Test Driving Linux/Preface
Before you buy a car, you take it for a test drive. You do this regardless of whether the car is new or used, if you're buying it from a dealer or from your best friend. The purpose of the test drive is to make sure you feel comfortable with the car—that you can see out of it, that it doesn't have any glaring blind spots, that it handles well and performs to your expectations. It's simply a wise thing to do before you commit a lot of money.
Likewise, it's a good idea to test-drive an operating system before you switch to it full-time. The OS is at the heart of everything you do on a computer, and if you aren't comfortable with the OS, you won't be happy with your computer. Changing to a new operating system, even just an upgrade from one version of Windows to another, is never as simple as all the marketing ads would have you believe.
This book is about taking the Linux operating system for a test drive on your Windows computer. I wrote it because I believe you need to know what you're getting into before making a commitment to a new operating system. Linux is the only viable alternative desktop operating system you can run on your current Windows computer. In this book, you'll learn what Linux is, how it works, what it can do for you, and what it can't. You'll see how to use Linux for everyday tasks like surfing the Web, reading email, sending instant messages to friends, writing reports, and playing music.
Most other Linux books on the market right now contain CDs that allow you to install Linux on your hard drive. The problem is that this can sometimes be a difficult task, requiring you to make choices you may not be prepared for, such as how to partition your hard drive or configure the boot loader. And until you install Linux on your hard drive, the rest of those books are useless. You are forced to make a commitment to Linux before you even know if you like it.
But the CD included with this book takes a completely different approach. With the Move Live CD, you can run Linux without having to install it to your hard drive. There are no difficult choices to make and no risk to your Windows system. Simply pop the CD into your CD drive and boot up. After a few minutes and a few simple questions, your computer will be running Linux—right from the CD.
And that is why this book is called Test Driving Linux. You can truly just take Linux for a spin, and when you're done, just put the CD away and go back to using Windows again.
Don't count on wanting to, though. My guess is that once you take Linux for a test drive, you'll want to drive it off the lot for good.
This book will not teach you how set up or administer Linux on a server. It is strictly for people who want to use Linux on their desktop.
The way I see it, there are two types of computer users in the world: those who use Linux as their desktop OS, and those who are going to.
This book is mainly written for the second group—for Windows users who have heard of Linux and want to find out what all the fuss is about without committing a lot of time or hard-drive space in that endeavor. If you are frustrated by buggy software, weekly security patches, and spyware on your computer, read this book. I don't assume you have any prior knowledge of Linux at all—just a willingness to learn and the ability to click a mouse and type on a keyboard.
But this book also doesn't ignore people who already use Linux on their desktop. Though you won't learn any dirty details about compiling your kernel or setting up WEP encryption with your wireless card, you'll find out a lot more about the KDE desktop environment and programs like KMail, Konqueror, OpenOffice.org, and GnuCash. This book can turn existing Linux users into more effective Linux users.
System Requirements and USB Memory Key
TheMove CD is designed to run on Pentium-class PCs (including AMD processors) with at least 128 MB of RAM, although 256 MB is highly recommended. And since Move runs from CD, you need a dependable (and fast) CD-ROM or DVD drive. The faster your processor is (faster than 1 Ghz is good) and the more memory you have, the better your overall experience. (And of course, you should also be sure to keep the CD clean and free of smudges or scratches.)
These guidelines also serve as good minimum requirements for a computer on which to install Linux. Like Windows, Linux will run even better the more resources you give it. To really enjoy Linux and not feel that your hardware is holding you back, I recommend a 1.5 Ghz or faster processor and 512 MB of memory.
Since Move runs from CD and does not write anything to your computer's hard disk, it is perfectly safe to use and will not affect your Windows system in any way. The disadvantage of this, however, is that you will lose all of your changes and settings each time you shut down Move because there is no storage space to write changes to. This problem can be solved with the addition of a USB memory key. The key will allow you to store system configuration files and personal data, which means Move will keep your customizations between reboots. The combination of the USB memory key and the Move CD also means you can take your new Linux desktop everywhere you go and use it on any PC you have access to. Using the memory key is as simple as making sure it is plugged in at all times—Move will take care of the rest. You'll have the best experience if you use a USB 2.0 memory key, which is faster than the older 1.1 standard.
