Letters to the Editor
I just wanted to mention that we have a couple of people in our lab who provide Sybase connectivity (server running on Irix) in their Linux programs. They told me that it is fairly easy to get it working using freely available C code downloaded from the Web.
In Issue #50's article, “PPPui: A Friendly GUI for PPP”, Mr. Meyers notes that PPP does not have a good user interface: the only way you know if your connection succeeded or failed is to check the process list. Mr. Meyers offers a solution.
There's actually a simpler way than his program: direct syslog to Console 9 as described in an earlier issue of Linux Journal, and enable logging in chat using --v. Then, just hit alt—f9 to view your syslog console, and you can watch the progress of chat's attempt to connect. Failed connects show up as Alarm, exit or hangups; a sluggish connection can be observed as pppd sends EchoReq's out. Disconnects show as hangups. This live syslog is also invaluable when debugging your chat script.
So there I was, reading the review of Caldera OpenLinux (June 1998), and the reviewer, Sid Wentworth, writes:
Caldera, by default, uses the Looking Glass Desktop. Not being a desktop sort of guy, I am not particularly excited about it, but, if you want a desktop, it seems adequate.
Great! He's not a desktop sort of guy. Why is a “non-desktop” kind of guy getting paid for reviewing anything other than AWK scripts?
It's hard to take seriously reviews that completely leave out subjective comments about functionality a reviewer doesn't really have an interest in, or more to the point, his audience does have an interest in. Don't care about it, don't review it—simple! The rest of us, though, might have been interested in the state of this product's constantly evolving user environment, but the heck with us. You need better writers, which shouldn't be too difficult. At least the Windows techies take apart the toys they review.
There is a lot more to Caldera OpenLinux (or any Linux distribution) than the desktop. Also, desktop choices are available with any Linux flavor. In the case of Caldera OpenLinux, I found their proprietary desktop to be unexciting, but I also found that to be unimportant over all.
I could have easily written a 50-page review of this product—so many capabilities are there to discuss. For example, each language translator could have been reviewed. Even if I just looked at GUI capabilities, a comprehensive review of desktops would need to include comparisons with XFM and other free file managers.
Don't get me wrong. If Looking Glass had been exciting, I would have talked more about it. It wasn't and I don't think it matters. What did matter, as I said in the article, was StarOffice which, by the way, is its own desktop.
I believe that the “Best of Tech Support” column in the May 1998 LJ contains a small error. Regarding the question of Linux's behaviour when a file system is infected with an MS-DOS virus, Chad Robinson states that because Linux spreads file system meta-data more evenly throughout the physical disc, “random potshots” are more likely to cause corruption of the meta-data. This is misleading, in that if the amounts of meta-data were the same, the probability of a potshot hitting the part of an MS-DOS file system containing meta-data is equal to that of it hitting more evenly distributed meta-data on an EXT2 file system. “Concentration” does not affect the probability, only the amount of meta-data.
Simon Maurice in the June 1998 LJ criticizes Red Hat v5.0 for perceived shortcomings. Is he truly serious in saying that Red Hat's RPMS is a “Microsoft-like effort”? I think the package management system is one of the features that puts Red Hat distributions at or near the top of the pile. Where are all the bugs he alleges? I've found a few wrinkles, but nothing I'd call a serious bug.
As to the alleged problems with the actual distribution, I have run both the v4.2 and the v5.0 distributions as “official/supported” releases. I haven't applied any patches—yet my system is so stable it hasn't crashed since March 1998 when RH5.0 was installed. (Which is more than I can say for my Windows NT4 system.)
However, I do agree that Red Hat should be more polite when it comes to customer (e-mail) support. I asked several questions about the v4.2 distribution and was curtly told the questions were outside the support structure and to try the mailing lists. I wasn't happy with that answer, but it taught me to go to the documented sources first.
For $50 or so, Red Hat's distribution is by many orders of magnitude easier to use and install than the first distribution of Linux I bought back in 1993 (Trans Ameritech, v0.90 kernel). Compared to commercial operating systems (e.g., SCO, Windows NT), there is no comparison, whether for value for money, stability or user support. Where else but in the Linux community can you get bug fixes (if they are needed) so quickly?
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