Saturday, March 24, 2007

Linux downloads

My previous blog entry indicated the arrival of Ubuntu's new (beta) iteration, 7.04 (codenamed Feisty Fawn). For those of you who've never used Linux or downloaded a Linux file, you might think that this lack of familiarity might be an obstacle. Nothing could be further from the truth. As stated previously, distros come in many different flavors. But when you're ready to download the distro of your choice what do you do?

Distros come in *.iso files (the "*" being there for the filename that you're downloading). ISO files are simply optical disk images. You can load them onto any disk burning software & burn a normal cd as easily as you can make a music or data cd. Most, if not all, retail programs can do this but there are also free, open-source solutions that do so as well ala 7-Zip. It's all a matter of choice & preference.

The second thing you need to know when downloading distros is what type of hardware (CPU) you own. You see, distros are created with specifications to take full advantage of your hardware. It's nowhere near as difficult as it might sound- you just need to know if you own an Intel or AMD-based cpu (or SPARC, if that's how you roll). If you're not sure, all you need to do (in Windows) is: Right-click on the "my computer" icon, select Properties & at the bottom of the "general" tab, under "Computer," Windows tells you what type you own. Easy huh?

One of the easier steps (though, they're all pretty easy) is to figure out if you'd like to do a full install or just take it out for a "test drive." Most of you like test driving your cars before you buy them, Linux is no different in that it allows you to do the same. Of course, you might KNOW that you want to do the full install & are prepared to download several cd's or 1 dvd full of data & that's fine. Most people will want to kick the tires a bit &, as such, there's a solution for this called a LiveCD. LiveCDs (aka Desktop CDs) are great in that you don't have to change any current configuration, remove windows or even start from a fresh hard drive. You just select that type of download, burn it onto 1 disk (all LiveCDs fit on 1 disk), pop it in your cd/dvd drive & reboot your computer. The only caveat being that your BIOS has to be configured to boot from cd as its first option. Not to worry, though, most newer, pre-configured computers from large manufacturers come this way and you usually don't have to touch a thing.

Lastly, you should know about MD5 sums. This isn't a mandatory need, so it can be skipped, but it's simple & helps out immensely in case of problems with the install. An MD5 sum is just a simple binary hash which gives your ISO a unique identifier, kind of like a fingerprint. It's a series of numbers & letters that the producers of your ISO share with you & can be found on the same page where you downloaded your ISO from. You can download free MD5 sum checkers from various places & google can help you find one (it's usually a very small, less than 100kb, tool). Once you've downloaded your ISO image, all you do is run your MD5 checker against that image & it'll produce a series of numbers and letters. If they match with what your author gave you, then your download is an exact replica. Now, if you run into problems with running your install or LiveCD, you know that it wasn't due to a "bad copy."

Many central download repositories and mirrors exist for Linux, but I prefer for their many cool features.

Voila! You've just downloaded, burned and verified your FIRST Linux distro!

Taking it our for a spin is up to you. Enjoy. :)

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