Linux Format Newsletter -- #46, March 2009

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Linux Format Newsletter -- #46, March 2009

Postby M-Saunders » Fri Apr 03, 2009 1:40 pm





1. Welcome

2. LXF 117 on sale

3. In the news...

4. This month on the forum

5. Special Newsletter feature

6. Coming up next issue

7. Receiving this Newsletter

8. Contact details

1. Welcome

Although Debian 5 has finally been released (hurrah!), we're
currently in that quiet spell between batches of major distro
releases. Ubuntu 9.04 -- aka Jaunty -- should be with us at the end
of April, and Fedora 11 is planned to arrive another month-ish after
that. Both distros look set to bring major improvements to the Linux
desktop, and of course we'll see updates from Mandriva and SUSE too.

Meanwhile, we've got a new Special Edition of Linux Format on the
way: Compose, Design, Create! This colourful 132-page guide will
help you to unleash your creative side, whether it's in making
music, designing artwork or crafting a website. Keep an eye on the
LXF website and Blog -- we'll have more info and a link to buy it
very soon.

Along with the regular Newsletter tidbits (news roundup and fun on
the forums) we have a feature explaining some of the most critical
files in the /etc directory, so check it out below. Enjoy!

Mike Saunders
Newsletter Editor

2. LXF 117 on sale

As great as Linux is, any operating system that's loaded with
functionality and features is bound to have the odd gremlin here and
there. Thankfully, though, the openness and Unix-based design of
Linux makes it easy to fix -- you don't have to pore through weird
registries or try to disassemble binary code. In LXF117's main
feature we've gathered together the most common Linux problems and
provided clear and straightforward solutions. So whether you're
having trouble booting your box, setting up hardware or getting your
network to function properly, chances are you'll find the solution!

Also in this issue we look inside xorg.conf to find out what makes
it tick -- in many cases you can get better video performance by
hand-tuning the file. Our resident MythTV guru Graham shows you the
best hardware to build a home media centre box, while on our 4GB DVD
we have the brand-spanking-new release of Knoppix 6 plus 15
fascinating alternative operating systems to explore.

Meanwhile, in our HotPicks section Andy skims the new cream of the
open source crop -- here's one of the highlights:

# Childsplay 1.1 --

The format for educational games in Linux is pretty familiar to
anyone with young children; take a selection of easy-to-play games
and package them up with some educational twist, such as spelling
or maths. Childsplay is along the same lines, with the exception
that its focus is firmly on pre school-age children.

There are 14 games with varying levels of difficulty attached to
them; our test subject John particularly liked the flashcards
involving animals. Among the other games are the usual memory
games involving letters, numbers and sounds along with a rather
good PacMan spelling game, in which you have to eat the letters in
the correct order to make up a word. All the games start off
relatively easy; with success comes the increase in difficulty.

However, there is enough here to keep kids and their parents happy
for some time. In fact, it wouldn't have to be too far-fetched for
Childsplay to make an appearance in nurseries and pre-school clubs
- anything that makes learning fun for pre-schoolers can only be a
good thing; the fact that it is Linux-based only serves to
introduce kids to the way of the penguin at an early age!

You'll need to make sure you've got at least Python 2.5 installed
and ready to go, as Childsplay uses SQLite. On top of that, you
should snag PyGame and also SQLAlchemy from your distro's
repositories; SQLAlchemy allows Childsplay to store results in a
range of databases, including Oracle and MS SQL Server - not that
your average nursery would be running enterprise software!

Head over to the LXF website and click on the right-hand issue cover
picture for more information on Linux Format 117.

3. In the news

The biggest developments around the net...

# Debian 5 (aka Lenny) is here

After almost two years of work since the release of Etch, the Debian
team has finally released Debian 5.0 "Lenny" to the world - their
tenth major release. When we spoke to Steve McIntyre, the Debian
Project Leader, he said "we basically decided that if we were happy
that stuff looks and is legal, as in there isn't any source missing
or anything like that, then screw it - we'll go with that." To find
out what he was talking about and see our initial views on the new
release, click the link above...

# KDE 4.2.1 released ... w-bugfixes

Most KDE fans regard 4.2 as the first proper, fully usable desktop
in the 4.x series, and now it has its first minor update. KDE 4.2.1
rolls together improvements in Ocular, Kopete, KMail and KHTML --
the uber-detailed changelog is here: ... o4_2_1.php

# Google snubs Qt; chooses Gtk for Chrome ... gtk-chrome

Despite Qt's cross-platform credentials Google has opted to use Gtk+
with its Linux port of the Chrome browser. Ben Goodger (Chrome's
Interface Lead) stated that this choice was to avoid using a
framework which "limits what you can do" to its lowest subset, and
to avoid more obscure problems when porting the program between
platforms. Goodger describes the latter as the application "speaking
with a foreign accent".

The Chromium team initially felt that a Windows clone would be
acceptable for Linux users (eg via Wine), but was later convinced
that this was not a permanent option. However, as one pundit (Alex
Russell) said, the solution they need was one which "would work for
*most* Linux users", because building a separate version for each
platform was "out of the question".

