Issue 4, April 2004
New Linux Box
Copyright (C) 2004 by Steve Litt. All rights
Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for
use to Linux Productivity Magazine. All rights reserved to the
holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise (certain free
source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided "As-Is". User
all risk and responsibility for any outcome.
| Back Issues |Troubleshooting Professional Magazine
works. It's free. Duh.
-- Paul Nelson,
technology director Oregon's Riverdale school district, speaking of
By Steve Litt
You gaze in awe at the promise of power emanating from its clean, sleak
lines. Double the processor speed, double the RAM, double the
disk space, with features only imagined the day you bought your soon to
be ex daily driver.
The best part of getting a new computer is seeing the power in its
powerful newness. The worst part is transferring your operating system,
apps, your data and your daily tools and riffs to your new computer.
What will work, and what will be a hassle? What will you remember, and
what will you forget? How long will the cutover take, and what
opportunities will be lost during that time?
These questions have nothing to do with Linux. Indeed, these questions
appear whenever you buy a new computer, regardless of operating system.
This month's Linux Productivity Magazine answers these questions from a Linux point of view.
As an example, this months magazine uses my recent transition from my 4
year old dual Celeron 300A (cranked up to 450) with 512MB of SDRAM and
80GB of disk, to my new Athlon XP2400+ with 1.5GB RAM and 400GB of
disk. How did I decide on a new box? What were the pre-cutover,
cutover, and post-cutover processes?
Here at Troubleshooters.Com, my daily driver computers obsolete at a
rate of roughly one every three years. This was true in the 80's with
DOS, in the 90's with Windows, and in the 00's with Linux. It's a
Linux has its pros and cons. This magazine shows you how to make the
pros work for you, and how to dodge the cons, when upgrading to a new
computer. If you're a Linux or free software user, of if you just want
to learn more about these technologies, this is your magazine. Enjoy!
Linux Productivity Magazine
By Steve Litt
Loyal readers, I need your help.
For months I've publicized Linux Productivity Magazine, expanding it
a new magazine to a mainstay read by thousands. There's a limit to what
can do alone, but if you take one minute to help, the possibilities are
If you like this magazine, please report it to one of the Linux
Tell them the URL, why you like it, and ask them to link to it.
I report it to them, but they don't take it very seriously when an
blows his own horn. When a hundred readers report the magazine, they'll
up and take notice.
Reporting is simple enough. Just click on one of these links, and
the magazine. It will take less than 5 minutes.
If you really like this magazine, please take 5 minutes to help bring
to a wider audience. Submit it to one of the preceding sites.
GNU/Linux, open source and free software
By Steve Litt
Linux is a kernel. The operating system often described as "Linux" is
kernel combined with software from many different sources. One of the
prominent, and oldest of those sources, is the GNU project.
"GNU/Linux" is probably the most accurate moniker one can give to
operating system. Please be aware that in all of Troubleshooters.Com,
when I say "Linux" I really mean "GNU/Linux". I completely believe that
the GNU project, without the GNU Manifesto and the GNU/GPL license it
the operating system the press calls "Linux" never would have happened.
I'm part of the press and there are times when it's easier to say
than explain to certain audiences that "GNU/Linux" is the same as what
press calls "Linux". So I abbreviate. Additionally, I abbreviate in the
way one might abbreviate the name of a multi-partner law firm. But make
mistake about it. In any article in Troubleshooting Professional
in the whole of Troubleshooters.Com, and even in the technical books I
when I say "Linux", I mean "GNU/Linux".
There are those who think FSF is making too big a deal of this.
could be farther from the truth. The GNU General Public License,
with Richard Stallman's GNU Manifesto and the resulting GNU-GPL
are the only reason we can enjoy this wonderful alternative to
operating systems, and the only reason proprietary operating systems
even more flaky than they are now.
For practical purposes, the license requirements of "free software" and
source" are almost identical. Generally speaking, a license that
with one complies with the other. The difference between these two is a
in philosophy. The "free software" crowd believes the most important
is freedom. The "open source" crowd believes the most important aspect
the practical marketplace advantage that freedom produces.
I think they're both right. I wouldn't use the software without the
guaranteeing me the right to improve the software, and the guarantee
my improvements will not later be withheld from me. Freedom is
And so are the practical benefits. Because tens of thousands of
feel the way I do, huge amounts of free software/open source is
and its quality exceeds that of most proprietary software.
In summary, I use the terms "Linux" and "GNU/Linux" interchangably,
the former being an abbreviation for the latter. I usually use the
"free software" and "open source" interchangably, as from a licensing
they're very similar. Occasionally I'll prefer one or the other
if I'm writing about freedom, or business advantage.
