Low End Linux

Linux Baby Steps

Dirk Pilat - 2002.05.07

Hi everyone!

Just to introduce myself. I'm Dirk. I normally write for the other side (as in Low End Mac), and I can probably be described as a technically inept but confident user of various microcomputers. Starting with a Sinclair ZX 81 in '82, I graduated to a Sinclair Spectrum, and after that to the amazing Sinclair QL.

Unfortunately, there was no more Sinclair after that (apart from the infamous C5, which was a electric tricycle and not a computer at all), so I had to shift brands: The only alternative to all those horrible Ataris (remember, these were the late eighties) and 286s (the initial abundance of brands was finished after five years with all the obscure brands like Genius, Enterprise, and Thompson gone) was, of course, the legendary Amiga, but again I chose a brand that was on the way out.

So in '93 it was finally time to convert to the Macintosh, and here I am, still using one - only that it's a Linux box now, as Apple has joined the Open Source software revolution and based it's OS X on FreeBSD. And here's the snag: To really understand what's happening inside my Mac now that it's running Unix, I thought I'd get an old stinking PC and convert it into, well, a Linux box. This coincided with the acquisition of an Alcatel USB Speed Touch Modem, and I thought I would be able to set-up the PC/Linux Box (let's call him Stinker, as apparently every computer has to have a name) to be used for what a Linux computer can do best: Work as a ip-router, firewall, and Web server.

As I promised my girlfriend (who at this present moment lives 18000 km away, but still...) to give her at least visual access to my life with a webcam, Stinker would be able to do all this for me (it is quite hard to use and carry an iBook around when you always have a webcam attached to it, although I am sure that this is probably what the best girlfriend of them all initially had in mind).

Anyway, knowing nothing about Linux, I checked out the various evangelist sites to make my mind up about which dialect I wanted, and through the magical powers of subliminal messaging decided to go for a CD version of Slackware (seriously, I chose Slackware because it is supposed to be the best backwards compatible installation).

While I was waiting for my CDs to arrive, I tried to get to grips with a command line interface and tried to learn as much about Linux as I could, which is quite a daunting task, as the amount of online support is amazing. I doubt that there's so much stuff out there for the good old Macintosh (on the other hand, you don't really need it for the Mac, as everything is quite intuitive on Apple machines).

The one outstanding site is certainly www.tldp.org, and especially the install-guide-3.2.pdf was an amazing source of information, as it's authors, Matt Welsh and Phil Hughes, gave you a thorough introduction in the history of this OS and assumed that you didn't know anything about Unix and its commands. The other guides, even Slackware's own manual, are more for people who know what they're doing, and that's certainly not me.

So while I was still waiting for my new OS to arrive on New Zealand's South Island, I installed an amazing little distro called BasicLinux on Stinker, who in this stage was still full of Microsoft products. But as BasicLinux was happy to sit on a DOS partition (the kernel itself boots into a 4 MB RAM disk, making any partitioning of the hard drive unnecessary) there was no tweaking of the hard drive necessary.

With BasicLinux running and Welsh and Hughes's Guide, I was able to slowly to grasp the basics of Linux. Odd concepts like /dev/null had to be grappled with, strange point-and-click-less file handling had to be learned (mv? ln? more? cat? and again /dev/null?), and after a while I was at last able to create a file, move it around, and edit it.

I was now ready for the big day and waited eagerly for the postman to finally deliver my new OS to complete the metamorphosis into a full-blown megageek.

Tomorrow more... LEPC

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