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