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Learning Linux the Easy Way - With Cygwin

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Linux expert John Traenkenschuh offers step-by-step instructions on how to set up a Linux environment on your Windows PC. If you want an easy way to try Linux, Traenkenschuh shows that Cygwin is the perfect way to get many UNIX tools for free.
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If you work in tech support, your PC is your life. When it’s running well, you’re making money. So what do you do when you hear about Linux? Yes, it’d be great to have a Linux system to tinker with, but all your machinery is taken. You read the how-to documents and the chief Linux documentation source, and they suggest adding a partition manager and freeing up raw disk space for Linux. But what if it doesn’t work? What if the partition app scrambles your hard drive and forces a total system rebuild? Is there a way to have a Linux environment for tinkering that doesn’t put your PC at risk? What if you don’t want to pursue Linux after testing it? What if you want a de-installation process—as nice as the ones you’re used to with Windows?

This article shows you how to set up a Linux environment on your current Windows PC. The installation is easy, and the removal is just as nice. If you want an easy way to try Linux, you’ll find that Cygwin, the tool I describe, is a perfect way to get many UNIX tools for free.

Cygwin Installation

Let’s get started with the installation. I attempt to outline how to install Cygwin and some common packages Linux beginners will enjoy. Begin by pointing a browser at http://www.cygwin.com.

Scroll down to the middle of the page or click the Install or Update Now icon to download the installer application. Figure 1 shows what to look for as well as the installer application once it is executed. The file is named setup.exe on the website. I save it as cygwinsetup.exe to make sure I can find it later. Why? Keeping cygwin up-to-date and patched is as simple as rerunning the Setup program. How’s that for low maintenance?

Figure 1

Figure 1 Downloading and running the installation application.

After reviewing all the information on the first panel, click the Next button to begin answering simple questions. This installation program is far simpler than other Linux and *BSD programs. Let’s review the questions, their relevance, and suggested answers and choices you might make. Table 1 outlines this information.

Table 1 Beginning Questions and Recommended Settings


Suggested Answer

Choose a Download Source. You have a chance to download and install from the Internet, simply download the code, or install [only] from a local directory

Install from Internet. This is your first installation. You have no saved files. The other options allow you to maintain the install files on your PC and use them to repair your installation. As often as the code changes, I recommend just fetching from the Internet as needed.

Select Root Install Directory

Install for [Users]

Default Text File Type

Where do you want to install Cygwin? Who is able to use Cygwin on the system? What is your default file ending?


All Users


I like default installation directories. Linux documentation can be very spotty. Sticking to defaults helps ensure the documentation will work for your installation. However, you may not have permissions to install for everyone and to install on the root of the system drive. If so, you can build a functional client-side UNIX system easily in My Documents or whatever you’ve named your personal folder.

I like to install for all users because this allows you to try certain daemons, or server applications, you might enjoy.

Line endings are controversial. I prefer native UNIX endings. Soon, you may want a full-functioning Linux system. By starting with the UNIX line ending, moving your files to White Box or Damn Small Linux and making them work is pretty easy.

Select Local Package Directory. Determines where downloaded installation binaries will be kept.

I like to store packages in my personal folder, such as My Documents. I know I have full permissions there.

Select Your Internet Connection

Direct Connection

Use IE5 Settings

Use http/ftp proxy

As you can see, Cygwin is a sophisticated installer that allows you to download in a corporate environment. I find that using Internet Explorer settings reflects my network, including situations where an organization’s staff has configured my browser via a pac file. Don’t worry—even though IE5 is called out, this seems to work with later versions, also.

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