Overcoming Consumerism Index



3 Simple things that you can do to control your computer and maintain your privacy.


First of all, why are you shoveling money into the pocket of Bill Gates?

Get Firefox and use it as your browser. It's Free, no more popups, cookies, data mining etc.

Download it here.


Use the free ad-on at Firefox that cuts all the advertising off at your router.

It's called Ad Block Plus, and does it work!

Go to Tools, scroll down to Ad-ons for the whole list of other free features.


Go here to get codes that allow you to avoid registering for large media websites.


If you just want to protect your online privacy and are intimidated by software and installing things on your machine,

we have a page on what you can do without too much effort.

Now for the serious stuff:


 Guest Commentary from John in Canada:

Part I is for beginners,

Part II is more complicated.

Study, research and proceed with knowledge.


Part I - Open Source Software and other free programs for Windows:


I became aware of many of the below noted programs some time ago as a

result of continually cleaning up my Windows installation. My daughter

was downloading all sorts of programs and although she did no illegal

downloads, many of these programs brought their own problems to the

computer. I also found that pop up ads, adware and virus threats were

making my computer use a major pain and resulting in a lot of lost

hours. Despite paying for antivirus software and installing a firewall

I still had several hours of work per week keeping the whole mess

running enough to check email and surf the net a bit. At one point I

was prepared to shut down the internet connection completely. At the

time our family had only the single computer and my work along with

important financial data was on it. As you may appreciate this caused a

lot of headaches despite regular complete backups.


The solution started with using Firefox instead of MS Internet Explorer,

installing two adware destroying programs and changing to the

Thunderbird email program from Outlook Express. This considerably

reduced the amount of computer problems I was having.


There are a number of different licensing arrangements for software

under the general heading "Open Source". One is the GNU general public

license. Linux and thousands of other packages are covered by this

license. With this software you have the following freedoms:

(borrowed from "Why I love the GPL" by Joe Barr in News Forge January

30, 2005).


- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 1).

- The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs

(freedom 2). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor

(freedom 3).

- The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to

the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 4). Access to

the source code is a precondition for this.

(See for more

The "source" in Open Source refers to the original computer code written

to create a particular program. In open source programs the source code is

available to the public so that anyone who wishes (and is sufficiently skilled) may change the code, or examine it Internet Browser and Email:

The first program to install is the internet browser Firefox. It is a replacement for MS Internet Explorer and is generally regarded as much more secure and faster. It will defeat pop up ads, and has settings to prevent adware intrusion on your computer. Firefox can be downloaded 

Firefox is available in a number of different languages and is also

available for Windows, Mac and linux. At the time of this writing the

file size is 4.7 MB so it isn't a big file to download. Once it is

downloaded for windows (it will be something like

"FirefoxSetup1.0.1.exe") double click the file icon and it will install

itself. It will ask during the install if you wish to make it the

default internet browser - I would suggest that you do so. Firefox will

give you the option to import favorites from IE. It is easy and

painless and will not effect your IE setup.


You may wish to keep MS Internet Explorer installed on your system as

there are a very few websites that will not render properly in Firefox.

I would suggest that you use Firefox as your everyday browser as it is

much more secure than Internet Explorer. Once you are using the browser

you can set it up by going to Edit > Preferences. Take a look at the

default setup and modify it if you wish. This is your oportunity to

increase or decrease the security of the browser and your computer.


Mozilla offers an email program called Thunderbird. It offers

intelligent spam filters, spell check on emails and much more. It is a

small download from and is definitely worth trying.

This program offers better security than other common email programs.

It will import mail addresses and emails from Outlook Express during or

after the installation.


Both Firefox and Thunderbird are free downloads and are undergoing rapid

improvement. They are quite easy to update once new versions are

released. Security updates on these programs occur very quickly after a

problem has been detected. Both programs have a multitude of themes and

extensions so that their appearance and functionality may be changed and



Adware, Spyware and other Scumware:


If you have been browsing the internet with Internet Explorer there is a

very good chance that your computer is infected with adware or spyware.

If you see search bars that you haven't installed such as "MyWebSearch",

your homepage has changed or you are continually seeing pop up ads then

your computer is infected with these parasites. They will slow your

system to a crawl, prevent you from getting proper use of your software

and in some cases they are severe security risks; logging keystrokes or

stealing passwords.


Two programs that I have used are Ad-aware by Lavasoft and Spybot-S&D.

Both scan your system for adware/spyware and once they detect it allow

you to remove it. Both have databases of adware/spyware that are

updated frequently. Each time you use them you should first check for

updates. I use both for a regular check on my windows system as

sometimes one will pickup scumware that the other will miss.


Ad-aware can be downloaded by going to the lavasoft website at:


The page will direct you to via a link and you can then

download the "aawsepersonal.exe" file. It will install on your computer

once you double click the file icon. Once it is installed double

click the icon to start it and make sure that you instruct it to

download updates. It will do so and you can then direct it to scan the

system. It is quite intuitive to use and an excellent tool. The program

is free for personal use.


