- . ---

This page is a Work In Progress, don't expect anything interesting.

Linux and Me

I have been waiting too long before starting to write the history of my relationship with Linux. Because of that I don't remember anymore what was the first version of Slackware I had install on my first 386 PC. And and don't know either what was the kernel version I used. But I will try to gather all I remember from this relationship.

First Contact

When I started to study Computer Science at the University, I already had had contact with a few operating system like the CPM of my old TRS-80 and the MSDOS of my first Amstrad PC-XT.

First year student did not had access to the CDC Control Data Mainframe. Nor did we had access to the old SUN Unix system. Maybe I have been lucky since the next year we were the first student to have access to the Control Data Unix based system. There were two server sharing the same disk and you had to to log on either Interactive System 1 or Interactive System 2. From there came the name IS1 and IS2 from one of my first e-mail address: "dglaude@is1.ulb.ac.be". In fact we had to choose for the e-mail address either is1 or is2 or nothing dot "ulb" in french or "vub" the flemish version because those system were shared by the two university.

So my first contact was not Linux, but Unix. That unix was an horible mix between System V and BSD wich was maybe not the easyest to learn, but beeing connected to the internet made Unix a lot more interesting and fun. At the same time we were learning and discovering the internet, including the famous Internet Relay Chat that did cost one extra year of studies to some my friend (and helped other get there first job but that's another story). So at the same time we where using the system, one of my prefered professor was teaching us the way it is working inside and other how to program in C, the standard C library, the Unix API and IPC (Inter Process Communication). It did not took long before we discoverd the growing (but still young) Linux.

Linux came just on time. One of the big projet we had to do was deaply related to Linux. We had to implement a four person project using a lot of inter process communication. That was the project where 'fork', 'named pipe' and 'semaphore' where almost all required. The project was time consuming but the access to the unix system was limited and not user friendly. We had to work on DUMB terminal Green and Black on QUERTY keyboard where the arrow key were not working. From that time I started to learn and like the ijkl way of moving the cursor in the VI editor and I still sometime do the mistake of using them, even in "notepad" of "wordpad". Even if IPC was still at it's infancy, Linux was the oppotunity, for those of us have 386 processor like me, to have Unix at home. Some did use other copy Unix that are nowdays dead or dying, but I choose linux.

How to become a Linux Guru

Believe it or not I fastly became a Linux GURU. Or at least everybody was thinking that I knew the answer to all of there instalation and configuration problem. But there is a trick and a reason for that success. Because I know you want be able to reproduce what I did, I am going to give you my secret...

What I forgot to mention about our user not friendly access to unix (using DUMB terminal), is that we had no 'ethernet' or what so ever access to the network as such. The only way to bring something from the internet to our PC was the floppy network (that I still use sometime to transfer file from one PC to another). The step were the following. Dowload to your unix account file from a FTP server. The FTP was of course done using a command line CLI client. Even sometime we where using the IP address rather that the domain name of the server due to unknown DNS issue. Once the software is on your home directory (and you need to avoid having too much at a single time due to quota limitation), the only way to transfert file was to use Kermit on the one and only PC connected at the place of a terminal. And the transfert rate was 9600 bit/s. That PC was a PC-AT(?) with a 80186 CPU and no hard disk, just ONE 3 1/4 disk.

Being young and full of energy, the community of student started to join force to overcome those limitation and frustration of live. While some were compiling the latest version of X/Y/Zmodem, other like me where building the perfect minimal DOS boot floppy with a ramdrive where the "command.com" and "telix" or favorite terminal emulator. Whatever creative our community was (and not everybody was concearn with Linux but just better and faster download). In order to have a working Slackare instalation you need from 10 to 50 1.44M floppy. Ho and I forgot to mention that our small Download PC was only supporting 720K floppy (as far as I remember). This mean that big file had to be spilt on unix and then merge on another PC.

What I did was (more likely with the help of other) to download the full Slackware floppy distribution. All of that on my personal floppy paid with my own money. I used them to install my linux at home but then I shared my floppy with other. You can have my floppy collection for the week-end or the week to install Linux on your PC. Now and then I was updating my floppy distribution by downloading new package, moving file from one directory to another.

All in all 10 or more friends did install it from my floppies or copies of my floppies. But when someone had trouble installing, configuring, starting X, whatever... they came back to me. Asking for help. And because I either encountered the same problem or solved the problem before, I was able to help. And this really make you a GURU. I must tell you I had my own GURU where I was asking my own question and we started to GURU each other in every possible direction.

