Originally Published: Saturday, 18 September 1999 Author: Maurice Entwistle
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Winmodems Part 6 - Cruising the Net with GNU/Linux

My frustration with wanting to use GNU/Linux to cruise the Net led to a series of articles on Winmodems. What a learning experience it has been! The amount of email I've received from readers indicates Winmodems (software modems) are a major area of concern. The mail falls into two categories: positive and negative opinions on developing Linmodems (software modems for GNU/Linux), and great frustration at discovering a Winmodem on a home PC (you can't get on the Net using Linux with a Winmodem)....

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Winmodems Part 5 - Why the Future Belongs to Linmodems
Winmodems Part 7 - The Low-down Nitty-Gritty on Modems

My frustration with wanting to use GNU/Linux to cruise the Net led to a series of articles on Winmodems. What a learning experience it has been! The amount of email I've received from readers indicates Winmodems (software modems) are a major area of concern. The mail falls into two categories: positive and negative opinions on developing Linmodems (software modems for GNU/Linux), and great frustration at discovering a Winmodem on a home PC (you can't get on the Net using Linux with a Winmodem).

I have to report that in my case, I am now able to surf the Net with Netscape and send and receive mail. It has been a two-month process, asking for help and learning. Without the local Linux Users Group and a number of emails, it would have taken me much longer. So I thank all who helped, you know who you are.

I don't want to discourage newbies who are considering switching to GNU/Linux. I want to help. Since I'm barely passed the newbie stage myself, I believe I write from that perspective - not a bad thing. Honestly, I've had very little flaming for being less than a Linux guru. And I'm sure I've eased a number of newcomers' pain, sharing my own with them. If I have set a few on the right track to finding a non-software driven modem, or caused someone to buy the right PC to run GNU/Linux, then I am pleased.

This morning from home I got connected with my Acer PC on a regular phone line. This article was written and sent in entirely with Linux. Let me recap the issues here just to show that even a non-programmer, a home user, not in the computer field can get Linux up and running, even surfing!

As a writer, I was a heavy PC word processor user. I was very frustrated with MS products, mostly because they were the only game in town. The lack of choice and freedom has always gotten under my skin. This itch was scratched when I first heard of GNU/Linux through Andrew Leonard's articles on the e-zine, Salon. A free program that worked! And there were wonderful characters involved in its development, namely Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds.

I read the articles - fascinated! I had an intuition of the future. It seemed like this was worth investing my time and money. To be realistic, it does take some money. Yes, you can download the various distributions for free. But, just like any other OS, it's a lot easier if you have it on a CD and have a manual to look at. Believe me, without a CD and instruction manual, it never would have happened for me. At $30 dollars for the Red Hat distribution, it sure beat a couple hundred bucks for the alternative!

Just the fact that an alternative existed seemed to spur me on. I read, and read, and read. Then I got an old PC (a very good idea) and began to play. Yes, play is the only way I could describe it. It was like a complex video game, but one with productive fruit down the road. Although things are changing rapidly, and I'm glad about this, my first efforts at installation were difficult. There was not as much support in the software then as compared to now, and there was definitely a learning curve!

Nonetheless, I got GNU/Linux up and running and boy was I proud! My second intuition was that I was seeing some very deep level of intelligence. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I felt it. With all the challenges there were also the fun things - the tongue in cheek statements in man pages and directions - things you would never see in a proprietary product. It's that wonderful correlation that comes with "meta pay" (see Maslow) - when your work becomes your play. The people who wrote GNU/Linux were at that level. Did I want to play with them? You bet!

I guess you could say that the GNU/Linux guys play hardball. You can still get flamed if you ask stupid questions - something like "read the man pages, [expletive deleted]." However, it pays to ask when you're at the end of your rope. And people just a few steps ahead of you will understand and be glad to help. In fact, one of the boons of GNU/Linux is that there is free help all over the Net. No waiting for support from the distribution source, help is everywhere.

Have I fallen in love with the GNU/Linux community? No doubt. Have I learned a lot about myself? No doubt. And yes, I have learned to use an X terminal and write commands - not a bad thing. And yes, I've spent a couple hundred bucks: several distributions, books, a new modem. For sure, GNU/Linux is more about freedom than free beer. It is a community that loves freedom and empowers people and organizations. In the information age, technological freedom is an absolute necessity. Freedom and open source code go hand in hand.

The point I have tied to make is that GNU/Linux is worth the effort. It is getting better by the day, and the development is faster by far than the old proprietary model. If you join the GNU/Linux users today, you will be way ahead tomorrow. The future is now and here for the taking. If you're totally new to Linux and you want to give it a try, there are a number of distributions to try. Caldera 2.3 might be the easiest, and many are now approaching the ease of MS Windows.

Remember, you probably have MS Windows pre-installed on your machine. Imagine if you had to do the first install yourself! The KDE desktop is more practical and much nicer to look at than MS Windows, so you won't have to do without. And if you really want to try GNU/Linux today, and you want it hassle-free, Dell, Compaq and IBM, to name a few, are now offering Linux pre-installed. Good luck!

Maurice Entwistle, maurice@linux.com





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