4. This month on the forum

Need help buying a netbook? Haakin was in the market for a mini
Linux laptop and asked the forum what features are most important to
consider. Various forumites provided useful info on experiences with
their own machines, and while the Acer Aspire One and ASUS Eee PC
were mentioned most often, Dell's Mini range got a look-in too. A
thread well worth reading if you're on the brink of buying one. [1]

When the LXF forum regulars aren't busy helping to solve problems or
discuss the latest news gossip in the free software world, they like
to ponder the mysteries of the universe. As you do. Prolific scribe
LoL was puzzled by the behaviour of cocoa powder, which led Nelz to
ask why 'phonetic' is not spelled as it sounds. PLan had to jump in
with a lovely snide quip: "Why are Ant and Dec able to earn a
living?" [2]

[1] ... pic&t=9630

[2] ... pic&t=9610

5. Special Newsletter feature


At first glance, the /etc directory appears to be a dumping ground
for configuration files from a wide variety of programs -- from
background daemons to fully-fledged graphical applications. There's
some truth to this, although efforts have been made to give it a
better structure. Here we'll look at some of the most important
files that you'll find in /etc and what their contents do.


Short for 'filesystem table', this is one of the most critical boot
and runtime files -- it defines the partitions and their uses on
your drive. Normally, the Linux bootloader (eg GRUB) specifies a
root partition that the kernel mounts to gain access to core system
files. Then, the partitions and drives in /etc/fstab describe where
to mount /home, where to access the swap partition and DVD drives,
and so forth. This file also includes settings for how often
partitions are checked, and whether programs can be executed from
them (as a security measure).


While fstab is a user-editable file that defines the partition/drive
layout on boot, mtab is updated by the system to show which
partitions are currently mounted. You can view it with less or cat
to find out the current status of mountpoints on the system -- along
with permission information and the filesystem type in use. The
output is very similar to what you see if you just enter 'mount' on
its own.


This file contains plain text which is displayed before the login
prompt in a text terminal. It supports character code substitution;
for instance, if you put \n somewhere in the file, it'll replace
that with the hostname of the machine before displaying the text.


One of the key files in networking, resolv.conf is used to store DNS
server IP address information in the format 'nameserver X.X.X.X'. If
your distro's network configuration tools are having a bad day and
you can't connect to remote hosts by their regular addresses, look
in here and make sure that a nameserver has been specified.


Here you'll find a list of network port numbers and what they do on
a typical machine. If you run a portscan on your systems and find a
port open that you don't recognise, you can look in this file to get
an idea of what it may be. Of course, programs can operate on
non-standard ports so it's not conclusive, but nonetheless very


You'll find this on most distros that attempt (at least a bit of)
LSB compliance. It'll contain the name of the installed distro and
its version number, along with a codename if applicable. This can be
useful if you're given access to a remote machine but can't tell
what distro it's running via the usual methods (looking for certain
tools or package managers etc.)


This file specifies which kernel modules are to be loaded at boot
time. In most cases, kernel modules (eg for drivers or filesystem
formats) are loaded on demand, but occasionally you may want a
module to be loaded during the boot process. You can add modules in
here, one each per line.

So, those are a few of the most vital files you'll find in /etc.
There are many more for handling logins and dealing with boot
scripts, most of which have some form of documentation in the manual
pages (eg 'man resolv.conf'). Happy hacking!

6. Coming up next issue

Linux Format 118, on sale Thursday 2 April...

# Distro showdown -- Whether you're a student or a sysadmin,
we find the best distro to suit your goals

# Debian 5 is here! Yes, Lenny has arrived at last: we look
at the new features and talk to the Project Leader. And
it'll be on the LXF DVD!

# Bare metal backup -- Forget fidding with tarballs.
Clonezilla is the backup solution guaranteed to work

Contents are subject to change, and may settle in transit.

7. Receiving this Newsletter

If you've been forwarded this Newsletter from someone else, and want
to sign up for future issues, just follow the steps below. Each
month you'll receive a sparkling new LXF Newsletter straight in your
Inbox, and the 30-second sign-up process is even easier than working
out that water is wet:

1. Go to the website forums and log in (or sign up first):
2. At the top of the main forum page, click on 'Usergroups'
3. Join the 'Newsletter' group, and you're done!

If for some reason you no longer wish to receive this newsletter
(which'll make the internet sad) you can opt-out like this:

1. Log into the LXF site and go to the forums
2. Click Usergroups at the top of the page
3. Select Newsletter and then View information
4. Click Unsubscribe next to 'You are a member...'

8. Contact details

If you have any questions or suggestions, please send them to the
Newsletter Editor at the address below:

Newsletter Editor: Mike Saunders --

Letters for the magazine:

LXF website:

Subscriptions: 0870 837 4722 (overseas +44 1858 438794)
Website subscription page:

(C) 2009 Future Publishing Limited
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