Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Beginner's Guide to Dual Booting Linux Mint and Windows XP

Hello everybody!

This post is a first for me of this type. A friend of mine is interested in trying out an Operating System (OS) that I have a habit of promoting quite a bit. You guessed it, it is Linux we are talking about. But he is unsure how to go about it and is not really ready to get rid of Windows. Yet. And I understand him. Moving to a new OS can be unnerving and would be easier if it is done in phases. I promised I would help him, but he is in another country and so I decided to make a post out of it. Instead of just telling him what to do, it is always better to know at least a bit of what you are doing. In this spirit I am going to explain as simply as possible how we are going to go about this. Hence the considerable length of this post. So here we are. Welcome to my first Linux guide - 'A Beginner's Guide to Dual Booting Linux Mint and Windows XP'

What is Linux Mint? This is a rather new distribution that is based on the very famous Ubuntu Linux distribution. Linux Mint, in my opinion, is supposed to be easier for newcomers to Linux as most of the bells and whistles including proprietary software is supposed to work out-of-the-box. And in its latest incarnation, Linux Mint 2.2 Bianca, things just got a lot better!

Enough chit-chat, lets get you using Linux Mint. First, you will have to download the install CD image (LinuxMint-2.2.iso) from here. It is 685MB, so it will take some time. You can verify the integrity of the file you have downloaded by downloading the small LinuxMint-2.2.md5sum file as well and following these instructions. This is not an obligatory step though. Then, you will have to burn this image file to CD. This does not mean just adding the LinuxMint-2.2.iso file and burning a data CD. Here and here are two websites that explain how to do this in Windows. I recommend that you burn the CD at the slowest speed possible to avoid read errors during installation. After you are done burning there should be two folders on the CD named casper and isolinux, and a file md5sum.txt. If not, you have done something wrong and the CD will not work.

In all my messing around with installing various distributions, I have never faced a scenario where I lost all the data on my hard drive. And I have done enough messing around. However, you are always better safe than sorry. So, I would recommend you backup all the data on your computer that you cannot afford to lose. I am just avoiding law suit here. No really, backup.

Now you will have to make some space on your harddrive for Linux. Linux Mint needs an absolute minimum of 3GB but I would strongly recommend at least 5GB. With hard drives as huge as they are today you have no excuse. So make sure you have got at least 5GB free space on one of your Windows partitions. The more, the better. Then run Disk Defragmenter and defragment your entire hard disk. This step is so that all the free space is located in one big chunk and not spread out in little bits. This will also take some time. Now, I am not sure how it is in Windows since it has been a while since I used it, but I think you should not use your computer while defragmenting otherwise it starts defragmenting from the beginning each time Windows writes to the hard disk. Linux avoids this whole problem by not allowing the hard disk to get defragmented in the first place. Clever, huh. Once you are done with this, we can move to the fun stuff - installing Linux Mint!

Put the Linux Mint CD you have burnt in the CD/DVD drive and reboot. You may have to set your BIOS to boot from CD first before the hard disk. On booting from the CD, the first screen you will see is the boot options screen below.

Just hit enter, sit back and watch the pretty boot splash as Linux Mint starts up. When everything is loaded you will be greeted by a very attractive desktop that can only be appropriately described as mint! Have a look.

Linux Mint is a Live CD. This means that it boots into a functional OS that runs entirely from the CD. And while in this state you can use it without making any changes to you hard disk. The disadvantage is that you cannot make permanent changes. Each time you reboot all changes are lost. Also, depending on the amount of RAM you have the Live CD is slower than an OS installed on the hard disk. So you can play around with it as a Live CD if you are just trying to see what Linux Mint is all about. But we're not here to play around, we're here to dig into the real stuff! See the Linux Mint icon on the desktop labeled Install? Double click it and we'll be on our way with the installation.