Spybot-S&D can be accessed at:


You will find a link there for the download. Installation is the same

as for ad-aware, once the download is complete double click on the file

icon (sypbotsd13.exe or something similar) and it will install itself.

Update it before doing a scan on your system and then prompt it to

delete any spyware it has found. This program is also free although the

author(s) would appreciate a donation.


Please note that ad-ware and SpybotS&D are not open source but they are

valuable tools to keep your Windows system running. If your windows

installation is infected with scumware you may need to do more than

installing and running Ad-aware or SpygotS&D. If they will not install

or do not get rid of all problems then do a search on the net to locate

various tools that are available to detect and destroy adware and



Office Software for Windows:


In business and elsewhere documents are usually formated in a MS Word

format (with a ".doc" ending). Spreadsheets are usually in an MS Excel

format (with a ".xls" ending). If you have priced a copy of MS Office

recently you will find that it is several hundreds of dollars. It also

provides Powerpoint and Access but most people mainly use the

spreadsheet and word processing parts of the package. Four years ago I

was faced with spending a lot of my hard earned money on MS office

because of a contract that I took on with a government agency. They

required reports in MS Word and MS Excel formats. At that time I bought

EasyOffice (e-press) after a tryout period. I found it did the job and

was reasonably priced.


I have since found an Open Source option. OpenOffice is a complete and

powerful Office suite. It includes a word processor, spreadsheet, draw

program and presentation program. It will read and write in MS formats

(and many others) and in some respects may be better software than MS

Office. It does not include a database program at this time however

will do so with a new release that will be completed and available by

May 2005. OpenOffice is available for Windows and Linux among other

operating systems. I have used it for the last 8 months on a linux

system and find to be extremely capable software. I have read, created

and modified MS Word and Excel files and no one knew the difference. I

have used it to a very limited extent for presentations and drawing. It

will read and write Powerpoint format.


OpenOffice can be downloaded at:


The link above also includes a set of instructions for downloading and

installing the windows version of the program.





When I was using Windows I bought Norton Antivirus every year. I found

that Norton Antivirus caused me some difficulties - every now and then

it would not download updates. I have since found that there are

several free antivirus programs available for Windows. You may wish to

take a look at: free virus scanner for

individual use. free virus scanner for

individual use. free virus scanner (open



 Other Open Source programs available for Windows:


Audacity - available at This program is an

audio editor. I use a Linux version to clean up digital files recorded

from vinyl records before recording them to CD. Very intuitive to use.


Abiword - available at A powerful word

processor for Windows and other operating systems. Smaller and quicker

than MS Word but very capable.


GIMP - available at A powerful image

manipulation program similar to Adobe Photoshop.


The programs/applications that I have mentioned above have lots of

information on their websites. Most have forums that can be checked for

information and if you wish you may ask questions on those forums. It

is a courtesy to first search the forum and the net for answers before

asking the question.


A search of the net for "windows open source programs" or something

similar will turn up more information that may be of interest.


I would ask that you consider supporting groups or individuals who offer

software that you find useful. Some request cash donations while others

would appreciate your opinion and information on the use of their



It is my hope that the above information is of benefit to you and will

start you towards a Windows free environment. It may be a surprise but

there is a tremendous amount of free software available and much of it

very high quality.

End Part I


Part II - Open Source and Free Software


I mentioned in Part I of this series of articles that my solution to

internet/computer problems started with using Firefox and Thunderbird.


for a very recent review of a business use of Firefox, Thunderbird and

Open Source Software.


The two programs helped to make my Windows installation less susceptible

to scumware, popups and other annoyances but did nothing to increase the

stability of the system. I became very frustrated with the "blue screen

of death", the refusal of the system to shut down properly and other

annoyances. I was using Windows 98SE at the time but did not consider

"upgrading" to Windows XP operating system because of the problems that

friends were having with that operating system. It did not seem to be a

viable alternative. I was also frustrated that each time I "upgraded"

to a newer version of Windows many of my purchased software applications

needed to be upgraded at additional cost. In most cases the newer

versions did nothing better than the older versions but they would not

work with a newer version of Windows. Upgrades often meant upgrading

hardware to handle the increased demands on the system.


Some software companies cease to support older versions in order to sell

the new ones. As an example, in mid 2004 Quicken announced that

customers with older versions would have to pay for upgrades if they

wished to continue to access their financial institutions. See,aid,119721,pg,1,RSS,RSS,00.asp

for more details. This is but one small example of the control that big

software companies hold over their customers.


I had Zone Alarm set up as my Windows firewall and noticed that a number

of installed programs were continually trying to access the internet.

Realplayer and other programs tried to access the net each time the

computer was started up even though they were not being used. This

concerned me because I had no way to know what data they were sending

out or requesting from the internet. Were they sending out information

about my system to a website? I suspected that some of these programs

were forwarding data and since I had sensitive personal and business

information on my computer I was quite concerned.


