TeX and Other Selected Windows Freeware:
Introduction, Utilities, TeX, Editors, Internet

  Utilities: disks and files, desktop appearance, starting, running,
and controlling programs
, miscellaneous tweaks, Unix


22 Aug '08

Disks and Files

Desktop Appearance

Starting, running, and controlling programs


Some of the programs listed below work in more than one operating system. For instance, the versions of EXPLORE.INF (for "explore from here") for Windows 95 and Windows 2000 are actually identical, and they seem to work okay under Windows XP as well (even though the program was not included in the Windows XP powertoys). That's one of my favorite powertoys; I use it often.

Running Unix on a Wintel computer

By a "Wintel computer" we generally mean a computer equipped with an Intel processor, designed to run Microsoft Windows -- or a similar computer. (For instance, you could use a chip made by AMD, compatible with the Intel chips; and you don't necessarily need to have Windows on the computer.) The term "Wintel" may help to avoid confusion, since the term "Windows" could be confused with "X Window" -- the common graphics interface for Unix systems. There are variants on this terminology, but I won't go into those here.

Unix used to be more difficult to use (and in fact, Unix users were proud of the difficulty). But in recent years, several GUIs (graphics user interfaces) have come into use in Unix, making it much easier and more intuitive (in the opinion of most people). The GUI, invented by Xerox PARC and copied by Macintosh and Windows, has now been copied in several Unix forms; I think the most popular for Wintel boxes are KDE (screenshots), Gnome, Enlightenment.

There are many kinds of Unix in the world today. Particularly noteworthy is the Apple Macintosh operating system, which in its recent versions is some sort of Unix with a very smooth GUI. (Thus, Apple Macintosh users are now able to install a wide variety of free programs that were developed for Unix computers.) Various kinds of Unix are used on many instititutional servers. However, the rest of this page is concerned only with installing Unix on a personal Wintel computer.

The Linux versions of Unix seem to be growing in popularity and displacing other versions of Unix (with the possible exception of Apples). Linux is an open-source version of Unix, and thus it gives individual programmers more control over their own lives. There are now many versions of Linux, distributed by many valued-added resellers who add packaging, manuals, support, etc.; but there are many versions available for free too (often suported by donations). Most of the versions of Unix that I've been looking at are actually Linux.

In recent years, downloading and installing Unix has gotten easier. It used to require downloading dozens or hundreds of files and then following complicated arcane instructions. The procedure nowadays is this: You download a few "iso" files. Each of these is an enormous files; typically one such file is around 600 megabytes. Each of these files is a CD-image. You use a CD-burner program (such as DeepBurner Free , mentioned earlier on this web page) to burn each iso file onto a CD-rom. (Alternatively, you can just order some CD's and have them mailed to you.) Then you just follow a few simple instructions, and wait a long time for the installation program to carry out all of its steps.

Nevertheless, downloading and installing Unix on your Wintel computer is an adventure which may involve some complications and risks, and that may remain the case for a while. Here is why:

No two computer models are identical. Different computers use different kinds of hard drives, keyboards, RAM, mice, displays, etc. These devices do not always follow standards. When you buy a computer that is already equipped with an operating system (e.g., Microsoft Windows) from a major manufacturer (e.g., Dell or Gateway), generally the operating system has been fitted to the hardware --- i.e., the software includes drivers which can deal with that particular hardware.

But if you download or purchase a new operating system (e.g., Unix) for an old computer, you have no guarantee that the two will fit together. Generally the new operating system is equipped with drivers for the most common configurations of hardware, but if you have anything out of the ordinary, it may not work. This is especially true for notebook computers, which tend to stray considerably from standards. If your new operating system does not recognize your screen or your modem or your keyboard, clearly your computer is going to work badly or perhaps not at all. ... Since the makers of operating systems add new drivers whenever they can and subtract drivers only if they're extremely old, your chances for compatibility are slightly better if your hardware is a few years old and if you use the very newest version of the operating system. (This is one reason why some people choose to convert their old Wintel computer to Unix when they buy a new Wintel computer.)

Unless you're very very sure that you know what you're doing, you should only install Unix on a computer in some fashion that is reversible -- i.e., so you can go back to your previous configuration if either (i) the new configuration doesn't work or (ii) it does work but you don't like it. (The latter case may happen for some people who are already used to Microsoft Windows and are trying *nix for their first time.)

There are a number of different ways to run Unix on a Wintel computer.

Here are some related links that may be helpful: