Linux and me

My own free work/home-office operating system and application suite


Barry Kauler

(c) Copyright Barry Kauler 2000. All rights reserved.


Why Linux?

Me and Microsoft DOS/Windows go way back. At my workplace in the early- to mid-'80s I used CP/M machines. I purchased my first home personal computer, a Macintosh, in 1984. In the late '80s I used x86 IBM-PCs & compatibles, both at work and at home. At first it was all MSDOS (Microsoft DOS), but I graduated to MSWindows 3.0. I took a liking to Digital Research's DRDOS (an MSDOS clone). I had DRDOS running on a PC and purchased MSWindows 3.1. But MSWindows refused to install, with the message that the version of DOS was incompatible. So I installed MSDOS, then MSWindows, then reinstalled DRDOS, and everything worked fine.

Conclude the obvious from that. I guess that would be about the time my desire to use non-Microsoft products took root.

The problem was, MSWindows and MSOffice are the standards where I work, and just about everywhere else. OS/2 had a bit of a fling for awhile, but never made it. The Mac languished. I've got four PCs at home and two in the office at work, so I'm constrained to use software than runs on the IBM-compatible x86 architecture. Linux lurked there in the background for so many years as a possible contender, but it never looked good enough.

I also got sick of feeding money to huge corporations like Microsoft. I was a member of the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), which was costing about A$850 per year (that was the price in 1998, which was the equivalent of about US$550), just to get a heap of upgrade CDs (plus a newsletter). No compiler even; that's extra. Then, I was forced to toe the line at work and purchase MSOffice, and the upgrades, though I persisted in using Lotus SmartSuite for my own work.

The idea of free operating system, free compilers, free office suites , free upgrades -- that was dreamland stuff.

Well, all these years Linux has been slowly maturing, and suddenly the fundamentally superior and stable operating system has acquired the graphical applications and ease of use to match MSWindows. The dream of being free of Microsoft's "money cow" is now realisable.

Which Linux?

The kernel of Linux was originally developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991, and he continues to coordinate upgrades, though now the number of people actively developing code for the operating system and applications is in the thousands.

Several commercial companies sell Linux. That is, they sell CDROMs with documentation and additional software tools, and support -- that is what you pay for, not for the free software. These are known as Linux distributions, and some major distributors are Red Hat, SuSE, Caldera, and Corel. There are also some free distributions, maintained by volunteers, most notably Debian, though note that the major distributors also release free versions, usually a couple of version numbers behind the latest release and maybe missing some proprietary features (and of course without the printed documentation and support).

One of the great things about having so many distributors is that they are all vying to outdo each other. Many employ programmers full-time to develop tools to enhance their particular distribution. A major outcome of this has been significant advances in ease of installation and graphical administration/configuration of the system.

Companies such as Intel and IBM have invested in these distributors, strengthening the recognition that the major corporations see a significant future for Linux. Major software vendors, such as Corel and IBM, have been and are porting their products to Linux. In Corel's case, Debian was chosen as the default distribution. With major companies aligning with various distributions, does this mean that it is best for us, as users, to chose a certain distribution?

That is, are there going to be advantages in using a certain distribution, if, say, we want to run Corel applications? My comment on this is that Linux is Linux, and any distribution is ok. However, there may be some ease-of-use issues associated with using and configuring a particular distribution and commercial product. The situation is in such a state of flux, with new developments announced weekly, that the best I can do is recommend that you study news media carefully before deciding.

In this book I have chosen Red Hat, SuSE and Debian as case studies, which reflects my personal preferences.

Why KDE?

Two major contenders for the Linux graphical desktop have emerged: KDE and Gnome.

Gnome is up-and-coming, but still lags behind KDE in terms of features, stability, and application support. Also, major commercial software vendors, such as Corel (WordPerfect, CorelDraw, etc.) and Opera Software (Opera), are backing KDE.

Another significant point is that KOffice, the open-source business software suite, is written for KDE.

Why KOffice?

There are commercial applications for Linux, and business suites. In the latter category are Applixware and CorelOffice. There are some simple freeware suites, such as Siag Office, and a sophisticated commercial suite that is now free is StarOffice. There are also a host of individual Linux applications.

Most of these, suites or individual applications, commercial or non-commercial, do not have the advantages of desktop integration. This is taken for granted in MSWindows, with such features as cut & paste between applications, and object linking & embedding. A Linux suite may have integration, but only within the suite. However, KDE has the same features as MSWindows, and all suites and individual applications written for KDE also have full desktop integration.

