Troubleshooters.Com Presents

Linux Productivity Magazine

October 2006

My First Linux Box

Copyright (C) 2006 by Steve Litt. All rights reserved. Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for perpetual use to Linux Productivity Magazine. All rights reserved to the copyright holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise (certain free software source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided "As-Is". User assumes all risk and responsibility for any outcome.

See also Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist
and Rapid Learning: Secret Weapon of the Successful Technologist
by Steve Litt

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If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.  -- 1960's counterculture political slogan


Editor's Desk

By Steve Litt
Last Monday, Sept 24, 2006, I threw out my first Linux computer. It was a Pentium 150 with 96 MB of RAM. The RAM wasn't worth saving -- where can you use EDO memory any more?

One could argue that I should have saved it to make a dedicated firewall, but I have a better machine on a shelf just waiting for that functionality, should the IPCop box I've been using since 2000 break. Plus the fact that one of my daughters has a Celeron 233 that's rapidly approaching glue factory status. Around here, there's no shortage of potential firewall appliances.

I first loaded Linux on my Pentium 150 in October 1998, right after I moved to Orlando from Los Angeles. My Linux training consisted of 40 installs on that Pentium 150, followed by a trip to Everyone's Linux User Group (ELUG) in Orlando. That Linux machine was where I learned networking. Samba, DNS, DHCP, and Vim. It's where I programmed my first free software project (UMENU). It was my constant Linux companion for 4 months, and it played a crucial role in my authorship of "Samba Unleashed" and various chapters in "Red Hat Linux 6 Unleashed", "Linux Unleashed", and "Red Hat Linux 7 Unleashed".

But it was already nearing obsolescence the first time I loaded Linux.

The original purpose of my Pentium 150 was as my main Windows machine, starting from its October 1996 purchase. It took me over a week to build it and overcome various problems (see this article), but once it was correctly built and configured, its 32MB of EDO RAM, genuine Intel Pentium processor and top notch Micronics motherboard made it one of my most stable computers ever. Most of my computers were thrown out because they broke or became hopelessly intermittent. This one still worked perfectly a week ago, but it couldn't run a modern operating system, and couldn't even run Win98 at the speed I demand.

So from October 1996 through October 1998 it was a Windows computer, then became a Linux computer. When memory looked like a bottleneck, I went to Ricardo at UN computers and paid $70.00 for a stick of 64MB of EDO to add to the existing 32MB.

In 1999 I bought a better Linux computer, but still used the Pentium 150 for experimentation and technical editing of my writings, including the Unleashed series books mentioned earlier.

By 2002 the Pentium 150 could only run Linux in CLI mode, and soon after that using this computer was more effort than it was worth. Nevertheless, I kept it around because it's so darned stable, and let's face it, for sentimental reasons.

Monday I threw it in the trash, and that started me thinking about all the computers I've had, and how my computers choices resulted from things like my finances, the operating systems I chose, and perhaps even a little peer group pressure.

My Pentium 150 served only 14 months as my main computer. I bought it on the cheap, and it was 1/4 obsolete the day I bought it. This machine's importance wasn't its power as my main machine. It was important simply because it was there the day Red Hat shipped me that Red Hat 5.1 CD in October 1998, and it was there when I authored chapters in the Unleashed series, and more than any other computer, it taught me Linux.

The Pentium 150 is dead -- long live the Pentium 150!
Steve Litt is the author of Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist.   Steve can be reached at his email address.

Is Linux Productivity Magazine Back for Good?

By Steve Litt
Linux Productivity Magazine ceased publication in the summer of 2004, after hurricanes Charley and Frances wiped out our roof and temporarily stopped all Troubleshooters.Com business activities. This is the first Linux Productivity Magazine since then. From now on, Linux Productivity Magazine will be an occasional publication. For that reason the magazines will no longer have volume and issue numbers. From now on, new Linux Productivity Magazines only when I have suitable content and the time to write it.

So check back from time to time. It will be worth it.
Steve Litt is the author of Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting.   Steve can be reached at his email address.

Computers I've Known and Loved

By Steve Litt
Spring 1982. Rick Springfield, the Go-Go's and The J. Geils Band ruled the radio waves. The Reagan presidency was in trouble as a dark and growing recession sent unemployment soaring toward double digits. And I got my first computer.
That computer was a Heathkit ET-6800 Microprocessor Trainer, purchased as training lab materials for my Microprocessors class at Santa Monica College. I'd enrolled to learn about microprocessors, in order to better troubleshoot the newest audio equipment. While the rest of the class struggled to add a memory location to the accumulator, I soldered an audio plug to a segment of one of the 7 segment LED displays, connected it to an amplifier, and programmed it to play music.

It had 256 bytes of RAM. That's right, BYTES. I bought it for $200.00.

