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Starting the Adventure

How should I start?



1:03 am on Mar 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I've been thinking for a long time that I should try to learn how to use Linux, and now I've decided to start actively working toward taking the plunge. So, before I get started, I have a few questions.

First, I plan on buying a new computer just for testing purposes. I don't have a lot of money available for this, so I'm looking to buy the cheapest machine possible that will run Linux. (I can build my own machine if someone can recommend good choices for mobo, processor and other hardware.) I want something good enough that I don't spend all day waiting on it, but it doesn't have to be a screamer either.

Second, I want to try to get started with Redhat. Are there any special steps I need to take, particular instructions, etc.?

Third, my main object in this is to learn how to operate my own dedicated server. With that in mind, is there any particular way to install or configure Redhat to be in line with the tools or interface I'll be using to administer a remote server?

Fourth, is there anything I should know that I haven't asked?

Many thanks for any pointers!



1:33 am on Mar 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

CPU speed isn't all that important under Linux for medium-stress workloads and non-graphical use. I just built a new server for $200USD with a silent all-in-one mini ATX barebones case, 2.4Ghz cpu and 512MB RAM. It is blazingly fast. (I used spare drives to come in at $200, YMMV.)

Getting started with Redhat is pretty easy- just download the ISOs for whichever flavor you like, burn 'em and boot up. The graphical installer does all the work. It will even tune the installation to your needs- you can choose the "Server" package to get all the usual server software.

There are two Redhat flavors these days: Fedora, the hobbyist/community distribution, and Redhat Enterprise (RHEL), the data-center oriented flavor. Which you pick might be informed by how you plan to use Linux in the future- less expensive hosting companies might provide Fedora, while the higher-end might provide RHEL. In terms of what you get, RHEL 4 and Fedora Core 3 are almost the same software. FC will grow rapidly, and RHEL will remain stable for many years to come.

If you do choose RHEL, you'll find that it is both free and commercial. The distribution itself is legally free, but you'll need a Redhat support contract to download it easily. Several third parties have their own free "versions" of RHEL; essentially the same software with the Redhat logos removed and their own in their place. A popular one is Centos (which is what is on my server), also WhiteBox and others.


9:06 pm on Mar 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member encyclo is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I would agree that the hardware is not too important - my main machine is a 500Mhz Celeron with 128Mb of RAM, and it runs Linux just fine with a lightweight window manager. I have a test web server running just fine on a 133MHz pentium 1. You should avoid any very new or unusual hardware - anything that has been around at least 6 months usually works. As it is a test machine, don't bother with fancy graphics cards and the like. Buy any cheap procesor (Celeron or something like that) and it'll run fine, especially if you don't load X (the graphics) at all.

If you want Red Hat, go for Fedora as it is very similar to RHEL, but has a better community support behind it. I assume you're talking about a web server, which is about as basic a task as it gets for a Linux machine. I haven't used Fedora, but usually you can install Apache, PHP, etc. automatically during the initial install process. You should also choose the development packages, including gcc (compiler) for when you want to roll your own Apache install. You'll need sshd to be able to connect remotely - which you'll want to do if you are to simulate running a truly remote server.

Other than that, go with the defaults - you can change stuff later. To start with, install the graphical interface - Gnome is the Red Hat default window manager, and it is a good one.

When I first installed Linux, I did it on my main machine, wiping Windows completely. The install went fine, and I've never looked back. It is easy to get a basic system running - after that, you can tweak things to your heart's content!


9:26 pm on Mar 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member wheel is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

You don't need a new machine. Use your current machine and just google on dual boot redhat. You can set your machine up so that on boot it lets you select if you want to boot into Windows or Linux. You don't need to spend any money to try it out :). I don't run redhat, but I bet that the current versions of redhat will set up the dual boot automatically for you (the distro I use does that). You need to do scandisk and a few other things on windows first, but it's nothing you can't handle.


9:30 pm on Mar 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Surprising as it may sound, I would go with Gentoo (gentoo.org) instead of redhat for a novice. It's harder to install than redhat, but you'll understand the logic of what's going on and it'll be easier with any flavor of linux afterwards.

Besides, I'm happily runnung Gentoo on all my production servers with great success. There are some other benefits over redhat as well.


