2001.10.13.1543 - OK, I promised, now here it is, all on one page, the Linux Workstation Edition of my 2001 Install-O-Rama. I suppose this means that I might start doing the server stuff pretty soon, don't you? Herein find installation impressions and whatever else I felt like noting from the following distributions:
The testbed for the Install-O-Rama is the machine formerly known as Grendel, the Gateway PII-233, with a 20G Maxtor drive, 128M of RAM, CD, Floppy, and Colorado T-1000 Travan drive. The NIC is a Kensington card with a DEC chip. The video card is variously a Riva TNT, or a 3DFx Voodoo 3. I've swapped back and forth with those cards as I experimented with various features. The monitor is a Gateway EV-900. A Logitech iTouch keyboard and MS Explorer Optical mouse, routed through a Belkin OmniCube 2-Port KVM switch complete the hardware.
As a download or set of "Official" CDs, Debian (http://www.debian.org) is three discs of binaries. If you were to pull a complete Debian mirror from the web (stable, testing and unstable trees, source and binary), you'd have used over eight gigabytes of space. Not much these days, but nothing you'd do over a dialup line. Debian is known as the most conservative of the distributions under active development. This is evidenced by the continuing use of 2.2.19pre17 as the primary kernel, albeit with some important features like USB support and ReiserFS backported. On the other hand, the Debian is right on top of any security issues. Debian's package system is in a format different from RPM or TGZ, with what is arguably the best package dependency handling features, and my personal favorite tool in the Linux arena: Apt. Install virtually any version of Debian, point the /etc/apt/sources.list file at one of the mirrors and a specific development tree, then type
apt-get update ; apt-get dist-updatedist-upgrade, answer a few questions from the installation scripts, and you've updated to the latest and greatest, as close to the bleeding edge as you desire.
Disk 1 of the Debian CD set is bootable. Debian has the most complete (a polite way of saying long) installation process, and user-handholding is not close to the highest priority with this installer. Some people have said the installer is actively user-hostile. I suppose that can be regarded as true, if you don't know your system, your hardware, or your goals for your system. Debian is not a beginner's Linux - It threw me a couple of curves the first time I installed it. The entire installation is done using text-based menus reminiscient of the old Turbo-C/Turbo-Pascal interface. Here in Linux, this is (and is known as) an ncurses-based interface, so called because ncurses is the library used to create a row/column addressable text screen interface.
There are LOTS of questions that need to be answered, steps to be done in this order and not that. It's not quite as daunting as it sounds, because the installer keeps track of where you are, and prompts you with the next step, almost every time. Here are the steps/screens for installing Debian, in overview:
- Select Keyboard Layout
- Partitioning: First Swap, then root ('/') then any other partitions, using cfdisk if you need to actively re-partition the selected drive.
- Install the OS and Drivers (found from CDROM)
- Configure the drivers: If you don't know your hardware, then turn around and pick another distro - this step is the stumbling block most of the time. All the drivers are loadable kernel modules that you must select in order to make your system work properly. The major driver sections are: external, block, cdrom, filesystem, IPv4, IPv6, misc, net, scsi, usb, and video. For this exercise, I installed the smbfs (MS networking) and VFAT (MS disk partition) modules, parallel port and ftape (for the Colorado) drivers, the tulip.o NIC driver, and I was done. Other hardware requires other drivers. Once you've successfully installed any Linux, take note of the /etc/modules hierarchy, and you'll know for the future which are needed.
- Network Configuration: host and domain name, DHCP or Static config available.
- Base System Installation: From CDROM - enough software to make a bootable minimal Debian system - 72 Megs installed.
- Timezone and RTC settings.
- Bootloader selection and location: LILO in the MBR for me!
- Rescue boot floppy creation: Yup.
- Reboot. Why reboot? Because Debian installs by initializing a RAMdisk, mounting the HD partitions in the directory structure of the RAMdisk, and installing the software neccessary to make a bootable upgradeable Debian system on the hard disk. The reboot starts the system properly. Most (but not all) Linux installers end with a reboot step. When the system comes back up, it's in a run-once installer script to complete the system configuration with the following steps.
- Use MD5 passwords? Yep, MD5 hashes are much stronger than legacy crypt passwords.
- Use Shadow passwords? Keep the passwords proper in a file separate from the rest of the user data with reduced permissions - Yes!
- Enter Root password (twice).
- Create user account. Name, Real Name, and password (twice).
- Add sources for software packages - All three CDR registered, plus online sources if available through your network or dialup connection.
- Simple or Advanced package selection. Most people pick Simple, so do I. Advanced uses a program called dselect which is very, very powerful, and akin to flaying off your skin with a belt sander, then rolling in a lake of brine. Your call... I chose several common package groups - X, C and C++ Development, an assortment of window managers and GNOME stuff. Then the install of software begins. As the process proceeds, scripts run that ask questions about configuration of the software in question.
- anXious, an X configuration tool: asks all the questions necessary to properly configure the X Window software to run. Auto detects most common video cards (but not the latest, hottest newest ones), and asks questions about fonts, terminal applications, selections of window managers, use of XDM (graphical login), mouse, keyboard (yes, again, for GUI use), Monitor synch data and so on.