Your Daily Driver
By Steve Litt
The term daily driver comes
from the automotive world. It means the car you drive every day, as
opposed to the car you drive to car shows, or the car you drive on
sunny Sundays, or the junkheap on blocks in your yard.
When I use this term for a computer, I mean the box on which you
perform your day to day tasks. Not a dedicated file/print/web/email
server, not a dedicated firewall, not an experimental computer you use
to test various distros, and not a spare computer you use for travel or
emergencies when your daily driver goes down. Your daily driver is the
box on which you do your daily work.
Your daily driver computer has requirements and responsibilities other
computers don't have. It contains the primary copy of voluminous data
-- 18,000 files and growing in my case. It has configurations to
optimize your productivity. It has all the right keystrokes -- all your
Unlike experimental and junk computers, your daily driver must be up
almost continuously so you can work when necessary. This means when the
time comes to replace your daily driver, you must quickly cut over all
functionality -- content creation, email, backup, menus, scripts,
Your daily driver needs to shoulder a huge load, and should be able to
shoulder it for 2 to 4 years before replacement.
The important thing to remember is that switching daily drivers isn't a
trivial task like switching experimental computers. It calls for
Picking the Box
By Steve Litt
Your daily driver must support the work you do on a daily basis, and
must enable you to achieve hyperproductivity. First and foremost, it
must be stable. No backwater brand motherboards. No overclocked
processors or busses, except when such overclocking is performed in a
way known in the world's literature to be stable (my overclocking my
Celeron 300A processors to 450mhz was a well known legitimate
Eliminate any heat issues. Use plenty of case fans. Hard disk heatsinks
and fans are an excellent idea. Spend the extra bucks for an excellent,
high capacity processor heat sink and fan. If possible, ask the people
who install it to use heat sink compound between the processor and its
Your daily driver must have the muscle to handle the load. First and
foremost, RAM is king -- get as much as you can afford. Get an obscene
amount of RAM. I guarantee you that three years from now, it won't seem
obscene, and might even seem anemic. Because my new motherboard takes
only 3 sticks of DDR RAM, I was limited to 1.5GB of RAM. I could have
purchased 1GB sticks (for a total of 3GB), but the price of 1GB DDR was
huge back in 2003, when I bought this box. Disk space is dirt cheap
now, so buy a bunch of it. I bought 2 200GB Western Digital 7200 RPM
drives for $150.00 apiece, so I'm well poised to perform the photo and
video editing tasks that will become possible and necessary in the next
Spend the extra money for a high capacity, high quality power supply
for your daily driver. Even when protected with a surge protector, a
high quality power supply can make the difference between continuing
uninterrupted and rebooting during a minor power glitch, or between
rebooting and serious damage during a major lightning strike. The
well being of your motherboard, CPU, RAM, drives, and daughtercards all
depend on continuous and accurate delivery of the right voltages at any
current draw. Don't trust all that to the $10.00 power supply packages
with the average case.
I use an Enermax 550 watt power supply in my old daily driver. I also
have a 450 watt unit normally used for out of the case experimental
setups. After purchasing my new daily driver, I replaced the built in
power supply with the 450 watt. Once there's no possibility of needing
backtrack to my old daily driver, I'll replace its 550 watt with the
original power supply from the new daily driver, replace the 450 watt
in the new daily driver with the 550 watt, and once again use the 450
for out of case experiments.
You might have some special requirements. If you're a gamer or CAD guy,
you need a serious video card. If you're heavy into audio, you need a
serious audio card. Determine whether you need things like firewire,
and how many and what type of USB ports you need.
Linux compatibility isn't the problem it was four years ago, but it's
still necessary to check for Linux compatibility, especially with
laptops. If you're buying a prebuilt box, slap in a Knoppix CD, reboot,
and see if video, audio, and network work. If they do, it's a pretty
safe bet that by obtaining and loading the correct drivers in the
correct sequence, you can make it work with any distro. You can perform
the Knoppix boot in the store, before the purchase. If the store
doesn't like that, buy elsewhere.
If you're building it yourself, check compatibility on the Internet. If
the motherboard has builtin video, audio, and/or network, be sure you
can turn them off in the bios and put in your own, Linux compatible
cards, if worst comes to worst. Of course, the purpose of builtin
components is price reduction. You don't want to spend an extra hundred
dollars on sound, video and network cards. So before buying a
motherboard, try to have the store let you boot Knoppix on complete
computer with that motherboard, and verify functioning video, audio and
NEVER cannibalize your old
computer to build the new one. I did that once, and when the new
computer didn't work, I was stuck with no computer at all. My business
was down for several days.
Yes, it costs money to buy all new hard disks, all new CD ROMs, all new
power supplies, and the like, but if you value continuity of business,
never cannibalize the old computer for parts to use in the new one.