The installation dialogue pops up. The first thing I noticed is on the bottom left it says 'Step 1 of 6'. 6 steps?! Is that how easy installing Linux has become? You bet it is! If we were not going for a dual boot setup, any sort of guide would be totally irrelevant. But don't worry, setting up the dual boot isn't hard either, you'll see. Back on track. The first screen is self-explanatory. Choose the language you want for your final system and click Forward.

The second step is just as self-explanatory as the first. Simply choose your time zone from the drop-down list. Or optionally you may click on your region in the world map, and the map will zoom in allowing you to select your city directly. Then click Forward.

Now it's time choose your keyboard layout. You can test your keys in the field below the lists (as I have kindly demonstrated). This is so easy... Why does this need a guide?

Who are you? No, we don't want your philosophical rant... just enter your full name and the name you want to use to log in. Enter your password twice, and a name for your machine. The account created here will be the administrator account with full control of the OS. I will talk about user accounts in more detail in a soon-to-come post... Forward...

Guess what! We've reached the 'hard' part - disk partitioning. We don't want to erase the entire disk, so we choose the second option. We're doing this manually! Forward.

This opens the partition editor application. It will scan all your hard disks and display the present partitions and details about them. If you have more that one physical hard drive then you can switch between them using the drop-down menu at the top right. Your master drive is usually first i.e. hda or sda. The slave will be hdb or sdb. And the partitions are numbered as hda1, hda2, hda3 and so on.

If you are attentive you will notice that my hard disk is divided into three partitions - hda1 is my linux-swap partition, hda2 holds my main installation of Ubuntu Linux and hda3 is my test partition which I use to play around with other Linux distributions. But in this case it is an empty NTFS partition, the file system which Windows XP uses. I am not about to delete my Ubuntu partition just so I can show you how to resize an NTFS partition. So imagine that hda3 is the partition in which you freed 5GB (or however much) for Linux at the beginning of this guide. If you are thinking in terms of C:/, D:/, E:/, etc drives in Windows, there is no sure correlation between that and the Linux hda1, hda2, hda3, etc naming system. I suggest going by the size of the partitions and the free space available in each one to know exactly which partition you are going to resize. Right-click on the partition you wish to resize select Resize/Move. The following dialogue will pop up.

There are a number of ways you can define how you want to resize your partition. The easiest way is just to type the number of megabytes you wish to have for Linux Mint in the last input field where it says 'Free Space Following (MiB)'. As I said 5GB minimum. So you can enter 5000 there. I have less than 5000 in that field, but I am the teacher here - I am allowed to cheat! Actually, I am not. You will see soon enough. The partition editor will not make any changes until you tell it specifically to do so by clicking the Apply button. So for now click Resize.

As you can now see, the NTFS partition has been reduced and there is now some unallocated space after it. This is where Mint is going to stay.

Next is whether you create a primary or extended partition. This depends on how many partitions you already have on your hard disk and what kind they are. A hard disk can have a maximum of four primary partitions. If your partitions are named between hda1 and hda4, they are primary partitions. hda5 and above are extended partitions. So if you have one or two primary partitions you can create primary partitions as you can make two more for Linux. Otherwise, you will will have to create extended partitions which allows a much higher number of partitions.

Every Linux installation needs a swap partition. It is the equivalent of the Windows paging file. Think of it as an extension of your computer's RAM. The general rule is that the size of your swap partition should be the amount of RAM on your machine multiplied by 1.5. However, nowadays with the size of RAM getting very huge, the size of swap doesn't need to be as large. I would set 512MB as a maximum for desktops. Linux Mint recommends a minimum of 256MB. I would second that. Let us make some swap space for Mint. Click on the unallocated space and then click the New button at the top left to create a new partition.

Simply type the amount of swap space that you want in the 'New Size (MiB)' field. For an idea, I have 256MB RAM and my swap space partition is 384MB. This much has been more than adequate for my computing needs. I don't need another swap partition - Ubuntu and Mint can both use the one I already have. The space for the swap partition is what I took out of the 5GB earlier when I 'cheated'. Then choose if it is going to be a primary partition or an extended partition appropriately from the drop-down menu and then select linux-swap from the other drop-down menu. Click Add.