- Other packages that you might encounter depending on your selections include Exim, the MTA that Debian uses in place of sendmail; Samba, the userland binaries for presenting Windows networking interface to the outer world; SSH and more.
When all the dust settles, I have a system that boots to a graphical login manager, and by default starts me off in WindowMaker, a capable and popular window manager. There are many other choices. My fully loaded system is ready to go, at a not-very hefty 400M - there's lots of room to grow.
From another machine, I run nmap:
bilbrey@garcia:~$ nmap 192.168.1.3
Starting nmap V. 2.54BETA28 ( www.insecure.org/nmap/ )
Interesting ports on (192.168.1.3):
(The 1540 ports scanned but not shown below are in state: closed)
Port State Service
9/tcp open discard
13/tcp open daytime
22/tcp open ssh
25/tcp open smtp
37/tcp open time
111/tcp open sunrpc
139/tcp open netbios-ssn
6000/tcp open X11
Nmap run completed -- 1 IP address (1 host up) scanned in 6 seconds
Now SSH, smtp, and netbios-ssn (ports 22, 25, and 139 respectively) I know are supposed to be there - I set those up during the install... For the others, I'll want to disable them, or at least ensure that they're secured and not a vulnerability. For example, sunrpc is the portmap program running, to service remote program requests. I don't need it, so I stop it, then remove the startup script from that directory so it won't start on reboot. If I were wanting to run NFS, then I'd want it back, so I am not just removing the package entirely. I go through this process to remove the services that I don't want running, or configure them so that they don't offer external connections (like X11 on port 6000). Yes it's manual, and it's a lot like work, but in the end, I understand the system, what's running, and what I need to monitor and protect. As more worms and virii circulate around the net, vigilance and knowing your system and it's software are keys to maintaining effective security.
Yeah, I like Debian a lot, but until it's installed, it isn't for Aunt Minnie, for sure. But it installs properly, and all the bits that are configured work the first time through. High marks for that. After you've done the ease of use thing with Linux, if you want to get deeper, get Debian.
SuSE (http://www.susue.com) is the most popular commercial Linux distribution in Europe, according to most reports. It's a capable package, with LOTS and LOTS of documentation and discs - 4 books, 7 CDs and one DVD. I've installed SuSE in one version prior to this one, and the current revision on the retail set is 7.2 at this writing, and they tout support for Oracle databases on their website. Their available download sets are something called Live Eval, which to the best description of the people in the SuSE booth at LWCE, is for trying out Linux from a Windows platform. I don't have that option here, which is why I am using the version I have...
The installer is GUI-based, and effectively guides you through the following steps:
- Select language (for presentation during installation).
- Choose Keyboard and set timezone data.
- Select new vs. update installation.
- Partitioning: Either whole disk (SuSE takes over), or Custom. It's a GUI partitioning tools that functions well enough, and the advanced options with 7.1 include offering the journalling filesystem ReiserFS. Easy to use. Like all of the GUI partitioning tools, you only commit your changes at the end, so can back out without losing anything if you suddenly remember you need to backup your saved games from that Windows partition you're about to hose.
- Software Installation selection: comes in three grains - at the top level, you can specify internet or intranet server, or workstation. Then software package groups can be selected, like X, C development, Gnome, KDE and so on. Finally, you can select down at the RPM package level, choosing whether or not to install kmahjongg or not. That last step encompasses thousands of packages, so I avoided it. I pick through at the middle level, then add bits later, manually.
- LILO bootloader - yes, and in the MBR please.
- Add user with standard data requests.
- Enter root password and confirm.
- Then the software is loaded. Lacking a DVD drive in this box, I sagely used the CD's instead. It prompted me through 4 discs, pulling software packages from each.
- X configuration step. SuSE autoprobes for both video card and monitor, then confirms the data as it prompts you for resolution and color depth selections.
- The final screen of the installer prompts for 4 distinct configuration items: Printer, Network, Sound, and external vendor drivers (modules) for non-kernel-supported hardware. I configure the network with standard data, as the card has been probed and the driver loaded automagically.
- That done, the system reboots.... hey, wasn't there a boot floppy step??? Not in my notes!
The install went like a dream. Clean screens, clear questions, decent guidance onscreen, and much more documentation in the box. Many, many window managers are available with a single click during the software selection step, which lets you try out a bunch of different look&feel designs for the GUI interface - warning: if you like Windows, you'll HATE most of them, until you've gotten to know them a bit better. KDE and Gnome are the most Windows-like in their mode of operation.
The big, big drawback for this 7.1 version of SuSE is the sheer number of services enabled by default - well over a dozen, including such baddies as telnet and rlogin. Aaaaaaaaaack. Admittedly, SuSE 7.1 is a bit old, and I'd expect that 7.2 has rectified this a bit. There are GUI tools to work with the services list and disable them, but you need to know they're there. I could probably talk my mom through this installation over the phone, but she wouldn't have a very secure box when she was done. If you install SuSE 7.1, do it while NOT connected to the internet, and shut off any services you don't need before connecting.
