Using the Wisconsin Network - Part 40

by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN

In this last part of our serious, I will answer a question asked of me quite some time ago. It is one that may not arouse much more than idle curiosity of you, but it may be of interest. The question: "What is TNOS/LINUX and do I need it?"

Actually, "TNOS/LINUX" indicates two different things. Regular readers of this series may remember that TNOS stands for "Tampa Network Operating System". This is a spruced-up version of the venerable KA9Q NOS that has powered TCP/IP stations for quite a while. It has specialized features and enhancements above the KA9Q NOS and is widely used in Amateur Radio for gateways and BBS's.

The second half of that, Linux, is another thing altogether. This is a different kind of computer operating system - different from DOS and Windows. In fact, it is not a Microsoft product, and is quite different from these products.

Linux transforms a standard modern PC into a "UNIX computer". UNIX is a computer operating system that has it's origins in the AT&T corporation. It is designed to be a multi-user, multi-tasking operating system, unlike DOS (and some would argue Windows). Linux slightly differs from UNIX in some of it's commands, but basically is a special version of the UNIX operating system intended to be run on the Intel 80x86 processor that is the heart of most personal computers. There is also a special version for Mac Intosh computers. What does this have to do with Packet Radio, you might ask?

Simple. Because Linux is Multi-user and Multi-tasking, it allows a BBS or gateway operator a great deal of flexibility with his system. No longer is a computer strictly devoted to BBS use. The multi-tasking nature of Linux makes it possible to not only run the BBS program, but also run one or more other application programs for one or more users. While the BBS runs quietly on one "virtual console", the Sysop can be editing files, playing games, or actually getting some work done! Linux is an extremely efficient operating system, and because of this efficiency, it can do a whole lot more than a computer using DOS and Windows at one time. It also manages memory by itself - no external memory managers are used to overcome the DOS 640K memory limit. This is a real problem in BBS's - the more users that are logged on, and the more forwarding jobs the BBS is engaging in, the more memory is needed to process all of this activity. Linux overcomes this barrier.

Linux also has networking abilities built right in - part of the operating system "kernel". This is particularly handy for gateway use - a computer running Linux will not require yet another computer to interface it to an internet provider. Some BBS programs will not work very well for this while operating under a DOS operating system, others cannot do it at all. Because networking is built right into Linux (and because the memory management is so good), this type of operation comes naturally to it.

Do you need Linux?

If you are an average packet user, no. Most packet users are content to run their host or terminal program under DOS or Windows (or maybe even OS/2). They may only be interested in doing one thing at a time, and do not run a BBS or a gateway. However, there are several packet programs available for Linux, both simple and complex.

Linux seems to be tailor-made for "power users" mostly, or anyone who has something they want done with a computer that is difficult or impossible to do with DOS.

Another consideration with Linux is that it is not an MS-DOS system, so the file system and the very nature of the operating system is different. You cannot pop a DOS disk into a machine running Linux and expect it to work. You must run DOS programs on it's DOS emulator, (or a Windows emulator for Windows programs) While some DOS and Windows programs run well with these emulators, not all such programs will run.

Because Linux is not nearly as popular as DOS and Windows is, you will not find a vast quantity of ready-to-run software for it - somewhat of a disadvantage.

Can you use it?

Of course you can, if you are up for a challenge. I only say that because you will have to learn the commands associated with an entirely new operating system. Remember the first time you used DOS? That memory will return to you if you investigate Linux. Although there are some familiar commands (some DOS commands have their origins in UNIX), the syntax is a little different and there are a whole lot more of them. Linux also has a freeware Windowing system called X-Windows.

So there is plenty to learn with this operating system. Do you need anything special to operate Linux? Older versions of Linux (like Red Hat 4.0) will run on a computer with a 386 or better processor. Memory is helpful, 8 megs is recommended, but 4 will work fine. I have run it on a 16 MHz 386 computer with 2 megs of RAM, and was surprised how fast that old 386 ran. Newer versions require much more in the way of memory and utilize the newer Pentium processors. The newer versions (such as Red Hat 7.2 and up) are geared toward power users who do a lot of intensive graphic and office work. As a result, a Pentium processor and 32 Megabytes of memory are required to take full advantage of their capabilities.

You won't need to completely trash your existing operating system in order to try out Linux. One can get a "boot manager" that will allow you to boot your computer into one of a number of operating systems, if you desire.

 So, if you are bored with your computer and want an interesting challenge that will reward you with some amazing capabilities, you may wish to investigate Linux. If you have Internet access, browse the Web page for the official Linux site: If you are the slightest bit interested, you will find hours of reading material there.

There are also several CD vendors that sell Linux "kits" for a nominal price. One vendor, Slackware, targets it's package toward amateurs and includes a lot of ham-related programs in it's package.You can also find amateur radio packet programs to use with Linux from various Web sites. is the official site for TNOS, for example.  The Tuscon Amateur Packet Radio Association (TAPR) software library also has a section devoted to Linux.

So if you are up to a challenge and want to learn more about networking, look to Linux. If you are content with DOS and Windows, and you find your packet program meets your needs, then you may find your questions answered.

*End of the series*

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