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I've been hacked for the last time :(

Can somebody help me get started with linux?

1:52 am on Jan 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Alright, I've been using Windows for 12 or so years and have tried to get linux working three or four times. Every time I started it ended with me giving up because it wouldn't install correctly. I couldn't figure out how to install my mouse correctly and the GUI wouldn't load, or my graphics card wasn't supported, or I hit the wrong button when answering the 2000 or so questions you have to answer when you're installing slackware or debian from scratch...

I want linux preinstalled on a desktop, and if things go bad I want to be able to reinstall it. Any companies offering preinstalled distros that meet these criteria?

I looked on Dell's website and it appears as if they've discontinued selling linux on their PC's, or they only offer it on high end workstations. HP's website had more broken links than you can imagine, and again hard to find a linix preinstalled low end desktop.

So then I looked around and the only place I could find offering preinstalled linux desktops on the cheap was Walmart. I just want a safe(r) PC to use on the Internet so I don't worry about key loggers, spyware, etc.

Walmart offers linux PC's starting from ~$200, but the distros are Xandros and Linspire. Are these going to offer the same kind of protection or capabilities for a basic user like myself, that SuSe or Debian might? Are these real linux distros or are they some kind of windows hybrid? I see on the Xandros website they tout its Windows compatability... which isn't what I want.

I'd be pleased as pie to use vi, OpenOffice, GIMP, FireFox.. and nothing else. I don't want any Windows-based spyware or trojans to touch me. I realize linux distros can be vulnerable to such things as well, but that there isn't nearly as much out there.

So would some of you seasoned linux users give me some advice? Will I get the protection and capabilities I need with a Linspire or Xandros distro that I would get with RedHat, SuSe, Slackware, Debian, etc.?

Are there any other big retail outfits that offer low-end preinstalled linux, ~2 ghz processors, 20-40 gig HD's, don't care about the graphics card or sound, no monitor systems for under $400? I'm sure I could go to one of the tiny companies in the area but I'd really like the protection of buying from a larger retail outlet.

9:34 pm on Jan 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I only know my experience - I had an old computer sitting around and installed Red Hat in about an hour, maybe 2. The only difficult part was configuring it for the monitor. At the time, I knew nothing about Linux or Apache or anything.
9:46 pm on Jan 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

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The modern linux distros are very easy to install. The level of hardware suport is also a lot better than it used to be.

The only major stumbling ground with linux is dial up modems, although in this day and age that problem is pretty mush non-existant due to adsl and cable connections become wide spread. Generaly speaking if you use a cable/adsl modem or router that has the facility to connect lan cable then you will be ok. Simple plug the cable between your network card and your router and youre good to go.

If you take your time and work through the set up correctly you should be ok. The main point to pay attention to is network card setup. Usualy the linux installer will make this simple for you. just make sure you has assigned an ip address on the same subnet as your router. and set your default gateway as the router ip address.


9:47 pm on Jan 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Have you considered getting a Mac? It's built on UNIX, but easy to use. That's my plan (the new Mac Mini is tempting, given it's so inexpensive, but I'll likely go for a PowerBook or an iMac G5).
1:45 am on Jan 23, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Hi roldar, i'm sorry to hear about the hacking experience. I've been through the process of going from windows to linux, so now i run a dual OS PC as i still use windows a lot (i do some win specific development). My own motivation wasn't hacking or malware, though, it was only the powerful tools the linux world offers.

On a related note, i know that vi is one of them, but really... that piece of software is not for the faint at heart. Linux provides much more friendly and easy programs to use than that - if you haven't used it before, i'd advice you to start a little lighter... uhm, make that a whole lot lighter :)

So, here's a little linux introduction

I'll start with four words, optionally six: Get a live CD (or ten). I'll explain shortly, but i have to mention hardware first:

GeorgeK is right that Mac is an excellent alternative if you really want new hardware. Technically speaking, it's OSX is BSD based, but that particular OS is quite similar to linux in a whole lot of ways. You will get the same security level on a Mac out-of-the-box and you will not have any configuring hassle. You will be able to do all you can do on windows plus all you can do on linux, plus all you can do on mac.

So, to return i'll say that your problems are not hardware problems. They are software problems, and/or behavioural problems. You can solve them by installing software on your PC, or configuring what you have already, or changing behaviour - don't take the behaviour part offensively, it's only to say that you probably don't need to get new equipment.

So, to stay on track (and repeat myself in the process): Get a few linux live CDs

Plural is intentional, as you're now entering the free world. The choice is yours to try out all that you like and make your mind up as to what serves your taste and preferences the best.

Live CDs
Good ones you should try are, say, these (i hope links are OK here - numbers are for later reference, nothing else):

1) Knoppix [knopper.net] (of course)
2) SimplyMEPIS [mepis.org]
3) SLAX [slax.linux-live.org]
4) SUSE Live-Eval [suse.com]
5) Ubuntu [ubuntulinux.org]
6) Gnoppix [gnoppix.org]

You'll find a few more here: [distrowatch.com...]
- or here: [google.com...]

