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  Linux Letter 02

So we've talked about work and we've talked about games. But nothing really shows off Linux's abilities like the Internet. Because Linux is a varient of UNIX, it is very net-centric. In fact, Linux works so well as a part of a network that we actually have several Linux-based computers at the NOSPIN Group Network Operations Center that are only accessible through the network...they have no monitors, keyboards or mice.

Virtually anything that you want to do on the Internet can be done with Linux. For instance, Netscape Communicator is available for Linux, offering web browsing and email (among other features), the RealPlayer works well with Linux, Shockwave plugins are available and Adobe Acrobat works great. You can chat with AOL's Instant Messenger or ICQ. And applications like telnet are an integral part of the operating system.

Of course, the first part of using the Internet is connecting to the Internet. If your computer is connected to a local area network, your work is almost done. Your network administrator should have all of the information for you to configure your computer to surf. Just plug the cable into your network adapter and go! If you use a modem, then you have a little more work to do (but not much!)

In the bad old days, before Linux became so popular, connecting to the Internet generally involved editing obscure configuration files, learning the subtleties of your modem's command set and a fair amount of hoping (and maybe a little praying). Things have changed! You're probably using one of the new X environments, like GNOME or KDE. And if you're not, run, don't walk, to your nearest Linux distributor and get one of them!

With one of these environments powering your desktop, configuring an Internet connection is as simple as filling in a few blanks.

Still, there are some things that you need to know before you forge ahead. One of the most important concerns hardware. Over the past several years, "winmodems" have become popular as a very inexpensive way to connect computers to the Internet. They rely on the computer itself to perform some of the work of the modem. Unfortunately, they don't work with Linux. Do a little research on the modem that you're going to buy and make sure that it isn't a winmodem.

Modem standards are also a little hazy. The current standard for 56K modems is v.90. That allows for a theoretical connection rate of 56,000 bits per second. However, you will probably not see that rate because of certain power limitations imposed on the modem manufacturers by the Federal Communications Commission. Also, factors such as line quality and the brand of modem on the other end of the connection play a significant role in the connection rate of your modem.

You'll also need to know what "port" your modem uses. In the Windows world, modems use ports like COM1 or COM2. Linux uses a different disignator and numbering system. In Linux, all series of numbers start with zero. So, COM1 in Windows would be /dev/cua1 or /dev/ttyS1 in Linux (or at least in RedHat Linux). How can you tell what port your modem is using? If your system dual-boots with Windows, simply check the Windows' Device Manager. If your system runs Linux as its only operating system, you may have to work a little harder. If your modem uses jumpers to configure its port, you can refer to those. If it is a plug and play modem, you can probably run the program "/sbin/pnpdump \c | grep <modemstring>".  Substitute the name of your modem for <modemstring>.  For example, if you use a 3COM/USR modem, you would use "USR".  If you own a Supra modem, then you would type "SUPRA".

If your modem is an external device, then you already know which port it is connected to.

Another issue is ISDN. If you are planning on using ISDN to connect to the Internet, I strongly recommend an external modem because it will behave like a standard external modem to Linux. Internal ISDN modems may require additional configuration.

It may seem difficult at first, but Linux works well as a networked operating system. One of the greatest benefits of a Linux system on the Internet is the outstanding security that it provides. While no system is foolproof, you can feel safe that your system is more secure against unwanted intrusion than almost any other operating system.

Finally, if you're one of the fortunate who have cable or ADSL service, your configuration is just like that of a network. And the easiest way to configure your system to connect to the Internet is to run linuxconf as root. You'll find the section on Host Information easy to complete to speed you on your way to high speed Internet surfing.

Finally, I should close this by mentioning that what I've written applies in North America. European telephone systems are not the same and may require some additional tweaking.

And remember, your questions and comments are welcome at linuxLetter@nospin.org.

NET 3 HOWTO: http://metalab.unc.edu/mdw/HOWTO/NET-3-HOWTO.html

Modem HOWTO: http://metalab.unc.edu/LDP/HOWTO/Modem-HOWTO.html

Netscape Communicator: http://www.netscape.com

RealPlayer: http://www.real.com

Acrobat: http://www.adobe.com

Shockwave: http://www.macromedia.com

AIM: http://www.aol.com

ICQ: http://www.icq.com

The Hot Tip of the Week!

Are your directory listings dull, boring and monochromatic? Spice them up with a quick fix to the ls command!

Just edit the file .bashrc (in your home directory) and add this line:          alias ls = "ls --color -F"

Thanks to the team at Linux.com!

Happy Computing!

Drew Dunn


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