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  • The Linux Newsletter Vol. 4 No. 1

    May 5, 2000

    Copyright © 1995-2000 by

    Table of Contents

    A Word from the Editor
    Linux in Business
    Linux Newsletter Sponsor: eWork Exchange
    Recent News in the Linux Community
    It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a Supercluster!
    Linux Newsletter Sponsor: Caldera Systems
    Mob Use of Linux Increasing
    Daily Conversion: A Colombian Church Becomes a Linux School
    Linux Newsletter Sponsor: Open Technologies, Inc.
    Linux Newsletter Subscription and Policy Statement

    A Word from the Editor:

    Welcome to the Linux Newsletter. You'll notice that there are quite a few stories by our staff. We're very proud to welcome aboard Michelle Head and Greta Durr. They've recently joined the team, and I think you'll really enjoy their work. has undergone quite a few changes as well. Be sure to visit the site and see what's going on. There are several new features that have appeared on in the last month or so and there are many more to come. Hope that you enjoy the site!

    If you have ideas for news or stories, drop us a line at We're also always on the lookout for freelance writers, feel free to drop us a line at with a story proposal.

    Until next month, enjoy!

    Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier
    Executive Editor,

    Linux in Business:

    Merlin Conjures Up New Software License editor Michelle Head looks at Merlin Software's New Option Source license.,95

    Linux Immune to E-Mail Virus
    A new strain of computer virus is on the loose, happily worming its way through systems that use Microsoft Outlook across the country. The happy companies that remain unaffected include those running Linux or operating systems other than Windows for their e-mail clients. Michelle Head brings you the story.

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    Recent News in the Linux Community:

    GNUCash Grows Up

    This week's Linux Weekly News revisits the GNUCash project and finds that it's ready for prime time.

    Linux kernel 2.4 Timeline

    ZDNet UK covers the fashionably late 2.4 Linux kernel release.

    Open Source is Here to Stay

    Bob Young rebuts John Taschek's Open Source is a Road to Nowhere.,4586,2560523,00.html

    Bill's Blues

    Upside Today presents a very interesting and detailed look at the bevy of woes that now face Microsoft.

    It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a Supercluster!:

    By Greta Durr

    Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to scale 276 nodes in a single bound... the Supercluster known as JET is designer Greg Lindahl's latest effort, and at the rate it's going, it may be sending IBM's Los Lobos to the doghouse.

    JET was unveiled last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Forecast System Laboratory (FSL) and High Performance Technologies Inc. (HPTi) at its Boulder, Colo. home. Developed for mission-critical weather prediction, JET will be processing about 4 Teraflops of data, or 4 trillion arithmetic computations per second when its final upgrade is in place. For now, Lindahl says that JET is blazing across Colorado's Front Range at a more moderate speed. "Four Teraflops [TF] is the eventual speed near the end of the contract. Right now the peak speed is 1/3 of a TF, and the highest speed observed on any real program was 197 Gigaflops on the Linpack linear algebra benchmark (see Top 500 Supercomputers Web site).

    Lindahl has been working with HPTi since he left the University of Virginia's Legion project, where he built a 300-node Linux cluster named Centurion. "I'm actually a newcomer to Linux, although not to Open Source," Lindahl says. "In (Astronomy) graduate school, we had a cluster of Sun workstations, because that was much more cost-effective than `minicomputers.' We used a lot of Open Source software like GNU [GNU's Not UNIX] Emacs and TeX, a typesetting system that's good with equations. After I dropped out of grad school and went to Wall Street to work for an investment bank, I worked with a large cluster of Suns running Solaris, but we still used a large amount of Open Source software, since it was really handy to be able to fix problems. For example, we had SunOS source, but not Solaris source, and so things that were routinely fixed by us on SunOS never got fixed under Solaris."

    Wall Street eventually led Lindahl back to school. "I didn't run into Linux until I came back to academia, working for a research group at the University of Virginia that was developing a distributed operating system [OS], Legion. My supercomputing background from grad school was an important part of my job, but I also inherited a new development environment, which was a cluster of 20 Linux servers. At this point all of our development tools were open source, because using g++ as our C++ compiler was the most portable way to develop C++ code. We started adding more (+64) and more (+192) nodes, because we discovered that it was an extremely cost-effective testbed for Legion. (More details about this system at Centurion's Web site.)

    With that experience, hooking up with HPTi came naturally, Lindahl says. Although the Washington DC-based company focuses on professional services, Lindahl says that HPTi President Don Fitzpatrick has been taking integration deals in the supercomputer industry to other markets. "For example, after founding HPTi in 1992, his first deal was installing the first IBM SP-2 cluster used for production weather forecasting. Today IBM dominates the weather forecasting market. We saw a particular bid, the one at the Forecast Systems Lab, as a potential breakthrough for a Linux-based cluster supercomputer. The FSL bid was fairly unusual because FSL has a history of taking risks, and the procurement process itself looked very fair and focused on buying a system with the highest possible performance on FSL's weather codes." Lindahl added that FSL had not specified any unnecessary features that would require a proprietary OS, so Linux was the obvious choice.

