Letters to the Editor

by Various
Wrong School, Right Side of the Mountains

I just received several copies of the April issue. On page 62 I see an article written by me with the subtitle: “Assembly language is a wonderful tool for teaching about how computers work. Professor Sevenich explains how it is used at WSU.” I am at EWU, not WSU. —Richard Sevenich from somewhere east of the Cascades rsevenic@blinn.sirti.org

XFree86 with the Matrox Millenium Board

Your article on Lectra Systèmès CAD/CAM systems (Issue #36, April 1997, page 53) is very interesting. I understand you are having problems with the current version of XFree86 with the Matrox Millenium Board. Here's a possible solution:

The XFree86 Organization has recently released the new 3.2 version of XFree86, which is also known as X11R6.1. It now supports about 320 different cards, including the Matrox Millenium, and several Chips and Technologies chip sets commonly used in notebook computers. The site to download the new version of the XFree86 is: ftp://sunsite.doc.ic.ac.uk/packages/XFree86/3.2/binaries/Linux/ix86-Elf/

The web site for further information is: http://www.xfree86.org/. —T. Parker tparker@acy.digex.net

Linuxers Unite!

I am a college student attending Stephen F. Austin State University. I work in a Geographic Information Systems Laboratory (GIS), and we have been using just AIX machines. However, we do have a full-blown Linux PC, and it is great. We were considering upgrading to all Linux PCs in our lab, because they were cheaper and faster than the AIX boxes, but we ran into a problem—the software we need to run to make our GIS maps is not supported by ESRI. We gave them a call, and they told us: “Linux will not be a supported platform. Product ports are user-driven and there are not enough users wanting this OS”. How could this could be true when all you have to do is get on the web to see that millions of people are using Linux? So I need Linux users to e-mail ESRI at buspartners@esri.com and tell them you use Linux and there are many more people using Linux too. ESRI needs to get its head out of Microsoft's world and see what is going on in the real world. —Tred Riggs tred@oak.sfasu.edu

Uplifting News

I was very interested in Eric Raymond's article “Building the Perfect Box: How to Design Your Linux Workstation” (Issue # 36, April 1997, page 16), and it was a good read. But... Under the section entitled “Some pitfalls to avoid”, Eric says don't buy PnP cards—Linux doesn't support them. I would suggest this is rather a bleak way to look at it and that the situation is not that bad. Check out isapnptools on http://www.roestock.demon.co.uk/isapnptools/ for some software I wrote to configure PnP devices. This brings PnP hardware to the same state as configuring jumpers, i.e., you still need a driver.

Currently, I have a PnP internal modem and network card running quite happily using isapnptools to configure them on boot.

Debian appears to have picked this up as well. —Peter isapnp@roestock.demon.co.uk

Distributions Question

I read the descriptions of the various distributions of Linux in your 1997 Buyer's Guide. I currently use Slackware and was considering a new distribution, possibly Debian. In the review starting on page 128, Phil Hughes states “... as far as I know, no commercial software packages are available in the Debian format.” I am confused. What difference does the format really make? If company X supports kernel Y and the distribution supports kernel Y, shouldn't the product of company X run on that distribution?

I understand that the installation may not be as pretty as if it were written for a package system supported for the distribution. The software, however, should work with the kernel, i.e., if WordPerfect exists for Linux kernel ver. 2.0.0 on, say, Red Hat, should not WordPerfect work for any distribution using kernel version 2.0.0 or am I missing something? —Thomas L. Gossard tgossard@ix.netcom.com

There are two considerations: loading the package and licensing. If the package comes in a format easily unpacked on any system (such as the gzipped tar format used by Slackware), unpacking is not a problem. You may, however, need to deal with versions and locations of libraries and other files to get it running.

If the software is packaged in Red Hat's .rpm format, you need a utility to unpack it. Debian, for example, includes such a package. Here at LJ, we are in the process of converting our systems from Slackware to Debian. As part of this conversion, we are adding office suite software for some of our users. We installed a copy of Applixware on a Debian system with no problems. (And Erik Troan of Red Hat informs us that Applixware will run on other distributions as well.)

You mentioned WordPerfect, which leads us to the licensing issue. Caldera has a licensing agreement with Corel Corp., makers of WordPerfect, which states that you can run the Linux version of WordPerfect only under Caldera's flavor of Linux. My understanding is that the other applications Caldera has facilitated porting to Linux are not licensed this way—you are free to run them with any flavor of Linux. —Phil Hughes phil@ssc.com

Pure Java

I read your article about The Linux Appliance (“From the Publisher”, Issue #36, April 1997, page 12) with interest. Right offhand, I can't help but ask myself:

How can such an appliance compete with a “pure Java” system as an appliance? What kind of marketing technique might be used to offset the power of Microsoft? How might we get some major hardware makers (like Sony, Panasonic, etc.) interested?

