Open Source

Cool Linux Tools

Many people don't realize that most Linux distributions come with lots of interesting little programs such as compilers, weather monitors, and information management tools. Tim Lee will help users find hidden treasure on their Linux disks.

TechProGuild held an online chat on October 3, 2000. Tim Lee discussed useful Linux tools. Here's the edited transcript from that chat.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

MODERATOR: Good evening—we're waiting for the arrival of our speaker, Tim Lee. As soon as he arrives, we'll start tonight's meeting.

TIM: Hi, it's Tim Lee.

JECASSERLY: Good evening.

RZAM: Hello.

MODERATOR: Great—good to see you, Tim. And now, I'd like to introduce our speaker, Tim Lee, who is here to talk about cool Linux tools. Take it away, Tim!

The best things in life
TIM: Hello all...there's another debate going on in Boston that's making big news. :)

MODERATOR: I've got the debate on the telly right now. The Internet is cool—lets me moderate here while listening to the debate.

JECASSERLY: What is that about?

TIM: The presidential debate.

TIM: Ok, Linux is great because you have a ton of applications available to you. Mostly all of them are freely downloadable. Remember in some UNIXs you could type in "fortune" and it would give you your fortune? Well, Linux has more than just that.

TIM: Linux has great tools that allow you to customize your desktop. For example, in Helix Code, there is gaim, which is a clone for AIM.

FREDMERTZ: What's Helix Code/gairn/AIM?

TIM: gnomeicq - icq client for /Linux, gnapster- napster client, xcdroast - software to burn CDs in Linux.

FREDMERTZ: All those are free?

TIM: Helix Code are enhancements that have been made to the Linux GUI interface. It makes it look very cool and very slick.

FREDMERTZ: Is that something that runs under gnome?

TIM: For your multimedia experience, check out, which has a bunch of screenshots of what helix Code looks like.

TIM: Yep, it's all free.

Linux head count
TIM: Do any of you use Linux?

RZAM: Yeppers. Mandrake 7.1.

JECASSERLY: Adaptec also is a program to burn CDs. Does it not run in Linux?

FREDMERTZ: I've got a couple of Win computers dual booting - caldera 4 and Red Hat 6.2.

TIM: No, Adaptec's programs only run in Windows, unfortunately. But, XCdroast is great software in itself.

TIM: Helix code also has this great feature called applets where you can turn on a program that displays the weather conditions where you're located.

RZAM: Is Helix strictly for GNOME?

TIM: It just sits in the corner and automatically updates.

TIM: Yes, helix is only for gnome. It's much, much better overall than KDE in looks, customizability, and stability.

FREDMERTZ: What about speed?

TIM: Speed is just as fast.

TIM: For those of you with digital cameras, gphoto will download all your pics from your digital camera.

Pros and cons
TIM: Why would you ever want to use Windows? Give me your uses for Windows, and I'll try to think of a Linux alternative...

JECASSERLY: I want cohabitation with Windows.

FREDMERTZ: Use company Outlook mail.

TIM: Well, VMware allows you to do that. Run 2 OSs at the same time.

JECASSERLY: Does RealPlayer work in Linux?

RZAM: To support Windows users and some Web stuff just doesn’t look good in X.

TIM: Evolution is a new client that looks exactly like Outlook. It's got support for folders, and it's robust and even looks nice too!

FREDMERTZ: To use a word processor with good, scalable fonts.

TIM: Here's a screen shot of evolution:

JECASSERLY: I have Corel Caldera but I can’t load it with Win98.

FREDMERTZ: I'll take a look - but what about using the calendar?

TIM: Word processors—StarOffice is improving dramatically. Also, WordPerfect Office is great when it doesn't crash. It'll just be a matter of time before Linux office apps meet up with Windows office apps.

RZAM: Another reason to use Windoze, it has pretty good support for my All in Wonder card so I can watch TV on my PC.

FREDMERTZ: Configuring laptops -

TIM: Calendaring—there's a program called gtimetracker , which does time management. Also, there are a few other PIM tools.

FREDMERTZ: What about syncing with the Palm Pilot?

TIM: TV Tuners are supported in Linux. Actually, make that TV Tuner. (singular). The WinTV haupehagen version has software so you can watch TV in Linux.

MODERATOR: I just took a look at the evolution screen shots—looks pretty good. How stable is it?

TIM: Kpilot will download all your palm pilot data and allows you to edit it and upload back into the widget.

FREDMERTZ: Kpilot? I'll have to check that out.