Later that year I replaced the cardboard case with plexiglass and gave it a battery backup so it could save a program for a few hours, and took it around to companies as a portfolio piece. To see the manual I wrote for this software, click here (WARNING: Huge bandwidth, 13MB worth of files. Don't click if you have dialup!).
      ET-6800 Microprocessor Trainer
Heathkit ET-6800

I used my Heathkit ET-6800 extensively for a year or two, and then it hung around for a few years. Somewhere in the late 1980's I cleaned my apartment and gave it to a neighbor.

By spring of 1983 I'd outgrown my soldered together computer and bought a Timex Sinclair with the hope of doing some "real computing" on it. The Timex could back up and restore from an audio cassette recorder, so I could actually store programs. With 2KB of RAM, it had almost 10 times the RAM of my Heathkit. At $100.00, this was the cheapest computer I ever bought.

Unfortunately, its built in Basic interpreter was hard to do anything useful with. I couldn't do much with this computer -- I think I gave it away a couple years later.
      Timex Sinclair computer
Timex Sinclair

In March of 1984 I got a real programming job, and by December of that year I took a leap of faith and plunked down a little over $1500.00 for a Kaypro 2x computer with a Juki daisy wheel printer and lots of software, including Turbo Pascal 2.0 for CPM and Wordstar for CPM.

This CPM machine had a 4mhz Z80 8 bit processor, two 170KB floppies, and a whopping 64 KB of RAM. Who could ever use that much disk space and RAM?

Throughout 1985 and the first half of 1986 I used this computer as the mother of all wordprocessors, including a 100+ page Systems Analysis paper with custom graphics produced programmatically.

During that time I also used it to program Turbo Pascal. I'd program Whitesmith Pascal all day at work, and then program Turbo Pascal all night on the Kaypro. The Turbo Pascal compiled much faster and more reliably. This computer was a substantial asset in the growth of my programming career.
      Kaypro 2x
Kaypro 2x

My Kaypro was a text-only wordprocessing superstar, with the finest keyboard the world has ever known, speedy Wordstar for CPM, and the huge amount of diskspace provided by the dual 170MB floppies. For the purposes of command line programming, its Turbo Pascal 2.0 could outperform the PDP-11/73 at work. I'd still be using the Kaypro today if the world hadn't changed.

I used the Kaypro solidly until mid 1986, and then sporadically for the next few years, and then as a curiosity piece and antique until I moved from Los Angeles in 1998, at which time I gave it to charity.

In early 1986, my main client switched from the PDP-11, to DOS programming using a series of 286's with off the shelf database programs. Even though I was totally pleased with my Kaypro, I decided to make a committment to my prospering programming career and get a 286. My client's hardware guy, Zev Gobst, was selling Multitech brand 10Mhz 286's with 1MB RAM and 40 MB disks for about $2500.00, so I bought one in June 1986. Sure, I could have gotten something cheaper, but Zev was one of the best hardware guys I've ever known -- I bought from the high quality vendor.

The Kaypro was almost immediately relagated to the closet. Without the ability to work on files generated at work, it became an antique curiosity.

Over the next 4.5 years I used that Multitech for everything. Turbo Pascal programming. Turbo C programming. Rbase programming. Clarion programming. Wordperfect macros. And the thing that finally did it in -- book writing. In 1989 and early 1990 I wrote my first book, "Troubleshooting: Tools, Tips and Techniques" on that computer. When contracted to write a bunch of VAX utilities in C, I wrote them on the Multitech, then ported them to the VAX. Turbo C was so productive that it saved more time than the porting took.

When I bought my Multitech it was state of the art. A year later my buddy Bill Anderson called it "kinda slow". Two or three years later I completely filled what I thought was the unfillable 40MB disk drive (how would I ever use that much disk space ??!), and bought another 40MB from Zev.

By late 1990 I'd used my Multitech for 4.5 years, and it was obviously obsolete. Opening my 133 page "Troubleshooting: Tools, Tips and Techniques" in Wordperfect took 15 minutes. My new client had a fleet of 386-25's. Almost no serious technical person still used a 286. The time to go had come -- I asked around and found out Gateway sold excellent computers at reasonable prices.

The Multitech became my wife's computer for a couple years, then, when my kids got to be about 3, they got it. Somewhere around 1996 the Multitech suffered a disk failure. I could have gotten a new disk, but this computer was now close to 10 years old, couldn't possibly run anything resembling a modern operating system, and had only 1 MB of RAM with no help of enhancing that (the RAM was a bunch of chips soldered to the motherboard). Worthless, the Multitech went to the dumpster.

After several phone calls determining Gateway had excellent products and a great guarantee, I paid about $4500.00 for a 486-25 with a whopping 8MB of RAM and 220 MB of disk space. NOBODY could ever use that much resource!

This computer was very close to state of the art. I could have gotten a 486-33, but would have had to pay something like $1000.00 more.

This computer became completely integrated into my business. I bought an HP Laserjet IIID to duplex print my books. Oh, and remember how it took 15 minutes to open the book on the 286? This computer did it in 45 seconds!!!

