Operating Systems

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If you have a workable machine that recognizes the basic hardware (CPU, memory, HD, mouse and keyboard) you can now start installing an operating system (OS). You may select from several available on the Internet or from your local computer store.

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Options can be varied, there are many operating systems to choose from, including commercial ones like Microsoft Windows (of which the current version is Windows 10) or free ones like GNU/Linux distribution (a Free Software operating system) or BSD. It all depends on the uses you will be giving to your machine (function and required software) and the price tag you are willing to pay and the support you require. Simply put, can you accomplish your day to day tasks with the software that will run under the operating system in question? Do you require some special software availability, ability to run on older equipment ? Have you considered the costs ? Determine your needs before installing an operating system.

Note that you also have the option of installing more than one operating system in what is called a multiboot setup. Having installed an OS, you can always install another later. The complexity of doing so may vary, depending on how the last one automates (or not at all) the process. If your multi-boot setup is Windows-only, install the oldest Windows version first.

If you are going to install Windows OS in a multiboot setup, you should start by installing Windows first. This is because Windows tends to overwrites the software that GNU/Linux requires to start up, even if something is already there. Newer versions of Windows will tend to be more cooperative.

Installing Windows
The installation of Windows is relatively easy. Push the power button on the front of the PC, put the CD-ROM or DVD-ROM in your optical drive, and follow the on-screen instructions (you may have to restart with the CD in place). If you are doing a Windows-only install, just allocate all of the hard drive to Windows. Again, for a Windows only install, the NTFS file system is faster and more efficient.

Some people find that it’s useful to create separate partitions for the operating system and data. This means that if something goes wrong with the operating system, the partition can be formatted and the operating system can be reinstalled possibly without losing data. If you have already allocated the whole disk to 1 partition and you want to change it later, you can do so and create new partition(from the existing partition) using Disk Management in Windows Vista and later. Windows XP and lower users can find 3rd party tools to do the same.

If you are installing Windows on a RAID drive, or a SATA drive in some cases, you are going to have to provide drivers to the Windows installer so that it can access the hard drive on the raid controller. To do this during the Windows install wait for “Press F6 to install any third party SCSI or RAID drivers.” to appear at the bottom of the screen and duly hit F6. Then you will see a screen that says “Setup could not determine the type of one or more mass storage devices installed in your system, or you have chosen to manually specify an adapter.” At this screen you are going to want to hit ‘S’ to “Specify Additional Device,” another screen will pop up asking you to insert the floppy disk containing the drivers, followed by a screen asking you to choose the appropriate driver out of the set contained. Windows Vista and later handles this differently. Usually at the prompt where you are asked to choose a partition, you can click Load Driver and browse(or ask Windows to search) for the driver. Unlike XP, you are not limited to floppies. A USB flash drive suffices.

If you do have a copy of Windows 7 or later , you can install that and then upgrade to Windows 10 for free , though there are some minor restrictions.

Installing Windows to Dual Boot With GNU/Linux
If you are dual-booting, some extra factors must be considered. NTFS, which is the default file system that Windows uses, is fairly well supported in Linux. NTFS-3g has reached a usable stage, with users reporting no data corruption or loss during ordinary use of the latest versions of the driver, providing GNU/Linux users with a reliable way to read and write NTFS partitions. This system is now in widespread use and most up-to-date Linux distros will support the NTFS file system. Previously only read support was safe, and this may still be the case for some distributions. However, NTFS does have some advantages over FAT32, in that a 4GB file size limit no longer exists. Though Linux supports NTFS, Windows does not have built-in support for any of the standard GNU/Linux file systems. However, there are Windows applications, such as Ext2 IFS that can be used to read/write ext2 and ext3 systems.

When it comes the time to partition the hard disk(s), remember to leave space for GNU/Linux (a good amount is on the order of a third of your total hard disk space). You may want to have a spare FAT32 partition (of around 1 third of your disk space) on which to share documents between Windows and GNU/Linux, though this will most likely not be necessary unless you are using a distro which cannot read/write NTFS. You should also modify the partition table as necessary – you may not need as much space for Windows or you may need more in your FAT32 transfer area. But you must ensure that you leave at least 3GB(Windows XP/2000) or 20GB(Vista and higher) for your Windows installation, since the standard installation of Windows takes up about 2 GB(7.6 GB for Vista and 11GB for Windows 8) of hard drive space, and it is always wise to leave extra on, to allow for any changes that may occur. Windows 8 in particular blocks installing on drives less than 16GB(20GB for 64-bit) free space. If you have 16 GB or higher RAM, you’ll need more space.

Installing GNU/Linux
The primary problem faced in installing GNU/Linux is choosing between distributions. Of the many variants of GNU/Linux, Fedora, SuSE, and Ubuntu are generally recommended, as they are updated regularly and compatible with a broad range of hardware:

  • Fedora, currently at version 17. Used to be the de facto GNU/Linux.
  • openSuSE, currently at version 13.2.
  • Ubuntu, currently at version 15.4. Increasingly gaining popularity as an easy to use desktop GNU/Linux.
  • Debian , currently at version 8.1

Some GNU/Linux variants may support hardware that these do not. If you have obscure or old hardware, you may want to search forum sites for various GNU/Linux variants to ensure compatibility. For example, Puppy Linux is a small Linux distro designed to run on older systems, as is Damn Small Linux.

For example, let’s consider Ubuntu. It’s a variant of Debian, and is the current standard for easy-to-use GNU/Linux distributions. One can download the .iso image or order a CD set (containing a combined installation CD and LiveCD) from its website. An .iso is nothing more than a special file format that your CD drive burning software uses to create a copy of the software, in this case a copy of Ubuntu GNU/Linux.

The installation of most distros GNU/Linux is relatively easy. Push the button on the front of the PC, put the CD-ROM in your optical drive, and follow the on-screen instructions. By default, the installation version of Ubuntu will erase all files on the hard drive and partition 1.8 GB for the OS. If you want to customize, follow the on-screen instructions carefully. The LiveCd version does not erase your hard drive and is intended solely for a user to test drive Ubuntu GNU/Linux.

When installing a GNU/Linux distro, you may be asked to choose between alternatives – whether to run KDE or Gnome, for instance, or to install vi or Emacs or nano. If the terms are unfamiliar a quick Google will usually bring enlightenment. Also, as in these two examples, most such choices are a matter of preference and either choice will work.

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