Through Thursday, October 15


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BOOK Reviews

This is the first of the pages of Linux advice I am getting from readers.

IF YOU GOT HERE DIRECTLY, please go to the Home Page, or What Is This Place?, or even What's New. If you are interested in the BYTE Fiasco (or if you don't know there was a fiasco), please go look there. Don't just send me mail without finding out a little about this place. I understand that many Linux enthusiasts have been directed to this section without passing through the home pages. We'll both be better off if you find out before you turn on your flame thrower.


Depend on it: the organization of these pages will change as I work on Linux. I'm starting now with some mail and advice, but later I will do a full report coherently organized. You're seeing a sort of specialized VIEW of Linux.

The LINUX experiences here are organized into several pages. First, there are these pages which contain advice from readers, and sometimes my comments. This is a mixed bag, but I tend to post mail that I wish I had had before I started. If you want to play with LINUX, you will do well to look these over. They of course point to many other places where there is a bewildering amount of advice, most of it friendly. Most. The first letter of Part Three is fortunately atypical.

See Adventures parts One. Two. Three. Four and read their contents.

Some of the material in the Adventure pages (1)  (2)  and (3) is in response to questions I asked in:

Linux Queries: questions I had (or may have).This is for you to help me out: I'd like advice from those who know. I'll translate all that and put it up here or in view.

There are also:

Linux links and references: reference information from readers. NOT INDEXED well. VERY USEFUL, including links to freeware like Mandrake and Star office.

The Second Computer Revolution, a spinoff essay.

My experiences in installation are contained in the LOG PAGE.

Moshe Bar details how to install Linux for the Family in his report.

There are many pages for historical reasons. The relationship among these is not exact, and I may one day consolidate them all into one page. For the moment this is what we have.


The answers begin...

Network cards

Talin on partitions

Midnight commander and other tips

Moshe Bar on installing Applixware and assigning TCP/IP

Eric Schwartz on rpm, files, pipes, and other useful stuff.

Not Red hat?

After days of funk

Is Linux merely a hobby?


Dr. Huth Mark summarizes who should and should not use Linux

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First, some mail advice:

How about Janus (being the two faced one, if I recall) for a dual O/S system?

I have that STB Velocity 128 video card. It is based upon the nVidia Riva 128 chipset and Eric is right in that it screams with games, but I have found that it is very touchy about drivers. I have a very early STB board with the first release video BIOS and it simply will not work with some recent driver revisions and/or some applications (Microsoft’s Flight Simulator is problematic with recent drivers.)

Normally I wouldn’t bother you about this, but if you’re going to play Quake or similar on that machine, you’re going to learn about Riva128 drivers at some point, anyway. I have found it useful when changing video drivers with the STB to do an intermediate step of setting the display adapter as a standard VGA in windows, and rebooting, before trying a new driver file set. It doesn’t take that long and seems to keep registry problems to a minimum.

You don’t even need the Windows CD.

STB maintains current Windows and NT drivers at their web site ( and nVidia also has the "reference" drivers for Riva 128 based cards on theirs ( I also strongly recommend you not install or disinstall the little utility called "vision 128" that comes with CD that comes with the card. IT is not compatible with Windows 98 and can (will) cause massive problems with the registry. Plus, you don’t need it.

I don’t know if there is a Linux driver for the nVidia Riva 128 chipset. If not, the STB will work perfectly well as a fast VGA card, but I’d not think that’s what you want.


Ron Morse []




FYI, all Intel Pentium (not P2) chipsets other than the old HX pro only cache the bottom 64MB of RAM. If you put in 128MB with one of their chipsets the first 64MB of RAM wouldn’t be covered by the cache, which really shows down the system. This is described at the Intel web site for their chipsets (which I don’t have handy right now).

Have a good day,

Matt Volk

Which may or may not be a problem when I get started.




Saw no mention of setting up a Linux swap partition.

Works-better/required according to linux lore ?


even with more_than_ample ram? particularly because of X-sindows implementiation-inefficiencies?


Dunno-- Just asking.


Roger G. Smith

I don't know either. I expect we'll both find out…



Dear Dr. Pournelle

Some more advise re Linux after reading your last updates on your intentions.

Why do you insist on installing all these OSs on the same 7GB disk? If you stick to the config you mentioned (I still don’t know which video board you are going to install. You are likely to have most of your problems with the graphics board) you will not need Win98 to look up the values.

And if you just want to access data on your network you will use Linux Samba to read all dta on the Chaos Manor network.

If the reason for Win98 is Office or games, you have - I think - enough other machines at home.

So, the only argument for Linux might to test the machine under known behavioral pattern (Windows) before you go install something you know less well.

Don’t worry. Linux is easier to install than Win and if doesn’t work it is much easier to find our why not. As I said, mostly the problems concern the graphics card (AGP is not yet well supported).

Ah, before I forget. If you have 64MB or more you need to tell your kernel so. The RedHat manual will help you with that.

Also, comp.os.linux.admin comp.os.linux.setup and comp.os.linux.x are excellent sources of help. I usually get help within one or two hurs at most.


Moshe Bar

PS Before I forget. Do put the Linux root partition (the / partition) at the beginning of the disk. If you have towards the end of even at the middle (after all it is a 7GB) disk, you will not be able to book directly from the disk and need to make a LILO boot disk. 8-)

baham []

Interesting. Thanks. I now have conflicting advice. I'll install the Windows largely so that I can be sure that everything works -- my problems with the PS/2 Mouse are an example. It's a hardware problem, but if I were dealing with a new operating system I couldn't be sure of that. When everything works in Windows 98 I'll know the various hardware settings, in case I need them. But I am sure glad to hear that this will be simple.

I already have 64 megs memory. I presume I'll learn what to do when I start installations.

