LJ Archive

A review of InfoMagic's December 1994 Release

Caleb Epstein

Issue #12, April 1995

The three CD-ROMs are packed full of up-to-date Linux distributions, documentation, source code and even a “live” file system you can run your system from.

You can find everything you need, whether you're using or installing Linux for the first time or you know the ropes like a veteran. For the proto-Linuxer, the distribution comes complete with a 28-page, CD-sized, Quick Start Guide which is based on Matt Welsh's Linux Installation HOWTO. The three CD-ROMs are packed full of up-to-date Linux distributions, documentation, source code and even a “live” file system you can run your system from. The aptly named “Developer's Resource” is a great value.

InfoMagic delivers three CD-ROMs full of Linux and Linux-related software with their latest offering, the December-pressed Linux Developer's Resource.

What You Get

The first disc comprises the on-line documentation (HOWTOs), DOS utilities, and InfoMagic's large collection of Linux distributions. They provide JE-0.9.3 (Japanese Extensions to Linux), MCC-1.0+, Slackware-2.1.0, SLS-1.06, TAMU-1.0D, and BOGUS-1.0.1. Some of these distributions aren't as up-to-date as others, particularly the smaller ones such as MCC and TAMU, but that is simply because they haven't been updated recently, not because InfoMagic is shipping stale software. Other directories on this disc contain a DOS-based installation program and a copy of Microsoft's Multimedia Viewer with the HOWTOs compiled just for it.

On the second disc you'll find mirrors of the SunSite Linux FTP archive (ftp://sunsite.unc.edu/pub/Linux), Alan Cox's Linux networking archive (ftp://sunacm.swan.ac.uk/pub/misc/Linux/Networking), and the “live” file system, which is a fully unpacked copy of the Slackware 2.1.0 distribution. In theory, and with a suitably fast CD-ROM drive, you should be able to run off of the “live” file system on this disc and a small root partition on your hard drive. Since InfoMagic can't know which packages you wish to use from the CD, it is up to you to set up the “link farm” on your root partition which points to directories on the disc (i.e. ln -s /cdrom/live/usr/local /usr/local ).

The last disc contains copies of the tsx-11 Linux FTP archive (ftp://tsx-11.mit.edu/pub/linux), the official Linux kernel archive up to and including kernel version 1.1.72 (ftp://ftp.cs.helsinki.fi/pub/Software/Linux/Kernel) and the Free Software Foundation FTP archive (ftp://prep.ai.mit.edu/pub/gnu). To avoid keeping redundant copies of the XFree86 X Window System with both the tsx-11 and SunSite directories, InfoMagic has chosen to split this large component out into its own directory. Releases 2.1.0, 2.1.1, and 3.1 are available.

Also on the last disc are the Debian-0.91 distribution; Japanese HOWTO documents; the Wine Microsoft Windows emulator archive; a Scheme interpreter; and the Oberon system, an object oriented programming and operating environment. There are also some demos of commercial products: the Unix Cockpit, an X-based file manager and Executor, a Macintosh emulator which runs under Linux (or doesn't - Executor doesn't seem to work under 1.1.x Linux kernels, which prevented me from testing it). There is also FlagShip, a CA/Clipper-like development system, and a self-described “early demo” of a commercial BBS system for Linux, called Zbbs.

This distribution has everything you need, whether you're installing Linux for the first time or you know the ropes like a veteran and want to update your system. There's plenty of documentation in all sorts of formats, from the easily printed to the easily browsed. The handy Quick Start Guide is an excellent primer for the novice Linux user. It covers such important topics as device naming, drive partitioning, and file system creation. When coupled with InfoMagic's wide array of Linux distributions, you've got everything you need to install Linux on your PC.

I find that distributions like this make for excellent emergency backup media. They contain recent copies of all of the major Linux distributions (pick your favorite) as well as more recent stuff which you can cull from the Linux and GNU sources on discs 2 and 3 and compile for yourself. If you're interested at all in Unix or are a code junkie like myself, this is the package for you.

Using the Discs

I've been using Linux for about two years and have it installed on my PC at home. I've got two hard drives on my system, an IDE drive where I keep all of my DOS and Windows stuff, and a larger SCSI drive that I use for Linux. To test drive the Developer's Resource, I decided that I'd clear out two non-essential partitions from my Linux disk and install a couple of different distributions in their stead. I backed up the old partitions with my tape drive and got down to work.

I had enough room for a single 185 MB partition on which I could install a distribution. With this amount of disk space I knew I could install plenty of software, but I'd need to pick and choose to some degree because the distributions I was looking at are pretty large.

Because I'd tried it once before with an earlier InfoMagic release, I decided to first install Slackware on my newly-unified ext2fs partition. I figured I'd probably be able to get a full system up and running in an hour or so. I wasn't disappointed. I was able to put together a boot/rootdisk combination for my system in about five or ten minutes, most of this time taken up by the writing of the disk images to floppies. I popped in the boot floppy, rebooted, and got down to business. Using the colortty rootdisk, I was greeted with nice looking color dialog boxes which make the installation procedure look very professional.

Slackware's setup routine found the existing swap and ext2fs file systems on my SCSI hard drive. I told it to ignore the ones I didn't want to touch (the /, /usr, and /usr/local of my pre-existing system) and to use the new partition I had set up as its root file system. My MS-DOS file systems were also found and I added these to the file system table without a hitch, even though I wanted them mounted as /dos/c , /dos/d , and /dos/e which is a bit out of the ordinary.

