Ice Bear SoftLinux installation, Czech keyboard setup

Contents

1. Goal
2. Choice of Linux distribution
3. Installing Debian GNU/Linux
4. Installing Fedora Core
5. Final decision
6. Czech keyboard

1. Goal

I have been working with computers since 1977. At that time all computers used to speak English only. Although Czech textbooks were available, I learned programming partially from English books. English terminology thus sounds natural to me.

I prefer to see English menus and dialogues on the computer. Most documentation is available from Internet in English and it is sometimes difficult to guess which word is used in the Czech menu for a particular function. Yet I must write documents in Czech, therefore I need the Czech keyboard and Czech fonts. Occasionally I work with text in languages as French, Spanish etc. which I do not understand at all. I cannot switch entirelly to the French or Spanish locale because I would be lost. That's why I need support for non-English languages in an English system.

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2. Choice of Linux distribution

I am not a Linux expert, therefore I need some kind of distribution which will do some work for me. On the other hand, I do not like systems which perform actions too automatically without my control and I prefer text configuration files to complex dialogues.

Some time ago Redhat became to be too automatic and I was not able to switch these mechanisms off. I have therefore changed to Debian GNU/Linux. I am now quite familiar with this distribution so it was my first selection.

Fedora Core seems to have better multilingual support. Therefore I decided to give it a try.

I will not use other operating systems. I have thus decided to use /dev/hda1 for Debian, /dev/hda2 for Fedora, /dev/hda3 for swap and /dev/hda4 for /home shared by both distributions.

Following sections will explain how I installed these distributions. I will not deal with details which can be found in their documentation. Installation and configuration of drivers can be found in the Hardware setup page.

There is one important note. If you wish to share directories and files betwen users, you must assign them the same user ID and group ID.

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3. Installing Debian GNU/Linux

I decided to start with Debian GNU/Linux because it needs just a single CD and can be installed directly from the Internet. During installation I partitioned the disk as mentioned above and decided to mount /dev/hda2 as /fedora. It seemed that Debian destroys the file system of Fedora, therefore I finally removed manually /dev/hda2 from /etc/fstab. I installed Grub to the master boot record.

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4. Installing Fedora Core

I decided to install the latest version which is at the time of writing this document Fedora Core 3. I entered manual partitioning with Disk Druid, mounted /dev/hda1 as /debian, /dev/hda2 as /, /dev/hda4 as /home. Remember that only /dev/hda2 can be formatted. I did not install Grub. After installation I booted Debian and manually modified /boot/grub/menu.lst in order to add Fedora.

Unfortunatelly, Fedora Core 3 seems to be very unstable. I installed both distributions in the office and when I brought my notebook home, Fedora did not boot at all. During boot it displayed:

Setting hostname to zw-notebook

and then it died. Ctrl-Alt-Del did not work, I had to switch the notebook off and on again. It was still possible to boot Debian and access all partitions on the HD. I removed /fedora from /etc/fstab in Debian, reinstalled it from CD's but after a few reboots it ceased to work again. I have thus tried to install Fedora Core 2 because Jan Kasprzak uses it successfully on a very similar notebook.

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5. Final decision

Fedora Core 2 proved to be stable. Since I originally allocated too small partition and compilation of a new kernel crashed due to full disk, I decided to repartition the disk and use Fedora Core 2 only. More information about setting it is available from the hardware setup page.

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6. Czech keyboard

It is necessary not only to switch the keyboard but we must also have the correct font and correct locale. Gnome allows changing the keyboard from dialogues and it can even be switched by hot keys and the status can be displayed on the panel. It is not wise to select both Alt keys for keyboard switching because the right Alt is remapped by the Czech keyboard and it is difficult to return to the US keyboard. I mapped switching the keyboards to the left Win-key and it works fine.

As mentioned above, switching the keyboard is not sufficient, the locales must be changed too, otherwise the Czech characters are not displayed. This problem is best solved by using UTF-8. Although there is step by step howto for changing Debian into UTF-8, I decided to try it in Fedora only because UTF-8 is used there as default.

The experiment reveals that switching keyboards works well and moreover the Czech characters are displayed correctly. I could even copy a portion of HTML text in ISO-8859-2 opened in Mozilla to clipboard and paste it into vim. The text was automagically converted into UTF-8. There are still applications which may not handle UTF-8. This can be handled via luit. I had problems with Czech keyboard in OpenOffice.org 1.1.1, but it works fine in OpenOffice.org 1.1.3.

Czech and Slovak documents can be processed by TEX using the latest version of encTEX by Petr Olšák. It is also available from TEXLive 2004 which can be downloaded from the TUG web pages and will soon be distributed on DVDs. Of course, encTEX can be used with any other language and can even do other nice things as e.g. inserting tildes after one-letter prepositions. You can read about encTEX (in Czech) in CSTUG TeX Bulletin #2/2003 and an older article in CSTUG TeX Bulletin #3/1997. English documentation can be found at trific.ath.cx/tex-mf/enctex/.

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