The Future Cource of PC OS'es

Started by Donald Darden, August 31, 2007, 04:47:03 AM

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Donald Darden

I haven't done much today with either computer, but I have just finished some related searches via Google, and have these additional links to post.  These mostly relate to boot managers, partition editors and managers, and one neat one for those that got Windows preinstalled, who do not have a reinstall set os CDs - it tells you how to create one.

If you are looking for a boot manager, may I suggest you search for one that has features that appeal to you?  Like whether you can password protect access to a boot option, or whether you want a graphical selector rather than a text based one, or whether you can install the boot manager belatedly and it auto-discover (and recover) the ability to boot to previously installed partitions.  Some boot managers can even change which partitions are visible, or what order they are recognized, so that you can trick your OS into seeing different drives as your C: drive, depending upon which one you booted.  Some also include the ability to redirect the boot process to a CD/DVD drive or USB drive, a task normally done by a newer BIOS chip set.  Some are free, some are shareware, and some are sold separately, or come with some utility suite.

Choice is really great, but not recognizing choice is sometimes a problem, and not considering your options can limit you by leaving you to make what is effectively a bad choice. 

Here's another group:

But speaking of GRUB, you may not have yet heard of GRUB4DOS.  I quote this from a related site:
Difference between GRUB for DOS and GNU GRUB

First of all, GRUB for DOS has a flexible boot loader. Unlike GNU GRUB which relies on three stages of files to boot, GRUB for DOS uses a much better solution. The main function of GRUB is placed in a single file grldr, while the boot loader is placed in another file grldr.mbr, which can be installed to MBR or partition boot sector. At startup, boot code in grldr.mbr will dynamically scan the root directory of every local partition for grldr, and load the first one found. Using this scheme, the location of boot file is no longer fixed, users can move it across partition boundary without causing booting problems.

Secondly, GRUB for DOS can be loaded in multiple ways. GRUB for DOS runtime image comes in two forms. One is grldr, which can be loaded by MBR/partition boot sector and the Windows NT/2000/XP/2003/Vista boot manager. It can also act as the eltorito boot file for bootable CDROM. The other is grub.exe, which is a hybrid executable that can be launched from linux console and DOS prompt.

Thirdly, GRUB for DOS extends the function of GNU GRUB. The most significant enhancement is the map command. In GRUB for DOS, the map command can be used to create virtual harddisks and floppies from image files. These virtual devices can be accessed even after DOS starts.

There are other useful features of GRUB for DOS which are not present in GNU GRUB, such as ATAPI CDROM driver, Chinese support, and so on.

Donald Darden

Here is another helpful link:
This site lets you find out much more about all the Linux distributions, including the latest news, where to get them (even order some by CD through the site),
what features they include, their names in aiphabetical order, and much more.

You will quickly find out that some distributions are to be had at a cost, and others are free to download.  Also note that some sell you a package, but offer the ability to download the package for free.

I'm sure there are other equally useful sites concerning Linux and other alternative OS'es. but it takes time and effort to search for them, and some finally pop up in the search results almost by chance, or  only surface after exploring some of the links posted on other sites.

Using the Distro Watch site indirectly led me to look at another freebee, the 2X Application Server.  I haven't tried it yet, but I did a cut-and-paste of a couple of articles I found that discussed it and talked abut setting it up.  I put those together into a .doc file, then zipped it, and appended it to this post.

Donald Darden

I've been a bit busy, and it has not been alll productive.  I finally decided to begin with two Linux distributions, the latest version of Knoppix, and the version called Simply MEPIS.  Knoppix, as I've already seen, seems to recognize the hardware and run on my PC pretty well, and it uses compression to squeeze about 2 GB of stuff on the CD image.  The newest release, which just came out, that calls itself KnoppMyth, also has improved and simplified the steps for installing it on a hard drive.  But I also selected Simply MEPIS (usually referred to as just MEPIS) because I read two articles online where users thought highly of it.  So I picked it as my alternative, although the latest build is over a year old.

Another factor was that both are based on the Debian distribution, which uses the Deb method of package installs.  This appears to be somewhat easier to manage than the RPM method pioneered from Red Hat.  For those that like Ubantu, the claim is that Simply MEPIS is now based on it, which in turn was based on Debian.  Few people use Debian itself though, as the Stable version is now considered somewhat outdated or outmoded.  A number of people use the unstable version of Debian, which is evolving, but this may not be suitable for beginners.  And in Linuix, that certainly describes me.

