Category Archives: Linux

Articles about Linux.

Siag — Pathetic Writer 3.0.6

Introduction

I should look forward to a look at a new word processor for Linux. I think we all agree that we need more good ones, preferably not just free but GPL’d.

Pathetic Writer is all of these things, but, before I even started it up, I was lacking enthusiasm. Why? Well how do you rate something like a word processor? I tend to write long, structured documents most of the time. My dad, on the other hand, tends to write mostly two- to four-thousand word articles. I know what I need, but what does my dad like to use?

Look and feel

PW is commendably GUI in nature. The authors have gone a long way to make it look familiar and friendly to users of Microsoft Office. The tool bar has clear, colourful icons that turn into buttons as the mouse passes over them, and below that are font family, font size and style pull-down pick-lists. Unlike Word the buttons cannot be changed for more suitable ones, however the ones that are there are likely to be useful for most people.

Above the tool-bar is the menu. Again they’ve tried to go for the Office look. However, while the look is pretty much there — except for the icons at the side that indicate their short-cut — the feel is all wrong. Although UI purists may prefer the Windows ‘anything that might work’ approach rather than the Mac ‘the one true way’ mantra, I’m sure the former works for more people more of the time. PW takes pull-down menus to their Mac-like extreme — you have to keep the mouse button pressed down until the option you want is selected. It’s also necessary to be a bit too precise for my liking too, especially where sub-menus are concerned. The hit-and-miss approach to menu selection reminds me of the Acorn Archimedes.

Of course the main focus of the screen is a large, white expanse that displays a good attempt at what your document will look like. Of course it’s stuck with X’s lousy font handling and the fact that it doesn’t use the same fonts in the printer and display, but we can hardly blame the development team for that.

Something that we probably can blame them for is some of the idiosyncrasies. Example: I’m on the first line of a document and decide to right-align it. I enter my name and press return. Where is the cursor? Answer: PW has decided that I no longer need right-aligned text and has placed the cursor to the left of the screen.

Okay, keep typing. When finished I can can just highlight the whole she-bang and right-align it in one go, right? Er, no. Once highlighted, only the first line ends up being right-aligned. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was applied consistently, but it isn’t. With the same text high-lighted if I change the font style or size I find the complete selection changed. What’s going on?!

Down sides

There are no huge humdingers as far as problems are concerned. As I’ve already touched upon, there are just a number of niggles here and there.

I experienced a few small stability problems — try loading the Microsoft Halloween I document with Eric Raymonds excellent annotations — however it’s nowhere near as bad as Word 97. Having said that, PW certainly feels much smaller than Word even if most of the often used functionality is there — there are bound to be less bugs in a considerably smaller program.

Another issue I’ve already mentioned: configurability. The tool-bar appears not to be changed at all, while the menus can only be changed by editing a complex configuration file. And all without documentation! These things should really be altered using dialog boxes. It’s not possible to move around the bars either. I don’t care about being able to move the menu bar (are you listening Microsoft), but shifting around the others can be very useful.

The main issue is with the display, and I guess this comes down to the configuration options again. By default, PW comes with four fonts installed, the usual Times, Courier, Helvetica and Century Schoolbook, however I couldn’t see a way to add all the other fonts on my system. Okay, these fonts are perfectly good and are usable in almost all circumstances, but…

Overall

Well, I can’t honestly say that I’ll use it once I’ve finished this review. If I’ve not made it clear already, I shall spell it out: there is nothing seriously wrong with Pathetic Writer. It is, by no means, pathetic.

It has almost all the basic features and some of the advanced ones that are needed. It can import and export in a number of popular formats, it supports styles, different fonts and what you see is what you get. What it doesn’t support is the ability to simply deal with long documents, and the ability to configure the user interface. And worst of all, while the user-interface looks good, it’s riddled with inconsistencies and small but annoying flaws.

Pathetic Writer shows much promise. This could be the great, free Linux word-processor, just not yet. It just doesn’t look like a stable third release yet.

