Taking up the Slack

ZipSlack is a tiny Linux distribution designed to fit on a single 100MB Zip disk and is based on one of the oldest Linux distributions, Slackware Linux. It feels a lot like an older version of UNIX, which means that it is missing the user-friendly GUI configuration tools included with most modern distributions. However, attention has been paid to organising the system in a simple, easy-to-configure state. ZipSlack doesn't hold your hand, but it's great to play around with in order to learn how a Linux system is built.

Installing ZipSlack

To start, your computer must have a partition on your hard disk formatted with either the FAT or FAT32 file system. All Windows 95/98/Me PCs meet this requirement. If your computer runs Windows 2000/XP, check that your hard disk isn't formatted using NTFS. Open the Control Panel and double-click the Administrative Tools icon, then the Computer Management icon. Next, select Disk Management from the Computer Management pane to bring up an overview of your hard disk. Look for a partition formatted with either the FAT or FAT32 file system and use it as the install location for ZipSlack.

To install ZipSlack, extract the contents of the file zipslack.zip included on June's PCW cover CD, into the root directory of your hard disk. This will create a directory called "linux" containing the ZipSlack Linux distribution.

The best way to boot ZipSlack is with a boot floppy. Insert a blank floppy and open a command prompt in Windows by clicking Start-Run then typing cmd into the dialogue box that appears. To make the boot floppy, use one of the following commands (depending on your operating system). Substitute the drive letter D:\ for the drive where your CD-ROM is located.

Windows 95/98/Me:

C:\> D:\linux\zipslack\rawrite D:\linux\zipslack\bootdisk.img a:

Windows 2000/XP:

C:\> D:\linux\zipslack\rawritexp d:\linux\zipslack\bootdisk.img a:

To start ZipSlack, reboot your computer with the floppy in the drive. Once your computer has booted, you'll see a screen similar to that in here.

Now, you'll need to tell ZipSlack where it's been installed on your hard disk. If you installed ZipSlack on your C:\ drive, the location will probably be '/dev/hda1'; if on another drive, you'll need to determine the location using guesswork. Press <Enter> to try the default setting. If ZipSlack fails to boot, scroll back through the boot information by pressing <right shift> and <PageUp> until you see some information about your hard disks, similar to this:

Partition check:
hda: hda1 hda2 hda3

This is a list of partitions on the drive. Try each of the partitions displayed until you find the one that boots properly. For more information on this, see the ZipSlack Boot instructions at www.slackware.com/zipslack/booting.php

Expanding ZipSlack

To add a package to ZipSlack, you'll need to download it first from a Slackware Linux mirror. For example, to access a Slackware Linux mirror site in ZipSlack, type the following:

$ lftp
ftp://ftp.planetmirror.com.au/pub/slackware/slackware-9.1/slackware/

Lftp supports standard navigation commands such as cd and dir.

To download a package, such as XFree86 (the Linux GUI), type:

lftp> get x

Once you've downloaded a package, it can be installed by changing to the directory to which the packages have been downloaded, in this case x, and typing:

$ installpkg *.tgz
Configuring networking
You can quickly configure networking in ZipSlack using the ifconfig command. If you know the IP address and netmask you want to assign to your network card, type the following:

$ /sbin/ifconfig eth0 <IP> netmask <netmask>

replacing <IP> and <netmask> with their respective values.

This is a quick solution, but temporary. After rebooting your computer, the settings will be lost. To set your network settings permanently, Slackware includes a basic GUI configuration script. To run this script, type the following:

$ netconfig

You'll be asked some questions about your network, and the settings will be made permanent.

Once you have your system up and running, take a while to explore the /etc/ directory which contains all of the configuration files on which your system relies. Expand the system, and don't be concerned about breaking it because reinstalling is as simple as decompressing the zip file again under Windows.

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Alastair Cousins

PC World
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