      Gateway 486-25
Gateway 486-25

My Gateway 286-25 came with Windows 2.x, needed for some printer utilities. Having Windows, I bought a program called Micrografx Windows Draw to make drawings and diagrams. I bought Windows 3.0 soon afterward. DOS was the old way, Windows was the new way, and I was a modern guy. My 486-25 had more than enough muscle to operate Windows. I didn't like some "Windowsisms", like the fact that you pointed and clicked repeatedly instead of putting a few commands in a batch file, and the fact that it was less robust and more bloated -- but hey, that's the price of progress. I was riding Bill Gates' coattails headed for developer glory.

The Gateway 486-25 was my main computer for 2 years, then my secondary computer for another 6 years. When we moved from Los Angeles to Orlando, it was silly to pay to move this now 8 year old computer. I dumpterized it.

I probably could have used my Gateway 486-25 for four years, just like the Multitech. However, I made a lot of money in 1992, figured I needed a tax deduction, so I went back to Gateway and bought a 486-66 in December of 1992.

I figure if you can't double everything, you don't need a new computer. My Gateway 486-66 doubled almost everything. Its 16MB RAM was double that of the old Gateway. Its 66Mhz processor speed was more than double the old Gateway. Its 370 MB disk was about 1.5 times the disk capacity of the old one. This was my first tower case, which up until then I'd considered a waste of space. In fact, it was a full tower, requiring 24" IDE cables.

This computer lived a long, productive life. It was my main computer through 1993, 1994, 1995, and most of 1996. It was my secondary computer until December 1997. When RAM intensive Win95 came out in mid 1995 I paid Gateway something like $675.00 for a 16MB RAM stick, and replaced one of the computer's four existing 4MB sticks with the 16MB in order to get 28MB, which was sufficient for the new Win95 operating system.

I moved it to Orlando, where it served limited duty as an experimental computer until it was dumpsterized in 1999. At one point I actually installed Red Hat Linux on it -- not an easy accomplishment on a 486.
      Gateway 486-66
Gateway 486-66


Both my Gateway computers were knocked around hard in the January 17, 1994 Northridge Earthquake. The pictures of the Gateways come from earthquake pictures. Both Gateways took a lickin and kept on tickin. Gateway made tough, stable computers.

In 1995 or thereabouts, I got a $3800.00 laptop. If memory serves me, it had a 75Mhz Pentium with 16MB of RAM. It ran Windows 95 well, if slowly, but within maybe 4 years it was both broken and obsolete. I never bought another laptop, although now with sub-thousand dollar laptops I'm reconsidering that policy.

Somewhere around 1993-1995, for the first time, I bought a desktop computer not intended to be my main computer. It was a 386-33 or something like that, with the processor hard soldered into the motherboard. It was probably less than $800.00 for the whole thing, which I built myself. I bought the pieces from Domino Computers in Southern California. This became my wife's computer, and then when the kids' computer broke in 1995 or 1996, it became the kids computer. Building this computer taught me I could build a computer myself.

When I had bought the 486-66 in December 1992, personal computers were high quality, expensive, and not really commodities. By 1996 things had begun to change. A "computer swap meet" began exhibiting monthly at the skating rink on Sherman Way in Reseda, CA, 2 blocks from my house. Price competition was fierce, and the technology was lightyears beyond my now aging 486-66.

By 1996 I'd learned that it's not economically wise to buy state of the art. Those last few megahertz of CPU speed, that last doubling of RAM stick size, those last few hundred megabytes of drive space cost a fortune, and would obsolete within a year anyway. Buying state of the art let you keep the computer for 3 years. Paying half as much for a modern machine a few steps down from state of the art cost half as much, and let you keep the computer for 2 years. I decided my next machine would be a few steps down from state of the art, and if I had to replace it sooner, so be it.

In October 1996 I bought a full tower case, top notch Micronics motherboard, Pentium 150 processor, 32MB of RAM, harddrive, CD, Floppydrive, and put it all together to make a machine vastly superior to my 486-66. The total cost was about $1600.00. As detailed in Litt Takes the Nine Count in the October 1997 Troubleshooting Professional Magazine, building this computer was anything but easy. As detailed in the My First Linux Computer article in this magazine, this computer would later become my first Linux computer, and would hang around for many years. Immediately after getting this computer working, the 486-66 became my secondary computer, and the 486-25 went to my wife.

I made a lot of money in 1997, and anticipated an income drop due to an anticipated move to Orlando in 1998. I needed the writeoff for a new computer in 1997, not later. Furthermore, the soon to occur Y2K meant that any computer purchased now or later might become obsolete and broken on 1/1/2000. If purchased now I'd get a full 2 years out of it. If purchased later I'd get less. It was possible to retain the Pentium 150 as my main machine until 1/1/2000, but by late 1999 the Pentium 150 would have been achingly obsolete, a lot like my 286 was in 1990.