StarOffice 4.0SP3

Introduction

StarOffice is a suite of Office applications for Linux, rivalling the plethora of Windows-based suites. It is available for “free” download for non-commercial use, although the download is over 43 MB for the original version, and over 53 MB for the version with all patches. Having used both original and patched versions, I suggest that it’s worth going for the larger file as a few fixes (mostly documented) have been applied. As the compressed file is so large, I used a program called ‘wget’ which allows incremental appending of files – After FMB my internet connection expired, but I was able to continue downloading from where it left off.

  • StarOffice comprises of the following components:
  • Star Desktop – Central browser for the Suite
  • StarWriter/Web – Word processor / Web Page Editor/Browser
  • StarCalc – Spreadsheet
  • StarImpress – Presentation package
  • StarChart – Chart creation
  • StarImage – Image manipulation
  • StarMath – Formula / equation editing
  • StarBase – Database
  • StarMail – POP3 / IMAP mail reader
  • StarDiscussion – On-line Newsreader

It is however very different to the other suites on the market for other OSes because the whole package is fully integrated – One window for all applications; the relevant part of the suite is loaded into the window instead of each application being a separate entity.

Setup

Normally I would not expect to mention anything about program installation – you un-tar the file, type ./setup and away it goes. Well, in a perfect world, possibly.

StarOffice 4.0 requires a libc of at least 5.4.22. If you haven’t got this version, then the installation falls over with a meaningless message of the type “syntax error at line 1 : token ‘|’ expected declarator; i.e. File”?which doesn’t mention anything about libc. Further, if you are a RedHat 5 user, it probably won’t even get this far. It’s an irritation which was present in the previous release and was all the more irritating having just installed a new RedHat distribution (5.0) which only had revision 5.3.12-25!! However help is at hand, and there is all the information and fixes here to get a RedHat 5.x system working. Once this is fixed, the installation works correctly, offering both network and user installations. A full installation will set you back about 130 MB.?

StarDesktop

The backbone to the Suite is a dual-windowed display, comprising of an “Explorer” type file manager, a main application window, and, when necessary, a “beamer” which appears to assist in news, mail and address book functions.?

All icons are displayed with images relating to the application they are associated with. However it is very easy to forget that the program is not a window manager itself, and hence cannot run executables; a couple of times I managed to display machine code in StarWriter.

StarWriter

I’ve always felt a word processor should be able to do all the basics well and simply before tackling the bells and whistles. Writer 4.0 bears a striking resemblance to it’s Windows counterparts, and will happily read and write MS Word 95 files, making the transition relatively easy, and enables files to be transferred between the systems.

The “Autopilot” function offers help in creating files in a similar way to the Wizards seen in many Windows products. I’ve not tended to use them as I work from my own templates. They seem to be reasonably competent although they seem to want to add in pictures at every opportunity, and you don’t really get a feel of what the finished template will look like until the Autopilot is finished.

StarCalc

Spreadsheets are funny beasts because no two are ever completely compatible. Again StarCalc is very reminiscent to Excel 95 in it’s appearance, and even the formulae appear rather similar. Being a heavy user of Excel at work, I tried loading some work files into StarCalc – however, many of the formulae were actually incompatible and it was only the simple ones which worked OK. However, the data files themselves were read correctly. So it’s not as compatible as Writer was with Word, which is a consideration for cross compatibility. However, it is a very powerful spreadsheet in many of the ways that Excel is in the Windows world.

StarImpress

This is a presentation package, equivalent to PowerPoint in MS Office. It was also the one component of the package which had me really tearing my hair out. One of the problems that appears certainly in the download version is that help files are not included in the original version, although this appears to be rectified in the service pack 3 version. Without the help files, Impress is rather difficult to get in to because it is no where near as intuitive as PowerPoint and I spent a lot of trying to find out how to do the most basic of operations. I also had to switch to a 16 bit colour display to display colours satisfactorily which might be a problem if your graphics card is basic.

