Top 10 Tech Support Questions

To kick this column off, I answered the ten questions most often asked by new Linux users. In the next issue, I will respond to your own questions; e-mail them to me at stumpmike@linuxcare.com. The author of the toughest question -- the stumper -- gets a mug!

To kick this column off, I answered the ten questions most often asked by new
Linux users. In the next issue, I will respond to your own questions; e-mail them to me at
stumpmike@linuxcare.com. The author of the toughest question — the stumper — gets a mug!


What is the easiest way to get online using Linux?

If you are using Red Hat Linux, simply use the bundled network configurator tool to add a PPP
interface, and then enter basic information such as your dialup phone number and IP address, and you
should be up and running.

Debian users can use the pppconfig package to configure PPP via a series of menus and

If you use the KDE desktop environment (included with most Linux distributions), an easy option
is kppp. Configuring kppp requires a few entries into setup menus. Before a non-root user can
successfully use kppp, pppd must be setuid to root. To see how to do this, peruse the PPP HOWTO.
This may already be done in your distribution.

Another option is wvdial, a handy dialing program. How do I get wvdial if I can’t get online,
you ask? You can always download wvdial to a Windows machine, copy it to a floppy, and then transfer
it to your Linux system. Remember that DOS file systems truncate file names, so rename the file back
to its original name.

You can find wvdial at http://www.worldvisions.ca/wvdial. Note that you may need to have basic
information for domain name services and hosts included in your /etc/hosts and
/etc/resolv.conf files before using wvdial. The first time you run wvdial you’ll edit a
configuration file that sets basic dialing parameters.

Some useful PPP-related resources, including a list of dialing packages, can be found at


What is the easiest Linux distribution for a new Linux user?

Hard question! All the leading Linux distributions are getting easier and easier to install, set
up, and use. Red Hat has a great install process. Distributions like SuSE and Caldera make use of
centralized tools for both installation and administration of the newly installed system.

All of these distributions provide clear and concise instructions for installation. The
distributions also bundle a lot of software to maximize your investment.


Does Linux support Winmodems or PnP devices?

Linux does not support Winmodems. Winmodems are software modems that depend on the operating
system to provide instruction sets for their use. However, Linux does support Plug ‘n Play (PnP)
devices. A configuration utility for PnP devices called isapnptools adheres to the ISA PnP
specification and should allow such devices to be seen in Linux. For more information, check out
http://www.roestock.demon.co.uk/isapnptools. The site is managed and owned by the maintainer of
isapnptools. Also available on the same site is gpnpconf, a GUI tool for configuring ISA PnP


Will Linux natively run programs designed for Windows95/98/NT?

Linux does not run Win32 programs natively. There are emulators like WINE and WABI and dosEMU,
but these will not currently allow complex programs like Microsoft Office 97 to run. It is fair to
speculate that this will change in the near future.

However, there are literally thousands of software applications including productivity suites,
networking tools, and system utilities that run natively on Linux. And since Linux has such a
flexible boot scheme, you can continue to use the “other operating system.”


What types of native Linux applications are there?

Linux has a wide variety of native applications, including office productivity solutions like
Applixware and Corel WordPerfect 8, browsers like Netscape Navigator, graphics programs like Gimp,
scanning software, and versatile CAD/drawing/imaging programs. One of the strengths of Linux is that
so many programs from other versions of UNIX have either been ported or can be compiled “off the shelf”.
Take a look at one of the major Linux archives like http://metalab.unc.edu — this site lists
several dozen categories of software.


Does Linux include tools and techniques to make the system easier to

There are many online help pages, including some written in HTML, others in PostScript, and
still others formatted as “man pages” that can help with definitions and give you an idea about how a
program works. (Just type man fetchmail or man lilo at a shell prompt to get
information on these and other topics). HOWTOs and HTML help pages are often stored on a local
system as files in /usr/doc/howto or /usr/doc/HOWTO .

In SuSE Linux, a centralized management tool called YaST helps users find networking, hardware,
software, printing, and system administration tools all bundled under one program. In Caldera
OpenLinux, another centralized tool called lisa helps locate system-wide configuration options. Red
Hat now offers several tools such as Control Panel and linuxconf. Both of these offer easy to
understand system-wide options for changing a system, adding a user, and other tasks.


Can Linux boot other operating systems such as OS/2, Windows98, or NT?

Linux ships with a very clever and flexible boot manager called LILO. LILO provides a menu-based
interface to launch any number of different
operating systems installed on a system. It can boot not only fixed drives but also removable drives
such as Jaz or Zip drives. LILO can be easily configured to provide a boot menu for whatever other
operating system you choose to use.

If you already have NT installed and wish to add a Linux partition on a second hard drive, you
may use the NT boot loader instead of LILO to give you the ability to boot Linux.


Does Linux support external drives and scanners?

Yes, if the kernel includes support for the installed SCSI host adapter and the SCSI device is
correctly terminated. External Zip and Jaz drives are well supported. Parallel and ATAPI Zip
drives may require the additional driver support found in newer kernels.

Linux supports a wide variety of scanners. With the release of SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy),
you can add a scanner, get a comfortable interface to use with it, and add its scanner menu item to
Gimp, a great image processing program. SANE can be found at http://www.mostang.com/sane. This site
contains a lot of information on supported models, configuration and installation, and how to
interface SANE with Gimp. Gimp comes with most Linux distributions, or you
can download it from http://www.gimp.org.


Are there good beginner’s books that go through installation, configuration,
and optimizing the desktop?

Yes, far more than anyone could read! There are excellent books ranging from basic system
administration and installation to more advanced topics like running advanced networking services.
Many bookstores have a good selection of Linux books. If you stop by http://www.amazon.com and search
for Linux you will be greeted with a wide variety of books on Linux and how to prepare for it,
install it, and use it.

Some of my favorite books are the manual which comes with SuSE 5.3, A Practical Guide to
by Mark Sobell, Running Linux by Matt Welsh and Lar Kaufman, and the Linux
Network Administrators Guide
by Olaf Kirch, which is also available online at

There are also several beginner’s Web sites linked to from the Yahoo! Linux Operating System
pages (go to http://www.yahoo.com and browse for Computers/Operating Systems/ Linux). These sites
often go into a great deal of detail regarding building, using, and maintaining your new
workstation. There isn’t space to list even a fraction of them here; half of the fun in using Linux
is discovering new resources out there!


What online resources
list software, Linux information, and HOWTOs?

The wealth of online information for Linux is staggering. To get a simple taste, start at
Yahoo’s Linux pages. This will point you toward many of the best Linux sites.

Some great sites include:

* The Linux Applications and Utilities pages at http://www.xnet.com/~blatura/linapps.shtml.

* An extensive Linux knowledgebase at http://www.linuxcare.com.

* Commentary on Linux developments at http://www.slashdot.org.

* Information about Linux software and upgrades at http://freshmeat.org.

* A huge Linux software archive at http://metalab.unc.edu.

Information on Linux distributions and where to buy them:

* Red Hat — http://www.redhat.com

* SuSE — http://www.suse.com

* Caldera — http://www.caldera.com

* Debian — http://www.debian.org

* LinuxPPC (for Apple Macintosh owners) — http://www.linuxppc.org

* Cheapbytes (home of the $1.95
distribution) — http://www.cheapbytes.com

Michael Perry came to Linux circuitously via OS/2 and NT. His interests include documenting
technical support issues through hours spent staring vacantly at postings to Linux newsgroups and
mailing lists. He can be reached at stumpmike@linuxcare.com.

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