Linux and prehistoric IP connectivity

At first it was Linux to be able to do homework at home rather than anywhere else. Then it was Linux to learn about Unix and the way it work. Then it was linux to connect to the internet and get our first IP conectivity at home.

The university opened a new service to let us dial-in to access the Unix server of the university. Unfortunately it was not SLIP nor PPP but a terminal access. So we where only able to have ONE terminal equivalent at home (and paying the phone bill as you pay for every call and minute in Belgium). Now this was less than what we needed. In a typical coding/debuging session we were using from TWO to SIX terminal together (when working in group of 2 or 3 students on the same project). The first evolution was the terminal splitter we found so that we were able to switch from one virtual screen to another or see two half screen. I believe the name of the program was "term" or something like that, it had to be compile on the host.

But we wanted IP connectivity or something very close to it. We wanted to be able to download (directly to home) and telnet (anywhere) and use IRC simultaniously (in separate Linux virtual console). The solution was SLIRP(?). It was a program running on the host (our unix server) and on the dialin linux. The program was proxying all the TCP socket operation execute by program link to a special library. Those program were SOCKIFIED(?) to use SLIRP.

SLIRP was great and provided us all the 'comfort' we needed to work and play and learn and discover from home (accross the phone line). But SLIRP and all those extra feature was also only available for Linux user and a good reason to migrate or dualboot to Linux.

Soon or later the university stopped that SLIRP trick of us and stopped us from using that program (I don't remember how they did it but it stopped working and we were told to stop using this). The main reason was that the pool of modem that was typicaly used for checking e-mail from home started to be used full time for internet access by computer science student. This was of course long before the availability of Internet Service Provider in Belgium. We have been the generation of happy few connected to the internet, the infomation/noise ration on usenet was OK. It was the time of the moderated c.o.l.a and the big comp.os.linux newsgroup split. I was talking to my parent about the internet revolution at a time where mainstream newspaper where not even talking about it. (What are you talking about my son? Have you been abducted by alien?). Also a friend of mine falled in love with a girl just chatting over the internet. This happend everyday now, but at the time it was quiet new. Because she was from NewYork (and he is from Belgium), he had to dialup every night for love chat. (but that's another story).

The dual screen experiment

One of the big fun of that old time was to have two graphical card on the same PC. One being a VGA and the other an Hercule (yes a monochrome one). This was really a must when programing, being able to see something on one screen and do something on the other screen. I know nowdays we have dualhead VGA card, but this also mean two VGA screens (an hercule screen costed a lot less and since you were making the upgrade to VGA the hercule part was just spare that you reuse).

I was talking about dual TEXT screen, but it was also possible to have a dual X-Windows thing. With proper configuration it was possible to have your mouse moving from one screen to another. From the black and white world to the colorfull world. I saw someone doing it, I had to do it too.

In one point of the history of my linux usage, I did stop using X. Was it that my VGA card was not supported by X-FREE? Was it that I had no money to increase the memory to have a decent system to run X? Was it that I don't like graphical user interface and that since the begining of my contact with Unix, everything was TEXT? I don't know!!! I remeber helping peaple seting up X-FREE. I remember myself computing the right resolution/timing for my PC/Screen/VGA card. But I was not using X. Or a lot less than any of my friend with more powerfull PC. Did I told you how long it was taking to compile the kernel? A lot! I don't remember exactly, but I remember the noise of the hard disk when I was compiling and trying to sleep. And then at 3 O'Clock in the morning when the noise of the hard disk stopped to shutdown my Linux to remove all noise from my room.

As you will see when you continue to read, I was very much terminal minded. Even now with all those nice GNOME and KDE and other, I still spend most of my time on a console. I must be a dynosaure.

The terminal experimentation

Part of the fun was to explore and try "new" stuff. One of my problem was to be able to compute from my bed while the computer was at the floor bellow. The computer had to be far away from me because of the limited space arround my bed and due to the noise generated by that beast (don't talk to me about quiet PC). So I found and old but real Digital VT100 terminal. Not one of those emulation, a real VT100 (or maybe 102 I must admit). So reading howto and other documentation I was able to log-in from above (in my bed) and do my programming.

One of my best moment of fun might have a chat (talk) with my girlfriend with me below on my computer and her naked on the terminal. Having her trying to make me come up and take care of her. Obviously she was not use to that way of communicating and having me so close and be force to use that stupid terminal to talk to me was not fun for her. I believe she did break the rule and came down to take me the way she wanted. [That's hot, maybe I should remove that, I don't even remember the way it really happend.]

