Aktivix:AktiviX II Getting Linux

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Getting Linux

A distribution of Linux is a set of Linux and software which is aimed at different types of users - whether beginners, experts or for specialized purposes (e.g internet server). Below is a list of some of the more popular distributions. A good place to compare the various distributions is DistroWatch and Linux.org. After having a look at the various distribution websites, chances are you'll still have no idea which distro to go for. The best thing to do is to ask the person you're most likely to turn to for Linux advice - they'll probably have their own preferences and advice to give. If someone is setting it all up for you then it's probably best to let them decide.

So once you've decided - whether by flipping a coin or hours of exhaustive research, where do you get the Installation CDs? If you have a fast internet connection and a CD burner then you can download the 'iso's (images to make your own CDs from) from the distributons' websites or from LinuxIso.org, otherwise you can get them for just a few pounds (generally less than £10) from Linux Emporium. If you want a nice shiny shrink-wrapped box and an installation manual you'll have to pay extra (although the manuals are usually included on download CDs so you can read them through before you start).

  • Mandrake is an impressive distribution which is very easy to install, and is easy to maintain. It has excellent support on the (Mandrake website and MandrakeUsers. We recommend this because of ease of installation, ease of maintenance and the fact that Mandrake provide free and very regular updates for software. This is what we're using at Seeds for Change.
  • Debian - In one way Debian is definately the most interesting distribution because it is completely 'Free' (as in free-speech, free-code) - no companies are behind this distribution, and it is completely run by volunteers. However it is almost one of the most difficult to install and maintain. If you really want to use Debian I'd advise you to start with an easier Distro, and then try out Debian when you're more confident.
  • BLAG - is made by activists for activists. It is based on (and 100% compatible with) RedHat/Fedora, and runs really well on older hardware.
  • Vector isn't as easy to install and maintain as Mandrake, but we've mentioned it here because they're full distributions that are fast and fit on less than 400Mb of Hard Disk space - excellent for older PCs that aren't too happy with heavier distros.
  • Linux Terminal Server Project - This is a distribution for those wanting to set up a network using one decent computer and lots of old computers working as X-terminals. Originally developed for schools, but can be used anywhere, and easy to install. (see Networking for more details).
  • Mandrake, Yellow Dog and Debian all do versions for Apple Mac hardware. Everything's the same, it's just been adjusted to work on an iMac or anything newer. (Older Macs like Classics, LCIIs etc sort of work, but are still difficult to install)


Running Linux from a CD-Rom

Perhaps the best way to try out Linux is to run it from the CD-Rom. There are versions of Linux (see list below) that you put into the CD drive of your computer and switch it on. Two minutes later you have Linux. It won't touch what you have on your hard disk (unless you tell it to...) because it's running only in memory (RAM). Because of this it is safe and hassle-free to use. It will generally run more slowly than if you had it installed properly on your hard disk - the more memory you have the smoother it will run.

Running Linux from the CD-Rom is also a great way to test and get details of your hardware or to temporarily change a MS-Windows computer to Linux (e.g. for a workshop).

We recommend the following if you want to try out Linux on a CD-Rom

  • Knoppix - we can't tell you how impressed we are with this - Knoppix has an amazing amount of up to date programes (2Gb on a normal CD!)- we love it! Worked incredibly well and fast on newer machines, but some older machines didn't like it so much... nevertheless highly recommended if you have 96Mb or more RAM.

Knoppix has become so popular that there are dozens of adaptations and variants for different purposes. One of these is Damn Small Linux:

  • Damn Small Linux runs on older machines (reportedly as old as 486s), and does much the same as Knoppix - but with lighter and simpler software. This means it doesn't look as cool, but it does run well and fast. Use this if Knoppix is too big.