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BOOT CAMP 499 (06/11/07) – Put a Puppy in your PC, part 1

 

It is every computer owner’s worst nightmare. You switch on your PC and Windows stubbornly refuses to start. Inevitably it happens on the day that you have complete and send off a vitally important job, and there’s no one on hand to fix it, so what do you do?

 

Hopefully you will have read this because over the next few episodes of Boot Camp I will show you how to make and use the ultimate Get Out of Jail Free card for your computer, and it really is free, (apart from the cost of a blank CD and a few minutes worth of download time). With it you will be able to quickly revive your dead PC and resume work straight away on your documents, spreadsheet or image files, connect to the Internet and surf the web, send and receive emails, play music, watch videos and do most of the things you did with Windows.

 

So what is this miraculous product? It’s called Linux, and before you make your excuses and leave this is not geeky Linux, it’s a small, cuddly, and incredibly easy to use version called Puppy Linux. It runs directly from a ‘Live CD’ so even if Windows is completely mangled you can still get your PC up and running and access data on the hard drive. Puppy Linux comes with a suite of applications, including a Word compatible word processor, spreadsheet program, image editor, web browser, email client and much more besides, including tools that can install Puppy Linux on a USB flash drive – see this week’s Top Tip.

 

Your next question is probably along the lines that you’ve heard Linux is complicated, so will you have to learn a lot of new tricks? In a word no; this version of Linux has a desktop and graphical user interface (GUI), which basically means everything looks and works pretty much the same as Windows, in fact I defy anyone accustomed to Windows not to be able to use Puppy after just a couple of minutes of playing around with it.

 

Puppy Linux runs on almost any PC, from ancient machines with 100MHz processors and just 64Mb of RAM up to the latest high-speed Vista desktops and laptops and since it runs directly from a CD it makes no changes to the data on your computer’s hard drive or configuration (unless you want it to), so it is completely safe and you don’t have to wait for a crash to try it out. In fact I would encourage you to use it and get to know Puppy, it may even inspire you to have a look at what else the Linux world has to offer.

 

Creating a Puppy CD should only take you a few minutes, not counting the download time, but first a few words on what’s needed in terms of computer hardware and software. The two main requirements are a PC with Internet connectivity, preferably broadband as the download is around 90Mb, and secondly, you will need a CD writer in order to burn the disc. You will also need a small utility called an ISO burner. This is a specialised CD writing program used to create ‘bootable’ discs. Many CD/DVD writing applications have this facility but it is often buried deep in the setup menus so I strongly suggest you use the a small freeware program I’ll be recommending as it is fast and very simple to use.

 

All that remains is to make sure your PC can boot from a Live CD. Most will but it’s worth checking the ‘Boot Order’. If this isn’t something you have come across before allow me to explain.  Immediately after switch on a small program, called the BIOS (Basic Input Output System), which is stored in a memory chip on the motherboard goes through a series of checks, called POST (Power On Self Test), to make sure everything is working properly. After that it tells the disc drives to look for ‘boot’ information and load the operating system or Windows. Normally it checks the CD/DVD drive first, in case there’s a problem with the hard drive and if it doesn’t find a boot file it moves on the primary hard disc drive. Thus the boot order is normally drive D: (CD/DVD), Drive C: and so on, and on most PCs you need do nothing, however, some machines bypass the CD/DVD drive and go straight to the primary hard drive, in which case our Puppy CD, which contains boot information, would be ignored.

 

One simple way to check your PC’s boot order is to load a CD or DVD -- any one will do -- restart the machine and watch the ‘activity’ light on the front of the CD drive. If it flashes briefly before Windows starts loading you should be okay. If it doesn’t you may need to change it – more in part 3 – but at this stage I would wait until you have had a chance to try Puppy.        

 

Next Week – Put a Puppy in your PC, part 2

 

JARGON FILTER

 

ISO

International Standards Organisation, ISO 9660 is a filing system used on recordable media structured to support an operating system

 

LINUX

Family of freely distributed ‘Open Source’ computer operating systems used in a wide variety of applications from simple desktop workstation to high-end server

 

LIVE CD

CD containing boot information and an operating system that runs without having to be installed on a hard disc drive

 

TOP TIP

One of the most useful tools in Puppy Linux is the facility to create a bootable USB flash drive. Many PCs made in the last three or four years can boot from a drive connected to a USB port, which is very handy because it means Puppy works on compact or lightweight laptops that do not have a built-in CD/DVD drive. It also means you can carry a complete PC operating system and all of your files around with you, and make use of PCs in offices or Internet cafes, without compromising yours, (or their) security as Puppy Linux is virtually immune to virus or hack attacks and makes no changes to the host PC’s hard drive.

 

Don't forget, there's a full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at www.pctoptips.co.uk

 

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© R. Maybury 2007, 1710

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