So. You heard Whil’s keynote (or read Andrew’s summary)
and you’re ready to take the next step. What to do? Here’s how my
experimentation has gone, so far (I’ve been messing with Linux
part-time for about four years now, btw). First, if there’s any way you
can do it, find a separate machine you can experiment on. Invariably,
an install will go awry or some piece of hardware won’t work and need
to be swapped out, or you’ll just want to blow the whole box away and
start over. If you’ve got a junker designated for that purpose, it gets
so much easier. It doesn’t need to be a state-of-the-art machine,
although of course, speed and memory and power contribute to a better
feeling with all machines. A beater you’ve retired as a development box
or a $400 eBay special can do the trick nicely.
At TR&A Labs, we’ve got three machines we’re messing with: at the
tr.com web site, a dual PII-333 Dell Workstation is an alternative web
server. In-house, a white box we assembled ourselves runs an Athlon
processor and coffee-stained keyboards and mice on a borrowed
monitor, serving as file server and intranet web and wiki server.
Finally, on the road, a Dell Lattitude PII-366 is the road warrior.
Download the latest ISO files for your favorite distribution, burn CDs,
and try a couple of installs just to see what happens. Once you’re
feeling like you’re getting it, try installing a spare (but properly
licensed, of course) Windows installation and see if you can get the
machine to dual-boot.
Find a support group. There are many Linux user groups worldwide (check our GLUE: Groups of Lunux Users Everywhere),
and there are many mailing lists and forums for support as well. Don’t
ask dumb questions: check the man pages and help, rtfm second, Google
it third, search for likely synonyms, and then ask a question with
sufficient (but not excessive) Who-What-When-Where-How information to
get a good answer. Volunteers on newsgroups don’t want to answer the
same question all day long, or a question who’s answer is already on
your machine. I’ve taken several old boxes with non-standard or
relatively unsupported hardware and gotten them running through this
technique. You can, too. Good luck!