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
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'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
CSA Test Drive: http://www.testdrive.compaq.com/
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.
That's it…you'll be able to use both the
Zip drive and the printer without loading or unloading the