So, in December 1997, I spent a little over $2000.00 for a computer that, while not state of the art, was substantial. Pentium II 300, 128 MB of RAM, a 6GB hard drive and a motherboard from ABIT, a company of which I'd never heard. The computer store assured me that ABIT motherboards were top notch -- an assertion which the following years proved an understatement. The Pentium II 300 was my main computer from December 1997 through February 2001.

When I switched to Linux in March 2001, the Pentium II 300 became a Windows appliance, serving out applications for which there was no Linux equivalent, while the data itself resided on my (newer) Linux computer. That machine bought in December 1997 has achieved immortality. As I write this on 9/27/2006, almost 9 years after purchase, that Pentium II 300 sits under the far end of my desk, formatting my troubleshooting courseware as genuine Powerpoint documents, and occasionally opening a Micrografx Windows Draw document.

      Pentium II 300
Pentium II 300,
perpetual Win98 box

It's a spooky, Dorian Gray type of immortality. The Pentium II 300 still runs Windows 98, and always will. It has nowhere near the horsepower to run modern operating systems, but it runs Windows 98 every bit as well as it did in 1998, which is to say, supurbly. Today this computer has less challenges than it did in 1998. It no longer needs to run Clarion, Delphi, Jbuilder, Powerbuilder, the WordPerfect suite (but it still must run WP 5.1 for "Troubleshooting: Tools, tips and Techniques and to open my other WP51 documents). It no longer needs to store data -- the data all resides on my Linux desktop, and when necessary is accessed by the Pentium II 300 Windows machine via Samba. When speed or top notch visual accuity aren't needed, I often access the Pentium II 300's user intervace from the Linux box, using VNC. Like I say, it's a Windows appliance, and ten years from now it will probably still be running Windows 98, decoding proprietary binary data files produced with Windows-only applications.

Orlando and Linux

After moving to Orlando in September 1998, with my nearest programming customer 2500 miles away, I had time to fulfil a long-time ambition -- Linux. I loaded Red Hat 5.1 on my (now) old Pentium 150. I joined Everyone's Linux User Group (ELUG). I wrote about Linux in Troubleshooting Professional Magazine, obtaining a huge boost in visitorship.

After a few months of experimenting with and writing about Linux, it became clear that the Pentium 150 was too slow to use in an experimental capacity. It took WAY too long to reinstall Linux, to compile the kernel, or to compile anything for that matter. With only 32 MB of RAM, KDE and Gnome were out of the question -- I had to use the (then) quirky fvwm2, which, by the way, is an excellent desktop manager today.

In the spring of 1999 MacMillan Publishing called me to author four chapters in their upcoming book, "Red Hat Linux 6 Unleashed". Given that some of the chapters involved networking, more than one Linux computer was needed. Something faster than the Pentium 150 would speed my writing and produce a better written product.

I bought a Celeron 333 with 64MB of RAM from Capitol Computer for about $800.00, as I remember. It had a Chaintech motherboard. This was the first computer I ever bought with Linux in mind, and the only times it had Windows installed was for a few days when I researched dual booting.

The Celeron 333 served admirably in the writing of chapters in "Red Hat Linux 6 Unleashed", "Linux Unleashed" and "Red Hat Linux 7 Unleashed", as well as my own "Samba Unleashed". I got my moneys worth.

However, as the new century dawned, it became apparent that the Celeron 333 wasn't very good. For one thing, the 64 MB of RAM made it pig slow with KDE and Gnome, and it often froze when running those. I switched to IceWM and it ran, but slowly. Somewhere in the early 2000's it was upgraded to 512 MB RAM, but it was still a little unstable. Nevertheless, I used it as an Installfest machine and experimental machine for years. It got more unstable as the years went by. When it repeatedly froze while I was teaching a Linux class in April 2003, I dumpsterized it and bought a new computer with a name brand motherboard.

By November 1999 my full time work was as the main author of the 1200 page "Samba Unleashed". An additional computer was needed to perform the necessary research, so I went to a local (now defunct) computer store and told the owner (now dead) "I need a computer, and the main criteria is price". Learn from my mistake -- don't ever tell that to a vendor, because you'll get what you asked for. He gave me a Celeron 350 on a PCchips motherboard that was so bizarre that it needed a special cable to connect its video port to the back of the computer. Only once was I was able to get this computer's video to reproduce more than 16 colors -- after that it would stubbornly refuse to run more than 16 colors, either in Windows or Linux. It was glitchy and intermittent. About the only things I can say in its defense is that it was cheap (a little over $400.00), and it grudgingly helped me write Samba Unleashed". I kept it around a couple years after Samba Unleashed was complete, trying to make it into another Installfest or experimental machine, only to run into instability and downright incompatibilities. Somewhere around 2003 it found its true home -- the dumpster.

