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by Dr. Raj Mehta
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Related Links

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10 Questions About Linux -A Good Overview of Linux
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Linux Site - The main Linux site Online
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Linux Documentation - Complete Documentation
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Linux Documentation - Alternative link for Linux Documentation
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Linux Applications - Applications available for Linux
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Linux Headquarters - A Popular Linux site
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Alternatives to MS Windows Operating System
- A authoritative guide to other Operating Systems.
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Unix vs. NT - Extremely detailed report!
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Linux in News - Different IT industry learders are porting it on their machines.

Linux a Viable Alternative to Windows 95/98/NT: Switch over to Linux Now!

FAQ For Windows Users In India

The year 1998 has seen some amazing changes in the world of computers. Chief among them have been the court proceedings against Microsoft, the revival of Apple etc. However , the one thing which I think, stands out the most, has been the emergence to the forefront of the Linux operating system and the open-source business model. The concept of open-source, 'bazaar' style development of an operating systems and its applications seems quite unusual to users and developers from the Windows world, who are used to the closed source, license-ridden 'cathedral' style of Mega-corporations. Most Windows users and developers therefore tend to regard Linux with suspicion and skepticism as a viable, daily-usable OS. This FAQ is directed especially to hardcore Windows users, who wish to give Linux a fair try. I have tried not only to guide such users through the nitty-gritty of getting a first Linux system to work, but also debunk some of the myths and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) which many of its detractors propagate.

Recently, our Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) issued a security alert ( January 13,1999 , The Economic Times) warning Indian Companies and users NOT to use encryption software manufactured in the US. This is because the US permits export of ONLY those encryption software/applications whose cracks are thoroughly known by the US military . Hence, any encryption software used in India and imported from the USA is hardly secure at all, inspite of whatever the American Companies would like their gullible customers to believe! The DRDO fears that such software might contain 'Time Bombs' or other security holes which are deliberately placed with malicious intentions.

In this scenario , Linux has suddenly taken on an entirely new significance. Being perhaps the only significant OS in the world which is NOT owned by USA ( it is copyrighted by Linus Torvalds, a citizen of Finland) , and also being completely open-source , the chances of the scenario given in the above paragraph are minimal in case of Linux. Thus , Linux and open-source software are being touted as one of the possible options available to the Indian Government.

Questions

For the everyday user

  1. What is Linux? How did it come about? Does it look like Windows?

  2. Where can I get more information about Linux?

  3. How is Linux pronounced?

  4. Is Linux the same as UNIX? Isn't UNIX old and primitive and dead?

  5. What is the License scheme of Linux? Is it freeware,shareware? Is it under a copyright? Who controls it?

  6. Why is Linux available free of charge? Is there any problem with it? Is it inferior in quality?

  7. What hardware do I need to run Linux? Does it support all the latest hardware?

  8. Where can I get Linux in India?

  9. I have a Windows system already on my computer. Do I need to remove/modify it in any manner? Can I have Linux and Windows/Dos on the same computer?

  10. I have heard that Linux is a nightmare to install and configure. Is it true?

  11. How can I install Linux on my computer which already has Windows on it?

  12. Can I access my Windows stuff from Linux?

  13. I have seen someone using UNIX, or heard that Linux has to be used only from a dull command line, like dos prompt. There are no Windows-like Graphical interfaces, and it is not at all user-friendly. Is that true?

  14. How can I connect to the internet from Linux? Can I read/send e-mail, news , chat or browse the web?

  15. Can I run my dos-based software under Linux?

  16. Can I run my Windows-based software under Linux? Does MS-Office work under Linux?

  17. Can I create, display and print documents under Linux? Does it have any office software? What other kind of applications are available under Linux?

  18. Can I play audio files, cds , video and multimedia under Linux?

  19. Do you have any games under Linux? Can I play Doom, Quake and such games?

  20. Where can I get help about Linux if I have any problems ? Does it have any help files? Are there any newsgroups?


Answers

  1. What is Linux? How did it come about? Does it look like Windows?

    Linux is an operating system--Like Ms-Dos, MsWindows 95/98/NT. It was created in 1991 by 21 year old Finnish graduate student, Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki. Linus was working with another operating system called Minix. He did not like a lot of things about it , or about MS-DOS either, so he set about 'scratching that itch', and that was the beginning. Later, a lot of developers joined him via the internet from around the world, which further gave a boost to Linux.

