The Road to Installation: Part II

Last issue in this space, I provided an overview on installing Linux. I wrote about system requirements, disk partitions, and most importantly, backing up your hard drive. In this column, I will take you through a detailed, step-by-step installation process.

Last issue in this space, I provided
an overview on installing Linux. I wrote about system requirements, disk
partitions, and most importantly, backing up your hard drive. In this column, I
will take you through a detailed, step-by-step installation process.

Once you have backed up your hard drive, the first step to installing Linux
is making a boot disk. Some distributions of Linux come with a boot disk already,
so if the distribution you have comes with one, you can skip the next section.

The Boot Disk

You probably know that the process of starting up a computer is called
“booting”. Most computers are configured to look for boot data on the floppy
drive (drive “A”) first and then the hard drive (drive “C”). This is so that you
can override your hard drive when starting up your computer. If your computer is
not configured this way, you will have to enter your BIOS setup to change the
“Boot Sequence.”

The point of this is that you want
to start your computer with a Linux “boot” disk, and not from the hard drive.
This will allow the PC to start up and run the special programs on the Linux
installation CD that came with your distribution. You’ll need a working PC
running some version of Microsoft Windows (or DOS) to do this. I’ll assume you’re
running Windows.

To create the boot disk, insert a blank floppy into the floppy drive, and
insert the installation CD into the CD ROM drive. Using Windows Explorer, you
should see the following:

Newbies Screenshot 1

Now click your mouse on the Windows “Start” button and select “Run…”. In
the window that comes up, type the below command (from Figure 2)

f:\dosutils\rawrite -f>
f:/images/boot.img -d a:

If your CD ROM is not drive F or your floppy is not drive A then substitute

Newbies Screenshot 2
Newbies Screenshot 3

This will automatically bring up another window (see Figure 3).

Press the return key and wait. After some moments, this command will complete
and you should have a bootable floppy disk.

The Installation

At this point, the installation is almost automatic. You’ll be presented with
a number of dialog boxes, some of which will ask you for information. Note that
your mouse will not be working, so you’ll have to navigate around the choices
presented to you with the arrow keys and the tab key. When you’ve made your
selection you can press the “enter” key to select the choice currently
highlighted. In most of these dialog boxes, the “default” answer is already
highlighted and is usually correct, so you’ll simply press “enter” to go to the
next screen.

One important thing to remember is: don’t be afraid. There isn’t a lot that
you can do wrong. You’ve already backed up the important data on your computer,
so that’s safe, and if you make a mistake in the installation you can always
start it over.

I can’t give you the exact sequence of screens that you’ll see during the
installation, since the order depends in part on what’s in your system, but this
list should be close.

Let’s begin: Insert the boot floppy into the floppy drive, the Linux CD (#1
if you have a set) into the CD ROM drive, and reset your computer. The first
screen welcomes you to the installation. Press “enter” to begin. If you wait too
long then the installation will begin anyway. The sequence of screens that come
next should be something like this:

Welcome: this screen suggests that you read the manual if you have
one. Press “enter”.

Choose a Language: (default is English). Select your language and
press “enter”.

Keyboard Type: (default is “US”) if your language is “English” then
chances are your keyboard is “US”. Press “enter”.

Installation Method:(default is “Local CD ROM”) if you’re installing
from a CD ROM. Press “enter”. A note will ask you to insert your CD. If you
haven’t already, do so and press “enter”.

Installation Path: select “install” (default) and press “enter”.

Installation Class: select “Custom” (default) and press “enter”.

SCSI Configuration: if you have SCSI adapters then select “yes”,
otherwise select “no”. If you’re not sure, refer to the inventory we walked
through last time. Press enter.

Disk Setup: here you can select “Disk Druid” or “fdisk”. These
utilities will allow you to partition your disks and set their “mount points” (as
we discussed last month). Disk Druid may not work for you, but it is easier to
use. If you can’t set up your disks the way you want to then the next screen will
let you come “back” to this one so you can use fdisk.

Disk Druid: take your time and study this screen for a moment. The
screen has two sections. If your disk has any partitions, these will be listed in
the top section. You edit existing partitions by selecting the “Edit” box (or by
pressing F3). The bottom section lists the actual hard drives, whether or not
there are partitions on them. You add a new partition by selecting the “Add” box
(or by pressing F1). You can also delete a partition by selecting the “Delete”
box (or by pressing the F4 key).

Besides partitioning your disks, Disk Druid lets you set the partition “mount
points” (we referred to these as “partition names” last month, like root,/usr,/home). Remember that you need at least two
partitions — swap and root. Set the mount points with “Edit” or select the
partition and press “enter”. Either way, you’ll get a box that lets you type in
the mount point.

No mount point is set for the “swap” partition. For all others, however,
mount points are necessary. All mount points must start with / (/home,/usr). The mount point for
the root partition is simply /. If you don’t set a mount
point for a partition, it won’t be used by Linux.

When you’re done setting all of your partitions and their mount points, then
select the “OK” box and press enter.

Active Swap Space: this screen will show you the partitions that you
selected to use as swap space. You should check the “check for bad blocks” box,
then tab to the “OK” button and press enter.

Partitions to Format:this screen will show you the other partitions
and their mount points. You should check the “format” and “check bad blocks”
boxes, then tab to “OK” and press enter.


Now is your opportunity to select the optional software you wish to install.
A number of the features that come with Linux are optional and only need to be
installed if you intend to use them. For example, Red Hat comes with all of the
tools and packages that a serious professional would need to develop new
software. If you don’t intend to use those things then you simply choose not to
install them.

