Linux for the Timid, Part 3

by Marcel Gagné

Welcome back, everyone, to the "Corner". Before I jump right in to today's topic, let me begin with a friendly warning. While this is part 3 of the current series, it is kind of a part 2 to last week, so be warned that this is not a standalone article. You need to have read the previous one. Friendly warning ends.

Now, I hope you had some fun with DragonLinux last week. This time around, we'll get down and dirty and do some low-level configurations with this monster. After last week's article came out, I received an interesting comment from a reader. After installing it on his own notebook, he proceeded to install it on a handful of PCs around the office (and at home). Still not satisfied, he then did all the things I'm going to talk about today, configuring his network, downloading and installing different packages, and subscribing to the DragonLinux mailing list. For those of you who are finding the wide desktop video just a bit weird, we'll cover that, too. Stay tuned. As always, your feedback is appreciated. Thanks to everyone.

One more thing before I go on. I did receive two e-mails from people who had trouble with the download site I suggested, due to weirdness on the main page (many others apparently did not). Here's an alternative. If you visit the download and add-on page at the following address, you can get both extra packages and the file. Sorry for any inconvenience.

When I last left this series, I promised I would help you get this particular "Linux for the Timid" configured for networking. In case you happen to be curious about such things, my test DragonLinux system is a Dell Latitude CPI 233 notebook running Windows 95. It's the last Windows 95 PC in the office. Getting it hooked up to our network required loading a module for the 3Com card built in to the docking station and configuring an IP address for our network.

If you are on a network and already have an existing Internet connection, you should probably use the netconfig command to set that up. Basically, you just answer the questions about IP address and gateways. You are prompted for all the information you might need. If this is your network, then you'll know what addresses are available. If you are in an office and you want to try this, check with your system administrator for a free IP address, as well as the numbers for the default gateway and DNS. Before doing that, however, you will probably need to load the driver for your network card. This is where you might want your more Linux-savvy friend to help, but it's really not that hard if you know what kind of card you have in your system. The driver you need is very likely on the system already. Change directories to /etc/rc.d and edit rc.modules.

If you are new to Linux, you may find pico a friendlier editor than vi, a favorite of the old-time UNIX crowd (and yes, it is what I use). Luckily, pico is also included with DragonLinux. Another nice thing about pico is it offers helpful keystroke reminders at the bottom of your screen. This makes it easy for those who are new to Linux editors. Here's what you do to edit the file using pico. Start by logging in as root. You do not need the graphical interface (KDE) to do this.

     # cd /etc/rc.d
     # pico rc.modules

Using your cursor keys, scroll down and find the section that says "Network device support". Uncomment the line that matches your card by removing the # at the beginning of that line (use the DEL key, or backspace over it). In my case, the line I needed was the one that reads "/sbin/modprobe 3c59x". That driver actually covers a handful of 3Com cards. When you've chosen your card, save the file (using ctrl-o) and exit (using ctrl-x). This will automatically load the driver for you at restart. To load it without rebooting (this is Linux, after all), type the line you uncommented at the root prompt.

     # /sbin/modprobe 3c59x

Now you can go ahead and run netconfig and tell it everything it needs to know, including the address of your default gateway for Internet access.

If you remember from last week's column, I had you create a non-root user. Log out of root now by typing exit and log back in as your non-root user. Incidentally, you can create as many users as you like.

If you are not on an office network but have a dial-up account with your ISP, you can configure your DragonLinux system to access that account using the Kppp program from the KDesktop menu. Click on the big K in the bottom left-hand corner, go up to the Internet menu and choose Kppp. This is a nice, user-friendly tool for setting up your dial-up network connection.

The first time Kppp pops up, it will tell you about its friendly "tooltips" feature. Click "OK" when you are happy with that. If you don't want to see this again, make sure you check off the "don't show me this again" box. To configure your modem for first-time use, do this - click on the Setup button. On the next window you see, click "Modem", then "Query modem". Kppp will try to locate your modem and set up appropriate AT configuration commands. Click "OK" to accept the recommended settings.

Now go back to the Accounts tab, and click "New". This is where you will create a dialup account based on your ISP's settings. My ISP uses a script-based connection. In other words, they send me a login prompt, I enter my login, then they send me a password prompt, and so on. You'll notice there is a drop-down list of commands for scripting. Mine uses only "Expect" and "Send" commands. This type of dialog is fairly common. Most connections I've set up are not much more complicated than that. The script I wound up creating on the Kppp tab is extremely simple and consists of only four lines.

     Expect     ogin:
     Send       myISPlogin
     Expect     ssword:
     Send       myISPpassword

There's another tab for DNS configuration, where you should enter the numbers provided by your ISP. There are a few other options you may or may not need, depending on your ISP's requirements. When you are done, click "OK" a couple of times to get out of the configuration screen. Kppp is interesting in that it gives you a nice menu from which you can set up multiple ISP accounts (for you high-flying globetrotters out there). Next, you choose the connection you want, and click "Connect" to dial out.