    "With this in mind, we set out to accomplish the unthinkable -- develop an entire product during the time we were allowed to benchmark, and deliver the result as a production-quality system within a very strict schedule," Lindahl says. "Fortunately, we had a lot of good software building blocks to work with, but we still did quite a bit of work to increase the fault-tolerance and manageability of the system. And, despite the fact that we had delivery delays and significant problems with the software drivers for the new generation of Myrinet interconnect that we used, we still managed to get the FSL system accepted before our contract deadline."

    Myricom's high-performance processor interconnectivity, Myrinet, has aided JET with the enhanced scaling capabilities. Myricom also has contributed solutions for integrated storage, and storage area networks (SANs) to Lindahl's efforts.

    The $15 million price tag has raised some eyebrows. Upon the announcement of JET's completion, Slashdot readers were among the first to point out that, for a 276-node system, that breaks down to about $54,000 per node.

    Lindahl says the cost of the system, complete with Alpha boxes, connected with fiber and rife with extras, is justified. "You can use more cheaper, slower processors to build a system like this. However, if the programs you're using don't scale, you end up with lower overall performance. That's why we used Alphas; they are 2 to 3 times faster on floating point than the Intel or AMD chips we could have purchased at the time."

    For Lindahl, an Alexandria, Va. resident living in a Boulder hotel room for a 20-week stint during the installation, the challenges of scale were not insurmountable. "We had a lot of fun getting the PBS batch queue system to run correctly at such a large size. It's used by several other organizations at this size (276 nodes), but apparently no one else has ever tried to make it as fault tolerant as we were trying."

    Some aspects of the installation went more smoothly than he predicted, Lindahl says. "We expected to have trouble getting the Myrinet interconnect to scale, but that turned out to not be a problem at all. The design of Myrinet is extremely scalable on paper, and I'm very pleased to report that it's also very scalable in reality."

    In the end, Lindahl says that much of what was learned during JET's installation and deployment weren't any divine revelation. "The most important lesson we learned on this project is that it's incredibly valuable to have source for all of your system software. Ordinarily installing a new machine like the one at FSL with multiple new subsystems from different vendors is a complete nightmare of debugging by too many people. In this case, we were able to hit the original installation date, and that was mainly because a small group was able to learn enough about all the various software pieces that we could efficiently find all the problems and get them fixed, often by the original vendor."

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    Mob Use of Linux Increasing:

    by Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier

    IDC released a report today that shows that Mob use of Linux has passed Windows NT by a 2:1 ratio.

    Bennie "Root" Calzone confirms that the IDC report does reflect his experience. "Oh yeah, dose NT servers will get you put inta a cement mixer quicker than anything. I remember Bobby `blue screen' Manzetti. He got whacked right after the Super Bowl last year when NT locked up and ate the Don's spreadsheet with all the bets. He was a good guy, but he made a really bad choice."

    Over the last two years, connected guys have been converting to Linux in record numbers. Five out of six bookmakers and loan sharks run Linux on the server and desktop.

    Frankie "Red Hat" Bonasera, a Bronx bookie, reports great success with Open Source. "Oh yeah, I switched to Linux a while back after GNUCash came out with their bookmaker plug-in. It's really helped, especially da collections module. I haven't forgotten to break someone's legs in six months. My revenues are way up."

    Some Families have even started their own Linux distributions, encouraged by the success of Red Hat and VA Linux. "Yeah, I think that Horse Head Linux is going to beat out Red Hat. Especially since we're committed to following the Open Source model," Said Vito "Don" Guiseppi. "Everything we put out is released under the GPL - the Guiseppi Public License. Basically, it's exactly the same as the GPL, except you have to pay for the protection, I mean support, package. Hey, for $1,000 a month, it's worth it."

    Richard Stallman was quick to denounce the Guiseppi Public License as being "unfree" and "not in the spirit of the Free Software Foundation." Persons with information about his whereabouts are encouraged to contact the FBI.

    Eric S. Raymond threw his support behind the new GPL saying that, "these guys really have the Open Source model together. That, and they really know a lot about guns and I respect that." Raymond will be joining Horse Head Linux as a consultant for an undisclosed sum. "What can I say? They made me an offer I can't refuse."

    Disclaimer: This story is written solely as a humorous bit and should not be taken even remotely seriously.

