Focus on Software

by David A. Bandel

Things continue to develop at a rapid pace. I took a look back at some of the packages I reviewed several months ago, and noticed many have had significant improvements. One package, the Ministry of Truth, a job tracking system, has morphed into a simple way to create databases and tables and make use of them. The original job tracking database is included and can be expanded. Other packages haven't made such a drastic metamorphosis, but have improved. So if you found them lacking back then, take another look.


For those Linux users who have administered SCO boxes or other systems that have a utility known as the System Activity Report (SAR), you know what you're missing. For those who haven't, SAR is a great tool to track your system's health. A clone or port is long overdue. The way to get the best indication of your system's health is by putting an entry in crontab to run atsar every twenty minutes. This program will list how resources are being used, so you can prioritize what to buy to fix any bottlenecks found in the system. The atsar report lists percentages for user, system, nice and idle. Armed with this information, you can more easily justify system expenditures. It requires glibc.


Still in development, ext2resize shows a lot of promise. This utility purports to allow you to resize (shrink or extend) an existing EXT2 partition. Being the coward that I am and not having a disk or partition handy with expendable data, I tested only against a file I created, carefully following the instructions with the package. I would need to throw in a disk to test it properly. Problem is, I don't have one. It requires glibc.


ippl is an IP protocol logger designed as a replacement for IP Logger, which logs IP packets. In contrast to iplogger, it is highly configurable. It will log any or all TCP, UDP and ICMP messages using the syslog facility, depending on how you have configured it. With this available, all you need is a Perl script or two to search (using grep) through the messages and check for anomalous behavior. Crackers often use scripts that essentially outsmart programs looking for sequential port scans by doing slow scans over a period of hours or days. With some as-yet-unwritten scripts, ippl could detect these scans. Now, if I just knew Perl. It requires glibc and libpthread.


galway is a small program that is a step toward becoming a usable web-page creation tool. It uses pull-down menus to help you create pages. These pull-down menus aren't complete as of this writing, but should be soon. If you don't like what you see, it is easily changed. You can add pull-downs, remove them, change them, or add/delete/change items on the pull-down menus. Since on any given set of web pages the top and bottom portions of the page (those containing the headers and footers) change rarely or very little, this program allows an upper and lower template to be added (respectively) above and below the body of the page. It requires guile, guile-gtk and gtk.


Got a student just starting out in chemistry who needs a copy of the periodic table of elements? gperiodic doesn't have it all (valences are missing, for one thing), but it does give the correct name, atomic number, weight, and boiling and melting points. This quick reference may be all your budding DuPont needs for a while. It requires libgtk, libgdk, libglib, libgmodule, libdl, libXext, libX11, libstdc++, libm and glibc.


syswatch is a nice utility that displays in a web browser window what is going on on your system. System information shown includes uptime, kernel version, RAM and swap. A second section shows file system information. A third section displays the output from w command. A final section displays resource hogs based on CPU usage, memory usage, and amount of time on the processor. The only change I would make is to add an HTML tag to update the page automatically every minute or so. It requires a web server that allows CGI scripts (Perl) and a web browser.


xps displays a process tree in an easy-to-read format. Unlike other process tree viewers/display programs, this one makes good use of diagonal lines to keep things grouped and on the screen without much scrolling around. Color is used to denote various states (running, sleeping, etc.). Double-clicking on a process pops up a window with specifics on that process and options which allow you to change priorities (renice) or send signals to the process, if you have sufficient permissions. It requires libXmu, libXm, libXext, libXt, libX11, libSM, libICE and glibc.

David A. Bandel ( is a Computer Network Consultant specializing in Linux. When not working, he can be found hacking his own system or enjoying the view of Seattle from an airplane.
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