LJ Archive

Letters to the Editor


Issue #40, August 1997

Readers sound off.

Using PPP

I have read many articles about PPP connections. The descriptions were huge and targeted complex tasks. That's why I always delayed configuring my system for a simple PPP connection.

That was true until I read the article “A 10-Minute Guide for Using PPP” in the April issue of LJ. I followed the instructions (just changed the init-string for my modem) and...it worked at once. Wow! Thanks very much to Terry Dawson for his excellent article and to LJ for publishing it. —Andreas Zisowsky, Berlin zisowsky@fokus.gmd.de

Exit Xenix, Linux is here.

In the March 1997 issue of LJ, E. Leibovitch wrote an article entitled “The Death of Xenix” about the opportunities offered by the near death of Xenix. Undoubtedly, LJ is in touch with its readers, or at least one of them.

I would like to tell you about my experience. A few years ago, the library of a high school (Lycee Victor Hugo, Colomiers, France) was computerized by means of an AT386PC with Xenix as OS and dedicated software. This system is now collapsing.

As a technical engineer working for the CRDP (Centre Regional de Documentation Pedagogique—a government organization acting in the area of educational services), I proposed that the existing system be replaced with an actual PC box with Linux as OS and the existing Wyse terminals should be reused. Our goal was to expand by installing an Intranet service to distribute the library databases into all the lycee (schools) using the existing Ethernet-based pedagogic network.

I encountered a few difficulties caused by:

  1. lack of personal knowledge of the necessary setup,

  2. inability to find not-too-new hardware (yesterday's software doesn't always work on today's hardware),

  3. problems compiling the dedicated software: it worked first under IBCS, but I thought it would be better to get a genuine version. I am now in the test assembly stage.

Many thanks to LJ and its team for helping to sustain the Linux movement. —Jean Francois Bardou France devpoly@crdp231.crdp-toulouse.fr

PPP Control for Mortals

I tried your C program as shown in LJ in the article “Safely Running Programs as root” by Phil Hughes in the May 1997 issue. It compiled and worked like a champ. Keep it up; that sort of program is very helpful to strugglers like myself. Looks to me as though I could simply add it to the root menu in FVWM to bring it up and take it down. I'll let you know if it works. Thanks. —Jim Smith jim@oz.net

Bristol Zoo Location

On page 14 of May's LJ (From the Editor), you stated that Bristol Zoo is in Swansea. In fact, Bristol Zoo is in Bristol (75 miles from Swansea).

The confusion may have arisen because Alan Cox, at least at one point, had a Swansea University e-mail address and may still live in Swansea. I've never met Alan, so this is mere speculation. —Martin Radford M.P. Radford@exeter.ac.uk

Yes, the press release from Alan Cox originated from Swansea, and I assumed quite wrongly that the zoo was located there. Sorry —Ed.

Linux Appliance

I read your article “Linux—The Internet Appliance” in the April issue of Linux Journal. It is a subject I have also thought about and agree with your main points.

I think you missed one key point: the users you target probably don't want a floppy or a CD-ROM. A disposable small IDE hard disk would serve your machine much better. What do I mean by disposable? One that can be changed out without disrupting their service. One that is automatically backed up by the ISP. One that serves the following needs:

  • boot device

  • swap space

  • web-page cache

  • off-line letter writing

  • configuration information

In short, performance. Changing out the hard disk (to one that has been freshly dd(1)'d from a master, followed by a 10-second transfer of the account's setup from the ISP database) will be almost transparent to the customer, except that all the caches are empty, and therefore, they will slog along for a while like everybody else at home. When the caches fill up (200MB is cheap), all the usual pages and images will work as we rich, ethernetted folk expect.

Besides, by dropping the CD-ROM and floppy, and going to a smaller case and power supply, I think the cost total (including $200 monitor) is closer to $600 today than the $800 you suggest.

  • 80 Fast 486 motherboard w/CPU

  • 50 8M RAM (we have swap, remember?)

  • 50 1M Cirrus video card (intended 800x600 16-bit mode)

  • 120 540M IDE drive (buy out a warehouse of discontinued models)

  • 60 28.8 modem

  • 40 Sound card “Hi, my name is Leenus Torrrvalds and I pronounce Leeenux as Leeenux”

  • 50 Case, Power supply, Keyboard, Mouse, lousy speakers

  • 200 14 inch 800x600ni monitor

  • 50 Assembly and testing

  • 600 Total

Perilously close to the $500 target, right? In volume, you could probably get there now by contracting a custom motherboard, with embedded video, modem, sound, and power supply. It would then no longer be a PC-compatible (no ISA slots), but anyone who wanted that stuff could trade in for a “real” PC. The assumption of your article, which I support, is that there will be a large volume of people who don't want to fuss with it—just plug it in and use it. —Larry Doolittle ldoolitt@jlab.org

Bliss Misinformation

  1. McAfee didn't find it [i.e., the Bliss virus, mentioned in From the Editor, May 1997—Ed.]—they were told about it. The author announced the fact that his Trojan had “accidentally” got out. Was it really an accident? Who knows?