    Daily Conversion: A Colombian Church Becomes a Linux School:

    by Michelle Head

    From the confines of a Colombian church in a community he declines to name, Jaime Herazo attempts to bring a full-color world to schoolchildren on a black-and-white screen.

    Describing himself as a "sort-of-systems-administrator" to 262 students, Herazo, a 24-year-old systems engineering student, believes that a solid education that includes a strong computer background can help give a better future to the students of his troubled country. Linux was the natural choice for implementing a computer program for a small school in an economically depressed region. Herazo's work continues despite a lack of enthusiasm from the school.

    Herazo's feelings on the subject are more definite. "I'm strongly in favor of teaching programming and computers (not "microsofters") to kids, because they need everything they can get to survive out there," he explained. "Our country is in crisis, economical and social. There are businesses closing daily everywhere. The guerrillas and drugs maniacs are killing our country, and the corrupt people in the government and all those high places are stealing what's left.

    "There was recently a scandal in the Senate," he continued, "when they authorized multimillion Y2K contracts the 28th of December; things were shown as bought when they weren't, and such. A lot of heads will fall, but that would be a fraction of all that. Apart from that, the computer businesses in the city are in a crisis because of contraband (or is smuggling the word?) and antipiracy raids. I think that the city will need everything it can get to help itself, and that's where we can put our two cents for helping."

    Herazo believes educating students in computer science will make a difference. "I seriously hope so, but right now there are a lot of people fleeing to the U.S. and other countries, and the ones that can't will have to support everything. As you may know, the people here are very underpaid except politicians and their minions (I think I'll have enough money this year to upgrade my 32 MB MultiMedia EXtension (MMX)), so this will be a hard battle."

    Still, Herazo continues the fight--and his upgrade efforts at the school, believing increased Internet access is a must. "They [the students] are having Net access through a masquerading proxy and a dial-up Net account (12 computers to one dial-up account, that's a bit slow)." Their access is coming along slowly; there is no Web site at this point. Their contact with user groups here spurred this interview via e-mail.

    Describing his community, Herazo revealed only that "The town is not too big (for U.S. standards); I think there are about one or two million people here." He said the students "are of all ages, from the very little to the seniors." Herazo described his Colombian home: "I live with my mother (my father is not living with us), my sister and my grandmother (and the two dogs :)."

    Herazo's personal history in computer science is extensive. "I have worked with computers since school," he explained. "They had a whopping 24 AT computers [AT computers are IBM's 286 advanced technology computers, introduced in 1984] "with 640 KB (Bill Gates would be happy, he said it'd be enough :), and with WordStar and Turbo Pascal (this is why I think that the dependency of MS-ware has to end; WordStar was the reason for having a computer around here, and now it's nothing, but the Turbo Pascal classes are still with me)."

    While Linux's Open Source structure and price tag made the decision on the school's operating system (OS) a no-brainer, turning the tide of computer unfamiliarity can be difficult for Herazo. "I'm mostly building infrastructure right now, and trying hard to teach the teacher," Herazo explained. Despite this, he has big plans for the school's computer facilities. "This week [the week leading up to Easter] is a festival (the "Holy Week" or "Semana Santa", it's a Catholic festival so you may know about it), so the school won't have classes, and I`ll upgrade the computers to Mandrake 7.0."

    Herazo doesn't plan to stop there. He is constantly pushing the school to let him try new things. "I at last convinced them to upgrade the RAM to 32 MB and maybe to replace the monochrome monitors and video graphics array (VGA) cards with 1 MB ones with color screens."

    "I'm not the teacher here," he continued, "but I should at least give a voluntary class or something, because the teacher was excited when she at last opened an e-mail account in Yahoo mail."

    Asked whether computer use helps his students in their other school studies, Herazo answered, "Right now their use of computers doesn't help them anywhere else. But that's another of my plans: I've been encouraging the other teachers to use the computer for their classes, and this week's upgrade will help them with all the software I'm planning to install, including the parallel virtual machine (PVM) for my very own Beowulf :)."

    "With the upgrade," Herazo explained, "I'm planning to have ALL the other teachers using the computers for their classes, not only the computer teacher." Fortunately for his students, Herazo's ambition knows no bounds.

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    Linux Newsletter Subscription and Policy Statements:

    The Linux Newsletter is produced by the editorial team. If you have questions, comments or suggestions for stories, feel free to contact us at: If you're interested in writing for the Linux Newsletter, or, send inquiries to We do pay for submissions.

    For information on how to unsubscribe from's Linux Newsletter, or to subscribe to our Announcements, please see /subscribe. does not subscribe anyone to these lists automatically. Subscriptions must be requested and confirmed for you to be subscribed to our mailing lists. Editorial Staff

    Executive Editor:Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier
    News Editor:Michelle Head
    Technical Editor:Greta Durr
    Copy Editor:Bonnie Greene

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