Another fort yielded [Basics of the gnu/linux system, more on kernel and modules ]

Posted in Free Software, Home at 7:01 am by Pirate Praveen

4th of June

This is continuation of where we left in our last adventure at Rauf’s computer. Sabeel came home after his theory papers (s6) and we met on 3rd evening. We talked for a long time and then we talked about GNU/linux system, from kernel to shell to X windows. We discussed about modules [of linux kernel] too.

Modules are pluggable parts of the kernel that can be used as and when we need it. For example glx is a module for the Open GL 3D graphics libraries [typically used for 3D games] that will be plugged into the kernel only when the X server [the graphics system in Unix-like systems] starts. [in /etc/X11/xorg.conf or /etc/X11/XFree86config file you can see all the modules that will be loaded when the X server starts in the Modules sub-section]. insmod is a command used to insert a module into the kernel and lsmod lists all the modules that are currently loaded into the kernel. A module usually have a .ko [for kernel object — from Object Oriented Methodology everything is viewed as an object only, in the same manner.so extention stands for shared object].

We discussed how nvidia driver is installed for supporting hardware acceleraton for Nvidia based graphics cards. The installation program[can be downloaded from nvidia website and the same program installs the driver for all the models of your card] checks the kernel version and if the pre-compiled modules are available it will be copied and the configuration files updated. If the precompiled kernel modules are not available it offers to download from the net and if we don’t have a net connection [The case which I had to opt for all the installation cases for many a nvdia based mother boards] it will compile the kernel module and you need to install kernel source and kernel headders for it. (NVIDIA no longer offers rpms but executable binary files so that a single program can be used across all the different flavours of the gnu/linux that uses different packaging systems like deb, [debian based systems] rpm [Redhat, Suse, mandrake and others], tgz [Slackware], ebuild[gentoo] etc ). I explained to him kernel as part of the system that manage the system resources such as memory processor and other hardware. Then shell as an interface between kernel and us. then we moved on to /etc/passwd which contains the information of all users in the system [For local authentication. The GNU/linux also support many other authentication types like NIS [Network Information Services from Sun Microsystems], LDAP and even winbind (yeah, you guessed correct it is the authentication method for Windows networks!) – you can authenticate users who got a windows NT account into your gnu/linux system with the same user id – password !! Samba guys Rocks!!!]

He had a copy of ‘The complete idiot’s linux’ book and we went through it. We decided to go to Rauf’s home and try this on the next day. We planned to leave the next morning but Rauf was engaged in the morning so we changed our plan to go in the afternoon. Before I came home he told me to come in the morning so that we can go once again through it before we leave for Rauf’s home.

On 4th early morning [That is 10 am!] I was in Sabeel’s home and spent some time watching TV and discussing some of the commands like ln [for linking files – or creating short cuts]. How soft links differ from hard links etc. We were really disappointed when Rauf told that there was no power there. But we were happy when he called again to tell us that the power came ane we were ready to leave. This time we were prepared with Xp and Partition magic Cds. We hoped to install the GNU/Linux system without troubling the existing Windows. His hard disk was 40 GB and it was divided into 4 equal partitions with one having windows 98, another with XP and the rest data. Both the data partitions were almost filled (He had effectively only 20Gb for data). So we had to resize the C or D drive to install GNU/Linux. The partition editor (GNU parted with QT gui) couldn’t resize those partitions. it threw an error message [Now I know it was an error with the partition table as Partition Magic also failed to successfully resize it – well, it resized and gave a message that it successfully did so but upon reboot it didn’t boot again. These partitions were avialable from GNU/linux box but strangly (!) Windows failed to recognise FAT32 file systems!!]. The sequence of actions is as follows.
Firstly, we installed Partition Magic. Secondly, resized C drive to 5GB and remaining free space was formatted with one swap partition of 512 MB and the rest ext3 filesystem. C drive was primary and now the newly created partitions are added to the extended partition as logical partitions. The partition magic reported that it need to restart the computer to complete some operation and after restarting it showed the message that it successfully completed the 4 operations . Now after a second reboot it freezed after the bios password step with a message..

Verifying DMI pool data…
and curser was blinking at the next line. There was no other activity except fan running! We waited for sometime. We could see the hardware listed on top CD Rom, CD RW, Floppy, Hard Disk, parallel and serial ports etc. But no sign of movement at all. I thought it was the BIOS that was doing this checking and I guessed (wrongly) that it might be checking the entire hard disk and it may take some time. To our hope (later proved wrong),we thought ‘Hard Disk SMART Disabled’ will be the cause of the problem and so we rebooted after enabling itbut the result was the same.


Now as a next step we thought that we should try GNU/Linux ( We had latest [9.3] Suse flavour of GNU/Linux ) and make sure it is neither the problem with hard disk nor with BIOS. So we inserted the first CD into the CR ROM drve and pressed the reset key with CD ROM drive as the first boot device.

To our great relief the welcome screen of Suse (With its characteristic welcome in many languages) greeted us.
Now we know that it not the BIOS problem.
We moved on with installtion and Suse has chosen rightly the swap and ext3 partitions (and it was chosen to format to raiserfs), but to my slight disappointment it failed to recognise 98 and XP but it recognised both the data partitions.
Now we know that it not the problem with the Hard Disk too but Windows’ own problem
we moved forward with other basic setups like keyboard layout, timezone etc. But the power was against us 😉 It went off and his UPS was not in good condition that it halted. Now we waited for power to be back. When the power came back we started installing again from scratch (welcome screen) but power went off again after some steps. The pattern repeated for about 5 times ! [Both Rauf and Sabeel know the setup by heart :-)]. We thought everything is against us and his computer didn’t like the whole affair at all. But we were optimistic and we pressed on.

Then the power lasted till installtion from the first CD was over [Like its predecessors Suse 9.3 also comes with 5 CDs full of softwares which satisfies typically all users]. The system was now in hard disk [grub was installed ] and it rebooted to continue with installtion from the remaining disks. Power went off agin and we thanked God that the first step (and a great step) was over.

We completed the installation but when we played with sax2 the resolution was so big that we had to move the mouse pointer out of the screen to make that portion visisble. Anyway it was nice and working. We tried to chose the right resolution using sax2, but we left it as it was. Now we selected GNOME 2.10 (KDE 3.4 is the default Window Manager) for installtion using Yast (Yet Another Setup Tool – The all in one setup tool for Suse, right from start of installtion to maintenance, Yast has all, and it is very easy to use, just point and click on whatever you want and it works!). But it was taking a long time and we left it to Rauf and started our journey back. It was 8pm and we were relieved (not fully as XP was still not working and Rauf didn’t show his tension but we could read it on his face) that at last his system is working [Even RF simulator – aprogram installed in windows was successfully run using wine. It shows wine has matured a lot].

After spending some time in Sabeel’s home, he droped me in my home. We decided to have another go the next day. When I came back home my mom told me that Maniyettan (My Valliachan’s, ie, uncle’s son.) wanted me to go with him to Kadampuzha temple the next day. I was to be ready by 5 am [He had bought a new car [Maruti] two days back]. So I setup the alarm and went to bed. There was another funny incident. I went to bed when I heard two coconuts falling, I heard the same the previous day too !! [It was not fear but a bit lack of courage :-)].

To be continued …
Update: Second part is out now (Hacking on second day)
Another day at Raufs home

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