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Exploring Linux – Part 3

by Alan German

Red Hat

In the previous articles in this series we explored a couple of versions of a Linux-Live CD, and then went on to install a full version of Linux onto the hard drive. A suggested reference was the book, “Linux for Dummies”, by Dee-Ann LeBlanc, which was noted to include a bootable DVD containing the Fedora Core 1 distro. In the present article, we take a look at installing this version of Linux - and some of the further trials and tribulations that were encountered with disk partitioning schemes.

Let me say up front that, if I had known what I was doing, installing Fedora Core would have been a snap. All the problems that I encountered resulted from my not properly understanding how to set up disk partitions, possibly that I have an old version of Partition Magic that perhaps doesn't fully understand Linux partitions, and probably that Windows chooses not to understand Linux partitions!

My initial plan was to wipe out the Linux partitions established by the previous installation of Ubuntu to regain the original unallocated disk space for the new installation of Fedora. However, when I booted into Windows, and tried to run Partition Magic, the message “Init failed : Error 117 Partition's drive letter cannot be identified” popped onto the screen. The user's manual suggested that the fix was to run Partition magic in DOS. However, I had recently read a PC Magazine article (Manage Partitions for Free with QTParted; Kyle Rankin; PC Magazine; pp.88-89; January, 2006) that indicated QTParted, a Linux-based partition manager, was freely available on the Knoppix Live CD. Well, I'm all for the use of good freeware and, in Part 1 of this article we found out (almost) everything there is to know about Knoppix Live, so this was too good an opportunity to miss.

Running QTParted from the Knoppix system menu provided a list showing the two hard drives, /UNIONFS/dev/hda and hdc, present in my system. Clicking the mouse on the first of these produced a table of contents showing it to be “Drive C”. Selecting the Linux swap drive and choosing Operations – Delete from the menu bar, followed by File – &Commit (changes to disk), produced the desired result of 341 MB of free disk space. Now for the first problem. The option for delete on the main Linux partition was greyed out, and I was unable to proceed further in setting up the disk. Shutting down QTParted and restarting the program did nothing to change the situation. Fortunately, shutting down Linux, rebooting, and re-running QTParted, did provide the option to delete the unwanted partition on the second time around. (Does anyone know why this happened/how it works?)

Now the second problem raised its grubby head. Rebooting the machine without the Knoppix CD produced a command line with a “grub>” prompt. Obviously, I had removed the Linux operating system by deleting the associated partitions, and the GRUB boot loader now didn't know what to do. Unfortunately, neither did I. I have no idea what one is supposed to do in response to such a prompt. My solution was to boot the machine using a Windows 95 startup disk, and run Boot Magic's configuration utility to enable this program to run Windows 2000 on bootup.

Once I had rebooted back into Windows, I tried once again to run Partition Magic. This time, the program detected error 114, which was indicated as being related to the extended (Linux) partition. But this was an error that the program said it could fix by writing a new EPBR record (whatever that is!) Since this sounded like a good idea, I let Partition Magic repair itself.

Now, for some reason, Partition Magic reported the original locations for the main Linux partition and the swap drive as two quite separate areas of unallocated disk space. It turned out that Fedora wouldn't install with these two areas of free disk space. In order to obtain a single 4 GB chunk of unallocated space, I had to redistribute all the free space to a large existing partition, apply the changes to the disk, create a new 4 GB FAT32 partition, and then delete it. Finally, Partition Magic reported 4 GB of unallocated disk space - ready for a new installation of Linux!

As I indicated previously, I know very little about disk partitions and partition managers. There are no doubt much simpler, and certainly more elegant, solutions to the problems that I encountered. One of these days, I must read Partition Magic's manual!

So, at last, we can take a look at the business of installing Fedora Core 1. Booting up the installation routine from the DVD is quite straightforward, with a graphical display mode making the process very easy. The default keyboard selection was US English, and the installation program automatically recognized my PS/2 wheel mouse. The monitor configuration window provided a huge selection of manufacturers, and clicking on the maker of my display lead to a further long list of different models, so it was simple to pick the relevant display type. The main installation choice that had to be made was between a personal desktop, a workstation, a server or an “other” type of Linux system. The default was personal desktop, and was indicated as being suitable for home or office, so I went with that.