My next step made the most difference towards solving internet problems

and at the same time gaining high stability and getting rid of many

Windows annoyances. It also cost very little and was a learning



In the course of trying to "fix" Windows, I came across references to

Linux. Linux is an Open Source operating system but is usually

distributed as a package of programs called a distribution. There are

hundreds of linux distributions available and most are free for the

download or a nominal fee for a cd(s). Many of these distributions will

run on older hardware and run well. To get an idea of some of these

distributions take a look at:


Some of the distributions are oriented towards older systems, some for

specialized use as servers or firewalls and some for desktop use.


Another free operating system is BSD. There are several popular

distributions of this operating system available and they are free or

have a small cost involved. The latest version of Mac OS has common

roots to BSD. If you are interested in pursuing more information about

BSD you may wish to view this website:


Linux is much more secure than MS Windows and has little susceptibility

to virus problems. It is very stable - if an application locks up it

seldom takes the entire system down. During installation a root

(administrative) user is created. Only the person with the root user

password is able to install software.


Each user has a separate subdirectory from the /home directory in which

to store files, program settings, photos etc. The user can create

subdirectories from their own directory to organize data. Since all of

the user directories are subdirectories of /home, it is very easy to

back up data because the root user has only to backup /home (and it's

subdirectories) and all user's data will be backed up. It is also easy

for each user because their data is automatically saved into their own

/home/user directory.


For example, a system with two users by the name of "john" and "sally"

will have at least two /home/user subdirectories, /home/john and

/home/sally. Sally will now save all files into /home/sally but may

create a subdirectory called /home/sally/photos to store her digital

photos. She will not normally have access to /home/john or any of

john's "subdirectories".


It is not unusual for a linux system to operate for months without being

rebooted and without any problems. Linux is used as the operating

system on many of the internet's servers. The server software

associated to this is Apache. It is being used more and more by

government departments, businesses and education departments. Many use

it to get away from onerous licencing provisions of Microsoft software

and because it is very high quality software. View the link below for

an excellent summary of Open Source software (from the CPA Journal):


When I purchased software there were a number of serious restrictions on

it's use. The user agreements (agree or it won't install) were often

onerous and treated the customer like a criminal. You were not allowed

to share, give away, loan or use the software except in a very limited

manner. Some educational institutions, governments and businesses faced

"software audits" by Microsoft and paid enormous "fines" when found to

be using MS software on more hardware than was licenced. See the

following for further information:


A number of smaller businesses have been subjected to such audits. One

that I am aware of in Canada paid about $30,000 Canadian in "fines" for

software not covered by licences that they had on file. Other cases

have happened in Australia and Europe, not just the USA.


With linux you can use the software as you wish. You can provide copies

to friends, install it on your mom's computer, give it to the local

school to try out. Should you need software for your small or large

business you have every right to install Open Source software on as many

computers as you have available. Ubuntu linux will even give you for

free, 10 sets (or more) of cd's to install on the computer(s) of your

choice (see below for more information).


Note that some linux distributions are sold and may have restrictions on

copying or free distribution. Redhat Enterprise linux is one of these

but I don't know the details of their licencing.


In order to experiment with linux, I bought an old celeron 400 computer

with 256 MB memory and a 6GB hard drive. The computer itself was

surplus from our local City so the price was pretty good.


Not wanting to waste any money I went to our library and found a book

about Redhat Linux 7.0 which included a set of installation cd's. I

installed it and found that it was graphical and not that hard to

install or use and within a couple of hours I was surfing the net. Keep

in mind that I knew almost nothing about linux at that point. I

eventually installed Redhat 9 (from the library again) on the older

computer and then put a new hard drive in my faster computer and

installed Redhat 9 on it as a dual boot with Windows. Each time the

computer was booted a menu appeared showing Windows or Redhat 9. I

found that I was using the two linux installations more and more and

moved my business files to them. Once installed the two installations

were incredibly stable and easy to use. I eventually moved away from

Redhat 9 as it was no longer supported and was somewhat complex to keep

updated. Redhat has recently split it's systems into two. It's

Enterprise distribution is provided with a paid support package. Fedora

is their "experimental" distribution. Programs are first tested in

Fedora and then incorporated into the Redhat enterprise. Fedora is a

free distribution. See and for more information.


My next step was to install Simply Mepis on the slower computer. The

Mepis installation worked well and one or two hitches were easily solved

by looking through the Mepis website and related forums. I found that

the system was quite intuitive and was similar to MS Windows in it's

function. I was able to do anything that I had done with my Windows

installation and it just kept on working. No lockups, blue screens of

death or other problems. My daughter was able to get onto "chat" within

minutes of being introduced to the system and my wife was on the net in

short order. Cd burning was easy and accurate. By this time I had

installed an older 10 GB hard drive along with the original 6 Gb hard

drive. I found that the total of 16GB was plenty as long as none of us

were doing a lot of audio or video work. The MEPIS software took up

just under 2 GB.