You'll remember that I went through the LinuxISO.org website collecting distributions for this set of tests... Listed there with many other distributions, large and small, is one called Stampede. Stampede Linux (http://www.stampede.org) is still an active project, but at version 0.90, this dog don't yet hunt. Based upon the Slackware distribution, Stampede's 0.90 CD isn't bootable, instead they recommend using their root disk and a Slack boot disk to bootstrap the installation. Sorry folks, if *I* can't install it (and you can't fool me - I am a professional village idiot), then work hard at putting out a version that works. Unfortunately, although development is still apparently active, the pace appears glacial. Keep trying, people, you'll get there yet. I'll check back in a year or so.
It's a good thing that there's a beta of the new TurboLinux available, called Esprit. Otherwise I'd be stuck with posting about TL6.1, which is a capable package that competes head to head with Red Hat 6.0, or at least it did 18 months ago, when it was released. TurboLinux (http://www.turbolinux.com) is a solid Linux competitor, with strong ties into the Linux-on-IBM-Mainframes and clustering gigs. Additionally, they're strong in the Asian market.
On two discs, the Esprit Beta starts right up with a standard text-based linux boot screen, leading to an initial ncurses (text-based) menu screen, for selecting the installation language. Then after a longish and somehow disturbing delay, the GUI installer gets going, and leads you through the following configuration screens:
- Installation or upgrade: The former, please... For a bit of logic behind the install vs. upgrade question, it's often better when doing a major facelift (like the transition to glibc 2.2.x, gcc 3.x, Xfree 4.x and the 2.4.x kernel) to strongly consider backing up your data and installing all applications from scratch. Upgrading from RH 7.0 to 7.1 isn't much of a jump, and possibly worthwhile. However, when I upgrade the distro (as opposed to just a package here or there for capability or security reasons), I always backup, and install as new. Then I recompile and reinstall my local applications, and restore my data. Much easier, much safer in the long run. After all, you already have backups, right?
- Keyboard configuration select.
- Mouse setup. Warning at this point, and not just (or necessarily) about this distro. Generally, the mouse is autodetected during the installer startup. If you make a change at this point, with a few exceptions you'll hose the installer. It's a fault, and I am not sure why there are such problems... Unless it's not working at the time you hit the mouse config screen, leave the settings alone, and adjust things after installation is done. You'll be happier that way.
- Partitioning screen: Choose from Auto (usually whole disk), TFDisk, or loopback. Loopback is used to create a file that can be booted as a partition from within DOS/Windows. TFDisk is like several other GUI partitioning tools, strongly reminiscent of DiskDrake (the MandrakeSoft tool). It works. And there's a nice selection of advanced filesystems to choose from when setting up, including EXT3, JFS and ReiserFS.
- Formatting partitions screen. Notice and progress bar (? mmmm).
- LILO (bootloader) selection, installation including advanced feature selection. Defaults to MBR works fine, thanks.
- Network setup: A standard set of questions, DHCP or Static, followed by the usual suspects.
- Timezone configuration.
- Root password.
- User account setup.
- Authentication decisions: Local, LDAP, NIS or Kerberos. Local selected.
- System software configuration selection screen: Options basic, Internet, Intranet, Everything, Custom (that last is a nice tool).
- X configuration with very good auto detection. Colors and resolution settings.
- Confirm whole shebang, and begin package installation from CDROMs.
- Security settings screen: Low, Medium, High. I always vote for the best security I can get. It's up to me to open the ramparts as I desire or need.
- Create boot floppy, then reboot.
Once the install is complete, and the system up and running, you're presented with the Gnome GUI login manager, gdm, which offers more options than the original xdm. Incorporated into this beta of TurboLinux is Gnome 1.4 including Nautilus, the advanced file manager that killed Eazel a-borning. Also present is KDE 2.2, just one step back of the latest release. Most excellently, only two ports were open after installation: SSH and X11. I'd still turn off X11, but then, I try to operate in as paranoid a manner as possible, all the time - it means I can sleep better when the worms are roaming.
This Beta of the new TurboLinux Esprit was posted just a couple weeks ago, and bodes well for the distribution. I didn't have many problems, nor find any real flaws in the cursory walkthrough. I'll be coming back to this one when its released to the world as a final, for a much closer look.
Peanut Linux 9.0
Peanut Linux (http://www.ibiblio.org/peanut/) is an interesting distribution. The material on the site reads like... one guy's Linux distribution. He's really, really enthusiastic, though. I pulled down the 9.0 "Large" distribution CD. Now for the acid test... Um. Not yet. Let me pull down the last release but one, and see if I can have any better luck. Back later or tomorrow with more.
Based upon the Debian distribution, Corel Linux (http://linux.corel.com/) made a fast, fast start out of the gate, but due to financial woes, Corel has now sold its distro to a new publisher, Xandros Corporation. According to the press release, there'll be a new Xandros-branded version out in early 2002. Meantime, here's Corel Linux 1.2...
The Corel installer takes advantage of aggressive hardware probing, and assumptions about your system and network configuration to ask less questions than any other installation I've experienced. In a very real way, it's disconcerting - I like having fine-grained control over my Linux installs, and there just isn't any way to get there during the install with Corel. But maybe this is Aunt Minnie's Linux... Here are the steps to a Corel Linux 1.2 installation:
- The install proper runs in a GUI environment, with a pretty bit of background art distracting you from lots of disk action and other background activity that goes on as the identification of hardware proceeds.
