Linux 2.4 Spotlight: ISA Plug-and-Play
An amazing number of features are new or improved under (what will be) Linux 2.4. In my article last month, “Bullet Points: Linux 2.4”, I described a number of these features. The one feature which I feel will most change the face of distributions in the years to come (if only in terms of their support for legacy devices) is ISA Plug-and-Play support.
Back in the good old days (before PCI became the standard bus architecture for Intel-class PCs), buses weren't very smart in and of themselves. Plug-and-Play features were largely not present in these older machines. It was expected that if you owned the machine, you more or less understood exactly what hardware was in it and exactly where each device “lived” in the computer innerspace. Adding a new sound card, for example, was often an exercise in “put in—reboot—pull out—change jumpers—repeat”, as the vast majority of ISA cards required hardware jumpers or something similar to be configurable. This situation was not very good for consumer users of PCs, whose understanding of their machines' internals was slowly degrading to the point at which new users were hardly expected to know where to plug in the mouse.
In conference rooms of computer manufacturers around the world, meetings were held and standards debated over how this user barrier could be overcome. (At least, that's how it happened in my personal universe.) Sure, having a better bus would be nice, but that would require things to change. Some bright soul got the idea to band-aid the situation via a standard in configurable cards which could be configured by a wise BIOS or operating system. The ISAPNP “standard” was thus born.
ISAPNP filled in all those Plug-and-Play gaps we suffered from in the ISA world. No longer would we have to blindly probe for devices, as they would happily announce themselves (more or less) to anyone who would listen. No longer would we be forced to change jumper settings, as instead we had a neat DOS utility to do that for us. But that was the real crux of the problem: PnP-compatible quickly came to mean “DOS/Windows only”, as other operating systems of the time found they could not speak the magic language of the PnP specification. Linux, too, fell into this trap; it was often advised that one should initialize his or her cards under DOS and (soft) reboot into Linux to make things work.
Fortunately, if you give the Linux community a problem, it isn't long until a solution of some kind can be found. For some, loadlin and a DOS partition were still the only answer, but for others there were the ISA PnP utilities which were, until recently, the way to configure PnP devices under Linux and elsewhere. This utility, handy as it is, is a pain for many users to figure out. It requires users to resolve resource conflicts on their own. It requires drivers to be compiled as modules so they can be loaded after the user space utility had run. Over time, the interface to this utility improved; it could even do a decent job of autoconfiguring cards. Distributions started supporting it and masking its functionality under a protective shield of pretty dialog boxes so that even the clueless could stand a chance at getting it to work. Still, it was not a perfect solution.
Linux 2.4 will, for the first time, support ISA PnP devices internally. No longer will a user space utility be required to configure cards to be used; the kernel itself can now do it. Generally, this is to be done transparently: the serial driver or the soundblaster driver will simply do a search for PnP devices in the same way they now search for and configure PCI devices. When a compatible device is found, the kernel can configure and activate it and pass the resources it uses on to the driver responsible. The kernel can even handle resource conflicts. Of course, there are probably settings and configurations which the kernel will not get right, and there will always be the option to “fall back” to the old user-space-by-hand configuration. But this, in my opinion, is a great step forward for desktop Linux.
Now, the warnings: Linux 2.4 isn't even released yet, so how can you take advantage of these remarkable new features in your machines? You can download a snapshot of the latest Linux 2.3 (developers only) kernel and compile it for your system. Will it work? Probably. Will it support your cards? Well, maybe not. If you're a programmer, there isn't a better time to get involved with Linux 2.3 development and help the mainstream kernel hackers squash the bugs to make Linux 2.4 the best Linux ever. If you're not a programmer, you can help just by downloading, compiling and installing a recent kernel and reporting the results. Linux is developed by the community, and as we approach the next stable milestone, it is the community members who can make a difference. Next time you are sitting in front of your computer trying to tweak your isapnp.conf to work with your new modem, think of those brave souls behind their keyboards who work so hard to make Linux the best damn operating system it can be and give them a hand.
Joseph Pranevich (email@example.com) is an avid Linux geek, and while not working for Lycos, enjoys writing (all kinds) and working with a number of open-source projects.
Practical Task Scheduling Deployment
One of the best things about the UNIX environment (aside from being stable and efficient) is the vast array of software tools available to help you do your job. Traditionally, a UNIX tool does only one thing, but does that one thing very well. For example, grep is very easy to use and can search vast amounts of data quickly. The find tool can find a particular file or files based on all kinds of criteria. It's pretty easy to string these tools together to build even more powerful tools, such as a tool that finds all of the .log files in the /home directory and searches each one for a particular entry. This erector-set mentality allows UNIX system administrators to seem to always have the right tool for the job.
Cron traditionally has been considered another such a tool for job scheduling, but is it enough? This webinar considers that very question. The first part builds on a previous Geek Guide, Beyond Cron, and briefly describes how to know when it might be time to consider upgrading your job scheduling infrastructure. The second part presents an actual planning and implementation framework.
Join Linux Journal's Mike Diehl and Pat Cameron of Help Systems.
Free to Linux Journal readers.View Now!
|The Firebird Project's Firebird Relational Database||Jul 29, 2016|
|Stunnel Security for Oracle||Jul 28, 2016|
|SUSE LLC's SUSE Manager||Jul 21, 2016|
|My +1 Sword of Productivity||Jul 20, 2016|
|Non-Linux FOSS: Caffeine!||Jul 19, 2016|
|Murat Yener and Onur Dundar's Expert Android Studio (Wrox)||Jul 18, 2016|
- The Firebird Project's Firebird Relational Database
- Stunnel Security for Oracle
- My +1 Sword of Productivity
- SUSE LLC's SUSE Manager
- Managing Linux Using Puppet
- Non-Linux FOSS: Caffeine!
- Murat Yener and Onur Dundar's Expert Android Studio (Wrox)
- Parsing an RSS News Feed with a Bash Script
- Google's SwiftShader Released
- Doing for User Space What We Did for Kernel Space
With all the industry talk about the benefits of Linux on Power and all the performance advantages offered by its open architecture, you may be considering a move in that direction. If you are thinking about analytics, big data and cloud computing, you would be right to evaluate Power. The idea of using commodity x86 hardware and replacing it every three years is an outdated cost model. It doesn’t consider the total cost of ownership, and it doesn’t consider the advantage of real processing power, high-availability and multithreading like a demon.
This ebook takes a look at some of the practical applications of the Linux on Power platform and ways you might bring all the performance power of this open architecture to bear for your organization. There are no smoke and mirrors here—just hard, cold, empirical evidence provided by independent sources. I also consider some innovative ways Linux on Power will be used in the future.Get the Guide