Now we will create the partition where we are going to install the actual OS. Click on the remaining unallocated space and then click on the New button at the top left.

Make sure this partition fills the entire unallocated space - the 'Free Space Preceding' and the 'Free Space Following' fields should both be 0 (zero). Again select primary or extended partition appropriately and then choose a file system in the lower drop-down menu. Linux Mint defaults to ext3 which is tried and tested. I prefer reiserfs which is newer and has some performance advantages over ext3. Take your pick. After all, that is what Linux is all about - freedom and choice! Go ahead... click Add.

Have a look at the pending operations in the partitioning application window. Check and see if your partitions are the way you want them to be. There's no turning back after this. Click Apply!

Oops wait... a warning pops up... click Apply again!

And success! Click Close.

Finally, we reach the end of our lengthy step 5 - Partition mount points. Verify that the partition you created for Linux Mint is mounted at /, the swap partition as swap. The rest go under the /media/hd* mount points according to their partition numbers. I am not sure if NTFS partitions are mounted here by default as I deleted my NTFS partition. I dont need or want it anyway. If not, there is a tool to do this later on. Also check that the / and swap partitions are marked for reformatting and the rest are not. That's it! Bravo, you are done with partitioning! Click Forward!

[EDIT] I have received some feedback that at least one person has faced a situation where the Windows NTFS partition was assigned to be mounted at /media/hda1 and the installer warned the user that proceeding would cause him to lose all the data on that partition. After a little searching the solution he found was to change the mount point of the Windows partition by replacing /media/hda1 with /windows in the above dialogue. This solved the problem and the installation and dual booting went on smoothly.

[EDIT] If you do not wish to allow Linux to access your Windows partitions, delete the mount points in the above step so that the fields under Mount Point are blank for the respective Windows partitions.

The final step! This is more of a summary of what the installer will do. The only option here is choosing the location of GRUB, the boot loader. GRUB is the first thing you will encounter when you boot your computer. It will provide you with the option of starting either Linux Mint or Windows. Don't change anything here. Most probably it will work just fine. Now bravely click Install!

The installation will take about 20-25 minutes. So, you can go and do whatever it is you do when you've got nothing to do. I fixed myself a midnight snack - eggs and baked beans... No, its not what Linux people eat... It's what lazy people eat. At least nobody is troubling me today!

Alas we have reached the end of our journey! On the other hand, your journey has just begun. A journey to trouble-free computing! I actually timed myself during this install. Of course, this is not the first time for me, but I did do it leisurely plus I took some of the screenshots you see here. From booting with the CD to rebooting took me a few seconds shy of 55 minutes! Not bad for the so-called complicated, only-for-geeks OS. And on top of that, everything worked fine - from playing mp3 files to websites loaded with flash. Even this post, including all the image editing was done on Linux Mint! But I'll leave that for another post. In the mean time if you need any help, go over to the Linux Mint forum and the friendly people there will surely be happy to help.

You go ahead and give that Restart Now button a good whack and enjoy!

[EDIT] My follow-up post on Linux Mint

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Vultures Swoop in on Zambia

Anyone who has eyes sees all the injustice that goes on in the world today. But in my case it has always been something affecting other people - a country far off, a place I've never been to, whose effects only trickle down towards me. That is until now. Recently, my elder brother showed me an article which struck pretty close to home.

The whole story is about how a certain company called Donegal International bought an outstanding debt owed by Zambia and then sued Zambia for an exorbitant amount. The fiendish companies that exploit poor countries in this manner have become what are known as the 'Vulture Funds'. I further researched the story and found some very interesting facts. An investigative reporter with the BBC, a Mr. Greg Palast, followed the story to its roots and made a very informative report on the Donegal vs Zambia case. The transcript of this report, the audio and video streams are available online on an independent news site - I strongly recommend you watch the report's video stream, but you will need at least a 256kb/s connection to do so. My post is based on this report and some other sources (links provided) with the aim of putting this story into a reader-friendly form as opposed to the report's transcript. I have also made a diagram/flowchart so that the connections are vividly portrayed. I will use this as reference in trying to get the information across.

