"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more lovable!"

A Philosophy for Change from DOS to Linux

By R. Frank Louden flouden@netusa1.net

Unavoidable Confusion

On the surface, changing from a MS DOS/MS Windows user to a Linux user is not such a major change. After all, to change directories in Linux, you use the ``cd'' command and that is the same as DOS. Linux provides X windows as a GUI and there are a number of similarities with MS Windows.

So maybe all that is necessary is to learn a few different commands and you are off and running. Well, right and wrong.

You might find yourself in the situation I was in when I first decided to install Linux. I had never had any experience with Unix or Linux or much of anything else outside of the realm of Microsoft.

The Intel/Microsoft consortium had given me a false sense of command over my PC. I had no idea of the ``behind the scenes'' activity that went on when DOS booted and Windows came up with it's attractive colors and cute little icons. I began to learn a bit when I tried to setup some software that wasn't MS applications. At work I learned that it was necessary to occasionally contact an equipment manufacturer to get the appropriate drivers for MS Windows. But all-in-all I was successful in almost every attempt. Little did I know...

Fools Rush IN...

As you may have deduced, I work with computers and less obvious (but it'll get even less obvious as we go along, I'm sure!) I have some schooling in the computer field. So it won't be too surprising to find that I was beginning to feel somewhat stifled by the MS environment. I knew there were more colors, more sounds, more ways of doing things than I saw on the shelf (at a rather high $$ amount, I might add) in my local computer store and in the pages of my favorite computer magazines.

One day, a friend mentioned Linux to me. She was quite an Internet fan. She spent hours in IRC channels and had heard about some of the Unix applications from the I-net dinosaurs (Unix users). So one day, while browsing through the computer books shelves at my favorite bookseller's, I noticed a copy of ``Linux Unleashed'' published by Sam's Publishing. I bought it thinking I'd just see what all the fuss was about.

Time Wounds All Heels

I couldn't wait. When I opened the pages and began reading I was intrigued. The complexity and yet the continuous assurances that it *could* be done had me all fired up to try out this ``experimental'' OS.

Lucky me! A CD was glued inside the back cover of the book. My problem was, all I owned was a 386SX with 2 MB of memory and a 65 MB hard-drive. Not enough! So I bought a new PC.

I ordered a Micron with 16 MB of memory and a 1.6 GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive. A heck of a lot of machine to my way of thinking! When it arrived, it came pre-loaded with MS Win95 (doesn't everything?)

I decided to use FIPS to do a ``non-destructive'' repartition of my new hard-drive. Well, it worked but the problem is the FIPS program took every bit of empty space on the drive, I couldn't write a single file in Win95 and I wasn't ready to completely forsake my old OS. So, having already made a backup (yeah, right!) I did a complete reformat of my C drive. I split the drive into 4 logical partitions and saved one of them for Linux exclusively.

Even for someone with a fair amount of PC experience, there is room for mistakes, doing what I was doing, and I made 'em. One thing I didn't do (I didn't know about this at the time) was to also create a small partition to use as Linux swap space. I did this a couple of months later when I re-installed to upgrade to Slackware 3.1.

So here is a warning...

Take your time and learn about that machine and the wondrous things it is capable of doing for you. If later (and probably MUCH later) you find it is boring doing the Microsoft Word cut-and-paste shuffle, and Doom starts putting you to sleep, and you've invested in a class or two in Computer Science at your local community college, Linux might be just the thing.

A Coincidence?

While I was typing away on this article, the phone rang. It was my friend Ben and he had just hooked up his brand new P166 last evening. First thing he said was, ``I got this new computer last night and I need help before I throw it out the window.'' I got up and drove over to his place. (Coldest day of the year so far! Brrrrr!) I looked at his machine. Pre-loaded with Win95 (aren't they all?) He didn't know what to do once the system booted and displayed the new GUI. I showed him a couple of things and then told him not to install Linux. He's definitely not ready!

Who Is Ready?

None of us who are migrating from MS dominance. It's that simple. But don't let that discourage you. If you know a bit more about PCs than the occasional, at work, or gaming user and if you are as fascinated by computing concepts and advances (Java, SMP, Graphics rendering, etc.) as I am. If you LIKE to program or if you want to set up as an ISP, then Linux is for you. And be prepared, Linux is a whole different animal!

Time Heals All Wounds

Learning takes time and in time you will learn. I started with Linux in March of 1996. In the last ten months, I have installed Linux (Slackware at home and Debian at work) about eight times. I have learned something every day. I will say that while Linux is priced right, I have spent more on books in the last ten months than I had in the last 5 years.

Here are some of the things I have accomplished...

I have setup...

I am learning... And there are many, many other places to go.

Let me say that ``setup'' is not truly the best word to use. In many instances the setups I mentioned above required only that I tweak a configuration file or adjust a Makefile. In some instances the program refused to work and I had to read and study and yes, I had to ask a couple of questions from the newsgroups too.

Out of the box, my printer didn't function so I had to read the Printing HOWTO. Of course, it might have worked but how would I know since I didn't have any idea about how lpr was used to queue up a print job. Then I needed to get a SLIP or PPP connection functioning so I could ask those questions on the newsgroups. I had been taught some Ada when in school and when I saw GNAT was available, I wanted to have it so I might refresh my skills there. I had to wait for InfoMagic's September ``Linux Developer's Resource'' before I was able to get a GNAT installed that would compile anything.

Just last week I got Pov-Ray up and running and I have been enthusiastic about ray-traced images since I first saw a ringed planet scene created with it. But I had to wait...and tinker...and wait...and read...and make mistakes...and start all over again. There are times when, like my friend Ben, I feel like throwing the PC out the window and I have learned to move on to something else. And whenever I move on, I learn more.

Linux Yes!

So I am sold! I have not as yet taken the MS partitions off of my machine but 95% of the time I am working within the Linux environment. Although sometimes my frustrations run high, I can honestly say that I have not had as much fun with a computer since I first started my Pascal classes back a few years ago.

So here I am, somewhere between a novice and a guru, lost in the Linux OS Wonderland. I'm having a great time...why don't you join me?

Copyright © 1997, R. Frank Louden
Published in Issue 14 of the Linux Gazette