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(?) The Answer Guy (!)

By James T. Dennis, tag@lists.linuxgazette.net
LinuxCare, http://www.linuxcare.com/

(?) Downloading a copy of Linux

From Richard Marsh on Mon, 26 Jul 1999

Hi good day I would line to download the linux program please let me know where and how to download and install this program. and what file I need to have. I want to get to know that operating system. everyone is talking about it and I want it to be my main operating system

Thank You..

(!) I'm afraid that "the linux program" is actually a bit of a misnomer. It is true that Linux is a program. Specifically it is a kernel. You could go to ftp://ftp.us.kernel.org and download any of the versions of the Linux kernel that you'll find there. They range from archaic .10 and .9x versions through the current 2.2 (stable) and 2.3 (developmental) versions.
So, you could download one of these kernels (in source code form, of course). Then you'd compile it (more on that later) and you'd have a copy of "the linux program" to run.
The Linux kernel is after all just a program. It implements about 180 system calls, provides file systems, device drivers, a sockets interfaces with TCP/IP networking suite, and some memory and process management APIs and interprocess communications methods.
Of course that's not of much direct use. A kernel doesn't do anything for a user. It provides a set of services to your applications and other programs. You use those programs and they use the kernel services.
In a technical sense "Linux" is just the kernel. Of course the common sense of the term refers to a large suite of utilities that run under this kernel (combined with the kernel. The most obvious things you need to run this program (the kernel) are:
The Linux kernel is written in C. Linus Torvalds uses GCC and most of the other developers use that or one of its derivatives (such as egcs, now merging back into GCC). This mostly means that you want to compile your Linux kernel on a Linux system. (You could cross-compile it on some other UNIX or UNIX-like system --- but that would be somewhat more complicated.
To boot it you'd need something like the LILO package or a copy of LOADLIN.EXE (and a copy of MS-DOS or one of its clones to run THAT under).
Of course this hypothetical discussion of running the kernel by itself is a bit absurd. To learn Linux and to make any practical use of it, you need a whole suite of programs to install it, as well as a few programs to run under it.
Most of us, particularly the techies among us, refer to different collections of a Linux kernel with GNU, BSD, MIT and other (mostly free) software as "distributions." Distributions combine a kernel with a suite of installation and configuration tools (like 'fdisk' to re-partition your hard drive, and /sbin/lilo to install and update your boot loader (master boot record code) etc). They also include libraries (like DLLs in MS-Windows) and, of course lots of software (like editors, commmand interpreters, compilers, web servers, graphics handlers and drawing programs, etc.
There are many distributions. The most current and up-to-date list that I know of is maintained in a section of the Linux Weekly News which lists links to about 100 of them, and posts any news about them that gets the attention of their editors.
You can read a recent one at:
There are some spcial "micro-distributions" like Tom's Root/Boot, LOAF (Linux on a Floppy), DOSLinux (which installs into a DOS subdirectory) and various special purpose systems like LRP --- the Linux Router Project. Some of these fit on a single floppy. Others fit in about 20Mb or less of archives.
However, most distributions take up over a 100Mb. Consequently they are usually distributed on CDs. There are a couple of places to get very inexpensive sets of Linux CDs. I tend to think CheapBytes http://www.cheapbytes.com first in this category. You can get Debian or Mandrake CDs for as low as $1.99 plus shipping and handling ($5.00). (Mandrake is a derivative of the Red Hat Linux distribution -- it builds on it by adding a few extra packages and refinements, etc).
Now I realize I sound like an ad. You can certainly find whole distributions to download over the Internet. On some sites you can find ISO 9660 CD images (these are 650Mb images suitable to be "burned" right off your drive and onto your CDR or CDRW media). I wouldn't recommend downloading one of those with anything less than a T1 at your disposal.
It's also possible, with some difficulty and quite a bit of patience, to install a Linux distribution with a small set of floppies and an FTP connection. I've installed Red Hat 5.2 with a single boot floppy (and one supplemental, if I recall, it's been awhile). I had to try several times to get it right and to get past the occasional disconnects. That was over a DSL line. I wouldn't try it over a modem.
With Debian you'd cut a set of seven or eight HD floppies, install the "base system" using those, then you could selectively add packages as needed. Although this is possible with the current Debian "stable" release (2.1) it's much easier with the "unstable" (code-named "Potato") version. I have this running on my system at work, and I put a machine on it for an installfest earlier today.
Debian is well suited to installation over the Internet because it has many small packages and relatively sane dependencies. So you can install almost exactly what you need without getting any unwanted space and bandwith consuming "extra" baggage. Using the apt-get and apt-find front ends you basically just issue a command that says: "install that" --- and the system connects to the Debian archive mirror system, finds the latest version of the package for your distribution release, fetches it, installs it, and does the basic initial configuration. It automatically determines any pre-requisite packages (dependencies) and prompts to install those as well.
(Another thing I like about Debian is that you can upgrade all of the packages that you have installed with one commend. If you use the command:
apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade
... you end up with a fully up-to-date system. This seems a bit scary at first. Most of us have had "simple" upgades and installations "break" our systems (particularly those of us from the MS-DOS and MS-Windows worlds). However, I've been experimenting with this feature for several months (tracking the "unstable" developments, no less). About once on every day that I'm in the office I switch to one of my VCs, hit the up arrow a couple of times and re-issue this command from my history.
So far I haven't had one upgrade related problem on that system. None. Not one. Wow!
Despite all this I wouldn't necessarily recommend Debian as your first version of Linux. It is a "power-users" distribution. It's a bit rough around the edges and it does some things just differently enough that you might find it frustrating to learn Linux. When you ask other Linux users in your area for help you'd like their answers to apply to your distrubution as much as to theirs. Stormix (a Debian derivative; similar to how Mandrake is a Red Hat offshoot) offers some interesting possibilities for the future.
So, in summary:
You can "download" Linux. However, it's much faster and probably cheaper to buy a CD.

Copyright © 1999, James T. Dennis
Published in The Linux Gazette Issue 44 August 1999
HTML transformation by Heather Stern of Starshine Techinical Services, http://www.starshine.org/

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