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Linux:Configuring Linux for Dial on Demand


Linux:Configuring Linux for Dial on Demand

Configuring Linux for Dial on Demand


This guide is written for Linux beginners. It is intended for those who want to use the operating system on a desktop machine – word processing, web browsing, email, video, audio, games etc.

You could be reading this because you currently use Linux, or you are thinking about using Linux. Plus Net is fully Linux compatible: browsing works, email including webmail works. There are a couple of features that are intended for "That Other Operating System" but nothing crucial.

This guide has been written so that before you start, you know what to do, where to go and what not to do.

    First, a couple of scenarios:

  • you have a computer (Intel or AMD based) with no operating system or one on which you intend to remove any other operating system and just have Linux. (If you have a 64bit computer then the good news is that although Linux is currently your only option – it all works).

  • You currently have a computer running a version of Microsoft Windows and you are thinking about “dual booting”, installing Linux as well.

In both cases it is best if you get a copy of a “distribution”. There are loads out there, they have fan bases but, whisper it quietly, you'd be hard pushed to spot significant differences between them. In the fine detail they do some things slightly differently – but they all take usability very seriously. You can get a distribution for no money (from the front of a magazine), not much money (from a friend – yours legally for the price of the CDs/DVDs), some money (from a supplier - slightly better packaging) or a bit more money (from the distribution creator - usually including paper-based manuals and a couple of months basic installation support).

There are many distributions but these are the main ones that are easiest to start with, they are listed alphabetically: Fedora, Linspire , Mandrake , SUSE and Xandros.

They all talk to each other – they all talk very well to Microsoft and to Apple.

Dial-up – the problem

A while ago, Linux didn't take very kindly to non-standard modems. The situation is much better now, but it isn't perfect. If your computer has an internal modem you might have difficulty using it with Linux even if it works with Microsoft Windows.

It is most likely that your internal modem is a so called “winmodem” which relies on software features of Microsoft Windows in order to work. Not all of the manufacturers of winmodems have released details of how they work, so not all winmodems can be made to work with Linux.

The easiest way to proceed is not to worry about it. If your modem works then fine, if it doesn't work and you want to carry on, then will have to buy a modem that does work.

It's easiest to buy an external modem. You can buy a serial modem or a USB modem. Serial modems ALWAYS work. With USB, make sure you can find the word “Linux” or get a money back guarantee.

Although not relevant here – this problem disappears for broadband - get an external router, they connect to a computer via Ethernet – for any operating system, an Ethernet card is an Ethernet card and that's the end of it.

Getting Started – an overview

You have the hardware you've got the software – you're thinking about installing it. If you haven't installed a distribution before – it basically goes like this: ensure that your CD-ROM/DVD is before your hard disk in the boot sequence (check your BIOS) – stick the first CD or the DVD into the drive, answer the first few questions, language, time zone etc, get a cup of tea and a book and sit around for an hour or so while about 4000 free software packages are installed. At the end of the installation, Linux will try to automatically detect all your hardware, (including externally connected devices such as scanners, etc.), you will be asked a few questions about what you want to do with the hardware found.

When it's all finished, for the most part you won't “see” Linux, because you will end up running your computer through a graphical interface (GUI) – superficially similar to Microsoft Windows. There are loads of GUIs for Linux. They all have their virtues, but with the distributions listed above you will be presented with either Gnome or KDE – some distributions, e.g., SUSE, supplies both and you can decide which one you prefer (an early example of the “choice” that Linux advocates talking about).

If you are in lucky your distribution will have detected your internal modem and installed the right drivers.

    You will then need to:

  • set-up your connection to PlusNet

  • configure your email program (if you want to send and receive emails though your desktop software rather than relying only on webmail

Your browser will just work, if you have set-up your connection to PlusNet correctly. And that's all there is to it.

More about that later, first let's assume the worst.

How will I know if my modem is working?

For a modern distribution, if your installation sequence finds a modem it can set-up, it will run a sequence to do basic configuration. If that doesn't happen, then you can be almost absolutely certain that you have either no modem at all or a winmodem that isn't supported.

The set-up sequence you would expect to see if your modem is installed and working for SUSE follows, (other distributions will have a similar process). YaST, will ask you for some basic information to set it up correctly

  • a dial up prefix (“9 for an outside line”, irrelevant for home use)

  • tone or pulse dialing (never “pulse” in the UK)

(The other options should be left alone. When using dial-up there is a few 10s of seconds of “nothing”, and hearing the modem burble away can be a comforting confirmation that it is trying to connect).

This indicates a working modem does work – the only thing left to configure for PlusNet.

My modem isn't working – what next?

If something like that didn't occur then it is unlikely that your modem hardware is supported by Linux. At this point you do have several options. Depending on your financial circumstances, it will be easiest to just buy an external serial modem. However, you can instead:

  • try to “manually detect” your modem”

  • try to identify the winmodem fitted and find (or write...) and install a suitable driver

I do not recommend the second option. Once you've got up and running and you have got interested in how much you can do with Linux, you will discover there is nothing that you can't do, including rebuild the whole lot from scratch, so I mention for completion only

It is unlikely that a if modern version of a distribution didn't find your modem automatically that you will get much success trying manually but there is an outside chance that there was a “hiccup” during installation.

You can find out all about your underlying system though the menus of Gnome or KDE. In KDE's menu there will be an item called system configuration or similar (depending on how your distribution arranged the menus) . In there will be a section called “network devices”. To access the right section in most distributions you will need to give yourself “administrator” or “root” privileges. One item will be “modem” (If you also have a DSL modem for broadband, initially this could be confusing but DSL has its own section – “modem” is for dial-up modems.)

By choosing that menu item, the system will try and find a dial-up modem of any type which it can use and will put all of them (usually only one..) into a list. Nothing in the list means no modem has been detected.

Finally, if you are comfortable with using the command line – you can open a console, and run a command called: lspci. Running “man lspci” will tell you how to use it.

By now you will either have got your winmodem working or installed an external modem. With modern distributions, they will detect that you have added the modem and ask you if you want to configure it. If this automatic detection didn't occur then the manual detection process described above will detect it and you will be ready to connect to PlusNet.

Connecting to PlusNet

By the time you get here, you've got a working modem running under Linux. It can dial-out but it needs to be told where to dial. You need a telephone number, an account name and a password. How to get these are available elsewhere on this website.

You have to use a dial-up program to store and use these. In KDE the standard program is kppp, SUSE provides its own version called Kinternet.

The one you can use (true also if you are using Gnome) will be available from the internet section in your menu of options.

The program might be running already, in which case you will see a little symbol, usually a little plug in the relevant area of your GUI (bottom right for KDE) - “right-clicking” on a symbol will tell you. (left-clicking if you have your mouse configured for left-handed use).

If it isn't running, then you will be asked if you want to run it. You should, because it is easier to use.

You can set your connection program to manually or automatically connect to the internet. With manual connection you click on the icon to dial-up, with automatic connection it notices that you have just tried to use the browser or email and dials-up without further action required from you.

All dial-up connections can be set to disconnect after a period of inactivity, helpful if you do not have a flat-rate subscription to PlusNet.

What's left?

You can now browse the internet and access your webmail. You will still need to configure your email program to use email on your computer (e.g. Kmail, Kontact or Evolution).

This tutorial was written by Gerry (Force9)