Friday, January 11, 2008

Fun with Linux

I have been having a great time over the last couple of years employing various versions of Linux in my personal network. I have been a Windows user (not a fan), since I worked on a piece of Powerpoint 1.0 in 1990, just before the Windows 3.0 release. I have migrated to Windows 2000, and that is the planned end of the line for my use of Microsoft operating systems.

My original intention was to move all my work to Linux. I do, however, use several key applications for which there is no Linux equivalent, such at Tivo Desktop and Quicken. I also have a large library of photos, music, and videos stored on a big NTFS volume, so I needed a coexistence strategy.

I have developed a wireless network with 1 Windows system and 3 Linux systems. The network consists of 3 wireless routers, two of which are configured as wireless access points. Two of the Linux systems, a laptop and a large desktop workstation have VMware Workstation 6 installed, so those machines can support W2k as a guest. The network also supports two Tivo boxes.

Once I got a machine with a working version of Linux (Fedora 5, in my case), I needed some way to share file systems across the various boxes. Samba came to my rescue. The initial install was somewhat daunting, and I fumbled around for awhile, trying to decode the documentation and edit configuration files. I finally developed a fairly simple configuration that suits my needs, and I am pleased with the results. It is now quite simple to add a new host into the file sharing environment.

I am not a fan of command line interfaces. Those may be "fightin' words" in the Linux world, but I find GUI interfaces much more approachable and easier to learn. I do, however, like the fact that the command line in Linux allows access into configuration areas that Microsoft products keep hidden. The availability of the command line is empowering to the Linux user, even if not used every day. I especially like the fact that many Linux command line assets have nice GUI front-ends, which keeps both camps happy. I like to use Synaptic to browse for new packages to install, but I also comfortable with using apt-get from the command line.

I tried various distros and settled on Ubuntu, starting with 6.06. I am now up to 9.10 and like each release more than the last. I like the Gnome window manager and have chosen it over KDE. There is not a huge difference between the two, but who needs to have all your application names start with the letter 'K'?

With the help of grandson Steve, I upgraded my Linksys router by flashing it with DD-WRT, an open source router based on Linux. This gives me the ability to set static leases for all my permanent hosts, while still employing DHCP consistently across the network. The dd-wrt software also provides a lot of other functionality, such as the ability to use WCP to attach a console terminal on the router. This makes the router file system accessible from my other workstations.

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