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  Linux Letter 15

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 servers.

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 under X.

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!

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!


orangearrowright.gif (836 bytes)  Cryptonomicon - at Amazon.com

 

Boise State University:
http://www.boisestate.edu

Hewlett Packard: http://www.hp.com

RedHat Linux: http://www.redhat.com

Mathematica: http://www.wolfram.com

Matlab: http://www.mathworks.com

Corel: http://linux.corel.com

Star Division: http://www.sun.com/staroffice

The GIMP: http://www.gimp.org

Netscape: http://www.netscape.com

Maple: http://www.maplesoft.com

Opera: http://www.opera.com

Loki: http://www.lokigames.com


Hot Tip of the Week

This week's column went loooong…so there's no hot tip. But if you just can't get your fill of ways to improve your installation of Linux, head to http://www.tunelinux.com.

Happy computing!

Drew Dunn

 



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