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  Linux Letter 18

The Linux Letter for January 3, 2000

Welcome to the new millennium. Unless, of course, you're among the small, but vocal minority who insists that the millennium starts next year. In that case, welcome to the last year of the old millennium.

You've heard about Y2K and maybe you've even been caught up in the hysteria, but now that it's here, you know that the world hasn't ended, the international infrastructure hasn't collapsed, and things are working pretty much like normal. I hope that you weren't surprised.

Of course, if your computer runs Linux, most of the horrors that Y2K pundits predicted wouldn't have affected you because Linux has always been Y2K compliant. In fact, it won't have date problems until sometime around 2034...and hopefully by then the state of technology will have advanced to find a solution to that problem.

Before I started writing this, I thought about trotting out my predictions of the directions that Linux would take this year, but then I realized that there are enough computer psychics publishing their prognostications that one more would just be extra noise. So let's do something different.

Earlier this year, my tried and true Micron TransPort XPE notebook started having display problems. Since the computer was not only out of warranty and Micron wasn't interested in replacing the screen, I decided that it was time to upgrade to something more powerful. I picked a Compaq Proliant 1675, powered by an AMD K6-2 360MHz processor.

The system is powerful, not desktop powerful, but leaps and bounds ahead of the old Micron. Mine has 128MB of RAM and a 6.4GB hard drive. I added a 3Com CardBus network card. The graphics card is the standard ATI Rage LT AGP, something that seems to be pretty common on notebooks in the $2000 price range.

But, of course, the computer came with Windows 98. I suppose that's not necessarily a bad thing, since Windows does work nicely with notebooks and there are a few programs that I run that only work on Windows, but I really like using Linux. Since I use my notebook computer a lot, it seemed to me that I ought to use my favorite operating system as well. The problem, of course, is the proprietariness of most notebooks.

The short story is that Linux works well on notebook computers. I installed RedHat 6.1 on my Compaq. It worked almost perfectly in the 2.5GB partition that I selected, except for some really odd mouse behavior. After about 30 seconds of use, the mouse pointer would go nuts, randomly moving around the screen and behaving as if the right button had been pressed. A quick kernel patch fixed the problem. Of course, this notebook, like most others, included a WinModem instead of a standard hardware-based modem. Linux generally will not support them. This wasn't a problem for me, since I don't use a modem to connect to the Internet, but it's enough of a problem that if you're considering installing Linux on a notebook you'll probably want to purchase a PCMCIA modem as well.

Speaking of PCMCIA, RedHat 6.1 recognized the network card without any tinkering on my part. The PCMCIA tools that are an external part of the operating system are scheduled to be incorporated into the kernel for Linux 2.4.

If you want to install Linux on your notebook, or you are considering the purchase of a notebook to run Linux on, there is an excellent resource available on the web: Linux on Laptops, maintained by Kenneth Harker. Don't even consider installing Linux on your notebook before you look at the site.

Compaq Computers: 


Linux on Laptops: http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/kharker/


Hot Tip of the Week

Winmodems still don't work under Linux, but there are a few PCI modems out there that are hardware based. A problem that you may see, though, is that Linux doesn't always automatically detect them as serial ports. Fortunately, there's a way around the problem.

Look at /proc/pci to find an entry that looks like a modem. Record the values for the IRQ and the first I/O address. Then use the serserial command to assign the modem to a com port:

serserial /dev/ttySx irq port uart 16550A

Substitute the serial port that you want to use for "x".  Substitute the IRQ value that you recorded for "irq".  Substitute the I/O address value that you recorded for "port".

Remember, under Linux, serial port number starts with zero.


Happy computing!

Drew Dunn


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