Originally Published: Sunday, 16 July 2000 Author: Robin Miller
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Community Forum: How to Make Linux Unreliable

I've read about Linux boxes that stay up and running for months or years, but mine never goes more than a few weeks without rebooting. I'm not blaming Linux for this. It's my own fault. I work hard to make Linux almost as unreliable as Windows.

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This article is first and foremost a humorous creation, but if for some reason you're looking to make your Linux system less reliable, most of the tips shown in the article will work well.

I've read about Linux boxes that stay up and running for months or years, but mine never goes more than a few weeks without rebooting. I'm not blaming Linux for this. It's my own fault. I work hard to make Linux almost as unreliable as Windows.

As Linux gains mainstream acceptance, I'm sure many others will want to achieve my state of grace and own Linux boxes that are (almost) as reboot-hungry as the Windows ones to which they've grown accustomed over the years. This how-to will help them achieve that goal. I've broken it down into easy-to-follow sections. I believe that anyone, whether an old Linux hand or a raw newbie, will be able to read this and create a Linux box that crashes frequently after only a few days' worth of practice.

Icon Power

Linux is easy to tweak and modify to suit individual preferences, so I spend a lot of time tweaking and modifying my system. I especially love all the desktop icons you can use to represent programs in GNOME and KDE. I have hundreds of them and like to change them around all the time. I can't always remember which one is for which program, but that's okay. Linux can run hundreds of programs at a time without crashing, right? I love it when my KDE taskbar shows twenty lines worth of programs running! Sure, this takes up my entire 17" monitor screen, but so what? I'm making full use of Linux's power, just like the people who run Beowulfs. Not many point-and-click computer users can make that claim!

The only problem is, I can't remember which icon to use to get a console going so I can use the command line ps hx and kill -9 thing and shut down all the stuff I have running so I can do some useful work. Oh, well. Reboot the box and everything will be fine.

Pick a Distro, any Distro

Linux has many wonderful distributions from which to choose. I started with Red Hat, then the potential of apt-get lured me to Debian. When I installed Debian I lost all my files, of course, but that was no big deal. It only took three days to (re)download and (re)install all my Netscape plugins and stuff like NEdit and other programs I like better than the ones that come standard with Debian and get them all going (and choose desktop icons for all of them).

Then I tried to set up my printer, and couldn't figure how how to do it with the printconfig thing Debian uses, so I dumped the Debian and tried Mandrake. I really liked Mandrake. It was easy to install, but then I read about Caldera OpenLinux, which was supposed to be even easier, so I tried that. It worked fine, except it didn't recognize my monitor so I had to use some sort of generic setting that made it flicker and hurt my eyes. No problem.

Mandrake looked good again, so I installed the latest version and liked the improved logo and everything, and I got my printer going on the first try. Woohoo! I actually used Mandrake happily for several months without any hassles -- except for the times I forgot to do my shutdown and just hit my computer's power button instead, and had to go through half an hour of disk-fscking when I restarted. Just like Windows.

But then Corel came out with an even easier Linux, and since I am as much of a sucker for easy-to-use Linux as my wife is for household gadgets in TV infomercials, you know what happened. I was back to Debian. I'm not kidding. You install Corel Linux, what you really get is Debian with hardly any packages. So I downloaded a few bits of software and tried to install them, but I couldn't remember how to install them without a handy little RPM icon I could click, and by then Red Hat 6.2 was out, and so was Mandrake 7.0, so I flipped a coin and spent three days installing and configuring Red Hat, which worked just fine, except now Mandrake is up to 7.1 or 7.2 or something and is supposed to have lots of neat new admin tools to make things easier.

But the hell with that. I've never tried SuSE, and their Web site makes the latest version look so appealing...

Fun with Xconfig

Every time I mess with xconfig I screw something up. The last time I tried to use it to change my monitor resolution I ended up with no mouse. I have no idea how I did that. Somehow -- after a whole bunch of trial and error and many reboots -- my mouse started working again. I'm still not sure why. Arrgh! I could say lots more about xconfig, but I'm not drunk enough. Maybe later.

Find That Library

One great thing about trying lots of different Linux distros is that it helps you get confused about different libraries and where to find them. "Where did I leave Motif this time?" is one of my favorite questions. Another one is, "Why does [insert program name here] run fine with [dependency A] and barf on [dependency B]?" GTK, widgets, etc bin, usr, home, lots of little slashes and periods -- these are some of the finest amusements Linux has to offer. If you keep rooting around long enough, you're sure to get most of your programs hooked up with most of the libraries you need to make them run, even if you constantly change distributions in search of the easiest one to install and use. If you're half-bright, all this will give you a chance to reboot at least a dozen times, too. Great fun!

If It Ain't Broke, Fix It Anyway

Assume that somehow, by mistake, you've gotten your Linux installation working just right, your LAN or modem connection clicking along, your printer printing -- in color, even -- and all your favorite software, even the peskiest Netscape plugins, installed and running correctly. Don't despair. There are still lots of things you can do to keep your computer from becoming too reliable. One of my favorites is to try unstable software packages that take a lot of manual installation work.

I'm not talking about .deb or RPM stuff here. No, I mean programs that exist only as source and take kernel recompiles and two or three dependencies you never heard of to fire up in a console, let alone add to the 350+ programs that already occupy your desktop. These packages usually have version numbers like 0.00012. Sometimes the best ones are so obscure that they're not even on freshmeat, and have home page URLs like http://reformschool.edu/~acneking/c00lhakz.htm.

This is the kind of program you need when you're trying to make your system display truly Windows-like, keyboard-locking behavior. I found one, once, that threw all kinds of files into sixteen different directories all by itself, but never actually ran. The one thing it did well was make my screen freeze every time one of my other programs tried to open one of the directories where it had stuck some files. It was truly a work of art!

I wish I could share this fine program with you, but I lost it either in my move from Debian to Mandrake or the one from Red Hat to TurboLinux to Debian that I forgot to tell you about earlier, because that was such a bad week that I seem to have successfully blanked it out of my mind.

This is not the longest or most complete Linux how-to around, but I have to stop typing now. I'm using StarOffice to write this, and it keeps trying to autoload the fake school URL three paragraphs above this one and it beeps at me when it (duh!) can't find it. I've poked around in all the menus and can't seem to turn this feature off. The only thing left that I haven't tried to get rid of the damn thing is to reboot my system, so that's what I'm going to do as soon as I save this file, assuming I can remember how to do it without chopping off the





Editor's note: That's all Roblimo sent. He called later and said he'd try to resend the complete piece, but somehow he managed to destroy his Master Boot Record and he'd need to get that fixed first. We finally got tired of waiting and decided to run this "as is" without editing or modification.





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