Computer Corner for Issue 81, Part 1

Computer Corner #81, Part 1, by Bill Kibler

Linux or DOS?

Since I no longer manage TCJ, my computer systems usage has been
changing.  When I was managing everything, I had started setting up a
full networked system, with the idea in mind that at some point I would
need several workstations to handle TCJ's needs.  I have completed the
network and am reconsidering my needs and usage.

In the quest for more computing power, I started looking at Linux as an
operating system.  I have OpenLinux from Caldera installed now, and have
tried Slackware and Yaggdrasil as well.  At work I now use Unix almost
exclusively, although I still have an NT workstation for e-mail and text
formatting needs.

While using Caldera for Linux, I have loaded Caldera's OpenDos and
looked at their CP/M source code.  I have been playing with NT, OpenDos,
and Linux in order to settle on an operating system.  Since I no longer
need all this horsepower, it is causing me to reconsider my computing

The Choices

In reconsidering my needs, I have been pondering the concept of three
system types in which way to go. The types are "stick it out", "go for
broke", "use them all."  Unlike most choices where it is some sort of
hardware or operating system that controls the decision, this is based
on usage and needs.

To explain needs usage, let's talk about the "stick it out" concept.
Here the user or person is still using their first computer.  By this I
mean, you buy one computer complete with operating system, word
processor, and most of the tools you need and never buy anything else.
This could be a Kaypro, an early XT or AT, or maybe your a late bloomer
and are using the latest full powered system.  The main line here is not
staying up with technology, but instead using the system for it's set of
utilities and needing nothing else.  You're happy, it works, and you
have learned it all.  Why start over again learning things that might
not give you anything more than you already have?

I contrast the "stick it out" concept with the "go for broke"
philosophy. Here the idea is to stay on top with the latest system and
software.  You are always upgrading not only hardware but software and
utilities.  Since you most likely are buying and selling, maybe even
building your own systems, the cost is not really a factor.  Most likely
you end up testing, installing, and trying things constantly as you try
to learn and use the latest hot item.  It never ends and often it seems
I spent more time installing than using when I have used this approach.

The last approach is "using them all", where you have a little of both
going on.  I have been moving in this direction, although lately
starting to reconsider the merits of such a move.  To use them all you
must understand the old and the new.  There is constant learning and
adaptation and tons of problems to overcome.  The advantages come from
using some of your old tools and platforms since you are likely to be
very good at using those tools.  Disadvantages come from some platforms
that are very poor when used with your favorite tools.  A considerable
amount of time are also spent on trying to make things work.

NT to Linux

Let me review my current installation at home.  I have four systems, two
in the office (the old TCJ workhorses), one in the house (the wife's and
son's Windows 95 system), and one in the workshop for downloading files
from the S-100 CP/M systems.  I run an Ethernet backbone that ties all
the units together for backing up and transferring data between the
boxes.  The office units are the ones I am playing with at present, one
an NT box and the other an Caldera Standard OpenLinux Server. The server
has a 4.3GB hard drive and was setup with Samba to allow backup from any
of the other platforms.

I had some setup problems with the Server, but once I read the books and
decided it was actually the way they said, all has worked very well.
You can mount the drive and move files very easily from any of my
systems and I have not had any failures.  Since I work on Unix systems
for a living, the Linux/Unix operating procedures are not a big issue.
I know enough to start and stop the system and use it as a backup
platform.  All the tools that Linux provides are still somewhat foreign
to me, since there are just too many of them to learn.

The NT workstation has RelectionX, an X server that allows the NT
workstation to act as if it was a Unix Workstation. This allows me to
run the graphic interfaces to linux on my NT station.  Well, that is at
least the idea.  I have had considerable trouble setting it up and have
yet to get it to work correctly.  At my last job, I used this same
package every day without the same problems I am facing.  I have yet to
determine the problem, but it is one of the reason I have been
reconsidering my options.

What Changes

I have started re-thinking my computer usage for many reasons.  One has
been the amount of time spent trying to resolve the X problem.  Another
has been my reduced demand for computing and thus needing a big system.
I am also starting to tire of being in a setup and learning mode all the
time. So how do I choose one of the options I outlined above.  Let's
start by looking at some of the pros and cons.

