Linux Format Newsletter -- #38, July 2008

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Linux Format Newsletter -- #38, July 2008

Postby M-Saunders » Fri Aug 08, 2008 9:55 am





1. Welcome!

2. LXF 108 on sale

3. In the news...

4. Understanding process internals

5. Coming up next issue

6. Receiving this Newsletter

7. Contact details

1. Welcome!

If you've popped by the Linux Format Blog recently, you'll have seen
our special offer for overseas (non-UK) readers. We've got a one-off
wallet-loving deal for those looking to subscribe (or renew their
subscriptions), with up to 37% slashed off the normal price! Without
wishing to sound like a sofa superstore advert, the offer must end
soon, so sign up before the end of July to save heaps of cash.
Here's the full blog entry detailing the special prices:

Meanwhile, read on for the lowdown on LXF 108, a roundup of June's
biggest news stories, and a guide to understanding Linux processes
via the magic of the /proc filesystem...

Mike Saunders
Newsletter Editor

2. LXF 108 on sale...

If you're UK-based, you'll find Linux Format issue 108 in your
friendly local newsagents now, following in the rest of the world
over the next few weeks. Our big feature this month is about running
Linux on non-PC devices -- eg your Sony PSP, Nintendo DS, Palm PDA
and more. Given how powerful these gadgets are, sometimes it feels a
waste to use them solely with the in-built software (or just for
games)! Our guides show you how to give your gizmos a warm Linuxy
hug and make you the envy of geeks worldwide.

Also in LXF 108 we look at Amazon's Compute Cloud, aka 'how to get a
huge cluster of raw computing power in an instant'. Then there's an
essential collection of ALSA tips and tricks, a brilliantly funky
tutorial on making a speech synthesis RSS reader, and a 4GB DVD with
the complete release of Fedora 9 (plus more). Go to the website and
click on the issue pic on the right for a full list of issue 108's

This month, Ladislav Bodnar is taking a break from DistroWatch, and
distro expert Susan Linton has stepped in with the latest goings-on.
Here's her look at Antix...

# Antix -- a lightweight yet fully featured CD distribution

Antix is a smaller, lightweight version of SimplyMepis that's
designed to run on older machines. It can be run on PCs with a PII
266MHz processor and 64MB RAM, but 128MB is recommended. Even
though it's developed with older computers in mind, it's still
complete enough to run on your everyday system.

Antix M7.2 is the most recent release, based on Mepis 7.0. Fluxbox
is the windows manager, but IceWM is also available. The
developers chose lighter apps to promote performance while not
sacrificing functionality. Software includes Iceweasel,
Dillo, Claws Mail, Pidgin, Transmission, AbiWord, Gnumeric, Osmo,
MTPaint, GQView, Brasero, MPlayer, XMMS and Conky. Antix uses the
Mepis 2.6.22-1 kernel, 7.3 and GCC 4.3.1.

Being based on Mepis, Antix uses an APT-based package management
system and includes the Synaptic graphical front-end. It has also
retained many of the administration tools found in Mepis such as
network, printer and user configurations as well as the
proprietary graphics driver installer for ATI (AMD) and Nvidia
chips. Mepis and Antix even include drivers for other closed
hardware that's not supported by the Linux kernel such as Broadcom
wireless Ethernet chips.

The oldest computer we've tested this on was a PIII 667 with 384MB
RAM, and it performed well. Many other Linux distros these days
tend to be too heavy for that old machine, especially with KDE or
Gnome, but Antix makes using it a pleasure. It performs
wonderfully on a modern laptop as well, providing support for CPU
frequency scaling, battery monitoring and sleep options enabled by
default. And it look good too!


Grab a copy of LXF 108 for more updates from the distro world.

3. In the news...

Two major new releases, and some grumblings in GUI land...

# Hands on with OpenSUSE 11.0 ... le&sid=702

Bang on schedule, the new major release of OpenSUSE has arrived.
Read the link above for our look at the new features, how it
performs on the desktop, and what challenges it faces with Ubuntu
and Fedora also in the ring...

# Wine 1.0 is finally here ... le&sid=700

After 15 years of development, Wine 1.0 has arrived. It's been a
long journey for the Windows-apps-on-Unix compatibility layer, but
this 1.0 release indicates that it's stable and ready for production
use. Not every Windows program is supported, but certain milestones
for Microsoft Office and Adobe's apps have been met, and Windows
coders can use Wine 1.0 to help port their software to Unixy

# A rough ride for X ... le&sid=697

Phoronix reports on the release of X Server 1.4.1, noting that it
has arrived over 200 days later than expected. Perhaps worryingly,
the two bugs originally blocking the release haven't been fixed. The
next major version of was planned for February, but now has no
set release date.

4. Special Newsletter feature


Processes are the core of any Unix-like operating system: they are
the programs running on our machine, whether they're graphical
desktop applications or background system services. When you open a
terminal window and enter 'top' or 'ps ax', you can see a list of
processes currently active on your PC. You'll see some obvious ones
such as Firefox,, Kicker etc. (depending on what
you're running), plus a lot that may be unfamiliar if you're not an

But whereas the aforementioned 'top' and 'ps ax' commands are useful
for getting a quick overview of the currently running processes,
sometimes you may need more information on exactly what a process is
doing. And that's where one of Linux/Unix's best features comes into
play. As you may know, in Unix-like systems, just about every aspect
of the system is represented as a file -- be it sound cards, hard
drives or even virtual terminals.

The same is true with processes: you can get a heap of information
about individual processes via the filesystem. To start off, use
'top' or 'ps ax' to find the number (PID) of a process that you want
to investigate. On my machine, I'm going to look at Konsole, the KDE
terminal, which has a PID of 3899. Switch into the /proc directory
and enter 'ls' -- you'll see a bunch of directories named after the
process numbers. 'cd' into it -- in my case, I'm using 'cd 3899/'.

Now enter 'ls' again and you'll see lots of files representing bits
of information about the process. Some of them are pretty hardcore,
relating to memory management and the like, so we won't delve into
them here. But here are some of the other files worth looking at:

# cmdline -- This shows you the exact command line used to call
the program. In some cases this will just show the name of the
program, but you may also see additional arguments (parameters)
passed to the app when it was started.

# exe -- This is a symbolic link to the actual binary of the
program. It's very useful when you spot an errant process
running, but can't find its binary in the usual locations.

# environ -- Here you'll find the environment variables set
when the program was started. As a comparison, if you enter
'env' in the terminal window, you can see the current
environment variable settings for your shell session.

# fd/ -- This 'file descriptor' directory contains symbolic links
to files that the process is accessing. For instance, if the
program is using a random number generator, you may find a
link to /dev/random in there.

As mentioned, you'll find other files with further information
on a process's internals. Some of them contain binary data so it
may scramble up the display of your terminal if you 'cat' them; you
can fix that with a quick 'reset' command though. Try looking around
and see what else you can find!

5. Coming up next issue

Linux Format 109, on sale Thursday 24 July...

# SUSE -- back on top? It was once the highest-flying Linux
distro, but has suffered from Ubuntu's surging popularity.
The new OpenSUSE 11.0 release is set to change that...

# Error messages explained: learn the Linux lingo, diagnose
problems and fix them!

# Matlab on test -- plus other numerical computing tools

# Monster quintuple-distro DVD -- but what are they? We can't
say. (Oh, go on then -- one of them is OpenSUSE 11.0...)

Exact contents of future issues are subject to change. So is life!

6. 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
folding a piece of paper:

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 lonesome) you can opt-out by removing
yourself from the Newsletter group as above.

7. 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 subs page:

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