Linux Installation 1

by Ben Hills


Penguin Power
Unless you have spent the past few years living in a cave in the farthest reaches of Southern Cornwall you can't have failed to have heard the name, "Linux". In the first of a two-part article I will attempt to explain exactly what Linux is and why, as an Atari user you should really care.

So what is Linux?
Linux is an operating system in the same way that TOS is an operating system and Microsoft Windows is an operating system (although some may argue about the latter).

Linux is a UNIX-like operating system started in the early nineties by Linus Torvalds who, at the time was a student at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Since then it has evolved from a small hobby project developed by Linus into a fully-fledged operating system developed by hundreds, if not thousands of users around the globe.

So why should I care?
This is a good question. You may be asking yourself why you would want to use another operating system when you are quite happy with TOS.

  • Linux is free
    Yes, Linux is free, although in the words of the GNU Software Foundation think of Linux as in free speech rather than free beer. Free means that software developed under the GPL license (see below) cannot be withheld although this does not mean that companies cannot charge for distributing it.
  • Linux is open source
    Linux is covered by the GNU General Public License, or GPL. In short this means that software covered by the GPL must make available its source code. This allows people to modify or enhance the software if they so wish.
  • Linux is powerful
    Don't let the openness of Linux fool you into thinking that it is simply a hobbyists' operating system. Linux contains all (if not more) of the features you would expect from a modern operating system including full multi-tasking capabilities, support for virtual memory and multi-user support (allowing many people to access and work on the computer at the same time).
  • Linux is popular
    The popularity of Linux is increasing all the time and some of the big names in the industry such as IBM and Oracle are now openly supporting and pushing Linux as a suitable platform to run their software.
  • Linux is stable
    Linux is a very stable operating system. In my experience it is very rarely necessary to reboot Linux due to a system crash. Even if an application crashes, Linux will keep on running and tidy up after such an application failure. I have known Linux systems that have been on twenty four hours a day, seven days a week for a whole year and have not required rebooting.
  • Linux is multi platform
    Many people may think that Linux is an operating system that only runs on Intel-based PCs. Well, you'd be wrong. As the source code is freely available a number of people have taken the source and re-compiled, or ported the system to architectures other than the x86 platform. These include the Sun SPARC, DEC Alpha, PowerPC and our very own Motorola 680x0. This means that with a little time and effort you could turn your Atari computer into a fully-fledged Linux server or workstation.

So how do I get Linux?
Originally, the name Linux referred to just the Linux kernel (the core or heart of the operating system), but now when people refer to Linux they are referring to a complete set of software that constitutes an operating system.

As mentioned before, Linux is developed by hundreds if not thousands of people around the world, so getting together a complete set of software packages necessary for setting up and installing Linux on your computer could be a rather time-consuming task. Fortunately, this is not necessary as a number of commercial and non-commercial organisations have put together complete distributions available to buy or download. A few years ago there were only a handful of distributions available but now there are dozens of distributions available ranging from the very basic that can be run from a single floppy disk to full distributions spanning many CDs. Some of the most popular and well-known distributions are Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake and Debian.

When it comes to our own Motorola 68K platform the choice of distribution is somewhat limited, and in fact the only 68K port that I know of is Debian (although I understand there is an unofficial port of Red Hat).

OK, I'm convinced. How do I get Linux on to my Atari?
If you have decided that Linux is not for you then that's fine, thanks for reading. If on the other hand you would like to delve in to the world of Linux and install it on your Atari, tune in next time where in the second part of this article I will take you through the steps required to prepare and install Debian GNU/Linux (v2.2r7) on your Atari computer, as well as a short introduction on how to use it.

In the meantime, why not take a look at the Debian web site and (assuming your Atari meets the minimum requirements) get hold of a copy of Debian. You can download CD images from the Debian site (or one of its mirrors) or you can purchase CDs (at very reasonable prices) from a number of vendors. All this information can be found on the Debian web site.

Till next time...

[Image: Debian 2.2] 

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #11, September 2002

Copyright 2002 MyAtari magazine