The Linux Letter for
October 4, 1999
Welcome to this week's Letter! If you've
been counting, this makes two in a row, a new record lately. As
I've said, school and work keep me very busy. If you've got an
inquiring mind, I'm studying electrical engineering at Boise
State University. I'm a junior, with a couple of years left to
go. It's a hard course of study, but things have changed a lot
since I went to college about 20 years ago (for the first time).
Obviously the biggest difference is the use of computers.
Very sly, you say, segueing into the topic.
Thank you. BSU is a lot like other colleges and universities
around the country, and probably around the world. They have a
large campus network made up of almost any kind of computer that
you can think of, from Apples to IBMs to Suns to SGIs, and
everything in between. And while every professor and student
will cling to his or her favorite operating system, some of the
best work is being done on Linux.
The Math and Computer Science Department
depends on Linux a great deal. Recently, they replaced their
aging Hewlett Packard Apollo workstations with powerful PCs
running RedHat Linux. These PCs are connected to a network of
Hewlett Packard X terminals, so that many students can use these
older terminals, but take advantage of the power of the fast
As a devout user of these systems, I can
attest to their performance. And, fortunately, there is a lot of
software that's ideally suited to the up and coming student, and
not just in technical fields!
If math is your thing, one of the most
powerful computer algebra systems is available in student
versions for Linux: Mathematica. Mathematica will solve complex
math problems from simple arithmetic to advanced Calculus and
differential equations. You can also create detailed plots to
represent your solutions. And it uses a graphical interface
At Boise State University, the computer
algebra system of choice is Maple from Waterloo software. The
latest version, 5.1, ships with a Linux version that runs under
X, and includes some extra graphing and plotting utilities. I
use it. I like it. I recommend it.
Matlab, the indispensable matrix toolkit
for engineers is also available as a student version for Linux.
It contains most of the features of its professional siblings
and will allow you to simulate complex systems easily.
If words are your game, Corel and Star
Division's word processing offerings will satisfy you. Corel
offers WordPerfect 8.0 for Linux free of charge, while Star
Division (recently acquired by Sun) gives away their complete
office suite. Either program will read and export most Microsoft
Word documents, so your latest term paper will always be
understandable to your less enlightened professors.
Graphics are a cinch with The GIMP, the GNU
Image Manipulation Program. The GIMP has been around for years
and, with recent improvements, rivals expensive programs like
Photoshop in features and usability. Even as a simple image
viewer, it's hard to beat. The GIMP uses plug-ins similarly to
Photoshop, but runs much more quickly.
For surfing the Internet, Netscape
Navigator is the winner. The latest versions seem to have more
bugs than before, but for a completely featured, free web
browser, it's hard to beat Netscape. An easy to use email client
is also included, with support for both POP3 and IMAP email.
Lest you think that the world revolves
around work, take another look! As Linux becomes more deeply
entrenched in computer society, more games are becoming
available. Most titles from Id are released on Linux and Loki is
doing a huge business porting Windows games to Linux. Some of
the hottest new graphics cards, including the Voodoo, Voodoo2,
TNT and TNT2 chipsets are supported by Linux, including OpenGL
Support for other programs is on the
horizon. Opera, a very popular Windows-based web browser should
be available for Linux very soon. Other software packages will
surely follow in their wake, so clearly now is a good time to be
a student running Linux!
On another topic, I usually use this column
to advocate Linux. I don't usually use it as a soapbox for other
things, and I'm really not doing that now, but I thought that
I'd take this chance to tell you about a very good book that I
read a few months ago, especially since I've received a few
emails from readers who also liked it.
Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is,
perhaps, one of the best cyber-thrillers that I've read in a
long time. And, wonderfully enough, you'll read it and not even
think about the book as such. If you're interested in
cryptography, data storage in the coming decade or you just like
an exciting, well-written book that features computers and
geeks, get it!
- at Amazon.com
Boise State University:
Hewlett Packard: http://www.hp.com
RedHat Linux: http://www.redhat.com
Star Division: http://www.sun.com/staroffice
The GIMP: http://www.gimp.org