Getting a Distro
This course uses the Debian GNU/Linux distro, however there are hundreds of Linux distros, you are free to use any distro of your choice, but knowing which is for you can be difficult when you're new to Linux. Only through experience and experimentation can you really know which distro is for you. To help short circuit this problem we suggest some popular distro's. However, we do recommend trying others not on this list.
There are a number of ways to obtain a copy of a distro. You can ask a friend to burn you a copy and replace any CD's used in the process. This option is good if you don't have a fast or free Internet connection and a CD burner device (ISO images can range in size from 250 MB to 650 MB). If you have both, then you can download an ISO image and burn it to CD by yourself. Some distro's can be installed directly over the Internet via File Transfer Protocol (FTP).
Images are normally made available from the distro's Web Site. Now you could spend many hours scanning the Internet to get a distro, or you could just take our advice and go to LinuxISO for fresh ISO's, just like mom used to burn. Here you will find all the ISO's you'll ever need and lots of helpful information on each one of them. You will also find information on how to verify and burn ISO images.
If neither of these is an option, then consider contacting your nearest Linux User Group (LUG). Contact the LUG members and ask if one of them would be so kind as to help you. Usually somebody close to you will be able to help. Remember to replace the CD's used in this process. A list of LUG's can be found at Linux Users Groups WorldWide. Find the one closest to you, subscribe to their mailing list, introduce yourself and ask for help.
Here are our recommendations:
Debian: Debian official releases are geared more toward stability than cutting-edge features. It's not as easy to install as most distros, but the package manager makes it easy to maintain once installed. Packages can also be upgraded to less stable versions.
SuSE: SuSE LINUX is a popular distribution based out of Germany. The latest version is available as a personal edition ISO download, and they also offer a "live evaluation" version that runs completely off a CD. You can also boot from the FTP install ISO image to install from a remote FTP server.
FreeBSD: FreeBSD is an advanced operating system for Intel ia32 compatible, DEC Alpha, and PC-98 architectures. It is derived from BSD UNIX, the version of UNIX developed at the University of California, Berkeley.
Slackware: Since its first release in April of 1993, the Slackware Linux Project has aimed at producing the most "UNIX-like" Linux distribution out there. Don't let the "slack" name fool you, this is a really good and popular distro.
When in Windows, Emulate
The best way to use this course is on a computer with Linux installed. However, if you cannot get a Linux distro, don't worry. In order to make this course more accessible to students, we decided to provide a Virtual Linux Environment in which you could experiment. You can run this course in an emulation environment under Microsoft Windows. The emulation environment is made possible because of an Open Source Emulator program called the Bochs IA-32 Emulator. The emulator has a Debian GNU/Linux image that can be used you can use with Bochs. In other words, he created a mini-installation of Debian Linux that can be run under Bochs.
Bochs can emulate the Intel x86 CPU, common I/O devices, and even a custom BIOS. What this does is to create a virtual environment, that runs inside your current Operating System, which runs Debian GNU/Linux.
Because this emulated (virtual) machine needs to use the resources of the installed Operating System you will need a faster computer to run it successfully. We recommend a Pentium 2 500 MHz computer with 32 MB memory.
We suggest you use this image in conjunction with Bochs, since it also includes the sample files that are used as examples and exercises. You should have access to the win32 executable on the course CD. The executable is self-installing and was made with NSIS, another Open Source product. Alternatively, you can download Bochs with the Debian GNU/Linux image from the Learn Linux Web Site. Click here to download.