I can't say that these are the best choices, but you have to begin somewhere.  And with two, I can compare features and ease of use.  But only one gets the install to hard drive this time.  And Knoppix, because it made it almost brainless, got the nod.

I installed it, and chose to have the boot process placed in the partition rather than written to the MBR (Master Boot Record).  Had I designated the MBR, my ability to boot into Windows would have been lost.  Instead, I am going to use BootPart, a free download, to add the ability to boot to Linux as another choice under NTLDR.  BootPart doesn't explain enough in my opinion, but I found an example of using it described online, so I am going to add that to this post as well.

The real holdup has been that it turns out my CD-RW drive is doing a real poor job of burning CD-Rs right now.  I had to download the .ISO images a couple of times to make sure that they were not the problem, and I've wasted about 10 CD-Rs in an effort to get around the problem, but I guess I will just have to consider replacing the drive.  I have an external DVD-RW drive for emergencies, and dug it out and used it, and got some decent copies made.  I used BootPart for the first time last night, only to find that my efforts to install Simply MEPIS had failed, so I have to do that again.

As to my brother-in-law's PC, both this CD and DVD drives are powered, but are not recognized by the system.  I checked the cabling, and concluded that the second IDE controller channel may be at fault.  Hopefully, I can install a cheap IDE Controller in an empty PCI slot and get around this.  You generally have to spend 1/3rd to 1/2 the cost of a new PC to just replace the motherboard, so when a module fails there, you sometimes hope that you can work around it with a plug-in card, an external device, or some connivance.

LATE POST ---------------------------------------------------------------
Hmmm.  Looks like KnoppMyth is a detour for me.  Has something to do with MythTV and creating a set top box, not what I expected.  Even though I supposedly got it installed, the BootPart software failed to link to it as I expected.  The install involved LILO, and I think the BootPart was intented for GRUB.  I'm just guessing at this point.  I downloaded other processes for doing the dual boot, so I can try some other options on the next go around.

Meanwhile, I went back and looked for whatever was most current that involved Knoppix.  Seems to be 5.1.1 right now, but the DVD image has over 4GB content.  I figured I might as well go get that.  Turned out to be a bit hard, as most sites only host the CD images.  One site that had it goet over 2/3rds through the download and hung.  When I checked the site, it apparently had been taken down.  I started again with another.  You can also find sites that will deliver the CD or DVD versions already burned to disk for under $10.
But I'm paying for a high speed connection, and I would have to wait maybe a week to get a disk, so I figure a few hours for a download is not unreasonable.

There was one site that offered Knoppix 5.2 DVD download with BitTorrent.  Only trouble is, that must be another custom build, and I think I want to go with a publicly distributed version for starters.

Donald Darden

It's been years since I've tackled Linux, and I had forgotten what a quagmire it can be.  Fact is, I got the impression that it was made oh-so-much easier now, and that you could basically just install it and away you would go!

Not so.  Very much not so.  Oh, a live distribution like Knoppix 5.1.1 boots up easily, but trying to go from there to a full install is another story.  Turns out that attempting to build a boot floppy (rather than cause the MBR on the C: drive to be modified) can fail on bootup with an Error 16 (incompatable file system) if you pick the Debian (recommended) file system during the install.  In fact, you may have to try installing several ways before you find a selection where Grub will then boot it successfully.

I also finally at last somehow got my PC to boot the DVD version, but when I tried to install it, it failed because it immediately tried to access the image on the CDROM drive rather than as found on the DVD drive.  Another OOPS! by the image builders.  Don't they bother to test these things?

Right now I do have a working image of Knoppix on one of my partitions.  And I have a boot floppy that will get me there.  I'm still trying to figure out how to get the NTLDR boot loader on my C: drive updated to give me that as a boot option.  I've rebooted into Windows many times and gone searching on the internet for additional articles and tips, to date without success.  One effort caused me to lose the ability to boot from my hard drive.  Fortunately, GRUB on the floppy still let me boot to the hard drive as an option, and from there I found that bootpart allowed me to restore the ability to boot to the hard drive (it gave me an error, but on testing the results, it worked).