Pick the right vendor. I once bought a box from an outfit that competes
on price. They have a 15% restocking fee, even when the returned item
is defective. The mobo I bought was a cheapo brand, and upon getting it
home I found it dead on arrival, so I returned it. At the store, these
guys made me stand around for over an hour, with my three children,
while their technician first worked on other units, and then tried
every possible way to prove my diagnosis of a defective mobo false. An
hour and a half later he declared it defective an authorized an
By this time I wanted these guys out of my life, so I
demanded a refund. They charged me a 15% restocking fee, even though
the original mobo was defective. I considered the $12.00 restocking fee
a small price to forever sever my ties with these guys.
I then went to a quality retailer, LEK computers in Winter Garden
Florida (URL in URLs section). For just a little more money, I bought a
good mobo from them.
I've done business with LEK for three years. When something's
defective, they refund or replace it. That's why I've spent thousands
of dollars with them.
I have a rule of thumb. Don't buy a new daily driver until you can
afford double the memory, double the CPU speed, and double the disk
space. If you don't double those values, your speed and performance
increase won't be noticable. If you can't currently afford to double
all three, limp by with your current daily driver, save your money, and
wait for the day when the price of doubling all three factors falls
within your budget.
Once you've picked your new box, it's time to get acquainted with it.
Acquainted with Your New Box
By Steve Litt
You've just gotten it home. Every fiber of your being wants to install
Linux, install any extra-distro apps, copy your data, and begin using
your box. Don't do it!
First, it's possible that you'll need to return it, so you don't want
to spend huge amounts of time before ascertaining that it works. The
likelihood of return varies with quality: Maybe 2% probability for Abit
or Asus or equivalently high quality motherboards, to as much as 50%
for those price conscious brands and backwater boards. As far as
processor quality, in the last 2 years I haven't been able to
conclusively rule in favor of either Intel or AMD in terms of
reliability -- they both seem excellent to me.
Instead of switching your daily driver on the day of purchase, you want
some time to get acquainted with your new box. Every box has its own
strengths and idiocyncracies. The time to get to know these is BEFORE
your daily work depends on the box.
Start by booting Knoppix, and verify video, audio and network. While
you're at it, take a look at printer, scanner, camera, and any other
major peripheral functionalities you use with your computer.
What I like to do is keep the computer as an experimental computer for
awhile, so I can really learn my way around it. The Athlon XP2400+
computer on which I'm typing this magazine spent a month as an
experimental computer, then several months as my son's computer, then
another couple months as an experimental computer, and then finally I
started the process of making it my daily driver. The computer it
replaced, a dual Celeron 300A (cranked up to 450), spent over a year as
an experimental computer before becoming my first Linux desktop. One
could argue that both these computers spent their most valuable days as
experimental computers instead of enhancing productivity, but the fact
is that when I pressed them into daily service I knew them the way a
mother knows her child, and that helps during the cutover process.
When it's time to get serious about making the box your daily driver,
install the simplest possible install of your distro of choice -- maybe
excluding X. The idea here is to verify that you can install.
Installation is one of the most intensive tasks a computer can perform.
Many computers that can run an operating system perfectly choke during
the installation of that operating system. I've seen this in both Win9x
and Linux. If installation is a problem, tweak with BIOS settings,
substitute components, and generally troubleshoot until you can
install. You might need to choose a less intensive installation mode,
such as 640x480x16, or even text mode. Be aware that in general,
installing Linux in text mode is quite time consuming, so look for
Once you can perform the simple installation, try a default
installation. That's quick because you make no choices. Modern
computers can perform the actual installation quite quickly.
Mess around with the box. Make sure that video, audio, network, and if
needed scanner, printer, camera, and any other peripherals work
properly. If not, troubleshoot. Test major programs.
Now create a list of all your vital applications, including Internet
tools such as browsers and email, and perform an installation that
installs all those apps. Test them and make sure they work.
All these installations take time. Worse, they require attended time
because of all the CD swapping. You can eliminate the CD swapping, and
beyond that actually increase the raw install speed, by performing an
If you have room on your old computer, copy the installation materials
to a directory tree, and NFS export that tree. Different distros have
different requirements. Red Hat, bless their hearts, require only that
you dump the .iso files
in the directory. Mandrake requires you to actually copy the contents
of the CD's to the tree.
I'd highly recommend NFS installs. They're faster, require less
attention, and succeed more often than CD installs. NFS installs take a
little time to get used to, but once you're used to them, you'll never
want to go back.
