How to check out Linux (and not how to)

I’ve always wanted to check out a good version of Linux and ended up visiting the Ubuntu web site.  They have a version (8.10) out now that appears to be very nice indeed.  A long-ish download of 699Mb – 35 minutes for me – and I had the ISO file for it.  I burned it to a CD and started up Microsoft’s Virtual PC.  This was a mistake, but I didn’t know that until after it took me over four hours to just install the version of Linux.

Creating the virtual hard drive and the associated RAM and whatnot needed for the operating system took mere minutes but actually installing the OS took the time.  I knew I was in trouble when the DOS-like screen suddenly divided into a green half and a black half.  Then, all the pixels defining individual characters appeared to ‘split’ into vertical rows of proper pixels and no pixels.  This made reading text really hard.  After a minute of this, the screen then flashed black and vertical green bars appeared. And, no text anymore.

I already knew that the emulated video card for MS’s VPC was just a Trio S3 with 8Mb of RAM.  A very weak card that stopped being sold about 8 or 10 years ago.  The Ubuntu installation also installs with a 24-bit color density – which MS VPC does not support.  This was apparent when the desktop finally appeared.

I clicked a couple of things, opened a few windows, kicked the tires, slammed the doors, and gunned the engine a bit.  What happened was that the wheels fell off.  The screen cleared, then replaced itself with a horizontally-torn replacement that made the mouse pointer appear at six separate horizontal bars approximately 30 pixels apart arranged in a vertical row.  Very much like an old TV set when you played with the horizontal hold and managed to throw it out of kilter. Somehow, the refresh rate had been changed to something the emulated Trio card couldn’t handle.  No amount of messing with it could fix the problem.

I finally just gave up after chatting on the MS VPC newsgroup to some friends who advised that I try VMWare Reader – and a pre-initialized version of Ubuntu Linux.  Once I downloaded the reader, and the compressed OS file I installed them both.  Ubuntu Linux came up flawlessly and allowed me to immediately “see” all the attached computers here and the Internet.  Total time involved: 1.5 hours.

Conclusion: the VMWare Reader and the Ubuntu 8.10 Operating system is the way to go.  Now, I can test some of my web programming on a Linux machine.  If you are curious about Linux and how it operates, and have just a little ‘geek’ in you to give it a go, grab those two (free) items and have at it.