The Autopilot was useful for templates, but unfortunately there was no way of telling what the slides would look like until it produced them.

My overall impression was a lack of flexibility in comparison to the competition. However, once you really know your way about, it may do all this. However, without a decent help function, I fear that many users will stick with other products which they know their way around.

StarBase

The database application is so well integrated that I almost missed it entirely, although by creating an address book I had actually used it. I found it easiest to use through the Autopilot which offered a reasonable range of preset tables, such as addresses, music and video collections, etc. I was very surprised to discover that it would not read my Access 95 files. On closer inspection I discovered it would read text, dBase, and ODBC files, although I didn’t have any such files to try them out.

StarMath

Offers the ability to create mathematical formulae in a similar fashion to the Equation editor contained in MS Office.

StarImage

My first impression was Corel Photo-Paint. My second impression was MS Windows Paint. It can display many formats but has only basic functionality. There are a handful of special effects, but other than adding titles and drawing rectangles and circles, that seems to be the lot. My advice is to stick with the GIMP.

StarChart

The chart function in other operating systems has been seen both as a separate entity (e.g. Corel Chart) or integrated (such as in MS Office). StarChart is a separate function within the Suite, and looks very similar to the function of inserting a graph into applications such as PowerPoint. I found it very difficult to get anywhere with this – StarChart chose it’s own display and stuck with that and although I could change the graph type, setting the correct parameters for the axes was beyond me. The help didn’t offer any useful support on this either.

StarMail

There are many mail readers, and my first impressions were that it works well, supporting POP and IMAP, and allowing both text and html email. However I soon changed my mind seeing how it stored email. Nearly all other mail readers I’ve come across store mail by appending text files allowing other mail readers to read and display the contents without corruption. Unfortunately the authors didn’t seem to see things this way, and each mail message is a separate entity which is unreadable by other readers. Opening mail folders created by “Pine” lead to reading a long list of text instead of discrete messages. Further if you have two messages with the same subject, one message will overwrite the other making follow-up messages very difficult. This is really the reason why I stopped using StarMail, and went back to Pine which is very simple and effective.

StarDiscussion

The news-reader is typical of most on-line readers I’ve tried with an option to subscribe to groups (maximum 2500) and the display can be threaded with the message list displayed in the beamer and the message in the main window. I could not however find a kill filter, and along with the fact that there is no (apparent) off-line facility, this may provide enough reasons to not use Discussion – it’s good, but doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

Web Browser

By typing in URLs in the tool bar, the application window will connect to remote web sites, and it follows very closely in the steps of Netscape – in fact the word “Mozilla” can be found within the options. It works pretty well, although getting the browser to choose a “save as” function was not easy, and a number of times StarOffice tried to display raw RedHat rpm files on the screen. It is possible to tweak the file-types option although I didn’t succeed on this occasion. I prefer Netscape for http and ftp as a result, however this program is showing a lot of promise here.

Overall

I am very impressed by StarOffice, and a few minor tweaks would quickly remove many of my complaints above. It is powerful and the complete integration of the applications is very welcome, although this makes it rather power-hungry and disk intensive. Stability seems to be significantly improved over previous releases and the only times I suffered crashes were in connection with on-line work. It is also free for non-commercial use which in an age of large, expensive heavy-weight applications is quite stunning. On the downside, the omission of the help files is a serious drawback so make sure that the version you get is the latest one (currently service pack 3), and along with the less-than-simple installation procedure (unless you are lucky enough to already have all libc revisions correct) the product risks alienating itself from many potential users, unless they really have the time to sit down and work it out.

Also see this review of StarOffice 5.0.

StarOffice 5.0

Introduction

The review of StarOffice 4 is, at the time of writing, the most popular on this site. There is a good reason for that. Not only did Simeon do an excellent job of it, but StarOffice is probably the major office application for Linux.

