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+---[ Issue 20
|                                            10th October 99 ]----+
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                            The Linux Bits: The Weekly Linux E-zine


------[ CONTENTS



Since last week, a lot has happened. Most of it good I'm pleased to say. I've been buried in my room studying various documentation for the most part - hardware, Linux, a lot of things that needed doing.

I've sent along some articles to Laurence for TLBM #1 which took a while as I was my usual verbose self. What can I say? I try to say things in as few words as possible, but somehow it never turns out that way. In any event, I've Laurence's "Big Red Pen" to cut some of the fat out for me, so I don't overly worry about it. :)

Laurence: And that red pen gets used quite a lot. :) Editing's a strange job - you're either good at it, or you wouldn't dream of doing it. For me, the sign of a good editor is to make a good article shine, without making it obvious that it's been "tampered with" - Oh and never use smileys, good editors never, ever use smileys. :( :| :) ;)

I've received a copy of a Linux distribution for review and will be covering that next week. I'll not say more than that now, since I've not had time to do more than install it, but that went fairly smoothly, with only one small stumbling block which was quickly put to rights.

I'll leave it to the more than capable hands of Laurence to fill in the remainder of this week's issue and I'll just be putting in my This Week with Athena section and the Wrap-Up.

For those that sent email that's not been answered yet, I've not forgotten you. Horribly busy would be an understatement. You'll see what I mean in This Week with Athena...



Now that each issue has been given a colourful border I thought it would add a little "strangeness" to each issue if I selected a colour each week that related to one of the stories. Naturally there will likely be some significance to that story.

And yes that is the correct spelling. It's annoying to us British that all programming languages and scripting languages (even Linux!), insists on colour being spelt without a "u". For the sake of internationalisation (and our sanity) I wish it could be spelt either way. Ho hum. I even read an article in a British Internet magazine where the author recommended that British people use American spelling throughout their website to rate them higher in search engine results (via spidering). What an @rse.

This week, with the return of Dusty and his review of the Peanut Linux distro I thought I'd dedicate this issue to the colour of a peanut! (Brazil Nuts since they're my fave!)

I'll be featuring this seemingly pointless section from now on. Apart from explaining the selection of the colour it'll also be my little section for "getting things of my chest" and generally sounding "cookie". A bit like Bill's Op-Ed section, only this'll make even less sense. ;)



Linux Expo: Alan Cox says 2.4 kernel by November

The UK had its first ever Linux Expo, and at that Expo Mr. Alan Cox (kernel guru) said "Linus and me are hoping to have 2.4 out by November or December." Good news for everyone. I only wish I could have made an appearance... ho hum. Now if I could just get some big bucks backing perhaps I could afford to. ;)

Linux Myths

When I first read about this, I thought to myself, "Lets see what nonsense Microsoft has come up with now." A quick read of the article though, and all I can say is "I'm impressed". Microsoft have clearly done their homework this time. If NT is better at such and such a thing, then I see nothing wrong with it being said. Every company has the right to defend itself.

Of course what they forgot to mention, is that the Linux community will have those missing or inferior features up to NT's level in half the time it took Microsoft to include them, and that the code will be far more stable because it's Open Source, far more secure because it's Open Source, and that all future upgrades will be (as good as) free. Perhaps the author forgot to copy & paste that bit into the article. ;)

Torvalds Sees Future Full Of Free Operating Systems

An interesting little article in which Linus (as always), speaks openly about Open Source, and those that are failing to meet its simple criteria.

Caldera Prepping for IPO Plunge?

Here's one I know you'll be interested in.

Talking of IPOs, here's another big company that's taking the plunge.



As of the 10th October '99:

Current development kernel: 2.3.20  (Released: 9th October '99)
Current stable kernel     : 2.2.12  (Released: 25th August '99)

I didn't even get a chance to mention the release of 2.3.19. Just shows how hard people are working to get the 2.4 kernel out!
The place to go for the latest stable and development kernel!



At the Internet World trade show on the 6th October, Linus had this to say:

"There is a history of misusing 'open' as a marketing term. To me 'open' means more than just being able to look at stuff. A window is not open just because you can see through it. Definition of open is that you can enter it and start playing with it and make your own decisions, and you don't have to ask permission to start doing stuff."