- EULA screen - Accept or quit.
- Enter username.
- Package selection: Standard or Advanced. I took the latter, which let me choose between Desktop, Desktop Plus, Server, or Custom. Custom:All works for me.
- Partitioning - The available options differ, based upon circumstances. They are Take over hard disk, Use free space (not available if no space free), Edit current partitions, and Use DOS/Windows partition. I chose the first, Take over...
- Then the installer goes to work, first formatting the partitions, then installing packages from the CDROM. Once that's done, you're prompted to reboot.
- First boot involves setup of the following bits:
This Corel Linux setup is a complete breeze. What throws me for a loop is that I keep expecting more questions, and presuming that something's wrong when they don't ask. And in at least one case, I think they should ask. The network setup defaults to DHCP, and it's not immediately obvious what needs to be done to make it work right. I made all the edits, and it should have been running properly but wasn't. I went back and checked then entries I made, they were all correct, then... well, then it was working. Very confusing.
Other drawbacks include the quantity of open ports in this installation, from ftp and http through snmp, printer, hylafax, X11, fontserver and more. This is likely my fault for selecting ALL packages. A "desktop" install is likely a bit more secure, but remember, this distro is nearly a year old - I'd do a security update of packages facing the world sooner than immediately if I were to put this in a production box.
It'll be interesting to see what Xandros does with this distro, as the few-questions installation could win over some mom-and-pop shops. Keep an eye on the future of this one - especially since it faces strong competition.
Progeny Linux (http://www.progeny.com) is the brainchild of Ian Murdock, a former Debian Project Leader. Like Corel, Progeny produces a commercialized version of Debian, with a much more user-friendly interface for the installation than Debian presents.
Progeny Linux 1.0 boots into a standard text boot screen, where options can be entered prior to starting the system. Pressing Enter starts the boot process that works for me, and after the kernel boots, and the ram disk initializes, the GUI installer gets going, and there are the following steps:
- First screen provides an introduction to Progeny, and the installer.
- Next chore is to select the installation target. In english, that means to get started with partitioning. The options are Entire, Free, or Custom. Lazy, I choose Entire, then confirm in the following screen.
- Bootloader options and rescue floppy questions comprise the next screen. The default bootloader for Progeny is Grub (standing, rather pretentiously, for GRand Unified Bootloader).
- The "Preparing System" screen is shown while the partitions are formatted, packages are extracted from the cd, and the system is prepared for first boot. A reboot is needed to get into the second stage installer.
- After reboot, you're prompted to put the CD back in the machine to get a list of available software packages. After answering a few quick questions about your video configuration, several packages install, then X starts. Once in the GUI, the base set of packages installs without user input. Then the configuration continues...
- A single screen contains several checkbox options for further setup. Some are mandatory, others selectable, including Timezone, User and root account setup, final X configuration, Email, Printer, and Network. I make sure all are checked, then continue through each of the 6 configuration screens. Each is fairly standard.
- Following the base system configuration, the Add/Remove Package sets dialog is shown. The selections are for groups of packages that provide major functionality, similar to the simple package selection routine in the Debian installation, only within a GUI.
- Continuing runs the textmode dpkg tool inside the window of a dialog box. Some questions need to be answered inside the dpkg dialog - that threw me a curve - I waited for a long time with NOTHING happening before I realized I was supposed to answer a question that didn't pop up a GUI dialog.
- When complete, you're dropped at the login prompt, ready to rock and roll.
I like Progeny Linux well enough, and it's a great way to get your foot in the door with Debian. Often when I want to take a machine up to Debian's unstable tree for testing out the latest and greatest stuff, I'll start with a Progeny install to seed the system - I like their defaults and configurations. Progeny's business model is leaning towards network update services, like virtually every other commercial Linux distribution. But I really like the basis of this distro, coming from Debian.
Following a rather odd announcement denying the release of this Beta distribution, Red Hat (http://www.redhat.com/) appears to have put together something of a winner. This beta incorporates some of the almost latest and greatest versions of the Linux package smorgasborg, from a 2.4.6 Linux kernel to KDE 2.2pre and XFree 4.1. We needs must remember that in assembling a distribution, a publisher has to freeze the packages at some point and make what's there all work together. Getting closer to the bleeding edge is your responsibility, even with Beta distributions. As with all of the major commercial players, Red Hat features a competent GUI installer that works well with assorted automated hardware detection tools to provide a reasonably painless installation, as compared to years gone by. The steps with Roswell are as follows:
- The first configuration screens encompasses the language, keyboard and mouse settings, all three standard in format.
- Following a brief introductory screen, select the installation type from this list: Workstation, Server, Laptop or Custom (or alternatively, Upgrade).
- The partitioning step is next, with choices including Auto, DiskDruid or FDisk. I've gone with auto, to match most of the other installs in this series. (Along with Ext2, Red Hat offers the Ext3 journalling file system, VFAT, SWAP, and software RAID configurations.)