These six were not chosen at random. Each of them have one or more points that distinguish them from the others in terms of user experience. Some have emphasis on some things and some on other things. I'll leave it up to you to do most of the discovery, though :)

The trick with these CD's is:

Put them in your CD drive, restart your PC and run Linux instantly. Without installing anything and without even touching the windows system that's currently there.

All of them, except (4) will also make it possible to install linux on your system quite easily. Either alongside windows or by deleting windows, that is up to you but do try a few before you install.

- i added 4 as it's somewhat different to the others (one of the three mainstream distros, redhat and mandrake being the other two) and it's got excellent hardware detection and a really user-friendly graphical configure tool called Yast.

Simply put, the live CDs do the hardware detection as your PC boots up (they will even autodetect internet connections in most cases - specifically next-to-all broadband - so you're instantly online) and that takes care of most of the hassle otherwise inolved in the install process.

Perhaps you noted that (1) and (6) have very similar names. The obvious difference is that (6) has the GNOME window manager (so has (5)) and (1) has the KDE window manager (more on that shortly - Knoppix in fact has several window managers, including Gnome).

Number 3, SLAX, is slackware based, number 4 is a separate flavour (SUSE), the rest are Debian based (afaik). All that is techspeak and you shouldn't really care about it. They're all good and can do the job (whateveritis) just nicely - also, they all have nice (different) graphical interfaces, and they're quite user-friendly.

Getting linux
All of the above can be downloaded as .iso files and burned on a CD. It's incredibly easy to do, and with a recent CD-burner the burning process should take at most five minutes - meaning that the time from you start the burn till you are running linux will be less than 10 minutes.

That said, a CD holds more than 600Mb, so a download takes a long time, even with broadband. All of them (and several dozens others) can be delivered to your door for a small price though.

So, what was that window manager thingy, again

On Windows and Mac you have a nice graphical point-and-click interface. This interface is so much a part of your system that... well, for all practical purposes it is your system (at least to most people). And it can be customized too, with nice backgrounds, colors, font sizes etc etc.

On linux it's a little different. Simply put, you don't have a a nice graphical point-and-click interface - in stead you have several of them to choose from (and all of them can of course be customized too, with nice backgrounds, colors, font sizes etc etc.) No, you don't need to reboot first, no, not even if you have to install them first, and yes you can run more than one of them at the same time (whyever one would want to do that beats me, btw.) Some of the distros i mentioned above, notably knoppix, has a few different ones preinstalled.

Oh, and then you don't really have a desktop... as such. You should have at least four of them with a standard configuration, but that's not really the important point (although some would argue otherwise).

You have themes. Yes, just like on windows, but then again - not quite like in windows. Think "more powerful" - first, you have a lot more themes to choose from, second, it's not just colors and backgrounds - it's the way the whole user interface behaves.

So, there's something to get used to in terms of variety. Which begs the question:

Why try all those distros when any one can do all you need and then some?

Of course you don't have to. The choice is yours. The thing i'm trying to say is that after you try a few of them you will note that they are very similar in spite of their differences. You will learn (the easy way) that it's really a question of taste, and not a hard choice.

Also, some of them will be better suited to your particular hardware than others "out-of-the-box". There are differences in the software they include per default and how it is set up, but there's not a single thing that you can do with one of them that you will not be able to do with another, eventually (and mostly, easily). It could very well boil down to such insignificant matters as if you prefer a green frog (or a big K, or a red hat, or a footprint, or whatever) as your "start button".

Most likely, though, one of them will have you up and running with all your hardware detected faster than the others, and/or have the (types of) software that you personally find most valuable be better integrated overall.

So, what didn't i mention?

Well, to name two, Mandrake or Redhat. These are big solid mainstream (and somewhat "commercial") distros, just like SUSE (only the latter is not as "hyped" / "well known", but fully on par in all respects).

Or, to name two others, Linspire or Xandros. You don't need those unless you really want to run a lot of windows sotware on linux (for whatever reason).

All linuxes have a windows emulating program called Wine, which will allow you to do just that. The above two have both done a very good job of integrating that deep into the user interface to make it as easy as possible to use. Not that they're bad distros or anything (afaik), it's just not really necessary.

Why? Because, if you really want to run windows, you should do just that, ie. run windows. It is perfectly possible, and no problem at all to run both windows and linux on the same PC. When you boot you just choose which one you want to use.

Also, as noted, wine will let you run most windows programs on linux, although, naturally, it does not run windows programs as well as windows does (which is both bad and good).

... oh, i forgot...security

Actually i didn't forget, but i forgot to write why i didn't mention it a lot.

First, you can do much worse harm to/with a linux system than you can to/with a PC. It is more powerful, so if you do the wrong things you do the wrong things. Including the case that others do the wrong thing on your box. Still, there's a few things that linux don't really have, like, say system crashes, virii, malware and so on.

Second, it's quite easy to keep on the right track. There are simple things to do that are also quite powerful, like, say:

  • Don't be root unless you really, really have to
  • Set up IPchains / firewall or something like that
  • Always use passwords, and do change them
  • Don't be root unless you really, really have to
  • Control and set up user rights for all users
  • Make separate users if others should have access to your machine
  • Don't be root unless you really, really have to
  • Control which services run on your machine
  • Disable and/or remove every service you dont really need
  • Don't be root unless you really, really have to

..and so on. I should add that there's no need to be root unless you really really have to, which should happen extremely rarely. In fact, most really serious windows problems occur because you are root more or less always, ie. when you really should not be.

