"The Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

(?) The Answer Guy (!)

By James T. Dennis, tag@lists.linuxgazette.net
Starshine Technical Services, http://www.starshine.org/

(?) The state of UNIX in 1998

From Jay Gerard on 17 Nov 1998

I am a sometime writer and CBT (Computer Based Training) developer. In 1994 I wrote a CBT course, "UNIX for DOS Users." Time to upgrade the course and remove the DOS comparisons.

What I am not is a UNIX expert. To gather enough experience/knowledge to write the original course I installed Coherent -- a UNIX clone -- on a PC, bought some books and asked a lot of questions.

What I would like to do now -- through this newsgroup -- is to ask some questions. I'm hoping that some people here will be willing to answer -- either through the group or via personal email to me. So, here are some questions.

1) In 1994, the Bourne shell was the most widely used. Is this still true? Are some shells more suitable for particular applications? For particular environments? (E.g. - - do universities tend to favor one shell?)

(!)The Bourne family of shells is still somewhat more common than csh and tcsh. On Linux the most popular shell, and the one used by default is bash (a Bourne/Korn clone from the FSF).

(?) 2) Does Linux offer a variety of shells? Does it use a proprietary shell? (BTW, is it pronounced "LIE-nux" or "LINN-ux" or ???)

(!) Yes. Every shell that is commonly available for other forms of Unix are available for Linux. Here's a small list:
ash, bash, pdksh, ksh88, ksh9x, tcsh, zsh

(?) 3) What uses are there for UNIX on a personal (stand-alone) box?

(!) There are a number of games and applications that are available for Unix. In particular we find that Linux is spurring development of free and commercial productivity and personal apps. For example KDE and GNOME have numerous games and small apps. While KDE and GNOME are also portable to other forms of Unix, and much of the development was done on FreeBSD and other platforms --- they are strongly associated with Linux. (Fairly or not is a flamewar all its own).
WordPerfect has been available for Linux for a few years --- and Corel has released new versions very recently. In addition Corel is committed to releasing their entire office suite for Linux. Hopefully this will run under the FreeBSD/Linux compatability libraries as well.
There are more different applications suites available for Unix/Linux than there are for Windows (since MS has squeezed out almost all of the competition in that market). So we have our choice among StarOffice, Applixware, SIAG (free, "Scheme in a Grid"), LyX (free, LaTeX GUI/front end), and others.
For more info on personal Linux applications I have three favorite URLs:
Linas Vepstas' Home Page: http://linas.org/linux
(note: this is NOT Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux --- he is another notable Linas)
Christopher B. Browne: http://www.hex.net/~cbbrowne/linux.html
Bill Latura's: Linux Applications and Utilities Page (v.11/12) http://www.xnet.com/~blatura/linapps.shtml
I've been pointing people to these pages for some time --- sometimes I've referred to them from my monthly column in the Linux Gazette (as "the Answer Guy" --- a nomination that I didn't choose --- though I did volunteer to answer the questions).
You can read the Linux Gazette (a free online webazine) at: http://www.linuxgazette.net.
There are several other Linux webazines and periodicals including:
Linux Weekly News: http://www.lwn.net
Linux Focus: http://www.linuxfocus.org
ext2: http://www.ext2.org
(ext2 is the dominant Linux native filesystem
reputed by some to be the fastest filesystem ever implemented on a PC --- which would sound like brash posturing if I'd heard those claims from Linux users --- those were from *non-Linux* analysts).
Slashdot: http://www.slashdot.org
(not strictly "Linux" but heavily oriented towards Linux and open source Unix systems).
Freshmeat: http://www.freshmeat.net
(not really a publication --- more of a daily announcements board for new Linux software and upgrades).
Linux Today: http://www.linuxtoday.com
... and it's sister publication:
Linux World: http://www.linuxworld.com
These last two are relative newcomers --- the brainchildren of Nicholas Petreley --- and they seem to be funded by IDG Publications.

(?) 4) Are all GUI applications based on X-Windows?

(!) Not in Linux. There are SVGAlib programs and there are at least two (relatively obscure) alternative GUI's

(?) 5) Can you point me to a (hopefully concise) source of info with respect to GUI integration in UNIX today? I'd prefer an Internet-based source; but a book is OK, too.

(!) The most active avenues of Linux/FreeBSD GUI development these days are:
http://www.kde.org http://www.gnome.org http://www.gnustep.org

(?) 6) Are "Open Look" and "Motif" still common? In widespread use?

(!) OpenLook essentially died. You can still find and use the toolkits and window manager but it was the loser in the first great Unix GUI war.
Motif is nominally still the "standard" for commercial Unix --- however, the GTK (GNU toolkit and widget set) is starting to take over the freenix flavors. GTK is the underlying library set for the GIMP (a popular freenix image manipulation and graphics package), and for GNOME (the GNU Network Object Model Environment project --- which is in early stages of development and will provide Unix users with a full suite of CORBA/GTK applications and utilities for their desktop environments).
In commercial world CDE (built over Motif) is supposed to be the standard. However most of the serious Unix users I know basically work around CDE rather than with or in it. In the freenix community, KDE is out and available --- and subject to some controversy (since it currently relies upon a set of libraries that's only partially "free" --- a bit of hairsplitting that concerns programmers ISV's and distribution integrators and vendors).
KDE and CDE aren't really comparable. They serve different purposes. However, superficially they offer similar appearance (although these days most GUI's look alike anyway).