Mepis is a bit slow on the older computer but still very usable. If the

programs included aren't sufficient then it is very easy to download

free programs from the net. I ordered the install/live cd from

SimplyMepis for about $10 US and received it shortly thereafter. More

information can be found at:


I tried to install Mepis on my faster computer but had problems with

sound and then with my ethernet card. Rather than spend a lot of time

on it I used a different distribution called Ubuntu. It recognized all

of my computer hardware and installed with no problems. The newest

version of Mepis now recognizes all of the hardware on this system.


Ubuntu is quite new but has quickly obtained a large following. A South

African businessman started the project and has promised that Ubuntu

will always be free software. Ubuntu has a number of software

developers working full time on software improvements - both security

and enhancements. The Ubuntu forums are very active and a search of

them will result in solutions to most problems. More information can be

found at:


Because there was room on the two harddrives I eventually installed

three operating systems on my faster computer. Windows, only because of

an accounting program that I occasionally use, one main linux system for

business and everyday use and one linux system for experimenting and learning. Currently I am using

the stable version of Ubuntu Dapper Drake as my main operating

system. I also have the newest version of PCLINUXOS installed

Each time the computer is booted up a menu appears giving the options;

Windows, Ubuntu Dapper Drake and PCLINUXOS. Both of the linux installations are very

fast on the computer even though it is several years old. The system files

and applications for the Ubuntu installation take up just over 2 GB.


 General Observations about Linux:


I have found that Linux is much more stable and susceptible to far fewer

problems than Windows. I use a virus scanner once a week but it is for

insurance rather than being a necessity. Once the systems were

installed I found that they were fast and just work. At times I have

been bored as there are no crashes, no lockups, and no problems to fix.

The linux file systems are not susceptible to fragmentation so I don't

have to regularly defrag the harddrives. I set up a short automated

backup "script" that I run once a week or so and then I burn the two

resulting files onto a RW cd. I could automate this easily if I wished.

Every few days I execute two or three commands to update all of the

software on each system. It requires an internet connection and takes a

few minutes in the background while I use the computer for other duties.

There are a number of excellent firewall programs available if desired.


On the down side I did find that it took a bit more knowledge to install

linux and setting up multimedia applications was a bit involved. Mepis

is very good in this regard and Ubuntu is getting better. The Ubuntu

website has a number of HOWTOs telling users how to install programs and

setup new systems. These are very detailed and I expect that most

people would be able to follow them through with very little trouble. A

basic knowledge of disk partitions is required in order to install linux

although most distributions will automatically partition the harddrive

during the installation. I did have a bit of difficulty getting my old

parallel port scanner recognized but a bit of searching on the net gave

me the answer to that problem.


There are some accounting programs and CAD programs for the linux

operating system but there is not as much choice as there is for Windows

based systems. In Canada there are no linux based tax programs that I

am aware of and this along with one accounting program is the main

reason that I keep a windows install. It is seldom used except by my

daughter as she likes Windows Media player.


Ubuntu and Mepis are based on a linux distribution called Debian. They

are very easy to update and it is simple to obtain, install and

uninstall programs (at least as easy to install new programs as Windows,

perhaps easier.) There are thousands of programs available at no cost.

The support forums are excellent for Ubuntu in particular. Common

applications included in Mepis and Ubuntu are those for digital cameras,

pdas, cd burning, scanners, email and web browsing (your choice of

several programs for each), chat, video viewers, publishing, encryption,

graphics and audio.


Linux works on most common (and inexpensive) computer hardware. Most

hardware is automatically detected when the system is installed. I have

found that some distributions are better for hardware support on

particular computers than others. If one does not detect all of the

hardware on a computer try another as it probably will. There are

usually ways to work around hardware detection problems and these can be

found on the forums for the distribution.


There is usually no need to install hardware drivers under linux. I

recently re installed windows 98 and found that I was continually trying

to locate drivers for video, ethernet cards etc. Linux will usually

recognize these and deal with them without any extra software.


Keep in mind that you cannot usually run Windows programs under linux.

There are however, several linux programs (emulators) that will allow

some Windows applications to run. One of these is Wine. It can be found



CrossOver Office is a commercial application that will run more windows

programs than will Wine. It can be found here:


Generally there will be a linux application that will do the same job as

well or better than a windows program and it will be free.



Live CDs:


Linux has a number of "live cd's" that are a very good introduction to

the operating system. A live cd runs a linux operating system and

applications from a single cd. Most will make no changes to the

harddrive and do not effect your computer. (Puppy Linux is an

exception). Some of the applications will be placed in computer memory

but because the computer must read information from the cd it will be

slower than a linux system installed on a harddrive. It does give you

the opportunity to experiment with linux and also to find out if that

particular distribution will work with your hardware.


Most linux cd's are downloaded from the net via an ".iso" image file.