You will be presented with a dialog box with all of the packages listed in a
scrolling window. The installer has already pre-selected a reasonable set of
packages (those marked with a *). To select or deselect
a package, just scroll to it and press the space bar. “Printer Support” is not
selected by default, so if you have a printer, I suggest you select it.

I suggest that you do not select the last entry named
“Everything”. There’s no real negative effect except that the installation will
take longer and will use a lot more disk space. Note also that if you choose more
packages than you have room for on your disk, you won’t know until the
installation runs out of space. At that point all you can do is start over and
select fewer packages the second time. Also, do not select the checkbox “Select
Individual Packages”. Keep in mind that you can add and remove packages from your
Linux system after it’s been installed, so you don’t have to worry too much about
these now.

Once you’ve selected the packages to install, tab your way to the “OK” button
and press enter. An information box will come up telling you about the
installation “log”. Press enter to continue.

Linux will now install all the packages you’ve selected. Depending on your
system and what you’ve selected this may take awhile.

The X Window System

Nowadays, most people expect to see a graphical user interface (GUI) when
they interact with a computer. Microsoft Windows is one example of such an
interface, but it is not the only one. Linux provides an excellent GUI, the X
Windows System, or just X. The version that is provided with Linux is called

I won’t discuss just yet what X really is, why you want it, how to use it, or
how to customize it so it looks and acts the way you want it to. That’s the
subject for another column. It is definitely something you want installed,
though, and we’ve come to the part of the installation where X must have some
information about your system. You can refer again to the inventory we compiled
last time.

Choose a Card: here you identify the kind of graphics card you have.
Select your graphics card if you see it listed, otherwise select “Generic VGA”. If you have to select “Generic”, you
may be able to download a newer driver for your exact card after your system is
installed. There’s also an “Unlisted card” option which lets you input data about
your card directly. If you consider yourself a novice then I’d suggest you avoid
this choice for now. Once you’ve selected a card then press “enter” and X will

Probing Result: Linux tries to detect whether you have a mouse
attached to your system. If it finds one, that will be shown here. Press

Configure Mouse: select the type of mouse that you have. If you don’t
see your mouse listed then try one of the “Generic” entries which corresponds
with the type of mouse you have — serial, bus, or PS2 mouse. If your mouse has
only two buttons, then check the box which says “Emulate 3 buttons”. Press

Monitor Setup: if you can find your monitor in this list then select
it. If you can’t find your monitor, try one of the “Generic” types. Press

Probe Hardware: the system now has some idea of what kind of hardware
you have and can “probe” it to determine its characteristics. If you select
“Don’t Probe”, you will have to enter the data manually. Try to let the system
“Probe”. The screen may flash several times — do not be alarmed,
this is normal. If the screen remains blank for more than a minute then there may
be a problem and you’ll have to try again and select “Don’t Probe”.

Finishing the Installation

The packages are now installed and X is configured.

Network Configuration: if you allowed the default packages to be
installed then you’ll be asked now if you want to configure the network (“LAN”).
Tab to “No” and press enter.

Configure Timezones: select the time zone that you’re in and press

Services: this window asks “what services should be automatically
started”. The default values are fine, so just press enter.

Configure Printer: if you selected the “Printer support” package then
you’ll be given a chance now to configure your printer. If you have a printer
then select “yes”.

Printer Connection: if your printer is connected directly to this
computer then select “local” connection.

Standard Printer Options: accept the defaults by pressing

Local Printer Device: the screen shows the ports available and asks
which port the printer is connected to. If the printer is connected to “LPT1″
then make sure /dev/lp0 is selected for the connection.
This is explained in the onscreen text.

Configure Printer: select your printer type from the list.

Printer Specific Setup: this will depend on your printer. Look over
the defaults, they should be OK.

Verify Printer Configuration: if anything looks wrong select “back”,
otherwise select “OK”.

Root Password: this screen asks you to enter a “Root password”. I’ll
explain what this is and why it’s important another time. Think of a password
that you won’t forget and enter it.

Note that the password, which must be at least six characters long, is not
echoed. Since you can’t see what you’re typing you have to enter the password
twice to make sure that you haven’t made a mistake.

Boot Disk: you’ll be asked next if you want to “create a boot disk”.
It’s a good idea to have an emergency disk, so go ahead and select “yes”. You’ll
need a blank floppy for this.

LILO Installation: when your computer first starts up, a program –
LILO — lets you choose which operating system you want. When you are asked where
you want to install LILO, select the “Master Boot Record”.

LILO Installation: you are asked if there are any special options you
want to enter. Select “OK” and press “enter”.I’m assuming that you run only
Linux. Dual booting Linux and another OS is a topic for another column.

Done: congratulations…you’ve reached the end. Remove the boot disk
from the floppy drive and the CD from the CD ROM drive and press enter. Your
system will reboot.


When your computer re-starts you’ll see a lilo:
prompt. If you do nothing or press enter, Linux will start up.

You’ll see some incomprehensible text on the screen as the computer starts.
Much of that is Linux automatically sensing hardware in the computer. Eventually
the screen will clear and you’ll see the prompt Login:.
Type root, press enter, and then enter the password that
you chose during installation (again, there’s no echo when you type the

Now you need to know how to shut down your Linux system. Turning off the
power without properly shutting down your system can easily corrupt the data on
your hard drive. So, after you’ve logged in as “root”, type in the command shutdown -h now.You’ll once again see a lot of
incomprehensible text. When you see the lines:

The system is halted

System halted

now it’s safe to shut off the machine.

You now have a fully functioning Linux system. What can you do with it? We’ll
deal with that next month.

Hal Moroff has been developing UNIX systems and appliances for 20+ years. He can
be reached at halm@ieee.org.

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