APCUG June newsletter articles:

1.Mandrake 8.1†††††††† †††††††††††

Is Linux for you?By Bryan Lilius, Alamo PC


I have been a Linux dabbler since 1993, when I worked in Berlin, Germany with a real programmer, Scott Maley. Our mission there was conversion of the Tempelhof Terminal Radar system to serve as the regional Air Traffic Control System for the former East Germany. Scott was a subscriber to Linux Journal before the Linux Kernel reached version 1.0, and he would let me look at his magazines, which I found to be interesting curiosities. While I could look over his shoulder at his Linux system, I didn't have one of my own until 1996 when I installed Red Hat (4.0?) on a 486 I was retiring from active Microsoft service. Amazingly, I succeeded at getting that old 486 set up as our home file and print server, although it didn't seem the sort of thing that just anyone could do. I had to recompile the kernel to get it to work with my bus mouse and obsolete Western Digital network card. Recompiling the kernel, for me, required extensive reading of kernel cookbook instructions, and resulted in having to start over from initial installation more than once. It was the sort of thing that computer "hobbyists" might enjoy.


I stayed with Red Hat through version 6.0, and would probably still be using it but couldn't get network services working on a Toshiba laptop. While this may sound like a criticism of Red Hat, it isn't, as many other people were able to get a configuration similar to mine working, and they were patiently helping me do the same when someone suggested I might like to try Mandrake <www.mandrake.com. The Linux world is very remarkable in this respect†† there are a lot of people willing to help you and it is very inexpensive to try different distributions. If you have access to a high-speed Internet connection and a CD burner (and almost everyone does nowadays, right?), then you can try any one of the hundreds of Linux distributions for the cost of your time and the blank CDs. When I first tried Mandrake Version 6.0. I was very impressed with how easily it installed on my laptop, recognizing all the hardware, including the Ethernet PC-card. A creature of habit, I have been using Mandrake ever since and have been quite happy with it.


Who should try Linux

Linux is most suited for those with a "sys admin" outlook, who enjoy twiddling with configuration files. Web-site developer/maintainers and software developers must give it a try it a try and see the incredible capabilities available at little or no cost.


More and more, though, if you just want to surf the web, use e-mail, and maybe compose your paper for school, Linux may be for you. Mandrake Linux installs easier than Microsoft Windows (98, 2000 or XP), and is at least as likely to recognize all your hardware and work on first boot up. There is the possibility that you may be one of those able to free yourself from the monolith before you get so locked in to applications that demand the Windows operating system.


Getting Started

While most people I know who use Linux (including myself,) have a dual boot machine, (we want Linux on our best hardware), I think first-timers are better off trying it on the machine they have just replaced. Right now people are giving away old Pentium II's, if you don't have one of your own sitting in a closet, and Linux will run just fine on them. The advantage of this is that you don't worry about messing up your Windows machine and you have the freedom of knowing you can't hurt anything. You should be aware that if your computer is really old (say a P-133 with 8MB RAM) you ought to get an older version of Linux. These older versions are still available for download. Mandrake recommends you have at least 64 MB of RAM for using version 8.1. You should also have at least 2GB of disk space available, and 4GB is better. However, you can still obtain versions that will even run on a 386 with 640kb of RAM from their Web site.


If you are not putting Linux on a stand-alone machine, you must make some decisions. Mandrake provides an option of installing itself in your Windows partition, and actually starting up from a windows command. I have never tried this, and wouldn't recommend it. I have heard that it runs slower than native mode.


If you have room for a second drive that you can dedicate to Linux, then this is a better option. You won't have to repartition your current, fully utilized Windows partition. If for "some reason" you have just lost all your data and must reinstall Windows, then you have the perfect opportunity to set aside a small portion of that big hard drive, create a Linux partition, and enjoy a dual-boot machine. Before you do any of these things, be sure to read the "install.htm" file in the top-level directory of the first CD. This document tells you everything you need to know to boot from the CD-ROM and install Mandrake Linux. It also shows you how to create a set of boot floppies if your machine can't boot from CD-ROM. Other informative reading about Linux and Mandrake can be found at Mandrake's Web-site.


Mandrake's installation is easy and straightforward. From my experience and reading, Mandrake does the best job of recognizing the hardware on your machine and configuring it appropriately of any Linux distribution available. Figure 1 shows what the screen looks like as you step through the installation program. There isn't space in this review for a step-by-step description of all must do, but the installation instructions will be sufficient for most users and systems. When you are finished you will have X-Windows and the KDE environment all configured for you. After you log in you will have a desktop that you could in no time have looking like this screen shot taken from Mandrake's web site.


What's included

Mandrake 8.1 comes with Linux Kernel version 2.4.8, the KDE Desktop version 2.2.1 with the "dramatically improved" KOffice 1.1. Server features include:

support for Journalized File Systems, a special version of SAMBA which allows Windows file sharing with NT-like access control lists, and the Apache web server.


