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If you would like the option of booting your computer either into Linux or your existing system, you could install Linux on to an additional hard disk (US spelling!). It is also possible to compact your existing system, reduce the size of your existing partition(s), and install Linux on the free space. Linux can access your existing files on a normal Microsoft filing system.
Linux will work efficiently with a wide range of hardware, new and old, although software is no longer included for the older 386 and 486 processors, and current requirements for available working RAM will prevent the use of other hardware. It can access numerous filesystems, but normally uses a filesystem which includes provision for integral security, including ownership and various access permissions.
Linux is much more secure than Microsoft, but it is also a much bigger prize when it is compromised. Both users and software operate with very strict restrictions under the control of an administrator. Various organisations are putting a huge amount of effort into finding any vulnerabilities, and it is a continuing race between security experts and criminals. Security updates are made available as soon as possible after problems are found. Some software that will run on a Unix compatible system may be susceptible to a worm or other malware, so you should take as many precautions as possible. Anti-virus facilities such as clamav are available which attempt to protect against known attacks.
Unfortunately stricter security may result in some inconvenience. There is a range of additional security facilities available under the name selinux, now a standard part of the Debian installation although not enabled by default.
Firewall software for each computer is available within the Debian distribution, and will probably be more necessary when full access through IPv6 is available.
You may wish to install a separate dedicated firewall such as IPFire or OPNsense. Installation is very quick and easy and requires a minimum of an early Pentium or equivalent, with a small amount of RAM and small hard disk, depending on the facilities required, although additional RAM will definitely be an advantage. It can provide network interfaces for external internet, internal secure network, wireless access, and semi-protected DMZ for webserver or mailserver if/when required. Configure and monitor all parts of the running firewall on its internal web server via an encrypted link from another local computer, the BIOS can be set to boot without a keyboard for normal operation. A dedicated firewall can also be built using the shorewall package.
I use the Debian distribution of Linux, developed by volunteers throughout the world, which provides huge amounts of software, documentation, information, and other resources from its website at http://www.debian.org/
There is a minimal basic installation with important files for administration and maintenance, plus optional blocks of associated software and individual packages.
There is plenty of documentation in http://www.debian.org/doc/ with a reference to the Debian Administrator's Handbook at http://debian-handbook.info/browse/stable/
There is information about Debian security at http://www.debian.org/security/ and a tracker of known security vulnerabilities in the Debian distributions at http://security-tracker.debian.org/
Debian GNU-Linux aims to provide a stable, well tried and tested, cutting edge system which is easy to maintain and upgrade. It was founded in August 1993 by Ian Murdock, and named after Ian and his wife Debra. It is popular with professionals who are not always as interested in multimedia, so previous distributions have placed less emphasis on initial installation of sound and multimedia facilities, although these are provided. More recent distributions have a new installer which is designed to be very simple to use, although there can still be problems with some of the latest hardware. Hardware drivers and other software that are not available together with source code, or have some conditions on their use, are considered to be Non-Free but may be supplied as contributed or non-free, not as part of the main distribution, or a facility may be supplied to help complete any "End User Licence Agreement" (EULA), then collect and install the driver, subject to the terms and conditions set by the provider.
Ian died in San Francisco on 28th December 2015.
Packages supplied with the Debian distributions may originate anywhere, but there are dedicated teams of maintainers who ensure that the versions supplied by Debian comply with the Debian standards and will interact correctly within the distribution. Packages may be combined or modified before inclusion.
Debian supplies the original source code plus several pre-compiled binary versions for different generic processor architectures. Most are fairly obvious, but while the amd64 version is correct for most Intel 64-bit processors. some 64-bit Intel processors not based on the earlier 32-bit range may require the ia64 version. The following notes are based mainly on the 64-bit amd64 and 32-bit x86 series. Please read the latest installation instructions relevant to your processor version available from the Debian website.
There is an experimental version used by developers, and they also maintain several separate main distribution projects, all of which are available via the internet. Names come from "Toy Story".
"Unstable" (future development, known as "sid"), is used for initial disaster testing of new software versions. New software must normally remain in unstable for at least ten days while any immediate problems are found and resolved, and is allowed into testing if there are no new bug reports. There are several new builds of the installer each day.
"Testing" (next "stable"), is subject to changes at any time as new versions are introduced from unstable, and it may be necessary to adjust the relevant configuration files to suit a new version. It should be fairly safe to use, especially for non-critical applications. A decision will eventually be made to hold the development and concentrate on fixing any reported bugs. Normal development is resumed after the known bugs have been reduced to a very low level, then the old stable distribution is retired and replaced by the version copied from testing. The installer is normally updated each week.