9:30 pm on Mar 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

If you really want a Red Hat distribution, definitely go for Fedora or the Enterprise distros, as the earlier Red Hats (up to v.9.0/Shrike) are getting difficult to support and find new software for.

It is probably a good idea to start with Red Hat since you hope to sign up for a dedicated server and that's probably what they'll be offering. Try and get the latest version, because you'll want current (more secure) versions of Sendmail, OpenSSL, and other programs, and it's a challenge (to say the least) to upgrade those apps, sometimes.

A higher-performance distro would be one from Debian, but I haven't seen any being offered on dedicated servers, lately.

linuxiso.org can supply you with lots of different distros, but no RH Enterprise.

How well the installation goes will typically come down to hardware: if you have "normal" gear, almost any distro should install just fine. I have had issues wiping a drive and installing Linux when the box had the "Made for Windows XP" sticker on it, so watch for that.

I did have trouble with installing Fedora 1/2/3 on one system that contained a Samuels GigaPro CPU, where installation proceeded just fine until the system rebooted at the end, and the video never came up. Red Hat 9 installed smoothly, and has been running ever since.

Remember: THIS IS FUN! :) So if you need to go through the process a few times, take the opportunity to learn from it. It's not a bad thing to reformat your drive (which most distros handle for you during installation) and to see what's happening when/if problems occur. The more problems you solve, the more capable you will be of recognizing the solutions when you're halfway across the world, managing your dedicated server without a mouse. ENJOY!


9:44 pm on Mar 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member encyclo is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I'm not a fan of dual-booting - it is disruptive especially during setup as you need to reboot constantly if you want to look something up on your Windows partition. What's more, you specifically need to get used to controlling the test machine via ssh from your primary machine, which you can't do if you don't keep things separate.

I have never reinstalled my primary machine since I loaded it with Linux for the first time two years ago. Linux is not Windows: it remains stable pretty much whatever you throw at it. You don't need to reboot often either - apart from kernel upgrades, you can just restart the appropriate daemon.

Also, whilst Gentoo is a good distribution, most dedicated servers offer Red Hat only (or occasionally Suse or Debian), so I agree that Fedora or RHEL is a better choice.


6:00 pm on Mar 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Thanks for the tips guys. I think I'm going to work toward building one of these machines in the next month or so, as soon as I wrap up a couple other projects I have going. The only other question I have for now is, can I plug a network cable into my new Linux box and access my LAN Internet connection? (Our network is currently all Windows machines.)

I don't see why there should be a problem, particularly if it doesn't have to communicate with the other machines, but I thought I'd ask just to make sure.

Thanks again!



6:23 pm on Mar 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Great Thread.

I'm going to be taking the plunge myself in a few months (when my March adsense check comes in).

I heard the arguements for dual-booting, the that method is not for me.

The problem with dual booting is that I want to be able to learn linux slowly just by using it (organic learning). Dual booting doesn't let me go back and forth between what I am comfortable to do work with "windows" and what I am learning "linux".

My plan is to buy a $200-300 non-OS used laptop off ebay and slap linux on there. Non-OS laptops sell pretty cheap on ebay since the majority of users want it to work "out of box". I'll use this cheap(er) computer to allow me to work on content (leaving graphics and coding to my windows machine) anywhere around campus.

My main problem is that I cannot decide which linux distro to use! I am trying to find a distribution that is easy to install but doesn't baby me by being a windows clone.

Any suggestions?


6:36 pm on Mar 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Matthew: You should have little trouble plugging in the cable and getting online ... especially if your NIC is configured correctly, either using a static or dynamic address.

Livenomadic: Gentoo has the smallest footprint, with a minimal install coming in at under 100MB. You can also burn yourself a Knoppix disk and run that from pretty much any computer, all by itself. (Actually, it doesn't run well from my ancient Micron laptop, but all the desktops I've tried it with respond nicely.)

Knoppix is a distro that runs entirely from the CD ... it boots up from the CD and gives you an amazing level of access to the system it's running over. It may be one of the better ways to check out a Linux OS with hardly any effort. You don't need a dedicated system, and you can experiment with all sorts of Linux toys. I use it pretty regularly to examine and fix corrupted Windows installations, make copies of hard drives and other techish stuff, but I probably wouldn't use it as my only Linux. I use Red Hat 7.2/7.3/9.0 and Fedora Core 1-3 on various production systems. What can be surprising is how fast Knoppix is, even running from the CD ... it puts some other OSs to shame, and illustrates the potential for a "real" Linux installation's performance.


