Top 5 Tech Support Questions

Welcome back to my Top Five Tech Support Questions on Linux and its care, feeding, and use. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for this issue. You can submit new questions to stumpmike@linuxcare.com. Whoever has the toughest question -- the stumper -- gets a mug!

Welcome back to my Top Five Tech Support Questions on Linux and its care,
feeding, and use. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for this issue. You
can submit new questions to stumpmike@linuxcare.com. Whoever has the toughest
question — the stumper — gets a mug!


I’ve heard a lot about RPM files and what they do. Can you
help me out with understanding their use?

RPM stands for “Red Hat Package Manager”. Red Hat invented the RPM file
archive format to make applications, libraries, and other Linux materials
available in a format which allows for easy installation, upgrading, and

The RPM mechanism is a great way for people to experiment with the true power
and flexibility of Linux. It allows users to test software and decide whether a
particular program is something that they want to keep. I’ll list a few of my
favorite RPM commands so that you can get a sense of the power of this

* rpm -q packagename: this command, issued in an xterm
window or at the console, will query the RPM database for a package with the name
you supply. This is useful for seeing if you have a library file installed on the

* rpm -Uvh packagename: this command will install
and apply the named package to the system; it also determines if a package exists
before trying to upgrade it.

* rpm -e packagename: this command removes the named
package. The switch does not require the whole package name ending with “.rpm“, just the major name of the package or library.

Reading the man pages for RPM will provide you with a basic introduction.
Examples of complex usage and the more exotic RPM switches can be found in Ed
Bailey’s book “Maximum RPM,” or in the RPM HOWTO. Both of these texts can be
found at http://www.rpm.org. The site also offers a package management tool
callxrpm.Some people prefer xrpm to Red Hat’s Graphical Linux Installation (GLINT).Another package management
tool that can use RPM files is the GNOME Midnite Commander (the GNOME file
manager). Still other X-based compression utilities will read RPM files and
provide package contents lists or other information.


I finally got online using last issue’s great tips on PPP
connections, but now I need some net applications. Get on
the ball and help me out here!!

Regarding newsreading software, the most popular console-based ones are TIN,
TRN, and SLRN. All three offer advanced features like threading, scoring of
unwanted articles, and color support.

The one I like best is SLRN. Its author, John Davis, frequently visits the
newsgroup news.software.readers and often answers questions by e-mail or
follow-up post. SLRN offers extremely sophisticated filtering and extendible
support through its resource control file, slrnrc. The
slang libraries, which are also available at the author’s Web site, are required
to use SLRN as well as several other curses-based programs like MUTT. All of
these applications can be found at any of the resource sites listed below.

If you must have an X-based newsreader, consider downloading Knews. It offers
a lot of functionality with a nice user interface.

As for e-mail software, quite a number of e-mail user agents exist for Linux.
User agents are distinct from mail transfer agents, but several e-mail programs
“blur the line” and make it possible for one program to perform all your e-mail

PINE is the senior citizen of mail application. It offers an amazing level of
customizability either through integrated configuration support or by
hand-editing its resource control file, pinerc. MUTT is
the “mongrel of mailers.” You can find it at http://www.mutt.org. MUTT is a
feature-rich, but still easy to use, console program. It includes a lot of great
features for threading, saving, and viewing e-mail messages. It has much in
common with SLRN when it comes to general viewing and use.

As for X-based e-mail applications, I like and use TKRAT. I have also used
ISHMAIL, XCFMAIL, and a bunch of others. Note that XCFMAIL precludes the need for
a separate program to fetch e-mail.

If you want to go looking for Net applications on your own, one of the best

resources is the Linux Applications and Utilities Pages at http://www.xnet.com/~blatura/linapps.shtml. Another is the new Tucows Linux pages at
http://www.linuxberg.com. A third resource is the incredible file archives at
Sunsite, now located at http://www.metalab.unc.edu. Finally, visit the Rufus RPM
archives at http://www.rufus3.org.


