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Linux Display Settings

After you install Linux you usually find your display ina low resolution mode. If you were installing Windows,you would then install the driver for your video card anduse the Display utility in Control Panel to change to ahigher resolution. Unfortunately, with Linux things arenot so easy.

Linux uses a free version of the X Window System calledXfree86 to control your display. Xfree86 supports VGA,Super VGA, and some accelerated video adapters. If youhave a new video card, or new motherboard with on-boardvideo, you may want to download the latest version ofXfree86 from

The configuration for Xfree86 is in a file namedXF86Config located in /usr/X11R6/lib/X11. This file iscreated and edited by a program called Xconfigurator.

In Windows, the monitor is viewed as a "dumb box" drivenby a video card which is controlled by a video driverprogram. Xconfigurator seems to think that video cardsdon't exist and it requires you enter all kinds of obtuseinformation about your monitor such as horizontal syncrange, vertical sync range, the amount of video memory,and which clock chip you have.

If you have a no-name monitor like I do, you may notknow all of these parameters. You may get stuck in thedisplay configuration step of Linux installation. This isone reason why I say "Linux is not ready for prime time".

This is how it should work: Linux detects your video cardand configures itself.

On rare occasion, Xconfigurator does detect your "monitor",or you can select your monitor in Xconfigurator's list.In most cases you can get through the installation byselecting "Generic VGA, 640 x 480 @ 60 Hz". Then aftercompleting the installation, you can use Xconfigurator totry to set a higher resolution.

To open Xconfigurator, log in as root and click on the"Terminal emulation program" button on the task bar. Inthe terminal window that appears, type Xconfigurator.Xconfigurator will probe for your video card. If thatfails, you will be presented with a list of monitors. Ifyou can't find your monitor in the list, select one ofthe "Generic" options.

You will then have to select a "color depth" and "videomode". After making the required selections, Xconfiguratorwill display the message "Can you see this message?" Ifyou do not click on the "Yes" button within ten seconds,you will be sent back to Xconfigurator's starting screen.Then you can select different settings and try again.

If none of the Generic options work, select "Custom" andenter some horizontal sync and vertical sync numbers.Ultimately you should find a setting that works. You mayhave to make some adjustments to your monitor to resize,reposition, or remove pin cushion.

Sometimes changing your display setting is not as easy inLinux as it is in Windows, but the alternative is tocontinue to use Windows and beg for Bill Gates' permissionto upgrade your hardware (XP product activation)

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