Is there anything I can do, or anyone I might contact, to help this along (purely on a part-time basis; I have a full-time job as a mainframe/NT system support analyst; if it became a money-maker, I could quit, of course)?

I don't have any business or manufacturing experience, but I have wanted to contribute something good to Linux for a long time. This might be a possibility. —Chuck

I'm not the person ready to manufacture and market this appliance so I am hoping someone else will seriously address these points, but here is my input.

A pure Java system might be a winner, but it could also be a dead end. An addition to Java or a move to something other than Java would result in an obsolete system. On the other hand, a programmable computer makes it easy to follow software changes. In addition, upgrading from an Internet Appliance to a useful computer for word processing and such is also possible.

As for the power of Microsoft, the sales approach is what could make the difference. Anyone can buy a PC/Microsoft system from a catalog or retail store but for many, this is a scary proposition. While computers have come a long way toward being easy to set up and use, offering the necessary support with a system like this could make a big difference. Much like getting a price break on a cellular phone when you purchase air time, ISPs could offer a price break on these systems with connectivity contracts. The ISP would then be there to support it.

As for the possibility of Sony or Panasonic getting interested, if you know the right people to talk to, point them at me. The idea of Linux on the Sony Playstation has already been suggested. —Phil Hughes phil@ssc.com

Applixware Review

I appreciated your review of Applixware in the April 1997 issue of the Linux Journal. I do feel obligated to point one large error—Applix data is NOT provided with the 4.3 release, according to Lisa Sullivan at Red Hat.

There are some people (Cameron Newham, cameron.newham@nomura.co.uk) working on interfaces to databases that do exist on Linux, but the full-fledged Applix Data interface is not likely to exist in the near future, a victim of lack of support from the big-3 database vendors—at least, that is the reason in my opinion.

Applixware has a chance to do either a lot of good or a lot of harm to the Linux community. It is not quite ready to replace MS Office. Filters and data access, as well as performance with embedded graphics, are areas that need work.

If people expect it to do everything, try it, and are disappointed, they may end up dismissing Linux as junk—a tragic mistake. —Cary O'Brien cobrien@access.digex.net

Many Thanks

Dear Terry Dawson,

I just wanted to thank you for your article “A 10-Minute Guide for Using PPP to Connect Linux to the Internet” that appeared in Issue 36 of Linux Journal.

I bought Slackware 2.3 (kernel version 1.2.8) in September of 1995, loaded it on my Micron Pentium-90 and have been experimenting with it ever since. Being more experienced with DOS/Windows, I wasn't successful in getting my PPP connection to work from Linux. I read Matt Welsh's Running Linux and Patrick Volkerding's Linux Configuration and Installation as well as the PPP HOWTO but had no success until your article. Since then, I've gotten ftp, rlogin, telnet, lynx 2.3 and Netscape Navigator 1.1 to run. Next, it's e-mail (I'm sending you this from my DOS/Windows partition). —Steve Tjensvoldstjen svo@execpc.com


I read your article in this month's LJ with much interest. In the March 10th issue of Computerworld magazine, Mr. Charles Babcock wrote about building his own network computer from scratch. From the sound of his article, Mr. Babcock had no previous experience with Linux, yet that was the OS he chose for his NC.

Mr. Babcock was not able to keep the price of his NC below $500. However, it is not clear whether he used many resources towards getting the best prices available. Clearly, anyone venturing into this on a large scale would be able to better his price—$1200.

What interests me most about both articles is the fact that such a system already exists—and has existed for over a year. IGEL, LLC has a line of systems called Etherminals—they were even advertised in LJ for a while. (That's where I learned of them)

I left a full-time position as a Unix Systems Engineer in August of '95 to help my wife with the acquisition of the veterinary hospital where she had worked (as a veterinarian). One of my first responsibilities was to install a computer network.

That's when I discovered the Etherminals. The model 3x was IGEL's current offering—386sx-40 w/ 8MB RAM, on-board Ethernet (all 3 media types) and the standard compliment of 2 serial and 1 parallel ports. What made these machines so attractive to me was that they booted Linux and X Windows from ROM/NVRAM. These units had no drives—not a floppy, not a hard drive, nothing.

I went out on a limb and bought three of them. Once they arrived, I connected them to the Ethernet I'd run (with the help of a couple of good friends) the week before. In a little over an hour I had everything working like a charm. I think it helped more than a little that the server was running Linux as well. (This was something that I insisted on—it even became a point of contention with two potential vendors of veterinary office applications.)

In the end, we chose a vendor whose application was (and still is) DOS-based. DOSEMU now runs multiple sessions on the server and uses X to redirect the I/O to the Etherminals. It's an acceptable solution—DOS being the weakest link.

The most important point of this whole message is that this solution was arrived at over a year ago. No need to wait for SUN or ORACLE. It's here today. —Chuck Stickleman stick@richnet.net

Load Disqus comments