How can I run older DOS and Windows programs under

If all you want to do is run a Windows 3.x application, you should definitely
check out Wine at http://www.winehq.com. Wine creates a Windows environment
either by relying on a real installation of Windows 3.11 or via software
emulation with its own files.

A second approach uses WABI (Windows Application Binary Interface). WABI is a
commercial offering that emulates the entire Windows 3.11 desktop within the X
Window System. Be sure to read the errata and product information at
http://www.calderasystems.com. Unfortunately WABI is no longer being actively developed.
However, Caldera has released some bug fixes and patches so you should make your
way to the errata sheets and grab these.

A third approach is the utility dosEMU, which will
create an entire DOS environment under Linux. The best way to learn this approach
is simply to read the dosEMU man pages. You will need a
DOS-bootable diskette to get dosEMU running on your
system for the first time.

Note that this is about to change dramatically with the advent of virtual
machine technology from our good friends at VMWare (http://www.vmware.com). This
technology is
not emulation software whatsoever. VMWare gives you virtual machines that boot
from within your Linux desktop on which you can run various guest operating
systems like Windows NT Workstation and Server, Windows 98, and Windows 95.
Operating systems which do not work as a guest under VMWare include beOS, OS/2,
and Novell.


What are the most accessible resources for Linux hardware
and software support issues?

Readily available support resources come in two flavors: those on the Net,
and those bundled with your particular Linux distribution.

On the Net, turn first to USENET. The newsgroup that targets hardware issues
is comp.os.linux.hardware. The generic groups like comp.sys.ibm.pc.* and the
specific hardware device groups also include useful information for Linux

Other good resources on the net
include the site we mentioned earlier — the Linux Applications and Utilities
page (http://www.xnet.com/~blatra/linapps.shtml), a comprehensive directory of
Linux software sites — and the indispensable Linux Documentation Project (LDP)
pages (http://www.metalab.unc.edu). You can also find very specific hardware support areas if you
drill down through the Linux offerings in Yahoo!

Finally, there is a very comprehensive “Knowledgebase” at http://www.linuxcare.com.

Virtually all Linux distributions include the Linux HOWTOs from LDP. These
should have been installed for you when you installed your system. The online man
pages are another
convenient local resource. In text mode, you read man pages on a topic (sendmail, for instance) simply by typing man
However, I suggest trying a tool like tkman instead. Tkman offers a
graphical view of man pages and allows easy access to related pages through
hyperlinks. If you do not have tkman installed by
default, check for a later version at ftp://ftp.cs.berkeley.edu/peopoe/

Last but not least, don’t overlook the online help associated with individual
commands. Command help is a convenient way of getting a quick overview of
information relevant to a particular command. For instance, typing zip -help returns a concise display of the command switches
and usage parameters available for the zipcommand.


What do I need to do to use a scanner, Iomega Zip drive,
and to configure other SCSI devices?

Rule #1 for using SCSI devices under Linux is to make sure that your
particular SCSI adapter is supported by drivers in your distribution.
Fortunately, Linux SCSI support is good and the distribution vendors are doing
everything they can to make configuration as simple as possible.

SCSI devices often show up in the /dev chain, so a
SCSI Zip drive may show up as /dev/sda4 if the disk is
formatted as a DOS disk. You can easily reformat the drive to support the ext2 file system in order to really use the drive.

Once SCSI device support is enabled, you can find programs that will provide
scanning support. One such program is SANE (Scanner Access Now Easy);
http://www.mostang.com/sane. SANE works either standalone or as a plug-in for
The GIMP (The GNU Image Manipulation Program) — a truly amazing, freely
available, Photoshop-class editing application.

Other scanning solutions include the program XVScan, commercially available
from http://www.tummy.com. XVScan provides scanning support for the incredibly
popular XV program. The technical staff for XVScan provides very good support; I
have received e-mail responses from them within hours of sending a question.

That’s it for this month. I look forward to being bombarded with more
questions over the next month!

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

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