance, a teenager. Your efforts to debug the system errors that result from a disk full of MP3 files will result in great hilarity on the part of onlookers. You will quickly realize that someone had the brilliant idea of deleting all of the office applications and the contents of the /windows/system32 directory in order to make more space. Do not act on your first inclination at this time, as there are severe penalties that the law exacts for such behavior.

Look at Joe Average. He has a PC running dual boot Windows 98 SE and Linux at home, as well as a desktop computer running the corporate OS of choice in his cubicle in the Marketing department at VBCI (Very Big Company Indeed). At home, Joe's on his own, and a log book comes in handy for a variety of purposes - tracking hardware and software changes, as well as paying attention to items like warranty periods, system errors, and more. At work, a log book of problems, changes, and fixes makes accurately reporting bugs to the IT department a lot more reliable. When Joe makes an IT staffer's job easier with clear notes of system behavior, error messages and dialog boxes, his computer is fixed faster, every time.

When installing your Linux system, keep a log of the following items:

  1. On the first page (or on the front inside cover of the notebook), write down the system serial number, BIOS level, and any specific BIOS settings required. This is also a good place to note the name of the computer (if, like us, you name all your systems).
  2. Installed hardware, including any pertinent specifications.
  3. Connectivity information, whether it's Ethernet information for connecting to a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or cable modem, or the required information for dialup access. For example, IP address, Name Server IPs, gateway, and so on.
  4. Choices made during installation, dialog buttons, and fields filled in.
  5. Software and hardware added after installation.
  6. Text of error messages.

To add even more functionality to your system log, number the pages, then starting from the back of the book, create an index. Every time you make an important discovery or change something significant, add it to the index (date, page number, and a short one-line summary). It doesn't take long for a well-used log to fill over a hundred pages, and like any well used file system, over time things get hard to find. Using an index allows you to quickly locate, for example, the last edit to your httpd.conf file - quickly and without a lot of page scouring.

A dated, well-kept log book helps you when you call for support if you purchase a retail version of OpenLinux that comes with phone and e-mail support. Good records are also vital when utilizing the resources of local Linux user's groups, Usenet groups, and mailing lists. Preparation is important. Installation of a complex product like an operating system is a non-trivial exercise. While the Linux installers have made vast improvements over the last year or so, each user is an active participant in ensuring the success of the venture.

Here are two hypothetical situations involving the use of log books:

Bobette installs OpenLinux eServer 2.3 on a PC with 4GB of hard drive space, a 233MHz Pentium II processor and 32MB of RAM. She uses the Control Panel tools from her previous Windows system to gather as much information about her hardware as possible, and gets out the manuals for the various bits of her system. As the install progresses, questions about the hardware arise. She looks up the answers in the manuals that came with her hardware, and writes them in her log as she fills in the fields on-screen. Six weeks later, Bobette blows that installation away, having learned all she cares to about eServer. The ensuing installation of eDesktop 2.4 goes like a charm, since all of the information, mistakes, and side trips of the eServer installation were well documented, allowing a virtual cookie-cutter approach to the new version.

Bob installs OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4 on his desktop machine. He currently runs Windows 95, and probably wants a dual boot system, but he's not sure. Bob pitches most of the stuff he got with his system, including all the documentation, because he left it in the box by accident. In goes the eDesktop CD. An hour later, Bob realizes that he no longer has a working computer, because he selected entire disk without thinking, thus wiping out his Windows installation. He can't get the Linux GUI running because his old, special video card isn't listed, and he doesn't know how to fill in the blanks. So now he's logged in and presented with the prompt:

[bob@mybox bob] #

This prompt actually contains a wealth of information. The user called bob is logged into the system named mybox, the current directory is called bob (handy, since that's his "home" directory), and the # indicates that the system is prompting Bob for a command. This only helps if Bob knows something about the command line (see Chapters 16 through 18). One of our two friends is not a happy camper.

Make a plan, keep to it where possible, adapt (and document) as necessary, learn new things, and most important: HAVE FUN!


The goal of this chapter is to indoctrinate you into the culture of knowledge and the power over your computing environment that knowledge brings. Everything that you learn in the preparation and installation of Linux stands you in good stead for the future, since this OS requires a more focused approach than most. This chapter covered the following points:

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