- From the Bootloader screen, either Grub or Lilo are offered, installable to the MBR or the root partition. Additionally, advanced boot options including LBA32 and Grub option passwords can be set.
- The networking configuration is standard, with host and domain setup, DHCP or Static IP options available.
- System security configuration is the next item, with High, Medium and Low settings, along with a customizable Firewall configuration - I don't yet know whether its run by IPChains or NetFilter (IPTables).
- Manpages can be installed for just the default language as specified at the beginning of the setup, or more can be configured in this screen.
- The user authentication setup is next, proffering choices from Shadow passwords, MD5 hashes, NIS, LDAP, Kerberos or SMB.
- Next, software package groups are chosen - selecting from a variety of development, window manager, application software and similar groupings.
- As the installation winds down, the XFree configuration screens present the standard choices from the color depth and screen resolutions.
- Finally, all the packages selected are installed from the CDROMs, then a reboot into the running system finishes the process.
There are only three open TCP ports, with the selections I made - sunrpc, X11 and kdm. With a workstation, I guess I am not surprised - I'd close all of these, and run the sshd server, and we'll go through that in the extensive later look. KDE 2.2 and KOffice 1.1 grace this Beta nicely. All the menus and fancy bits seem to work right out of the box, from text anti-aliasing to the GUI configuration tools that are the hallmark of Red Hat distributions.
The next release of Red Hat is going to get a long hard look in these pages. I'll hold off until at least the RC, if not the final, so as to give you a review of shipping product. However, if the fit and finish of this Beta is any indication, you're going to like what you see, as I do.
Caldera (http://www.caldera.com/) opened a real can of worms when they went to a per-seat licensing deal. They've since backed it off a bit, and it's not clear that what they're doing is enforceable in any meaningful sense. It appears their goal is to have license fees paid per seat for sites that have support agreements. That makes business sense - you can't begin to afford to support a whole raft of workers when only one is paying license and support fees...
That said, Tom and I did write this little book that was oriented towards the Caldera distribution. Although I've been disappointed in the lack of upgrades for the distribution in between releases, and their fundamentally closed development process, I am almost impressed by the quality of the finished products. This includes the latest desktop distribution from their foundry - Caldera Workstation 3.1. The installer is an updated version of the Lizard - a solid GUI tool that works. Here are the steps to install...
- The opening sequence culminates in the list of installation types, from Expert and Cautious, to Standard and even a text mode. I've selected Standard.
- The following screens permit choices of Language and pointing device (mouse) hardware. The hardware detection scheme that was introduced with eDesktop 2.4 was cutting edge at the time, and did pretty good in a time when most installers didn't autodetect jack. The updated hardware probing routines are apparently quite solid, and identified all of my setup just fine.
- Next, Keyboard selection, keymap and testing is completed.
- The probed video card hardware data is confirmed, and optionally can be modified - I didn't have any need to do so.
- After selecting the color depth and resolution, I tested the selected X server configuration successfully.
- The partitioning intro screen offers the standard options of Entire disk, Free space, Custom, Existing partitions. I used the former which makes a 2G root partition, a swap partition, and gives the balance of the disk to /home. That's probably acceptable as a setup for a workstation.
- The software package selection starts with a profile: Minimum, Recommended or All. I've used the middle one. This is followed by a set of configuration screens where I could modify the software selections by groups, or package at a time. Once this is done, the loading from CDROM starts and runs while the rest of the installation configuration proceeds. In all that follows, there's a progress bar in the lower left of the screen for the software installation process.
- Next up is configuring the root password and user accounts, asking for no startling information at all.
- The network configuration screen, like most distro's, assumes DHCP by default. So I select Static and fill in all the normal blanks.
- The boot loader screen offers to install to either the MBR, or a partition from the system list. This is Grub, which has been standard with Caldera for a couple of years now.
- The modem setup screen offers a variety of parameters, from model to serial port to ISP.
- Printer configuration is for local devices only, remote printers are setup after installation. The list of supported printers is large and fairly exhaustive. That said, do check http://www.linuxprinting.org/ for details on various printer families, and their support under Linux.
- Next up is Timezone data settings, which can be done from a map, or pull-down lists.
- If you've been quick at the configuration (which one gets to be, after a short while and a few installations), then there is time remaining in the package installation meter. For this purpose, Caldera provides a version of Solitaire to while away the remaining minutes.
- Once that and post-installation tasks (which run automagically) are completed, the final step is to create a rescue boot floppy.
Caldera Workstation 3.1 boots right into the system from the installation, without a complete reboot. Ten assorted services are visible from the network, and that's too many, but they can be shut off, I suppose. KDE 2.x is the only WM/DE installed, along with KOffice 1.0.x and the Linux 2.4.2 kernel. The CDROM icon on the desktop is borked. Other than that, it seems solid at first pass. I'll be back at this one later, as well.
Redmond Linux (http://www.redmondlinux.org/)is hard at work in the Pacific Northwest, putting together a serious distribution with one goal in mind - make it EASY for people to transition from Windows. Personally, the lack of reboots in Linux made it easy for me. But Redmond Linux has build some nice tools that replicate a few standard desktop features that'll perhaps help a Linux newbie over the hump.