StarDivision were first on the scene with a serious product and, with the onslaught of Corel and Applix, they intend to keep the lead. But is StarOffice 5 enough to keep people from defecting?

Installation

After the hassle of installing SO4, 5 is refreshingly simple, assuming that you have a glibc system such as RedHat or Debian. It would have been nice it if had used a standard ‘.deb‘ or ‘.rpm‘ package, but the Windows-like installer is painless enough. Even for older installations (without glibc) shouldn’t be too difficult as a suitable library is supplied.

One caveat that’s probably in the manual, but I was so keen to have a look that I didn’t notice, is that you have to install the application as the user that you want to run the it as. I originally made the mistake of installing it as ‘root.’

In Use

When it starts, SO5 throws you into a file manager not unlike the Windows Explorer. In fact, at the bottom of the window is a ‘task bar’ complete with ‘Start’ button on the left and clock on the right. Even the tool-bars have a Windows-look about them — they have the ‘highlight when you move over them’ thing as well as looking just like MS Office.

Your ‘home’ page allows you to create new documents by clicking on short-cuts, or you can move around your file-systems either by entering a URL or by double-clicking on folders and clicking on the ‘up’ button.

You can also open documents on remote machines by entering the appropriate URL. FTP and HTTP protocols are supported.

StarWord

Anyone familiar with Microsoft Word are instantly going to be at home with the word-processing component. It feels half-way between Word 95 and 97 and has the most-used features of both.

It’s fully WYSIWYG, comes complete with an on-the-fly spell-checker, advanced styles, paragraph and typeface handling and a whole host of other bits and pieces that most people won’t even look at!

For me, StarWord is missing only a few things. Firstly, it doesn’t use X’s own fonts. I spent ages trying to get X to use TrueType fonts and now StarOffice comes along with its own that are just as bad as the ones I was trying to get rid of! I couldn’t find a way to force it to use my Windows fonts, either.

Secondly, although it has quite adequate table-of-content functions, it seems not to have the ability to do cross-references except as hyper-links — not quite what I want. (I suspect that you have to do something fancy with field-codes, which is, therefore, not as easy as it should be.)

StarSheet

I’m not exactly what you’d call a spread-sheet power-user. Give me an AutoSum function, pretty colours and the ability to easily create graphs and I’m happy.

StarSheet is perfectly capable of doing this and far more.

My standard test of a spread-sheet was very easy. The test is: I create a grid of random numbers and add a graph of them. I didn’t guess the formula function for generating random numbers, but the insert formula dialog made finding what I wanted very simple — just pick a suitable looking function and tick the appropriate boxes. I then dragged the bottom-right of the cell and copied the formula to other near-by cells. This is great; it’s just like Excel.

Creating a graph was just as simple. Highlight the area and click the ‘Chart’ button. You then follow a simple ‘Wizard’ interface and you’re done.

This is hardly a complete test of the functionality, but what’s there appears easy to use, complete and well thought out.

Others

Most people are going to spend most of their time either word processing or creating spread-sheets so I won’t dwell on the other bits in quite so much detail.

StarDivision have been trying hard to compete with Microsoft feature-for-feature. Other applications, therefore, include a diary or scheduler, mailer and web-browser.

All are passable and, as they’re so easily accessed and consistent with the rest, are probably worth using. The web-browser is neat, but is no Netscape; the scheduler is decent but I much prefer my Psion; and the mailer may get some use as I have something against almost every competing product I’ve even used!

It’s not all good

The applications all look good, read other people’s data and are fully functional, so there isn’t a lot wrong with StarOffice. But what is wrong is serious.

StarOffice is extremely large and slow, and the monolithic “do everything in one place” approach can’t help. On my Pentium 120 — some way behind the leading edge but hardly pedestrian — it takes nearly four minutes to open and frequently swaps furiously when you select a menu item. (To put this into context, Word 95 under Windows 95 starts in about five seconds.)