The disk partitioning screen provided an option for automatic configuration, which lead to a screen where I was careful to select the “Keep all partitions and use existing free space” option, and to check the box marked “Review (and modify if needed) partitions created”. This created both a main Linux partition and a swap partition (510 MB) as did the earlier Ubuntu distro; however, Fedora also created a boot partition of 102 MB.

The installer provided some default options for a network configuration, these being a “Device eth0 – IP/Netmail DHCP” with the hostname being set automatically by DHCP. I wasn't exactly sure what these were to do, but they sounded about right, and so I pressed the Next button. Next on the agenda was a choice to enable a firewall configuration. Firewalls are usually good, so I went along with that suggestion also.

Many of the subsequent prompts were for items that had been seen in previous installations – language support, time settings, and the root password. The final choice was for the inclusion of the default software packages, Gnome, OpenOffice, Mozilla, Evolution, Instant messenger, sound and video applications, and games. Being greedy (and not really knowing what I wanted, and didn't want), I accepted all of the above.

The installer now got down to business, spending 10-15 minutes copying files from the DVD to the hard drive. Finally, a message offered congratulations on completion of the installation and required a reboot. A few lines of Linux commands were displayed indicating various processes were being shut down. The system then automatically rebooted and displayed the GRUB boot loader with choices for Fedora Core and DOS (i.e. Windows).

Selecting Fedora produces a few lines of installation text messages and then the boot process switches into a graphical mode that displays an image of a computer and a progress bar. A “Show Details” option will display the stream of installation messages in a window should these be desired. The first time through the boot process, a welcome screen indicates that a few more steps must be completed to make the system ready for regular use. These include reviewing the license agreement, checking the machine's date/time settings, establishing a user account (username and password), testing the sound card (in full stereo!), and an option to install additional CD's (there were none with the DVD). The system then moves to the regular logon prompt screen for a username and password, and opens a relatively clean desktop.

The desktop has just three icons – one each for the home file directory, the trash can, and “Start Here”, which opens Nautilus, a file browser. The menu bar appears at the bottom of the screen, with icons to run the Mozilla web browser, Evolution (an E-mail client), OpenOffice Writer, Calc and Impress, and Print Manager. A very appropriate graphic of a red fedora occupies the start button slot, and clicking on this icon opens up the usual wide assortment of built-in applications – the menu has accessories, games, graphics, Internet, office, sound and video, and programming applications. Other options include preferences, system settings, system tools, help, and search functions.

One interesting feature of the Fedora distro, and its seemingly comprehensive installation process, was that, although I had selected a 1600x1200 LCD display as my laptop's monitor, the program was actually running in a small “window” in the centre of the screen (as did Knoppix Live in Part 1 of this series). Clicking on the red fedora and selecting System Settings – Display, produced a prompt for the root password (since I was logged into my user account), and the option to change the display's resolution. This required logging out of the session, and then logging back in, for the new setting to take effect. Finally - the Fedora desktop in all its glory!

In this series of articles, we have explored several flavours of Linux, or at least we have explored the mysteries of installing several versions of this alternative operating system. We have temporarily installed Linux-Live versions from both Ubuntu and Knoppix (Part 1). We have also installed Linux to the hard drive using Ubuntu (Part 2) and now Fedora Core (Part 3). There have been some glitches along the way, especially with respect to disk partitioning schemes and boot loaders, but the moral of the story has been that, with a few reasonable precautions (i.e. rescue and backup disks in place!) it's not too difficult to work around such problems and produce a functional Linux system. Now, as to how Linux actually works - well, that's another story – but, that needs a little more exploration!

Bottom Line:

Linux for Dummies
Dee-Ann LeBlanc
5th Edition, Wiley, 2004
ISBN 0-7645-4310-5
(Ottawa Public Library Call No. 005.546 L445)

The Fedora Project

Originally published: October, 2006

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