I'm two hours into my installation of the desktop version of Red Hat Linux 7.3 and have yet to do anything useful. I've provided a password, created a user account, answered some questions about GRUB, and agreed with the installer's best guess as to which keyboard, mouse, video card, and monitor I'm using.
The reason I'm doing this is to put to rest some of the complaints that I'm a Microsoft stooge and don't like desktop Linux because I haven't been fully exposed to its wonders. So I asked the Red Hat people to send me a copy of their latest with the idea of doing an extended test, much like I did recently with Macintosh OS X.
To be fair, I didn't expect the Linux installation to be fast. I'm installing Linux on an HP Vectra VL desktop that's a hand-me-down from CNET's corporate IS department. While one of the claimed virtues of Linux is that it doesn't require a 2GHz P4 to run, this machine--with its "Designed for Microsoft Windows 95" logo--may be at the low-end of the specification for this OS.
But how am I supposed to know whether I'm using a Matrox Mystique video board, short of opening the box and hoping the card says "Mystique" on it? That's what Linux thinks I'm using, after "probing" my system. But what happens if Mystique turns out to be a mistake?
And, no, I didn't bother to count whether my keyboard has 101, 104, or 105 keys. But I did OK support for "dead keys" that apparently allow me to enter accented foreign characters.
With the install now complete, I reboot to discover that my screen looks funny and the system wants to do something about configuring additional hardware. It then heads into configuration of the KDE graphical desktop I'm using. When that's not possible, because the KDE setup screen now extends below the lower horizon of my monitor and there is no slider bar, I reboot--the hard way, back at the power switch.
This time, the start-up works. Yes, Linux throws a lot of information at you, scrolling past DOS-like, as the machine starts. Did I really see something referring to "heap buckets" go flying past? I know I saw something about buckets, and the OS seems happy my machine has them.
After the restart, the system finds and installs my sound card, which appears to be working normally--it even made a musical start-up sound as the OS and its nice graphical display opened up.
Nice, that is, but only 640x480 pixels, significantly lower resolution than I'm used to. No problem, I'll just open the control panel, find the video settings, and make the change. Except that there is nothing even remotely like a video control panel you'd find in Windows or the Mac OS. What comes closest is a "hardware browser" that, as promised, allows me to browse the hardware on my machine. Yes, there's the Matrox Mystique. I just can't do anything with it.
The control panel for the KDE desktop doesn't offer any help with configuring video hardware, either. So I try restarting, thinking that maybe video cards are set up before the desktop loads. I also look in the printed Installation Guide, which tells me where I probably messed up during the installation. Re-installing is beginning to seem like the better part of valor.
Before I do, I try calling AnchorDesk columnist Stephan Somogyi, who knows all about Linux. He's not home. Roaming around the printed manual, I learn that X Windows manages the monitor and video settings, not the KDE graphical user interface. Or something. I can find a KDE control panel that tells me what my settings are, but it offers no advice on changing them.
So at the end of the day, I'm left waiting for Stephan's call and planning to go onto the Red Hat Web site to look for the answer to my problem. But I do have a desktop that works, and can, while waiting to solve the display resolution problem, actually start playing with some of the apps--including a Web browser and an e-mail app--that Red Hat includes in the box. (The OS setup connected me to the Internet automatically.)
I'm already finding things I really like about the Linux environment. One of them--oddly, given my setup woes--is the amount of control I have. It looks like I could change pretty much anything I might ever want to change, once I learn where everything is and how it works. That's also the biggest drawback: this Linux system is still way too complex. But it's working, and I'm looking forward to learning more.
Just as soon as I learn how to change the screen resolution, that is. So far, this isn't nearly as bad as my worst Windows Me experience. Just different.
(N.B.: As this column was being posted, I found out how to change my screen resolution. Monday, I will tell you how it worked out.)
What do you think? Will I learn to love Linux? Have any Linux installation tips? Talkback here.