I'm a newbie, still working out some details myself, but installing Linux was surprisingly easy. I downloaded SimplyMepis 3.3 (www.mepis.org
) and burned it to a CD as an "image", meaning my computer makes no attempt to rearrange any blocks or tracks on the CD when burning. Mepis is another "live CD" like Knoppix, so you can test it to your heart's content, with the understanding that it's running slower than normal because CD drives are slower than hard drives, and because it's decompressing files as it goes. Also, you can't install or tweak some of the drivers, because you're running off the CD-Rom and ramdisk.
If and when you decide to install Mepis on the hard drive, there's an icon for that on the desktop. Click it, and you're on your way. A couple of screens into the job, it asks about repartitioning your hard drive, giving the choice of wiping out the entire drive to fill it with linux, or running "QtPartEd" to repartition. Qt is a language that much of the kde environment is built on, and PartEd is short for Partition Editor.
My own PC is an 800 MHz PIII, running Win 98se on a 40GB drive. I had already used Windows's DeFrag to cram everything down to the lower realms of the disk. I left about double that for growth and chose to allow 12GB for Linux. Linux and qtparted call the C: drive /dev/hda (device / Hard Drive A), and the Windows partition is hda1 (first partition on that drive). Qtparted takes some time to analyse the structure of hda, then draws a bargraph across the top of the screen, showing the relative size of your partitions. So far, you only have the one on the disk. Either right-click it or use the program menus to reduce the size as planned. So far, you're just changing the size of boxes on the screen. qtparted won't write your changes until you click the Save icon at the top.
Once I had my 12 or so GB of blank gray area on the graph, I created a new partition for Mepis Linux. Since the folks at Mepis loaded the program in the first place, it will default to a file system called "ext3", which is a common system for Linux. Not bleeding-edge, but it works fine. I set my new partition to be a little under half the space I had available, and to be a primary partition. www.mepis.org
has its own forums and tutorials to give more detail. I defined the remainder of the drive (everything on the right end of the bargraph) to be an extended partition, as advised by the tutorial on the Mepis. From the left end of that, I created a small partition (512 MB, twice the size of my system RAM) and selected the type "Linux swap". The remainder I made into my last partition. The hard part here was convincing myself to follow Mepis's advice to make that extended partition, then make partitions within the partition.
I think it's when I click Save that qtparted asks me the names of my partitions. the order it suggested was mixed up; I made the first new partition root, the second, small one swap, and the last one home, for all the users' files and settings.
I paniced when I was saving my partition changes and saw the dialog box that said the program was "analysing hda1" -- that was my Wnidows partition! I clicked Abort, restarted the computer in Windows (it worked fine), and figured out it was analysing the Windows partition to preserve all its data and structure. I reloaded the Mepis CD and started all over again.
Part of the process involves installing GRUB, a small program that allows you to select which OS you want to run every time you start the computer. In reading about Linux & dual-booting, you may have heard of LILO; GRUB is similar. During installation, tell the system you want to install GRUB on hda, in the MBR (Master Boot Record).
It worked fine. Windows works as well as ever, (It used to crash a lot before, too.) and I am learning more and more about the power and versatility of Mepis Linux and its included programs.
One thing I finally figured out last night was how to transfer files between hda1 (Windows) and the Linux directories. Icons for the drives are right on the desktop; the Linux ones have a little green mark at the corner to show they're "mounted", meaning you can access them. Right-click the hda1 icon and select Mount. It takes a couple of seconds, then you'll see the same green mark. Left click the icon, and it will open a file management window that works much like Explorer. At the bottom of your screen is a little house icon. Click that to get another file management window showing your Home directory, with subfolders similar to the ones you're used to from Windows. Now you can drag files back and forth between file systems. OpenOffice, included with SimplyMepis, can read, write, create, and change MSOffice files. I use OpenOffice in Windows, too, and love it. Windows 98 is completely oblivious to the Linux partitions. It just thinks the C: drive is 27GB instead of 40 now.
Before logging off your computer, right-click that hda1 icon and Unmount it.
Now that you have 2 operating systems, whenever you start the computer, you'll see the Grub menu appear for 15 seconds, waiting for you to select Windows or either of two versions of Mepis linux. If you don't choose, it will default to linux.
I wanted my wife to be able to run Windows without having to watch for that menu screen, so I changed the file that Grub refers to for its choices.
Logged on as root, I used the file manager to go the the root folder, then clicked /boot. There I found another folder called /grub. Click that and find the file menu.lst and click it.
The menu is a simple text file, only a couple dozen lines, arranged in blocks for easy readablility. Right at the top is the timeout time; I changed that from 15 to 20 seconds to give me more time in case my monitor is starting cold or I'm not paying attention. Don't want to miss the menu because the monitor's still dark. Then I cut and pasted (just like in Windows) to bring the Windows block of text up above the blocks for Linux and Memory Test. Being first on the list makes Windows the default. I changed the name of Windows from "Windows on hda1" to "Windows 98se" to make it more familiar to the wife & kids.
The upshot is that Windows still works fine, for Windows, and that Linux is a kick. There are programs in that one CD that you'd pay hundreds of $s for if they came in Microsoft boxes. And I haven't seen the "blue screen of death" yet. In Linux, that is.
SimplyMepis is a smaller distribution than some, without the multiple desktop systems and programming languages that geeks love to mess with. But it has all the things most users want, with some pleasant surprises thrown in, and you can add more once you're set up.