So, we have already discussed why you may want to try RHEL as your computer operating system. Now come the preparations. Take your time. RHEL 6 will install on most computers, but you should perform due diligence and research your hardware against Linux before attempting to install it.
Major computer brands can be checked by model name with the word “linux” in your favorite search engine. Look for indications there are particular problems, and decide if there's any hope you can overcome them. Especially look for a specific blog post reviewing how Linux installs on that or a similar computer. There will also be forum discussions, mailing list threads, or something similar regarding your computer. If you built it yourself, check the individual hardware components the same way. Chances are things will work.
Create at least two strong passwords, one for the administrator account (root) and for your primary user alias. You should never simply run Linux as root for anything but administrative tasks. Linux applications are typically far better organized to work without admin credentials compared to what you may have experienced with Windows. You always run from a user account, and bump up the credentials only when you need them for a specific task. For quite some time now, it has been known the best passwords are made from any phrase or song title you might tend to remember and associate with your login procedure. The old favorite example comes from an Elvis fan: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the building” — heard after his live concerts. Taking the first letter of each word and the punctuation as it appears, we get this:
L&G,Ehltb. Notice it is case sensitive. The word “and” is replaced with an ampersand. You can also replace other words or initial letters with symbols and numbers, or abbreviations. You should strive to have at least one punctuation/symbol and one numerical digit. Seven characters is the absolute minimum, and eight or nine is better. Keep in mind: The whole point is it has to make sense to you, and be memorable, yet very unguessable.
I highly recommend you dedicate the machine in question solely to the job of running Linux. Adding the task of formatting for dual-booting is not exactly simple on RHEL, and complicates the job greatly. I won't be covering that in this series. I also recommend you don't use a laptop until you've had plenty of time getting used to Linux in general. It's probably better you run some other Linux distribution, such as Ubuntu, on laptops.
You also need to prepare your mind. Persistence is more than just being hard-headed. It includes realizing the first time you read something you may not get it, but if you come back to it and read it again, it usually gets better. Sometime you simply need to get help, perhaps join one of those forums or a mailing list. (You could pay enough to Red Hat for phone support, if you like.) This is probably the best way to stay sane once you get involved in Linux. It would be impossible for me to recommend any one community simply because there are so many, catering to different collections of Linux distributions, and widely varying standards and personalities. The whole idea is to eventually put some help back into the community which helps you. If Linux is worth it in the first place, it's worth getting involved as it exists, which means discarding your dreams and fantasies about how it should be.
Finally, never forget the heart of your Linux system is the commandline. This is how Linux began, and it remains a major element in how Linux users think and operate. You will need to become comfortable with the idea of opening a commandline window, typically called a “terminal window” or similar names. A large number of tasks are simply not available with a GUI front-end. Those which are often lose options and flexibility. You may never learn to like it as much as some folks — I love it — but you must make up your mind now you can't escape it.
As a related concept, the Linux GUI is not simply one thing. By default, RHEL uses what is called GNOME. It's fairly simple to use, comes with a wide array of appearance options, and includes a big set of integrated tools. It reminds a lot of folks more of the Mac interface. There is another major contender called KDE. You may like it better, but you'll have to add it later. At one time it was more like the Windows interface, but this is not so readily apparent any more. There are a couple of other lighter interface projects (LXDE, XFCE, etc.) which also integrate lots of tools, but fewer of them. They are lighter in the sense of using less computer power to run, but also offering fewer options for personalizing. Then there is a whole class of projects called “window managers.” There are too many to count, all doing even less integration, and are yet faster and lighter, performing only the most basic functions of organizing how windows are displayed on the desktop, and so forth. The heart of Linux is the commandline, and the GUI is simply an add-on.
We will stick with the default GNOME interface along with using the commandline in this series of articles. If you want something else, you'll be on your own.
Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business.