In my case, it wasn't all that simple. I had one other step to go through for modem dialup. As I mentioned at the beginning, I was working on a notebook. I had a PCMCIA modem to deal with. This brings us to add-ons.

Since you'll want to know more and will eventually want more programs (for instance, Netscape is not included in the default distribution), you will want to check out DragonFish's Support Site at for additional programs and information. No Netscape, but no problem. You can use lynx, a nice text-only browser that works from the command line. I decided to do just that - run lynx from a terminal window. For me, anyway, there was another small catch.

This brings me to the only really weird (and annoying) thing I ran into with my install of DragonLinux. From the K desktop, I could not start a Konsole or X terminal session (on your panel, that's the terminal icon with a seashell over it). I found this a bit strange, to say the least. The reason is that the pseudo-terminal device files were not yet created. You may or may not experience this problem, but should you experience it as well, the cure is an easy one. Linux distributions generally include a script to recreate device files in the event that something strange occurs (as it did here). That script is called MAKEDEV. To recreate a device, log out and close KDE (by clicking on the little x in the panel). Once back at the command prompt, change to the /dev directory and create the pseudo-tty in this way:

     #  cd /dev
     # ./MAKEDEV pty

Wait a few seconds for the prompt to return, then restart your X Window session and everything should work just dandy. You can then use lynx to visit DragonFish's site for a nice Netscape browser. Specifically, you'll want to visit this link (mentioned earlier) for version 0.8 add-ons:

Since, as I mentioned in the last article, DragonLinux is based on Slackware, you install packages with the installpkg command. To install Netscape, for instance, change to the directory in which you saved it and install it like this:

     # cd download_dir
     # installpkg netscape.tgz

To run Netscape, you can either open a terminal window and type netscape at the command prompt, or go through the KDE menu this way. Click on the big K, choose "non-KDE apps", click over to "Internet" and there you will find Netscape.

Let's just talk briefly about some other files you might want to add (although at this point, you've got a pretty cool and complete system to play with). Earlier, I promised I would talk about the screen resolution. If you are running 800x600 and you don't want to muck about with switching modes, you might want to grab the 800x600.tgz file from the download site. It comes with an 800x600 replacement for your /etc/XF86Config file (your X Window configuration file). You might remember that last week, I suggested you could cycle between display options with Ctrl-Alt-Keypad+. To lock that in, you can either become a master X window configuration or do what I did. Since I was running 800x600 and it was being displayed in 640x480 mode, I had to motor around the screen to get at everything. Since an 800x600 config is included in this package, you can use that replacement file to avoid switching between modes all the time. You may just want to check out the contents of 800x600.tgz (as you can with any package) by using this command:

     # installpkg -warn package.tgz

The -warn flag means I just want to know what is in the package without installing it. This particular package has only three files. They are as follows:


All I did was copy the 800x600 config file, writing over my original config file.

     # cp /etc/XF86Config.800x600 /etc/XF86Config

Then, I restarted X and went back into my K desktop, which no longer stretched beyond the edges of my screen ...

What else? There's tcpip1.tgz, if you want others to be able to get into your system with telnet. You might want to run a web server. How about apache.tgz? In fact, since these are Slackware 4.0 files, you can visit the Slackware web site at and download additional applications by clicking on the "Packages" link on the left-hand menu. When you get to the download screen, just make sure you select 4.0 as the Slackware version.

DragonLinux is a project that is very much alive and well. In fact, a new version is in the works as I write. As with most things like this, I expect it to be somewhat bigger than this version, so v0.8 might still be a good idea if you don't want to devote more space to this experiment. If you're particularly curious, you might consider joining the mailing list for the group. Simply click the "Support" link off the main page, and click on "Join" for the mailing list. If you would like to get just a sample of what goes on there, browsing the archives of past discussions is also very easy. The address is

DragonLinux is quite the beast, and should keep you busy for some time. You may even find that you love the beast enough to consider throwing away that Windows desktop entirely, and loading up one of the full Linux distributions. If you like DragonLinux, you should definitely try Slackware at

Tired of that dragon on your desktop? Have no fear. Banishing the beast is a snap, and you won't need a spear and magic helmet. Start by booting back up in Windows (remember to shut down properly). Now, simply click the Start button, go up to "Programs", find the DragonLinux folder and click on "Uninstall". I should mention that the Uninstall program will remove only what the Install originally put in. Any changes or new files you may have added will need to be removed manually. To do that, you have two choices. The first is to use your file manager (Windows Explorer), right-click on the Linux folder and choose "Delete". The second is to resort to good old DOS, and use the command DELTREE.

     C:        (or D: if this is where you have it installed)

When next we meet, I'll wrap up this series with one more alternative to trying out Linux without the fear of commitment. Until next time ... don't be scared; give Linux a try. I promise, it won't hurt a bit.

N.B. Miss the first two articles in Marcel's "Linux for the Timid" series? Here are links to Part One and Part Two.

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