I’m sure more memory would help, and I’m sure that a faster machine wouldn’t be out of place, but even Microsoft can get a word processor to run at a more respectable pace.

Conclusion

StarDivision are not only going for Corel and Applix, there are going for Microsoft Office. StarOffice is easy to use and as fully featured as almost everyone could possible want.

Unfortunately, it’s starting to look like Microsoft Office in other ways too. It’s so big and slow that it is rendered completely useless on my hardware.

It’s a shame, as in almost every other aspect it looks to be a winning application.

Also see this more complete review of StarOffice 4.

tkCVS 6.0

Introduction

If there are any regular readers out there, you may recall that one of the first reviews that I did was of tkCVS. The more astute of you will have noticed that recently it has vanished. Somewhat ironically, I managed to delete it while using my ‘mirror’ program and didn’t have a copy held safely in a backup or version control.

If this has taught me anything, it’s that CVS, although very powerful, is not very easy to use. If it was, to use a cliche, as easy as falling off a log then I would have had no hesitation in using it. However, it’s not and I didn’t.

What is it?

First, what’s CVS? It’s an advanced client-server version control system. Unlike many other systems, CVS works with entire projects or directories rather than just individual files. It also allows many users to edit the same files and merge the changes back together later.

However, with twenty-four commands, each with a large number of options, CVS isn’t exactly what you’d call easy to use. (Since most people don’t bother with configuration management at all, this extra hurdle can’t help.)

tkCVS is a much needed TCL/TK-based front end.

In use

First impressions are good. tkCVS looks good. A menu is at the top of the screen, a tool bar is at the bottom and in the middle is a list of the files in the current directory. On the left are the filenames, on the right are their status: ‘ok’ if the file is up to date, ‘????’ if the file is not controlled and ‘{Locally Modified}’ if your version is newer than that in CVS. (I assume that there’s also a ‘modified by someone else’ descriptor, but since I used this on my own single-user machine, I didn’t test this functionality.)

All very straight-forward.

Marginally less straight-forward, now I come to look at them, are the buttons on the toolbar. Sure, they look decorative, but you can only find out what many of them do by waiting for the tool-tip to appear. (Having said that, I’m not entirely sure what a suitable icon for ‘re-read the current directory’ should be. They’ve used a pair of glasses.)

tkDiff

Bundled in the same archive as tkCVS is a graphical ‘diff’ program called tkDiff that’s worth, if not a review of its own, at least a mention.

It does just what it says. Given two files, it finds the difference between them and highlights the differences in various colours. You can flip between the differences using Next and Previous buttons, which is useful if you’re used to the standard GNU diff.

Best of all, it’s integrated with tkCVS allowing graphical diffs between different versions of the same file. However, although it’s easy to get a diff between your copy and the latest copy in CVS, it’s not entirely clear how to get a diff between versions in CVS or your copy and an older version.

Conclusion

Like many TCL/TK applications, it looks good but falls down on its implementation. The UI, although infinitely easier to use than the CVS command-line, is not quite as intuitive as it could be, and there are a number of glitches and bugs.

Fortunately, these glitches are just that. They are annoying but don’t get in the way of what is, fundamentally, a sound program.

UAE 0.7.6

Introduction

On the subject of emulators, there are two main factions. The first says that they are a good way of using all the software that you had for your previous computer when you upgrade. The second say that an emulator is a sure sign that a platform has no software. Why, they say, would you have an emulator if you could get as good or better software for your new machine? (They seem to forget that there are loads of emulators for DOS and Windows.)

I was first introduced to a useful emulator when I still had my old 386. A 386 has roughly enough power to run Sinclair Spectrum software at full speed. This was great: I could bring Bomb Jack, Manic Miner and Nebulous with me! And I could save levels and I could load complete games in a split second rather than ten minutes. The emulator was better than the real thing!

But my Amiga software just sat in the box. I had no way to bring that with me. Until now. PC’s are just about getting to the point that they are able to emulate and Amiga at full speed (and if they’re not then I can run them on my HP K box at work!).