The installer is a modified Lizard (that is, the tool devised by Caldera). As this is a Beta of Redmond Linux, I won't hold it against them that the very first screen of the installation shows a Caldera Logo. So let's install this baby, GUI style...
- First, there's a warm, fuzzy intro screen, followed by a EULA that would make a Windows user very comfortable, including bits that can't be redistributed... mmmm. Tricky - Read this, then ask them questions, depending on what you want to do with the distro.
- Next up are Mouse, Keyboard and Video Card setup screens. Everything's been properly detected. All I needed to do was choose Next from each stage.
- Following those, the X setup is next. Choose desired color depth and screen resolution, then test. Bear in mind that testing on some cards can hang the system during installation. The VooDoo 3 card I've got in system now seems particularly vulnerable to that one.
- The partitioning section is fairly standard, with options including Upgrade, Entire Disk, Unpartitioned (free) space, Existing Partitions or Repartition (custom). I used the Entire Disk selection, then on the following screen chose Prepare Disk to confirm and get the automated partitioning running. WARNING - using the back keys to return and restart the partitioning section is ... inadvisable. I'd simply restart the install if I decided I didn't like the way I'd setup the partitions on my first pass.
- With Software selection, there's only one choice - All Packages. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? As typical with the Lizard installer, after this step, the software packages install as a background process while the rest of the install and configuration takes place.
- Next up is User account data, and root password. Note that if the passwords don't match, then you may or may not get an indication up in the screen, but the Next button remains grayed out until the root password matches.
- Ethernet setup is next, with Disabled, DHCP or Static options, and the standard assortment of fields to be completed.
- The modem setup screen confines itself to device and initialization configuration. ISP and dialup data waits for running kppp once the installation is completed.
- Printer setup is a stock item, and has all the normal features, including the need to delay setting up a remote printer until the system is running.
- Timezone settings are next - there's no option for UTC here. I presume that the assumption made by the packager/developers is the system is being build over a Windows install, and the RTC has local time in it.
- The BootLoader screen offers the "Redmond Linux Bootloader". Mmmm, wonder if they mean Grub, Lilo or if they actually went and wrote their own... Ah-ha! It's Grub.
- To while away the time until the software transfers from the CDROM, and the post-install tasks are completed, Solitaire is provided for your amusement.
- The final step is to create the "rescue" disk on floppy - a skippable step, although I recommend always making a rescue floppy. Choosing the Finish button boots into the installed Redmond Linux system, without bothering to reboot in the process - a nice touch.
Redmond Linux only offers KDE2 in this current incarnation, from a stunningly beautiful login screen (great screen wallpaper here). Once logged in, there are three tools on an otherwise barren desktop - Personal Files, Trash, Local Area Network, and My Linux System. Oh, that's four, isn't it? Heh. Personal Files is a directory on the KDE desktop inside your home directory. It corresponds to My Documents. My Linux System is equivalent to My Computer, and Local Area Network is a tool for accessing domain or workgroup computers, a reasonable facsimile of Network Neighborhood. You could probably jump into this one with both feet and give it a serious go...
I'm not sure what else Redmond Linux is waiting for before releasing a "complete" distribution. I might drop them a line and ask, as this is nearly ready for prime time, and might be a great foot in the door for Linux.
Slackware (http://www.slackware.com/) is the only other major distribution aside from Debian that still installs via a series of text screens. From my perspective, it's all one - as long as all the right boxes appear to be filled in, and the questions and prompts are clearly written enough that you and I can both figure out what to do, in which order. The Linux boot screen directs you via a function key menu to determine which way to boot into the installer. The options are dependent on your hardware - for me the standard bare.i kernel, which works with IDE-only systems is just fine. Once running, the following steps lead to a running Slackware system...
- First, as with several other installs, comes the keymap selection.
- Then, with prompting from the login message, login as
root. This system is running in RAM, not from the hard drive.
- Once logged in, type
cfdisk to partition the system to your preference, including setting a swap partition. If you've gotten the idea that there's LESS guidance here than in Debian... well, you're right. That's OK, as you're not going to use Slack as your first Linux.
- After the partitions are created (and take notes, because you'll need the info from cfdisk during setup), exit the utility, and type
setup from the command line. This starts an Ncurses based installer similar in style to Debian's, but with fewer toplevel options.
- Read all of the available help, then add the swap partition - It'll be formatted and mounted when you're done.
- Target is the next menu item - set up the mount points for each of the partitions defined in the cfdisk step above. I always setup my partitions in tree order. That is, the root partition '/' comes first, then /usr, then /usr/local. That way, as the installer creates the descending mount points, they aren't overwritten by later steps. Modern installers have been known to cope with out-of-order specification, but it's best this way, especially since this also defines the order in /etc/fstab, and partitions should ALWAYS be mounted in tree order. I don't know whether this installer reorders or not, as I take care at this phase.
- Source selection permits choosing from among CD, local hard disk, NFS and pre-mounted directory. CD for me...
- Software is first selected in broad categories, with many items preselected as recommended. Let it ride.
- The next step is Install. There are many options here - the top two are Full and Newbie. Full loads all selected software without prompting. The Newbie choice permits selection and prompting during the install. I went with Full.