Once the download is complete the ".iso" file can be burned onto a cd

and the cd used to boot into a linux system. If you are going to use a

Windows cd burner applicaton to burn the cd, do a search of the net to

learn how to burn an .iso file to create a cd. A search of "iso image

cd burner_application_name" will turn up directions on how to do this.

(eg. "iso image cd nero"). Another option is to download a small free

program called BurnCDCC. It is a windows program used only for burning

.iso files to cd. It can be found at:


In order to use the live cd you must set up your computer bios to boot

first from the cd drive. This is usually a matter of hitting the "del"

or "F1" key at the first part of the computer boot up and then changing

the bios settings to boot from the cd first and then the harddrive. If

your computer is old enough that it will not boot from cd it can be

booted from a diskette and then from the cd. Download the "sbminst.exe"

file from The file is a dos file and should

be put in an easily accessed directory on the windows computer. Go to a

dos prompt, change directories to the one containing "smbinst.exe",

place a blank formatted diskette in the floppy drive and execute

"sbminst -t us -d 0" without the quotes. This will write the boot

manager to the diskette with a US english menu. Place the live cd in

the cdrom and use this diskette to bootup the computer and it should

detect the cdrom drive along with the various harddrives. I tried it

twice before it booted the cdrom but it worked very well.


The best known of the live cd's is Knoppix. It is about 650 mb so will

fill a cd with enough software to experiment for hours. It can be found



Simply Mepis is also a live cd. Once you have it up and running you can

install it to a harddrive or just leave it running as a live cd.


Ubuntu has a live cd and an install cd. The developers will actually

supply anyone who asks with a kit containing one of each of the cd's in

an attractive case. There is no charge for the software or shipping and

the default number of the sets is 10. They take a while to get sent out

so a download from the Ubuntu website may be the better way to go. See for more information.


Damn Small Linux is another small live cd. It will fit on a 50 MB

business card type cd and yet has many programs on it. It may work

better on older slower hardware as it includes very compact software.

It can be found at:



Feather Linux is a small distribution with an amazing amount of

software. Well worth a look. It takes up about 115 MB of space and can

be found at:


Puppy Linux is a small distribution (about 55 mb) that is incredibly

fast. I have used this as a live cd on both my computers. If the

computer has 128 mb or more of memory it will load all of the

applications into memory and allow you to remove the live cd so that

your cd drive can be used for burning or playing audio cd's. It is very

fast when loaded into memory and it looks very much like windows 98 once

it is booted up. My daughter took one look at it and decided that she

wanted it. I would recommend that you try this one. This distribution

does write one file to a harddrive. The settings that you specify on

the first boot up are written to this file so that there is no need to

re apply the settings each time you boot the computer. Any files that

you create, bookmarks (in the web browser), emails etc. are stored in

the file on the harddrive. Puppy can be located at:


Note: There is an extra step if you wish puppy to write to a file on a

NTFS (Windows XP,NT etc) system. You have to download a small file and

istall it on the harddrive first. The FAQ on the Puppy website has more

information on this.


Some of the small distributions, Puppy and Damn Small can be used as an

operating system on a usb pen drive. In this way one can carry the

entire operating system and a lot of data in a pocket. Plug it into the

usb port on most modern computers and boot it up.


Note regarding connecting the the internet behind a router:


If you are running a live cd you will have to go into the network

settings (or internet settings) to set up your connection. Before doing

this run "ipconfig" in windows to get the settings for the internet

connection. It is fairly easy to do this but you may have to experiment

a bit before getting on line. If you connect directly through a modem

the setup under the "internet" menu on the live cd should allow you to

connect very easily. If all else fails do a search on the net for

assistance or check the forums for the distribution that you are using.


Other uses for Linux:


Knoppix and a number of other live cd's can be used to recover data from

harddrives whose operating system is trashed. They will read MS Windows

file systems and are excellent recovery tools. Please note that reading

and writing NTFS file systems (eg. Windows XP and others) is still

experimental. Here is one website outlining how it is done:


There are other small distributions used for backing up and repairing

operating system problems. These may be of interest:


Data recovery is not something to be done carelessly and proper backups

should always be done before any attempt is made to recover the data.

Do your research before using any tools for data backup and recovery.


If you are interested in experimenting with linux, take a look at the

links provided for further information. A search of the internet for

any of the distributions mentioned above will turn up more information

than you will ever need.


Check your local library for books on linux. Most will include the

installation disks. I have ordered older (a year or two old) new

computer books with cd sets included and paid very little for them. In

Canada we have Half Price Computer Books

( ) or you may also wish to search for other sources.


There are a number of Linux User's Groups in most bigger cities. They

may provide you with information and software and even assist you in

doing an installation. A check with used computer stores might get you

some information in this regard. I have found that some of the younger

techs in these stores work with Windows all day and then relax with

linux or BSD at night.


I will cover some of the aspects of installing a couple of linux systems

in Part III of this series of articles. Meantime order or download one

or two live cd's and try them out. I am sure you will be impressed.


End Part II.


