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Case  CPU RAM HD Video Drives OS Sound Monitor Modem Network
Desktop P4-2.8 1 GB 40 GB Intel 845G 31/2,CD Debian 5
AC97 SB 17" 56k 10/100

        Linus, in his new incarnation, is a Del GX260 desktop computer.  These machines cost $1200 new, maybe six years ago; but can be picked up for $100 or so today. The motherboard's two DIMM slots are half maxed out on this machine at 1 GB. The board can hold up to 2 GB. The motherboard also holds a pair of PCI 2.2 slots, and a single AGP 2.0 video slot, though it is only a half height slot. There are six USB 2,0 ports, two of them at the front of the machine. There are also a single parallel port, and serial port. On board sound, video, and 10/100 networking are also included. The PCI cards are housed in a cage, which is removable, and allows for full height PCI cards by turning them sideways. The AGP card must be a half height card. Expandability is not particularly good; but for a small machine of this type it is good enough. At any rate, for most users, the on board components will fill their needs.

        The internals are pretty easy to get at. This is a clam shell case, and can easily be opened by depressing a pair of buttons on either side of the rear portion of the case.  Drive cages are located in the upper portion of the case, while everything else is attached to the motherboard in the lower portion.

        I have made only two upgrades to this machine. As might be expected, the hard drive, and the RAM were both upgraded. I may consider another stick of RAM; but the upgrade path for a space saver machine like this is pretty short. The machine came with Windows, or at any rate with a Windows COA sticker' but what I really wanted was Linux. Since the hard drive was missing anyway, I saw no need to install Windows from scratch.

        I have been playing with UNIX quite a bit lately; but it has been several years since I was actively using a Linux computer, and things have changed a bit. They have gotten more confusing; but they have also gotten better. What is confusing is the huge number of Linux versions out there. In order to be able to call itself Linux, a system must use the Linux Kernel, maintained by Linus Torvald. This is the basic operating system, and controls the workings of the system; but for most people, it is not enough. So developers have built upon this, and bundle quite a few things in with the various versions of Linux. These bundles are called distributions, know affectionately as distros.

        All of my early experience with Linux was with the Red Hat distro.  This was one of the earliest successful versions out there, and is one of the oldest distros available. It was by far the most popular, and the most well developed and best supported. This may no longer be true. Red Hat has branched off into two versions. There is the Enterprise version, and then the Fedora version. Fedora is for the home user, and Enterprise is for the business user, and must be bought.

        I downloaded the Fedora version, and burned it to a disc. It was extremely disappointing.  The disc is bootable, and boots directly into the operating system. It is a huge chore to actually load the system onto a hard drive, and eventually , I just gave the whole thing up. In addition to the effort involved, this is not, technically, the same system used in business installations of Red Hat. So I was not certain how much use Fedora would be for adding to my work skills. Looking at the other distros, I thought that SUSE might be a good choice, as it is supported by both IBM, and Novell. Unfortunately, SUSE has a user agreement that I did not care for, and seems to be almost as constricting as Windows, Finally, I settled upon Debian.

        Debian is free, open, and has a large user and developer base. The distro itself is huge, spanning over twenty discs.  This gigantic distro includes developer tools, a series of different shells, and a number of programs and utilities. basically, it is amazingly complete, and you may find yourself wondering why anyone would bother buying software from Microsoft. Debian was designed to be installed on your hard drive, rather than run from a CD, and seems to have much of the original spirit that I remember in the Linux community of a few years back.

        As with downloading any Linux Distro, you save a series of ISO images, from which discs are burned. This should not be a problem for any computer less than maybe five years old. XP and Vista both know how to handle ISO images, and pretty much every computer out there today has a disc burner. For Windows 2K and below, you may need a program like Nero to get this done. These files can not be used directly, and must be burned to a disc.

        Once you have your series of discs made, you simply set your computer to boot from its optical drive, and  let the first disc boot up. Install is pretty easy, and the system can be up and running in an hour or so, once the first few discs are loaded. So what are the other discs for? They are filled with software, utilities, games, applications, and everything else you can imagine. I am still sifting through the collection, and figuring out what everything is. What is truly amazing, is how easy the installation was. Hardware was detected with no problem. My network server, router, and internet setting were all detected and set with no problems. As soon as my system was up, it was on my network, and on the Internet. Even the sound card, and USB ports, which I remember as being so difficult on my Red Hat install, were faultlessly detected and set up.

        Presently, this machine is housed at the desk in my living room. It is hard wired into my network, and is mostly used for browsing the Internet, and learning Linux. This system has become so well developed that I don't see much advantage, if any, to going with Microsoft, even when not considering the cost of the Windows OS. The future of computing now seems to most assuredly be Linux and UNIX. The links below lead to the Debian and Linux homepages.



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