I then installed all of the packages I was interested in (just about all of them) and rebooted. My system came up right away and I was able to log in as root and add myself as a user to the system. One thing I noticed after the installation was that my new partition was almost completely full. I installed almost every package in the Slackware distribution and was left with something shy of 10 MB free space on my 185 MB partition. A minimal installation - no TeX, games, etc.—would be a good deal smaller, but 185 MB is obviously not quite enough room for the whole of Slackware to fit comfortably.

One minor complaint I have about Slackware is its treatment of manual pages. They are stored in compressed, pre-formatted form (i.e. in /var/catman instead of /usr/man ), which saves disk space but limits your flexibility. I like having the manual page sources around, so I can format the output for viewing on a terminal, or an X display, or turn them into DVI or PostScript files. With only the pre-formatted pages at your disposal, you're stuck with ASCII (or ISO-8859-1) and a baroque system whereby underlining is denoted by a combination of underscores and backspaces interspersed between the characters. Yuck. Because this installation went so easily and was so trouble-free for me, I thought I should try out some other distributions and compare them to what I felt was an extremely polished and professional Slackware release. I didn't run it for long, since I wanted to check out BOGUS too.

It's Not BOGUS

Having read a bit about the BOGUS Linux distribution when it was announced, I decided to try it out next. The BOGUS distribution is maintained by Rik Faith, Doug Hoffman, and Kevin Martin and is billed as hacker-centric system for experienced Linux users. The BOGUS installation process requires more of a hands-on approach than does the Slackware one, but the extra work involved is not difficult and should come easily to anyone familiar with administering Unix or Linux systems. The handy little QuickStart guide is also a good tutorial for this sort of thing.

The README file for the BOGUS 1.0 distribution (additional files and docs to upgrade from 1.0 to 1.0.1 are also on this disc) is pretty short and doesn't do much hand holding. You're instructed to partition your drive for root, swap, user, and some optional partitions but not told how to do so. This might frighten away the casual user but will have the hacker licking his or her chops. You might also refer to the QuickStart guide as it provides an excellent tutorial on the process. I would try it with my large root partition and my pre-existing swap and see what happen.

After rebooting, I found the design of Kevin Martin's boot floppies intriguing. As with most distributions, the boot disk loads into a RAM disk so that it runs quickly and doesn't wear out your floppy drive. The contents of the second floppy are also loaded into the 4 MB RAM disk by typing get_files once the system has finished booting. Once the second disk has been loaded, you've got everything you need to set up and install your new system (or recover from a crash) and you're free to use the floppy drive for other things. This isn't for low-end systems, though, as the documentation says that 12 to 16 MB RAM are required.

BOGUS relies heavily on a utility called pms , Rik Faith's excellent Package Management System, to do most of the installation work for the rest of the distribution. A script called /usr/src/install.all is used to install the BOGUS packages on your system. This is simply a shell script with a bunch of calls to pms in it.

The pms program looks for its package files in a directory called /usr/src/DIST . Seeing as I was working with limited disk space, I decided to fool BOGUS by pointing a symbolic link at the directory on the CD containing the 1.0 distribution files and let the install script chug away. It worked like a charm. The process ran to completion but somewhere in one of the last couple of packages I had run out of disk space. It turns out that the 185 MB I had budgeted is not enough for a complete BOGUS distribution. Had I read all of the documentation beforehand, I would have found that it requires about 205 MB in toto.

The packages which hadn't been installed were completely non-essential (some X-based games as it turned out) so I wasn't too worried. I did a bit of snooping around and found that pms keeps a log of all of the packages which have been installed in the directory /var/adm/pms . For each package there is a time stamp file with information about when that package was installed. For the packages being installed when my disk ran out of space, the timestamp files were empty. When I figured this out, it was a simple matter of using pms -d to remove all traces of the semi-installed packages. I made even more room by deleting more stuff I knew I wouldn't be using (TeX-related, mostly).

The 1.0.1 release of BOGUS requires you either to install it on top of an existing BOGUS-1.0 distribution or to overwrite outdated package files in the distribution directory with their newer counterparts before running install.all . I realized I'd wasted time installing some of the packages from 1.0, but this was only after the installation was complete and I'd done the cleanup described above.

Changing my symlink to point to the new packages in the ADDITIONS directory, I set about upgrading my new BOGUS-1.0 system to 1.0.1. This was also done by means of a pms wrapper script and some direction from the README file. I had freed up enough disk space earlier to allow the upgrade to go smoothly without filling up my disk.

I now rebooted and was greeted with the BOGUS boot sequence. For those keeping score at home, BOGUS seems to give a nod to the BSD camp, particularly where the boot procedure is concerned. The system start-up scripts are called /etc/rc.* instead of the /etc/rc.d/* you'll find most other places. The messages reminded me of Sun's messages.

I found a minor bug: /bin/passwd wasn't setuid root. This meant that a normal user couldn't change his or her password. BOGUS also seems to lack any batch commands for adding users. I couldn't find any, but I might not have looked in the right places. The pms tool is, in my opinion, excellent. It is used to build the system binaries from the 95 MB of sources and patches, all of which are available on the disc, and to install the resulting packages on your system when it is done. A very impressive piece of work.

Despite the Spartan nature of the installation instructions and the lack of a nifty user interface, BOGUS is an extremely full-featured and well-rounded distribution. The emphasis is definitely on the software developer who has a powerful system and not the casual user. Inasmuch as InfoMagic calls this a “Developer's Resource”, I think there should be a wide audience for BOGUS.

Caleb Epstein (epstein_caleb@jpmorgan.com) lives in Brooklyn and works at J.P. Morgan in New York City. He has been using Linux at home for over two years, and is looking for other Linux users in the area to join him for a not-so-virtual beer at the local micro.

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