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Linux Software - Options for Access and Use


This document describes a variety of options available to students in CTS 2106 Advanced Operating Systems (UNIX/Linux) to gain access to Linux software. For a general introduction to concepts and issues related to Linux installation, you should first read the PDF web page entitled Linux Installation and Use. The primary distribution being used this semester is [Linux Mint 17.3 (codename: "Rosa")] (using the [MATE desktop environment]), although other distributions will be examined as well. This software is free and can be installed to run either: from a hard disk, from a DVD (or CD with extra preparation), or from a USB memory device (of at least 8GB, preferably 16GB). Software is available that will let users run Linux Mint in a [virtual machine] under Windows, allowing users to try Linux without installing it on a computer. If you have a 64-bit PC, Linux Mint can be installed as an application within Windows without repartitioning the hard disk. (This approach causes Windows to see Linux as an alternate version of Windows installed on the same PC and managed under the [Windows Boot Manager].)

WARNING: Do not attempt to install any software for this course on a computer that is critical for other uses! Options are available below that do not require you to install any software to access Linux. Students are advised to review online tutorials about Installing Linux prior to attempting any software installation. (See details below)

The primary considerations effecting your choice will be:

SOFTWARE ACQUISITION:

Most of the Linux usage options listed below will require that you download a copy of an appropriate ISO (disc image) of the Linux distribution that you plan to use. The easiest way to acquire such an ISO is to download it from the distributor's website. Linux Mint maintains a web page containing an index of [all releases of Linux Mint] and the complete set of [Linux Mint 17.3 editions]. The list includes images with or without [multimedia codecs], programs able to interpret a variety of popular multimedia data formats such as MPEG, Quicktime, and WAV. Many codecs involve proprietary formats and so are often excluded from Linux distributions which adhere to rigid open source standards. Linux Mint makes exceptions for some proprietary hardware drivers, non-free firmware in the kernel and some other widely used software, such as the proprietary Adobe Flash plugin and RAR compression/decompression utilities. The inclusion multimedia codecs increases the size of an ISO file, so some editions are distributed (originally) without any codecs. These can then be added later using the standard package managing utilities. Specific ISO editions (also referred to as "spins" by some distributors) should be chosen based on: target processor size (32 vs. 64 bit), included desktop environment, and presence or absence of codecs. All Linut Mint 17 editions are large enough that they must be burned to a DVD rather than a CD. Students should select an edition appropriate to its intended use. For example, if you plan to produce a bootable Live DVD or USB version of Linux Mint for use on either 32 or 64 bit processors, then you should select a 32-bit edition. For simplicity and conformance with the tutorials on the Mint Website, we will restrict our use to editions containing the MATE desktop environment only. Although codecs can be added after an installation, it is easiest to include them during the initial installation. So for this course, the most likely edition that you will download will be the one labeled "MATE (32-bit)" at:

   [https://www.linuxmint.com/release.php?id=26]

LINUX USAGE OPTIONS:

