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  Linux Letter 14

The Linux Letter for September 27, 1999

Welcome, again, to another Linux Letter. If you're a die-hard reader, you'll see that a few issues are missing. Chalk it up to school and a severe lack of time. If this is beginning to sound like a broken record, you can always send your donations to Drew's School Fund! On with the show…

I've received a some emails over the past couple of weeks from people who want to know if Linux will run on their particular hardware. They go something like this: "I have XYZ motherboard, ABC sound card and QRS sound card. Will Linux work on it?"

The answer is, "Probably." This is a better answer than a few years ago. In, say, 1996 I might have said that Linux would work only if your hardware wasn't very new. Today, if you've chosen hardware that is reasonably new, perhaps less than three or four months old, you'll be in a good position to have a top notch, screamin' computer.

What happened over the course of three years? Two things…computer hardware became (reasonably) cheap and commercial vendors realized that there was money to be made in Linux. Cheap hardware meant that poor, starving college students and professors (at one point the bulk of Linux programmers) could afford to buy high performance computers. Commercial success with Linux meant that mainstream hardware vendors and manufacturers like Diamond and Creative Labs would either release the specifications of their hardware or program the drivers themselves. And once a wide variety of hardware drivers became available, very powerful Linux systems became possible.

So if you're building or buying a new computer, you can probably count on the hardware being compatible with Linux, at least to a degree that will allow it to be useful. Some things may never be compatible, like proprietary "Internet" keyboards or Win modems, but most devices should work. But what if you're caught in that nether world of computing…you have a computer that's a few years old. It's got some kind of video card in it, and you're pretty sure that there's a sound card and a modem, but you don't know who made them. You can see the CD-ROM and you think that the hard drive is IDE. But how can you tell if what you've got is Linux material?

Enter the Linux Hardware Compatibility HOWTO. From Laptops to scanners, this document is the last word on what's compatible with Linux. And while it describes various computer components by brand names, it also delves into details like chipsets and other more generic identifiers.

But there are some things that you can almost guarantee will work with Linux, no matter what. Linux supports almost any motherboards that use ISA, VLB, EISA and PCI buses. Even Microchannel-based motherboards are supported. Standard IDE, MFM and RLL controllers work, supporting both hard drives and CD-ROMs.

Linux supports a ton of other standard and esoteric hardware, from CD-RW drives to amateur radio devices. PCMCIA cards have great support as well. Even most plug and play cards can be supported under Linux with just a little work.

Now, let's say that you're interested in Linux, but you don't know if you're ready to jump into it with both feet. After all, Linux is just a clone of UNIX, and we all know how user hostile UNIX is. Rather than take the time to format your hard drive and install a whole new operating system, you can take a free look at Linux using the Internet, thanks to Compaq.

Compaq's New Technologies Test Drive allows you to test Linux (and several other advanced operating systems) on some of the latest, most powerful computers available. You just need to register at their web site (and give up a little personal information in exchange) to access some extremely fast computers. Since you'll be using the Internet, all you'll get is a text interface, but since that's where most of the heartache of an operating system comes from, this will give you a great opportunity to see what Linux is like. For example, I cruised around a DEC ALPHA EV6 computer with dual processors. I compiled a couple of programs, just to see how fast it was compared to our trusty dual Celeron system in the NOSPIN NOC. Suffice to say that it was much faster. The system runs Red Hat Linux 6.0, with kernel 2.2.10 for Alpha processors. They also have SuSE Linux available and other architectures. It's a great way to learn how Linux works without sacrificing your own computer!

Linux Hardware Compatibility HOWTO: http://www.linuxdoc.org

Diamond Multimedia: http://www.diamondmm.com

Creative Labs: 

CSA Test Drive: http://www.testdrive.compaq.com/


Hot Tip of the Week

Got a Zip drive? Got a printer, too? Got troubles? To use the Zip drive, you probably have to unload your printer drivers. What a hassle! Wouldn't it be nice to be able to use both without having to insert and remove various modules? You can do it!

You'll need to load the modules parport, ppa and lp in order. First, make sure that you have all three of them by looking in /lib/modules/<kernel version>/scsi (ppa.o) and /lib/modules/<kernel version>/misc (lp.o and parport.o).

Put the following lines at the end of your /etc/rc.d/rc.local file. The location of this file may vary…it's in that directory with Red Hat Linux.

insmod parport
insmod ppa
insmod lp

That's it…you'll be able to use both the Zip drive and the printer without loading or unloading the modules.

Happy computing!

Drew Dunn


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