Linux Universe

by Christopher Boscolo

Authors: Stefan Strobel and Thomas Uhl

Publisher: Springer-Verlag

ISBN: 0-387-94506-7

Price: $34.95

Reviewer: Christopher Boscolo

While perusing the Linux section of a local book store, I ran across Linux Universe. The teasers on the back of the book describe a 32-bit multi-user/multitasking UNIX system that runs directly from a CD-ROM. They also mention: easy access to the Internet, a graphical administration tool, and ELF file format. At first, I thought this was yet another Linux book accompanied by existing Linux distributions on CD-ROM. However, I discovered that Linux Universe was a completely new distribution. The book is actually an installation guide with some reference material tacked on to the end.

It is not clear which type of user Linux Universe is targeting. The professional-looking install program and GUI administration tool would seem to indicate a target audience of beginner to intermediate users. For this reason, I paid special attention to ease of use and clarity of the documentation.

What Is Included

The book contains 7 chapters of installation instructions, a reference, and the Linux Universe CD-ROM. Chapters 1-3 contain an introduction and system requirements information, while chapters 4-6 cover the installation and configuration. Chapter 7 describes how to use the GUI administration tool, and the purpose of system directories such as /etc and /var. The last section of the book is a reference containing UNIX command descriptions. However, the book was by no means a complete reference to configuring a Linux system.

Linux Universe uses System V style startup scripts, (i.e., rc1.d, rc2.d...). It also uses the new ELF format executables. The 1.2.0 kernel that is installed includes support for most hardware. It includes X11R6 and most of the popular utilities found in other distributions.

One area where the Linux Universe distribution seems to fall short is in telecommunications and Internet access. Although the book mentions easy Internet access, I could not find Netscape or Mosaic, and PPP support is not compiled into the kernel. [Licensing restrictions make it difficult to put Mosaic and Netscape on a CD—ED]

Two Linux Universe utilities make it shine as a potential commercial distribution: the Boot Manager and xadmin. Linux Universe uses its own OS loader instead of LILO. The Linux Universe boot manager is probably the best boot manager I have used. Its 3D looking text interface displays a countdown while booting, and allows you to interrupt it. You can also change what and how you want to boot on the fly. This allowed me to add a configuration to boot my previous Linux version without having to reboot with the new configuration.

The second great utility is xadmin. xadmin is a wishx application that allows you to configure almost every aspect of your Linux system. With xadmin, I added an account for myself, and configured the file system to mount my previous Linux version and my MS DOS partition. xadmin can also be used to configure network information, modem ports, printing, and to change system settings such as time/date. Another nice feature of xadmin is the package install/uninstall. The Linux Universe distribution treats applications such as emacs or the Ada compiler as packages that can be installed and uninstalled through xadmin. One difficulty was determining which features, such as man pages, were in which packages.

Installation

I wish I could say that the installation was a breeze, but I ran into several snags. The Linux Universe distribution ships only on a CD-ROM, with no floppy disk to do a fresh install. This means you must have DOS or Linux already installed. Although this is common for most distributions, it is handy to have an install disk. First I tried to use the DOS application which starts the Linux install program. This attempt failed due to lack of conventional memory, even though I had over 500KB available, which is what the documentation indicates is required. The only way I could free up some more conventional memory was to remove my DOS CD-ROM drivers... do you see the problem here? The alternative was to use rawrite.exe to write a Linux Universe installation boot floppy, which worked fine.

With the boot floppy made, I rebooted and was greeted with the Boot Manager, which then fired up Linux and the professional-looking install application. One nice feature of the installation process was the ability to tell the installer where to find Linux Universe installation sources. Along with the choices for different CD-ROM types was the choice of an NFS file system. The book describes the steps of installing Linux Universe from choosing the keyboard type to setting up X-Windows. One complaint about the documentation was that it says to create a swap partition but does not describe how. I also had a problem with the X-Windows installation. The installation program has you select a mouse and mouse port, but when X-Windows came up, the mouse was not configured properly.

Configuration

Configuring the system after it booted was fairly simple, again because of xadmin. The installation book suggests rebuilding the kernel after rebooting, which I needed to do anyway, as I wanted PPP support. However, the book did not mention which packages needed to be installed to build the kernel. After installing the compiler and the assembler, I had to fix some of the links to header files used by kernel sources. With the kernel rebuilt I set up PPP and used xadmin to configure my network information with no problems.

I configured Linux Universe to use XDM. When the system booted, the root window displayed a commercial looking Linux Universe Logo. The default xsession is also set up well. It uses fvwm, and comes up with a utility toolbar down the right side of the screen. Using Linux Universe with the defaults for the user I created went smoothly.

Summary

It is difficult to see exactly which sets of users benefit the most from Linux Universe. For beginners, it's is probably not the right choice. The snags during installation and the lack of hard bound documentation would be overwhelming. For beginners I would recommend a more “plug and play” distribution, such as Yggdrasil. For the intermediate to expert users, or users looking for easy Internet access, I would stick to other distributions as well, such as Slackware. Linux Universe seems best suited for an intermediate user who wants an easily administered Linux system, but is knowledgeable enough to handle problems when they arise.

Christopher Boscolo (chris@neopath.com) orks as a Lead Software Engineer for NeoPath, where he is working on the AutoPap 300 Automatic Pap Screener System. When he is not working, he enjoys spending time with his wife and son. Christopher has been using Linux for over two years as a development platform for network management package.

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