Linux Doesn't Do Graphics
Tech Triangulation and Linux
LinuxPlanet Classics: I ran across this funny and true rant about dimwitted tech support that thinks MS Windows is the whole world: "Linux is an older version of UNIX that crashes if you try to use it to look at graphics, or as a web server." This was published in September 2000-- has anything really changed? --ed.
In this week's .comment, Dennis Powell recounts a Linux/cable modem nightmare that I will not even attempt to top. It's a good read, full of the sort of pathos we're all familiar with when it comes to making our beloved Linux machines get along with a world that isn't quite convinced of our legitimacy (or market share). Reading his account, though, took me back to my own broadband tribulations:
I like to collect Linux misinformation. Like the coworker who once told me Linux was an older version of UNIX that crashes if you try to use it to look at graphics, or as a web server.
You get used to a certain amount of it in your dealings with people who aren't particularly familiar with Linux. You learn to do your research before going to the store to pick up a new piece of hardware, because the clerk will tell you with a straight face that using a particular piece of hardware with Linux will cause early hair loss and chronic flatulence on top of voiding your warranty. So when it came time to order a DSL connection for my home, I did a month of research on all the potential hurdles and roadblocks before I ever started on what I've taken to calling "technician triangulation."
Tech triangulation is a simple procedure. You just figure out what you want to know, call the support line three times (making sure you get a different technician each time) and ask your questions. If you're lucky, they all agree with each other. If not, go with the majority unless two of them are clearly dim bulbs and the third is a compulsive "Linux mentioner" who's looking for his crack at moving off the help desk by antagonizing random customers with comments like "It's supposed to work that way, but I don't know... I run, uhhh, Linux."
With DSL, the big concern is the protocol your machine uses to talk to the provider. In many cases, the DSL modem just plugs into the wall, you plug your NIC into the modem, and you're golden. Well, as golden as it gets. In other cases, ISP's are going with PPP Over Ethernet (pppoe), in which case it isn't quite as straightforward a proposition: your machine has to negotiate a PPP connection via an ethernet interface using CHAP or PAP for authentication. My ISP uses both at random.
Thanks to the folks at Roaring Penguin, pppoe is fairly well supported under Linux. People with RPM-based distros can download the binary, install it, run a configuration script, and off they go. Others will find compiling from source simple enough, and the RPM is distro agnostic enough that it's a good candidate for alien. Roaring Penguin even provides rudimentary firewalling scripts that are strict enough to keep you safe for a while until you figure out what you're doing.
So I called the tech people at the ISP three times, and found myself thinking of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. The tech support people were the duct maintainers at Central Services, I was Sam, and there were no renegade plumbers coming down on rappelling lines anytime soon.
Originally published September 28, 2000, on LinuxPlanet