Open Source

Open Discussion: Linux Hardware

On Jan. 13, 2000, Michael Jennings, software engineer for VA Linux and the creator of Eterm, the famous "enlightened terminal emulator" for the X Window system, hosted a discussion on Linux hardware.

On Jan. 13, 2000, Michael Jennings, software engineer for VA Linux and the creator of Eterm, the famous “enlightened terminal emulator” for the X Window system, hosted a discussion on Linux hardware. If you couldn’t join us then, we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

Moderator: hello! we're still waiting on participants (and our illustrious speaker). glad you could make it!

How familiar are you with Linux?
Moderator: so, what has your exposure to Linux been so far?

Q: hmm, so far still trying to understand how well it can work for computer users.

Moderator: explain. do you mean in regards to user friendliness?

Q: I think user friendliness from Linux is well done as it simulates Windows, but it has more advantages than Windows, especially for developers.

Q: Hi!! How are ya all? :).

Moderator: and what has your exposure to Linux been? <We're waiting on our speaker ;-)>

Moderator: Don't forget tonight, as well as all month, we're giving away great prizes including: Quake III, VMware licenses, IDG books, and a chance to win an Athlon 500 MHz dual booting (Linux/Win98) machine from we have a committee of people who will decide on the most constructive participant tonight. that person will walk away with the three prizes and be eligible for one of the two Athlons at the end of the month.

MJ: Sorry I'm late folks. The IRC server doesn't like me. :-)

Moderator: welcome to tonight's TPG guild meeting! glad to see you all here! tonight's speaker is Michael Jennings, a software engineer from VA Linux. Michael is the creator of the popular Eterm “enlightened terminal emulator” for the X Window system (like my ability to copy from man pages?).

 Q: Well, I've got it on my system at home here. and I've been playing with it. troubleshot my first problem with it last week, and am looking forward to playing with it more. so I can phase out the M$ products that the office is so dependent on? :)

Moderator: welcome Michael. we have a small crowd tonight <but an eager one>.

MJ: :-)

Moderator: i want to hand the floor over to Michael, but I want to make sure all of you know to feel free to ask any question you have <regarding Linux>.

Moderator: and I’ll probably join in on the questions! ;-)

About Michael Jennings
MJ: Well, let me start off by giving a little info about me.

MJ: I work for VA Linux Systems in Sunnyvale, California. I'm a "Software Engineer" by title, which really means my job is to crank out code. I work on Eterm, Enlightenment, Imlib, and so forth, and I do any coding VA might need done that falls within my area of expertise.

A short history of Eterm
Moderator: in fact I’m going to start out with a question. michael, Eterm is a great console emulator—how did it come to be?

MJ: Before I got to VA, I was a UNIX system administrator for several years. I've worked with just about every UNIX system known to man. :-).

MJ: Okay, the history of Eterm.

MJ: Way back when, I got started on UNIX on HP-UX, and like any good HP-UX user, I used hpterm. But it sucked. So a friend turned me on to rxvt, which was version 2.19 at the time.

MJ: I really liked having pictures in the backgrounds of my terminal window, so I immediately switched. But rxvt can only handle Xpm images, and that sucks. So I found a patch to make rxvt use Imlib, Enlightenment's image loader. Not too long thereafter, rxvt 2.21 came out, and I wrote a patch for it to use Imlib. I also wrote a slew of security fixes for it.

Q: what is rxvt?

MJ: One of my fellow E users and I thought that Enlightenment needed its own ultra-configurable terminal program, so we started Eterm based on rxvt 2.21 with my patches. rxvt is a replacement for Xterm. It's a terminal emulator, just like Eterm.

Q: oK.

MJ: Although Eterm originally came from rxvt, much of the old rxvt code has been junked and rewritten and is much more efficient, configurable, and, well, cool. :-)

Transparency made more efficient
Moderator: how did you manage to get Eterm to work as efficiently as it does? many of the other terms that do transparencies seem to slow things down a bit. is it Imlib?

MJ: heh. Well, the original code for transparency was very slow and very buggy. GNOME terminal's transparency code was stolen directly from Eterm in the early days.

MJ: Since then, I've done a lot of work to improve efficiency and fix bugs, but other terminals that copied my method haven't kept up. There's also another transparency mechanism that some terminals use, but it's quite inefficient and hogs memory needlessly.

New projects
Moderator: what is coming up next for you? you working on any new projects?

