Serendipity

This month Dean shares some of the fortuitous discoveries he's made in his journey through the Infomagic Developer's kit, including ports and clones of DOS programs and some favorite utilities.

The four-CD Infomagic Developer's Kit, which, as you know if you've been following my column, has become my choice for getting Linux, holds a lot of code. In browsing through the disks, I've looked at spreadsheets, text editors, games, and all sorts of interesting programs and packages. This month I'll focus on software that should look very familiar to those of you visiting from the MS-DOS world.

In a previous article I mentioned a WordPerfect demo which demonstrated that some very powerful and popular packages do make their way over from DOS. Though I had problems getting the demo to work, that shouldn't reflect poorly on the commercial product. It shows that Linux is being seriously considered as a valid alternative to the DOS/Windows OS mindset. [That demo is the SCO version. Easier to use will be the native Linux version that is currently being ported by Caldera and is expected to be released sometime 4Q95—ED]

The usual caveat holds. Many of the programs undergo frequent revisions. Some are shareware or freeware versions of commercial programs. Others are just as-is.

Unlike their DOS counterparts, many of these programs include the source code. Some have originated in DOS; others I mention because of their tremendous utility or interest, hence the title of “Serendipity” for this month.

Also, I should mention a change in my computer system since my previous column. I still have a 486/66, but it's now loaded with 16MB of RAM. I don't use a swap file as much, but when it's needed I'll mention it; with 16MB and no swap file, X-Windows runs happier and much faster.

Diving into the CDs...

Utilities

mc, or Midnight Commander, which I have written about repeatedly, is a clone of Norton Commander and an absolute godsend. This program removes many of the hassles of copying and unarchiving. It also reduces your chances of making bonehead mistakes by not allowing you to quickly delete things recursively (something, I have been told by experienced hackers, particularly gut wrenching). To delete recursively, that is, to delete a directory and the files and subdirectories under it, mc requires you to wade through two menus and then type “yes” to a prompt for deletion.

Unlike the DOS or Windows Norton Commander, mc offers some truly unusual choices such as those options found via the f2 key; your choices change depending on whether the cursor is on a directory or a file. If you're on a directory when you press f2, you gain the option of creating a tar file of the contents. If you're on a file, the option changes to include dumping the contents or displaying the file with roff -man. You also have options to edit a bug report and mail it to root (which didn't work for me, probably because (1) I am root, (2) I don't have a network and haven't set up mail, and (3) I don't know any better.) Another option which I both like and dislike is the information hypertext browser. I like it because it provides a lot of useful information; I dislike it because it uses Emacs (or something close to it), and I still haven't mastered many of the commands. mc also offers a useful search capability that will look for most anything anywhere. mc is a must have.

pkgtool, installpkg, explodepkg, removepkg, and makepkg are part of the Slackware setup and are a great set of utilities for file handling. Normally, to install a .gz file I would use mc but I always hated that if I wanted to uninstall the files I'd have to list the tar, remember or write down the files, manually search them out and delete them. installpkg takes care of that by building a script that records where the files went to. When it's time to delete, removepkg reads that script and does the dirty work of deletion. Even better, it won't delete a file if it's in use by some other program. This is a great system for novices. pkgtool is sort of a shell, but I prefer to work directly with the sub-utilities; it temporarily raises my “hacker” factor. makepkg does like it sounds—it makes packages. explodepkg is very similar to installpkg but it doesn't create or affect scripts. It and installpkg work on Slackware compatible and (tar+gzip) packages.

minicom should look quite familiar to you if you have used the DOS versions of the Procomm, Telix, or QModem communications programs. The alt commands are mostly here but where, for example, in Telix you'd choose alt-o for the options screen, in minicom the sequence is alt-a-o. alt-a precedes most of your choices. It took me a very short time to get used to this arrangement. minicom doesn't have as many options as the DOS counterparts. For example, you only get two terminal emulations—VT102 and ANSI—and four protocols for sending/receiving files: Zmodem, Ymodem, Xmodem, and kermit, but the options are enough. This program works well, initiating Zmodem for downloading without hitch, allowing a variety of configuration options, and even including my favorite two options: text capturing (alt-a-l) and screen scroll back(alt-a-b)---but still could use some improvements, such as adding more options to the somewhat limited dialing directory. I hope that the authors continue to support and add to this program; I like it and greatly prefer it to the X-Windows program seyon.

Two small utilities that are neither ports from DOS nor clones but are still quite useful are dos2unix and unix2dos. These programs just convert text files to and from Unix and DOS formats, which appears consist of removing or adding carriage return characters as needed. Simple and neat.

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