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  Linux Letter 23

The Linux Letter for September 24, 2001

 

Hello again! If you've been missing the letter, let me assure you that I've missed writing it. Unfortunately, the demands of being a full time college student (electrical engineering) and working (30 hours a week) just about fill up all of my time. The good news? I graduate in May, 2002, so in just a few short months, I'll be able to devote some time every week to keeping the column current.

In the meantime, exciting things are always happening in the world of Linux. More than ever, the operating system is becoming a powerful force in the server world, with some inroads into the desktop market. Mainstream companies like IBM, Hewlett Packard and Dell are shipping powerful servers with sophisticated applications designed for Linux.

The NOSPIN Group uses Linux exclusively on its servers and one of the unanticipated benefits is that we were immune to attacks from the latest round of viruses that permeated the Internet over the course of the past few months. Of course, our Cisco router wasn't so lucky, but fortunately even that's been fixed.

I use Linux exclusively on my notebook computer for the simple reason that I can get much better performance on its lowly AMD K6-2 380MHz process than I can with any version of Windows. Also, many of the applications that I depend upon for school and work have been ported to Linux, including Maple (computer algebra system) and MATLAB (signals and matrix analysis). I also use StarOffice 5.2 as my primary word processor since it is almost completely compatible with Microsoft Office.

September 17 was the 10th anniversary of the very first publicly available Linux kernel, and it made me stop and think about just how I became involved with the operating system. No, I don't go back ten years with Linux, but it's been a while.

When I lived in San Diego, California, I hosted a popular computer bulletin board system at a time when an 80386 33MHz computer with 8MB of RAM was about the most powerful system you could hope to own. I had a good friend who was the system administrator of some Navy computers, systems that just happened to be connected to the Internet. When he offered me free Internet email, I jumped at the offer.

There was just one problem. His systems ran this odd operating system called Coherent UNIX. Now, I couldn't really afford to go out and buy a copy of UNIX, but he clued me in to this "free" clone of UNIX called Linux. I think that at the time, single speed CD-ROM drives were just becoming available. So I bought a copy of Walnut Creek's Slackware Linux and went to work on a 386SX-16 system with 4MB of RAM. I managed to find enough hardware that would actually work with Linux, created a LAN using thinnet BNC cables and hooked things together. Amazingly, it worked and for about a year, you could actually dial up my computer BBS and send and receive email for free. Without being disturbed by ads or spam.

Times have changed! In the space of about 7 or 8 years, the Internet is ubiquitous, computers are household appliances and everyone has an email address. The old times were fun, but I don't miss them at all. Today, instead of a computer BBS with a few phone lines that could accommodate just four simultaneous connections, The NOSPIN Group has a system that is distributed across the entire United States and can support virtually any number of users in by a variety of methods. And, for the most part, that support comes from computers running Linux. To be fair, the noteable exception is the VAX system at St John's University that supports our mailing lists. It runs the VMS operating system.

So, happy birthday, Linux. Ten years and getting better all the time isn't half bad in the computer world.

Happy computing!

Drew Dunn

 



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