  2. Where can I get more information about Linux?

    Linux is dubbed 'a child of the Internet' and no wonder, the best source of information about Linux is the web itself. The 'chief' Linux site is considered to be Linux Online (http://www.linux.org). This site contains links to software available, projects underway, documentation etc. Other popular Linux sites are Linux Headquarters (http://www.linuxhq.com), Linux Applications (http://www.linuxapps.com). These sites supply an overwhelming number of links to virtually every Linux site around ! For documentation on Linux, the Linux documentation Project or LDP (http://www.ldp.org) is the best place to go.

  3. How is Linux pronounced?

    That, my friend, is one of the few problems about Linux that is refusing to be solved easily. Most people say it as either "Lie-nucks" or "Lee-nucks" . However, the latter way seems to be winning out today.

  4. Is Linux the same as UNIX? Isn't UNIX old and primitive and dead?

    The answer to the first question is, both yes and no. Linux is an implementation of the UNIX ( POSIX) standards. It has the same command, system calls ( API) with any of the standard UNIX brands. Linux aims towards POSIX compliance, and has all of the features you would expect of a modern, fully-fledged Unix: true multitasking, virtual memory, shared libraries, demand loading, shared, copy-on-write executables, proper memory management, and TCP/IP networking A UNIX user will have no problems using Linux. But Linux has been created and implemented independently of any other UNIX. And as for the second question, most of the Internet today still runs on UNIX. It is in no way dead. UNIX is the only OS of choice for any mission-critical applications.

  5. What is the License scheme of Linux? Is it freeware,shareware? Is it under a copyright? Who controls it?

    Linux has been release under the GNU General Public license or GPL( GNU stands for 'GNU's Not Unix ). Whenever a software is released under this License (available at http://www.gnu.org/ ), the user of the software gets complete access to the ENTIRE Source code of this software and is free to modify and redistribute it as (s)he pleases!! Most users from the Windows world would have their eyes popping out by now! Giving out source code? But it seems to work. This has led to a new business model, the open-source model. In this model, the complete source code of the product is released for developers and users around the world to modify , fix bugs and add features which they would ACTUALLY like. But, to correct a common misconception, the product does not have to have a price tag of $0.

    In the Dos/Windows world, 'Freeware' means availablity of binaries, not the source code. 'Shareware' means that you get to use the binaries under specific conditions, such as registration. But 'free' in the Linux world means that you get not just binaries, but the complete source too, along with the right to modify and distribute it as you please! As it is popularly said, " To a Dos/WIndows user, 'free' is like Free Beer, but to a Linux user, 'free' is like Free Speech". And thankfully, Linux is both free beer and speech.The entire source code of the OS is available to anyone to download and modify, absolutely free of any charge, no strings attached.

    Linux is not under anyone's control officially. However, by mass consensus, Linus Torvalds is still the chief driving force behind Linux. Anyone who writes code to modify the basic Linux OS ( the kernel) submits a patch to Linus or to some of his 'trusted lieutenants' like Alan Cox (check out http://www.kernel.org ) . These guys ultimately determine what goes into the Linux Kernel and what doesn't. This 'benevolent dictator' model seems to function extremely well so far in case of development of the Kernel. But that is only applicable to the Kernel. The vast majority of applications are created and maintained by enthusiastic users and groups from all over the world, independent of Linus or anyone else.

  6. Why is Linux available free of charge? Is there any problem with it? Is it inferior in quality?

    In the 1980's , an MIT student, Richard Stallman, was extremely frustrated with the way the Computer Industry was heading. He felt that the draconian licensing schemes inflicted on Computer users by the big corporations were not only killing innovation, but also excluding the majority of people all over the world from contributing to this exciting field. In protest, he started the Free Software Foundation or FSF and developed the GNU GPL. The aim of GNU was to develop a completely new open-source OS. A huge number of applications were developed for this new OS, but the Kernel itself was never completed. That was when Linus Torvalds arrived on the scene and completed the coup.

    Thus, Linux is not free due to economical reasons , or for competing with anyone. The Linux developers believe that the best way for development of computers and software is to make it accessible to the largest number of people around the world, who can modify and configure stuff according to their own needs, rather than waiting for expensive patches from the company which has supplied their OS. It is out of this conviction that Linux has been made available free of charge.

  7. What hardware do I need to run Linux? Does it support all the latest hardware?

    Hardware efficiency is one of the greatest advantages of Linux. If you are planning to scrap that old 386/486, give it a second thought. With a good Linux installation, you can even use it as your company web or mail server! Unbelievable? Linux requires only 4 MB RAM for a basic installation ( 8 MB with GUI , X-Windows). A minimal system with most network services can even be accommodated on one of two floppies. A complete distribution with all kinds of pseud apps may go upto a few hundred Mbs. That is why you can always install Linux on a system on which there are other OS's installed and you are extremely tight on disk space.

