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The Linux saga
Warning, this was written in 1998, and I have decided to leave it as I wrote it.

    I am not particularly hostile towards Microsoft, so I am not one of the multitudes embracing Linux as a way to escape "The Microsoft Monopoly". My reasons for setting up a Linux machine have to do more with learning and experimentation. In particular, I need to know Unix, because I work on a Unix network in a Unix environment. Unix can be a rather expensive OS to buy, as it tends to be sold to business for use on large, critical, and expensive computers. The initial reason for the existence of Linux was to have a platform available to learn Unix on. I suspect that Linus Torvald (the author of Linux) is shocked by the quick acceptance of Linux as a full fledged operating system rather than as a learning tool. The command structures are very similar, and Linux is compliant with the Unix standards which all of the various flavors of Unix must adhere to, making Linux, for all practical purposes, a flavor of Unix itself (a rose by any other name, and all of that).
My own experiences
     My Linux computer has the network name of Linus. This was actually very optimistic on my part, since Linus vigorously resisted all attempts to get him on the network. The first incarnation of Linus was on a parts machine that I threw together. The motherboard was (fittingly enough) taken from my mom's machine after I upgraded her to a new socket 7. The board held a 486/100 CPU, 16mb of 72 pin ram, a 1mb svga card, a generic 16 bit sound card, and a 830mb hard drive. This was not bad hardware when the computer was first built, but by the time of the upgrade, it was getting too old and too slow to be able to do much in Windows 98. Linux was a different story. The worst deficiency of this computer, as far as Linux was concerned, was the size of the hard drive. Though 830 megs is plenty good enough for Linux itself, it does limit the amount of software, and data which can be stored. A 486/100 cpu, and 16mb of ram are plenty for Linux, though the system is readily able to scale itself up for better hardware. This machine was not a bad learning platform, and I was fairly happy with it, but after a while I had to have something just a little better.
    My introduction to the new Linus came when I was checking some auctions on haggle. There was an old Comaq Prolinea being offered for about $125 with a Pentium 100 cpu, a 2.2gb hard drive, and 32 megs of ram. There was no sound card nor was there a CD-ROM, but these are things which I already had laying around the house, so I placed a bid and won the auction. The CD, sound card, and network card were installed, and I will soon be taking a 4.3 gb hard drive out of another computer I just bought, and swapping it into Linus. The drive came out of the computer that is to become Junior (I have a larger drive for Junior). These costs explain part of the popularity of Linux.. A platform which will cost between $100 - $200 and would be marginal for Windows, makes an excellent Linux machine. A real budget buster could be made from an old 486 or even a 386 machine for well under $100. This would buy you a usable computer, along with a free operating system which, through constant free updating on the web, will never lapse into obsolescence. Along with the 4.3gb drive, Linus will get a memory upgrade to 48, or perhaps 64 megs (he has presently been brought up to 40mb). These upgrades should make Linus a very capable Linux machine indeed, though he would still not be much of a platform for Windows because of the Pentium 100 processor. There is also the possibility that I may have to replace the sound card: I have already replaced the network card several times.
    This is not an ideal world, and it contains no ideal products; Linux has it's problems as does everything else. My major problem with Linux right now is that I can not make it see my sound card, and had a devil of a time getting it to see a network card. It took four attempts before I found a card from the Linux Compatibility List (great shades of NT). I suspect that part of the problem, other than the lack of available drivers, is that many of the generic grade computer components these days rely on virtual devices. The most famous (infamous) device of this type is the Winmodem. This was initially a product of US Robotics, but once the concept was introduced, many other companies came out with their own versions. The idea behind a Winmodem is that for other than the connections themselves, and some tone generating hardware, all of the functions of a modem may be performed by the computer itself in software. This makes it possible to produce modems very cheaply, because there is really nothing to them but a simple card with connectors and a couple of chips. There are similar products available in sound cards, and many other system devices now rely on the processor for at least some of their functionality. These types of devices can usually be spotted by a set of hardware requirements listed on the box. Devices which list a memory requirement, and the need for a windows operating system may be safely classified as using some form of virtual device. These types of devices will often cause problems in Windows NT, and will generally cause them in systems like Linux.