- Source -



A nice site I found this week. Geek News features all the latest Linux and technology news in an easy to navigate manner. Definitely worth a look.

Super-Sized Penguins

This has probably been out on the Net since time begun, but because I'm always so busy I only noticed it this week. has a redrawn, super-sized Tux graphic available in many formats for download. Ideal for printing on paper or even a T-shirt.



Debian, Red Hat, SuSE, Slackware etc - these make up the "well known" Linux distributions that you've probably heard of before. Though these distributions are maintained by large groups of developers, there still exists a place for the classic homebrew Linux distro.

Peanut Linux Premium (mentioned back in TLB #15) is one of these homebrew concoctions, and I recently had the chance to try it out. Most of you know a distribution cobbles together all the pieces to have a useable Linux system. Certainly, most of the distributions these days especially the latest ones such as Debian 2.1, Red Hat 6.x and SuSE 6.x are packed to the rim with hundreds and hundreds of megabytes of software. So the question arises, do you really need to have KDE, GNOME, WindowMaker, Enlightenment, AfterStep, etc, etc all installed?

Rather than selecting a mountain of individual packages or a "pre made" configurations littered with programs you'll never use (Red Hat 6.0 "Workstation" install springs to mind), distributions like Peanut come configured with the basic Linux base (essential filesystem structure, utilities etc) and a few neatly customised packages. Peanut in particular is akin to the "Linux for Windows users". It comes with KDE 1.1, LICQ, Midnight Commander and a whole host of other easy to use Linux programs all in one small 40 meg bzip2 archive.

While the homebrew Peanut distribution may imply "user friendliness", it still requires manual tweaking and customising which a new Linux user may not be accustomed to. For example, in the version I tested, there was no rpm or dkpg which meant software installation would be through the more arduous "gunzip, tar and make" methods. It is also important to note there is no C compiler eg. GCC included by default - all those "development" packages must be separately downloaded from another Peanut FTP directory.

Basically, I feel Peanut Linux would be better for the more experienced user. Certainly, the install process is less friendly than Red Hat, Debian etc, even though the documentation is extensive and easy to read. It also assumes installation from DOS and startup from DOS. You must startup DOS and run the "Linux.bat" batchfile included to start Peanut. Thus there is no LILO/bootloader configuration included so you can't boot straight into Linux.

Summing up, I'm not too sure about Peanut Linux Premium. While it requires relatively high Linux knowledge to install and tweak, it also relies on such packages as KDE which an experienced Linux user probably wouldn't use. I got the feeling while using it that I was using "someone else's" desktop, all hacked and tweaked to their liking. My personal preference (which of course may not be yours) is to have generic settings which I customise to my own liking. But by all means, if you have time, you could try Peanut simply as a slim alternative to your current Linux setup. I personally deleted it after a week and went back to Debian.



Athena is Bill's Linux box - his pride and joy. Each week he gives us an update on what's been happening with Athena... hopefully providing some tips for your own Linux box in the process. --Laurence

When last I wrote about Athena I had a CDROM drive that had been proven dead, a CD-RW drive on the way to replace it, and the 17Gb "monster" drive and Parallel port Zip drive on the way as well. The CD-RW, Zip drive, and 17Gb drive arrived only a day apart (Thursday and Friday) so I spent most of last weekend reading the various HOWTOs concerning disk partitioning, large hard drives, CDROMs, CD-writing, Zip-drives, you name it, I was reading it.

When I finally got "brave enough" and felt sufficiently at ease with the procedure (having referred to my How to Upgrade PC's book) I shutdown Athena and took off the case.

First, I removed the dead CDROM and installed the CD-RW drive. Left the case off as I was no where near done yet, and rebooted Athena to see what would happen. To my delight the CD-RW drive was recognized immediately and so I proceeded to test it by reading a CDROM - worked perfectly! You can't begin to know what a huge relief that was.