My experience tells me that the toughest thing to get working on a
desktop computer is email. There are so many little gotchas, any one of
which can hang you up. To make matters worse, if you test the new box's
email on your new box, the emails you download won't go to your old box
(unless you use IMAP or deliberately configure POP not to delete
downloads). I'd highly recommend you obtain a spare email address and
use that one for testing.
Start by configuring the email client itself to pull from the POP or
IMAP server. Once that's been done, you can incorporate fetchmail, procmail, and spamassassin. Troubleshoot if
there are problems.
Once you have a working email system, be sure to back up all the config
files, for the new box, into a backup directory on the old box, so that
future installs can
be accomplished easier. In the same light, document the steps you
needed to take.
Once you have a good feeling that everything you need, including email,
will work on the new box, it's time to perform the real install. But
before performing the real install, you must first renumber your old
Renumbering Your Old
By Steve Litt
Unless you're a much better planner than I, you'll spend quite a bit of
time copying various files from the old box to the new box. That
implies they're both on the network at the same time, which requires
they have different IP addresses and different hostnames. Because you
want the new box to have the same IP address and hostname as what you
have now, you need to change the IP address and hostname of your
current box to accommodate placement of the original IP address and
hostname on the new box.
Always back up your
computer's data before renumbering. If something goes wrong with the
renumbering, it's likely you won't be able to boot. For the same
reason, this would be a good time to create a boot floppy using the mkbootdisk command, or whatever
command your distribution supports for this purpose.
Every distro has various GUI methods of renumbering and renaming. If
you trust them, by all means use them and be done in 5 minutes. I don't
I use grep to find all
relevent instances of my IP address and hostname. My hostname is mydesk and my IP address is 192.168.100.2. So I run the
The preceding creates a file listing every file containing 192.168.100.2 or mydesk in the /etc tree, the /var/named tree, my user
directory, and my data directory. Once the file is created, you can use
sort -u to delete
duplicates. Then you edit the file to run gvim on all of them, and within
gvim change all mydesk to myolddesk and all 192.168.100.2 to 192.168.100.102. Run the
script, reboot, and your computer should now be renumbered. Be sure to
add myolddesk at 192.168.100.102 to any other
DNS servers on your LAN.
rm -f danger.sh
grep -l -r "mydesk" /etc >> danger.sh
grep -l -r "192.168.100.2" /etc >> danger.sh
grep -l -r "mydesk" /var/named >> danger.sh
grep -l -r "192.168.100.2" /var/named >> danger.sh
grep -l -r "mydesk" /home/slitt >> danger.sh
grep -l -r "192.168.100.2" /home/slitt >> danger.sh
grep -l -r "mydesk" /d >> danger.sh
grep -l -r "192.168.100.2" /d >> danger.sh
Now that your original computer is renumbered, you can install the new
one using your original IP address and hostname.
The Real Install
By Steve Litt
I performed about 8 trial installs on my Athlon XP2400+ before doing
the final, real install. Set aside a few hours for the final install,
because this time you'll need to hand pick every app, driver and other
piece of software.
But before you start the installation process, you must plan the
Plan Your Partitions
Your trial installs probably allowed your installation to partition the
disk for you. This time you must partition it yourself. Naturally, the
easiest method is to have one root partition and one swap partition.
Trouble is, if something runs that root partition out of space,
your OS will die, possibly taking data irretrievably with it.
A second problem with the single partition method is that it's nice to
have all your data on its own partition, and even better to have your
own data on its own physical hard disk. These require separate
Additionally, some partitions grow by their nature, while others are
relatively static. Some are read and written, while some are primarily
read. All these things point to multiple partitions. Here are some of
the partitions you might want, with suggested sizes based on cheap
availability of disk space (160GB, for instance):
|Root partition must contain /etc
directory, and provide mount points for others.
|If this partition runs out of
room, the system crashes, possibly with irretrevable data loss.
|Tiny partition containing boot
|By making this tiny partition at
the beginning of the physical disk, you assure booting of any Linux
distro on any IDE hard drive with any BIOS.
|Contains stuff written by the
operating system, such as logs, print queues, mail queues.
|Very read/write, very likely to
fill up without proper maintenance (such as log rotation).
|Contains software installed with
the operating system
|Can be mounted readonly and
unchanging if software installed after the fact is installed on a
different partition, such as /opt or a separately mounted /usr/local.
|Home directories of all users
|Size according to number of
users, and extent to which users place their personal data in their
|Written by many processes, but
most well behaved programs write only small files which are
subsequently deleted by the system
|Software installed after the
|Often this is not a separate
partition, but instead a simple subdirectory of /usr. If it's a
separate subdirectory, and if no software is subsequently installed in
/usr, then /usr can be unchanging and mounted readonly
|Software installed after the
||Very similar in purpose to
|The intent of using /d instead
of /home/username is so that valuable data is not intermixed with
various config files, cache files, programs installed in the user's
home directory, and the like. Implicitly, anything in the /d tree is
expected to be backed up, which may not be true with the /home
|Huge partition for holding huge
files, temporary output from programs, files for concatenating, large
intermediate files, quick backups of projects, and the like. If a
partition becomes too fragmented, its contents can be copied to
/scratch, the partition recreated, and then the contents copied back.