(?) 7) What per cent of UNIX users/installations use a GUI?

(!) I have not idea. I gather that about 70% or more of the Linux user base primarily uses their GUI's
One glitch in any such statistic would be the ratio of "server" machines to workstations. Very few organizations use character cell terminals these days --- many use Windows systems as ethernet terminal emulators to talk to their Unix systems and mainframes.
There is a chance that the Netwinders and similar (Linux/Java based) NC's will see significant deployment in banks, retail sites (like automotive parts and pizza counters, etc). This is due to their low cost, extremely small footprint, low energy consumption and heat dissipation, quiet operation and practically non-existent maintenance requirements.

(?) 8) Are there installations which use both a GUI and the standard character-based interface?

(!) Yes. I use them at my office.

(?) 9) What is your opinion as to the usefulness/practicality of a GUI in UNIX now. In the future?

(!) Who cares? Why so much focus on the GUI's?
I personally use text mode for most work. I mostly work in my text editor (which is also my mail and newsreader). I usually use Lynx to browse the web, because I'm usually interested in the content -- the text.
I usually keep one or two X sessions running on each of my systems (one running as me, another running under my wife's account). I switch out of them to do most of my work, and into them to use Netscape Navigator, xdvi and/or gv (TeX/DVI and PostScript previewers), and 'xfig' (a simple drawing program) when I need those.
I use 'screen' (a terminal multiplexer utility) which allows me to detach my work from one terminal/virtual console and re-attach to it from any other. This lets me yank my editor/mail/news session into an 'xterm' or yank it from there and unto my laptop/terminal in the living room (it's a home office). That's how I watch CNN and TV when I want to.
One of the reasons I adopted Linux is because I prefer text mode screens and keyboard driven programs to GUI's. It lets me work my way --- rather than trying to make me work "its" way.
In answer to your question: You really need to do some research at the sites that I've listed. Linux and freenix is poised to completely wipe Microsoft from the desktops of the world in the next few years. The fact that every major magazine in the industry has been recently saying "Linux can't take over the desktop" is lending initial credibility to the idea.
It was an absurd idea a year ago. But all the work on KDE, GNOME, GNUStep, the growing support by Caldera, Applix, Star Division, and the hints of interest by Compaq, Intel, and others clearly point to a Linux future on the desktop. (In this regard I must point out that FreeBSD is every bit as viable technically --- and that it will certainly gain a sliver of that marketshare as well, probably not nearly as much as it deserves --- Linux has more "mindshare").
CNN had a three minute segment on Linux running every hour all weekend. See my report on Linux Today at:
... for details.
The problems with Unix were typically in the bickering and licensing between the major vendors (most of them hardware manufacturers whose primary interest was in "trapping" a segment of the market). Technically it has always been a pretty good choice.
Another problem with Unix over a decade ago was the lack of power in the early micros. You could not support a credible Unix on anything less powerful than a 386 with about 16Mb of RAM and about 300Mb of disk space. Once you get past that threshold (about 1990 was when these systems saw significant consumer deployment) you saw reasonably rapid development of Linux and FreeBSD. (Linux was publicly available in late '91 to early '92 --- I've been using it since late '92 to early '93. 386BSD, by Mr. and Mrs. Jolitz was further along in development by that point --- and FreeBSD appeared around that time).
In any event, the usefulness of the various GUI's under Unix are equal to those for any other platform. The only thing that isn't "all there" is the ability to readily share documents with MS Office applications. Anyone who thinks that this is not do to a deliberate effort on the part of Microsoft is delusional.
MS executives and developers would have to be IDIOTS not to see the strategic importance of "one-way" document interoperability --- of the value of "locking in" their customers to "cross sell" their OS products. They would be remiss in their fiscal responsibilities if they'd failed to use that to the advantage of their shareholders.
(Note: number one dilemma of corporate capitalism --- shareholders have priority over customers, number two is the inevitability of over-capacity and number three is the necessity for anti-trust regulation and government to moderate monopolies and cartels. Sorry, but over capacity and monopoly are systemic in our economy --- the rules predispose the trend towards them, eventually and inevitably).

(?) 10) From the "probably-off-the-wall department": Is there a site where I can telnet in to actually practice using UNIX?

(!) If you have a PC (or a Mac), use Linux. Then install FreeBSD (or NetBSD for your Mac). There is no reason (excuse) to try to write a tutorial on Unix without getting some hands on experience.
In answer to your question, there are numerous "freenet" and "pain" (Public access internet nodes) sites around. They tend not to advertise for obvious reasons.

(?)Thanks for any help.
Jay Gerard

(!) Good luck on your project.

Copyright © 1998, James T. Dennis
Published in The Linux Gazette Issue 35 December 1998

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