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May 1, 2003

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Linux for Windows Users:

Linux Networking for Windows and Desktop People -- Mandrake 9.1 and LinNeighborhood

Mike Angelo -- 1 May 2003 (C)

Terms and Simplified Definitions

Local Computer: The computer at which you are sitting.

Mount: (Oversimplified) Picture a now old-fashioned mainframe computer with a row of those huge, 2400-foot magnetic, data-tape reels spinning. In those days, the computer operator had to physically mount and un-mount those reels of tape. The notion of mounting and un-mounting data storage devices such as tapes, hard drives, CD ROM drives, and so forth still applies to Unix and Linux operating systems. So, in Linux, any data storage device must be mounted before you can access it. The same thing goes for shares on remote networked computers. Before a Linux-based computer can access a remote share, that share must be mounted on your local computer. Fortunately, these days you can mount and un-mount devices with a few keystrokes and/or mouse clicks rather than run around a big room physically mounting and un-mounting them. (See Mount Point, below.)

Mount Point: The place or point at which you mount a device such as a hard drive, floppy drive, or remote shared resource. In Linux, that usually amounts to directory name. Typically for example, your CD-ROM drive is mounted at /mnt/cdrom and your floppy drive is mounted at /mnt/floppy. (See Mount, above.)

NFS: Network file System, the native Linux networking file system.

Remote Computer: any computer on a computer network, including the Internet, which you access through your local computer.

Samba: A software suite originally developed by Andrew Tridgell to work with Microsoft's SMB network protocol. Samba allows Linux-based computers to access shared files on Windows-based computers over a computer network, and vice-verse.

Share: a file, directory, printer, or other computer resource or device that its owner has opened for sharing with other users on a network

SMB: Server Message Block protocol, the networking protocol used by Microsoft operating systems.

Note: Gnomba and Komba2, as is LinNeighborhood, are graphical front ends for Samba. Komba2 is part of the KDE desktop suite and Gnomba is part of the GNOME desktop suite. The Mandrake Control Center in Mandrake 9.0 has an interesting Mount Point section. One of the features in that section, Samba Mount Points, is somewhat similar to LinNeighborhood and perhaps a little easier to use. Gnomba, Komba2, and LinNeighborhood are third party software products and theoretically should be able to run with just about any Linux distribution. In contrast, the Samba Mount Points feature of the Mandrake Control Center is a distribution-specific networking tool. Other distributions also might have analogous, distribution-specific tools. Or they might include other third party networking tools. For example, if you type smb: into the location input box in the Nautilus file manager in Red Hat 8.0, you will get access to the remote shares on Windows-based boxes on your LAN. )

Note: the notion of trying to make the Linux desktop look and feel more like the MS Windows desktop has nothing to do with which is the better desktop. Frankly, in many ways the Linux desktop is better than the MS Windows desktop. However, likely more than 90% of personal computer users use MS Windows. People tend to like that to which they are accustomed. The rationale of making the Linux desktop more Windows-like simply is that doing that makes Linux more attractive to MS Windows users and it makes it easier for them to migrate to Linux.

I would myself never use samba to mount remote Linux shares. I would export the file system with NFS and then mount it with NFS on my client. I find SAMBA a bit tricky sometimes, and NFS more straightforward. SAMBA is good when you _must_ interact with Windows. And samba supports printer sharing as well. Richard Torkar, Open Source developer and Ph.D. student.

Getting a Linux-based computer up and running on a local area network (LAN) and connecting to an Internet connection-sharing (ICS) computer on a LAN can be tricky -- even for experienced computer users. It can be a hair-pulling aggravation for computer novices, desktop Linux users, and for Microsoft (MS) Windows users migrating to Linux -- or for Windows users just giving Linux a try. But not any more, thanks to LinNeighborhood and Mandrake Linux 9.1!

Mandrake Linux 9.1 is an easy-to-install and easy-to-use GNU/Linux operating system distribution. We have not completed our Mandrake Linux 9.1 testing yet. However so far, it seems to be even better than Mandrake Linux 9.0, which we gave very high marks.