  1. Create and use a "Live CD" (or "Live USB") distribution that runs from a CD, DVD, or USB memory stick and does not need to be installed. (See Method D described on page 7 of the Linux Installation introduction.) Most modern distributions of Linux can run entirely from a removable disc or memory stick, although they will run slower from removable media than they would if installed permanently on a fixed hard disk. Most of them can also be configured to use some available disk space as a "swap partition" (virtual memory) to increase operational speed. Although many Live versions of Linux are read-only (meaning that changes made during a working session cannot be saved), some include optional software to allow "persistence" (retention of data between sessions). The advantages of the Live option is portability and minimal impact on your PC. Such distributions run best on more modern computers, but often will work fine on older machines. In order to use a Live USB version, your PC will have to be capable of booting from a USB device (as opposed to a fixed disk) and you will have to know how to select the boot device for your computer at the time of start-up. IRSC computers typically use the F12 keystroke at startup to access the Boot Menu allowing users to choose the source location of the operating system at startup. If you expect to work on the course from many different locations, this might be a good option for you. To learn more about issues and resources related to this option, read the web page Mint "Live" Installation Resources.
  2. Install (on your computer) the Linux distribution named Mint 17.3 (with the Mate Desktop Environment). (See Method A described on page 7 of the Linux Installation introduction.) This option will require either a dedicated computer for this purpose and will completely replace (overwrite) any existing software and data on the computer. So only use a machine for this that you can afford to completely wipe-out and reuse. Note that the typically installation software for Linux Mint 17 is too large to fit on a CD, so your computer will have to contain a DVD drive to use this option. For step-by-step directions, read pages 13-19 of the printable PDF document [Official User's Guide - Linux Mint 17.3 - MATE Edition]. If you prefer watching a video, view the web video about [HowTo: Install Linux Mint 17 (Quiana)]. It was recorded using the original version of Linux Mint 17 ("Qiana") rather than the latest version (17.3 "Rosa"); but the installation steps are the same for both versions.
  3. Install (on your computer) the Linux distribution named Mint 17.3 (with the Mate Desktop Environment) in a Dual-boot scenario. (See Method B described on page 7 of the Linux Installation introduction.) This option will require either an independent hard drive partition in addition to any one already in use for the resident operating system. Often, the easist approach with this option is to add an extra, separate hard disk. Linux can be installed in addition to Windows on a computer (creating a "dual-boot" system). Unlike some of the following options, this one allows only one OS to be running at a time. If you want to switch to another OS, you have to reboot. This installation method is not recommended for novice Linux users, as it involves advanced knowledge of disk partitioning techniques and risks the contents of the original operating system.
  4. Windows-based installation: If you want the speed of a disk-based Linux installation without risking and existing Windows installation, you might consider using Mint's Windows-based installation program named mint4win.exe based on the Wubi program offered by the popular Ubuntu distribution. (See Method C described on page 7 of the Linux Installation introduction.) This is not a true native installation of Linux, as it runs under Windows as an application using this method. But it can coexist with an exisiting Windows installation and can be uninstalled with minimal risk to any existing Windows on the system. The automated mint4win.exe utility was discontinued with Mint 16, but the process can be performed manually as described in the document [Install Windows-controlled Dual-Boot of Linux Mint 17 (Qiana) on a Windows 7 computer].
  5. Virtual Machine Approach: If you have a large (3GB RAM or greater), fast (3Mhz or greater) system, you can install a virtualization program that allows one operating system to host another on a fake computer (known as a [virtual machine] or VM) simulated in memory. The two freeware packages used by most of the industry for this purpose ([VirtualBox] and [VMWare Player]) can run on either Linux, Mac OS X, or Windows; so any one could act as the host. This installation approach offers little risk to the host OS, but does require users to learn and understand the virtualization software and has high demands on hardware. You can find a video describing this installation process under VirtualBox at:
       [How to Install Linux Mint 17.3 on VirtualBox]
    You can find a web page describing this installation process under VMWare at:
       [How to Install Linux Mint in a VMware Virtual Machine]
  6. Remotely access the account provided for each student in this course on an IRSC server running Linux. These accounts are typically setup within the first week of classes, near the end of the drop/add period. This option will relieve you from having to download or install any distribution of Linux; however you will need to use a secure (SSH/Telnet protocol) remote login client to access our server. You can download and install a popular freeware package named PuTTY. After installing it on your computer, you can use your Blackboard username and password to logon to the IRSC Student Linux server named irscstudentweb.org. It is a Linux host. You will have an ordinary user account on this server, but will not have administrative (root user) access. This will restrict some of the activities that you can perform with this option. You will be able to work from anywhere with Internet access (broadband speeds are preferable, but not essential), but the PC must have an SSH/Telnet client installed first. For detailed instructions on using PuTTY to access the IRSC Student Server, retrieve the Adobe® PDF file entitled Using PuTTY to Access the IRSC Student web (Linux) Server.

For more information on these options, contact your instructor.

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