This all sounds fun…


And more. 


Glad to see you still at it. I’ve missed your column since BYTE closed shop.

As I write this, I’m using a linux desktop.

Get the system configured right out of the box by re-formatting the hard drive completely, don’t bother with linux-on-FAT (called UMSDOS). Don’t forget to make a swap partition of at least 64Megs. Swap partitions are noticeably faster than swap files.

Then, install everything you need, which should include Netscape 4.05 or 4.06, NB install the joe editor, you’ll need it later.

Then, though RedHat 5.1 comes with a quite usable desktop, its missing a proper graphical file manager and several other things that you are quite used to, like double click associations.

One alternative is at


just d/l all the .rpm files there.

If you have the machine hooked up in your local net with internet


then you can type

ncftp <the above Url> and it will start a text ftp client that works fairly well and does anonymous ftp automagically, the command "get *.rpm" will do the trick.

To Install:

change to superuser (root)


# rpm -Uvh (path_where_you_downloaded_the_rpms)*.rpm


This will install a quite usable desktop environment that is surprisingly ‘95/NT like. for the yadda on it. (I didn’t write it, but I wish I had)

A couple more things need to happen:

You system has to know where to find the files, executables and shared

libraries for this desktop and windowmanager,

so you have to (manually)

1> edit the /etc/profile file to add /opt/kde/bin to the PATH

environment variable,

/etc/profile is analogous to autoexec.bat


2> you have to add /opt/kde/lib to your shared library directories in

What Microsoft calls a dll, Unix calls a shared library. They’ve been around in Unix for 15 years or so, and their handling of them is pretty elegant.

/etc/ is sort of like saying that you can autoload dll’s from directory a,b,c,d and the current directory too.. Library autoload paths are exclusive of the PATH environment variable, and set ONLY in this file.

after changing this file you must (as root) run "ldconfig -v" so it can build a cache of shared libraries to speed application launch.

One great thing with Linux is that you can have multiple versions of any arbitrary dll’s with a groovy little environment variable.

For instance, I have an old Quake binary that is not compatible with


main C library on my system, so I do the following

export LD_PRELOAD=/oldlibc/


and it works just fine, no complaints from anything—and certainly

no crashes.

3> Then you edit your .Xclients file in your login directory

and replace everything there with simply "startkde" .Xclients is analogous to the startup folder in Mac or Win95. in this case it tells X which clients (and window manager) to start. its specific to each user, so you can try out several different window envirionments by creating different users and customizing the .Xclients file.


Edit using the joe editor, its keystrokes are Wordstar... you still remember wordstar... you used to brag on it.

I’ll enclose my copies, so you can see where stuff belongs.

When you are done, log in as yourself

and type in startx, and Voila, you should get a proper desktop.


Jay Thorne KE Software

I remember WordStar but I didn't like the file storage format. If I have to go back to one of those editors, XYWRITE would do it. But in fact I like all the amenities of WORD including auto correction of my sloppy typing.


E Gray []

All right, here’s the lowdown on what I’ve managed to make out from your various Linux conversations.

Ok, so someone told you Linux has a perfectly good boot loader, which in a way it does(maybe several depending on how you look at things), but LiLo ain’t all that great a boot loader. It’s just a bit, well difficult to understand. Most people I’ve talked with think System Commander is better from a comprehension POV. Besides, it’s sometimes best to stick with what you know..

I don’t know how many people have been tellling you that Linux is easier to install than Windows, but they’re wrong(IME, if nothing else any version of Windowss is *far* easier to install).. It’s certainly more easily customizable, but that doesn’t make it easier period.

The swap partiton is nothing more than a way to keep a swap file in a different place..whether or not it’s better depends on to whom you’re listening.

I don’t know which X-window manger you’re planning to use, but Xfree86 *does* support the Riva128’s(that’s the video card you’ve got right? It might be a good idea for you to post the specs of the hardware you’ve got on the Linux page so everyone can know what you’re working with), as this page here shows:


Don’t know about the others such as KDE, or Accelerated-X, but you can worry about those later.

You’ve actually made a good start by installing Windows first, as Linux handles different OSes *better* than Windows. There are other OSes to consider though, such as the BeOS(they’ve got demo CD’s that only cost 3.95, see the details here:


And Sun is providing Solarisx86 for the low price of 20$ or so. See the details here:


Erich Schwarz []

Dr. Pournelle,

You wrote:

> There has to be an alternative to Microsoft. Their arrogant

> paranoia is no longer just funny, it costs time and lots of it.

Heh. Welcome to my world.

I was going to warn you: W98 has been "improved" in a way that makes it very difficult to do dual-boot (either W98/Linux or W98/BeOS). It seems that MS has decided to change the boot mechanisms of W98 in a way that doesn’t add much obvious functionality but does mightly screw up dual-boot set-ups like Disk Druid or the older fdisk. You might well consider just putting W95 on (Linette?). *Having* W95 on the machine as a way to test for hardware glitches isn’t a bad idea, especially when starting Linux de novo; but you don’t really need W98 for that, I would imagine.

Some other points: video cards are the great pons asinorum of Linux. You need to make sure the video card you’re using has device drivers in the distribution you’re using—Red Hat 5.1 is very well-endowed, but there’s always some new clone-maker who has their own special video card that can’t be used. Matrox Millenium runs on my machine right now. You can find which cards are supported at the Red Hat web site.

The K Desktop Environment is fun to have but takes a bit of work to compile on Red Hat since RH is trying to keep their distribution uncomplicated by non-GPL licensing. Fortunately Red Hat 5.1 comes with a perfectly usable windows manager.

There is no way in hell that Microsoft is going to make Word for Linux. (No, I don’t have legal proof of that statement. Call it a wild yet strong hunch.) But Word Perfect 8 is available for Linux, and should be interconvertible with WP for W95.