One of the nice things I like about CP/M is it's small size.  The other
day I fired up an CP/M system to take to a show and got a big smile on
my face, as I inserted the 360K floppy, hit reset, heard it load one
then two tracks of data and saw the prompt.  It is almost a tie as to
which system takes longer to boot up, NT or Linux, but I think linux is
faster.  Both systems are intended to run non-stop until they crash that
is, and then hopefully they will re-boot after the crash.  Do not
believe the media about how solid NT is, it crashes often and you will
be amazed at how often it is necessary to reboot due to adding this or
that package.  Linux does crash, not often, but it can.  Linux does not
have the "must reboot" NT syndrome when loading programs, but some
changes to the kernel, will require a reboot (almost never... ).

For both PCDOS and CP/M, the commands and tools are for the most part
very simple and easy to learn.  The set of tools is limited, but enough
to do what needs to be done.  Linux is the extreme in the other
direction, there are hundreds of tools, most with very cryptic command
lines to master.  At work I still must use the "man pages" (on line
documentation) often to get the correct syntax as do most Unix users. NT
and WIN95 both have so many utilities that often don't follow the help
descriptions of how they work, that they seems more of a problem that
they are worth.  NT and WIN95 both rely on "Wizards" to do the work as
no person could possibly figure them out.

As to installation on a new system, PCDOS is probably the most straight
forward to install. CP/M on a new platform requires many programming
skills, a lot of teeth mashing, and plenty of pure luck.  I did it many
times years ago and do not recommend it for the faint at heart.  NT and
WIN95 both are simply follow the prompts and hope for the best.  You
stand about an equal chance of having the installation work or be
screwed up.  I have found their configuration problems to be from
loading multiple copies of drivers that later require hand removal to
get things like modems to work.  The Linux community is ever striving to
improve their installation procedures.  I have installed all the major
versions of linux and have video tapes to help explain it as well.  I
still make mistakes doing it and often will need two or more shots to
get it working correctly.  I find the lack of exit and re-entry options
in their setup scripts a major problem, make a mistake and start over
from the beginning (I mean hit reset and reboot).

In reconsidering my option, I have looked at word processing and text
editing.  I have used WordStar since version one and two, so I feel very
comfortable with it.  I have tried all the others and find the current
crop of windows based word processors to be horrible.  Word is the worst
editor of them all and I find them all difficult to use despite the
windows interface.  For text or program editing I like my SPE (Sage
Professional Editor - now called Preditor) the best because of it's
multiple window cut and paste options, and especially it's column
options, missing on most Windows based editors.  The fact that these
programs are both PCDOS based and not windows based I think is a plus,
but shows up as a problems when using them in DOS Boxes on NT or 95 (run
like #$%^ in DOS Boxes).

Networking is a dream on Linux, since all Unix like systems are made to
work remotely.  NT and W95 have built in networking but configuration
will be a trail and error adventure with uncertain results.  Once
installed, my Linux Server works great with the other units. I can do a
DOS connection, but have not yet done it, although I know it is possible
as I have set up systems at work.  I remember the DOS setup as straight
forward and somewhat simpler than NT/W95.  Networking machines does not
have to be with ethernet cards and complex installations.  The Little
Big Lan works fine using serial ports between PC's and there is work on
a Linux port and it supports a few ethernet cards as well.  There is
also several public domain programs for tying DOS type machines
together, and some of us are even trying to figure out how to make CP/M
play on the network.

The internet has become a main driving force in computing and certainly
influences my choices.  Until recently you were limited to a Windows or
Xwindows based web browser for surfing the net. Caldera now has
WebSpyder, a DOS based graphics browser, and of course there are several
versions of Lynx for DOS browsing without the graphics.  I like Netscape
over IE for many reasons, although up until lately Netscape was by far
the better when printing was done. Netscape is available on both my
NT/W95 platforms and on my Linux. Another option is using programs like
Plume which is a Tcl/Tk web browser. I find the options becoming more
and more platform independent and thus becoming a non-issue for choice
of system.

What choice next

Well I still am researching my options and would like feedback from
readers on their choice.  I am testing using Linux as the do all
platform since it can run DOS (and some windows) programs and Unix
programs.  I will let you know in an article about using Linux as the do
all platform of choice.  Some of the problems setting up this linux test
has made me consider using DOS almost entirely, only using linux as the
backup server since once setup it seems to work with little intervention
on my part.

I did a search the other day on the internet and was impressed with the
number of DOS programs out there.  I really feel it is possible to do it
all on an old DOS machine.  Drop me a note if you agree. Till later keep

Bill Kibler

Kibler Electronics, PO Box 535, Lincoln, CA 95648-0535, USA.
Copyright © 1996,1997,1998, Kibler Electronics. 7/5/98