by July 7, 2001 0 comments

Developed from the efforts and sentiments of millions of
users across the Internet, Linux has gained wide acceptance even from staunch
Windows users. Called a hacker’s OS in its infancy, Linux has many
distributions for desktops and the enterprise. Overall, Linux gained wider
acceptance this year from vendors, developers, and users. Let’s take a look at
some of these developments.

Linux is not only available on the x86 platform, but has also
been ported to RISC-based platforms like Alpha, SGI, and MIPS. This high
portability is due to the modular structure of the Linux kernel. Moreover, there
are ongoing projects for porting Linux to Palm Pilots and even Windows CE-based
handhelds. Under a project called Trillian, the Linux kernel has been ported to
Intel’s upcoming 64-bit Itanium processor. Various motherboard manufacturers
like Intel, VIA, and Ali are bundling Linux drivers along with the regular ones
for various versions of Windows. So, Linux can run happily on the latest
chipsets like Intel’s i815 and also supports ATA-66 (66 MB/sec burst transfer
rate) and the latest ATA-100 (100 MB/sec burst transfer rate) interface for hard

Hardware support

Earlier, Linux had a separate X server called XFree86 (the
Linux GUI) for each graphics chipset. However, this has ended with the release
of XFree86 4. With this, Linux drivers for each chipset can be developed as
loadable modules, just like drivers in Windows. XFree86 4 also uses what’s
called a DRI (Direct Rendering Infrastructure), which is somewhat similar to
DirectX in Windows. It’s a set of APIs that interact with the hardware, making
it easy to develop graphics and gaming applications on Linux. Voodoo 3 cards
support the DRI technology. nVIDIA has developed Linux drivers for its latest
chipsets, which can be freely downloaded from its Website–www.nvidia. com.
Linux has a separate X server for the NetMagic graphics chipset as well, which
is used in many notebooks.

Linux is improving its sound support with the ALSA (Advanced
Linux Sound Architecture) project. This is aimed at developing sound driver
modules for sound cards. Various sound applications are also being developed,
which will be as advanced as those on Windows platforms. Apart from the good old
OSS (Open Source Sound) projects, ALSA also supports popular chipsets like the
EMU10K1 for Sound Blaster Live sound cards and various Yamaha chipsets.

USB devices are fast becoming common, which has reduced the
popularity of serial (RS232) and parallel (Centronics) interfaces for
peripherals. The FireWire interface has been around for a while, and has gained
popularity among the multimedia community as a fast interface for video capture.
Linux has been keeping up with this trend, and offers support for FireWire with
kernel 2.3.99 and USB in kernel 2.4.0-test kernel (still under development).

Though DVDs are not very popular in this country, they’ve
gained a lot of acceptance worldwide. Their advantage lies in the fact that they’re
the size of CDs, but have massive storage capacity. DVD functionality can be
built into the existing stable kernel releases of Linux by downloading and
installing patches. Otherwise, the upcoming 2.3.x series would have this
functionality built in. Linux can now understand and use hardware DVD decoders
like Creative’s Dxr2. Dolby AC3 decoders for Linux like ac3dec are also freely
downloadable. The projects OpenDVD and LiViD are aimed at playing DVDs on Linux.
A company called InterVideo, which develops software DVD players for Windows, is
now porting them to Linux.

Software support

The core of Linux is its kernel. Though a Linux distribution
like Red Hat will offer you the latest kernel during its release, you can always
upgrade it by downloading the latest kernel source code or by applying patches
to the existing kernel. www. is a good site for the latest kernel
downloads. Currently, 2.2.17 is the tested and stable kernel, and an alpha
release 2.4.0-test10 and an alpha pre-patch version 2.4.0-test11/pre4 are

Windows has always enjoyed wider application support
vis-à-vis Linux. However, Linux has now been receiving a lot of attention from
software developers, and more applications are being ported to it. Corel
WordPerfect 8 and StarOffice 5.2 for Linux have been around for a while. Recent
news is that another office suite called Koffice from the makers of K-Desktop
Environment is in the making, though there’s no official release yet. Rumor
also has it that a Linux version of Microsoft Office has already been developed.