- After all the packages are installed, which takes a bit, it's time to format and create a boot disk. While they offer a "simple" option on the list, it's advised to format a floppy, then make a lilo bootdisk (or two) as backup against a rainy day.
- Modem setup is offered - I have none in this box.
- Custom screen fonts? I'll have none of that either - this is for console stuff, and I don't need fancy on the console.
- Bootloader setup offers Lilo, in a variety of configurations - I took the quick way out by selecting Simple, then MBR to boot. Easy breezy.
- Mouse selection precedes an offer to run GPM. GPM is a mouse driver for console modes. It can be handy if you run locally from the console, and use applications that take advantage of it, like the Midnight Commander (a Norton Commander like tool). I don't and so don't burden my system with it.
- Network configuration is the subject of the next several screens worth, all with standard, clear prompts requesting the expected data. Here, at the end of the process, we find a bit of modern behaviour - autoprobing to determine the correct NIC driver.
- Mail server setup offers several options from plain to MAPS RBL tie-ins. The only missing possibility here is NONE!
- X startup script selection is next, from all the possibilities (and there are 10 or more, ranging from Gnome to FVWM to BlackBox and so on), I choose ... KDE.
- Finally, the root password is set.
- Now we're prompted to exit the installer, and reboot. Let's see what it bought us, all this hard work.
Well. X isn't configured in the installer, so I was left to run xf86config on my own. That I can cope with, although a first time user's lost and gone running back to Redmond at this point. However that's not nearly as much of a problem as this:
bilbrey@garcia:~$ nmap ghastly
Starting nmap V. 2.54BETA22 ( www.insecure.org/nmap/ )
Interesting ports on mail.orbdesigns.com (192.168.1.3):
(The 1526 ports scanned but not shown below are in state: closed)
Port State Service
21/tcp open ftp
22/tcp open ssh
23/tcp open telnet
25/tcp open smtp
37/tcp open time
79/tcp open finger
80/tcp open http
111/tcp open sunrpc
113/tcp open auth
139/tcp open netbios-ssn
513/tcp open login
514/tcp open shell
515/tcp open printer
587/tcp open submission
1025/tcp open listen
6000/tcp open X11
Nmap run completed -- 1 IP address (1 host up) scanned in 1 second
That's an awful lot of lockdown work that needs to be done. I'd want to be sure I wasn't on a live unprotected net connection before I put this box up - I'd get rooted before I could caulk half the cracks and holes. I mean... TELNET??? Sheesh. Yeah, I got it running, and I could learn to make this mine, as I've done with Debian. But this should be your third or fourth linux, after you are comfortable with administering your own box. Tom loves Slack, and so do a lot of others. I suppose it's the fine grained control that is given once you understand the setup.... Still, what's a mother to do? Go on to the next distribution? OK!
Best Linux (http://www.bestlinux.net/) is the product of Finnish software engineering firm SOT. Without having spoken to them, I have the impression that one of their early gigs was supporting Linux for their customers. They may have found that none of the distributions quite met their standards, so melded their own from several sources, in the same manner that VA had their own custom version of Red Hat for their hardware. It would appear from their webfront that SOT is also a whitebox manufacturer (assembler). Their big draw for Best Linux seems to be the extensive language customization that they've done for a variety of north and east European countries.
That said, Best Linux is beginning to get a bit long in the tooth. The GUI installer bears a strong resemblance to the version of the Lizard installer that came with Caldera 2.3 and 2.4. Let's run through it, shall we?
- Language selection is first. As usual, this is to choose the language for the installer, not for software loading (such as manpages and more), although it does define the default selection for that later stage in most installers.
- Mouse configuration is next. This is where the installer shows it's early Caldera Lizard roots - WARNING - Do NOT modify the mouse configuration from that which is autodetected, UNLESS the mouse isn't working. Say you've got an Intellimouse Optical, as I do. The mouse is detected as a standard PS/2 mouse, yet the pointer's working. Go to change the selection to Intellimouse, the mouse stops working. Use the keyboard to change the mouse selection back to PS/2? No joy. The only solace here is that it's early in the install process. This is not the only distro that does this, I've generally found it best to go with WHATEVER the installer believes it's found. Fine tuning can wait for a successfully installed system.
- Partitioning routines are standard, with choices of Whole disk, Prepared partitions or Custom. Choosing Whole disk on the 20 G drive in the system yielded a 5 G root partition, 117 M of swap, and the balance of the drive given over to /home.
- Package selection - there's these options: Full, Typical, Minumum and Custom. Full sounds OK. The packages start installing, and the progress bar in the lower left inches its way along during the rest of configuration.
- The video subsystem configuration is composed of screens for Keyboard, Video Card, Monitor specifications and finally Video Mode (color depth and resolution) with a test option. It all works, although it won't do well with video cards newer than the distribution, needless to say.
- Next, set the root password and define normal user accounts. As with most of these tools, the password and confirming need to match in order to progress out of this stage. One oddity is that once the root password data is entered correctly, the instructional prompt changes to "You should type login", which in context implies that you need to create a user account before proceeding. Hmmmm.
