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Phat Linux (Part 1)
By Thiravudh Khoman

I played with Linux a few times last year, but frankly I haven't touched it in a few months as I was preoccupied with other projects. As a Windows user of habit, playing with Linux requires some effort since it doesn't blend in with Windows installations quite so seamlessly. Yes, it can co-exist on the same hard disk, but it requires re- partitioning of the hard disk to create separate Windows and Linux partitions and the use of a boot manager. This is hardly a trivial exercise for most Windows users. While I'm familiar with the process, I prefer to run Linux on a dedicated computer so I can reinstall it without having to worry about other "junk".

Like manna from heaven, the latest Phat Linux v3.2 (https://www.phatlinux.com) dropped into my hands from two sources: IT.Soft's CD #30 and Multimedia Magazine's January 2000 CD. Phat Linux (hereafter just "Phat") is unique in that it can be installed on a DOS/Windows FAT 16/32 partition instead of requiring you to create a native Linux ext2 partition. Translation: you can copy Phat onto a Windows hard disk and run it by simply clicking an icon (well, not quite that simple but close). This makes it ideal for Linux-curious Windows folk since it requires absolutely no changes to their Windows setup. Removing Phat is also terribly simple - just delete the Phat directory.

Installing Phat

Phat is distributed as a single 190mb self-extracting zip file. After decompressing to directory C:\Phat (actually, the files may be installed on any drive but must be in a directory called "Phat"), the files balloon to about 720mb. Before you can run Phat, you must know how much memory your computer has. In Windows 9.x, go to the Control Panel and double-click "System". The last line under "Computer" indicates how much memory you have (figure 1). If you have less than 32mb RAM, you should only run Phat in text mode. To run X-Windows without pulling your hair, you really need at least 32mb RAM.

Assuming you have 64mb RAM, edit line 1 of the extracted LINUX.BAT file to read:

loadlin vmlinuz initrd=ramdisk.gz mem=64M.

That's all you need to do!

Loading Phat

Unfortunately, you can't run LINUX.BAT from under a DOS window, but there are several alternatives:

  1. Close all your open applications, click the "Start" button, choose "Shutdown", and then choose "Restart in MS-DOS mode". When you reach the DOS prompt, change drives/directories to where Phat is installed and then run LINUX.BAT.
  2. Close all your open applications, click the "Start" button and choose "Restart". Just BEFORE Windows starts to re-load, press F8 a few times and you'll be presented with a black and white startup menu. Choose "Command prompt only". Change drives/directories to where Phat is installed and then run LINUX.BAT.
  3. Double click on LINUX.BAT from Windows Explorer, or click the "Start" button, choose "Run" and type x:\Phat\Linux.bat, where x:\ is the drive containing the Phat files.
  4. If you plan to use Phat more than once though, you might want to create an icon on the desktop. Right-click on the desktop, choose "New" and then "Shortcut". At the command line prompt, type: C:\Phat\Linux.Bat (or wherever your Phat is installed). Give the shortcut a better name if you don't like "LINUX.BAT". To run Phat, simply double-click the icon.

Configuring Phat

Phat will start to load and when finished, will display a picture of a Penguin (the official Linux mascot) and some text indicating that you're running kernel version 2.2.9 (unfortunately, a bit dated). I'd also like to emphasize that from here onwards you're pretty much running standard Linux; i.e. nothing unique to Phat. The only difference is that for other Linux'es the configuration is usually (but not necessarily) accomplished DURING installation, not AFTER installation. This shouldn't be a surprise given that Phat's immediate parentage is apparently Mandrake, which in turn was spawned by RedHat.

Login using the username "root" and the password "phat" (all lower case, Linux is case-sensitive!). If you're familiar with network operating systems (and Linux IS a NOS), you may have the urge to create another user. If you're only going to "play" with Phat and given how easy it is to reinstall, it's probably okay to skip this. Or create it later. After login, you'll be presented with a simple text menu with the following options:

  1. Run X @ 8 bpp
  2. Run X @ 16 bpp
  3. Run X @ 24 bpp
  4. Run X @ 32 bpp
  5. System Setup
  6. Enable PCMCIA
  7. Midnight Commander
  8. Restart Computer
  9. Shutdown Computer
  10. Exit

Because we bypassed the normal Linux installation routine, we didn't get to configure a few key things. I suggest you do that now. Select item 5 and press Enter. Soon, you'll be presented with the "Pick a Tool" Menu which contains the following items:

  • Authentication configuration
  • Keyboard configuration
  • Mouse configuration
  • System services
  • Sound card configuration
  • Timezone configuration
  • X configuration

Usually, you can ignore the first 4 items. If you have a sound card, then TRY the sound card configuration. I say try because in all of the time I've played with Linux, I've never been able to configure a sound card properly (I'm probably doing something wrong). My test computer has a Soundblaster PCI64 card, and even though the card is listed, configuration failed nonetheless. Oh well, I'm not much of a sound man anyway.