1. The story begins back in 1979 when Romania loaned $15 million to Zambia. This money was meant to be used for the purchase of tractors for farming. However, Zambia did not pay back its debt. And as time went on the interest kept piling up.

2. By 1998, Zambia's economy was in a dire state with no viable means of repaying the entire debt plus interest. Zambia and Romania engaged in talks over this debt and Romania agreed to write it off for a sum of $3 million. I cannot help but think that this agreement was linked to the Jubilee 2000 campaign. Little did most Zambians know that something sinister was about take place.

3. A company called Donegal International, based in the British Virgin Islands, stepped into the picture. From my own searches on the Internet I have found Donegal to be quite an obscure company with almost no web presence (except for this story). Donegal International is owned by another company called Debt Advisory International that owns many other companies like Donegal. At the head of Debt Advisory International is a man called Michael Francis Sheehan, a man who has dubbed himself 'Goldfinger' and whose pastime is Cadillacs with fancy rims. Enough of the hierarchy stuff.

Just before Zambia and Romania finalised the writing off of the debt with a $3 million payment, Donegal swoops in and buys this debt from Romania for $3.28 million. This, as you may have guessed made more monetary sense to Romania. I am not familiar with the legal details involved in purchasing debt and I am not well-read enough to comment on that aspect. This resulted in a scenario where Donegal had the right to collect on Zambia's debt and they wasted no time in wringing the neck of a nation in distress. They sued Zambia for the original loan with interest added over the years, a sum amounting to at least $42 million.

4. Mr. Greg Palast went further to name an unprecedented culprit in the big picture. He uncovered some emails between Sheehan and none other than the former President of Zambia, Frederick Chiluba. Dr. Chiluba, it must be mentioned, is facing charges of corruption during his 10 year tenure of office. The emails describe a deal between the two profiteers in which Sheehan 'donates' $2 million to Chiluba's 'favorite charity' and in return Chiluba ensures that Donegal collects on the ensuing law suit. How exactly Chiluba is supposed to ensure this is not mentioned in Mr. Palast's report. The Guardian, in this article states that Zambia agreed to Donegal's purchase of the debt and later agreed to pay $15 million for it. I cannot even begin to comprehend why Zambia agreed to pay $15 million instead of outbidding Donegal when they offered to buy the debt for only $280,000 more than what Zambia was offering? The stench of foul play is undeniable and despicable.

Coming to Chiluba's 'favorite charity'. Mr. Palast was forced to hunt down Sheehan as it was the only way he could get to interview him. And he did so on one of Sheehan's morning walks, reeling in a reluctant and impromptu interview. When questioned about the dubious donation, Sheehan retorted that the money went to help the people of Zambia building thousands of houses. Now, the only such endeavor I can think of in those days was the Lusaka Housing Project. This indeed did build many houses for Zambians, but Zambians bought these houses! It was not charity! There was probably international aid going into the project but I am not sure. Such a scenario, with the copious flow of large sums of money, I feel, is a perfect place for $2 million to end up in somebody's pocket!

5. This is where the plot thickens. One shrewd aspect of the U.S. political system is the strong influence lobby groups have in government decision making. Have a strong lobbyist pushing your agenda in government and you have the capability of even rewriting the laws of the U.S., as long as you have the financial backing to boot, of course. You may ask how is it that lobbyists gain so much influence in government. It is pretty simple. The people behind these lobby groups are the biggest sponsors of American presidential election campaigns. So whoever is elected usually ends up fulfilling the wishes of his sponsors. After all the sponsors are in it for their own gain. This is legal and something the Americans have come to accept as normal (for the most part anyway).

Sheehan's company, Debt Advisory International, has been known to hire lobbyists, and one in particular, a firm owned by a Jack Abramoff. Abramoff is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for bribing a couple of politicians! I think the connection is pretty clear that Sheehan and others with the money and a political agenda are able to redirect government decisions, even at the highest levels, to their advantage. This will become clearer at the end of this trail.