6:49 pm on Mar 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

A side note about dual-booting: I do agree with encyclo that it makes the installation process a little more complicated. There are rules, such as Windows must be on the primary partition and where the boot loader must be located, but these can be accomodated, and are a good experience for anyone who wants to learn more about partitioning and the nature of a hard drive.

At my home I installed a duat-boot Win98/RH9 machine for two reasons:

1: The Bank of America and Wells Fargo websites pretty much demand MSIE, which doesn't come preinstalled with Linux.

2: My wife has a few programs she need to occasionally run for her work that are old and have not been ported to Linux.

We successfully used Wine to run those apps from within Linux, but we can't get around the bank website issues. So we usually boot into Linux (the default), but occasionally we'll boot into Windows for a few minutes, get the banking done or do a little work, and then restart back into Linux.

Once they're both installed successfully, you'll hardly notice that Windows is there! ;)


7:01 pm on Mar 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member encyclo is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

StupidScript, I use CrossoverOffice to run Internet Explorer under Linux and it works well. It should be just fine with Wine too (you can get the IE install stuff from the Evolt browser archive) and it might fix your banking issues. I assume that you can't just fake the user agent in Firefox? (I would change banks, myself, but that's not always possible).

I am trying to find a distribution that is easy to install but doesn't baby me by being a windows clone.

The "Windows clone" part comes more from the choice of Window Manager rather than the choice of distribution. Personally, I use XFCE (4.06) which is very lightweight (perfect for an older machine) and resembles more the CDE environment found in Solaris (however it is much better than CDE). KDE is the most "Windows-like" WM. The best bet is to choose a major distribution which includes a wide range of packages. I use Mandrake, but XFCE 4 is not included so I had to compile it from source, but Debian (testing/unstable), Gentoo and Fedora offer it. Fedora is the easiest to install of those three. Once you've picked your distro, stick with it and learn its foibles rather than switching all the time - they're all good, just in different ways.

[edited by: encyclo at 7:04 pm (utc) on Mar. 10, 2005]


7:02 pm on Mar 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator mack is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

For anyone thinking about taking the plunge into the Linux world, I strongly advise it. Using linux can be as simple or as complxed as you want.

When you start you will want a decent desktop (kde is great and ships with most distros)

Lets say you want to make a simple php page. Simple click the "start" icon, go to editors, select your editor of choice open it .. type your file text and "save as". Very very similar to windows. Once you have been using it for a whioe you will feel like getting brave.

open shell..

"pico file.php" this will open the file...
type your text in shell interface
ctrl x to close
select yes to save changes

there are just so many ways to do the same thing. The constraints have been lifted and you are able to use the operating system the way you want to.

In terms of hardware I agree that the specification doesnt need to be the latest and greatest to run Linux, although having said that the better the system the better your experience will be. I run an AMD 3000mhz cpu and a gig of ram on my liux box and it is the best pc I have ever used.

If you do not have a full system to play around with them duel booting may well be the best option. Most of the instalation systems will have a wizard to help you get the system up and running in no time. If you install it on the same disk as windows you will actualy be able to access your windows PC from withn linux to view your documents. It can come in pretty usefull.

One thing I really like about using linux is you can set it up the same way your web host does. That way you can build all your scripts and application and be certain they will work when uploaded. Linux makes a great tool to be used as a test server.



7:07 pm on Mar 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Thanks, encyclo! I just recently heard about CrossOver Office, and will be giving it a spin. I would very much like to stick within the comforting shell of Linux.

And Mack's absolutely right: If you have a production server and a test machine that are configured the same way, you can play around with all sorts of stuff without worry, and then push the really good stuff into production with confidence.

The Web Apprentice

10:29 pm on Mar 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


Before hassling w/ CrossOver, you may want to check with your banks IT dept. My bank's website SAYS you must use IE, but when I asked specifically they sent me an email stating they do support Firefox and in fact many of their customers use Firefox to access their website. ;-)

The Web Apprentice


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