Still, do remember that root password and do change it. Then, continue to use sudo in stead of your root account. (i admit that this sounds technical: root is the administrator account, and sudo will allow those that are allowed to do so to do admin tasks without being the admin account)

Nuff said, sure hope this helps ;)
2:27 am on Jan 23, 2005 (gmt 0)

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How are you getting hacked? If windows is set up right you will not get hacked. Install Firefox and don't use IE at all. Get XP Pro or 2000. Set up your security right. If you don't do it on Windows you won't do it on Linux either. Linux is not safer than windows if you don't set it up right.
1:34 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I've been using Mandrake on my desktop for a year or two now. Download the CD's (there's three, and it'll take an evening to download them). Install isn't much different than a win install in terms of difficulty. Really, it's almost just put the first cd in, boot, and answer the questions.

The gui is as nice as anything windows has once you get familiarized with it.

Security is a breeze. It's got built in security/firewall. You just turn it on and check off the things the internet is allowed to access.

For the new user, I think you should stick to one of Redhat or mandrake (or maybe suse). You want the distro's that are going to cause you the least amount of trouble even if it sacrifices customization. You'll have enough to learn.

Also Mandrake - and I'm sure Redhat - have dual boot capabilities. If windows is installed already, with some preparation you can squeeze it into one section of your drive and install linux around it. Then when you boot, you'll get a menu that asks you which os to boot to. I've done this with my dell which came with ms installed. That lets me boot into windows the once or twice a month I need to do that (and I can access my ms data files on linux anyway).

10:59 pm on Jan 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I personally love debian but I think that suse linux is what you want. It is the closest thing to an easy to use/install linux distro that I have found. My other suggestion would be to look into ubuntu linux. It's basically debian except more pollished.
6:10 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Its been some months sice I searched but my criteria was a laptop which ran Linux (or a Unix like operating system) preferably without a Windows Licensing Fee.

Brands / Types:
Apple Machines
Whitebooks (machines sold without os, generally sold to be rebranded by small manfacturers).
Asus, ECS, other "bare bones" type notebooks

HP TC1000 (license fee)
"emporer linux" machines (license fee)
"linux certified" machines
(there are similar other brand type machines)

Compatability Resources:

I went with a Powerbook (weight and customer support were big criteria), but good ole walmart has some very attractive pricing particularly if looking at desktops.

7:36 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I would warn against powerbook because its wireless card's driver is proprietary and can't be used under linux. My housemate always has to plug his powerbook in to a ethernet cable to get online.

I'm a big fan of ibooks and IBM's T40s.

4:04 pm on Feb 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I recommend you get a Mac (which as people have said is now based on a *nix variant, FreeBSD) and install Fink Commander and XDarwin so you can run all the *nix programs you want. Also make sure to make a shortcut to the Terminal program right in your dock. Fink Commander is a package manager like rpm on RedHat. If necessary you can pay your dues to Microsoft and get Office for the mac (you get a license to use it on 3 macs in your house) and even a Virutal PC program so you will never have to worry about being unable to run any program (though don't expect virtual pc to be too fast). The new mac minis are pretty cheap but the really cool machines are the laptops like the PowerBooks or the iBook. You get the advantages of Linux without having to worry if the components will work. I don't know what they're talking about in one of the previous posts with the ethernet card not working ... my machine came with built in airport card and it works fine.

But if you have your heart set on linux and not Mac I recommend Fedora Core 3 (based on the former RedHat Linux).

Also, I disagree that it's possible to set up a Windows box to be as secure as a *nix box. I've tried to lock down my Windows XP box at home pretty well and it still gets infected sometimes... my mac and linux server are another story. Though I do agree that if you do not set up linux with security in mind (turn every service on and leave every port open ...) then it isn't very safe. But I don't think many configure their linux systems that way.

8:31 pm on Feb 3, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I use XP on my desktop and Linux for our servers, and I personally think you're jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Yes, spyware and adware are a problem, but only a problem if you install things you shouldn't from sleezy companies - I check the net before installing questionable things BEFORE installing.

Same thing with Linux, we have to check everything against known vulnerability lists before installing anything new else your machine gets hacked faster than you can say "reboot". At least with Windows XP you get most of your patches from Microsoft when they fix vulnerabilities. Not with Linux, oh no, when you install a bunch of applications that would normally come bundled and maintained by Microsoft you have to check each and every one of them for vulnerabilities and updates all on your own.

However, if you must go with Linux, we just switched to all Mandrake linux across the board for all our servers and it seems to be very secure out of the box. Sometimes it's TOO secure and you'll run into hair pulling issues like FTP not working (I answered a thread about that today...) because the passive FTP ports were closed by default.

Good luck!

[edited by: incrediBILL at 8:43 pm (utc) on Feb. 3, 2005]

8:43 pm on Feb 3, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Excellent live-CD comparison here (18 different ones!)

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