Tips for installing Linux on a laptop

So there I was with my brand new laptop, a Redhat 5.0 install CD and a Windows 98 CD. Objective, a dual boot laptop. The laptop itself was a clone. An AMD 300Mhz processor, 64Mb memory, 4Gb disk, CDROM, floppy drive, modem , etc. The Redhat CD was one of those cheap copies and came with no documentation. My previous experience of Linux was pretty light and I was relying on my Unix knowledge to get me through.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, I spurned all thoughts of getting hold of some documentation or maybe a book, placing the Redhat CD in the drive and rebooting the laptop. This was my first mistake, for dual boot systems, install windows first. I was to discover why later.

Using Disk Druid I split the disk in half, the first half being a DOS partition, the rest being used for linux. Following the install menu was fairly straight forward, the only problem I had was that my video card was listed when configuring X. I choose one of the generic options and hoped for the best.

My hopes weren’t answered, xstart failed. I then spent a large number of hours playing with Xconfigurator trying different options in a vain attempt to get X working. Eventually I came across and realised my video card wasn’t supported by the version of Xfree86 I was running. Here’s my second tip, always try to use the latest version of the distribution available as this will support the widest range of hardware.

As a lover of challenges, this installation was certainly providing some! The latest was to configure PPP so that I could download the latest version of Xfree86. I decided to put this aside for a while and install Windows. This involved a fair amount of faffing around as the install procedure seemed to have problems finding some of the stuff on the Windows CD. With the help of someone who knows something about Microsoft products, we completed the install, rebooted the laptop which booted straight into Windows 98. No LILO. The Windows install had overwritten the master boot record which is why yyou should install Windows first. I now had to boot from the Linux boot floppy , mount the linux root partition and run lilo again. After another reboot, the lilo prompt was offered and I could boot into either Windows or Linux.

Back to the PPP configuration then. I decided that the best option would be to connect to a Unix server that already had an internet connection and copy the downloaded software from there. The PPP configuration was very tedious and I spent several days working on and off before I got it working. First I spent some time messing about with minicom to get the modem working. Next I realised I hadn’t included the PPP module in the kernel. A further problem was that I hadn’t loaded the source when I built the laptop so couldn’t rebuild the kernel. I loaded this from the install CD, rebuilt the kernel with the necessary drivers and modules, spent some time messing around with kerneld until the ppp module would load. There was now the small matter of editing a load of PPP config files so that it would dial up the number I wanted it to dial up.

Eventually I got it working and was able to copy the latest Xfree86 software. I installed this and hey presto, my video card was listed. Once Xconfigurator had done it’s stuff, xstart worked fine and my GUI was running.

As you can see, quite a few of the problems would have been avoided if I done a bit of reading first and used the latest version of the distribution (redhat 5.2 at the time). With RedHat 6.1 the installation is even more straight forward. However, I learned a lot and it saved me from getting bored!