Moderator: like Aterm? ;-).

MJ: Yes, Aterm uses the Wrong Way(tm). :-)

MJ: Well, I'm working on several things for VA that will be demoed at LinuxWorld in New York next month.

Moderator: hey, I’ll be there!

MJ: I've gotten several packages ported to Linux, including IBM's Data Explorer, Pablo, and Flight Gear.

MJ: I won't be at the show, unfortunately. My schedule didn't permit. But I will be at the LWCE in August in San Jose.

Linux browsers “suck”
Moderator: what about a new browser? ;-) What do you think of the state of the browsers for Linux?

MJ: I'm also continuing work on Eterm. I'll be releasing 0.9 soon, and 0.9.1 will have many more drastic changes over the 0.8.x tree, just like 0.9 does.

MJ: All browsers suck. Some just suck less. Unfortunately, all the ones for Linux suck more than the ones for Windows.

Moderator: let me guess—a Lynx user?

Q: why u think all browsers suck?

MJ: Even the exact same version of Netscape runs better and more cleanly on Windows.

MJ: Nope, I use Netscape, simply because it's currently the best of a bad bunch. I do too much graphics-intensive browsing to use a text-only browser.

Moderator: in your opinion, why are there no good browsers for Linux?

MJ: I have seen Star Office's browser and Konqueror, and both look very promising. They do have a ways to go yet, though.

Linux’s biggest weakness is Sound
Q: I have a hardware question. I have a sound card in this system that I can't seem to configure (it's a Yamaha something or other). Someone told me that there's a $20 program that can be bought to make it work. is there a way to make the OS itself support this w/o this "software"?

MJ: Yamaha XG chipset? I have that kind of sound card also. I'm hoping ALSA will improve the sound card support under Linux, but for the time being, OSS is really the only solution.

Moderator: welcome andy_davis! <the crowd goes wild>.

Q: It seems contrary to the whole principle of Linux to have to buy this or that to make it work. should we be able to modify it or write our own drivers, etc? OSS, that's the proggy? (I've only heard of it. I've never seen it: ).

MJ: The reason there are no good browsers is that Netscape has a lot of features, but they've all been hacked and munged together into a kludge and then patched all to hell. Everyone else trying to beat Netscape has to start from scratch and make up a lot of ground.

Moderator: i've heard about OSS. in my opinion, Linux's biggest weakness is sound. is VA doing anything about that?

Q: Yep, the XG.

Moderator: ladies and gents—Mr. andy_davis was Tuesday night’s winner! <again with uproarious noise>.

MJ: All VA servers are shipped with sound cards that have been tested and proven under Linux.

Q: hey, all!

MJ: As for improving the sound support, Linus has already blessed ALSA as the sound system of the future, so there's really no point in putting a lot of effort into improving the existing system.

The best way to get sound to work
Moderator: what is the key to finding a sound card that will WORK with Linux? i've heard some say that it will work if it's 100% SB compatible.

Moderator: what is ALSA? 'splain to our crowd.

Q: sound system of the future?

MJ: The best way to make sure you buy a sound card that works with Linux is to read through the kernel config options for sound cards, and buy one of those. :-) Or just ask other people. My personal favorite is the Ensoniq Audio PCI. Works under Linux, good quality, not too expensive.

MJ: Definitely don't get an ISA sound card. Big mistake. On-board sound cards also pretty much suck.

MJ: ALSA is the Advanced Linux Sound Architecture. It's currently a separate project, but it will be incorporated into the kernel at some point.

Moderator: who is doing ALSA?

Q: i hope we're all doing ALSA, soon. :—)

MJ: Jaroslav Kysela is the project lead, but there are lots of developers.

Moderator: anyone have any hardware related questions for Mr. Jennings?

MJ: is the home page.

Moderator: welcome tcfranks! we're talking to Michael Jennings of VA Linux (and creator of Eterm). if you have any questions for Mr. Jennings, ask away.

Hardware questions
Q: I have another one, but it's not directly Linux related so I'll keep it under my hat :).

Moderator: booooooo ;-).

MJ: Ask it anyway :-). I'm not a Linux bigot. =).

Q: Well, I have a CD-ROM, CD-RW problem. I thought at first it was the drives powering off, or the IDE cable, but it doesn't appear to be limited only to IDE. The SCSI CD-RW I bought to replace what I thought was a faulty one does the same.

