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Wilderness Survival

Well I've taken my own advice with a grain of salt here. I've been working
on a small curses-based game for Linux based off an old DOS program,
called Wilderness Survival. It's in part a project to brush the dust off
my C skills (been coding perl for too long ;) But I figured it may be of
some interest to yall here. The URL:


Also, in the other wilderness survival game that we've been playing (namly
the wilderness of Linux in schools) I had a few thoughts.

My guess is that in lab situations, there will be resistance to going "all
Linux" no matter how gung-ho the educator is. Even if they think that
they'll be using Linux most of the time, they'll still want to keep
Windows on the system dual-booting "just in case". That's only logical.
The trouble comes that setting up machines to dual-boot to a different OS
is not a trivial task with any system. It requires a little know-how,
which I think is the biggest reason Linux is viewed as being difficult to
use, everyone who wants to 'tinker' with it tries to dual-boot 95 and
Linux, maybe gets it working after a bit of work but just stays in the
more familiar 95. I mean, who wouldn't be intimidated with a process of
FIPS'ing a drive and repartitioning? I do it every day and it still
bothers me :) That's one of the interesting aspects of the LUG here at UTD
is people want to get Linux installed so they can play with it. We do an
install, set it up to dual-boot. But if Linux is that hard to install, how
hard is it to actually USE, they think. So they back off and stay in
Windows, even though Linux is there and rearing to go.

The problem is worse though as very few people have actually installed an
OS on their computer. The machine comes pre-installed with Windows and
everything already works perfectly. They've never experienced the pain of
installing an OS, and suddenly they see it during a Linux installation. To
me a RedHat installation is OldHat now :) - but to them, well, everything
on the box is supposed to work right away... and an OS installation, by
it's very nature a difficult task, reinforces the impression that Linux is
as hard to use as they heard.

I find this a little funny though. Because if they had ever loaded Windows
95 onto a machine, they'd get the same impressions of it :) Personally, I
don't care how you slice it. RedHat Linux is easier to install than
Windows 95. I've had Windows 95/98/NT installs crash, BSOD, terminate more
times than I can count. I think my success rate on an install of Windows
is something like 1/4, and that may be high. I mean, what kind of
operating system has an install program that crashes with the error
"Invalid True Type Font installed"??? :) Or thinks that 640x480x16color is
an invalid display mode and dumps? :) What sort of system has you click
"Yes I accept the License Agreement" during the install or terminates? Or
won't continue unless you enter a long annoying string of alphanumeric
characters just right? RedHat Linux (and the other distros) simply don't
have these problems! I've had bad RedHat installs too - kernel panics
because the controller fails, kernel panics during the swap space
initialization b/c the RAM is buggy, Xconfigurator locks the install with
a quirky video card - but these problems are understandable. RedHat
Linux's installation is just plain easier though than Windows, that's all
there is to it.

Basically I don't think you can make any install easy enough that anyone
could do it. The nature of OS's and of PC hardware makes it impossible.
And the dual-booting issue will continue to confuse people as long as they
keep insisting on keeping 95 on the same machine with Linux. Worst of all,
as long as people continue to expect prepackaged systems that are complete
from the shop, this will be a problem.

But I don't think the situation is that hopeless. I don't think it's
unreasonable for people to expect everything to be installed and working
on a machine the moment they take it out of the store. I don't think the
average human should be subjected to installing Windows 95/98/NT. The
question is then how can all this be simplified, if at all? A couple of
late-night ideas to think about...

1. Linux fdisk needs to be updated to handle partitions and hard drives
   larger than 8Gb. This problem won't be going away soon :)

2. RedHat already has a 'workstation' style installation which installs
   only workstation style packages and also repartitions non-destructivly
   automatically. I think this could be expanded upon to make
   installations more automated. One possiblity is to snatch hardware
   information directly from Windows (though, who would trust Windows with
   their hardware? ;) Another thing is to make more assumptions about the
   hardware. Be able to go into expert mode where you select everything
   manually, but in default mode you assume things like US-101 key
   keyboard, IDE HD and CD-ROM, no PCMCIA (I can just see ppl during the
   install, "What's PCMCIA"? :) no SCSI adapters, very vanilla. Of course,
   I'd like to be able to modify and create my own install disks with my
   own default, maybe load configuartion from a file (Insert Disk with
   Configuration File...)

3. I think the name of the game is automation. A lab setting is similiar
   to the problems you would face on an enterprise network - a pile of
   machines which should all have the same hardware and need the same
   software installed. What I could see is using a base machine, already
   configured with Windows from the shop. You install and configure Linux
   on this machine, dual-booting etc. After it's working, you create disk
   images of both the Linux and Windows partitions and toss those out on
   like a CD-ROM or using some network service off that first machine. You
   then create a custom bootdisk (using a utillity that does it
   'magically') which allows you to 'clone' the configuration onto each of
   the other machines with a minimum of effort. Toss the disk into box #2,
   and box #2 automatically fdisks itself, then starts copying the cloned
   copies of the OS from the base machine or off CD. No more messy
   installations of Windows or Linux.

   Think of it this way: You configure a base machine exactly how you want
   it. You make the magic bootdisk. You give it to the lab instructor, and
   say "Now if you decide you need to reinstall the system from scratch,
   just boot off this floppy, enter the computer number, and it'll go from
   there. You don't have to do anything else, it'll handle all the network
   configuration and hardware and everything. Just start it and when the
   percent bar reaches 100% and it says 'Done!', just eject the disk and 
   reboot, good to go." Maybe it doesn't need a computer number, it can
   just use the MAC address and get network config data from a bootp or
   dhcp server. What could be better? (don't answer that ;)

Yes, there is commercial software that will do all of this. But this has
to be as simple as taking an image of the hard drive and sending it to
other machines so that anyone can do it, even if they've never unzipped a
file before. And it'd have to be free ;) It shouldn't be that hard to
code, given more than a rusty knowledge of C like me... hehehe

Anyhow I'm sending this at 1am so hopefully this will make sense to you as
well as me :)

Michael Hamblin            http://www.utdallas.edu/~michaelh/
michaelh@utdallas.edu      http://www.ductape.net/
UTD Linux User Group       Engineering and Computer Science Support x2997