What is suspicious is that each article presents the steps in a slightly different fashion.  That gives you hope that one of them will eventually work, but makes you wonder why there is such a disparity between them.

I'm actually really disappointed with Bootpart, because it seems to work, but then the reboot fails with the Error 16, or some other obscure symptom.  I'm struggling with finding some clarity here. 

Charles Pegge

One thing you could try, Donald is to install your Linuxes onto a second hard disk. I did this with Linspire on an old Windows Millenium PC and leaving the C drive entirely intact I believe saved a lot of complications.

I wonder how easy it is to do that straight onto a USB flash drive.

Donald Darden

My brother-in-law's PC developed an alergy to CD and DVD drives.  I thought it was a hardware problem, but it turned out to be a corrupted key in the Registry.  Using permissions and the Safe Mode, I was finally able to delete the key, and when Windows detected new hardware, it added it back under Unknown.  But the CDRW and DVD drives seem to work okay.

My efforts with Linux have also been somewhat partial in nature.  You have options during installation, and if you explore each one, looking for the best results.  But first I had to make some key changes to my second hard drive.  For this I used Partition Magic 8.0, although the Acronus Disk Director would probably have also been a good choice.

Here is a thumbnail breakdown on hard drive considerations.  Over the years, hard drives have increased in capacity and speed, and at the same time different methods of partitioning and formatting those hare drives have evolved.  Now Microsoft has its way of doing things, and some other operating systems, particularly Unix and Linux, have developed alternative solutions.  Microsoft has essentially three types of hard drive structures:  FAT, FAT32, and NTFS.  FAT stands for File Allocation Table, and NTFS is the New (or Next) Technology File System.  Microsoft ignores other types of file structures, so other partitions of other types on your hard drive are effectively invisible to DOS or Windows.

Unix and Linux are much more aware of other partition types, and even allow you to pick which type you want to work with on the partition where you install either of these OS's.  You can also work with any existing FAT, FAT32, and to some extent, NTFS partitions that exist on that PC.  NTFS is a full journalling file system, and as such, it is much more difficult to duplicate its behavior precisely, so that Windows does not hiccup if you boot to it after having modified its partitions from within Linux, for example.

If you want the greatest degree of compatibility between your DOS or Windows world and Linux, then you might want to use FAT32 for any common or shared disk space.  All three OS's can work with FAT32 quite well.  You can still use NTFS for one of the advanced Windows, or something like Ext3 or Riserfs for your primary Linux partition.

Now partition layout is another matter to consider.  The limitations of the original FAT structure prevented the full access of higher capacity hard drives as they became available, and Microsoft divised a method of repartitioning large hard drives so that they appeared as a series of smaller hard drives, each with its own letter designation.  A single hard drive could be divided into as many as four separate partitions, called primary partitions. In addition, you could make one of those primary partitions into what they called an Extended partition, and subdivide the extended partition into one or more partitions that were called logical partitions,  The general rule was that you needed at least one primary partition that could be used as a system partiton for an OS like DOS or Windows, and that you could only boot to a primary partition, so you would need additional primary partitions for any other OS's you wanted to install.

DOS and Windows 3x/9x/Me insist on being installed on the C: drive, which is normally the first partition.
Winhdow 2K/XP/Vista can be installed on other drives or partitions, but use the NTLDR program and the BOOT.INI file to define where they are, and these have to appear on the C: drive in the root directory /.

Techniically, you can install an OS like Linux into a Logical partition, but this may not be advisable.  The reason is that if you want to use the NTLDR and BOOT.INI method of reaching them, then that will not work.  You would have to rely on LILO, GRUB, or other type of boot manager to make this happen.  NTLDR is a Microsoft product, and only gives due consideration to Primary Partitions. 

You cannot arbitrarily arrange the order of primary, extended, and logical partitions without running into some bazaar results.  Logical partions can only exist in an Extended partition, but but putting a primary partition after an extended/logical structure can be problematic.  For one thing, Microsoft products seem to want to choke on this arrangement.  It may reserve drive letters for the extended and each logical partition before assigning one to the primary partition, leaving a hole in the normal drive letter sequence.

