Sustainable Computing

using Linux

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Linux Solutions to Modern Problems

Written by Kelvin McNulty

Do you rely on your computer? Chances are you do, if you have discovered how computing makes things easy that are hard without it. Information storage and retrieval, email, mailmerge, document preparation and Internet access are all things that are much easier with a computer than without – and in some cases not even possible without!

Undoubtedly you have had trouble sometimes, and annoying interruptions to your work, as you have had to beef up the security on your system to deal with various kinds of threat such as worms and viruses. You have had to learn new procedures, a bit like learning personal hygiene, such as taking care not to open attachments on email messages unless you know what they are. You may have come across problems with sharing your computer with other people – which can, if badly handled, lead to massive data loss.

Well, I had some of these problems, and anticipated more of them when I heard about what the next generation (which is now the current version) of the world's most popular operating system would be like. The information that came my way told me that this operating system would have features that would allow anyone on the Internet to get into your computer and modify and even delete files on your hard disc. It was said that this system would not run without being connected to the Internet and that it would “call home” to its supplier to check if it was a legal copy, thus enforcing the legal conditions under which the software was sold.

So I decided not to go along the path of upgrading to that software. I chose to install Linux on my computers (I had and still have three working computers) and was delighted when I discovered a version of Linux that would install itself in about one hour more or less alone, without my having to sit at the keyboard inputting details of the computer. I was delighted with the way this system works. It has many features that are identical to a Unix system that I worked on in 1979 – 25 years ago – which felt like a good sign. It felt as if the time it took to become familiar with this system would be time well spent, the knowledge would not go out of date when the supplier chose, for reasons based on maximising their profit, to upgrade to a new version that would require extensive relearning and a more powerful computer.

It has taken a few years to become really at ease with Linux and having done so I feel at ease with it in a way that I never did feel at ease with the world's most popular software. One simple thing is that as it is loading, Linux does not let you do anything until it is fully up and running and you know exactly when that is.

Working with Linux does have some problems – in particular you need to make sure that things you buy for your computer will run with Linux. Printers, scanners, and other peripherals need a driver to work and you will need to make sure when you buy one that it has a driver that will work with Linux.

I have had to become familiar with the concepts of computer security. Most people deal with this by installing additional software such as a firewall. Linux comes with a firewall (iptables) built in as an integral part of the operating system, though it takes knowledge rather like that needed to write software to program iptables directly, but fortunately there are user friendly programs that enable you to configure your firewall.

I have spent time learning about configuring – setting the computer to work the way you want it to. Linux has graphical tools to do this and it can also be done more quickly and directly by editing configuration files. I have learnt to configure dial-up and network interfaces, which did take a little while to learn but is now easy for me.

I now have Linux on all three of my computers – one for backup, one desktop machine and one laptop. Only one of them still has a working version of Microsoft (R) Windows, which I have removed from all the others. I have learnt to use the reliable Ethernet technology to link them together, and the laptop has a wireless link to this network. I have learnt how to access broadband using a router with broadband modem, which was simplicity itself to configure, and overcame the issue of needing a Linux driver for the broadband modem. I am delighted with the reliability of this setup and use it for all my work except when I work for other people on their own computers.

One issue which does come up with Linux is that the built in modems known as Winmodems cannot always be made to work with Linux. Linux has many superb and reliable tools for networking, including several tools for using external dial-up modems, and these provide the easiest way to get onto the Internet rather than spending a day or two trying (and often failing) to get your Winmodem to work. Linux, like the system that inspired it (Unix) was a networking system from the beginning.

It does take time to get used to Linux, which may be said to impose a high cost of ownership, but having invested that time, the time I have to spend keeping my system up to date and proof against all threats is much less than it was.

Resources for your research into Linux:

While checking these, you'll see links for many more...

Linux Online for general information about Linux including links to articles: http://www.linux.org

Gibson Research Corporation – this site has a facility for testing your computer's ports for vulnerability to worms. From their front page click the links for Shields Up: http://www.grc.com

The BBC publishes news about Linux in it's technology news pages. Use their search facility to locate Linux news: http://www.bbc.co.uk

Google is good for finding Linux information. Try things like Linux Information, Linux Computer, and anything you like: http://www.google.com

Guide to running Linux on laptop computers: http://www.linux-laptop.net

Linux International: http://www.li.org/

Major Linux Suppliers:

For SuSE Linux (the one that I use): http://www.suse.com

For Red Hat Linux (the one on which the Gcircle Website runs): http://www.redhat.com

Mandrake Linux: http://www.mandrakelinux.com

Debian GNU Linux – a free distribution maintained entirely by volunteers and containing no proprietory code: http://www.debian.org

There are other suppliers...

Disclaimer:GCircle accepts no responsibility or liability for any difficulties, losses or costs that you may experience at any time whether or not you believe the information given here is the cause of such difficulties, losses or costs. Gcircle does not warrant that the information is accurate and recommends that you conduct your own research before modifying or purchasing any computer or computer software. Gcircle recommends that you experiment with new systems and products in such a way that no unmanageable consequences can happen if these new systems and products should fail to perform as you would expect. In particular Gcircle recommends that you make backup copies of all critical information, and that you operate a backup system to any critical system that you use.


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