    However, Windows Users who are used to stuff like High-end video and sound cards and DVDs etc might be a little disappointed. However this is not a fault of Linux. With Dos or Windows, as soon as you buy a card, you get a disk from the manufacturer, which contains the driver for it for Win 9x etc. But the poor Linux chaps have to write their own driver for the card, based on specifications given ( not always ) by the manufacturer. This problem can be solved only if manufacturers supply Linux drivers along with their cards too. However, at present, we generally have Linux support for hardware within a few weeks of release. As Linux grows more popular, I believe this situation will change for the better.

  8. Where can I get Linux in India?

    In general, Linux can be obtained from several sites on the internet. You can choose to download each and every component from its developer's page or, much easier, you can acquire one of the standard 'distributions' i.e. A pre-collected complete set of Linux OS with applications. The most popular distributions are Redhat (http://www.redhat.com ), Caldera (http://www.caldera.com )along with some others like Slackware. Nowadays, Redhat appears to be the most popular distribution among Linux Users , hence I shall, for the time being cover Redhat only.

    Redhat Linux may be obtained from the Redhat Ftp site (ftp://ftp.redhat.com), or from Sunsite, University of North Carolina (http://sunsite.unc.edu/pub/Linux/distributions/redhat/ ) and their various mirrors. In fact Sunsite Unc is the de-facto site for every piece of Linux software. In India, you can buy a commercial ( which includes a LOT of commercial and industry-use software, such as MS-Office-like suites, secure web servers, encryption software etc )release of Linux at any decent Computer Software store for about Rs 1200. For a cheaper purchase, which may not include some cool stuff, you can buy any of the books on Linux, and get a free CD. The Computer Magazine PCQuest carries a Linux section every month on its CD and also the entire Linux distribution once or twice a year.

  9. I have a Windows system already on my computer. Do I need to remove/modify it in any manner? Can I have Linux and Windows/Dos on the same computer?

    Most of us with Pcs have some sort of DOS/WIndows on our computers. One of the biggest plusses about Linux is that it has been designed with the aim of making the most of whatever is available. It is actually possible to install Linux in your Win/Dos partition itself. But, personally I suggest not doing that as it would be unfair to such a great OS ;-) This slows down the entire system considerably and is not worth the trouble at all. Well, the other way is to reparatition your disk and make some space for Linux. Worry not, you do not need all that Partition Magic stuff to make partitions. Linux comes with all the tools. We shall see how they are used a little later.

  10. I have heard that Linux is a nightmare to install and configure. Is it true?

    At the beginning, Linux was exclusively a hacker + geek territory. But that has since changed. And software has also kept up. However most of Linux 's detractors still accuse it of being clumsy and cryptic to configure, lacking attractive user interfaces etc. That is all FUD, pure and simple. Yes, the powerful command line+text file-based UNIX system administration style is completely available on Linux. But Mr. Joe User need not ever look at them today if he doesn't want to; well, almost not. Linux today does have terrific user interfaces and utilities for easy installation and configuration.

  11. How can I install Linux on my computer which already has Windows on it?

    Ok, guys , this is IT. We are gonna install and configure Linux. But the answer to this question is gonna be pretty HUGE, so better click here to find it and the answer to the next question too.

  12. Can I access my Windows stuff from Linux ?

    Though this question was answered in Q 11, but I repeat. Yes. Your Windows partition can be mounted as a directory ( not a drive ) on your Linux system. You can read , write ,edit , delete, create files on your Windows Partition. However you cannot run Windows Programs (exe files) directly.

  13. I have seen someone using UNIX, or heard that Linux has to be used only from a dull command line, like dos prompt. There are no Windows-like Graphical interfaces, and it is not at all user-friendly. Is that true?

    The next time someone tells this to you, laugh! Linux has its own GUI, the X-Window System. This is a basic graphical system, on top of which the actual 'window manager' is implemented. The Window manager is responsible for managing the display and looks. Check out the following desktop environments: a. The K Desktop Environment (KDE ) ; b. GNOME and tell me if the screenshots do not have you licking your lips.