The best way to allocate partitions is to do all your primary partitions first.  You can then follow that with an extended partition, and within that, one or more logical partitions.  In my case, my first hard drive is divided into four partitions, all designated as FAT32, and I have three of those set up as boot partitions for Windows 2K Pro.  My second hard drive is now set up as a primary partiion for Risersf on which I have Knoppix installed, and an extended partition which containx one logical partition which is used for my Linux swap drive, and another logical partition that is set up as NTSF.

Having finally decided on that arrangement, I booted up the Knoppix distribution, and repeatedly installed it to the primary partition on the second drive, until I was at last satisfied with the options I chose.  Once it was installed on that primary partition, it was a simple task to use BOOTPART to modify BOOT.INI to allow a boot option to that partition, which automatically incorporated the GRUB boot process that was installed there.  The method of installing Knoppix is not immediately evident, but after you boot from the CD and get the KDE window up, you have to use the Ctrl+A;t key combo along with the F1 through F4
key to get to a user command prompt.  If you use Ctrl+Alt+F1,  you will likely have to use Enter to bring up the command prompt.  Then you have to type in :knoppix-installer" without the double quotes and hit Enter again,  This will begin the process of allowing you to install the process to your hard drive.

Again I must emphasise that you should back up your computer completely before making any radical changes, just in case you get to a point where you decide to go back.  And be prepared to spend a lot of time doing this.  While some have bragged on installing Linux in 20 minutes or so,  it is unlikely that you will be able to decide on exactly how it should be installed or with what options without repeating this process a good number of times.  Fortunately, your greatest concern is to make sure that you do not overwrite your primary operating system inadvertantly, and at no time during my many attempts did the installer present me with a choice for oversriting ha1m, which would have been my C: drive.  It would indicate the drive that was already set up for a Linux distribution, or that was currently unformatted.

Donald Darden

Boy, there is so much I don't know when it comes to moving to Linux.  I'm happy with the Knoppix 5.1.1 install, because it really comes packed with a lot of stuff already accessable via the desktop.  I inadvertently got to a Debian prompt at one point, and it had substantially fewer choices - I could not even figure out how to see any of the hardware or files when that happened, or get back my initial desktop.  So I just went back and reinstalled Knoppix and began again.

My next decision was to see about installing the free version of VMWare Server or VMWare Player.  They are easy enough to find online and download, but the decision to run VMWare on top of Knoppix rather than on top of Windows has proved to be more difficult to research.  That is because many more people seem to install it on Windows, then talk about loading a live distribution of Knoppix under VMWare.

VMWare Server actually comes three ways:  As a binary .tar file (a compressed file similar to a .zip file), an RPM package file, or as a source archive which can be compiled to create the executables.

Now I really don't know what or how to do this.  What happens if I just extract the contents of the .tar file?  Where should they go?  I've read that I can convert an RPM package to a DEP package, and even found an example of an alien command for the purpose, but I don't understand exactly what I am doing or what other steps are involved.  And I am a long way from feeling that I can build new modules to work with Linux.

So comes another choice.  My research did take me to this link:
Where you can get a live distribution that comes pre-equipped with OpenVZ, another virtual machine project.  They have already incorporated it into one of two live distributions, the first being Knoppix 5.1.1.  Some gain with less pain, right?

Kent Sarikaya

Haiku under heavy load. I thought this was pretty impressive, especially for an Alpha Version of an OS.

Charles Pegge

Donald, when you have some time available try installing Freebasic and see how it runs under Knoppix. I have just upgraded from 0.16b to 0.18. The compiler picked up a few errors in my code missed by the earlier compiler,(FB is very picky about pointer TYPEs)  but still produces a spurious error at the start of compilation. Something about 'ospeed' being of different type. This is because Freebasic is normally delivered as a binary which endevours to be compatible with all Linux distributions, but slightly different libraries can cause minor problems.

Installing FB on Linux is very simple. You just Uncompress the TAR and, with root priviledges, run: -i from a console inside the Freebasic main folder.

One thing which confused me as a novice was not being able to execute compiled programs by name directly.

Local programs alway have to be specified with a path name. So it's ./myprog not myprog.

