cabal faq

Maintainer's note: This page has been essentially unmaintained since the late 1990s and many of its answers are somewhat outdated. It is being retained more for reasons of nostalgia than for current utility.

Answers by
Don Marti (marketing-related answers, HTML conversion, some links)
Rick Moen (original list of questions, useful answers about hardware compatibility and the install process)

I want Linux. What hardware do I need?

A 486 with 16MB of RAM and 500MB of free disk space will do fine.

You can also install Linux on non-PC machines such as Sun SparcStations and many Macintosh systems. If you want Linux on a system that's not a "PC-compatible", please mail us so that we can arrange to obtain the correct version of Linux for your system.

Wait, that's not the minimal hardware listed on the Linux distribution I bought!

True. Linux certainly will run with 8 MB of RAM, possibly even 4 MB. It can install into less than 100 MB of disk space, if you carefully omit unnecessary packages. It can even do useful work on a 386SX/16 with no math chip, but compilation times will be tedious.

An experienced Linux user might make a 386 with 200 MB hard drive and 8 MB of RAM serve as a network firewall machine, or a dial-in server, or a network file and print server (but probably would not overstress it by also using it as a graphical desktop machine). The problem is that if you're not an experienced Linux user, you should not tackle the additional hurdle of limiting hardware. Go with at least a respectable 486, and you will have fewer frustrations and roadblocks.

My machine doesn't have a CD-ROM drive. Can I still install Linux?

Yes. We can connect your machine to the ethernet network at the InstallFest, and install Linux over the network.

My machine doesn't have a CD-ROM drive or an ethernet card. Can I still install Linux?

Mail us. One of our installers might be able to loan you an ethernet card, or, if you have a SCSI host adapter, we might be able to connect an external SCSI CD-ROM drive.

Will my Linux work with my sound card?

There are three sound packages for Linux.
  1. Sound support included with the stock Linux kernel: supported cards (Linux Sound HOWTO)
  2. Advanced Linux Sound Architecture: supported cards
  3. OSS is a proprietary sound package that supports these sound cards.

If you would like us to install OSS, you will need to purchase the appropriate OSS product before the installfest and bring it with you. Please mail us if you would like help selecting the right sound package before the installfest.

Will Linux work with my modem?

Any external modem, and any internal modem that works under MS-DOS or OS/2, will work under Linux. However, if your modem is a "Winmodem" that only works with Microsoft Windows 95 or Microsoft Windows 98, it won't work under Linux.

Winmodems are incomplete modems -- they come with a Microsoft Windows device driver that covers up for their lack of some cheap but important parts. When you use a Winmodem under Microsoft Windows, you're wasting your computer's CPU power to do tasks that a normal modem does in hardware. There is no Linux device driver to do this, because anybody smart enough to write such a device driver for Linux is more than smart enough to buy a real modem instead.

Will Linux work with my [NAME OF OTHER HARDWARE PRODUCT]?

Most PC hardware is supported. You can look up your hardware in the Linux Documentation Project's Hardware Compatibility HOWTO, located at:

Red Hat Software also maintains hardware compatibility lists for its Linux distribution.
For Red Hat Linux 5.1:
For Red Hat Linux 5.0:
For Red Hat Linux 4.2:

Will Linux work with my laptop?

Please mail us with the make and model of your laptop before the installfest. Some laptop hardware manufacturers do not release programming information to Linux developers. (See the Linux on Laptops or TuxMobil sites.)

To see if your PCMCIA cards are supported under Linux, please see the hardware compatibility lists from Red Hat:
For Red Hat Linux 5.1:
For Red Hat Linux 5.0:
For Red Hat Linux 4.2:

What should I bring to the InstallFest?

Your computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, all cables including AC power cables, a power strip, all computer-hardware manuals and documentation, notebook, pen or pencil, several floppies we can overwrite, and a Philips screwdriver. Bring your Linux distribution CD-ROM(s), if you have one. You needn't bring printers, external modems, or non-Linux software.

What if I can't bring my machine today? Will there ever be another InstallFest?

See BALE (Bay Area Linux Events) at for the date, time, and location of more installfests and other Linux-related events.

What's different about Linux? Why yet another OS?

Linux is the next generation of operating systems. Just as PCs have replaced mainframes and terminals, Linux is in the process of replacing Microsoft Windows, Mac OS and other proprietary operating systems.

Aren't Windows 98 and Windows NT the standard for everyone?

Microsoft products are very popular in business today, just as IBM's mainframe products were a near-monopoly for business computing in the 1960s and 1970s. Learning Linux today is an opportunity to participate in the new market wave, just as learning about the new "micros" in the 1970s helped you succeed in the PC hardware and software boom.

