Build Your Own Linux Appliance

Part 1: How to preconfigure a Linux box that can be used to surf the Web, do e-mail, print, and scan -- and not be bothered by Windows malware.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

May 31, 2005

6 Min Read

Installing Linux

Now that you have all your hardware and software assembled, it's time to install your Linux distro. In the BIOS, tell the computer to boot from CD/DVD. Insert the first FC2 distribution disc. Once it loads, you'll be asked if you want to test the disc before installation. You definitely do! Do it. Next, test the other two or three discs. Do not install the Linux distro until all the discs pass the test. This is vital.

Assuming compatible hardware, and assuming your discs passed the test, the only thing you will need to do during the install process is to select certain options from the selection screens. If you only have one blank HD on the system on which you intend to install Linux, go ahead and use the hard-drive installation defaults; they're just fine. In general, if I don't tell you to do otherwise in the following, simply pick the defaults. The options I picked are as follows:

  • Graphical install

  • Select monitor. If it picks up your monitor by brand name, good. If not, select generic CRT or LCD at the resolution matching your monitor.

  • Install workstation

  • Disk setup: default (if you're installing more than a single HD and CD / DVD drive, read the documentation)

  • Boot loader: default

  • Firewall: On, no services enabled

  • Group select: KDE , all developer tools, all system tools. While your users won't be doing development, sooner or later, it may be necessary to install from source, which means that the compiler part of a development toolkit may be required.

For more details, see my earlier Recipe, Teaching Linux to do Windows.

The following is a Fedora Core 2 desktop as installed, plus a few applications icons (the ones with the lower-right arrows) that I dragged-and-dropped as menu application entries off the Start Menu for convenience as described below. The Start Menu is accessed via the Red Hat icon on the bottom left. Once the installation is complete, configure the network connection for upgrades, particularly multimedia via automated installer.

To connect to the Net, go to Start > System Settings > Network. Enter the root password. This brings up the Network Configuration window. Then, from the top menu, click Help. The instructions are clear and explicit for your desired connection type (modem, Ethernet, etc.). Once you're done, a new entry will appear in the Device tab. Double click it to open. Find "allow non-root user" on the General tab. Unclick and click it. Hit OK to close it. Close Network Configuration.

Next, drag Start > System Tools > Network Device Control off the menu onto the Desktop. Drop it onto the Control Panel on the bottom of the screen.

Now click the Network icon in the control panel. Select the desired connection if there's more than one. Then hit the Activate button. Welcome to the Net! Note: You can also drag-and-drop from the Start menu to the desktop. If you do, the menu item will appear as a desktop icon.

Red Hat Network Update

The system upgrade is the first thing you'll want to do online. Go to the red circle icon in the system tray, and click it. Then use the tabbed interface to tell it you want to update everything (unless you have a specific reason not to install something specific).

Installing Fonts

Web pages and printed documents are generally more readable if they are seen in the same fonts in which they were created. That usually means the ones installed by default with Windows. You can get the Microsoft standard fonts and installation instructions by performing the following steps:

  1. Open the Mozilla Web browser (the globe icon next to the Start Menu).

    Go to this Mauriat Miranda page. Download the rpm file (right-click, Save Target). Open a terminal (Start > System Tools > Terminal). Log in as root: su - root pw: [enter root password WITHOUT BRACKETS] Enter the first rpm command. Then hit Enter. Enter the second command from the page, starting with /etc as above.

Below is the Control Panel you will find across the bottom of your screen with indicator lines pointing to the program icons you'll need immediately. The Control Panel here is the equivalent of the Windows Taskbar:

You can copy and paste commands from a Web page to a terminal window by clicking-and-dragging over the command to highlight it. Then put the cursor in the terminal window next to the > prompt, right-click, and select Paste from the menu.

Printer Setup

Here's how to set up a CUPS-supported printer.

  1. Open Start > Preferences > Control Center > Peripherals > Printer

  2. Click Administrator, then enter the root password.

  3. Select Add Printer to open the printer wizard.

  4. Select the printer from the menu.

  5. When the test page comes off the printer, save configuration.

If the above doesn't work, learn what to do next from this page.

Scanner setup

Here's how to set up a scanner under SANE:

  1. With a listed scanner plugged in, boot.

  2. Unplug and replug in the scanner.

  3. Open a terminal window.

  4. As user, type xsane (xsane is a GUI front-end for SANE). You should be looking at a GUI window with controls.

  5. Open the Preview window.

  6. Once your're satisfied with the size, hit the Scan button on the main window. You'll see a window with a high-resolution image you can save in various formats.

  7. Create the Desktop GUI icon for xsane. For a walkthrough for icon setup,see my earlier Recipe, Painless Multimedia For Linux.

Once this is set up, any other graphics application with a scan function should work normally with this, too.

Once you've got a software configuration you like together, burn it to DVD and supply a copy with the appliance. If you are planning to build multiple Linux appliance systems, simply clone the hard drive, then stick the cloned drive in each new identical system.

This is the first of a two-part TechBuilder Recipe. Part Two will show how to expand the Linux appliance to beef up security and back up if a CD/DVD recorder is installed. It will also show how to let users watch movies and videos, listen to music online, and use cameras and Instant Messenger software. A. LIZARD is an Internet consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been writing for technology magazines and Web sites since 1987.

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