MODERATOR: Are there any cool tools that help with networking?

TIM: Gnome is really stable! It's constantly being updated. On the tool bar, there's a button to automatically update Helix Code's applications. Not only does it update the core source, it also updates all the applications so that you have the latest version of whatever applications you use.

MODERATOR: That's pretty neat—sounds a lot like Windows Update. Is it?

TIM: If you have a Windows network, and you want your Linux box to be able to print/surf on your Windows local neighborhood, there are some tools to allow you to do that. "linneighborhood" is the best one I've found.

TIM: Yes it's a lot like Windows Update, except that it's updated more often than Windows.

ARGENT: Gnomba is pretty good too for browsing Windows shares.

He’ll eat his hat
TIM: All right; come on folks, ask me some tough ones. What do you really need Windows for? If I can't convince you to use Linux for 100% of your daily compute time, then I'll eat my hat.

FREDMERTZ: Hope it's made out of chocolate! ;-)

TIM: ya gnomba is great but it's buggier than linneighborhood.

RZAM: Your red hat.

JSZADA: That is exactly the problem that I am having. I have a network with two Windows machines and two Linux machines. What are the best tools for getting these machines to talk to one another?

ARGENT: Well, if Lotus came out with a Notes client for Linux, I'd be set.

TIM: Try out linneighborhood.

RZAM: Linux is nice, but I can't use it 100% of time, although I will try VMware to use Windows within it.

JECASSERLY: That is exactly the problem, not Linux.

ARGENT: Gnomba? Buggy? Not in my experience.

TIM: Also, a great resource for apps for Linux is

FREDMERTZ: I'm using VMware the other way—to run Linux in Windows NT.

ARGENT: Rzam, how beefy is your machine? With VMware you are actually running two OSs.

TIM: Argent—Per haps gnomba has advanced in its features. When I used it 2 months ago, it was further behind in features than linneighborhood.

ARGENT: I'd recommend a p3 and 128 to run best.

TIM: Try an Athlon Thunderbird. They're super cheap nowadays.

RZAM: Yeah, it's fairly beefy, Athlon 750, 128Mb (going to add more later) 30-GB drive.

ARGENT: Just haven’t had any issues with it. Even used it to mount smb shares off a 400.

ARGENT: Rzam, you should be fine, you can even install a guest OS in a virtual partition with VMware.

RZAM: Right, really nice!

TIM: Samba is great for bridging Linux and Windows networks together. But it's incredibly cryptic for a beginner to fool with. I won't even say that I can fully configure a Linux network to print to Windows printer, file servers, etc.

Checks and balances
FREDMERTZ: OK, Tim—how about balancing your checkbook? What program do you recommend for that?

ARGENT: I like gnucash personally.

FREDMERTZ: Wow! Never heard of that one.

TIM: Gnucash will work great for that.

TIM: Argent—you stole the words right off my fingertips. :)

FREDMERTZ: Anything on the level of Dreamweaver or Adobe Illustrator?

ARGENT: gnucash is included with mandrake 7.1.

FREDMERTZ: Will gnucash install easily on Red Hat?

TIM: There's an HTML editor out there, give me a second and it'll come to me. It's very powerful and robust, but not quite as intuitive as Dreamweaver.

ARGENT: I'm pretty sure it's available in .rpm format.

FREDMERTZ: OK—but I wouldn't call Dreamweaver intuitive!

TIM: As for illustrator...GIMP is the closest clone. Gimp is so modular and lean. It runs on minimal resources and is really powerful!

RZAM: The IBM one?

ARGENT: Bluefish is a pretty good HTML editor. It lets you see the code but has bits of WYSIWYG in it. Nice.

TIM: Coffeecup and bluefish are good HTML editors for Linux.

TIM: Argent—you're too quick ! :)

RZAM: How about Remote Control software for Linux, anything available commercial or free?

ARGENT: There are x10 control modules out there.

TIM: You know that's one thing I don't know about. I wouldn't be surprised if someone wrote drivers in a few months.

TIM: There's this new CD-ROM out now from Creative that has a remote control so that you can control the CD player (on a hardware level and software app level), and also surf the Web hands free.

ARGENT: Rzam, do you mean home automation stuff?

TIM: I forgot about x10—- that's a really cool addition to Linux systems. I have a friend who hooked up a light bulb to the x10 switch. He can telnet into his computer and turn on/off his lights.

RZAM: Actually, I meant, software like PCAnywhere.

TIM: I've even seen some versions of x10 products sold in major retail computer stores.