As far as browsers are concerned, Netscape Navigator 6 is the
latest version for Linux. Opera has also developed a browser for Linux, which is
in its beta release 4.0b2. The latest GUI for Linux, KDE2, has a browser called
the Konqueror, that supports JavaScript, HTML 4, CSS 1 and 2, and even
recognizes Netscape plug-ins, like those for Flash, RealAudio etc. Flash
plug-ins, as well as RealAudio and RealVideo are now available for Linux.

For programmers, Java compilers for Linux–as latest as
version 1.3–are readily downloadable. CORBA implementation in the form of the
CORBA ORB (Object Request Broker) is also available from OmniORB and VisiBroker.

Linux isn’t exactly known for its gaming support. However,
some commercial games like HopkinsFBI, Quake III, Soldier of Fortune, and
Descent 3 now have a Linux version. More games are expected to be ported with
the release of XFree86 4 and support for more graphics chipsets. If games don’t
natively support Linux, they can be run on top of an emulator like the
ever-popular WINE, which emulates Windows API on Linux for Win32 applications.

The Linux kernel, its applications, tools, utilities, etc are
scattered on the Internet. Linux distributors pack them all into nice boxes with
manuals, generally with text-based or graphical installation wizards. Some
companies also bundle their own tools, like Kudzo for hardware detection in Red
Hat, Yast in SuSe, and Linuxconf for system administration in Red Hat. Some of
the popular Linux distributions are Red Hat, Debian, SuSe, Caldera OpenLinux,
Mandrake, and Slakeware. This year also saw some new entrants like Storm Linux,
Corel Linux, and Arayabhatt Linux.

Shekhar Govindarajan

susceptibility of system information

Filename Related
to growth
cron crond Medium
dmesg   syslogd Low
maillog      sendmail  High
messages     syslogd  High
secure      telnetd / ftpd  Medium
wtmp      login  High

“dmesg” is a file that
contains boot-up messages and is perhaps the smallest of the log files.
“maillog”, as is obvious, contains a log of all incoming and outgoing e-mail.
These are created by the message transfer agent (MTA) on the system. Sendmail is the
default MTA on Linux, and logs generated by it are logged in maillog. The amount of log
information in this file depends on the log level setting in the sendmail configuration

“messages” is a good storehouse
of information. The kernel and many other applications that you use are programmed to log
their information to this file. The log information in this file is coordinated by a
mechanism called syslog (short for system log), with the syslog daemon (syslogd) providing
the mechanism on the system. “named” logs its messages in this file, and so does
“pppd” when you use it in debug mode. I have a small script, “nuke”
that I wrote to kill processes on my system, and this uses syslog to log information in
the messages file about the processes it killed. The "secure" file logs connect
and login attempts into your ftp server, as well as failed remote login attempts into your
machine. The "wtmp" file provides a record of user logins and their session
times, and "last" is a utility that uses this file to provide the data in a
readable format. last is typically used to examine the chronological sequence of logins to
the system.

Now that you’ve some idea of how
system information uses up disk storage, it’s important to prune these files and
release disk space. logrotate can be used very effectively to do this. But, it isn’t
enough to rotate and throw away the system information. It’s essential to scan the
system information at least on a daily basis, to ensure that the system and all
applications are working fine. From the system security perspective, it’s an
invaluable practice to scan this information. Hence, there is a need to backup these
important log files. (Refer to the article Backups and Disaster Recovery in PC
, March 1999, page 83)

I’ve touched upon a very small but
essential part of system administration here. The amount of system log information
generated is proportional to usage, the number of users as well as the applications
running. For example, if it’s a personal machine and you use e-mail heavily,
you’ll probably have to pay attention to the size of /var/log/maillog.

If as a systems administrator, I were to be
granted a wish, I’d wish that future releases of Linux include in them an automated
report generator that would give me a report periodically—a summary of the valuable
information in all these log files. In my next article, we’ll take a closer look at

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