Friends in geekdom tell me I have sinned. I have spent much too much time staring at the Windows of the Microsoft cathedral. Now, CD-ROMs in hand, I'm ready to convert--or at least to convert one of the client PCs in our lab--to Red Hat Linux.

Here is my diary as I walked through the installation of the Red Hat Linux 6.1 Deluxe operating system.

DAY 1

I open the first book, "Installation Guide," at 11:02 a.m. I hit my first snag on Page 24. Red Hat lists 16 things to enter about the PC, such as hard drives and network and video adapters. It takes a little time to get everything recorded.

At 12:07 p.m., I go to lunch. At 1:35 p.m., back from errands, I learn that the hard drive must be prepared for Linux. I'm brave enough to try the not-for-the-timid fdisk MS-DOS utility or even the Red Hat-provided fips, a partitioning utility. But how do I get it to run?

I am attempting the installation on a Compaq Deskpro EN, and, unfortunately, its BIOS doesn't allow a floppy boot. It does allow a CD-ROM boot. Red Hat's CD is bootable, but it doesn't let the user delve into its included utilities to partition the hard drive. I call Compaq to see whether there's a secret to getting a floppy boot.

DAY 2

Next day, Friday, at 10:32 a.m., I learn that the Deskpro EN has a diskette controller error that prevents the BIOS from seeing the floppy as a boot option.

DAY 3

The following Monday, at 11:05 a.m., I receive a new system that allows booting from the floppy drive. That's the good news. But I've made a mistake, as the fdisk utility does not work with non-MS-DOS systems.

I am hitting major snags. Among them is the fact that, using fdisk, I deleted the primary partition. Then I tried to use fips to create a Linux partition. But fips wants an MS-DOS partition present to begin. So I must re-create the DOS partition and format the drive.

Once I get fips to run, I find its interface confusing. And then it won't work, insisting it needs a File Allocation Table-12 format.

I search on the Internet for better partition utilities. I find Ranish Partition Manager, a shareware application from Mikhail Ranish, available at his personal Web site, www.users.intercom.com/ ranish/part/. I create a Linux partition, which is among the simple interface options.

At 12:55 p.m., I finally begin the installation.

The graphical interface and wizard process are easy enough. I like the step-by-step approach, which makes certain that standard components such as the keyboard are checked.

Now comes the difficult part. Do I want a Gnome workstation? A KDE environment? A server? A custom installation?

I choose the custom option because text at the left of the screen says, "Only the custom-class installation gives you complete flexibility."

Oops. When Red Hat's Disk Druid starts, suddenly I can partition everything. Why, at the beginning, did the installation guide recommend using fips and getting disk partitions ready? So I have to delete all my partitions and start afresh.

For Windows users, let me explain that the "c:" drive no longer exists under Linux. Nor does any other drive letter followed by a colon. Linux and other Unix flavors use a different naming system. The partitions I create act like their own disks.

The partitioning is relatively simple. First, I need a swap partition of an amount equal to the system's RAM. I have 128 megabytes of RAM, so I create a Linux swap partition of 128MB. As the name suggests, the swap portion supports Linux's virtual memory.

The second section, known as "/boot," should be 16MB maximum. That contains the operating system kernel.

The root partition, known only as "/", is created next. For a full installation, it must be 1.5 gigabytes or larger. I have a 12.4GB drive, so I make it 3 gigs. The root partition contains the entire operating-system file.

From that point on, the installation guide is a little obscure. Although I have the option of finishing off the disk with partitions such as "/home," "/local/usr," "/tmp" and others, I have no idea what each does, and neither the help menu nor reference guide offer an explanation. So I create a /home partition of about 5GB and a /usr partition of 4GB.

Next, Red Hat's installation process offers to scan and format the created partitions. I'm starting to notice buttons to turn things on or off. It's hard to tell which is on and which is off. Maybe colors or X marks would clarify.

I think I'm telling it to format and scan all my partitions.

Next, I come to LILO, the Linux Loader. For multiple OS environments, LILO allows boot options to other operating systems. But as my system will be exclusively Linux, I initially opt not to use LILO. Then I find a little warning in the book: "If you choose not to install LILO for any reason, you will not be able to boot your Red Hat Linux system directly and will need to use another boot method (such as a boot diskette)."

In that case, I guess I need LILO. I leave the default settings untouched.

Now I'm up to network installation. Because the lab network has Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol services running under Windows NT Server, I'm going to select that option and hope it can grab the right information.

Next I must create a password to access the root directory. Users can be created here, too. But I'm the only one at the moment, so I enter a password of more than six characters. The next screen asks for the authentication configuration. I leave the default settings there, too.

Then I select the "packages" within the OS I want installed. I change few of the defaults, leaving most of the server stuff off and the workstation stuff on. Under the X Window System test, the graphics adapter is correctly detected. I point to the right monitor, and a test shows everything working.

At 2:51 p.m., actual installation begins. By 3:38 p.m., the disk formatting and scanning finally end. Now the packages are being written to the hard drive. (One thing I can say for Windows--it scans disks much faster.) By 3:49 p.m., all the packages are done and it's time to run Linux.

At 3:50 p.m., it crashes. At 4:12 p.m., I still don't know why it's crashing. At the graphical log-in to the Linux root, I try to type my password, but before I finish typing, the cursor disappears. I'm afraid I might have to start all over. Maybe it's the graphical log-in. At 5:03 p.m., I head home.

DAY 4

On Tuesday, at 8:49 a.m., I start over. In Disk Druid, I create the swap disk, root and /boot directories as before. I add /home, /usr and /local/usr at about 2GB each. I do not try to enlarge any directories. When I get to the X Window setup, this time I don't select a graphical log-in.

By 10:37 a.m., I have reached the shell log-in and successfully logged in to the root. In other words, I'm running Linux.

Now that I've gotten this far, how do I get to the Gnome graphical interface?

At 11:34 a.m., I finally find the command "startx." Because the graphical interface log-in is not the default, I'd suggest that Red Hat highlight the startx command more prominently.

By 11:57 a.m., I've been playing in Gnome and am confused again. Gnome looks a lot like Windows 95 or 98 with a pop-up menu at the right. It is a little more powerful and integrates components such as virtual desktops.

But the system's sound doesn't work, and I am not yet on the network. I think I need to install that networking portion. Wait, I find it under the menu for administration. Now I must make some changes by adding addresses and other network-specific technical information.

I'm online at 12:11 p.m., but without sound. At 2:02 p.m., sound still doesn't work, and I have a headache that's throbbing to the pulse of the monitor's refresh rate. I cannot figure out how to fix it.

EPILOGUE

My objective was to see whether a Windows user could switch to Linux with minimum heartache and hassle. The answer is no. If Red Hat wants converts, the Linux switch must be as easy and painless as possible.