Invaluable books: _Running Linux, 2cd. ed._ and _Linux in a Nutshell_, both from O’Reilly. They complement one another nicely and are immediately helpful even at the earliest stages of newbie-dom, yet remain informative for a long time.

Finally, my favorite aspects of Linux versus Windows or even MacOS: multitasking, multiple screens, and command-line job control. Linux is IMMENSELY better at doing multiple intensive tasks and not making you wait for one to run before you can do the other. (The quiet and speed with which Linux juggles multiple tasks must be seen to be believed.) The multiple screens which come with the Red Hat windows manager (and are gussied up in the K Desktop Enviroment), after about 5 minutes getting used to them, are infinitely superior to having to do everything on one cluttered screen. And command-line job control means no more having to fight a balky machine to make a program stop cleanly: just get a root prompt and type "kill -9 [process ID number]." Would to Ghu MacOS had that, though allegedly OS X should.

Have fun!

--Erich Schwarz


The Answers Begin


Calvin Dodge []

Dear Jerry,

you wrote:

>Partitions: I understand that a 1 meg partition for the Linux Swap File is a good idea. Should it be larger? And do I


Cough ... cough ... YES, it should be larger. With the kind of space you have available, I would recommend you use the maximum possible size for a swap partition (128 M). If you needed more swap space you could create additional swap partitions, but I suspect one will be sufficient for you.

>use fdisk to create that partition before we start? At the moment this machine has a 1 gig W 98 partition, and nothing else. What do I do next? Just start with Linux installation, or reserve some space with a new partition?

Just start the installation. Early on it will give you the choice of fdisk or "Disk Druid" - go with Disk Druid. It’s not as nice and automatic as, say, Maxtor’s "MaxBlast", but it’s much easier to use than Linux fdisk.

Remember that the "Linux Native" partition must be mounted to root, so put a "/" in the text box for the mount point.

I would suggest (to play it safe) that you have it check both native and swap partitions for bad blocks while it’s formatting them. Once it starts formatting the native partition, you might as well go for a short hike with Larry Niven - it will take a while.

>Ethernet: will an ISA Intel thin net board work? It’s one of the early EtherExpress boards.

Intel EtherExpress should work just fine - that’s the NIC in the machine I’m typing this on.


Calvin Dodge

OOPS!  I meant 100 megs!  Thanks. The fun begins in a few a few hours...


Wright, Robert G []

Having just put Red Hat Linux on my old 486/33, I have some advice on how to set up a linux box. Just don’t ask me how to run a dual boot machine. The 486 was sacrificed so that I could learn how to use Linux, then I may put Linux on my main machine. So far everything has gone very well.

Video: In truth, Linux doesn’t care about video. The X-Windows system however, only works on some cards. I think you have been given the list of supported boards in previous e-mails. Just use one of those. I did overhear somewhere that AGP support is sort of flaky and only the Matrox AGP cards work.

Sound: The plain truth is that only Creative Labs Sound Blaster Hardware is supported. Compatibles do not work. The support runs from the original Sound Blaster up through the AWE32 (I think). Linux interfaces directly to the hardware for all devices, so many peripherals that really on driver emulation run into problems.

Partitioning: Everyone I have talked to has said double your memory in a swap Linux Swap partition. There are two schools of though on the rest of the partition. The first is just to make a huge 2gig or so partition on the root "/". The other school of thought is to use at least three partitions. A small one, 100 meg or so for root "/". A large one, 1-2 gig for "/usr" that holds the programs and a mid sized 500-1000 meg "/home" partition that holds your work. The only advantage to the second is that you don’t loose everything to HD errors.

Ethernet: I don’t use it but I the real cheap NE2000 board I had in the 486 worked just fine at a Linux Install Fest I went to.

Robert Wright

NMD LSI / WBS 2.2 / System Engineering

Does that mean only ISA Creative or will the new PCI sounds boards work? This promises to be interesting. I will also have to go find the Creative drivers for my old ISA board assuming I can get that board into a new mini-tower. It's pretty big...




Robert Bruce Thompson []

<<ADVICE WANTED: what next? Do I start with DOS, install System Commander, and go from there? When and where do I put in Linux? I really want to have both Windows 98 and Linux on this box (there certainly ought to be room!) and to have a SyQuest 1 gig cartridge, and a TEAC CD/RW drive in it.

What is the first step once I have the box ready to go? What do I format that huge disk into, and before that, what partitions?>>


I'm no Linux expert, but here's what I did, and it worked fine:

1. From a blank hard drive, boot DOS and run FDISK. Create whatever size primary partition you want for Windows 98. Create a second partition if you want to reserve more non-Linux space. Format the new partitions, and install Windows 98. I'd leave them as FAT-16 so that OSs other than Win9x can get to them, but that's up to you. (Actually, I installed on a system that already had Win95 vs. Win98 on it, but it should work the same).

2. Put the Red Hat Linux distribution CD in the drive, and boot with the boot floppy. Use the character-graphic Disk Druid to do the partitioning. Linux requires at least two partitions, a root partition one and a swap partition. The swap partition must be at least the size of installed RAM (and no less than 16MB). Linux won't use a swap partition larger than 127 MB, so don't waste space making one larger. The manual goes into great detail (see page 26ff) about the optional partitions you can use and why you'd want to, but I'd guess you can get by with just the root partition and one for swap. You can also use a /usr partition if you want, but I wouldn't get any more complicated than that. Assuming 64MB of RAM, I'd go with a 127 MB swap partition (in case you upgrade RAM); a 100 MB root partition, and a /usr parition of at least 1 GB (and more if you feel like allocating it).

The manual is quite clear at describing the steps required to install Linux. I didn't have any problems at all, and I'm no Unix guru.


