Getting Started with a Free OS
a blog of HOWTOs, TODOs and other useful info for those migrating to Linux

Ok, please raise your hand and repeat after me...

I <say your name> am sick and tired of being abused by Microsoft and its Windows OS. Further more, I reject the notion that I still need to pay for an operating system for my computer and will begin to explore the world of free/open source software.

Congratulations, you have just taken your first step into the world of computing freedom! I am a longterm GNU/Linux and Unix user. I would love to help you discover the wonderful experience of using an OS other than Microsoft Windows.


Here are just a few places to start in the quest for a free operating system :

To learn a little bit about the principles of Free Software:
GNU Project

Some super easy to install and use free OSes:

GNU/Linux type (based on
Debian ):
Ubuntu - GNOME desktop
Kubuntu - KDE desktop
Xubuntu - Xfce desktop

Unix type (based on
FreeBSD ):
PC-BSD - KDE desktop
DesktopBSD - KDE desktop

Themes, wallpapers, etc. for your new GNOME, KDE or Xfce desktop environment:
GNOME-Look KDE-Look Xfce-Look

whole world of free operating systems to use!


Very cool history of Unix and related OSes. A family tree.

Unix History 


Now, the first question many folks have when they want to get started in exploring other OSes is simply, How?

First, the reality is that most folks are starting off with a PC running Microsoft Windows, hopefully XP (sorry, if you got suckered into that Vista fiasco). It is perfectly understandable and reasonable that you have applications and data residing on this system that you are not willing to abandon. No problem. I am going to introduce you to a way to install alternate OSes on that Windows system so that you can still use Windows and try out something new without risking any kind of system damage or need to go get a second PC to play with. We are going to be getting virtual here! Yes, I know you have heard of virtual this and virtual that, but what I am talking about is Virtual Computing. The idea is that you can set aside some resources such as memory, CPU, and disk space on one system and by using a virtual system manager utilize those resources to run another system altogether in a completely encapsulated and isolated way. There are several such virtual system managers out there, but my personal favorite is
VirtualBox by Sun Microsystems, Inc. These are the same great people that have produced such great things as the Java, OpenOffice, OpenSolaris, and MySQL. I have tried out most of the other virtual system managers and have found this works the best for my purposes. It is free, so just go download it. The install is simple and painless. I also recommend you download the manual . I have given you download links here to the current 2.12 version, so knowing that these links will not be appropriate when newer revs come out, here is the general download page for VirtualBox. If you intend to proceed, please be aware that you need sufficient system resources free and available prior to the installation of other OSes. If your PC does not have more that 512 RAM, don't do it! If your PC is slower than 600Mhz, don't do it! If you have less than 10Gb free on your hard disk, don't do it! It will not be worth your time and trouble. Remember, when you run a second system (the guest) via a virtual manager, your original system (the host) is still also running. You can quickly use up all available resources on the PC and that would certainly not be conducive to having all this virtual fun, now would it?

So, you have downloaded and successfully installed VirtualBox? Great! Now what? Well, you need another OS to install that you are interested in exploring. (Just a note. You CAN install another instance of your current Windows OS as a guest. Why? As a testing platform. In fact, I have done this on my own system. Have you ever wanted to tweak your Windows or install some software that you were uncertain about? Why risk your host system? Instead install Windows as a guest and risk IT! If everything goes wrong, you can just delete the troublesome Windows virtual guest - no harm, no foul.) So, let's go get another OS to play with. I recommend
Ubuntu. You can download it here. You will want to download the ISO file and create an installation CD from it using your favorite CD burning software. Alternately, you can do the install by pointing VirtualBox to the ISO file itself.

If you are just dying to try out VirtualBox but only have a Windows XP CD available, try a guest install of that! You can at least get used to the interface and principles of using the virtual system manager prior to your foray into other OSes.

Ok, that is enough for now. I'll allow you to get this much done and take a stab at the installation. I have recommended you use Ubuntu for your first Linux install because the installation routine is drop dead
easy. Also, it is one of the best distributions available. Ubuntu gives you a fantastic GNOME desktop to use and plenty of preinstalled and useful software. Your first Linux experience should be both gentle and useful enough for you to want to keep using the OS, this is both.

Here is a usage tip for after you have installed VirtualBox and a guest OS. Best sure to install the VirtualBox Additions. These are additional drivers for your guest OS that will gives you better support for video, networking, and USB. In the VirtualBox manager, under the CD/DVD ROM section for your guest virtual machine, check the Mount CD/DVD Drive box and then select the ISO Image File radio button. Then be sure to then select the VBoxGuestAdditions.iso file. This ISO file contains all the additional drivers for the various supported guest OSes. Now when you start your guest OS, you should find that this is ISO is mounted like a CD/DVD is available to install from. In a Windows guest, it will autostart just like a regular CD. In any *NIX type OS, you will need to run the proper script accordingly found in the mount point folder, usually called /cdrom. For Ubuntu and many other Linux systems you will need to do it like this:
$ cd /cdrom
$ sudo sh

The user
manual has all the details. It is not hard, but is a must to have a guest OS running with all the best hardware settings


My Ubuntu post-install todo list


Some of my favorite Linux apps. Some are available via the package repositories, some are best gotten directly. Of course, all these are 100% free.

1) Kompozer - The successor to the very popular NVU program. This is a web page WYSIWYG editor/designer similar to Dreamweaver. This is the continuation of that project with many bug fixes and updates. If you are looking into NVU, go get this, it is more up to date. Note on versions, if you are still on Ubuntu Hardy 8.04, then the 0.7.1 version in the Add/Remove repository is fine. However if you are on Ubuntu Intrepid 8.10, you need to go here and get a more recent version. Reason is the Intrepid has an updated Gecko engine which 0.7.1 cannot use properly. Current download for Kompozer is 0.8a1, but it is updated requently, get the current latest build.

2)Audacity - Great audio editing software! Version available from Add/Remove is 1.3.5-beta which is fine. Current latest from the software website is 1.3.7-beta. Note, please be sure you have already installed the Ubuntu restricted extras package so you will have the LAME mp3 processing engine that the software needs.

3) Sound Converter - Available from the Add/Remove. Converts most sound file types into another. CONVERTS WMA FILES! Again, please be sure you have already installed the Ubuntu restricted extras package for maximum sound file types support.

4) Brasero Disc Burning - Preinstalled by default in Ubuntu and Xubuntu. A very complete CD/DVD project and burning software package.

5) OpenOffice - Fantastic office productivity software, comparable to MS Office, but better in many ways. Get the version available from Add/Remove. It is not the latest current, but is the build provided through It is OpenOffice with a few additions, customizations, and refinements. Oftentimes, this is the build of OpenOffice that comes preinstalled on Linux systems. On Ubuntu systems, I recommend not exceeding the versions of OpenOffice available through the repository. From Add/Remove install the OpenOffice suite. This will give you the entire software suite. Individual pieces of the suite can be installed separately, if desired. (NOTE: OpenOffice is available for MS Windows as well - START USING IT!)