If you are using the KDE destop, Kwrite is a very good editor with some keyword highlighting. Occasionally it dumps chunks of text from the clipboard into your program for no apparent reason (could be some keystroke combination I dont know about?) but it is so obvious when that happens, it is easy to clean up. It is evident that the KDE developers have paid great attention to detail, and using notepad under MS is a bit of a comedown.

Donald Darden

My immediate concern under Knoppix is to get my printer working.  That way when I find stuff to help via online searches, I can make hardcopy and work from these leads.  If I can get that done, I expect to save my partition as a fallback point, then temporarily try installing the downloaded version with OpenVZ already installed.

Years ago, I had to create a multiboot image and layer as many applications onto it as I could manage,  It took months of experiments to get a final, stable version, and I had to frequently pause and make fallback images as I went along, as a point to resume from when I ran into new problems and the current effort fell apart and became unstable or refused to boot and run properly.

I am convinced that the best method for moving on is in attempting small surges, validate your results, then lock them in with necessary backups, before venturing to attempt something else that might prove to be too radical and need to be backed away from. 

Donald Darden

Here is another helpful post on installing Knoppix.  It is somewhat dated, but full of useful info, so it makes a good reference.

I'm thinking that all these different choices for Operating Systems, distros, and development software options are not making it easy to focus on anything main core when it comes to a thread to follow. If someone decided to go with Ubantu, Mandrake, or stick with Windows, then my takeoff with Knoppix isn't going to be where you want to go.

What we see happening as a result is that each person spends an inordinate amount of time looking for specific answers and instructions, hoping to pick up enough insight with online searches and by posting questions, until they either get past the hurdle or just give up.  This brings me back to the solution found in the early days of computing, which was creating user groups to address the many issued involved and then share the results, sometimes attempting whole projects together.

The difference today is of course we do have the internet and forums, and with those we do not need to look for a local meeting hall or anything.  We can still collaborate as long as we find common ground.

The ground I want to try and cover for the present is having dual access to Windows and a Linux distribution, currently Knoppix, on the same machine, then tinker around with PowerBasic and FreeBasic and see what my limits are with both.  That may involve using VMWare, Wine, WineX, or other alternatives.

I would be interested in knowing what common ground others would like to explore instead.  Or if anyone would be interested in a conjunctive effort towards the goals I set forth.

Kent Sarikaya

Donald, you are right that it is hard to single things down in the linux world.
I don't know if polls can be setup in these forums, but it would be interesting to see the number of users who don't want to move to Vista and would either just stick with XP as long as they can and then move onto Linux or another OS, like Apple's OSX, Haiku or Solaris. But it would be interesting to see the numbers of users interested, then perhaps if enough, another poll can be made to select a linux version. Then sort which KDE or GNOME, which development language and IDE. Anyways thanks for sharing your adventures into linux land!

Charles Pegge

The Linux distributions have much in common. They use X11 Windows, and usually deploy the KDE or GNOME desktops, and provide Open Office and GIMP (graphics like Photoshop). Full versions have all the major libraries (such as Opengl) on board along with the GCC C++ compiler. KDE is considered to be more sophisticated than GNOME, so better suited for developers.

So I am optimistic that much of the diversity and confusion in the Linux world will resolve itself, and the leaders will be those with the best interoperability and driver support. Cooperation will eventually win out over rivalry.

Donald, I think you need a workshop full of PC's, to carry out your research - perhaps you can acquire or borrow some  old PCs from friends, which would otherwise be consigned to the loft. With only a small number of PCs and components to work with, you are a hostage to fortune.

Donald Darden

Even if I had multiple PCs, I would not be sufficient resource by myself to accomplish very much.  But it is like cutting up a pie.  Regardless of how big the pie is, or the size of the piece to be cut, you have to start with a single slice. And you assume that the next person in line wiill either cut according to your slice, or have to start over.  The smart thing is to try and coordinate all the cuts together.

There is no one perfect distribution available.  Even within a single distribution, there will be wide disagreements about which features to esploit, what applications to include, and what works best.

In general, I find that KDE is more like Windows than GNOME is, making it somewhat more familiar and easier to accept,  So it is not just for development, but the better choice for someone who is looking for something similar to the world being left behind.

I booted the image of Knoppix 5.1.1 with OpenVZ integrated into it from my CD drive, and that looks like a good call.  OpenVZ provides a brief tutorial on how to employ the VM software, with some prebuilt VE's provided.  It tells you simply what to do, and gives you a good starting point.