The kernel hacking experimentation

While reading my everyday c.o.l.a (it is a bit like nowdays when I read slashdot news every day), I discovered UMSDOS version 0.0 or maybe 0.1 from Jacques Galineas[I need to check the spelling it is so long ago]. UMSDOS is a Linux file system that emulate Unix file system sementics on top of a DOS FAT file system. This was offering long name, symbolic and hard link plus the device (mknod) where it was missing. I had some time to loose (I was in the middle of an exam session, I know it was winter and cold outside but I still need to compute the exact date). So I choose to download, compile, install, try, read the doc, read the code.

Now that piece of code was great, with integrated documentation so that a full eassy to read was generated automaticaly. And the concept was great. Having Linux in a zip file, installing linux without having to repartition your disk, ... But looking deeper inside the code I found some potention Dead-Lock. So I sended a few e-mail to tell about the problem. I did not had any solution, but I knew there was a problem. Another thing was very interesting for me, the way he was "Mangling" for long name to short name. But by looking at the code I discoverd that there was an issue. It was not perfect so I choose to rewrite partially the algorithm. Run into a lot of test (outside of kernel space) and made a lot of File System Benchmark.

A normal persone would have send a patch be I sended the whole file. Maybe I did not knew how to make a patch. ;-) In that file there was a lot of explanation and question, in french. Well that was strange because it took us a lot of time to understand that we both speak french, not the same french but still french. Because of my poor spelling in any language (I know you noticed this already) it was full of mistake and message send to Jacques only. And what Jacques did is just to review and install that as is. It is since then in the file mangle.c of the umsdos directory, maybe in fs.

Hopefully my name "David GLAUDE" my IRC nickname of that time "Glu" and my email address of that time "dglaude@is1.ulb.ac.be" was in the file. Since then I can proudly say to the world, my name is in the linux kernel. Unfortunately is is not the right address anymore and the spelling mistake are still there and my name is not in the CONTRIBUTOR list or whatever. But since it is only a small file that very few peaple use I maybe does not disearve to be there. Jacques is there however, but did not ask for it.

I also made a attempt to write a dos verision of 'ls' that would access the '---linux.---' file to display unix info. But this was a total fealure. However you might still be able to find it on the net.

Thank you SUSE, SUSE is the best distribution

One of the side effect is that when SUSE started to distribute Linux, they made a grep of all e-mail address from the linux kernel and other tools (I know it should be GNU/Linux) but at that time there was no issue yet (am I right Richard?). They choose to send SUSE BOX to developer of the product they distribute. I gave them my postal address and they started to send a mirror of Linux archive, then another, then nothing. I was still in love with slackware and not ready to stop using it but it was nice. Very recently I started to receave SUSE 6.? 7.0 and now 7.1 (I am still watting for 7.2 [hint hint]) sometime on CD, sometime on DVD but always within a nice box with documentation, Pin's and sticker.

I really think this is great from them to do that. And if I still run Linux nowdays, it is thanks to them. KEEP SENDING [Please]. What I really think of SUSE is that it is GREAT to have a NON RedHat based european linux distribution. It is nice to have localised documentation and books. YAST1 and 2 are really intersting tools. Maybe SUSE is too german for me, but you nearly don't see it. ;-) SUSE I LOVE YOU [Keep sending and I can give you my new address since I am going to move].

Except that I run SUSE for obvious reason, it might not be my prefered theoritical best distribution. From a theorethical point of view, I like Debian much for it's freeness. But I never took the time to try to install it for real. However I run familiar on my iPaq and most of the tools are comming from Debian-ARM distribution. So it is almost like if I use Debian (Thank you guys I love you too). Now from a learning point of view I prefere LFS (Linux From Scratch), but it is also going to take me a lot of time effort and a more powerfull CPU to try that (I love you too). I have another distibution that I like very much too, it is Linux Router Project. I love that initrd stuff and the ramdrive and those module and the whole concept of using Linux as a router (see below). So if I need a small Linux, I will take a LRP floppy and do it that wat. (Please upgrade LRP to kernel 2.4, support PCMCIA and stop forking in every direction. I LOVE YOU TOO, all of you).

I need to sleep that's all for now


- . ---
no counter The content of this page is copyrighted: ©David GLAUDE.
Content last updated: Thu Jan 31, 2002.
This file generated: Fri Apr 26 12:17:25 CEST 2002 .