"Stable" is extensively tested, and the software versions are held so that they continue to operate reliably in the same way, and configuration files do not need to be altered. Changes are limited to security updates and major bug fixes which should not change the normal operation, even though there may be later versions available in "testing", so that there is minimum possibility of breaking any part of an installed system. The installer is usually updated every couple of months.
"Old stable" continues to receive security updates, and the installer is usually updated every few months, for about a year. Finance has been agreed to provide some long term support (-lts) for about five years after being retired from stable.
The "debian-backports" contain optional more recent software versions with additional facilities, modified as required to match the installed distribution.
Volatile data such as anti-virus information is now included in the main distribution, listed as stable-updates.
There are also separate distributions for educational software (Debian-Edu, Skolelinux) and software to be embedded in dedicated hardware.
Debian will normally set either safe or sensible defaults, but the administrator is expected to check the configuration and modify it to suit local requirements. This usually involves reading the documentation in /usr/share/doc/ together with any info and/or man pages, then editing the contents of the Extended Textual Configuration files in /etc/.
Computers are divided into major groups according to the type of processor used, and there is a separate binary distribution set for each group, plus alternative options to use the freebsd kernel rather than linux, as well as the source code distribution. The installation can be started in several ways, from a single disc or USB memory plus an internet connection, to a set of discs, all available for download from the internet. Other options include pre-configured installation from a local server.
Debian has increased rapidly, with the complete compressed binary distribution for each of the major processor groups shown as:
3.1 Sarge about 9GB, 14 CD's.
4.0 "Etch" nearly 19000 packages, nearly 14GB, 23 CD's.
5.0 "Lenny" was released as stable on 14th February 2009 with about 23,000 packages, 4 DVDs, or 32 CDs.
6.0 "Squeeze" was released on 6th February 2011 with over 29,000 packages, around 8 DVDs or 53 CDs.
7.0 "Wheezy" was released on 4th May 2013 with Linux kernel version 3.2 and over 36,500 packages available as 2 BDs, 10 DVDs, around 67 CDs, or network installer.
8.0 "Jessie" was released on 25th April 2015 with Linux kernel version 3.16 and over 43,000 packages available as 3 BDs, 13 DVDs, around 83 CDs, USB, or network installer. Now "Old Stable", but is expected to receive long term support for five years.
9.0 "Stretch" was released on 17th June 2017 with Linux kernel 4.9 and over 51,000 packages plus Tasks, including various desktops and Localizations for environments, keyboards, and languages, for 10 architectures. Other variations are available which use a kernel based on BSD.
10.0 "Buster" was released as the current stable version on 6th July 2019 with Linux kernel 4.19 and over 59,000 packages plus 217 defined Tasks.
The version of Debian specifically designed for education, DebianEdu / Skolelinux is a complete Linux solution for your school, easy to install, and designed to cope with large numbers of users.
Development and testing continues on the next version called "Bullseye".
Exactly how much you decide to install will depend on what you would like, and are able, to do with your hardware, while allowing space for software updates. Note that some software will save large amounts of data in /var/ or /srv/, and may require a completely different disk configuration. There is a link on the front page of the debian.org website to the debian packages information, scroll down to find the search facility.
There are several methods of starting and controlling the installer. It can be run under direct local control or over a remote connection, using a simple text interface or Graphical User Interface (GUI), and "Speakup" is available for the visually handicapped. Choices include a simple basic auto installation, full manual control, or automatic installation with pre-seeding of configuration details.
There is no absolute requirement for a desktop graphical environment, especially for server or other dedicated computers. If selected for installation, the desktop will bring its own selection of additional software. More than one desktop environment can be installed, to be selected by the user when starting a session, although there is a risk that software specifically designed to run with one may clash with software pulled in by another.
The standard default desktop is gnome, with alternative kde, xfce, and lxde desktops. Users unhappy about a recent gnome desktop decided to develop mate based on the earlier gnome design. The latest installer offers a choice of several desktops, selected towards the end of a netinst installation. I choose kde for an all-inclusive desktop, one of the lightweight desktops where I do not require as many desktop facilities, or none for a dedicated server.
Please follow the links to documentation from the debian.org website front page.
Linux offers many programming facilities, and local development is encouraged.
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