6. This year, President Bush, during his 'State of the Union' speech seemingly sincerely pledged his support for the alleviation of the debt crisis faced by third world countries like Zambia. He convinced congress to grant a whooping $280 million in debt relief to Zambia. This money logically comes out of the coffers of the American taxpayer, a people already plagued by the woeful management of the American economy by the Bush administration. Nevertheless, many American people are willing to bear the burden of debt relief and they deserve all the respect and gratitude in the world. This truly is a noble deed.

7. From the $280 million in debt relief Zambia received, she stood to save in the region of $40 million in interest. This money was specifically earmarked to be used in the fight against HIV/AIDS and also in providing an education for 300,000 children. We are talking about the future of no less than a few hundred thousand people that can be transformed for the better. I feel mere numbers do not relay the magnitude of the change this money can make. So I ask you to take a moment to stop and think about it. Take that number - 300,000 and transform it to something you can relate to personally. For me it would be the number of people in Cluj-Napoca (the city I live in), that is the number of children that will have a chance for a better future. That is immense.

8. Many of us already know the outcome of the trial. Zambia lost the case on the 15th of February, 2007 since Zambia had a valid and legal contract with Donegal International. However, the court judge did mention that Donegal's case did have quite a few discrepancies. The Guardian speculates that the judge will order Zambia to pay an amount less than the sought for $42 million. The final decision will be announced next month.

9. Zambia's assets in the U.K. have been frozen at the moment meaning that Zambia cannot use its money located in U.K. accounts. However, the judge proposed to end this freeze. Hopefully, this will fall through and the money will reach projects (again hopefully) where it can help the Zambian people. But Donegal and Sheehan have another trick up their sleeves - the U.S.A. Using the court ruling from the U.K., Donegal can then go to the U.S. and seize the $40 million savings Zambia has made from debt cancellation by the U.S. And with the strong influence they enjoy there, this would be a more viable option to claim their prize before any Zambian reaped the benefits of that money. Sinister indeed, don't you think? But it doesn't get any better.

10. Among all the other presidential powers George Bush bestows on himself and his minions, he has something that is called the power of comity. I have tried to look up what exactly it means but have found nothing apart from its use in this story. According to Mr. Palast, this gives Bush the absolute power to stop any of the Vulture Fund companies from seizing debt relief money. Bush hasn't shown the same zeal in exercising this power as he has for powers given to him in the Patriot Act for example. The Vultures have already taken millions upon millions of dollars that was meant to finance various projects in poor countries under the nose the only man with the power to stop this atrocity, the same man who last month pledged to help indebted countries. But somehow this is not surprising. Why would he stop the very people who sponsored his election campaign from collecting their prize money? His loyalty has been evident for what now seems like an eternity.


In spite of all this, for a country in Zambia's shoes, the last thing we should give up is hope. So the question I ask now is, what are the leaders of Zambia going to do? Are they going to send a delegation to the U.S. to convince Bush to exercise his power of comity and prevent Sheehan and his goons from snatching money that is so desperately needed in Zambia? Why should the children of Zambia pay with their future for the selfish acts of a former president? Why should they be chained by a contract that is legal but immoral whichever way you look at it? What is the global community going to do? Zambia is not the first country in this predicament and certainly not the last. There have been about 40 countries that have fallen victim to these vultures so far. Are we going to sigh, take a breath, move on and watch it happen again and again? Or are we going to say, "This is wrong and it should end here." These thieves use corrupt leaders and laws that they have had a hand in writing to snatch away the dreams of children, all to add a few millions to their billions. Does it get it get any lower than that? The corrupt leaders must be weeded out and these laws changed. That is the goal, but the road is long.

Now, what can I do? Today, I will raise awareness among my friends and family, my colleagues and acquaintances of the injustice that I see. And hopefully one day when enough people know, the wheels of change will begin to turn. Will you join me?