Robert Bruce Thompson



Sanders, Paxton []


Below my signature is text copied off Red Hat’s installation guide, located



A month or so ago I installed RH. It’s worked fine dual-booting with W98. Be sure to install Windows FIRST, and leave some of your drive unformatted/unpartitioned.

For example, I have a 3.5GB disk on that particular computer. I gave 1.0GB to Windows - it’s a print server, with scanner and CD-RW attached, and that’s all it does in Windows, so I saved the space - and the rest was given to Linux. Once I booted off the Linux install floppy, it recognized my Windows partition, and installed Linux and LILO just fine and dandy after it had set up and formatted the rest of the disk, I was off and running.

Now, every time I boot, I get a prompt. I can choose which OS to start. It’s more than easy. But I’ve heard for it to be that easy, you have to install Windows first.

My advice is to install ALL options. You probably won’t need some of it, but it’s less time-comsuming now and later if you have everything installed.

Good luck.


Paxton C. Sanders


2.4.4 How Many Partitions?

Although you can install Red Hat Linux in a single large partition (subject to any of the partitioning considerations we’ve mentioned so far), it’s a much better idea to split things up a bit. We recommend the following layout as a compromise between single-partition simplicity, and multi-partition flexibility:

Please Note: If you plan to install all the software packages accompanying Red Hat Linux, you may need to use even larger partitions. A swap partition—Swap partitions are used to support virtual memory. If your computer has 16 MB of RAM or less, you must create a swap partition. Even if you have more memory, a swap partition is still recommended. The minimum size of your swap partition should be equal to your computer’s RAM, or 16 MB (whichever is larger).

A root partition—The root partition is where / (the root directory) resides. It only needs to contain things necessary to boot your system, as well as system configuration files. A root partition of 50 MB to 80 MB works well for most systems.

A /usr partition—The /usr partition is where much of the software on a Red Hat Linux system resides. This partition should be between 200 MB and 500 MB, depending on how many packages you plan to install. If at all possible, try to be generous with the /usr partition. Any RPM-based packages you install later will (in general) use more space from /usr than from any other partition.

A /home partition—This is where users’ home directories go; the size of /home depends on how many users you plan to have on your Red Hat Linux system and what they might store in their home directories. A MILO partition—Alpha owners that will be using MILO to boot their systems should create a 1.5 MB DOS partition where MILO can be copied after the installation is complete.

Additionally, you may wish to create any of the following:

A /usr/local partition—Traditionally, /usr/local has been used to hold things you wish to keep separate from the rest of your Red Hat Linux system, such as software that is not available as an RPM package. The size depends on the amount of software you anticipate putting on your system. A /usr/src partition—There are two things that are stored in /usr/src on a Red Hat Linux system:

Linux Kernel Sources—The complete sources for the Linux kernel are stored here, and new kernels are built here.

Sources For RPM-Based Packages—If a source package file (aka SRPM) is installed, the files are stored here. Note that, unless specified otherwise, any packages built also use a build directory located here. Again, the size of this partition would depend on the amount of software you anticipate building.

A /tmp partition—As the name implies, the /tmp partition is for temporary files. Creating a partition dedicated to /tmp is a good idea for larger, multiuser systems or network server machines. The reason is that many active users can fill the root partition (/), which is where /tmp is located. It’s not necessary to dedicate a partition to /tmp on single-user workstations.


Eric Pobirs reports:

When last I checked the Red Hat site there was no support for RIVA128 cards but that was at least three months ago. The STB 128ZX card (the one with 8 MB) should have a more current BIOS since it represents the second generation. The other Diamond and STB RIVA cards are likely to have early BIOSes since they were review units. Much as people might disparage Windows, the Linux world needs a software layer like DirectX to keep people away from the metal and codify driver support. Freedom loving hackers may find the idea offensive but non-programming users just want drivers for hot new devices to appear quickly. Consumers will be discouraged if they can only run their games on video card two or three generations behind whats available for Windows.

While much easier than it once was, anybody who tries to tell me that installing Linux is easier than Windows will find me questioning their definition of the word ‘easy.’ The partition issues alone are a serious hunk of arcana for the uninitiated. Having to download and compile software like KDE for one’s particular distribution is a stunning concept for those who become reasonably adept at Windows installation.

Currently I’m still waiting to do my Linux install because I don’t know how it will behave with the Disc Wizard software Seagate uses to let a BIOS of Racing Cow’s vintage ‘see’ the 8.6 drive. (Several ISA cards to upgrade the BIOS exist but they seem to peak at 8.4 GB.) I don’t know if the Ontrack software will conflict with the Linux and NT partitions I want to make. If money weren’t an issue I’d just build a new machine without drive support limitations solely for NT and Linux around this Seagate drive. Fry’s has already dropped the price another $15 since I bought it and haven’t done anything useful with it yet! Of course, going back to school has put a crimp in my time but I’m beginning to suspect my original plan is either completely unviable or much too complex for my skill level.

The good news is that I have mail from one of my reliable readers saying that the Riva (which he bought to use for playing Quake) works fine in Linux. I'll try to get to the Linux install today, but once again, this is a writing day, and I may find myself running out of time. Thanks Eric.

Re: Intel EtherExpress

FWIW, I couldn’t get early Intel EtherExpress boards to work reliably with Linux. The system would work for a while, but eventually lock up completely. I’ve got 3 of the EtherExpress boards and they have worked well on Windows systems for years.

After reviewing the Linux eexpress.c source, and searching Deja News for solutions, I finally replaced the cards with cheap NE2000 clones.

For more info on the Linux EtherExpress problems, search Deja News for "Linux EtherExpress CU Wedged".

BTW, other (more recent) models of the EtherExpress board do seem to be supported well by Linux.