Installation

The long and the short of it is that I’m lazy. If I can download an RPM archive of a program, I will. It’s not that Ican’t build programs — most work days I’m up to my arm-pits in C and Makfiles — it’s just that I want to use a program straight away. Okay, that makes me impatient too.

I’ve not been able to find an RPM of UAE, so I downloaded the latest stable version I tried to build it. Normally these GNU ‘configure’ scripts are straightforward: type configure; type make; and everything is ready. Configure usually goes away and finds the various bits and pieces without any trouble. The UAE configure script, however, couldn’t find my GTK library (I have the correct version according to the documentation) and it couldn’t see that I had the SVGA library, and the DGA support, which it did find and claimed to be using when I started UAE up, didn’t give full screen support.

So to summarize, I couldn’t get a nice user-interface and I couldn’t get full screen support in console or X. I wasn’t impressed.

Does it work?

It shows how long ago it is that I used a real Amiga. Like all the various kinds of memory that a PC can have (EMS, XMS, conventional, high), the Amiga has a number of different types too. I used to be able to remember all of them, what they are, what they do and why they’re there — on both the PC and Amiga — but I can’t now!

That’s to say, some of the programs that I couldn’t get working might, in fact, work fine if you can get the right combination of memory and video settings. This isn’t a criticism of UAE as such, more of the Amiga. It might be possible for the UAE team to add hints, though. (I never programmed my Amiga much, so I don’t know whether that would be possible.)

But I did have a number of successes. Workbench 1.3 seems to work fully (I’d forgotten how bad it looked), as does AmigaBasic and Deluxe Paint. With the windowed version of UAE, it is normal to have the Amiga mouse-pointer being completely independent of the X pointer. I find this annoying, but you can switch it off.

Perhaps more impressively I managed to get some games working. Arkanoid 2 works flawlessly; International Karate+ seems to work okay, albeit from the keyboard; Populous ran; as did Pacmania. However, all ran somewhat slowly. Arkanoid was fine unless the sounds was switched on. This slowed down the game, and the sound kept breaking up. Probably the worst was Pacmania, which was far too slow. The documentation does warn that some of the scrolling effects are the most processor intensive, and this is obviously the problem here.

As I mentioned before, there were a number of games that I couldn’t get working at all. Chase HQ gave me nothing more than a black screen. Rampage crashed. Paperboy didn’t work. Simulacra didn’t start. Maybe these will work if you twiddle with the memory settings?

In use

While it’s true that the performance and sounds problem can be overcome by throwing extra hardware at it, I think it’s fair to mention that most games are unplayable on a mid-range Pentium (120). Many application are probably okay, maybe even faster than the real thing, but I can’t see why anyone would want to run Amiga productivity software on a PC. Microsoft Word or LyX would be far better than anything on an Amiga.

UAE is supposed to come with a GTK-based front-end. I never managed to get this working, so all I was left with was the command line. This left no way to switch disks — they are emulated by files on your hard-disk — after the emulator had started, and no way to edit display or sound settings without resorting to obscure command-line directives.

Overall

I get the feeling that the UAE team may have bitten off more than they can chew. The Amiga was always considered a powerful machine, and trying to squeeze it into a ‘well behaved’ operating system like Unix was always going to be difficult. (One of the best Amiga emulators, Fellow, runs under DOS which is a far better option. There’s no chance of you being preempted by another process or user and you have full control over the screen.)

Maybe I’d have been more impressed if I’d managed to get the user-interface and full-screen mode working. And maybe I’d have been more impressed if I could install Linux on my PII at work. But I wasn’t and I haven’t, so, for now, I’m going to leave UAE well alone.

Linux 2.1.131

Introduction

It’s a long time since I used a development kernel. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever just downloaded the source and built it myself. The last time I was on the cutting edge, it came as part of an installation of Slackware. I think it was 1.1.59, and seemed to be no less stable than the real thing. So maybe it’s a little surprising that since I moved up to a Pentium I’ve always stuck with the stable 2.0.x series?