  14. How can I connect to the internet from Linux? Can I read/send email, news , chat or browse the web?

    Sure! Linux and the Web are made for each other! First of all you need to find out what COM port your modem is on. Since you are a Windows user, check out the Control Panel -- Modems in Windows. You will see the COM port your modem is on. In Linux, COM ports are treated as device files in the /dev directory. COM 1 in Windows --> /dev/cua0 in Linux. Com 2 in Win-->/dev/cua1 in Linux and so on. After that we boot Linux, log in as root and create a symbolic link as follows:

    #ln -s /dev/cua0 /dev/modem

    This is assuming that your modem is on COM 1. We have created a symbolic link called '/dev/modem' to the COM 1 device file. After this you can treat /dev/modem as your modem device. ( This procedure ought to be automated in some of the newer releases of Linux ). Well , if you have a shell/student account, you can use a hyperterminal - like program called Seyon in X - Windows. Or you can use the terminal-based Telix clone called Minicom. For a tcp/ip account, you can configure ppp using the Redhat Control Panel. If you feel too lazy for that, then you can use Windows Connection wizard like programs like kppp (part of KDE ) or X-Isp. Once you have ppp up and running, reading mail/news etc is a piece of cake. Choose from the HUGE array of software available, from simple text-based veterans like elm and pine to MS-outlook clones like Kmail ( part of KDE ). Do check out the relevant HOW-TOs and FAQs.

  15. Can I run my dos-based software under Linux?

    Surprise, surprise! You can! At least, most of them. A great piece of Software called Dosemu ( dos emulator ) runs almost every standard DOS-based software available, within Linux. I have used Borland Turbo-c etc via it, played dos-based games like doom , pcman etc and dos-formatted floppies too.

  16. Can I run my Windows-based software under Linux? Does MS-Office work under Linux?

    Well...Er...Not Quite. There are several commercial and non-commercial Windows Emulators available. The commercial emulators are too costly, and the free ones are not completely developed. However, we can run almost all 16-bit Windows applications i.e. those meant for Windows 3.xx. But 32-bit Windows applications generally run in an unpredictable manner. This, claim many people, is due to undocumented APIs im Microsoft OS 's ( something which MS denies ). However, the emulators are improving day-by-day. The most popular free(speech) Windows Emulators are WINE (http://www.wine.com) and Twin libraries (http://www.willows.co ) .

    As for MS-Office, the Office Suite for Windows 3.xx is said to work perfectly. Thus Word 6 works. But Word 97 does not work well enough for regular use.

  17. Can I create, display and print documents under Linux? Does it have any office software? What other kind of applications are available under Linux?

    Of course! What is an operating system for? However, this too , I think deserves a separate page. Click Here.

  18. Can I play audio files, cds , video and multimedia under Linux?

    Sure you can. Linux has support for for most popular sound cards. However configuring Plug-and-Play cards, which are very popular on Windows, has been a bit of a problem so far. PnP is a hardware protocol which has been defined by Microsoft and Intel for easy Hardware configuration. In Linux, so far we had to disable PnP to get those cards to work . However the newest versions of the kernel are implementing PnP support and that problem will no longer exist this year. Once sound support is set up, there are all kinds of software/applications for playing sound files , audio Cds , video etc, from simple command-line utilities to cool winamp-like players, it's all there!

  19. Do you have any games under Linux? Can I play Doom, Quake and such games?

    AAAhh, Now we're talking business! Doom, Quake ( both I and II ) are very much available for Linux. And there is a plethora of games and toys too! Check out the games directory at Sunsite and you will see what I mean.

  20. Where can I get help about Linux if I have any problems ? Does it have any help files? Are there any newsgroups?

    If you have a problem in Linux, the first thing you do is to read the documentation on your system itself. This can be done in a systematic manner as follows:

    Say , you have a problem with configuration of Vim ( a popular text editor ). First, vim itself has an extensive internal help system. Use it. Next,type the command 'man vim'. This will bring up a UNIX manual page which might contain the information you require . Next, type, 'info vim'. This brings up a set of browsable pages containing more general info. Finally you might look into the directory /usr/doc/vim to check if there is something more available.

    If all of this doesn't work, then you have newsgroups. A set of NewsGroups named comp.os.linux.xxxx is out there to help you out. Generally you get a reply within an hour of posting. But be sure to read the documentation before you post anything. Anything which is very obvious from the documentation, and which you dare to post just might get a cold RTFM (Read the F******* Manual )as reply!



This FAQ is written by Rajarshi Bandyopadhyay, 3rd Year Computer Science Student at IIT Bombay. For corrections/suggestions please send mail to bando@cse.iitb.ernet.in .



Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 Dr. Raj Mehta. All rights reserved.