    I had reinstalled Linux four or five times in an attempt to get it up and running with all components functioning. The Redhat installation method boots off of a floppy, and then runs programs and loads files from the CD. I chose the automatic install, which will partition, and format my drive, do the install, and then search for hardware. I made one attempt to put Windows on this system, and I must be thankful for Partition Magic. I have always liked this program, but my recent experiences with Linux have given me a new appreciation for it. Fdisk (the Microsoft disk partitioning utillity) could not remove, or even see, my Linux partitions, but would not let me make a DOS partition because it told me my drive was full. Partition Magic had no problem seeing or removing the partitions, and would have had no trouble in putting on the new Linux partitions, had I wished it. Once the partitions were off, I did a typical Windows install to make certain that there were not any hardware problems; there weren't. The next step was to remove the DOS partitions and reinstall Linux. One again there was no sign of my network card (which had worked fine in Windows) and I could not get my sound card to work. These types of things are not really a problem for me, as I have a number of other computers, and my Linux machine is to be a learning tool, but had this been my one and only computer I would have been very frustrated. It seems that the problem here is a combination of the newness of Linux, along with my own boneheadedness in regards to reading the technical publications and consulting the list of compatible hardware. I also suspect that Linux does not care for the PCI bus, though I could be mistaken about this.
    There is a bit of a readjustment to one's thinking required in order to use Linux. Things work quite differently than they do in DOS. Dos tends to look at drives and devices as memory locations, Linux and Unix view them as files. There are hooks called mount points in Linux, which are used to access drives. The mount point is seen as a file, which Linux will access as it would any other file. This "file" contains your drive, and the process of mounting and unmounting drives is viewed by Linux as the same thing as adding or removing data from any other file. It is strange to have to unmount and then remount the floppy or the CD every time a new disc is put in. Superficially, the command line in Linux is reminiscent of that in the old DOS systems, though there are some traps for the unwary. The Xwindows system, and the desktop managers have taken much of the hazard from Linux. One of the advantages (or curses) of Linux, and Unix is the variety of desktop managers available. I prefer Gnome right now, but am considering a move to KDE, which is supposed to mimic the popular CDE used in genuine Unix. The first couple of times I installed Linux, I had some trouble getting Xwindows to start. The problem was that I had misconfgured my video settings. Once this was set straight, I had no mouse. When I changed my X configuration file to enable my video, I screwed up the settings for the mouse. I had once gotten the computer to start up in graphics mode, giving me a log in screen very similar to that of my Sun/ Solaris Unix station at work. Unfortunately, I could not get this to work again after I reinstalled in yet another fruitless attempt at getting the system to recognize the network card, and the network, and I could not remember how I had gotten it to work in the first place. There was some confusion about getting the Sun Star office suite installed, and then a new round of confusion with the Corel Word Perfect installation, but it was eventually figured out. The main problem is that you must type in the entire path to the installation program all the way from the root. This is true even if you are in the directory which contains the files you are trying to install. I am certain that there are ways around these problems, but for now I am too much of a Linux neophyte to know them.
    After making one final attempt to install, marshalling all of the bits of information picked up during repeated reinstalls, I have actually gotten everything to work except the sound card. I have a full gui, I have a graphic log in screen, I am on the network, and I have a full working Sun Star office suite, as well as a Corel office suite. What I am hoping for now, is that a replacement of the sound card with a pure hardware version will solve my sound problems, but we shall see.
    The main attitude adjustments that I have to make when dealing with Linux have to do with maneuvering around the many partitions, and getting used to life without file associations. My present state of knowledge in Linux requires me to enter the entire path to the file I wish to open. I must also know which program to use with which file; this can be somewhat of a chore at first because many of the Linux file extensions are different from those of DOS. The only good thing about all of these problems is that they remind me what computers are like for non computer people. I do tech support at work (as I did on my last job), and it is sometimes hard for me to remember how mysterious and frightening a computer can be for the uninitiated; I have now been suitably reminded by Linux. Working with Linux or Unix makes me feel like I did when I got my first computer many tears ago (or is that years ago). In the future I plan to have Wine (WINdows Emulator), and most of the Corel programs on Linus. I am also anxious to learn about Linux/Unix interecompatability. Linux does conform to the stated Unix standards, so I am hoping that it will run Unix programs off the shelf, though I have heard of applications specifically written to enable Linux to run Unix programs. Whatever the case, I hope to be running some unix software on my Linux machine by this summer. This would be purely an exercise, since I am in the process of getting Junior (my honest to goodness Unix machine) up and running.
    Though the free distribution and open sourcing of Solaris has taken much of the wind out of the sails of the Linux movement, there are still many good reasons to learn and use Linux - not the least of which is that nobody owns it, and it is still free for commercial use (Solaris requires the usual licensing, for the commercial user). Redhat has now taken a two tier support with their distro of Linux, which, at least at first glance, may make it less desirable than had once been the case. With several old computers laying around the house, and a number of new distros out there, I hope to do a little experimentation, and comparison. I presently have only a single Linux computer, and it sees little use, compared to my Solaris machines.

I will be greatly expanding and updating this section, sometime this spring. (2008)