Not intended for backup, it nevertheless might contain directories that
do get backed up.
|This is where you place
downloaded or purchased installation sets. The idea is that if you back
up this directory, you can restore all programs by reinstalling them,
even if your kids manhandled your install CDs with peanut butter
When planning your partitions, if you have two hard disks, try to have
all the data partitions on one disk. /d, /home, and maybe /scratch would be good
candidates. These are partitions that typically would NOT be
reformatted during an install, and therefore you could conceivably
transfer the data just by moving the hard disk from one box to the
Plan Your Software
Do you use OpenOffice? LyX? Gimp? IceWM? Hylafax? Gnumeric? GNUcash?
Make a list of
everything you use, and have the list ready so when you install the OS,
you enable all the right software. Although it's true that you can
install apps later, it's more difficult, and apps installed after OS
installation aren't automatically included in the system menus.
Plan Your Users and Groups
NFS has a dirty little secret: It only works if users and groups have
identical numbers on all NFS connected machines. Otherwise you run into
all sorts of permission problems. Make sure that your username, and
those of any other users, have identical numbers on the old and new
machines. Same with any groups. Some distros allow you to specify the
numbers during installation, while others require you to actually edit /etc/passwd and /etc/group. In the latter case,
after you change the numbers, you'll need to perform recursive chmod commands on all
directories owned or grouped by those users or groups that you changed.
Perform the Install
Find a block of time of at least 2 free hours, and perform the
installation. Very carefully pick the partitions and the apps, services
and other software to install. Do not test the video during the install
-- it's too likely that it will fail. If asked, create a boot floppy --
it might help you get back in if the install bombs.
Test the Install
Briefly test the video, sound and network. Briefly test some of the
apps, and maybe email. Troubleshoot as necessary. When everything's
running, it's time for the cutover.
By Steve Litt
Like any cutover, you need to make this cutover quickly, because you
will not be
able to use either computer during the cutover. Using the old one isn't
an option, because the new data won't be transferred to the new
Go Off the Air
Let all your friends know you'll be off the air for hours or days. Let
them know you're switching computers. Then disconnect from the
Internet, and cease all work activities on your old computer. Do not
perform work activities on your
new computer, either.
Perform a Final Mail Retrieval
Email must be on one computer or the other. Never try to alternate. For
the last time on your old box, retrieve all your email, and if
necessary have your email client pull the contents of /var/spool/mail/yourname into
your personal mailboxes, typically located in /home/yourname/Mail. Make sure
is backed up (it should be part of your regular backup anyway).
Perform a Final Backup of the Old Computer
Perform a final backup of your old computer. At the very least back up
your data. You might want to back up various other things, such as your
home directory and the /etc
and /var/named trees, and
perhaps parts of the /scratch
directory. Be sure to verify the restorability of the backups, and you
might even want to create two backups. Mark the backup(s) something
like "20040414: Last dual celeron backup". Keep this backup forever.
Get NFS Working
By far the fastest and easiest way to transfer the data is NFS. Make
sure that all necessary directories are correctly enabled in /etc/exports. Make sure each
computer can mount each other's NFS exports. If NFS won't work, it
could be your firewall. While your entire LAN is disconnected from the
Internet, you might want to very temporarily create a wide open firewall.
Copy the Data
There are a million ways to copy the data. The easiest is to NFS mount
the new computer's /d on
the old computer, cd to
the old computer's /d
directory, and issue this command:
cp -Rp * /mnt/newbox/d
This is easy, but it presents some problems. If you inadvertently mount
the wrong directory, you could scatter all sorts of files where you
don't want them. If, unknown to you, the mount fails, /mnt/newbox/d would be a
subdirectory on the root partition, which would quickly fill up from
such a copy. Last but not least, the transfer of so many files and
directories is a major undertaking for both the computers and the LAN,
and can fail.
What you might want to do instead is to create a tarball on the old
box, NFS copy it to the new box, and then untar it on the new box.
Start on the old box (192.168.100.102):
sudo mount -t nfs -o rw 192.168.100.2:/scratch /mnt/newbox
Then, on the new computer, do this:
tar czvf /scratch/d.tgz *
cp /scratch/d.tgz /mnt/newbox
tar xzvf /scratch/d.tgz
The mount command usually
can be performed only as user root.
