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|Originally Published: Monday, 24 April 2000||Author: Rob Bos|
|Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles||Page: 1/1 - [Std View]|
Linux: Niftier Than Sliced Bread
There have been moments of triumph, of smacking my forehead when I realise that I'd been doing something fundamentally wrong. There have been moments of insight, when the structure clicks in to place, and finally, I grok.
It takes long hours of work to achieve this -- long hours of staring blankly at documentation, playing around with commands, searching through configuration files. But in the end comes the reward. The moment when you completely understand how a program, a protocol, a configuration file, or what a document is saying and how to accomplish what you've been trying to do is worth every minute of the hours you spent trying to do it.
That said, here's the cool stuff I did this week, and what bearing it has on the thesis that Linux is worth the immense mental effort.
Recently, however, I got permission to set up six old desktop machines in that 24 hour lab - which gave me some amount of motivation to actually get it done. After six hours of poking through log files, going through documentation, web sites, and experimenting with pppd, I finally figured out how to do it, and do it relatively simply. What's more, the understanding I gained of networking in the process was nothing short of invaluable - I could use the same principles gained in my experimentation with connecting to the ppp annex server to set up a ppp connection between two computers over the Internet, or via a serial cable, or with two modems connected via telephone.
Now, these are useful things to know. It could even, in theory, be possible to set up a virtual PPP connection using named pipes on the same machine -- though why someone would want to do this, I have no idea. The point is, it's possible, and it's nifty, and sometime, somewhere, I'll probably find a use for it.
Four hours, the Boot-Disk HowTo, reams and reams of documentation, and lots of questions later, I had (and have!) a single Debian install floppy designed specifically for my hardware, that uses ReiserFS.
In the process, however, I learned a great deal about how Linux actually boots from disk, and came up with a couple of nifty ways to do administration of computer labs on a large (50-100 machines) scale. I learned how to use ramdisks, I learned some new kernel parameters. This is nifty stuff that might be useful in the future, and no doubt will be.
This is why I use Linux; it gives me power, and tools, and never ever restricts what I can use those tools to accomplish.
Every level you penetrate, every new tool you learn, gives you a whole new way to look at the tools you have. There are some programs that give you abilities to do things you never even suspected possible before -- every tool you get puts the tools you have in a whole new light. Named pipes, pipes, redirection, standard error and standard output, shell scripts, man pages, tar, bzip2, the Reiser File System, init scripts, devices, devfs, the community -- around every corner lies small, wonderous discoveries. Each of those small discoveries gives you exponentially greater capabilities, since each of those small discoveries in some way can be used in conjunction with your existing toolset.
What's more, you're utterly assured that the skills you have picked up -- the skill of learning new small programs quickly and easily -- will be valid for a very long time in the future. The core Unix architecture has not changed in thirty years; there is a good chance that thirty years hence the skills you learn now will be useful in learning the tools that will exist then.
In thirty years, I boggle to think of the things that I will know and wonder which of my current skills will be of use then.
Rob Bos (email@example.com) is installing 300 PCs this week. Six of them will be Linux. One step at a time.