A "hardware guy" I'm not - or at least I didn't used to be - so I was pleased with my progress so far. Yeah, Dusty (contributor in this issue and issue 17) thinks I'm some kind of "hardware freak" but I suppose it's just that Linux kind of "forces" you to learn far more about your hardware than Windows ever will because with Windows you're not only kept at "arms length" from most aspects of the hardware (generally speaking), but Microsoft has the distinct advantage of being able to simply announce a "new standard" and the hardware vendors fall all over themselves to meet it. I prefer to work with Linux and the "real" standards that are standards because a majority of the rest of the world thinks so - not just Microsoft.

Ok. Shutdown Athena again, and got ready for the real challenge. Installing the 17Gb IDE drive as a slave to the 1.0Gb drive already installed and working. I looked at the diagram for the jumper settings on the new drive, pulled the jumper off to make it a slave (hopefully), attached the IDE and power cables and - holding my breath - booted Athena for the second time with a new piece of hardware that day.

It worked! The drive was recognized immediately after I had gone into BIOS, to tell it the 2nd drive was there. Just left the BIOS on "auto-configure", and it worked just fine. It's not able to boot from CDROM, but it has no problem recognizing a large IDE drive. And I much prefer that than being able to boot from CDROM any day of the week.

There was one small hardware issue that arose out of all this though. My SMC Ultra Ethernet card is no longer recognized on boot-up. Since I'm not connected to a network at present that's an issue that has been put onto the "back burner" for a while, since it'll likely be nothing more than an IRQ problem than can be resolved when I get time to look into it.

Once I had the drive working I closed up the case and started on the real challenge. Figuring out how to best utilize all that space now made available to me.

Finally, after reading numerous HOWTOs, and going back into Michael Kofler's book (Linux: Installation, Configuration, and Use) I decided to follow along - more or less - as M.K. had done in the configuration chapter, and setup a huge "common data and program" partition which I then mounted into the file system as /localpart, then copied the /home, /usr/local, and /opt directories over to the new partition. Then I created symbolic links to the directories on the new partition, so that now the /home, /usr/local, and /opt directories pointed to the new partition instead of the old drive. Everything worked out well, and I may be looking about for more things to link over that way... smile.

Here's what I ended up with:

/hda1          1.0Gb  Red Hat 6 installed here
/hda5       32Mb   Swap

/hdb1       1.2Gb  Linux Native
/hdb2       128Mb  Swap
/hdb5       128Mb  Swap
/hdb6       1.2Gb  Linux native
/hdb7       1.2Gb  Linux native
/hdb8       1.2Gb  Linux native
/hdb9       1.2Gb  Linux native
/hdb10      10Gb   Linux native         /localpart

What this structure gives me is:

  • The original 1.0 Gb Red Hat partition with all the stuff I've already done on it to date.

  • 2 128mb swap partitions so that if I do decide to get more memory down the road - or even if I don't - they are already there and while the old system wouldn't have been able to stand that kind of commitment in space this is a new drive and I'm "space rich" at least for the moment while still being "RAM poor" and no foreseeable change to that anytime soon.

  • An additional 5 1.2GB Linux partitions that I can install additional distros on to evaluate and determine how much I like them, hate them, whatever. With the 1.2GB size that should be more than sufficient to install just about anything that would come on a distro that would be of interest and allow me a "true test" of them.

  • Finally there's the 10GB (a bit more than that actually) "common data and programs" partition that gets mounted into the /localpart directory at boot-up. By using the new partition and setting some symbolic links that has allowed me to access the same programs (or will at any rate) from different Linux distros and still maintain my favourite programs.

I spent quite a bit of time getting the setup straight in my head, and used fdisk to setup the partitions... decided I hated the arrangement and started over... until finally I hit on the scheme above which seems to be a "reasonable" use of the space, allowing me to do what I want to be able to do--test many Linux distros with a minimum of "fuss".

I went to the local computer store (I speak about this in the Backup article in TLBM #1), and picked up a 10-pack each of CDR and CD-RW disks, and a new 100Mb Zip disk, so I plan to spend a large portion of this weekend getting the Zip drive configured and tested and then starting to work on the CD-RW and using it for backup as it was intended for from the beginning.