Some of the 100's of applications include:

* Grio500: synchronize your desktop with the Rio 500 MP3 player

* Mozilla 0.9.4: browse the Web and try the new communication module

* XMMS 1.2.5: edit and manage MP3 files

* GIMP 1.2.2: create and manipulate photos with this powerful graphics software

* Gphoto2: manage all your digital photos

* Grip 2.96: burn you favorite CDs

* KOffice 1.1: perform all your office tasks

* Galeon 0.12.1: try this unusual browser for a new kind of browsing experience

* Gnomemeeting 0.11: Share good times with family and friends with this full-featured video conferencing software


Availability and pricing

If downloading and making your own CD is not something you can or want to do, you can order the 3-CD "Download" set from Mandrake for $25 plus $5 shipping, or from <www.cheabytes.com for $10.49 including shipping. You may also find bargains on Mandrake through other inexpensive sources such as book and discount computer stores.


If you want to jump in with both feet, Mandrake Linux PowerPack Edition 8.1 features 7 CDs, 2 manuals, thousands of Open Source and commercial applications and installation support. The price of $89 includes shipping and a contribution to Mandrake's Free Software developments. Other more expensive and extensive options are also available.


Bryan Lilius is the Staff Elder at Faith Presbyterian Church, 1307 Blanco Woods.

There is no restriction against any non-profit groupusing the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author.This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs.


2.Headline: Ten Years Ago

Subhead: A look back at a column that describes the process of getting a new hard disk--in 1992

Byline:By Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group


Hereís a quiz: Why is upgrading your IBM PC like going to the dentist? Itís not ó going to the dentist is a lot more fun.


Itís no joke. I hate upgrading because itís a day of tinkering with the insides of my computer. But I had to get a larger hard disk because I switched to Windows. Applications written for Windows take up humongous amounts of hard disk space and thereís little chance that the trend will stop. Microsoftís Word for Windows, for example, gobbles up 12 megabytes and Corel Draw takes about 14 megabytes.


Most users have hard disks ranging in size from the older 30 megabyte (the one Iím still using) to about 200 megabytes. Larger sizes are available and many people are looking towards the future, buying disks as big as 384MBs. I predict that within two years, 1 gigabyte disks (thatís 1000 megabytes) will be on many machines. But for now ó with hard disks dropping in price ó I recommend a minimum 200MB hard disk on a new system or 120MB on an upgrade.


Thereís more than one way to add a new hard disk and how you do it depends on your budget and your existing system.


Quantumís Plus Hardcard is not the least expensive but it is the quickest, easiest way to upgrade. For about $400, you get 105MBs of disk storage on an add-in card ó and no installation hassles. Putting in the Hardcard will take less then fifteen minutes from start to finish.


A friend of mine chose a neat alternative and upgraded with a Bernoulli storage device. Instead of a ďfixedĒ disk ó one that stays in the computer ó Bernoulli lets you remove their 90MB disk. The internal Bernoulli drive is discounted to under $800 and is a good solution as you can buy more disks (at about $150 each) when your storage needs increase. My friend keeps Windows applications on one disk, shareware on another and DOS programs on a third. Youíre also able to move the data to another computer via the portable disk, an added benefit.

The traditional upgrade path is to add a hard disk to your existing system which means the drive you purchase must match the controller card thatís already plugged into one of your systemís expansion slots. Older machines usually have an RLL or MFM interface but newer machines come with faster IDE (integrated drive electronics) controllers, the current standard. Most controller cards manage up to two hard disks along with the two floppy drives. Some IDEs include parallel and serial ports used to attach modems and printers.


If you have an IDE controller, I recommend you stay with it. On one IDE machine, I upgraded and choose a fast Conner hard disk because of their reputation for long life expectancy and fast access time. Their 120MB model (CP30104) will set you back about $400 and their 212MB (model CP320) is about $560.


Macintosh owners, however, have a secret recently available to IBMs: Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) adapters. SCSI, pronounced ďscuzzy,Ē lets you attach up to seven devices onto one internal controller card. If youíre upgrading a hard disk and think you may want a CD ROM player (also called a reader) in the near future, consider the SCSI adapter. You can daisy chain the hard disk, CD ROM player, a tape backup and up to four peripherals.


Adaptecís fast SCSI adapter, the one Iím using, even lets you connect up to two floppy drives, a valuable addition. If you choose to upgrade with SCSI, make sure you check with the hard disk manufacturer to see which controller cards are compatible. I tried the Adaptec with a Conner SCSI drive and had no problems. If you run into trouble, get in touch with CORELSCSI, a Canadian company that supplies special software for a wide array of SCSI devices.


While SCSI offers faster access and more flexibility, it isnít for everyone. On uncomplicated home machines, upgrading to SCSI should present no problem and you can likely do it yourself. But in business settings ó especially if youíre on a network ó you may need to hire a technician for help.


So what will it be: upgrade or go to the dentist? Iíll let you make your own decision. Iíve already made mine.


Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Check PCW's current edition at www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at www.pcworld.com/bass_letter. There is no restriction against any non_profit groupusing the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author.This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs.



