December 22, 2004

Site review:

Author: Tina Gasperson

If it's your first time with Linux, you want it to be with someone who is gentle, someone who really cares about you. Yet, the gruffness of a good number of Linux pros is enough to scare off all but the most ardent Linux pursuers. Maybe that's Linux's way of ensuring survival of the fittest. Not everyone who's experienced with Linux is rough and rude, though. Michael Davis knows what it's like to be a Linux virgin who needs to be treated with tenderness. With that in mind, Davis created, a gentle guide for first-time Linux users.Throughout the site, Davis recalls his own experiences with installing and configuring Red Hat Linux. Davis admits that until recently he worked exclusively on Windows systems as a Web site programmer and designer. He says he's always been "intrigued by Linux and irritated by Windows," and that, once he tried it, he found Linux much easier to use than he had expected.

Davis goes on to offer some of the reasons he believes you should try Linux -- namely, because it is cheap, robust, flexible, and secure. He's quick to add that with all the pros comes the con of complexity. "If Windows is a screwdriver, then Linux is a Swiss army knife by comparison."

Then Davis takes the visitor on a journey from installation of Linux, to the first Linux boot, using Linux, problem-solving, and answers to the average user's most pressing networking questions.

First things first, Davis runs down the hardware requirements -- because, yes, there are hardware requirements for running Linux. They're not as bulky as the requirements for running the latest Windows software, but they are requirements, if you want a system that doesn't resemble the green-screen dinosaurs from the late '80s. He recommends a minimum of 128MB of RAM and no less than 3 or 4 gigs of hard drive space. I'd say 10 gigs, but maybe Davis doesn't like to do multimedia.

Davis introduces readers to various installation scenarios, including having Windows already installed and claiming all the hard drive space, resizing partitions, and installing Linux on a blank hard drive. He doesn't go into much detail here, assuming I suppose that anyone attempting to install Linux probably already knows how to use a program that resizes partitions, and how to set the BIOS to boot from the CD drive.

After the preliminaries, Davis starts getting specific about the actual installation, with step-by-step numbered instructions about how to proceed and what choices are best to make, including firewall, account, and boot loader configuration, as well as package group selection and X configuration.

Once the installation is complete, Davis details the excitement of the first boot, including screenshots of the GRUB and login screens. Then he explains the desktop, including similarities and difference between Linux and Windows.

Davis' networking section briefly explains how to connect a Linux system to a Windows SMB network using Samba. Davis calls it "just enough to get you started and whet your appetite to learn more."

Davis also has a very small section that resembles an FAQ, called Solving Common Linux Problems. This could be a very good resource, but it's just OK right now, as there are only five questions answered. Anyone who's installed Linux in the last couple of years knows that once you've been messing around with it for a few weeks, you're going to have more than five questions.

The problems presented are good, though. "My sound doesn't work," "I can't access my Windows partition data," "I can't access my Iomega drive," "How do I make my numlock key come on automatically?" Davis' answers are clear and straightforward.


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