Q: usually, how much memory does Linux require?

MJ: That depends on what you try to do with it. If you're willing to live in console, you can get away with 4-8 MB. If you want to run X, you'll need at least 24-32. The way I run it, I routinely use up to 200 MB of my 512 MB.

Q: I get errors saying that the drive is not functioning properly or is not ready, even though I give lots of time for the CD to spin up. what are the odds my MB is toast?

MJ: Storm: Not likely, given that both the SCSI and IDE had the same problem. When you boot your computer, does the CD-RW drive spin up?

Q: just popped in on On their Soundcard Matrix page I think I found the card I need to get.

Q: I have the question about the X. Is it an advanced feature of Linux, and what does it do?

MJ: X refers to the X Window System. It's the base of UNIX's graphical user interface.

Q: er, good question. I think it does, but not right away. a few secs in, and a little behind the CD-ROM.

MJ: That's okay. As long as it powers up. Have you tried removing the CD-ROM altogether and just using the CD-RW?

Q: no I haven't. I have noticed that it's very intermittent. every time I try to call for "tech support" it starts working again. :-) And rebooting seems to sometimes take care of the problem. Could it be a ground or power problem?

Q: so, when using Linux, is there an option to use X or not use X?

MJ: If it was a power issue, rebooting probably wouldn't fix it. :-) Are you running Windows or Linux on this box?

MJ: Of course. :-) You can login either via X, and get a graphical interface, or login via console, and get a text-based interface.

Q: Wow. I only got œ of that. I'm running both Windows and Linux. dual boot.

MJ: Do you have the same problems in both OSs?

Q: Honestly? I've not even managed to get the CD-RW working under Linux yet. It saw it on install, but I haven't "found " it while running it yet :-).

Q: this is a great feature. Does it matter to some applications if using X or not?

MJ: Some programs, like Eterm for example, will not run without X. No graphical programs will run on Linux without X.

MJ: Have you tried deleting it in Windows and having Windows automatically re-discover it?

Q: I would suspect that some apps call for X-windows, or GNOME, or KDE, etc.

MJ: I'm wondering if maybe you don't have a resource conflict, like an IRQ or an IO port.

Q: Yep. did a totally new install, too (made Windows unstable while programming when I was tired :-) not recommended).

MJ: heh I was programming at work till midnight two nights ago getting the glass theme working for Eterm 0.9. There's just something really cool about a terminal where *everything* is transparent. Scrollbar, arrows, menus, and all. =).

Q: This is a totally new situation. it's been since about Nov, and I've had the ‘puter since Jan. I wasn't able to find a conflict (looked manually in BIOS, and in the control panel. is there anywhere else that it could show up?

MJ: I don't know what to tell you. Next time it happens, call tech support without rebooting, and if they tell you to reboot, tell them no. :-).

Q: *grins!* OK! I'll tell them you said no. that'll really confuse them.

Q: I want to know if I use Linux to check e-mail, will it be compatible with Outlook Express?

Q: :-).

MJ: You can read e-mail sent by someone with Outlook, but there is no version of Outlook that will run on Linux. But that's a good thing, because Outlook is crap compared to the UNIX mail clients.

Security of Linux vs. Windows
Q: Are they more secure as well? A friend once showed me how easily he could get my mail on a Windows machine.

MJ: UNIX in general is more secure than Windows. No UNIX e-mail client is stupid enough to automatically run attached programs or open attached Word documents, and there's no public Outlook address list to exploit. I laughed at people who got screwed by Melissa.

MJ: The virus, not the woman. *grin*.

Q: is it that Microsoft will never develop any software for Linux?

Moderator: here's your ten minute warning people! muster up those last questions for Mr. jennings.

MJ: Microsoft has developed software for other versions of UNIX, but they see Linux as a direct threat to Windows, and will therefore make every effort to NOT support it.

Q: I belong to a mail list, and they were comparing and contrasting the security in Windows vs. Linux. (ok. it was a pissing contest), and the Win guy was swearing up and down that NT is more secure. was he on glue?

MJ: Yes, he was on glue. Compare how long it took the entire Internet hacker community to break into the Linux PPC box vs. the Microsoft Windows box. Linux took months to break. Windows took hours.

Q: wow, damn Windows.

Q: Thought so. Think I'll reboot into Linux tonight and see about setting up some Web access. :).

MJ: The NSA has even begun work on developing a secure Linux system. Properly configured, a Linux system is almost impossible to hack.

