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Feature Article
Linux On My (New?) Desktop

April 1, 2002
By Scott Lewis

I have been seeing more and more information about Linux and the possibility that it could make serious headway onto the desktop. So I decided to start thinking more seriously about trying it.

Background

Many long time readers know I like to ramble, so why should today be any different. A few months ago I wrote about possibly switching to Linux for my next computer. The more I read the more I think I want to snub Microsoft and give it a try.

What's still needed? I mentioned then that I need a number of programs to be able to make the switch. I have come to the conclusion that the applications should not be that much of a problem. With my wife running Windows on our laptop that should make it easy enough to take my time gathering applications. As soon as Sun gets out StarOffice 6.0 for Linux the biggest hurdle will be taken care of.

Is *NIX Really Stable

One of the big reasons to go to Linux or any other Unix is to gain stability. Windows crashes a lot. I have to reboot my home computer (currently running Windows 98) every two or three days... even when sticking to simple tasks. 

Is Linux really that stable? I am starting to get very uncomfortable with UNIX. At work we have a UNIX server that runs a software package called Mecca. Mecca generates our postscript files. This application is working very well. But the server is not. We have to reboot it at least a couple of times a week... and it REBOOTS ITSELF at least a couple more times a week.

This server is the bane of my existence. The software I am responsible for gets blamed for a lot of errors that would not happen if this server wasn't so flakey. I am tired of getting calls in the middle of the night because the operators don't know how to kill a process that is hanging up the print queues on this UNIX machine.

Is Windows Really Unstable?

At work I am running Windows 2000 Server on my desktop. Yes... I know... Win 2K SERVER is way overkill for a desktop. As an Oracle developer I may have to use my computer to run a copy of Oracle Enterprise Edition for development, and that would require the heavy duty Server version of Windows.

The point is that Win 2K is VERY stable. I rarely reboot my workstation. I have gone weeks without rebooting Win 2K. If Windows 2000 Professional has enough game compatibility to run the games I own then why bother with Linux?

Linux + Windows = Lindows

This one really has me excited. I would LOVE to see Michael Richardson succeed with Lindows. For those of you that don't know... Lindows is going to be a distribution of Linux that comes with some extra software that will allow it to run Windows applications... including Microsoft Office. This could be THE version of Linux that has a real chance of getting people to leave Microsoft because it provides the ability for people to leave Microsoft slowly. Microsoft has already created a version of Office for Macintosh's OS X. OS X is based on FreeBSD... a version of UNIX. If Lindows became popular Microsoft could port Office to Linux to keep that money stream alive even if the Windows OS business dried up. (Yea, I know this is a pipe dream... but you never know.)

Case Sensitive OS

If you read Scott's Column this month you know I had a lot of trouble dealing with my web hosting service because of filenames in the wrong case. I hate case sensitive operating systems. I mean really... why does this have to be? Why does image1.gif have to be different from Image1.gif and different from IMAGE1.GIF?

Do I really want to punish myself with this kind of problem. I never hear anyone complain about this when talking about Linux. Am I the only one that sees this as a problem? For Linux to truly go mainstream I feel this issue must be addressed. Casual users will never get used to this. The OS should see Image1.gif, image1.gif, IMAGE1.gif, IMAGE1.GIF, imaGE1.giF as all the same file. Otherwise casual users will have a hard time keeping track of their files. It is hard enough to keep hard drives with 10's of gigabytes of data organized. Will it be better or worse if you can't remember if you put those important letters in the folder /apr2002reports, /Apr2002Reports, /APR2002reports or /APR2002Reports?

A New Machine... Sort Of

I am willing to overlook the case sensitive issue... for now. I am also thinking that Linux should be a far stretch more stable than the version of SCO UNIX Release 5 that we are running on our Mecca server.

I need my main computer to be a file server. I cannot afford a new machine at this time. But I may be able to get around that. I have been pricing components in case I could get a new computer. I think I may be able to build a simple file server for very little money. I have priced the following components (prices were current during Feb/Mar 2002 time frame):

Antec KS282 7 bay case w/ 300W power supply      52.59
Intel 1 GHz Celeron Processor                    78.95
Intel 815EG Motherboard w/ audio, video & LAN   104.95

That's a total of $236.49 (plus tax and shipping of course, your mileage may vary). I have an extra 256 MB memory module still in the box. I also have a 20 GB hard drive still in the box. I figure I can "borrow" the floppy and CD-ROM drive from my computer to boot this machine and load it with software. Then it shouldn't need those anymore. Future software could be install over my home LAN. I could further "borrow" my monitor, keyboard & mouse from my computer to set up this server. Then I could run pcAnywhere (I have a copy laying around here somewhere) to run the computer remotely once all the "borrowed" components were returned.

So for well under $300 I could be up and running with a file/print server. I would put the 20 GB drive into my computer and move my 60 GB D: drive to this server. That takes the burden of "serving" those files from my computer and I can be free to play around with different operating systems.

For an extra $76.95 I could get a Promise Fasttrak100 TX2 card and RAID my current 18 GB drive with the 20 GB drive in my computer. I should get a bit of a boost in performance and have more disk space to play around with a multi-booting computer.

I think I may have to get this project underway. My only concern is whether a computer can be run without a keyboard or mouse. I may have to connect them just for booting... which should only be once is a rare while.

Linux Details

If I do run Linux as my main operating system on my desktop I will need to have some way to remotely access/administer the file server. Does Symantec make a version of pcAnywhere that runs on Linux? It may be easier if the server was running Linux, but I will have to do some more research before I can determine that. Initially I would run Win 2K on this little server.

Fast Server... Or Fast Desktop

Wait a minute. As long as I am taking my main computer half apart to borrow parts, why not take it all the way apart and use it as the server and use the new components too build me a new desktop. In fact, I could try and scrounge up a few extra dollars and buy just a tad more CPU power. Look at these prices:

Antec KS282 7 bay case w/ 300W power supply      52.59
Intel 1.2 GHz Celeron Processor                 100.95
Intel 815EG Motherboard w/ audio, video & LAN   104.95
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                                          Total 258.49

Let's not leave AMD out of the running:

Antec KS282 7 bay case w/ 300W power supply      52.59
AMD 1.3GHZ Duron Processor                      101.95
FIC VIA KLE133 Motherboard w/ audio, video       61.95
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                                          Total 216.49

Wow! For barely more than 200 bucks I could ARRANGE my components so I have a new 1.3 GHz computer with 256 MB of memory & 38 GB of drive space. AMD's Athlon XP 1700+ (1.47 GHz) chip was $139.95. That totals only $254.49... still less than Intel's offering but with performance that is supposed to match a 1.7 GHz Intel P4.

I wonder how good the video and sound are on these motherboards? Will they do a decent job with games?

This is getting very interesting. Stay tuned...

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