By mid 1999 I'd decided to switch to Linux, not only for servers but on the desktop. Many challenges required solution, including taming the PPP monster to connect to the Internet. After seeing Phil Barnett's IPCop presentation (it was actually a Smoothwall presentation, but I later converted to IPCop) in late 2000, I decided to deploy an IPCop based firewall appliance, and therefore needed a cheap computer. Brian Ashe worked at a store selling used computers, so I bought a Dell Pentium with enough RAM and disk, for $75 or $100.

Another Dorian Gray computer, this Dell was an IPCop box, remains an IPCop box,and will be an IPCop box well into the future. Dell must make them good, because this computer that was already hopelessly obsolete in 2000 is still firewalling as of September 2006, and shows no sign of giving up.
      The IPCop box
The IPCop box

To facilitate my Windows to Linux conversion goal, in February 2000 I bought a heavy hitter computer, intended to be a Linux main desktop machine, from Chris Hudson at Sweetwater Computers. Chris Hudson is the engineer's engineer, knowledgeable, a great troubleshooter, more interested in providing a great product than making a huge profit, and refusing to sell anything that isn't top quality.

What Chris Hudson sold me was an Abit BP6 dual Celeron motherboard, populated with two Celeron 300A processors, which, as you may remember, could be safely overclocked to 450Mhz, which I promptly did. It had a Hermanator hard disk heat sink with fans to cool my 14 GB 7200 RPM IBM Deskstar hard drive. The medium tower case was a robust work of art -- I bet you could have driven a car over it without hurting it. I bought 512 MB of SDRAM for it from LinkTronics in Los Angeles. As I remember it was a bargain at $600.00. The whole computer cost me something like $2200.00, as I remember.

My conversion to Linux didn't happen as quickly as I hoped. Red Hat Linux didn't have the apps I needed. I tried Caldera Linux, but for various reasons it didn't work out. Next was Corel Linux, which confused me due to its Debian roots and certain other problems. Finally my buddy Chris Young from ELUG and LEAP recommended Mandrake Linux, which appeared to do a reasonable facimile of what I needed done.
      The dual celeron
The Dual Celeron

But there were all sorts of problems to be solved before converting my entire business to Linux. These problems are detailed in the April 2001 isssue of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine. By the time of Troubleshooters.Com's Windows to Linux conversion in March 2001, the Dual Celeron was already 13 months old, which traditionally means it was 1/3 obsoleted. Nevertheless the Dual Celeron became my main computer in March 2001, and remained my main computer until early April 2004. That's three years and a month as the main computer, and a year and a month before that as the candidate main computer. It then went to my son, who is still using it today. Approaching its 7th birthday, it's now kind of slow and a little intermittent. Soon I might replace it.

To facilitate its being my main computer, a second large (250GB) hard drive was added to the Dual Celeron when I switched to Linux in March 2001.

The Asus/Athlon fleet


Because the four machines in this fleet are so similar and were bought within a 2 or 3 year period, it's hard to get the exact order of events right, and it's possible that the descriptions of amounts of RAM and diskspace might not be exactly right.

That being said, the main computer I use today definitely has an Athlon XP2600 and 1.5GB of RAM with two disks, at least 250GB apiece.
As mentioned in this article, my Celeron 333 went totally intermittent while teaching a class in April 2003, necessitating a quick purchase. Chris Hudson had stopped selling hardware, so I'd developed a great relationship with a new vendor, LEK computers in Winter Garden, Florida. The day after the Celeron 333 broke LEK sold me an Athlon XP2000 processor on an Asus mobo, equipped with 512 MB of SDRAM (which was now pretty cheap), complete with case, drives etc. The price was very reasonable, although I don't remember the exact amount. That computer replaced my Celeron 333 as my main Installfest/experimental machine.

It occurred to me that with a couple big drives and some more RAM, that machine could replace the Dual Celeron as my main machine. But that would have involved a lot of work and some serious expense, and the need wasn't urgent, so the idea went on the back burner.
      Athlon XP2000 Installfest machine
Athlon XP2000
Installfest machine

Somewhere toward the end of 2003, my good old Pentium 150 was loaded with Linux and given to one of my daughers, so to replace it I got an Athlon 2400/Asus/512MB from LEK.
      Athlon XP2400 experimental box
Athlon XP2400
experimental box

Somewhere around 2002-2004, our family went from one computer for all three kids to each kid having his/her own computer. At first those computers were ancient hand-me-downs and stuff other LUG members had cast aside. This worked out great for awhile, but after several months the time required to keep the ancient fleet running began to seem excessive, and new computers started looking more cost effective.