However, you can use the sudo
command to accomplish it. To enable sudo to run the command as root
in your behalf, you must enable sudo
to do so by running the visudo
editor. View man sudo and
man visudo for
If you have data besides /d,
copy that in the same way. Some examples might include /inst, /home, and maybe parts of /scratch. Be sure to copy your /home/Mail directory so you
have all your old email.
Configure Your Computer
Get DNS running. It should be as simple as copying /etc/named.conf and /var/named/* from the old box
to the new box, and then renumbering back to the original name and
number. Similarly, copy and renumber the old box's smb.conf, and use smbpasswd -a command to install all
necessary Samba users and passwords. Similarly configure all your new
box's services. If you connect to a separate firewall box, be sure to
If you connect to a separate firewall, I'd leave IPTABLES configuration
until last, because a strict firewall often messes up many services and
even apps. As long as you have one level of firewall, it's probably
better not to worry that factors involving IPTABLES might cause
problems with other software. On the other hand, if you have no
dedicated firewall, you MUST secure the computer before it's attached
to the Internet.
The more of your old computer's configuration was kept in your data
partition, the easier configuration of your new computer will be. For
instance, if your smb.conf
file was really just a symlink to /d/etc/samba/smb.conf,
creation of a similar symlink on the new box will restore the
configuration. Much of a box's configuration is kept in administrator
created scripts, and to the extent that these are kept on the data
partition, they become part and parcel of the new box upon data copy.
My computer's primary user interface is UMENU, a text based, keyboard
driven menu system I created (available to all under the GPL, see URL's
section). UMENU's entire menu structure is defined in a file called steve.emdl which is kept on the
data partition. Once I transfer the data, I simply run the EMDL
compiler to recreate the menu system, and bang, my menu system is
reproduced on the new box. This cuts valuable hours out of the
To the extent possible, keep your personal configuration in your data
Get Email Running
The biggest challenge is getting email running. Carefully recreate the
email system on the new computer. Test and troubleshoot as necessary.
Test your new computer. The idea is not that everything works, but that
you have a computer enabling you to work, however slowly.
Back Up the New Computer
You want to make sure that any kind of glitch won't bomb you back to
the old computer. Back up the data, and strategic parts of the config
(DNS, Samba, Email, etc.). Once you're backed up, you're on the new box
Begin Using the Computer
At this point you should be ready to use the computer. Get back on the
air, announce completion of your project. You're done with the toughest
By Steve Litt
It would be nice if the installation and cutover produced an ideal
environment. Unfortunately, it's almost certain you'll have forgotten
certain things. Configurations will be left out. Needed software will
For these reasons, your old computer should remain on the LAN so that
you can observe any configurations and copy any files as it becomes
necessary. When you can go for a couple weeks without referring to your
old computer, it might be time to redeploy it.
Redeploying the Old
By Steve Litt
Eventually you'll want to redeploy the old computer. Give it to one of
your kids. Use it as an experimental computer. Use it as a server. Even
use it as a backup daily driver.
However you use it, you'll need to delete the old data. Even if you use
it as a backup daily driver, the old data must be deleted to prevent it
from accidentally overwriting modern data.
It's likely that most uses of the old computer won't be as demanding as
its former daily driver role. That might free up internal hardware such
as hard disks, cd writers, extra RAM, top notch video cards and power
supplies, internal fans and heatsinks, and the like. Once you're
satisfied that you have no need for the old computer as a primary
desktop nor as a reference to the former setup, it can be cannibalized
and redeployed in another role.
Redeployment is economically essential in a small business. Computer
trickle down enables multiple people to upgrade when the person at the
top of the food chain gets a new box. For instance, your old daily
driver might become your new experimental box, your old experimental
box might go to your wife, your wife's box might go to your oldest
child, your oldest child's box might go to your youngest child, your
youngest child's box might become a file server, your filesserver might
become a firewall box, and your old firewall box might go to charity.
Naturally this all involves labor, so it's possible you might quit
after only a couple passoffs, but trickle down is a way to maintain a
large fleet of computers with very few purchases.
A Couple Months Later
By Steve Litt
A couple months go by since your cutover. You retained the old box for
a few weeks, then cannibalized and redeployed it. You've been working
on your new box, and it seems like it's been your daily driver forever.
One day you pull out a spare computer to take to a LUG meeting, and you
remember that once upon a time, that computer was your daily driver.
Life After Windows: New boxes:
Linux vs. Windows
Life After Windows is a regular Linux Productivity Magazine
by Steve Litt, bringing you observations and tips subsequent to
Windows to Linux conversion.
By Steve Litt
Which is an easier install -- Linux or Windows?
