Low End Linux

Going Nowhere Fast

Dirk Pilat - 2002.05.20

A very good day to you, the equally frustrated Linux newbie.

It is now two weeks into my adventure with Linux, and as I still don't have any functionality to speak of, slowly but surely the whole experience becomes a bit of a bummer.

What has happened in the last couple of weeks? Well, I have finally managed to compile a kernel (2.4.3) that actually supports the use of a USB-ADSL modem, but for some bizarre reason after compiling the new kernel, half of my hardware doesn't seem to be recognized.

You see, in the complicated world of Linux, you can't just put a new card into your computer or use a new peripheral - no, the Kernel needs to be configured (done in a rather tedious menu-driven proggie called menuconfig) for the hardware that you want to run it on (that includes processor type, type of ethernet card, type of USB card, type of sound card - you get the picture) and then decide whether you need UHCI or OHCI support (don't ask), whether your PPP connection needs to support asymmetric - oh , you get the picture.

Configuring this OS involves taking a crash course in computer hardware and acquiring skills that I managed to avoid in 20 years of Mac, Amiga, and Sinclair usage, but it's obviously never to late to learn. It nevertheless felt really good when my newly compiled kernel finally started up for the first time (it turned out that it wasn't the kernel's fault: the computer just didn't find on startup - you have to run a sneaky little program called Lilo that tells the PC where in the world your kernel is , just like on a Mac you have to put the System Folder in the right place), but when I fired up my ftp program on the iBook to transfer another set of patches and drivers (6 just to get the stupid ADSL modem going), my ethernet card suddenly wasn't recognised, although I clearly remembered that I highlighted the necessary ethernet card support in the configuration process.

The problem with these kernel configuration problems is that recompiling a 2.4.x Kernel takes a good hour on an old Pentium like mine. Okay, on a Beowulf Cluster full of Pentium 4's it probably just take 2 minutes, but on an old ugly beige PC like mine, it takes its time. In other words, configuring the machine just right can be a matter of days.

Scores of people have written to me, telling me that my initial decision to run the Slackware distro was a mistake, but I still insist that it is probably the best way to actually learn the ins and outs of Linux, because it's the technically most challenging. But I will give in to my nagging doubts and try another distro: I've ordered a Mandrake Pack, and we will see how this works. In the meantime Stinker will continue to compile....

Sigh. LEPC

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