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(?) The Answer Guy (!)

By James T. Dennis, tag@lists.linuxgazette.net
LinuxCare, http://www.linuxcare.com/

(?) Plee for help

From Ian on Wed, 17 Mar 1999

Hi there Jim....

(!) Actually, this is Heather; you sent this message to our consulting services. However, since you addressed it to Jim specifically, I'll take a first shot on behalf of The Answer Guy, since he's been really busy this week.

(?) My name is Ian van Battum and I am a desperate man.

I have recently wanted to further my computer studies and have found Linux to be a great OS to learn and master. Being a complete newbie to Linux, I am not a stranger to OS's and what have you.

I have how ever a small problem. I have a laptop on which I would like to load Linux. Unfortunately it only has a floppy drive. So I need to go through the slog of installing off a 'million' and one floppies. This is not a hassle though but I am stuck when it comes the old procedure of doing this task.

(!) Actually, you don't need to go through as many floppies as all that. TurboLinux (from Pacific HiTech), Red Hat, and S.u.S.E. all offer single floppy starter disk images that you can download from the internet, put in your machine to boot it, and then they'll use FTP across the internet to get the rest. Of course this works best if you have a fairly solid link to the net, and you have a buddy to help you cut the initial disks.
Somewhat more durable in their efforts are a 6-diskette Debian base packages install (after which it will be able to use even a fairly fragile connection, and retry as necessary).
Of course Linux hasn't got the only spot in this limelight. FreeBSD will also install via FTP given its single boot floppy, but you do need a solid enough link to get the 'bin' distribution... although they do have their 'distributions' (base file sets; yeah, I know, it kind of confused me the first time I saw it, too) split into parts so they can be copied onto floppies and recombined, I've never actually done an install that way.
If it weren't a laptop then it would be pretty easy to swap your hard drive into another system, apply the new OS, and then return it to your system. Of course if it weren't a laptop, it would be worth buying a super-cheap 2X CD-ROM... maybe even used, or as a giveaway from a friend joining the multimedia age.
As for adding peripherals, you may not be as out of luck as you think. Most laptops have a parallel port, and ZIP support across parallel ports has been in Linux for a while now. So, you could potentially get a lot more files onto a ZIP. There are a few parallel based CD-ROMs such as the Backpack, but I'm not sure how well Linux supports them. And, there's usually your CardBus or PCMCIA slots... which I call "piecemeal"... as in that's how they let you upgrade your laptop, by pieces.
My own Ricoh Magio E laptop installed TurboLinux great from an Addonics PCMCIA based CD-ROM (ATAPI/IDE drivers were used) with only the help of also using its 'additional hardware' disk, and making sure that the CD's card/cord was plugged into the lower bay in the type III cardbus slot. The only trick there is, the install floppy has to be able to spot your CardBus or pc-card controller, and you have to use a device whose card can be found in the card manager's database.
If you have a 3'5" sized drive, you might actually be able to do this the same way a non-laptop user would, anyway. (I had an ordinary 3.5" drive on my Sager-Midern Pentium-60 laptop, in a special removable slide. It was great. It's a shame the video finally broke and now it won't start. Eventually I'll make enough free time to take it by a repair shop and see if they can do anything for it.) If it has a PCMCIA sized drive, then there are PCMCIA ports for desktop machines, as well. However, many laptops have proprietary internal setups, and some manufacturers have a policy that says you void the hardware warranty if you take out anything. So, be sure what you're getting into before you consider that route.
Of much greater concern for an older model system, since Linux has pretty darn good support for older hardware, is whether your hard disk has enough space for what you want to do with it. The Sager-Midern mentioned above fit a Caldera Network Desktop on a 500 MB drive fairly easily, but newer distributions have more stuff, and certain packages (like X networking, emacs, and source trees) have grown quite large over time.

(?) Do you have any suggestions to resolve my problem as I have gone through all the web sites? I would be really greatfull if you could shead some light on this for me.

(!) Try the ftp sites instead of the websites. I hope I'm correct in assuming you have an x86 based laptop, not a PowerBook or Sparctop:
Red Hat
Pacific HiTech
...though admittedly they don't make it clear which disk images are the one you need to do an FTP-based install. Their in-flight questions have gotten pretty clear about telling you which disk to put in, and you shouldn't need anything special from Red Hat unless you have an unusual controller for your internal hard disk.

(?) Many thanks

Ian van Battum

(!) Well, I hope that helps out. If you still have trouble, though, drop us a line.

(!) Plea for help

From The Answer Guy on Tues, 23 Mar 1999

Pretty good, but you missed the possibility of establishing a network with PLIP, then using a network-based install. All you'd need is a parallel "laplink" style cable. Unfortunately I don't think the distributions support this directly (though Debian might, I haven't checked). So, you'll probably need to get the minimal installation onto your system first, but this would probably make the rest a lot easier.
The PLIP mini-HOWTO was just updated this month:

Copyright © 1999, James T. Dennis
Published in The Linux Gazette Issue 39 April 1999

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