Not really. I’m a coward, firmly fitting into the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fit it’ mould. Not only was I on a faster machine, but 2.0 was faster than 1.2. Why would I risk breaking things for a few extra percent?

In a sense, I think I was right. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s get the thing installed…

Quick Aside

I expect that most people reading this will already know about Linux’s version numbering conventions. If you fall into this category, you may as well jump to the next section.

If you’re still with me you may be wondering what all the fuss about Linux 2.2 is and why there aren’t any Linux 2.2 betas.

The reason is simple: way back when Linux 1.0 was released, Linus Torvalds decided that all stable, ‘release’ versions would have even version numbers. In the case of release 1.0.9, ‘1’ is the major version number, ‘0’ is the version and ‘9’ is the patch number. Since ‘0’ is even it is considered a stable, usable by ‘normal’ people version.

The version I tested was 2.1.131. ‘1’ is odd so this is a development kernel, usable by people that are prepared to accept the occasional glitch. Note, however, that the kernel is now in a ‘feature freeze’ which means that only bug-fixes are being added. Put another way, even this development version should be, and is, fairly stable.

Upgrade

Linux sits very much at the heart of your system, and any upgrade to it shouldn’t be taken lightly. That’s why, for pretty much the first time in history, I took a look at the documentation.

make config ; make dep ; make clean ; make zdisk ; make modules ; make modules_install

What could be easier?

Well, after being cushioned by using RedHat for a number of years it was a little confusing to be expected know which options I needed to set. Nothing I couldn’t deal with — and nothing unexpected — but I just want to make it even clearer that this isn’t something that someone who has difficulty installing a Windows 95 application would want to do.

I must confess, however, that it wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected. It only made me happier when I rebooted my machine and it started, apparently, without problem.

In Use

In use it doesn’t feel at all different to 2.0. Running some unscientific benchmarks I find that it is, indeed, slightly faster and it does use slightly less memory, but I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that it now runs on even more machines, from i386’s to Acorn Archimedes, in even more configurations, from SMP to X.25. The point is that it now optimizes for many of the Intel compatible CPUs and handles many of their bugs.

However, it’s not all rosy. The PPP daemon from RedHat 5.0 doesn’t work out of the box. You need to download and compile a new version. I found this more difficult than building the kernel! (The problem was that it expected to be built at /usr/src and failed anywhere else with screens of not very obvious errors.)

And I’ve not managed to get my 64AWE Gold working yet, either. This is more laziness than anything else, the instructions look fairly straight-forward.

More seriously, one of the main new features seems not to work on my machine: the graphical console drivers. Normally this wouldn’t matter too much. I spend almost all the time in X anyway, so some memory uselessly set aside just for the sake of being cutting-edge is not really worth it. However, one main benefit of the graphical console is the Tux logo when Linux is booting…

Actually, it is useful. It means that there’s a standard interface across all Linux platforms, from i386 to SPARC. But not, apparently, if your video card doesn’t support the VESA 2.0 standard. I would have thought that this is relatively rare. My machine is less than three years old but only supports VESA 1.2.

Other bits and pieces

Looking at Joseph Pranevich’s excellent “The Wonderful World of Linux 2.2″ in this months Linux Journal (December 1998), it would seem that my ‘aging’ hardware is unable to take advantage of most of the fancy new stuff.

For example, if you have a multi-processor box, 2.2 will work much better. There’s improved support for non-x86 architecture machines and there are optimizations for non-Intel x86 machines, too.

Overall

The new development kernel is smaller and faster than the current stable version and still appears to be rock solid. I’m not sure how the development team keep managing it when the millions of dollars that Microsoft invest seems only to increase bloat.

However, the features that have been added seem to be there to please ever more niche markets.

In summary: the best has managed to get even better.