My daughter with the Pentium 150 quickly found it insufficient, so the Pentium 150 was replaced by a Pentium 400/Asus combination donated by Tony Becker from LEAP. After several months of use the Pentium 400 became intermittent, but I kept it running a little longer by replacing the processor and some other components. All too soon, however, keeping her computer running was a full time job, so I went to LEK and got a Duron/Asus with 512MB in a new case, threw an old hard disk in it and loaded Knoppix. The Duron's clock speed is 892.66. She now had a killer computer.       The Duron/Asus
The Duron/Asus

As 2004 dawned, my Dual Celeron began losing stability. Removing the overclocking helped, but dual 300Mhz processors could not keep up with my workload. In early April 2004 I went to LEK, got an Athlon XP2400/Asus with 1.5GB of RAM, two 200GB hard disks, and all the goodies, loaded Mandrake, moved my data files to the new computer, and gave the Dual Celeron to my son. My son still uses the Dual Celeron, and I still use the Athlon XP2400, except in a bizarre troubleshooting situation it got upgraded to an XP2600.

In the picture to the right (click for a bigger image), notice this box has a DVD reader and a DVD burner. The fourth slot down is the Hermanator disk cooling heat sink originally bought from Chris Hudson for my dual Celeron. See all the tiny holes drilled below the power button? Those significantly increase ventilaton. Speaking of increasing ventilation, This box has several extra fans. It sounds like a 747 when it boots up. In every sense of the word, this is a heavy duty workstation.
      Athlon XP2600 main computer
Athlon XP2600
main computer

The Future

I'm in good shape, with an Athlon XP2600 main computer, an Athlon XP2400 experimental computer, and an Athlon XP2000 Installfest computer. Although my current main computer is over 2 years old, for me there's no discernable obsolescence. One of my daughters has a Knoppix Duron with 512MB RAM, my son has a Mandriva 2006 dual Celeron with 512MB RAM. Both are satisfied.

But with 5 people in the family, something's always getting old. My wife's Win98 Pentium II 350 with 192MB RAM is getting mighty old. Even worse is my other daughter's Win98 Celeron 233 with 128MB of RAM. It's underpowered, it's getting old and intermittent, and it uses an AT case and mobo for which parts are getting increasingly hard to find.

My wife likes Windows, so I imagine she'll get a new machine with Win XP in the near or intermediate future. Things with my daughter aren't so simple -- she likes both Windows and Linux. She needs a box capable of dual booting, or maybe even virtual machines.

Sooner or later Linux will have 64 bit drivers for all common peripherals, and 64 bit performance will be uniformly fast and stable. When that day comes, I can get a dual core 64 bit processor, probably with 4GB RAM, for a reasonable price. That becomes my main computer, and my daughter gets the Athlon XP2600 with 1.5MB RAM, which obviously will dual boot just fine and can probably run both Win98 and Linux in virtual machines.


I started out with a Heathkit microprocessor trainer, tried and didn't like a Timex Sinclair Basic appliance, then did some real computing with a CPM equipped Kaypro 2x. Next was a 286 with DOS, then a long series of Windows-equipped 486's and Pentiums. Later I graduated to Pentiums with Linux, and finally Athlons with Linux.

In the old days computers were so expensive that I had only one at a time. Then 2. Then computers for the whole family. Some of my purchase decisions replaced truly obsolete computers, and some were made as well timed tax deductions, thereby pushing off the obsolescence boogie man for another year.

The computer I'm using to write this article has absolutely no resemblance to my early computers, but throughout it all two things have not changed. Computers are fun, and you can use them to make a profit.
Steve Litt is the author of Samba Unleashed.   Steve can be reached at his email address.

Life After Windows: What does this have to do with Linux?

Life After Windows is a regular Linux Productivity Magazine column, by Steve Litt, bringing you observations and tips subsequent to Troubleshooters.Com's Windows to Linux conversion.
By Steve Litt
The preceding article details the computers I've used from 1982-2006. Was that article a self-indulgent, naustalgic rumination through the author's insignificant past? Yes it was!


Every Linux user has a motivation. Look a little deeper, and every Linux user has a story.

I know several Linux users who came out of the Unix world. They used Unix, found a Unix workalike that was free and worked on commodity hardware, and made the switch. With Unix as their "first language", they understand Linux completely and unconsciously. On solving any automation problem, their first thought is the Unix way or the Posix way. Windows and Mac seem bizarre and foreign to them. They wouldn't use a graphical user interface unless they were performing a graphical task. Bash and Perl are things these people have known from their computer infancy.

I am not one of those people.

Some Linux users were computer science students during the past half decade, whose courses used Linux as a computer science teaching tool. They've seen other operating systems, but believe Linux to be the best. Linux is their first language.

I am not one of those people.

Some Linux users believe the technical landscape to be a meritocracy, and just happen to believe Linux is best for a lot of jobs. They run Windows, Mac, Linux, BSD, Solaris, and whatever else as best fits the situation. They pride themselves in being as rational in their decision making as they are in their system administration.

I am not one of those people.

Some Linux users were dragged by their employers, kicking and screaming, into the world of Linux. They don't like having to use an editor for every last configuration. They hate that Linux doesn't instantly interact with Microsoft software, and that hardware drivers are sometimes not available or hard to configure. They don't like ./configure;make;make install nor package management. They use Windows at home.