Jim Mathews

Thanks. Fry's had a sale on NE2000 Clones (Bay Network) complete with some cable, 10/100 systems cheap so I bought several yesterday. I'll put one of those in instead of the EtherExpres. I prefer them anyway.

OOPS! What I have is not an NE2000 Clone. Alas. I may have to go with Intel Etherexpress. (See later: I had to put in a Bay Systems "Tulip" card which woks in that the system recognizes it althogh so far I don't have a network.)



I was just looking through the XFree86 FAQ, and I noticed that Riva 128 support was added in XFree86 version 3.3.2. The version on the RedHat CD that you have is one version earlier than that, so if you want to get your Riva 128 to work, you’ll need to download a more recent version of XFree86.

Installing a new X-Windows is not horrenously complex, but it’s not exactly user-friendly either. You’ll almost certainly have some trouble with it. Having done it myself, I’d be happy to help you through it, although I don’t want to spoil the purity of your "experiment" unless you really need the help. Your starting point is (

Because hardware manufacturers are reluctant to release specifications to their hardware, Linux usually runs between 6 months to 1 year behind in driver support; On the other hand, older hardware tends to be supported much more comprehensively. Also, bug fixes are available on a much more timely basis. The exception to this rule is for brand-new experimental hardware, such as SMP CPU’s, which aren’t supported under Windows, these tend to get supported in Linux rather quickly as the manufacturer has a much greater incentive to support third-party drivers.

The other problem with lag time is that the Red Hat CD’s are only published every few months, and each CD contains a snapshot of the stable "release" version at the time of publication, not the more advanced "development" version. Red Hat now has a new product called "Raw Hide" which is a compilation of the development version of Linux, as well as alpha versions of various applications and utilities.

What this means for the user, generally, is that hardware that is less than one year old is often significantly more complex to install than older hardware.

Talin ( -- Systems Engineer, PostLinear Entertainment.


"Humans are a race of compassionate predators."

Thanks. Always welcome your advice. Slowly I accumulate the stuff I need...



Talin []


I can understand why you might be confused about partitioning. Part of the reason that you’re getting contradictory advice is that there is indeed more than one way to go about this. A normal Linux user would not have these problems, they would simply take the first advice that they got, and it would probably work. Unforunately, you are now it the middle of a classic "better is the enemy of good enough" learning experience, which I’m sure is the last thing you needed right now.

So, instead of giving you specific advice this time, I thought I’d fill in some background information which might make choosing which advice to follow easier.

Unix doesn’t have drive letters like A:, C:, etc. Instead, drives are mapped to directories. In fact, _any_ directory could be a seperate partition if you wanted it to be.

There’s only two reasons for dividing things up into partitions. The first one is for performance reasons, and the second is for ease of backup.

With regards to the issue of performance: It’s true that in some situations multiple drives can be faster than a single drive. It’s also true that in some cases they can be slower. Few of us really understand the dynamics of hard-drive operation well enough to be able to predict which will occur. The only concrete piece of advice that I can give is that I’ve heard that a seperate swap partition is faster than a swap file. Other than that, given the lack of knowledge about performance options, I’d opt to go with the simplest configuration possible.

Now to address the issue of backup. A lot of people advocate putting your own user files in a seperate partition, so that it becomes easy to back up or reconfigure into a larger partition. I suppose the general idea is that the Linux system is large, and your files are small, so it would make sense to back up just the stuff that’s irreplaceable, since you can always re-install everything else from the CD.

To be honest, I have not yet learned how to back up a Linux system, nor learned which is the best way to do it. (I have not yet needed to: I tend to back up files by copying them to a different computer. However, I plan to get around to it eventually). As a result, I don’t know how relevant this idea of backing up a partition at a time really is.

As far as boot partitions go, I’ve always just made my main partition the boot partition as well. All that’s really needed is for the boot partition to have the main operating system files on it. The Red Hat installer will tell the Linux Loader (LILO) which partition is the boot partition once you’ve selected it.

Talin ( -- Systems Engineer, PostLinear Entertainment.


"Humans are a race of compassionate predators."

==  ==  ==

Hi Jerry,

Here are a few sugestions/tips/pointers about Linux :

  • If, as you said, you have installed everything that comes with Red

Hat, you should have the Midnight Commander, a clone of the Norton Commander. Try typing "mc" at the command line. This should make you feel more at home to navigate the filesystem and view/make changes to text files.

  • You don’t need to pull the plug if you’re stuck in X-Windows : pressing Ctrl-Alt-Backspace should kill the X server and gets you back in text mode. BTW, you have several consoles available in text mode, wich you can access by pressing Alt-F1, Alt-F2, etc. so you can multitask at will.
  • I had the same "waiting on sendmail" problem recently, and it’s probably something in the file /etc/hosts . this is a file that maps IP adresses to machine names. I don’t remember the details, but the first line should read : localhost


you can add there the address and names of the machines on your network. I’m assuming you are using TCP/IP on them, which you’ll need to if you want to connect Windows to Linux.

  • Speaking of which : you can easily access Linette as a file server from windows using Samba, which is probably already installed with the rest of Red Hat. See the configuration file /etc/smb.conf for details and examples. Or type "man smb.conf" for more details than you probably care to know... :-) I have been using it as a file and print server for my Windows box since 1994 and it works without a hitch.


That’s all for now, feel free to email me if you have questions.



Jean-Francois LAHIER

( )

I realize I don't need to pull the plug. If in real trouble I can telephone Darnell. Still, some day I was going to have to pull that plug to see what happened, and it might as well be then. Darnell wants me to set this machine up as a router to be the file and print server for all of Chaos Manor, including to host the modem, and it will probably be exactly that once I learn more about this. I have never been a UNIX fan, and if Microsoft had gone in a somewhat different direction I wouldn't be playing with this now. However, we have had just enough trouble with NT system to make me want to look for something more stable. Perhaps I have found it. Probably not for everything. I still like WORD and most games are not likely to run on this. But a networked Linux work station looks like a very good addition to the Chaos Manor stable.


