Down But Not Out

Learning Linux on a PC?

Dirk Pilat - 2002.05.17

G'day everyone, steady she goes!

Yes, while my use of the antipodean idiom slowly but surely broadens, I have neglected you, my dear readers, terribly. This had a reason: I bought myself an old PC (beige, ugly, and loud with a beige, ugly monitor), as they seem to be given away for almost nothing these days. The stats are rather humble: Pentium 166 MHz, 64 MB RAM, old SVGA video card, sound card, ethernet card, and USB card. The whole kablouie cost me 100 dollars and is now sitting in my sun room overlooking the bay, next to my iBook.

But why, oh why, has such a vocal supporter of the Mac started to buy such shockingly unsophisticated hardware, you ask? Well, the answer is OS X, of course! As the innards of our beloved revolutionary new (?) operating system now resemble any old Linux box, I thought I do something useful and pop Linux on some horrible old beige PC and learn how to use the archenemy of every Macintosh user - the command line - just to better understand the goings on inside my iBook. Read all about it on Low End PC.

While all around me "Alpha-geeks" (don't frown, that was a Slashdot heading, and they should know what they are talking about) are drooling all over our computers and typing funny things into terminal (/dev/null anyone?), I was still confined to point and click.

I know that there's no reason for me to leave point and click and do something as sixties as actually typing something to tell the computer what it is supposed to do (especially if it's as convoluted as Unix's command structure), but I always wanted to be an alpha-geek. (Now is a good time, as my girlfriend is 18,000 km away and I don't have anything else to do. Ah, the joys of semi-bachelorhood.) If you wanna be with the in-crowd, you have to have at least a Beowulf cluster of Linux boxes (self-assembled, of course) standing in your living room and posing as a coffee table.

Well, so far so good. After about three weeks of tireless compiling, downloading, patching, and screaming in frustration, "Stinker" (that's the computer's name) has less functionality than a Mac Classic but is starting up and speaking to the rest of the world via the iBook's Internet connection.

I really understand why Linux is still not ready for the consumer market: It's just too bloody complicated. Nevertheless, every day hails another little success-story, and it certainly keeps me busy on these long New Zealandian autumn evenings. At the moment it is able to talk to the iBook, which sits next to its distant cousin like a 2002 Smart Car next to a Ford Model T.

I'm on my way hooking up an ADSL-USB modem and converting it into something as useful as a household MP3 player, IP router, Web server, and firewall. While I am cursing Linux's complicated setup proceedings and lack of ease of use, I have to admit that I am impressed by it's scalability, speed, and multiuser/multitasking options.

I know that I could achieve all this in 5 minutes with an old 7200, but it wouldn't be as much fun. Thinking about it, I actually should do that just to demonstrate a point and actually write something that would be appropriate for a Low End Mac column.

Now there's a thought.... LEM

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