Moderator: yes, I’m on the @home service. i have Red Hat 6.1 with portsentry running. i worry so much less than my Windows buddies! ;-)

MJ: And well you should. Two words: Back Orifice.

Q: Another question about e-mail is, does any current Linux mail software import the Outlook Express messages?

Q: That's awesome!! We've had people hack us at work repeatedly ( I think I know who but can't prove it) I keep telling them anything is better than Win :).

MJ: E-mail messages are plain ASCII text. Any e-mail client can read them.

Q: I think he meant the mbx and idx files, so he could use the "folders."

Q: or at least retrieve the archived stuff.

MJ: No, the folders are in a proprietary format on Windows. UNIX uses a cross-platform folder format.

Q: can you tell me some detail how Linux can have almost perfect security against the hack?

MJ: Well, very simply, Linux is based on UNIX's security model, which has been tested and proven for 30 years. NT's model is still very new and very untested. Plus the source code to NT is closed, so who knows how many bugs there might be. Linux's code is open, so bugs get found and fixed early on.

Q: since Windows 98 SE folders is a different format than the first version.

Q: so. that means you could import from a Linux mail app to Win? (not that I'd want to. )

MJ: Not from Linux to Windows, but from Linux to Solaris, or HP-UX, or BSD. Windows programs generally don't understand the concept of portability, unless they were written on UNIX first.

Q: I mean move from Windows to Linux.

Q: oh yeah, that would be friendly, wouldn't it?

MJ: There are programs that will let you run Windows software on Linux , like VMware and WINE.

Moderator: well let's be wrapping it up now folks, but before we do…

Q: great, so I can use both or actually Linux more.

Q: Drum roll please.

Q: But none are terribly "stable" yet as far as I've read. at least WINE isn't. and VMware is a little flaky.

Moderator: Well, ladies and gents that about wraps it up here. I want to thank Mr. Jennings for joining us, but before I do…

Moderator: the winner of tonight’s prizes (Quake III for Linux, a VMware license, an IDG book, and a chance to win one of the Athlon machines from is... <insert huge crowd noises> Oh, I’d also like to thank our sponsors—Loki Games, VMware, IDG, and please support the Linux community and give these generous companies a look!

Moderator: the winner is...Storm! yes, Storm, you are the lucky winner tonight! if you will send your contact information (e-mail, mailing addy, and phone number) to me, we'll get those sent off to you!

MJ: *applause*.

Q: good bye.

Q: Oh Wow!! Thanks guys! :-) Thanks to MJ for all his help too.

MJ: No problem :-).

Q: applause to Storm.

Q: congrats, Storm!

MJ: Feel free to e-mail me at if you have any more questions.

Moderator: thank you very much Michael. i hope we can bring you back sometime in the near future. it's always great to have such helpful/knowledgeable people!

MJ: Thanks for having me. I enjoyed it. :-).

Q: Sounds great, I enjoyed this a great deal. thanks a lot guys.

Moderator: remember to send your info to me, Storm. and come back next week when we continue with the prizes and Linux month on TPG!

Moderator: well, that's about it ladies and gents. hope it was fun. oh, I’m testing one of the Athlon machines—pretty sweet!

Q: I will. LOL. I'm new to this IRC thing. how do I log off? (Properly, I mean. I know the "close" button on the app.)

MJ: Are you running mIRC?

Moderator: are you in an irc client?

Moderator: if you're using Xchat just go to the X-Chat menu and choose close or quit.

Q: LOL!! *hangs her head* yeah, mIRC.

Moderator: shame on you! ;-) I’m teasing.

MJ: Just close the channel window or the program. It does the right thing. :-).

Q: I found ALL the other commands. but can't find a "proper" way to log off.

MJ: Or type /quit or /bye.

Moderator: when all else fails ctl-alt-dlt.

Moderator: hehehehehe.

Moderator: abort retry fail?

MJ: I wonder if this thing can handle IRC commands.

MJ: /me laughs.

MJ: Nope.

MJ: =P.

Q: Oh! oK, thanks, then. Good night, guys. LOL!!

MJ: Good night :-).

Moderator: nope the TPG software doesn't handle commands. we're looking into something different. anyway, time to go away and be normal humans again. thanks again Michael! it's been a pleasure!

MJ: n/p. 'Night.

Moderator: so long and grease for peace!
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