Dear Dr.. Pournelle

I just read up to the latest events on Linette.

1. To install Applixware you proceed as with every rpm package (rpm = RedHat package manager). Page 109 of the 5.1 Redhat Manual details how to install rpm packages. First you have to make sure the Applixware CD is in the CD-ROM and properly mounted "mount /dev/xxx /cdrom". (check witch /dev/xxx name your cdrom has during start-up of Linette).

Then use the rpm program to install Applixware "rpm -ivh applixwarexxx.rpm" (applixwarexxx.rpm should be replaced by the actual file name on the cdrom). That should do it. Afterwards from any X terminal window you type "applixware" and you get the window. The reason that the manual doesn’t detail how to install it, is because it is distribution-dependent. There are different package format, i.e. rpm, Debian, Solaris, binary, possibly source etc.

To first obtain some info on the rpm package before installing it, try

"rpm -qip applixwarexxx.rpm"

2. To install the network go to every Win machine and on network properties go to TCP/IP->network card give it a valid IP address and netmask. for IP give it any unique value for 1 > 192.168.1.x < 255. 255 is for broadcast and 1 is for gateway. The netmask in your small network at home should be for all machines.

For Linette login under root, startx, and go to network configuration and

tell it the unique 192.168.1.x IP and the netmask of No

gateway and no routing is needed since there is only one route within your

network. Voila. Without rebooting, you should now be able to see

everymachine from every other machine on the network. If you compile a

/etc/hosts file with

192.168.1.x linette

192.168.1.x pentafluge

etc. then you can type in the name to access a host instead of its IP number.

Therefore, instead of http://192.168.1.x from any windoze machine you tell it http://linette. Note that Windows expects the hosts naming file in the windows directory under the name hosts.sam.

Try "ping 192.168.1.x" where x is the unique digit for the linette from any windows machine. Or, better, try telnet 192.168.1.x if you get the login screen, login and work as if on Linette itself. If all of this work, network is set up correctly.


Regarding your problems with sendmail on startup. It is a classical case of "install everything". Try to "killall named". If the command is executed correctly under root privileges, then you have DNS serving set up for Linette. That means that on start-up DNS tries to obtain valid DNS (domain name resolution). It tries to reach several DNS up-stream server and each time times out. The ten minutes indicate that it tries to access the seven default servers. Again, a typical problem of "install everything". To get rid of it, you need to doctor the /etc/rc. files to remove the startup of "named". I will check today with my guys which /etc/rc. files starts up named in redhat. There is dozens of /etc/rc.files on start-up and they are -to put it mildly - Byzantine in their structure. I once knew by heart which one starts what at what time, but with all the things going on I realize I forgot. What can we do...

Hope, this clarifies some of the issues you still have. One question: do you have sound by now or not?

Moshe Bar []

No sound yet.

Thanks for the detailed instructions. I'll print that out. Assigning all the TCP/IP addresses will take a while, but clearly it will be worth it. We hope eventually to make Linette a router and a principal server.

I would have thought it wouldn't hurt Red Hat to add a page to their enormous manual saying "if you have Red Hat Linus here's how to install this stuff. If you don't have Red Hat Linux, good luck." Or some such. Oh well.

There is clearly a very great deal to learn here, and it isn't going to happen in a few minutes.


Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I’ve been reading your Linux odyssey. The "idiot" complaints are silly—Linux is genuinely non-trivial to learn and nobody who’s really stupid tries. Also, I know of *nobody* who has not struggled with X window configuration even *with* a Red Hat distribution, at least the first time.

About your Applixware plaints: you’re right, the manuals written for UNIX wizards who’ve never done a spreadsheet.

My advice:

1. If you don’t understand the UNIX file system, or the concepts of redirecting output, pipes, and filters, get an introductory book on UNIX that explains it all. The best one-day intro I’ve seen is _Learning the UNIX Operating System, 4th Edition_ from O’Reilly. Alternatively, _The UNIX Programming Environment_ by Kernighan and (?)Pike, despite its forbidding name, is a fine short introduction to the various directories and file controls you’ll have on a UNIX-like system and what they mean. To get beyond that level, _UNIX Power Tools_ from O’Reilly is absolutely, utterly invaluable— written for non-specialists but full of ideas. (It’s also a doorstopper, but hey.)

It’s really, really important that if you find UNIX filesystems and information streams arcane, that you work through that feeling and get to the point where they seem natural. Unless you’ve on familiar terms with UNIX filesystems and their names, it is *impossible* to make good use of the (potentially genuinely powerful) commands.

2. If you want to just hack, make friends with the "man" command. You’ll want to use it even if you do get the book I’m going to recommend, by the way, since being able to look up correct command syntax with "man [command]" is one of the unrecognized strengths of UNIX/Linux. But if you don’t get any other books, you will *need* "man" to figure out how to mount and unmount CDs and how the various other cantrips work.

3. Also, before you do anything else, run:

% man mount

% man umount

and *read* them until you understand how to mount and dismount a CD.

You’ll do that a lot.

4. Get, *now*: _Linux in a Nutshell_ and _Running Linux_, 2cd. ed., from O’Reilly.

_LiaN_ has a splendid list of the commands you’ll want to use as user or home-sysadmin—from really mundane ones like "cp" (copy), "mv" (move), "rm" (delete), "mkdir" (make directory), "rmdir" (remove directory) ... to tiny but neat ones like "arch" (tell me the machine’s architecture) to housekeeping ones like "shutdown" (turn off the machine safely) to power-user ones like "gcc" (compile C source code).