Time zone configuration is necessary though. Press the space bar to uncheck the "Hardware clock set to GMT" and tab to the next window and scroll to "Asia/Bangkok". Tab to "Ok" and press Enter.

Configuring X-Windows

Now comes the hardest part, the X-Windows configuration. Most Linux distributions come with an X-Windows server called "XFree86". One major shortcoming of XFree in a PC/Windows world is that it does not support some of the newer video hardware, particularly most AGP video cards. Unlike PCI video cards for which drivers can be applied in families, drivers must be written for each specific AGP card. As such, XFree support for AGP cards is fairly limited. Commercial X-Windows servers exist which support more AGP cards (most notably "Accelerated-X" from XiGraphics, https://www.xig.com), but purist that I am, I've always found the idea of buying software for use with Linux a bit odd.

I solved my problem by buying only PCI video cards. Not only are they cheap, but they're a breeze to install under Linux and I don't have much need for AGP cards with 16mb or 32mb RAM any way, not being much of a game player. Of course, they may become harder to find/buy over time. For now though, Panthip still sells them.

Anyway, you DO need to know the brand and model of your video card in case the X-Windows configuration utility (i.e. Xconfigurator) can't figure out your card and ask you for the information. Besides that, you'll also need to know the brand, model and certain characteristics of your monitor. While XFree supports a fairly wide range of monitors, the configuration utility can't detect this at all. If you're lucky enough to have a monitor that's on Xconfigurator's list, your job is easy. If not, you're going to have to enter some very technical information. You'll have to obtain this information from your monitor's manufacturer, or failing that, you'll have to guess. Or settle for generic VGA mode.

I recently tested Phat with two computers. One has a Diamond Stealth II PCI video card and a Mag D410 monitor. The other has a S3 ViRGE DX/GX PCI video card and a Compaq Presario 1525 monitor. In the first case, Xconfigurator couldn't figure out the video card, but a Diamond Stealth II entry did exist. A Mag 410 monitor entry also existed so that too was simple. In the second case, Xconfigurator immediately sensed the S3 ViRGE card, but no entry existed for the Compaq monitor. A custom configuration was therefore necessary and required information on the monitor's horizontal and vertical sync rates. Unfortunately, Compaq's website wasn't terribly helpful in this regard so, I had to guess.

As I planned to run X-Windows in either 800x600 or 1024x768 mode, I chose a horizontal sync rate of "Super VGA, 1024 x 768 at 87 Hz interlaced, 800 x 600 @ 56 Hz" and a vertical sync rate of 50-90. This seemed to work in both modes at 16 bits per pixel (i.e. 64K colors).

As a general rule though, I recommend that you do an exhaustive search of your monitor's specs on the internet BEFORE guessing at values. Apparently, it IS possible to damage a monitor by setting values that are beyond its capabilities! A good place to browse is Monitor World at https://www.monitorworld.com. If you must guess though, start low and work your way up. Also, don't set your sights on too high a setting (too many pixels, too many colors). This slows things down, and of course, you'll be limited by the amount of RAM on your video card anyway.

After you've made your selections, the screen resolution/colour depth will be tested. You will also be asked whether you wish to boot into X Windows using a graphical login when starting Linux. I recommend that you DO NOT. In my opinion, learning Linux means also learning to operate it in text mode, and in any case, it's pretty easy to start X (type: startx).

To Be Continued

That's all I'm going to cover in Part 1, the getting started part. In Part 2, we're going to touch on KDE and get connected to the internet.

If you went ahead and find yourself in KDE already, click the "K" button at the bottom left of the screen and then choose "Logout" twice. By the way, here's a trick to leave X if you can't get out via the normal route (i.e. in emergencies): while holding down the Ctrl and Alt keys, press the Backspace key (i.e. Ctrl-Alt-BS).

To quit/shut down Linux, type: shutdown -h now. Or if you miss Windows and want to reboot, type: shutdown -r now.

Thanks To: Bill Thompson for the Monitor World tip.

Copyright © 1998-2000, Thiravudh Khoman