Open Source Software Part III


Before going into installation of linux software I would like to cover a

couple of important areas. I will try to stay as non technical as

possible and refer you to a few websites for more details. Keep in mind

that we are getting into a more complex area and you must do some

research if you do not want to come to grief.


If you are starting from a “newbie” knowledge of linux consider picking

up an older computer and using that as an experimental platform. It

gives you the freedom to make mistakes without any real consequences,

other than your time. I would recommend that you try to get a 400

celeron or higher processor, at least 128 mb ram, and a hard drive of at

least 4 GB. If you already have a older system however, give it a try

rather than putting money into something newer.


Before installing linux be prepared to do some searching on the net.

There are dozens of good articles and many forums with excellent

information on how to perform linux installations.




Partitioning refers to creating spaces on a hard drive. It is often

used to make two or more “hard drives” out of a big one. If you are

familiar with a MS Windows system you might have come across a system

that appears to have two drives (eg. C and D drives) when in fact you

know that it actually has only one physical hard drive. What you are

seeing is two partitions on the single drive.


Partitioning is particularly important with linux. Most linux systems

require a minimum of two partitions. I generally use three but more on

that a little later. A linux system requires at least a swap partition

and a “system” partition. The swap partition is a small portion of the

hard drive used to augment system memory. Usually twice the system

memory (RAM) will be alloted for a swap drive but this is always an

estimate. The swap space is used to supplement the system memory in

case there is insufficient memory for a particular application. With

low memory systems you may find that the hard drive is quite active as

the swap partition is accessed frequently.


The other partition required is a “system” partition. This will contain

all of the linux kernel files and applications files along with all of

the user data. If there is sufficient room it is advisable to create a

third partition, the “/home” partition to contain all of the user's

files and data. This makes matters easier when upgrading software or

backing up data. I generally use the following setup on a system with a

small hard drive (under 5 GB):


a swap partition with up to 256 MB of space.

a “/” partition which contains all of the linux system and application

files and all of the user's data.


On a system with a bigger hard drive I use the following partitioning



a swap partition with up to 500 MB of space.

a “/” partition of 3 to 4 GB

a “/home” partition that uses the remaining space available.


If you search the net you will find other suggestions of up to 5 or 6

partitions. I don't see a need for this on a home computer and have had

good luck with the above.


It is very common to have a computer set up to “dual boot” with Windows

and linux. This is possible in two different ways. The first and

easiest method is to have Windows already installed on a hard drive. A

second hard drive is then installed on the system, partitioned and

formated for linux and then the linux system is installed on it. Almost

always this is set up so that the Windows hard drive is the primary

master drive and the linux drive is either the primary slave, secondary

master or secondary slave. Most computers will have the ability to plug

in 4 hard drives and CD/DVD drives total. They are attached by wide

ribbon cables to the mother board and the manner in which they are

attached and the settings of the DIP switches on the back of each hard

drive or CD drive determines if they are on the primary or secondary

channel and if they are the master or slave drive. If your computer

currently has one hard drive and one CD drive (reader or burner) it is

very likely that the hard drive is the primary master drive and the

cdrom is the secondary master drive. Watch the screen as the system

boots up and you will can see it as it detects the four drives. They

will be in order and the system will give a description of each drive as



primary master (known in linux as hda)

primary slave (known in linux as hdb)

secondary master (known in linux as hdc)

secondary slave (known in linux as hdd)


The second method of dual booting windows and linux is to split the

single hard drive into several partitions, the first one for Windows and

the second for the other operating system. For an existing installation

of Windows there are several considerations as follows:


is there room on the hard drive for both systems. Generally speaking

the hard drive should be at least 20 GB and possibly bigger. Check the

hard drive under “My Computer” to see how much room is used by the

Windows installation.

can an accurate backup be made of the Windows system so that it can be

easily restored in case of a problem. ( I use Norton Ghost to create an

image on CD's of my Windows 98 installation ­ it has saved me a number

of times). Ensure that you are very familiar with the restoration

process before depending upon it. Older versions of Ghost are not

compatible with newer Windows file systems (NTFS) so be careful.

can the hard drive be fully defragmented and then split into two

partitions. Most windows programs have a defragmentation program and

others are available.


Freeing Space on a Hard drive:


Partition Magic, a commercial program, will split a hard drive into two

or more partitions and may be useful in this case. See


Fips is a dos based program (free) that will perform similar duties.

See (


Qtparted is another open source program that will allow you to “shrink”

a a partition so that there is room for Linux on your harddrive. See It works for most filesystem types.


- Partimage is an open source program (a Norton Ghost clone) used to

make images of partitions. It can be used to image Windows partitions.

It is fairly easy to use but study it some before depending upon it.


NOTE: SystemRescue is a live CD that provides Qtparted, partimage and

numerous other open source software tools. It is provided as an .iso

file download and must be burned to a CD as an image. The website has

documentation and is well worth a look. It and can be downloaded at:


The Ubuntu installer now has an option that will reduce a NTFS or FAT

partition size. It will first reduce the size of the NTFS partition and

then allow the new free space to be set up as one or more partitions.