  2. It didn't “spread” to Linux systems. The released version of the Trojan was targeted specifically at Linux, although the author confirms OpenBSD, NT and other compile builds [with the Trojan] are trivial.

Bliss is a very simple Trojan. It sits on the front of files, copies itself into other stuff when run and spreads in that way. As such, not doing things as root will help a lot. Basic common sense like using PGP-signed packages and not installing random binaries as root also helps. —Alan Cox alan@cymru.net

Script Listings

I look forward to each issue of Linux Journal and usually read it from cover to cover the day it arrives in my mailbox. Your article on page 10 of the May issue, “Safely Running Programs as Root”, was very helpful. Before, my method of logging in to the Internet was to log in to my computer as root, start ppp-go, run ifconfig and edit /etc/hosts, then switch to another virtual terminal, log in with my davidm user name and fire up the X-server and Netscape.

Whenever I wanted to disconnect from my access provider, I would have to switch to su and run ppp-off. Now, things are much simpler. I grabbed your listing from the FTP site and in five minutes had your ppp.c program up and running. I am able to open and close my access connection at will without having to switch to root. Thanks for the story and for putting the code listings on your FTP server.

I thoroughly enjoy using Linux and reading Linux Journal. If you get a chance, check out my column on Linux at the following URL: http://www.charleston.net/entertain/click3.html. —David W. MacDougall, South Carolina davidm@Charleston.Net

Linux in Schools

In my free time, I read a whole slew of computer magazines on subjects ranging from Windows NT to LANs. One thing that struck me the other day was how much fun it was to read the Linux Journal. It seems that every columnist writes with such enthusiasm for the subject. This is a refreshing change from the other mainstream magazines, which seem to complain about everything. Your authors enjoy writing about how far Linux can be pushed and how it can be reshaped into something new.

Granted, Linux is not a high-dollar commercial OS like the others, but I believe that is to its advantage. You have to be amazed with the way it was, and is, being developed. It shows how a large diversity of people can come together for a common cause (one that didn't include money) to create an extremely fun and useful product.

I have specified Linux as the OS for one of the servers (Pentium Pro 200 MHz, 128MB RAM, 4GB HD) in the public school system I work for. I look forward to using it both at home and work. I'd like to hear from other EdTech folks who use Linux in a school environment. —Rob Bellville, Millbury, MA rob@millbury.k12.ma.us

Linux—Not for Newbees?

I am still a Newbee after 18 months of working with Linux off and on. I feel I must comment on Stop the Presses by Phil Hughes in your April issue: “Usenix/Uselinux in Anaheim” on page 8. In that report it was stated that Linus Torvalds hinted at “world domination” with Linux.

After my venture into the Linux OS, it seems to me that there is still a long way to go. It appears that Linux has been authored by a large number of academics who each make a mark on the system. I have found a large number of help files to be out of sync with the code they are trying to explain. I have just started working with pppd after signing up with an ISP provider and find the various configurations expressed in the files confusing. It is true I am not a genius, but if one wants to have a system appeal to the “regular joes” out in the real world, setting the system up will have to be made easier.

I am certain I will eventually sort out my problem. It will take a lot of work and learning on my part, which I don't mind—I enjoy sorting out a difficulty and getting it solved. I am going to stick it out until I can connect with my Linux box and get some work done out on the Internet. To that end, I have Linux on separate hard drives on two machines so that I have a backup in case I corrupt one.

Anyhow, keep up the great work in LJ, as I do find it very helpful to keep abreast of what is going on out there. —Kurt Savegnago ksaves@prairienet.org

Article Choices

I used to like Linux Journal because of the low-level, programmer-oriented topics in it. Unfortunately, the past few issues have been on the boring parts of Linux, such as platforms and networking. The majority of Linux users are not into the many platforms or top-of-the-line systems, but into the hacking of the kernel and the fun of how it works. I am more than willing to have some articles included on the higher levels of technology, but I would also like to see many articles on the hacking of the kernel and nifty applications for Linux.

Thank you for putting out such a good magazine. I would hate to see it turn into just another PC Magazine type of magazine. —Patrick Temple patemple@erols.com

Platforms and networking certainly seem to be popular subjects, judging from the response we get to articles about them. Although we sometimes miss, we do always try to have a Kernel Korner for the kernel hackers as well as articles on new applications. We do our best to present a balance of topics —Ed.

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