Moving to a new computer is always a challenge, regardless of operating
system. One such move brought me to
tears. It was a challenge when I used DOS, when I used Win9x, and
now that I use Linux.
I should mention that I've never installed WinXP, having migrated to
Linux before XP came out. It's possible that XP has solved all possible
computer migration problems. But I doubt it. First, there's the forced
registration thing. Imagine having to beg Bill Gates for permission to
reinstall your own operating system. Then there are the horror stories
I hear on the Micrografx Windows Draw mailing list concerning getting
Windows Draw to run on XP. Some have an easy time, and some can't do
it. Nobody has found the distinction between success and failure in
installing Windows Draw.
Last century, installing and configuring a Linux desktop box was a test
of faith. Your choice of desktops was typically molassis slow KDE and
Gnome, or user hostile fvwm2. Most hardware wasn't Linux compatible,
and much of what was required some serious configuration and gyrations
with modprobe and the like, or even recompiling the kernel. I remember
trying network card after network card before getting one to work.
After repeatedly failing to get sound, I went on a special shopping
trip to buy a Soundblaster compatable Ensonique sound card.
Move forward five years. Almost any video card -- even if built
into the motherboard, is recognized by the average new Linux distro. If
it isn't, probably the next version of your Linux distro will.
Gone are the days when you needed a Soundblaster compatible sound card
or a select network card. Today, many sound cards and most network
cards are recognized. In fact, I'd go so far to say the average network
card is easier to install on a Linux box than on a Windows box.
Some bemoan the fact that hardware manufacturers don't issue Linux
drivers for their cards. Personally, I'm glad they don't. Life gets
ugly when you need to save install CD's and floppies from every
daughtercard you've ever bought, and you need to remember which is
which. In the case of CD's, all too often the hardware manufacturer
places install programs for 50 different products on that CD, and it's
your job to figure out the exact model number you have, even if you've
lost the original box. In most cases I trust drivers made by the free
software community over drivers made by the manufacturer.
There are occasional exceptions, such as video accelleration, where
often because the manufacturer cannot give source code to the free
software community, the free software version of the acceleration is
inferior or nonexistent.
Lesser used hardware components must be selected with care. Scanners,
digital cameras, camcorders, synthesizers, radio and TV cards are all
examples of hardware which must be selected with Linux in mind. Today,
such hardware is where video, sound and network cards were 3 years ago
-- choose right, find the right driver software, and install carefully.
I'd imagine 3 years from now they'll be where video, sound and network
cards are today -- drop em in and they're detected and working.
Software's like hardware. When it comes to often used applications, the
free software offerings are equivalent, and often better than the
proprietary ones. OpenOffice is neck and neck with MS Office -- no mean
feat because MS Office is excellent. In my opinion open source Gnumeric
is better than any other spreadsheet I've ever used. Open source Gimp
beats Paintshop Pro hands down, and from what I hear even gives $649.00
Adobe Photoshop a run for its money.
As far as Internet clients, I prefer Kmail over Eudora and MS Outlook.
Mozilla Firefox and Galeon blow the doors off the Internet
and Netscape of my youth. My Mandrake 9.2 is bundled with Xchat and
other irc, news, and other internet clients. Linux was born on the net,
and it's completely at home on the net.
New open source packages make their mark each year. One great example
is the VimOutliner project. I started it in 2001 so as to provide an
outline processor -- any outline processor, that would run on Linux. I
GPL'ed it, and others joined the project and improved VimOutliner. In
2003 I handed management of the project over to Noel Henson. Under
Noel, VimOutliner has really blossemed. It now has checkboxes,
hoisting, a calendaring script, an easy install script for Linux, and
now a Windows version. VimOutliner's website
(http://www.vimoutliner.org) is top notch in terms of information,
downloads and support.
The one of the two places I see proprietary software having the edge is
in specialty software. At computer shows, I salivate over the midi
creation software on sale there. But it runs under Windows -- no Linux
users need apply.
Similarly, audio and video manipulation software is more mature
in Windows. But Linux has a history of catching up.
Where Linux might never catch up is software crippled for legal
reasons. I've heard the xmmx
bundled with the latest Red Hat Linux does not play .mp3 files due to software
patents. After all, you cannot license a patented technology and then
issue its source code to all comers. The more DMCA/CDBTPA type laws
that are passed, the more of a problem this will become. To me it's not
that much of a problem -- any recordings I make go into .ogg format.
Software Development Products
First a confession. After using the Clarion 2 (DOS) and Clarion 4
(Windows) application development environment, everything else designed
to create a data enabled user interface looks like junk to me. Perl/TK,
Glade, Visual Basic, Delphi -- in my opinion they're all marginal
compared to Clarion. If Clarion were ever offered in a Linux format,
I'd buy it.
