The Operating System (Step 3)
It's generally pretty difficult to run a fully-functioning, reliable web server with Windows 95, the OS that came with my computer. You can serve web pages using Personal Web Server, but I was wanting something a little more robust and appropriate. When running a server, you have several choices. Windows 2000 and MacOSX are the big commercial options out there right now. Win2K is a bit steep for my budget, and my hardware isn't exactly compatible with MacOS. My alternative: Linux. For one, it's free (I like that price). Also, there are a lot of options available with Linux.
The first step with Linux is choosing a distribution. There are quite a few of them (you can read through a big list at www.linux.org), but two of the most common are Red Hat and Debian GNU/Linux. Red Hat is what's known as a commercial distribution; it's still free, but for good support and installation CDs, you need to pay. I went with Debian because it's super-free, installation is easy, and there's a lot of good free documentation/support (plus I know lots of people who use it who can help me).
Installation of Debian is pretty straightforward. It's not as user-friendly as some things, so you need a bit of bravery, and make sure that nothing important is saved on your hard drive, because you'll be needing to do a lot of formatting. Installation from a CD is the easiest; however, I installed using a floppy disk and downloading from the Debian site. It took me a solid chunk of time and some perserverence, but I didn't find it particularly difficult. Debian's site is good about outlining the exact installation process, and I followed the documentation they linked to.
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