Setting up a Linux-Based Home Server – Part 1

This is the first in a multi-part series on how to build a Linux-based home server. Stay tuned for more posts!

Have you ever wondered if there is a way to share all the content that you have on your phones, tablets, desktops, and laptops in your home? After all, these are all just computers of a different kind, right? The answer is yes, there is a way. And that way is by way of a home server. You may be asking then, “So what exactly is a server? “A server is any device whose main purpose is to provide some other devices (cell phones, tablets, or other computers) with some sort of service. A service can be something like internet service, streaming movies and music, or sharing files. You may already have a server in your house and didn’t know it in the form of a wireless router, which provides wireless internet access in your home. Typically, servers are always on so they are accessible at any time. A home server is a server that is used in a residence that provides services to those that live there. Having a home server is a convenient way to provide access these things on a variety of devices you may already own such as smartphones, tablets, laptop PC’s, media devices like iPods, or even some kinds of TV’s. Sound interesting? Well buckle up! In this series I hope to provide a non-technical user’s guide to getting a home server up and running for little or no cost.

To make a home server, all you need is an old computer such as an old desktop or laptop you don’t mind dedicating to providing services on your home network. Most likely, you have one of these laying around somewhere. If not, you can easily acquire one from ebay for minimal cost. For about $60 you can get a machine that is more than capable of being a home server. As a side note though for desktops, you will need a monitor, mouse, and keyboard to setup the computer, but they are not required to run the computer. You may just want to borrow these items to run  the setup from another computer or a friend. Once the computer is setup, you can remove the keyboard, mouse and monitor and run the computer “headless”, meaning it doesn’t have monitor.  The only thing that is required is some sort of network connection, either wireless or wired and power cable to power the computer.

For our purposes, we’ll need a computer with at least a 1 Ghz CPU, at least 1 GB of RAM. amd at least 10GB of storage. If you’re going to use it for media, having a large internal or external drive is convenient. If you’re wanting to do movies, having at least 1 TB is recommended. External hard drives will usually connect through USB, so you don’t have to worry about installing it inside the computer if you’re not familiar with how to install internal hard drives. Pretty much any PC built in the last 7 years would meet this specifications.

Now that you have the hardware, all you need is software. Linux is ideal for a number of reasons.

  • Linux is free! You pay nothing for the software. All you have to do is download it.
  • Linux runs on virtually anything. Linux can run on a broad range of hardware — even old hardware.
  • Linux is easy to install and use. One of the biggest misconceptions with Linux is that it is hard to use. This is false, as in recent years some versions of Linux has really upped the ante easy of use through its intuitive desktop interfaces and its package managers.
  • Linux is versatile. You can adapt it to all sorts of uses. And there’s no restrictions imposed on different versions of the operating system.
  • Linux is modern and up-to-date. Older versions of proprietary operating systems don’t get updated with new features and security updates. And newer operating systems won’t run on older hardware. Linux allows you to run a modern, up-to-date operating system, even on old hardware.

For this we’re going to use Linux Mint: an desktop-oriented version of Linux aimed at elegance and ease of use.

You’ll want to download Linux Mint first from the Linux Mint website. Select 32-bit or 64-bit for your computer. If you’re not sure, select 32-bit. This will bring you a page with a list of sites hosting the download. Download it from the site closest to you for best results.

It will come as a large “iso” file. An iso is an exact copy of data from a CD or DVD stored in a file. This allows CD’s and DVD’s to be transferred over the internet or on flash drives so they can be “burned” to a disk later. To install Linux Mint, you’ll need to burn a DVD from the iso you downloaded from Linux Mint. Here’s instructions on how to do this with Windows and Mac. If you don’t have a DVD burner or don’t want to use a DVD, you can create an installer on USB drive with this app. Many older computers don’t support booting from USB, but most everything built in the last 7 or 8 years will support it.

Once you have the DVD burned or have created the USB installer, insert it into the computer and boot to the DVD or USB Drive. Sometimes a computer will do this automatically if it detects the installer disc or drive. If not, try looking for an option that says something like “Press F9 for boot options” on the screen that appears after your turn on the computer. After hitting that key, it should allow to select the DVD drive or USB Drive and you can boot from that.

The hardest part is over. Once it boots, Linux Mint will bring up a screen seen below. Linux Mint is designed to allow you to experiment with the system before your actually install it. This is called a “Live DVD” because it is not just an installer. In fact, it has all the apps that come installed with Linux Mint installed on the DVD or USB. You can use any of them as if they were already installed on the computer. The difference, though, is that with a “Live DVD”, once you turn the computer off, all settings are erased. So for a more permanent solution, you should install Linux Mint.

Before your install Linux Mint, you’ll want to make sure you’re connected to the Internet. Linux Mint provides a utility for connecting to a network if it was not automatically connected during the boot up process. The should be an icon in the lower right side of the screen for network connections. If you have a wireless network, it will appear down there, and you connect to your wireless network using the utility.

Installing Linux Mint is a cinch. Simply Click the “Install Linux Mint” icon and go through the Installation Wizard.

  1. Select a Language, then click continue.
  2. Prepare to install Linux Mint. Just click continue.
  3. Select the installation type. The default it to just wipe everything on the computer out and install it. This is the easiest, most hassle free option and probably sufficient for most users.
  4. You will see a screen asking, “Write changes to disks?” Select Continue.
  5. Select your Time Zone. The installer will attempt to automatically locate you, but correct it by clicking on the map if it is wrong.
  6. Select your keyboard layout. It will default to US English.

  7. Enter your name. and give your home server a name. Also, select a user name that you will use to login with. This user will be a “Super User” on the system that will be allowed to install new software and change settings on the computer.
  8. Wait for the installer to finish.
  9. When finished reboot the computer.
  10. When the computer boots back up, you should see with the username you entered in the installation. Click that user.
  11. Log in with the user password your entered during installation.
  12. Welcome to Linux Mint!

If everything went off without a problem, then you’re well on your way to creating a home server using Linux Mint.

On to Part 2

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