_RL_ complements _LiaN_ by giving extensive normal-text instructions on all the core stuff you need to go from confused beginnner to modestly skilled beginner. That’s the one book I used to get over the worst of the learning curve—with that book, and the Red Hat manual, you can puzzle out most anything if you’re patient about combing through the index of each book. For instance, _RL_ gives full instructions on things that everybody else assumes you know, like how to *correctly* shutdown your machine:

% shutdown -h now

or how to make it shutdown and then immediately reboot:

% shutdown -r now

Also, while I can’t remember the details, the Applixware is almost certainly on a CD, and you almost certainly must do something like:

[get the Applixware CD into the CD drive]

% mount iso9660 /dev/cdrom <or something like that>

After that you probably want to do one of the following things:

run an "rpm" command on the stuff in the CD, or do a "cp" command

from the CD to your hard drive, and then unpack the stuff (with

"gunzip" and then, if it’s in .tar format, something like "tar

  • xvf").

5. The "rpm" command was essentially invented by Red Hat as part of their RPM system for easy software installation/removal, and is described reasonably well in the Red Hat manual.


  • Erich Schwarz

Erich Schwarz []

Thank you for a LOT of useful information. I have sent a note to O'Reilly that I need review copies of all their UNIX books, and I'll have reviews of the useful ones here and in future columns. I know the concepts of pipes and redirection but I cannot say I am very familiar with them any more. It has been a long time since we used such things I fear. Windows makes things easy, but also limits what you do, and after a while you get sort of used to it, limits and all.

I suppose I should have looked in the Red Hat OS manual rather than in the Applixware manual for instructions on how to install Applixware, but that's hardly intuitive. Moreover, the Red Hat Manual index has no entry for "applications" or under install any reference to installing applications; install is all about installing the OS, not anything else. So unless you know that RPM is what you want, how are you supposed to find out? RTFM I suppose, but you know, that's just a very lot of manual to read in one sitting.

Thanks again.




Dave Farquhar []


Moshe Bar’s letter on VIEW is almost correct. Regarding networking with Windows machines, he advises that IP addresses and machine names should be in a file called HOSTS.SAM. Actually, it should be called simply HOSTS (no extension). HOSTS.SAM is a sample HOSTS file that I really wish Microsoft hadn’t included in the system as it confuses people.

NT boxes store it in C:\WINNT\system32\drivers\etc; Win95 boxes put it in C:\windows\system if memory serves (I don’t have a Win95 box on hand at the moment).

Theoretically if you set up a WINS server and enable WINS you eliminate that problem, but that’s entirely another discussion. If/when you want to talk about Windows networking, let me know. On small LANs like Chaos Manor’s, you can get away with just accepting Windows’ defaults, but on large LANs you definitely don’t want to do that (this is word coming directly from Microsoft—of course we were thrilled to hear that, having accepted the defaults ever since Win95 came out).

I’m reading your Linux discussion with interest. We’ve talked about Linux a little bit, but since we’re mostly a Token-Ring network, we’re hesitant to do it—Linux appears to only support certain IBM Token-Ring cards, and they’re ISA, and we certainly don’t want ISA network cards in servers.

Dave Farquhar

Thanks. I am still unclear about WINS servers, but I'll have to learn, I guess. It's column filing day meaning that what I have on Linux has to do for the next day or so. By next month I should know more of this.


And now for something completely different: a non Red Hat advocate.


Heberer, Peter []

Hi Jerry,

just read about your Linux adventure and the Red Hat distribution.

even it might be too late now to change, I suggest you have a look at

the S.u.S.E. distribution. Web site:


Their latest release does not only contain the latest available software packages, the installation manual you’ll get is VERY helpful for a complete novice user—it still can’t answer all the questions one has, but you’ll get started very fast. Also, configuration of the netword and sound card is described.

The main advantage of the package is that the built in setup/config tool(s) are working very well (point’n’shoot).

If your system bios supports booting from CD, you don’t even need the boot disk.

Mit freundlichem Gruß / Best regards,


Peter Heberer (Germany)



"Birchall, Richard" <>

Your page at <> says:

Linette is a Cyrix MX chip system, with MSI motherboard...

...I can't get this

mother board to believe that there is any such thing as a PS/2 mouse.

I don't understand why: there's a pinout for it, and the manuals say it should recognize it, but there's no place in the BIOS to turn it on and connecting a mouse through the mother board pinout does nothing.


I have the same motherboard, and am using it with a PS/2 mouse, no problem. The mouse works under Windows 98, WIndows NT Server, and Sun Solaris x86. There is a place in the BIOS setup to "Enable PS/2 mouse", at least in this version of the BIOS (June 1998).


Regarding your UNIX experiences, I also recently been trying UNIX for the first time. However instead of Linux, I have been using Sun Solaris x86, which is currently being offered at nominal cost by Sun. This is the same UNIX used by Sun workstations.

Information on free Solaris:


The Solaris installation was automatic. My hardware was detected and everything just worked. After Solaris reboots, the CDE (Common Desktop Environment) is easy to use.

Best Regards,

Richard Birchall

The manual I have says there is a place to turn on the PS/2 mouse in the BIOS too, but that line is NOT THERE when we go to look for it. So far this hasn’t been all that big a problem. The serial mouse works all right.

Installing applications requires something called rpm and that requires that I know some weird title to the CDROM drive, and that requires that I go look through a big document to find out how I can find out what that name is, and that requires an energy level I don't seem to have despite a quart of Nasalcrom and huge fistfuls of vitamins. I doubt things are as difficult as just now I have been anticipating; certainly getting this far wasn't that hard. I just have to DO it.