However, just as mainframe manufacturers introduced fancier terminals to compete with PCs, and some software vendors stuck with MS-DOS and did not release Microsoft Windows versions, many vendors are still focusing on the Windows platform today. And just as terminals and MS-DOS systems are still used today, Microsoft Windows systems will probably still be used for some time in the future.

Why does open-source software matter to non-programmers?

Open-source software has three key advantages: quality, configurability, and interoperability.
  1. Open-source software is checked and tested by many programmers for bugs and security flaws. Only open-source software can undergo a truly independent security review -- all other software may have totally hidden security flaws known only to the vendor!
  2. Open-source software has more configuration options than proprietary software. It is easier to customize for your needs.
  3. Open-source software implements Internet standard protocols better than proprietary software, and also interoperates with non-standard proprietary software.
  4. Open-source software is usually available over the Internet at no charge -- but the price is a very small fraction of what you will save through increased productivity.

Where do I get drivers? How do I install it?

That's what this install fest is for. Linux comes with drivers for most popular PC hardware, and we will help you with the install process.

Will it run my existing applications? How do I read Word97 docs? Where's Quicken?

People didn't come up to Steve Jobs with stacks of punch cards, now, did they? Go away, you silly person.

If it's "free", how do I get support? Isn't is a problem that Linux lacks a corporate backer?

Linux support is available from many consultants in the Bay Area and from national vendors. If you want the type of support that is available from proprietary software companies, we will try to find you a consultant to sing to you on the phone for half an hour, then give you a wrong answer.

How can it be any good if it's free of charge?

It's not free of charge. A typical Linux distribution on CD costs about $50, and you will also want to buy a good Linux book, which costs about $30. In the case of Linux, "free" simply means that the license agreement does not restrict your right to use and copy the software.

How can it be any good if there aren't as many applications? Why aren't they on the shelves at Fry's?

How many applications do you actually use?

How can it be any good if it's seldom mentioned in PC magazines?

You are reading the wrong magazine. Boardwatch, for example, the magazine for Internet service providers, features a Linux column in every issue. Linux has its own magazine, Linux Journal, and is also frequently mentioned in Byte, Sys Admin, Boot, and Wired.

Isn't Unix hard? Isn't Linux Unix? So isn't Linux hard?

Linux was designed to be Unix-compatible, but it also supports advanced, easy-to-use graphical user interface features that work like other operating systems you already know.

Linux was written from the ground up beginning in 1991, making it the newest of the popular PC operating systems. Linux contains no Unix code.

Do I have to get rid of Windows to run it? How much space does it take?

You can set up a single PC to boot multiple operating systems, including Linux, Windows 95, Windows NT, FreeBSD, and OS/2.

A typical Linux installation, with all the bundled software, will take 500 MB to 2 GB.

Do I have to repartition my hard drive to install Linux?

Normally, yes. However, you can add a hard drive and install Linux on it without repartitioning your existing hard drive. Hard drives are available here at the show.

Where do I get Linux? Where at the show?

List of Linux vendors at the show goes here.

Where do I get books on Linux? Which are recommended?

A Practical Guide to Linux by Mark Sobell.
Published by Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-89549-8 (

Linux® for Dummies® by Craig Witherspoon, Coletta Witherspoon, and Jon Hall. Published by IDG Books Worldwide, ISBN 0-7645-0275-1 (

For volunteers

I want to help with the InstallFest. What do you need?

Set up a demo system
We would like to have a front row of Linux systems on display showing off flashy graphics, such as Enlightenment, MPEG movies, and The GIMP. If you have anything like that and would like to show it off, please do.
Help people install
Please check in with us when you arrive and let us know what you are good at.
Answer general questions
Do paper handout materials
We would like to have someone help us lay out and duplicate paper handouts: this FAQ, the BALE schedule of events, hardware compatibility guides, and other useful information.
Contribute better answers to this FAQ -- see address at bottom.

How do I get on the CABAL mailing list?

Send mail to with "subscribe" (no quotes) in the body of the message. You will receive a confirm message. Follow the instructions.

I want to bring stuff in to the show. What do I do?

Please mail us for info. on the security procedure for bringing in hardware. We might have to meet you and get you stickers and a badge before you can bring it in.

After the InstallFest

I have a question. Where can I get help?

See BALE (Bay Area Linux Events) at for the date, time, and location of the next InstallFest, and for links to the Linux user groups in the area.

Somebody let me use a Linux CD, or a piece of hardware, or a tool, and I took it home by mistake! I'm so embarrassed!

Drop it off at The CABAL, 1105 Altschul Avenue, Menlo Park, CA. We'll see that it gets to the lost-and-found box at the next InstallFest.

Please send questions and answers for this FAQ to Don Marti <>

Last modified: Thu Sep 2 19:55:21 PDT 1999