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  Linux Letter 28

The Linux Letter for December 10, 2003


Welcome to the Linux Letter for December.  This month, I’ll take a gander at the latest volleys fired in the SCO versus Linux battle, plus a (very) quick look at a utility that makes managing your system’s resources easy as pie!  Also, a few hints on how to deal with USB hard drives and Linux.


Let’s get down to business!  On December 4th, Darl McBride, CEO of SCO, fired off another “open letter”, this time raising the claim that the General Public License (GPL), the license under which most of Linux is released, is unconstitutional.  It seems that, according to SCO, giving away something for free is a violation of copyright laws!  Now, I’m no attorney, but there are plenty of them around, and none of the legal opinions that I read on the Internet could draw the same connection between licensing and copyrights that the SCO legal team seems able to draw.


What I did see that struck me as particularly insightful was a quote from Benjamin Franklin in Michael J. Jordan’s column at Linux.org.  In his column, Jordan pointed out that after developing the “Pennsylvania Stove”, the fireplace that we all know as the Franklin Stove, the inventor turned down an offer of an exclusive patent, saying:


I wrote and published a pamphlet, entitled "An Account of the new-invented Pennsylvania Fireplaces; wherein their Construction and Manner of Operation is particularly explained; their Advantages above every other Method of warming Rooms demonstrated; and all Objections that have been raised against the Use of them answered and obviated," etc. This pamphlet had a good effect. Gov'r. Thomas was so pleas'd with the construction of this stove, as described in it, that he offered to give me a patent for the sole vending of them for a term of years; but I declin'd it from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz., That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.


If that is not an 18th century definition of Open Source, then I don’t know what is!  So, although SCO seems to think that our founding fathers would have been appalled at the thought of giving away something for nothing, it would appear that one of the very greatest of American founders supported the very thing!


For interesting reading, you can find Darl McBride’s open letters at the SCO website, which appears, at this writing, to be suffering from some sort of availability problem.


On to bigger and better things.  Linux offers the freedom to run a plethora of services and servers, and maintaining them can be more than just a headache.  Deciding what to turn on or turn off, how to configure what to interoperate with whom isn’t just a convenience…it’s an absolute necessity.  Most Linux distributions take a stab at including some configuration tools, but they are usually incomplete or fragmented into several programs.  Webmin, an online configuration tool, replaces those programs with a single, integrated system that allows you to manage your system with your web browser.


Now, this isn’t a full review…it’s more of a recommendation.  This column doesn’t really give me the space to go into all of the features and benefits of Webmin.  Suffice to say that if you go to their website, you can believe what the programmers say about their product.  It will allow you to manage virtually every server on your system, including NFS and Samba shares, the bane of novice system administrators everywhere!  Webmin provides its own web server, so you don’t have to rely on Apache for its services.  It can operate locally or over the Internet, making it a great tool for configuring headless servers.  We use it on several systems at The NOSPIN NOC and I can say from experience that Webmin has saved plenty of time and headaches because it’s easy to use, secure and puts control of a wide variety of services into one place.


Hot Tip of the Week

I got my first USB mass storage device a couple of months ago.  It was the Neuros Digital Audio Computer.  Sure, it’s a portable music player, but Linux sees it as a portable hard drive.  Since then, I’ve also picked up a 120MB USB 2.0 hard drive.  Using these devices under Linux is pretty easy, just so long as you know how the system detects them.


Since they are removable, Linux will probably not recognize USB hard drives as the same device every time, unless you only have one or you always connect them in the same order every time.  Linux sees the drives as SCSI devices, detecting them as /dev/sd??, where the question marks represent the drive letter and partition number.  For example, the Neuros will show up as /dev/sda1 if it is connected first, while the hard drive shows up as /dev/sdb1 and /dev/sdb2 if it’s connected next (it has two 60GB partitions).  But, if I reverse the connection order, then the hard drive would be /dev/sda1 and /dev/sda2.


You mount the drives like any other hard drive.  If you know that your drive(s) will always be connected in a specific order, you can modify your /etc/fstab file to provide predefined mount points for them.  But if you don’t know that the devices will be connected in a given order, particularly if you connect them after the system is started, you can mount them using the “mount” command (mount [device] [target]).  If you’re not sure what device name your drive has been assigned when you plug it in, just type “dmesg” at a command prompt.  It will show you the last few system messages.  One of them will be some lines about your USB drive and which device name it has been assigned.


Now, all of this assumes that you have USB support compiled into your kernel, either monolithically or as a module.  If you don’t, you’ll need to recompile your kernel.  If you are using the stock kernel that came with your distribution, or one that you upgraded to through, for instance, RedHat’s automatic updating service, then you probably have USB support already.  Linux supports USB 2.0.  And if you use Firewire devices, all of this applies to you, too.  Linux supports it and, as far as mounting and manipulating drives goes, treats Firewire devices just like USB devices.


Happy computing!

Drew Dunn


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