Years ago Sun telephoned me to get my phone number so that Federal Express could bring me a Sun system. Nothing happened. They periodically said a review system was coming, and nothing happened. I suspect I'd know UNIX by now if they had in fact done what they said they did. They even said they were sending a system in front of about 3000 people at a COMDEX panel once. Nothing happened, other than that phone call. Why they telephoned me to get my telephone number is another mystery. Anyway, I never learned Sun. That panel was an "Operating System Shootout" with me and I suppose Dvorak and I believe Miller and a couple of other journalists, and Microsoft, Sun, and IBM OS/2, and some others arguing about the OS of the future. At the time Microsoft Windows wasn’t expected to be the winner, certainly not by all present.

Anyway, thanks for the impulse. I will try to get to this Linux box sometime today and just see what it takes to get ApplixWare and the Sound Card going.


Donald W. McArthur []


I build and install computers. I create and maintain websites. I am a network administrator. l use Linux as a firewall, mail server and Internet gateway. That said, I’m afraid that there has been much said about "Linux challenging Microsoft for the desktop" that is simply hooie.

To successfully use Linux (or any Unix system) as a desktop environment on a daily basis requires either a professional support staff or YEARS of study and familiarization.

Supporters of Linux as a desktop alternative are invariably hobbyists who approach expert level in their understanding. They have no interest in all the coding that allows Windows to make the computer a useful tool to the vast majority of users.

Linux is a fun hobby, and fine for the provision of certain network services. But if you need to get work done the majority operating systems are the way to go. And that will never change.

When Linux becomes useful to the regular computer user is when Linux will be indistinguishable from Windows.

Donald W. McArthur

I both agree and don't. That is: while I doubt Linux will ever get to be anything like as popular as Windows, it has a greater potential than just hobbyist. Most of the old BYTE readers, as an example. But two things must happen: second, there must be more applications, but first, it must get easier to install the applications we have. In this case; Red Hat makes the OS and the Applixware applications, but does not seem to believe it has any duty to include a simple "Here's how to get this running under Red Hat" instruction. Now I make no doubt I have such instructions among the stuff sent by readers, but there are so many such letters I can't find them. So I'm waiting: someone will tell me how to get the Applixware suite running, and then I can actually see how useful Linux is: and more, I can see how easy or hard it is to get those running.

I haven't given this up yet, but I do come from a pretty jaded view of the wonders of UNIX, which is so wonderful but seems dominated by people who either delight in being obscure, or aren't smart enough not to be. Since they are supposed to be the smartest people in the computer business, one suspects they LIKE having a jargon not 'understandable of the people.' That should surprise no one. Read Sutherland on The Professional Thief for a description of that kind of behavior in an entirely different "profession".

I think Linux has a future other than hobbyists, but before it's going to be very useful, it has to be a lot easier to make it do SOMETHING useful.


From Talin


I know that dealing with Linux can be really frustrating at this point.

As you probably experienced, a lot of effort has been put into making the basic Linux installation simple, and while it’s not yet up to the ease of installation of, say, the MacOS or BeOS, it’s come a long way from what it was several years ago. However, there are many aspects of Linux operation which have not yet recieved that same level of attention; And one of those aspects is the installation of applications. Package managers such as Red Hat’s RPM have solved many of these problems, so that one no longer need to compile a program in order to install it; But there is much yet to do.

I believe that the Linux user experience will continue to improve as it has done in the past. There are various efforts underway to improve the usabilty of Linux (such as LUTE—Linux User Testing and Engineering, located at

Now, to specific points:

There are several projects underway to provide a graphical front-end to the RPM facility, some which can be downloaded and used right now. Ironically, you have to install them using RPM, but fortunately, you only have to do this once. Eventually, these tools will get put on the next CD so that the installation won’t be needed.

Applixware: Part of the problem with Applixware is that Red Hat doesn’t make it; Red Hat only sells it. In fact, I believe that Applixware and Red Hat have recently parted ways. So don’t expect a tight integration between the two. I suspect that the Corel offering may be better documented, although the final version of that has not been released yet.

Command-lines: You should realize that you are currently running a somewhat bare-bones version of Linux. While X-windows and Fvwm95 (which is what you’re running) do provide a "windows-like" experience, it is an impoverished one. At some point you will want to install a desktop manager such as KDE or GNOME. What these do is provide all of the icons, toolbars, drag&;drop, and other things that one is accustomed to in a windowing environment. This will reduce the need to use the obscure unix text commands, alrthough it won’t entirely eliminate them.

However, these desktop managers are a relatively new things, and as such are still in somewhat of a state of flux. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there are two competing desktop managers, and although they are not competing for money they are still in competition with all of the advantages and disadvantages that is implied by that. (There is much controversy surrounding these two, mainly based on the fact that KDE is not entirely open-source, whereas GNOME is not entirely finished.)

Neither of these two desktop environments are supplied on the CD you have, because they are both too new. Nor are they particularly easy to install—there’s a number of components that need to be fetched from several places. But once they are installed, a lot of things should get easier.

Talin ( -- Systems Engineer, PostLinear Entertainment.


"Humans are a race of compassionate predators."


Really frustrating is an understatement. I am now told I have to MOUNT the applixware disk but the problem is I don't know what I am mounting. It is clear that I can study up on how to do this, but it is also clear that we are talking about a day or more of time. As to KDE and GNOME, I don't know any more about those than what you have said: where are they, what do they cost, how obtained, etc.? I confess I am rapidly losing my enthusiasm here. Windows may be Windoze, and it may be huge and klunky and take up a lot of disk space, but in about two hours you have an environment into which you can install applications, and your network works to boot. So far what I have with Linux is a prompt. I can sure get a directory fast. I can even shut the system down if I can only remember the command. Wow.

I don't figure to give up, but I'm in no big hurry either.




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