Unfortunately, not all USB keys work equally well with Move. If you are experiencing problems with your memory key, consult the appendix for troubleshooting tips.
And if you don't have a USB key, don't worry—even without it, this book and CD will still give you an excellent introduction to using the Linux operating system.
Organization of This Book
This book is divided into 13 chapters and an appendix. I did my best to present the material in an interesting, logical order that would get you performing useful tasks right at the beginning. I recommend reading this book from cover to cover, but if you already know some of the material, feel free to skip around. Though there are plenty of screenshots to help you understand the text, for the best experience you should run Move and try out the recommended steps as I describe them.
- Chapter 1
- This chapter introduces you to Linux, the Move CD, and the KDE desktop environment.
- Chapter 2
- Perhaps the biggest reason people buy computers is to get on the Internet. This chapter shows you how to use the Konqueror web browser, a capable alternative to Internet Explorer, and popular add-on software such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, Flash, and RealPlayer.
- Chapter 3
- This chapter covers the Konqueror file manager, and shows you how to manage your files on your Linux desktop as well as over a network on remote Windows and Linux machines. The very end of the chapter shows you how to access the files on your Windows hard drive, which is useful if you want to play music or view images from your Windows setup.
- Chapter 4
- Sometimes it really is all about the music. This chapter proves to you that Linux takes multimedia seriously. Here, you will learn about MP3 and video players, CD burning, and music encoding.
- Chapter 5
- This chapter introduces you to the games on the Move CD, shows you where you can find more games on the Web, and covers the state of gaming in Linux. You've got to try out Tux Racer!
- Chapter 6
- Linux is an excellent platform for email and instant messaging. This chapter covers the email client KMail, the calendar program KOrganizer, the contact manager KAddressbook, and the multi-network instant messenger client Kopete.
- Chapter 7
- The GIMP is the open source image-editing program of choice. This chapter teaches you how to use the GIMP and its supporting programs to manage and edit your digital image collection.
- Chapter 8
- Fully configuring your desktop environment can be very satisfying and a lot of fun to boot. This chapter covers the KDE Control Center, which lets you configure styles, themes, colors, fonts, and window decorations.
- Chapter 9
- OpenOffice.org is the only real contender to the dominance of Microsoft Office. This chapter provides a basic introduction to the word processor and spreadsheet components.
- Chapter 10
- GnuCash is Linux's alternative to Quicken and Money. This chapter quickly gets you up to speed on this personal finance program.
- Chapter 11
- True Linux users aren't afraid of the command line. This chapter is an easy introduction to the text-based underside of the Linux operating system. Learn how to manipulate files, directories, and program processes quickly and easily without using the mouse.
- Chapter 12
- The Move CD doesn't have enough room for every great open source program. This chapter introduces several popular programs that didn't fit on the CD.
- Chapter 13
- If you enjoyed your test drive of Linux, you may be wondering what you should do next. This chapter introduces you to the other versions of Linux you can try out, and gives information on additional resources you can turn to on your open source journey.
- Appendix, Solutions to Common Problems
- Nothing is perfect—not even Linux. There are several quirks to using the Move CD, and this appendix attempts to help you solve them. The appendix also shows you how to set up your printer and configure your modem so you can get on the Internet.
Conventions Used in This Book
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I would like to thank my wife, Claire, for making it possible for me to write this book. By this I don't just mean allowing me the time to work, but for supporting me every step of the way. Her love and support gave me the confidence to take on this project. And the edits she made to my writing helped to make this a much better book than it could have been without her.
Many thanks go to Andy Oram, my editor and co-worker. He graciously took on this project on short notice, provided me with quality feedback, and put up with the crazy schedule as the deadline approached.
Large portions of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 are based upon earlier material by Phil Lavigna; Chapter 9 is a condensed version of Sam Hiser's material that originally appeared in Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop (O'Reilly); and Chapter 10 was written by Breckin Loggins. My thanks to all three for their contributions. The excellent and timely feedback from my reviewers, Charles Stafford and Kevin Shockey, made this book more relevant and correct than it would have been otherwise. Any errors that remain are entirely my own.
Emily Quill was the production editor for this book and performed the copyedit. Without her work, this book would be an embarrassment to my high school English teacher. Thank you, Emily.
And, of course, my thanks to Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, and everyone else who works on, supports, documents, and advocates free and open source software.