3.Trouble shooting Linux with Unix tools by Darren Kressin, Alamo PC


With the evolution of the personal computer, we are seeing the changes in networking grow exponentially. A network enables the user to share files and devices like printers, external zip or other drives with other computers on the network. As more people acquire computers, the need to have the computers communicate with one another is growing rapidly. Networking used to be beyond the price range for the average person. With the change in technology and drop in cost, most everyone has two or more computers and can now have their own network. The network can range from Ethernet to token ring to wireless. The most common as of this writing is Ethernet.


With the reasonable priced, High speed Internet connections that are available, the inexperienced user now has a new set of hazards that must be addressed.


The first priority after connecting to a High speed Internet connection should be a firewall to protect the computers that are always on and connected to the Internet. Firewalls protect the computers from hackers. This can be accomplished with a hardware firewall device or software that is loaded on the computer.


The second dilemma is connecting all the computers, in the building or house, to a network system that allows the computers to access the same Internet connection. The newly created network brings its own additional problems that require attention. The remaining sections of this article address those concerns.


I would like to discuss the advantages of using networking tools designed for Unix that will run on the Linux operating system. These tools will make it possible for a User to trouble shoot network problems and carry out an overall review of computer security.


When networking computers together, you have additional layers of potential problems that could and will occur. One has to either hire someone to come in and troubleshoot the network or else the user develops the necessary skills and troubleshoots the problems themselves. Although Windows provide tools to address the troubleshooting process, there are more powerful tools available elsewhere on the Internet to help a user analyze what the problem is. This is where the basis of the matter appears.


Most networking tools for the Unix platform are freeware or shareware. However, the freeware or shareware tools that can be used on a Windows system are becoming readily available on the Internet, but still lag behind most of the Unix tools in versatility and robustness.


Unix tools have not been ported to the Windows environment. I am specifically speaking of tools that assist a user to pinpoint a problem within a network or security system or on a specific computer. I am also referring to tools that are freeware or shareware. There are tools for the Windows environment that the user could purchase, but most are rather expensive. The tools that I have come across seem to be more specific in nature and not multifunctional and this singularity adds to the purchase cost.


Unix OS dates back to the late sixties. Some of the first networking tools developed were for Unix platforms. The only way to take advantage of these tools is to run Unix. This is where Linux comes in. With the development and release of Linux, this enables the non-Unix user to employ these very powerful tools since Linux is based on Unix.


As Linux grows, the operating system is becoming friendlier to the average user. It is fast approaching to the point of being a system that the average user can load and start using with very little training or reading. The Linux community is achieving great progress in the development of the operating system. They are working hard to make the system more user friendly. This is going to allow the operating system to grow and become more easily accepted. The system engineers are working to integrate Linux within a Windows network environment, and are exceeding very well.


Since Linux OS is an open source code system, all the tools I have found are either freeware or shareware. To locate the tools on the Internet, open a search engine and type in the type of tool that you need.That is the easy part.The hard part is determining where to trouble shoot your problems.


You will need to have a basic knowledge of networking and understand the flow. Both Linux and Windows have available the basic tools to get you started in troubling shooting your network. If your problem is not a basic TCP/IP related or related driver then you will require tools to help you in defining the problem and the method to fix it.


One of the most difficult problems is pinpointing a bad network card. The card from hell is the one that demonstrates connectivity but doesn''t function as it was designed. Locate the tool that can look at packets and the flow of packets. Also having a program that can measure TCP/IP throughput is also quite useful. Ideally, you want a program that does both. Qcheck is such a program that will work on the Windows operating system and does both. There is talk about porting it to the Linux platform. This is the foundation to trouble shooting your TCP/IP connections.


Security is the other shoe that I am going to drop. One could be reminded of the saying, ""fight fire with fire"" in describing the following advice. Keep in mind that most of the hackers in the world are using some version of the Unix operating system. Hacker sites are the best places to obtain additional necessary tools and to keep up with the cyber-criminals.Be aware that when you go to a hacking Web site you are entering the devil''s den. I would suggest using a computer that has no important information on it and will not hurt you if it is crashed by the hacker. I realize this is a big risk, and this is something you will have to consider. If tugging the devil''s beard is not your cup of tea, then the software security industry has something just for you.


A software tool with an attitude is called SATAN.It was written by Dan Farmer and Weitse Venema. It is designed to scan hosts on an IP network and report about well-known security vulnerabilities. It is one of the most helpful tools that a system administrator can use in securing their systems.


I have touched on just one area a user is going to have to face when upgrading to a high speed Internet connection. Nevertheless, one of the best defenses that a user can do is to ""network"" or reach out to other users. Employ all the resources that you have available to you. One place is the PC Alamode Organization. Avail yourself of the talent concentrated there and don''t hesitate to ask questions. By speaking with other club members you may discover ways to avoid mistakes that others have made.


Darren Kressin has been in computers since taking a basic programming course in college in 1986. Presently he is the Network Administrator for the Alamo Area Council of Governments while maintaining a separate computer/networking consulting business.

There is no restriction against any non-profit groupusing the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author.This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs.


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