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.comment: The Plateau

Nothing Entirely New Under the Sun

  • October 17, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

We're entering the season of a new round of Linux releases, plus initial or new versions of applications that have already been represented in one way or another in the Linux sphere. There is a substantial and growing Linux installed base, not just in server space but on the desktop.

Linux has not just arrived, but it arrived a little while ago. For a year or more, installing Linux has been no more difficult than installing the alternatives. Hardware support is very good -- excellent, considering the low level of direct vendor support. There are still some vendors to be avoided, but contempt for the customer is what drove many of us from Microsoft's fold to begin with, so we mustn't be too surprised to learn that Microsoft has no monopoly on that characteristic.

Red Hat 7.2, if the "Enigma" beta is any indication, will be the best ever from them, which comes as no surprise -- Red Hat has always kicked one hell of a .2 release. Those of you still on 6.2 boxen, it'll be safe to enter the water once again. The new default file system, ext3, is a fine way for users to dip their toes into the idea of a journaling file system, particularly in that you can upgrade to it without having to rejigger everything on your drive, a drawback to other journaling systems when you're not doing a clean install.

I very much look forward to SuSE 7.3, which I hope to have in time to write about next week. I am given to understand that some of the people at SuSE took a few of my complaints about 7.2 to heart and has made an already very good installation routine even better -- and reduced the necessity of using YaST and YaST2 for all configuration, though one will still be able to do so. I know little else about the new SuSE, and I plan to do two installs: One an upgrade of my current machine and one a from-scratch install on the lab rat, employing their default ReiserFS.

It seems very important to me that SuSE not just survive but thrive. We have this week seen Progeny deign suspend its distribution, and I cannot abide Mandrake's decision to follow Red Hat in putting things where they don't belong. Caldera is off doing whatever it is that Caldera does. That leaves Red Hat, SuSE, and Debian. We really don't want to have fewer distributions than that. (And Debian is a law unto itself, which is fine, but it's a little bit like the old Volkswagen Beetle: Perfectly good, yet not quite measured by the same standards, or intended for the same people, as the alternatives. So far, no one has succeeded in basing a commercial distribution on it.)

I wish that there were an easy way to switch to the ReiserFS, but there isn't. So I'm glad to see that in 7.3 SuSE will offer ext3 in addition to Reiser. I'd prefer to use the latter, because Hans Reiser is a brilliant guy (who responds to my email!), but a journaling file system is better than no journaling file system, and I do not have the time to do an entire system reconfiguration in order to avail myself of the ReiserFS.

(The electricity went out here again last week, for a couple of hours. The teevee announced that the FBI was warning of additional terrorist attacks, and about five minutes later the lights went out. One cannot avoid a shiver at such times. The electricity came on two hours later; no explanation was offered by the power company. And for once I was able to do an orderly shutdown -- I have one UPS for the monitor and another, 650vA one for the computer itself. This splits the draw such that even a leisurely shutdown is possible -- I was even able to finish the email message I was writing. But had I been outside or in the barn, I could well have missed the blackout until it was too late. A journaling file system reduces the risk in this kind of event, and certainly reduces reboot time when the juice comes back.)

In any case, the new round of Linux distributions promises ease of installation and use rivaling that offered by anything else, and I can't wait to get my hands on these new versions.

Which brings us to desktops and applications.

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