ARGENT: For PCanywhere, you can't beat VNC.

Remote Linux
MODERATOR: We have achieved the 30-minute mark. Keep up the good work!


TIM: There's something out there for Linux (and Windows) called "VNC" which allows you to run a Linux desktop remotely.

TIM: VNC really does everything! You're controlling the entire computer.

ARGENT: And it's cross platform, you can control a Linux, Mac, or Windows machine from Linux and vice versa.

RZAM: Neato! Have to check that one out!

ARGENT: It doesn't do file transfers though.


TIM: VNC is also a great practical joke if you ever get the opportunity. It happens in real time, so if a person is using their computer in Windows, you can actually get that desktop popped up on your Linux computer and control the mouse and computer remotely.

ARGENT: And it’s free (love that).

RZAM: Is it commercial?

JSZADA: Tim, I just jumped over to the Red Hat site, and checked out their package for their new Red Hat 7. linneighborhood is not listed. Where does one get that package?

TIM: For file transfers, nothing beats regular old FTP.

ARGENT: True. Very true.

TIM: is a good place for all these great Linux apps.

JSZADA: Thanks.

ARGENT: There's also

TIM: Once, I set up VNC so that I could control a coworker's desktop. When he got to work, I would start randomly typing words in, so it freaked him out as he was doing his work. Just imagine what VNC and a creative mind can do!

RZAM: :-)

ARGENT: Bad sysadmin. BAD!


TIM: Also, Linux has plenty of cool games that come with a default installation.

FREDMERTZ: Ah now we get to the good stuff.

ARGENT: Tim, what about network monitoring? What do you like?

TIM: Windows Me doesn't come with pinball. It does come with some cool network games. But, Linux comes with a whole bunch. There's one called Conquest where you get to be a starship captain and conquer stuff.

ARGENT: Nothing beats a freeciv game.

TIM: Well, Linux by default has native apps that monitor your Ethernet activity.

TIM: Yeah. Freeciv is great.

ARGENT: No, I meant enterprise-wide.

TIM: Netload will also measure you network activity.

TIM: There are so many great games being ported to Linux. You guys might want to keep that in mind too. Loki has a bunch coming out.

Project management
ARGENT: Ok, how about project management?

TIM: Big Brother will check for devices that you configure it to poll, whether it be other servers or devices on the system.

ARGENT: Netsaint is another good one for network monitoring.

TIM: Achievo is an interesting project management tool.

ARGENT: Hmmm. . .haven’t heard of that one.

TIM: Achievo is actually Web-based so you can set it up on a Linux Web server, not actually run it from a desktop.

TIM: Also, Austin is another simple tool to view project timelines, and linear data.

RZAM: How about some tools to collect system information without having to remember a plethora of UNIX commands?

TIM: I don't know about that specifically. There are a few different apps that will collect system info. There's nothing that I can think of that will look up everything.

TIM: Dmesg will display all your boot messages so you can see what kind of controller chip you have, which CD-ROM, etc.

JECASSERLY: Is VMware a site where I can check it out?

RZAM: I know of SysInfo which is a commercial app ($10). Have any of you tried that?

ARGENT: What kind of info are you looking for about your system?

TIM: has the software for running multiple OSs. has tons of Linux open source apps.

TIM: I'll try out sysinfo!


RZAM: Just general system info, without using dmesg, uname, df, etc.

TIM: So where are you all chatting from?



MODERATOR: 15 minutes -

RZAM: A metropolis called Abbeville, Louisiana.

FREDMERTZ: Louisville, KY.

TIM: has anyone used Windows Me?

FREDMERTZ: Just a tad.

RZAM: Yes, using it right now.

ARGENT: You mean WindowsBuyMe?

RZAM: Not impressed with it though, definitely not worth the upgrade price.

JECASSERLY: Yes I tried it.

TIM: Is Me more stable?

FREDMERTZ: It seems to be.

ARGENT: If you are running gnome, try out guname, it will give some nice info.

JECASSERLY: I don’t think so.

JECASSERLY: My PC crashed when I installed it.

RZAM: Slightly, not as many general protection faults, but it still crashes, I seem to be having a heck of a time with IE 5.5.

TIM: Kill MS.

JECASSERLY: May have had a bug or two.

FREDMERTZ: My only beef with it was when I installed it as a dual boot with 2000 pro. It overwrote the boot loaded, although the 2000 manual said it didn't matter which order you installed 98. Apparently that's not true with Me.


RZAM: Will do argent

TIM: So why do you use Linux?