I'm going to have to find a source for floppies though. Believe it or not this computer dealer didn't even carry them at all! I asked about floppies and he thought I meant "drives", so quoted me a price of $15 and I said "huh?" Once I made it clear what I wanted he said, "Nope, don't carry them." No big deal really as I want to use them primarily for making boot disks with anyway. I'm sure that somebody in Seattle sells them still, even if they are pretty much only good for making boot disks nowadays.



Two simple words: very little. This week I've been plagued with toothache. 4-5 years ago I had a rather nasty incident with a dentist that left me with a bit of a phobia. The dentist told me that this was going to hurt, and gave me 8 injections in the gums. He said to me, "Did that hurt?", and I said, "No." He said "That's strange? Your lucky, that's the worst part over with." He then picked up another dental instrument and touched a tooth. Let's just say Pinhead from Hellraiser would have winced. I shot up about 6 feet in the air and sent the nurse's tray of instruments she was holding, into orbit. This is why this time round, I delayed the inevitable for 5 days until the pain just got too much to bear. Anyone who's ever had toothache before knows that work of any kind - especially work that you do purely for fun - is the last thing on your mind.

The dentist told me that it'd be best if the tooth (one of my back teeth) was extracted. I asked if it would be painful. She told me it wouldn't be painful but it would be a strange sensation. And a strange sensation it was. Imagine hearing bone snapping, yet there's little pain. Apart from a sharp sensation at the very end and blood pouring from my mouth it was all pretty easy going and over in minutes. I still have the phobia, but at least the pain's gone and I can get back to working on the site...




UNIX Airways

Everyone brings one piece of the plane along when they come to the airport. They all go out on the runway and put the plane together piece by piece, arguing non-stop about what kind of plane they are supposed to be building.


Everybody pushes the airplane until it glides, then they jump on and let the plane coast until it hits the ground again. Then they push again, jump on again, and so on ...

Mac Airlines

All the stewards, captains, baggage handlers, and ticket agents look and act exactly the same. Every time you ask questions about details, you are gently but firmly told that you don't need to know, don't want to know, and everything will be done for you without your ever having to know, so just shut up.

Windows Air

The terminal is pretty and colourful, with friendly stewards, easy baggage check and boarding, and a smooth take-off. After about 10 minutes in the air, the plane explodes with no warning whatsoever.

Windows NT Air

Just like Windows Air, but costs more, uses much bigger planes, and takes out all the other aircraft within a 40-mile radius when it explodes.

Linux Air

Disgruntled employees of all the other OS airlines decide to start their own airline. They build the planes, ticket counters, and pave the runways themselves. They charge a small fee to cover the cost of printing the ticket, but you can also download and print the ticket yourself. When you board the plane, you are given a seat, four bolts, a wrench and a copy of the seat-HOWTO.html. Once settled, the fully adjustable seat is very comfortable, the plan leaves and arrives on time without a single problem, the in-flight meal is wonderful. You try to tell customers of the other airlines about the great trip, but all they can say is, "You had to do what with the seat?"


----[ WRAP-UP

Well, that's it for another week. I'll definitely be writing more about how the CD-RW and Zip drive configuration went. I'll also be including a review of the Linux distro I received (Xpresso LINUX 2000).

I've not much of a clue what's been going on in the rest of the world, except that Red Hat 6.1 is coming soon. I know about that because of an email I received from Cheapbytes, and also because Laurence mentioned it in issue 19. (The new press release can be found here.)

Oh, just one other thing before I go. I have been accustomed to including mention of Athena's uptime in previous issues. After thinking about it though, I realized that it's not a matter of how long Athena has been up--but when it was shutdown last. During all this installation of hardware and so forth I've shutdown plenty of times - naturally - but not ONE of them has been of the forced variety. None.

I saw a message on my last reboot that pleased me no end. Something about the system being forced to check the file system because of having reached the maximum number of reboots allowed between checks... smile.



This week's The Linux Bits has been brought to you by:

  • Bill Turner- Chief Writer
  • Laurence Hunter- Assistant Writer, Editor & Layout
  • Dustin "Dusty" Yee- Contributor
  • Jim Pesola- Contributor

Remember, anyone can contribute and all articles will be included!


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