Open Source

Linux from the eyes of a newbie girl, part 3: The installation

Many administrators and trainers don't understand the frustrations that new users experience. So, in this week's part of her series on learning Linux, Natalee McClure explains what happened when she tried to learn how to install programs.

Immediate frustration
I hate this! I swear that I've never felt as helpless as I do when I’m using Linux. The whole purpose of this project, as far as I was concerned, was to boost my confidence and to avoid calling Jack every day for help. Well, today, I feel more ignorant than ever before. I've asked him for assistance at least five times… and I've only been working for an hour.

Day one: The Corel WordPerfect nightmare
Today, I'm installing—and learning how to use—Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux. I tried to install it last night, but after a series of error messages appeared (while I was only on the first page), I threw the book at my laptop and watched TV, instead. I consoled myself with the thought that I was just tired and that I would have better luck in the morning. I was so wrong!

Day two: The penguin is ready
I got up bright-eyed this morning; I was ready to take on anything that the penguin could throw at me. He must have been ready, too, for it's been one curve ball after another. The first problem occurred with the first instruction! I was supposed to log in as root. Well, I had no idea what the root password was. It wasn’t a big deal, but nevertheless, I had to ask. The second step (mounting the WordPerfect CDROM) was also a bit confusing, though I won't bore you with the details of my struggle. You’ll recognize this command:
mount /mnt/cdrom

Let it suffice to say that I somehow mixed it up with this command:
cd /mnt/cdrom

I had to eject the CDROM and start over. Then, the next step just completely threw me for a loop. I was supposed to change to the root directory of the CDROM within an X Windows console. That was all I knew. There were no specific commands, no translations for users who were unfamiliar with Linux. How was I supposed to know that an X Windows console is just a terminal or that I had already changed to the root directory with cd /mnt/cdrom?(By the way, I knew that cd meant change directory, so don't tell me to RTFM. I just didn't realize that there was a root directory for the CDROM.) I tried to open an X terminal from the menu, and I proceeded with the installation instructions. Again, I received error messages. So, reluctantly, I asked for help… again.

Thirty minutes gone and still no install!
Nearly 30 minutes had passed, and I hadn't even begun installing the program. I could feel my frustration mounting. There was only one thing I could do: Type setup and press [Enter]. I did that, and I received an error. I tried it again. Error. I became enraged. I typed setup over and over, and I groaned each time it failed. With no patience and no confidence left, I hung my head and sent an e-mail message to technical support (a.k.a. Jack). Do you know what I was doing wrong, all you geeks out there? Did you catch my mistake? It was in the instructions, not in my head. I should have typed the command like this:

As soon as I typed the right command, the installation began. I followed the directions on the screen (even though they were completely different from the ones in the manual). Things were moving along at an almost normal pace, and I began to calm down. When the process was complete, I clicked the OK button with a tiny sense of satisfaction. Immediately, the screen filled with fatal error messages about Fontastic (whatever that is).

I stared in disbelief, refusing to admit another defeat. I patiently searched the manual for clues. As usual, I found nothing. I got up and stretched, washed my face, played with the hamster, and started writing. That brings us to the present. I keep hoping that the messages will just go away. But they don’t, and I know what I must do. I need to call Jack.

Naturally, he knows just what I need to do. I must reinitialize the Fontastic server. “There's no real error,” he says. “The font server simply can’t initialize after setup.” “Why?” I ask. “It just doesn't,” he responds. So, instead of leading me through an attempt at restarting the font server (he could gauge my already boiling state of frustration), Jack tells me to restart the computer.

I can't tell you my reaction, but I can tell you that I’m angry. I’ve felt like an idiot for the past hour because the manual was wrong! So, anyway, I restart the computer and create an icon for WordPerfect on the desktop. Now, everything's working just fine.

Let's change gears, shall we?
I've just received word that the focus of my observations has changed. Now, I'm supposed to figure out how to install several programs from various sources. I guess the reasoning is that I enjoyed installing Corel Office so much that I'll have a heyday with the more difficult applications. Actually, I believe the encouraging words were “You'll be a real powerhouse.”

Well, the new project began with my asking yet another question. Again, I found that I'm not at fault. I couldn't find the programs that I was supposed to install, and now I know why. They were in someone else's account because the applications had been previously downloaded. So, I'm not the only person who’s making this project harder than it really is.

RPM = How fast am I supposed to go?
I opened my personal folder and found the first program: cbb-0.8.1-1.noarch.rpm (whatever that means). Unsure of what to do next, I clicked on it and entered the root password. I was greeted with a kpackage window. I thought about selecting Install and seeing what happened. Instead, I consulted the manual. There was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about adding rpm packages from the Caldera CDROM and searching my filesystem for the desired file. It’s stuff that I should know, but I figure that I'll learn it when the situation arises. (I did learn that rpm files are the easiest files to install with Caldera.) On the last page of the chapter, I found a picture of the same kpackage window that was facing me. The instructions told me to choose Install.

There was a reason why I hadn't done so in the first place: I didn't know which options to include. Not surprisingly, there were no explanations or descriptions. So, I had to ask. Once again, I was told just to install. So much for learning anything! I clicked the Install button.

Installation was instant. I was skeptical, though. I used Find File to double-check the package's existence. And for good measure, I opened some files in the file list of the package; only, I would read the thanks file. Amazingly, everything was fine.

Tarr'd and feathered
The next application was othello-0.03.tgz, which sounded ominous to me. Regarding files other than .rpm files, the Caldera user guide only suggested that I refer to that application's documentation for installation help. I went to the README file, which told me that the program was messy and unstable. Great! That was a load of help! I went online to beg for mercy.

I really didn't know where to start looking, so I searched for information on installing .tgz. One of the results was a site that offered Linux tips and HOWTOS, with a specific article on command-line compilation and installation of “a typical program from the sources.” I didn't know what that meant, but I did remember being told that the othello program was from source. I was tempted to apply the author's suggestions blindly, but I just couldn't stand to stay so completely in the dark about what I was doing. So, I did a little research. (In other words, I asked somebody for help.) His explanation made me feel a little more at ease with the lingo, and it helped me to understand that the .tgz file was a big folder that had been compressed into a smaller file. He also explained that “from source” meant from actual uncompiled source code. Most fortunately, he pointed out that the site I had found used global commands, so I would need to begin my lines with ./ in order to make them directory-specific. I can't say that all of his talk about user/local made perfect sense, but at least I wasn't going to screw up.

In fact, installing othello was nearly hassle-free (thanks to that Web site). The only problem occurred when I had to log on as root for the final make install command. I trudged back through the logout/login process instead of just utilizing Superuser (su), and I unknowingly ended up in the root directory. Chaos broke loose for some time; however, Mr. Wallen came to my aide again and saved the day (after much confusion and frustration was vented, that is).

To say that this project was a frustrating experiment is an understatement. Did I learn how to install applications in Linux? Yes, to some extent, I did. Although installation was the point of this exercise, the most valuable lesson I learned was that Linux is much more powerful than I had originally thought. Even though it's complicated at first—especially for someone who has only a superficial knowledge of computers—once you learn the tools, using Linux is no more difficult than using Windows. For next week, I've been told that I'm going to be thrown into a completely different desktop environment called GNOME. I'm going to compare using that DE (I'm learning the lingo) to using KDE.

Natalee McClure has been exposed to Linux (by association) for about a year. Currently, she lives in Louisville, where she is enrolled in the Brandeis School of Law. Eventually, she hopes to usurp Madeleine Albright as Secretary of State.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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