JECASSERLY: It scrambled my BIOS.

TIM: Windows is the pickiest OS as to which partition it's on.

TIM: When doing a dual-boot Win98 and Linux, you have to install Windows on the 2nd partition and it can't exceed 4 or 5 Gb.

JECASSERLY: Threaten to take the setup exe off my Windows CD.

ARGENT: I found a great little applet for gnome, gnomecam. It will display and refresh a webcam image at a set interval. Great time waster.

RZAM: I love Linux, I got hooked on UNIX when I was going to school and I first tried Slackware back in 94 or 95.

JECASSERLY: It tried to control and blew.

TIM: gnomecam sounds cool. I'll try it out too!

ARGENT: The only time I use Windows is through VMware for some Notes and Novell admin stuff.

FREDMERTZ: Which distribution do you favor, Tim?

TIM: The great thing about Linux is that there are so many great programs coming out everyday. It's better than shareware because people can actually tweak the source code too.

ARGENT: Yeah, start a holy war! What’s your distro of choice?

TIM: I like Red Hat best. It's the most stable and most reliable distro.

RZAM: One thing about dual boot systems and Mandrake 7.1, if you are using extended Windows partitions and you don't use an Expert install Diskdrake can create an invalid partition entry. Mandrake has a patch for it. I was pulling my hair out trying to figure out what I did wrong.

TIM: For those of you who are thinking of going to RH 7, don't do it yet! It's not stable yet. In fact, it causes signal 11 errors on a variety of hardware platforms.

JECASSERLY: Its stock is taking a beating.

ARGENT: AHHHHH! Try mandrake. It's 99.9% compatible with Red Hat.

FREDMERTZ: Whose stock, jecasserly?

TIM: Yeah, I know. I'm now "long" on RHAT after buying in at 23.


ARGENT: Traditionally, Red Hat .0 releases haven't been that great.

MODERATOR: Five minutes... last questions, please.

TIM: I think MS may have purposely built partition requirements into the OS install to make life difficult.


RZAM: Ok, what about tools for really lazy people?

A penguin and a mouse
ARGENT: So, if you were stranded on a desert island with a penguin, would you eat him and risk the wrath of Linux?

TIM: And the reason why I think that is because the install will not install onto the 2nd partition. However, if you tar up a Windows hard drive, and un-tar it onto the 2nd partition, it'll boot just fine off the 2nd partition.

ARGENT: I’m sure they did, Tim.

TIM: Netscape is good for lazy people. You can surf the Web. I've heard that's becoming really popular these days. :)

TIM: Would I have any A1 sauce with that penguin?

ARGENT: LOL, I never tried that, Tim. Good idea.

RZAM: But you still have to click a mouse, don't you? :-)

ARGENT: No. This is Survivor-style. No A1.

FREDMERTZ: Are you looking for mouse-glasses?

JECASSERLY: I like the penguin.

TIM: Well, if you use a cordless mouse, you can surf from your bed.

Wrapping up
MODERATOR: Well, it's about that time.... you may know that each meeting, we pick a daily winner to be entered into our contest for a monthly prize...

ARGENT: Or a wireless NIC and a laptop.....

MODERATOR: Tonight's winner is:


TIM: OK, homework for you all is to figure out which presidential candidate is using Linux on its Web server.

ARGENT: Thank you.

ARGENT: Ummm, Neither?

FREDMERTZ: Well, who invented the Web?

RZAM: Including third parties?

MODERATOR: Argent—send your address & real live name to - along with your handle.

TIM: Including 3rd parties.

ARGENT: I think Nader is, isn't he?

RZAM: Thanks Tim.

TIM: Human candidates, though.

MODERATOR: Let's have a round of applause for tonight’s speaker, Tim—who did a great job!

TIM: Tim Lee invented the Web. And I don't mean myself either! :)

RZAM: Clap, clap, clap

JECASSERLY: Thank you, enjoyed it.

FREDMERTZ: Congrats, argent. Yay, Tim!

TIM: Tim Burns Lee or something like that.

ARGENT: Thanks, good meeting.

FREDMERTZ: I think it's Tim Burners Lee.

TIM: Okay, bye all. Let me know which candidate is using Linux.

TIM: The grand prize you'll win is......................respect.

RZAM: Yeah, I think it is spelled Berners though, isn't it?

ARGENT: Bye all. Night.

MODERATOR: You all did a great job. And now it's time to go. Surf home safely, and see you next time.

RZAM: Good night,

TIM: Bye all.

JECASSERLY: Good night.

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