I am not one of those people.

Some Linux users use Linux because it's Kewl. They just want to be geeky.

I am not one of those people.

Some Linux users use Linux because they're angry and disgusted with Microsoft. It might be a problem with Windows, or MS Office, the computer languages they see as inferior, or Microsoft's high handed monopolism.

That's me!

My story is that of a guy who took a detour. A guy with no opportunity to enter the Unix world (until Linux happened). A stereo repairman with semi-geek tendencies taking a microprocessor class whose lab requirements included building a computer kit based on a Motorola 6800 eight bit CPU, with 256 bytes of RAM. The perfect device to teach basic microprocessor principles. The stereo repairman programmed his trainer to play music while the rest of the class struggled to add two numbers. The stereo repairman decided he'd like to be a programmer, and got a job programming Pascal on PDP-11 computers with RT-11 operating systems.

If that first job had involved PDP-11 computers with the Unix operating system, my story would have been that of the guys starting out in Unix. I'd have gotten a discarded old Unix box, begged borrowed or stolen Unix, and set up the monstrosity in my living room.

But I had no such opportunity. In the 1980's, Unix jobs were the most sought after, the highest paying, and the most selective. No Unix shop wanted Stevie from Santa Monica College, when UCLA graduates with five years experience were knocking on the door for the same jobs. So I programmed in Pascal under RT-11, and when a $1500 Kaypro running CPM, Wordstar and Turbo Pascal came out, I grabbed it. By 1986 the company had switched to IBM compatibles with MS-DOS. The days of PDP-11 and RT-11 were over.

Joyously, I bought a commodity 286 PC-compatible and began doing real, paid work at home. Grateful to Bill Gates and Paul Allen for freeing me from the PDP-11, I pledged myself to Microsoft forever. It took more than 10 years to realize that pledge was merely a detour. I can't complain though -- I made a lot of money and got very good at programming.

When Windows 3.0 came out, I was enthusiastically right there. It was the new way, and even though it was obviously unstable, bloated and a hassle for a touch typist, I was a leader. A couple of Gateway 486's accompanied my new Microsoft-centric career, and when Win95 came out, it was much better than 3.0 and 3.1 had been. Well, er, except that my DOS backups wouldn't restore.

About the time I was getting my brand new Pentium 150 in 1996, I began reminiscing about the good old days of DOS. When I didn't have to use that stupid mouse. When I could do anything with a command or a batch file. When writing programs was simple because I didn't need my program to operate a graphical user interface. Microsoft didn't seem so great anymore. Plus the fact that on multiple occasions I'd been forced to work in slow, kludgy Microsoft C instead of quick and easy Borland Turbo C. Yeah, I was getting mad at Microsoft. As a matter of fact, boiling mad. But I perceived no alternative, so I calmed myself down.

Around that time, a co-worker told me about Linux. I didn't believe him. Free Unix? Unix was the ultimate operating system, and he wanted me to believe someone would give it away? At the March 1998 Spring Internet World trade show at the Los Angeles Convention Center, when my Pentium II 300 was still shiny and new, two good looking women at the booth for some little company called Redhat offered me a Linux CD for ten dollars. I was sorely tempted, but didn't buy it because have the time to install it.

Six months later I ordered Redhat through the mail (this time for fifty dollars), and installed and reinstalled it forty times on my Pentium 150 in order to learn it. I now had Unix on my kitchen table. Never again would I lose a contract because I couldn't write a shellscript or didn't know what belonged in the /etc directory. My detour was done, and I was back on my main road again.

Now there was an alternative to Microsoft! Now my true feelings about Microsoft could surface. Redhat 5.1 Linux was rough. It was a work in progress. But it gave me programming languages, a useful command line, scripting ability, and stability. From that moment on, I looked forward to leaving Microsoft behind. By 2000 my committment to Linux was strong enough to spend $2000.00 on a computer destined to be a Linux equipped main desktop computer. In March 2001 that computer offically took over as Troubleshooters.Com's main computer. By April 2004 that computer was replaced, by a new Linux computer.

This article is called "Life After Windows". Some Linux users had no life after Windows because they never used Windows. There are as many Linux stories as there are Linux users.

I've always hated the saying attributed to (Unix originator) Ken Thompson: "I view Linux as something that's not Microsoft-a backlash against Microsoft, no more and no less." I viewed that saying as anti-Linux. Yet, as is obvious from this article, I'm a member of the precise group to which he referred -- someone so angry at Microsoft that they went to Linux at first opportunity. I used to be ashamed of that, but not any more.

First, there were many just like me. We helped make Linux what it is. I've started about 5 free software projects, one of which (VimOutliner) now has a substantial community. There are many more like me.