When it comes to batch processing, Linux has the edge. Your Linux
distribution comes with C, C++, Java, Perl, Python, and Ruby, as well
as the Postgres and MySQL DBMS products.
User interface is another matter. I've yet to see free software as
quick and easy to use as VB, Powerbuilder, Delphi, C++Builder, and
There's good news though. You can purchase Borland's Kylix 3 Open
Edition development environment, which is "Delphi for Linux". Better
yet, you can purchase Kylix 3 Professional New User for $249.00 -- not
bad for the kitchen table developer wanting to produce vertical apps.
Proprietary installations are really painful due to piracy prevention.
Have you ever lost the key numbers to your installation CD? Just typing
in those strings takes a couple minutes if you want to get them right.
And then there are the minutes the installation takes scanning your
hard drives looking for evidence of a former product. Of course, all of
this is trivial compared to forced registration, where you need to beg
Gates and Ballmer for permission to reinstall the software you
purchased with your hard earned money.
None of the preceding are issues in Linux installs. You just install
it. As many times as you'd like.
Which is easier to configure -- Linux or Windows? I think it depends
with which you're familiar. As a person familiar with both, I'd give
the nod to Linux for a simple reason -- you have the option to forsake
your GUI config tools in favor of
configuration by editor. Configuration by editor isn't always easy, and
it's not always what you want, but when your GUI configuration tool
fails, it's always nice to be able to go in with Vim and configure your
I'd say data transfer is easier between two Windows boxes, because of
Network Neighborhood, and because Windows sharing is a little easier to
set up than Linux's NFS.
That being said, when things get a little hairy, I'm glad I use Linux.
Linux has much better scripting facilities so that you can make unusual
Operating system installations are difficult, no matter what the
operating system. The vast majority of Windows users never install
their own operating systems, whereas the vast majority of Linux users
do. When you hear Linux is "harder", consider that fact.
Setting up a Linux desktop machine in the 20th century was a trial by
fire. Most hardware was not supported, requiring the owner to obtain
all sorts of untested driver code from all sorts of places. It was
often necessary to recompile the kernel. In the bad old 1990's there
were few apps, and most were kludgy. The desktop managers of the day
were either pathetically slow (KDE, Gnome), or pathetically useless
Move the clock ahead five years, and what a different world it is. Both
KDE and Gnome have been rewritten for speedier response, plus the fact
that the average $500.00 PC has adequate power to run KDE and Gnome in
a snappy fashion. Fvwm2 is now a perfectly respectable desktop manager.
And today's user has many other options: Blackbox, Fluxbox,
WindowMaker, IceWM, SawFish, Enlightenment, and several others.
Today, all but the bleeding edge or most antiquated video, sound and
network cards are supported by Linux, and correctly probed without user
input. Contrast this with the gyrations a Windows user must perform
with the vendor's installation CD, and Linux installation is a delight.
Some less used hardware components such as scanners, cameras,
camcorders, radio and TV cards don't support Linux and are harder to
install, but things are getting better every day.
Linux software has caught up to and even exceeded proprietary software
in mainstream software catagories. Lesser used categories are still
easier with Windows, and certainly Windows is still an easier place to
develop integrated user interface database apps, but Borland Kylix is
helping to level the playing field.
Data transfer is usually a little easier in Windows, while
configuration is usually easier in Linux.
Bottom line is that in this man's opinion, although it's a tough call,
I think it's easier to switch
between two Linux boxes than between two Windows boxes.
Letters to the Editor
All letters become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), and
be edited for clarity or brevity. We especially welcome additions,
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URLs Mentioned in this Issue
- Linux distros
- Free Software Projects
- Linux Window Managers
- http://www.fvwm.org: Home of
the fvwm2 window manager. Back in the 1990's, this was one of the few
window managers lean enough to work with the machines of the day, but
it wasn't very good. Today it's an excellent window manager, and yes,
it supports UMENU.
- http://www.kde.org: Home of
KDE, a spectacularly featureful window manager once too big to run on
the computers of the day, but today a great and practical choice.
- http://www.gnome.org: Home
of Gnome, a spectacularly featureful window manager once too big to run
computers of the day, but today a great and practical choice.
- GUI Development Environments
Home of Clarion, which is BY FAR the fastest and best GUI/database
development environment I've used, any time, any place, any operating
system. Why, oh why don't they produce a Linux version?
Home of Kylix, a Linux port of the excellent Delphi development
environment. You can get it as GPL software for building other GPL
software, or as $249.00 Kylix Professional, with which you can build
- Office Suites
Home of LEK Computers -- in my opinion the best computer vendor in
Central Florida. This is where I bought my new Athlon XP2400+