Thus, KOffice not only integrates within its own application suite, but also with the KDE desktop and other KDE applications. There is also a consistent look & feel across all KDE applications.

KOffice is free, but does not skimp on features. It is powerful. For example, much of this book was written using KLyx, one component of the KOffice suite.


Linux has reached a point of maturity where Microsoft and the legion of those with vested interests in Microsoft's continued dominance, are attempting to contrast Linux with MSWindows in a way that show's Linux's inferiority.

In this book I have done the reverse, that is, contrast Linux favourably against MSWindows. In places I have "insulted" Microsoft, but hopefully it will be taken in the good humour that is intended. I'm reminded of a company in Germany that received a threat from Microsoft, that forced them to remove a slogan from their Web page on the Internet. You are probably familiar with Microsoft's famous slogan "Where do you want to go today?". This German company, a Linux vendor, invented the slogan "Where do you want to go tomorrow?"

Where do you want to go tomorrow? Do you like the idea of an open-source operating system and applications, with thousands of enthusiasts around the world beavering away, fixing bugs, improving and refining? Or, do you worry that non-commercial software may not provide the stability, features and future support (or present support) that you may need?

This is a line that the anti-Linux camp are pushing very strongly. The agument in support of Linux however, is very difficult to counter. Some significant points can be made:

In other words, the argument against open-source falls flat on its face.

This book

I have written this book for computer-literate people. That is, you know how to use your PC and understand the terminology. I expect you also to know something about MSDOS commands and the directory structure. That is, you should understand "dir", "cd", etc.

I do not expect you to understand IBM PC hardware in-depth, but you should at least know how everything plugs-in on the back and the difference between a parallel and serial port. You should also have a basic idea about interface settings, such as io address, irq number, and dma number.

If you are floundering at even these basic hardware issues, all is not lost. Find a friendly "computer nerd" to help you with the installation of Linux.

I have devoted a considerable portion of the book to the hardware and installation, in a manner that covers all distributions, with in-depth case studies pertaining to Red Hat, SuSE and Debian distributions. However, you can use any distribution and still find these in-depth case studies relevant. Installation is covered in Chapters 1 and 2.

Having installed Linux, you need to know how to navigate around and perform basic operations. This is covered in Chapter 3. Basic usage of the KDE desktop is in Chapter 4. You will also need to know more advanced configuration and maintenance, and this is covered in Chapter xxx.

I must emphasise that, apart from a basic knowledge of the PC as outlined above, you do NOT NEED ANY PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OF LINUX. You can follow the instructions given in this book and be up and running as a power user of KOffice. This book takes you from beginning to end (the only qualification to this is that Linux is a very sophisticated and powerful operating system, and at a later time I recommend that you purchase a book that focuses just on the operating system). In this book I guide you from installation right through using the operating system to mastering advanced applications. The applications are what will transform you from just "playing" with the operating system to a "power user". Have fun!

How to read this book

Aargh! I hate it when a book has a "How to read this book" section!

I've got very little to tell you though. Start by reading in sequence, from Chapter 1 to learn how to install Linux, Chapter 2 if you need help to install KDE, Chapter 3 to establish some basic Linux principles, then Chapter 4 to get started using KDE. After that, jump around as you wish.

The rules are few. Here they are:

About the author

Principal Kauler outside "the old school house".

Hi folks. I live in a small town in the mid-West region of Western Australia. Well, it used to be a town, up until the early 1940s. There was a railway station, post office, general store, hotel, and yes, a school. Gradually the town died and the buildings got demolished or transported elsewhere, until all that remained was the school teacher's house, now known locally as "the old school house". As the only resident left in town, I have declared myself School Principal. I'm also the Mayor and Sheriff.

I sat endless hours in my splendid isolation, with only kangaroos, rabbits, birds and foxes for company, lovingly creating Linux for me. The old school lives again, and my students scatter the face of this earth.

The boring bits about myself are that I have collected a few degrees and I lecture at Edith Cowan University. I've also put pen to paper, figuratively speaking, many times in the past, and currently have two other books in print; Flow design for embedded systems and Windows assembly language & systems programming.

I'm now a Linux renegade. Welcome into my classroom ...


(c) Copyright Barry Kauler 2000. All rights reserved.
Extract from book Linux for me, to be published sometime, maybe.
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