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Linux and hal91 - an introduction

by Jason Spiro

Linux is a free "open-source" operating system based on Unix. It was initially developed by Linus Torvalds in Finland. Open-source means that anyone with computer programming skills can make improvements to Linux by making changes to the computer source code, provided they post their changes back up on the Internet for others to take advantage of.

Most computer stores sell packaged versions of Linux. They generally include Linux with some additional Linux software on a CD-ROM, as well as a printed manual. they'll often sell a box with Linux on a CD-ROM, plus other things like a printed manual. This is more convenient than waiting to download everything yourself, but can be are expensive. (Hint: CheapBytes offers Linux CDs for as little as US$2, plus US$5 shipping within the U.S. and Canada.)

Linux comes in many distributions, developed by many different people and companies. Every distribution works differently - it's all very confusing. Some include the graphical interface, "X Window"; some are text-only. Some take up dozens of megabytes of disk space; some fit on a single floppy disk. You can read about them all at the linux.org distribution list.

Hal91 is an interesting distribution of Linux. It was brought to you by Øyvind Kolås in Norway. However, Øyvind has stopped working on hal91, and his webpage no longer even mentions it. Hal91 works on any PC with a 486 or Pentium processor. Although not as full-featured as other Linux distributions, it fits on a single floppy disk, and you don't need to modify the hard drive in any way. (You just start the computer up with your hal91 disk in the floppy drive.) It's a good way to try Linux yourself.

How to get hal91 working:

(Hal91 is text-only, and you'll need to have some basic knowledge of UNIX or Linux commands to use it once it's installed.)
  1. Download this zipfile. (If you need an unzipping program, download WinZip.) The zipfile contains the hal91 disk image (the exact contents of the hal91 floppy disk, saved as a single file) and rawrite, a DOS/Windows program for copying the disk image onto a floppy disk.
  2. After you've unzipped hal91.zip, transfer the disk image to the disk. Put a formatted 3.5 inch floppy disk in the a: drive. Everything on the floppy disk will be erased! Start the rawrite program. Enter the name of the source file (hal91.img), then enter the target drive (A). Press Enter once more, then just wait as rawrite saves hal91 onto the disk. You don't need hal91.img or rawrite anymore unless you want to make another hal91 disk.
  3. With the hal91 floppy disk in the drive, start or restart your computer. Soon, you'll be running Linux. From there, you're on your own in command-line Linux - no graphics, just plain old text mode. Good luck! You can find the hal91 user's guide at http://jspiro.tripod.com/linux/hal91guide/hal91.html. A more comprehensive guide, though, is A Beginner's Introduction to Command-line Linux; it can be found at http://floppix.ccai.com/labs.html. Best of luck!

If you're having problems downloading, you can get the hal91 disk image from here, here, or here. Then, get rawrite from here, here, or here. If you're having problems installing or using hal91, remember that there are dozens of other tiny distributions out there. You can always try another one - go to the linux.org distribution list and scroll down to "Mini and Specialty Distributions".

[Red Hat Linux 7 for Dummies cover]When you're ready for a graphical interface and additional software, it's time to move on to a full-fledged Linux distribution. Due to the shoddy quality of the manuals included with many boxed Linux distributions, you're best off buying a book about Linux with an included CD-ROM. I recommend Red Hat Linux 7 for Dummies. Unlike many other Linux books and manuals, it requires no previous Linux knowledge at all. Plus, it includes the full version of Red Hat Linux 7.0 (the latest version as of March 2001) on 3 CD-ROMs. Click here to buy it from Amazon.com for the reasonable price of $19.99.

If you want to buy any books from Amazon.com, please do so from here! Thanks.

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Page last updated: Mar. 4, 2001.