- Sound card config is next up, but I have none in this machine.
- The Networking setup is standard, defaults to Static (although DHCP is available) and prompts through all the usual numbers, host and domain names and such.
- Modem setup does me no good, but it's here.
- Printer setup includes the ability to configure a remote printer (which is my setup), but not test it during installation.
- The bootloader is Grub, and possibilities for setup include MBR, Target (root partition), Other, or Skip. MBR is my usual selection.
- The timezone configuration step shows we're almost done!
- While the rest of the packages load, and post-install completes, instead of a game (as most of the Lizard and Lizard-like installers present), there's a series of help and introductory screens providing useful Linux newbie information.
- Finally, the boot floppy step completes the installation.
There are a few open ports, mostly related to KDE and X, along with the sunrpc portmapper, sshd, and a printer port. Not too bad, nor unexpected. However, Best Linux is ANCIENT, sporting KDE 1.1.2, and the 2.2.16 kernel. Unless you have a fetish for dry and dusty, I'd wait for SOT to come out with a new version before giving Best another try.
MandrakeSoft (http://www.mandrakesoft.com/) once based their distribution upon the foundation of the latest Red Hat release, then tweaked it, and prebuilt binaries for 586 processors, which yielded a speed advantage for those running pentium and better boxen. Over the last couple of years, Mandrake has broken their dependence upon the Red Hat release cycle, and has forged ahead with new GUI tools, journalling file systems, and much more. I've always been a bit partial to Mandrake. Here we're looking at the official 8.1 release, that's just days old. I'm actually running it on both workstation and laptop at the moment, though the workstation's likely to return to Debian, soon enough. Here goes the install.
- Language selection is first up, as usual.
- A EULA is next - this appears to be more and more standard - as Mandrake has gotten permission to distribute some non-freely distributable bits, and they need disclaimers in for that. Additionally, the EULA protects the commercial software that comes with the retail versions. This takes Mandrake down a notch or two for those who demand Open Source purity in their distros. Ah, well.
- Type of installation is next, with choice between Expert and Recommended. I like Expert, so that I can see what's being done, even if I accept most of the defaults.
- A cool new graphic accompanies the mouse detection, configuration and testing screen.
- Keyboard setup and test is standard, works fine.
- Security settings for the installed system range from High to Medium to Low. Here is the right point in the install to configure this, because as the setup progresses, it makes sense to configure each item in light of it's security settings.
- The partitioning stage is of Mandrake's usual high quality. There are those who revile DiskDrake, but I like the tool. Additionally, Mandrake puts up lots of the latest and greatest here, including ReiserFS (as they have for a year or more), and new entries EXT3 and JFS. WARNING - JFS hosed Greg's box just day before yesterday. I'd wait for a bit on that one. I clear the drive, then use the Auto button to configure the drive.
- After formatting the partitions, a dialog box queries for the presence of the extras and supplemental CDROMS prior to starting package selection.
- Software packages are initially set by groups (like development, KDE, Gnome, Internet Servers, etc), and can be fine tuned within each group by individual packages, including automatic dependency resolution. Nice tool. Then all the selected software is installed to the system from CDROMS.
- Root password is next up, along with authentication method selection: Local, NIS, LDAP.
- User Accounts can be set up next, one or more.
- The network configuration process starts with autodetection of many different types of connectivity hardware, from modems to ethernet cards. Those items that are fair game for configuration are highlighted, then configured one at a time, as you continue. For me, it's Ethernet, and I configure all the host and IP information easily.
- Next is a system summary dialog which includes buttons for Printer, Mouse, Keyboard and Timezone settings. Printer is for local only, so I'll defer that until after installation. Mouse and Keyboard were done up at the front end of the process. That leaves timezone, quickly completed.
- A full screen dialog to select running services. Everything that was selected for installation is setup to run on first boot - I go through and shut off everything I don't need or have configuration work to do yet. As you'll see later, this step pays off. I cut the running services down to 12. Not too shabby.
- Boot disk creation is next, and recommended (as usual).
- The bootloader configuration has lots of options: Grub, Lilo, and GUI Lilo. Additionally, password protection can be configured to make changing boot options a restricted activity. I use Grub, and write to the MBR.
- Mandrake presents a plethora of XFree86 options for me, 4.1, 3.3.6, and 3.3.6 accelerated. I select the first, then setup the resolution and color depth and test. That's it - Mandrake is installed.
After installation and first boot, Mandrake has only two exposed services - X11 and KDM. Note that I didn't setup SSH. Also I am a tad surprised that those two are on outside ports... Mmmm. More investigation's warranted, as I'd think that "High" security should prevent those from running on external TCP ports. We've got the 2.4.8 Linux kernel, KDE 2.2.1pre, and LOTS of other window manager options for you experimentation and eddification. While some people don't like how Mandrake runs the KDE menus 4 and 5 levels deep, I kind of like it.
One problem I found in the RC3 that is fixed in the final is modifying the security level from the Mandrake Control Center now appears to work properly. Mmmm. I am going to spend some time living in Mandrake and reporting on it, so you'll hear more soon.
All Content Copyright © 1999-2001 Brian P. Bilbrey.