This is a great tool because it allows a user to take a big hard drive

installed with Windows XP and shrink the XP partition to allow room to

install linux. Once again PLEASE BACKUP THE WINDOWS PARTITION(S) and

DEFRAGMENT THEM before using this tool.


Once the hard drive is split with Windows in the first partition, then

the second partition may be split into further partitions by one of

several linux applications. Usually the installation of a linux

distribution will prompt you for further partitioning of the second part

of the hard drive so there is no need to do it before the install.




Computers start by performing tasks in a particular order. When the

power switch is turned on it first looks in the circuitry for

instructions. These instructions lead it through the boot up procedure

which eventually leads it to look on a hard drive for further

instructions. The computer looks on the Master Boot Record (MBR) of the

primary master hard drive for these instructions. The MBR is a small

area (the first 512 bytes) of the disk that contains a bootloader. If

you have installed windows in the past then it automatically installed a

bootloader. Linux will do the same but usually prompts you as to where

you wish to install it. The installation will usually detect the

windows operating system and everything will work out ok. In the case

of two or more operating systems installed on a computer with a

bootloader, you will face a menu within a short time of turning the

computer on. The menu will allow you to boot the computer into one of

the operating systems available. Here is a brief representation of how

this works:


Computer turned on > looks in circuitry for boot info > looks at MBR

for further info > bootloader in MBR refers it to a “menu” file on

another area of a hard drive > reads menu file and presents list of

options on screen > user chooses an Operating System > computer loads

that operating system


If you wish to use Windows XP bootloader to load xp and linux then see

these articles:


Article on Boot loaders:


It is not unusual to install a boot loader and find that one or more of

the operating systems that should be available are not. Panic sets in

and we start to think of reinstalling one or both operating systems. If

the existing Windows system won't boot up then the novice sends out an

email to a linux forum with a message something like “linux destroyed my

windows install”. I have been through the panic stage but didn't send

out any emails. By that time I wasn't really too concerned about

destroying windows ­ it had already self destructed a number of times.

Don't worry as there is almost always a way to recover the situation

without re installation.


File systems:


When a hard drive is formatted a file system is created on the disk.

Windows 98 uses a FAT format, Windows NT, Windows 2000 and XP use a NTFS

format. Linux has a choice of several formats such as ext2, ext3, and

reiserfs. Windows does not recognize the linux formats but linux will

recognize and read the windows formats (not totally compatible with NTFS

but there are ways around this). I use the ext3 file system for linux

as it works and is well proven.


If you are planning to use a Windows/Linux dual boot and you have room

on your system it may be worth allotting a small partition as a shared

data partition. If you format it to FAT32 then both Windows and Linux

can read and write files to that partition. It will not be secure

however as any files in this area will be available to all users.


Debian dual boot info:



Part III A:



Zenwalk Linux:


Zenwalk is based on Slackware, a mainstream version of linux. Zenwalk

is very fast and the developers have tried to provide one application

for each task done on the computer. I have used it on a 400 celeron

computer and found it to be very fast and competent. It uses the XFCE

desktop environment which is quite efficient of system resources.


The home page can be found at There are links

from that page to a download page and also to “Zenwalk Manual”. The

manual is excellent and gives step by step instructions on obtaining a

zenwalk iso file, burning it to cd and then installing zenwalk on the



Zenwalk uses the “netpkg” tool to update software and install and

uninstall software packages. I am not that familiar with it but it does

seem to work very well. There are detailed instructions in the manual

as to how to use this tool.


I have had trouble with computer logins with an older version of Zenwalk

but the newer versions seem to work well for me. It is perhaps the

easiest to install and the fastest “small” distribution that I have



Vector Linux:


I have looked at at least 10 different linux distributions to find

something that will install on older hardware and work well. I have

tried to find a distribution that is easy to install and easy to use

with enough software to enable word processing, web browsing, email,

some games, the ability to create a number of users and a decent command

line. In doing so I have come back to Vector Linux. It is available by

download or by purchase and there is good support on the forum including

a very detailed manual on installing it. Keep in mind that this is a

fast and fairly lightweight version of linux but that it is also quite

capable. It works quite well on older systems (my 400 celeron with 256

MB ram for example) and is very fast on a newer system.


I had little trouble setting up my internet connection, and digital

camera connection. It offers Firefox web browser, Thunderbird email and

Abiword word processor. It does not offer a spreadsheet and there is no

way to easily download one. It offers a large number of other programs

but is still a quick and light weight distribution. It is also based on

Slackware Linux.


The Vector linux website is located at It offers links to the forum,

documentation and downloads among other areas.