Windows was a lot of point, click, and drag.  There were still many things that needed to be done with the keyboard, but lots of games and many tasks could be managed with just a mouse.  But any effort to move to Linux means learning to type, and to type accurately, if you don't already know how.  And typing also means reading and remembering, because you need to know what to type.  Point, click and drag are not enough by themselves anymore.

Actually, with Windows, there were still many things beyond simple point, click and drag, but either people don't do them. or they get someone to come over a clean up their PCs and fix a few problems when things get bad enough.   In the Windows world, perhaps 80 percent of what you do can be done with the mouse alone, other than entering new text.  In the Linux world, depending on various factors, the mouse may be involved in way less than 20 percent of what you do.  Typing is necessary for the rest.  That is a tremendous difference in how people have to approach Linux when compared to working with Windows, and many people already complain that computers are too difficult for the average person to learn.  Trouble is, kids keep proving the adults are wrong in that regard, but we are all products of our age and the age we live in.

So, if you have reached the point of deciding to finally cut the cord that ties you to Microsoft, you have to realize that delaying and balking at making the switch now is going to make the coversion later a whole lot harder to accomplish.   There is a significant relearning curve to deal with, and even if you try to stay with something that is not a vast departure from what you already know and work with, there will be a slew of new concepts and commands to master.

There are of course many sources for help.  For instance, you can essentially port the BASH command set into DOS and Windows and learn to use them there, or you can add DOS-like commands and features to the bash shell so that you can essentially work as you would under DOS but in the Linux world.  There are many sources of instructions on how to do things - the trick is to learn what they are and devote some time to getting at least the fundamentals down for yourself.

These look like pretty good references for getting started with the bash commands:

Now we might need to clarify something here.  Most Windows users probably have never seen a DOS prompt, and have no idea of what it signifies, other than it is somehow outmoded and no longer in use or necessary.  You do something through a DOS Window, you are performing black magic in their eyes (the black background probably lends itself to this impression).  We know that the DOS prompt is just another form of a command shell, and that we can introduce both a command and command line parameters at this point, meaning we have more complete control over the behavior of various utilities that are available on the system.

In Linux, the most popular and common command shell today is the BASH shell.  This has been mentioned before.  So learning the ins and outs of using the BASH shell just makes good sense.  But we have another problem, which is that many Linux utilities and third party programs are designed to be used from the command shell rather than invoked through a menu call or by clicking on a desktop icon.  So learning to use bash is more than a mere convenience; it is essential to getting the best out of any Linux distribution.  Even if you were motivated to continuously modify the desktop to support more and more shortcuts and quick calls, you reach a limit of what is possible or even worthwhile, and lose common ground with others who would solve the problem in a different manner.

I think the idea of conducting a poll has merit, but only to prove that we are not alone in our interest in doing something different.  People may be really inclined to do something, or merely debating the merits at this point, or possibly just motivated enough to see which way the rest of us turn.  I for one would not be swayed in my thoughts by the outcome of any poll, preferring to judge for myself and go in my own direction if need be.

I believe in leverage.  If you want to build a secure future, do something that not only sets you apart, but which you can train or leverage other people's talents and skills to accomplish.  That way you can eventually ease your way out and enjoy a life beyond mere work.  Exploiting and endless range of options and deciding on the best combination of factors can be accomplished many ways, and by sharing our experiences, we learn from others what seems to work and what doesn't.  That doesn't mean you can explore every avenue equally and to the same depth, but it is a pragmatic and useful way for disposing of many alternatives quickly.  Which is why I suggest that some of us might work together to a common end. 

Charles Pegge

I understand the problem about accurate typing at the console, especially with long pathnames and case-sensitive filenames. But there is a instant solution. If you are using the KDE desktop you can use KWRITE ( like NotePad ) to edit your lists of commands - or paste them directly from the tech support pages. They can then be copied and pasted at your leisure into the BASH command line in KONSOLE.

Pasting lines into  Konsole terminal is done with SHIFT-INSERT. This will save you hours of agony.

You can also capture the full pathnames of folders, as with MS Windows by, highlighting them in the location bar and doing Ctrl-C then dunking them info the terminal command line with Shift-Insert.