Of course, there are those believers in meritocracy saying "pick the best OS for the job", as if the vendor has nothing to do with the decision. They criticize me for letting my feelings about Microsoft influence my decisions. Those pragmatist types have always been around. In the early 1770's, while guys like me boycotted tea from the British East India Company, guys like them told all that would listen that the tea taxes were "the way the world works, get over it!"

I'm proud of voting with my pocketbook, and I vote for Linux!

What's life like after Windows? It's being true to yourself!
Steve Litt is the founder and acting president of Greater Orlando Linux User Group (GoLUG).   Steve can be reached at his email address.

GNU/Linux, open source and free software

By Steve Litt
Linux is a kernel. The operating system often described as "Linux" is that kernel combined with software from many different sources. One of the most prominent, and oldest of those sources, is the GNU project.

"GNU/Linux" is probably the most accurate moniker one can give to this operating system. Please be aware that in all of Troubleshooters.Com, when I say "Linux" I really mean "GNU/Linux". I completely believe that without the GNU project, without the GNU Manifesto and the GNU/GPL license it spawned, 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 "Linux" than explain to certain audiences that "GNU/Linux" is the same as what the press calls "Linux". So I abbreviate. Additionally, I abbreviate in the same way one might abbreviate the name of a multi-partner law firm. But make no mistake about it. In any article in Troubleshooting Professional Magazine, in the whole of Troubleshooters.Com, and even in the technical books I write, when I say "Linux", I mean "GNU/Linux".

There are those who think FSF is making too big a deal of this. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The GNU General Public License, combined with Richard Stallman's GNU Manifesto and the resulting GNU-GPL License, are the only reason we can enjoy this wonderful alternative to proprietary operating systems, and the only reason proprietary operating systems aren't even more flaky than they are now. 

For practical purposes, the license requirements of "free software" and "open source" are almost identical. Generally speaking, a license that complies with one complies with the other. The difference between these two is a difference in philosophy. The "free software" crowd believes the most important aspect is freedom. The "open source" crowd believes the most important aspect is the practical marketplace advantage that freedom produces.

I think they're both right. I wouldn't use the software without the freedom guaranteeing me the right to improve the software, and the guarantee that my improvements will not later be withheld from me. Freedom is essential. And so are the practical benefits. Because tens of thousands of programmers feel the way I do, huge amounts of free software/open source is available, and its quality exceeds that of most proprietary software.

In summary, I use the terms "Linux" and "GNU/Linux" interchangably, with the former being an abbreviation for the latter. I usually use the terms "free software" and "open source" interchangably, as from a licensing perspective they're very similar. Occasionally I'll prefer one or the other depending if I'm writing about freedom, or business advantage.
Steve Litt has used GNU/Linux since 1998, and written about it since 1999. Steve can be reached at his email address.

Letters to the Editor

All letters become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), and may be edited for clarity or brevity. We especially welcome additions, clarifications, corrections or flames from vendors whose products have been reviewed in this magazine. We reserve the right to not publish letters we deem in bad taste (bad language, obscenity, hate, lewd, violence, etc.).

Submit letters to the editor to Steve Litt's email address, and be sure the subject reads "Letter to the Editor". We regret that we cannot return your letter, so please make a copy of it for future reference.

How to Submit an Article

We anticipate two to five articles per issue. We look for articles that pertain to the GNU/Linux or open source. This can be done as an essay, with humor, with a case study, or some other literary device. A Troubleshooting poem would be nice. Submissions may mention a specific product, but must be useful without the purchase of that product. Content must greatly overpower advertising. Submissions should be between 250 and 2000 words long.

Any article submitted to Linux Productivity Magazine must be licensed with the Open Publication License, which you can view at At your option you may elect the option to prohibit substantive modifications. However, in order to publish your article in Linux Productivity Magazine, you must decline the option to prohibit commercial use, because Linux Productivity Magazine is a commercial publication.

Obviously, you must be the copyright holder and must be legally able to so license the article. We do not currently pay for articles.

Troubleshooters.Com reserves the right to edit any submission for clarity or brevity, within the scope of the Open Publication License. If you elect to prohibit substantive modifications, we may elect to place editors notes outside of your material, or reject the submission, or send it back for modification. Any published article will include a two sentence description of the author, a hypertext link to his or her email, and a phone number if desired. Upon request, we will include a hypertext link, at the end of the magazine issue, to the author's website, providing that website meets the Troubleshooters.Com criteria for links and that the author's website first links to Troubleshooters.Com. Authors: please understand we can't place hyperlinks inside articles. If we did, only the first article would be read, and we can't place every article first.

Submissions should be emailed to Steve Litt's email address, with subject line Article Submission. The first paragraph of your message should read as follows (unless other arrangements are previously made in writing):

Copyright (c) 2003 by <your name>. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, version  Draft v1.0, 8 June 1999 (Available at (wordwrapped for readability at The latest version is presently available at

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After that paragraph, write the title, text of the article, and a two sentence description of the author.

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