To start to install Vector you must do the following:


BACKUP ANY IMPORTANT FILES ­ assume that you will have to reinstall

everything. Assume the worst and plan for a disaster. If you plan to

“shrink” an existing partition then DEFRAGMENT it first.


download the latest version (Vector 5.1 at this writing) ­ go to

and click on the file VL-5.1-std.iso. This should start a download of

about 390 MB. Also download the file VL-5.1-std.md5sum.txt.


See the installation instructions for information as to how to do an

md5sum check, burn the .iso file to a cd and prepare the computer for

installation. The instructions are found here:


These instructions include detail about burning .iso files to cd both

from Windows and from Linux. Follow these and you should not go wrong.

Even if you decide to use another distribution of linux READ THESE PAGES

­ they are excellent.


Another thing I like about Vector Linux is that it gives you the

opportunity to create a boot floppy in order to boot Vector. If you do

this during the installation you won't take any risks that your windows

installation will no longer boot. After using the floppy to boot Vector

for a while you can always set it up to boot directly from the hard

drive. The installer will give you this option towards the end of the

installation or you can use the VASM system tool later once Vector is

installed. Vector uses a boot program called LILO.


If you have problems take a look at the Vector Linux forum for help. A

search through the postings will likely find the answers.



Simply Mepis:


The home website for Mepis is at The

distribution is a full fledged linux desktop with more applications and

tools than most people will ever use. It uses the KDE menu system and

is based upon Debian. Due to it's size and the weight of the

applications a newer computer and at least 256 mb ram will be required

for any reasonable performance. I found that it worked on a 400 Celeron

with 256 mb ram but it was very slow. This is a live cd with an

installation option so it gives the user a chance to try it out before

committing to an installation. Keep in mind that it will be much slower

running as a live cd compared to running from a hard drive installation.


To obtain a Mepis .iso file follow the “download” entry on the menu on

the left to an internet mirror near to you. Choose the .iso, download

it and the corresponding md5sum.txt file. You may also buy a CD for a

small charge.


See the Mepis User guide at for full details on

downloading the files, burning the .iso to cd and doing an install of

Mepis. It goes into a lot of detail about installing and configuring

the system after the installation and should be of great help in getting

your system up and running. The Mepis Live CD includes Qtparted for

shrinking existing partitions.


Mepis is based upon Debian so it is quite easy to add, remove and update

software. Mepis and Ubuntu use the GRUB boot loader.


Don't forget to check out the Mepis Lover's forum for a vast store of

valuable information.




I have been using Ubuntu for most of the last year starting with the

Warty Warthog release. The newest release is Dapper Drake. Can't help

but like the names.


The Ubuntu home page is located at There

is a huge store of information available through that website and other

related ones. The forum is probably the most active of any linux

distribution and the Ubuntu distribution is now the most popular linux

distribution. It is based upon Debian so is quite easy to update and

install new software. A full fledged installation will require a

reasonably new computer and 256 mb of ram. There is however information

describing how to use the software on an older system. See this site

for further information


Ubuntu operates with the Gnome menu system, which has less “eye candy”

than KDE. There is now a branch called Kubuntu that installs Ubuntu

with KDE as the menu system. The website is at

It is related to Ubuntu and does offer the user a choice as to which

desktop menu they wish to install.


Ubuntu and Kubuntu area available as live cd's and include and

installation option. They allow the user to try the system out before

installing it. Each of the Ubuntu and Kubuntu websites have “download”

areas on the main menu that will lead you to the latest .iso files.


Ubuntu is unique in that they will forward sets of CD's to you free of

charge. See


Documentation relating to installing and modifying the ubuntu system can

be found at


Ubuntu/Kubuntu has some very nice features. The developers have

committed to putting out a new release every 6 months. They do however

provide support for the older releases for some time. It is fairly easy

to upgrade from the older release to the newer one especially if you

have a separate /home partition. Ubuntu now has an automatic updater

for software. If your system is on the net the updater will notify you

of package(s) for which there are updates and with a prompt will

download and update the applications automatically. Very occasionally

this can lead to breakage of some parts of the software but you do not

have to install the updates unless you wish to.


I have recently installed a small Ubuntu system on several older

computers. This takes some time as I first did a minimal (server)

installation and then added packages to make it into a small desktop

system with the XFCE desktop menu system. Ubuntu has now released

Xubuntu based on XFCE and designed for older computers.




Another “full fledged” distribution that I have just installed and am

very impressed with is PCLINUXOS. Details including download

information can be found at


The developers have put together some excellent training resources to

assist in using the live cd, installing it to a hard drive and using the

software. It does require a reasonably new computer and at least 256 mb

of memory. Once installed it required about 90 MB of downloads to

update the software so you will require a fast internet connection. I

understand that they are currently developing a set of cd's for the

updates so that a fast internet connection is not required.


In ending this series of articles I would encourage the use of Open

Source Software. Depending upon how much you use there will be a

learning curve but the end result will be software that “just works”.

If you do use the software please support the developers. An occasional

donation of a few dollars to one or more of the foundations will help a

lot towards keeping this software available and up to date.


End guest Commentary:


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