LinNeighborhood by Hans Schmid and Richard Stemmer is a very handy, third-party, Open-Source, network utility. It lets you easily see and access Windows shares on your LAN from your Linux computer. You also can use LinNeighborhood to see and access shares from other Linux-based computers on your LAN. Simply put, LinNeighborhood is an easy-to-install and easy-to-use graphical front end for Samba.

A special Linux program such as Samba must be used so that a Linux-based computer can access shared resources on remote, networked, Windows-based computers. Configuring Samba can be difficult for Linux beginners, computer newbies, and people migrating from MS Windows to Linux. However . . .

We showed readers an easy way to get a Linux box running as an integral part of a LAN in our 25 October 2002 article, Using LinNeighborhood to Create a Network Neighborhood for Linux. The key to doing that is using LinNeighborhood to create a Windows-like Network Neighborhood on Linux-based computers.

Today, we will tweak a newly installed Mandrake 9.1 installation to add a Windows-like, Network-Neighborhood area to a Linux-based computer -- in a peer-to-peer network environment. That will give us full access to all the shared resources on all the computers connected to our LAN. And it will allow other computers on the LAN to see shared resources on the Mandrake 9.1 computer, too.

Mandrake 9.1 Configures a LAN Connection for You

LinNeighborhood was not included with the Mandrake 9.0 Linux distribution. Nor did the Mandrake Linux 9.0 distribution automatically configure itself to be up and running on a LAN as part of the installation.

Mandrake Linux 9.1 was installed on a 2.4-GHz, Pentium 4, multi-boot, test box. After installation, the box was rebooted.

A big improvement in Mandrake Linux 9.1 over 9.0 is that LinNeighborhood is included as part of the Mandrake Linux 9.1 distribution. Moreover, LinNeighborhood was installed and configured transparently during the Mandrake 9.1 installation process.

Even better, LinNeighborhood was up and running when the newly installed Mandrake 9.1 operating system was booted for the first time. And better yet, Mandrake 9.1 on its own had found all the other Linux boxes and the MS Windows boxes on the LAN. It also found the Internet gateway from our LAN to the Internet. Very impressive, indeed.

If you do not wish to provide file and device access to people using other (remote) computers on your LAN, you can use Mandrake 9.1 right out of the box as to networking. Nevertheless, there still is some tweaking to do if you would like to provide file and device sharing access to your Mandrake 9.1 computer -- or if you would like to create a Microsoft Windows-like Network Neighborhood for your Mandrake 9.1 machine.

Tweaking Your LAN Connection and Network Neighborhood

Network Neighborhood or /mnt

Mandrake Linux 9.1 configures the shares from other computers on the LAN to be mounted in the /home/user/mnt folder. If you are comfortable with your LAN shares mounted in a directory named /mnt instead of a folder named Network Neighborhood, no need for tweaking that. The mnt in /mnt is short for mount.

Please do not let the term mount used throughout this article baffle you if you are a Microsoft Windows user. It's not really that big a thing. In fact, mounting a share is somewhat similar to mapping a drive in MS Windows. So, if you are familiar with mapping a drive in MS Windows, it might help you to think of mounting a share as mapping a share. (Please see the Mount and Mount Point entries in the Terms and Definitions sidebar.)

However, if you would prefer to have your LAN shares in a directory named Network Neighborhood, please see the Creating Your Linux Network Neighborhood and Adding Your Windows-Box Shares to Your Linux Network Neighborhood sections of Using LinNeighborhood to Create a Network Neighborhood for Linux.

Figure 1 is a Windows-like Network Neighborhood directory (folder) added to Linux user drake's home directory. Figure 2 shows a Network Neighborhood directory in the Microsoft Windows Explorer file manager.

From a technical point of view, it makes little difference if you mount remote shares in a directory or folder called /mnt or one called /Network Neighborhood. However, psychologically it might be easier for a MS Windows user migrating to Linux to have the remote shares mounted/mapped in a /Network Neighborhood directory/folder rather than in a /mnt directory/folder.

Figure 1, above. AWindows-like Network Neighborhood directory (folder) has been added to Linux user's (drake's) home directory.

Figure 2, left. Network Neighborhood directory in Windows Explorer file manager.

Note: you can use any file manager or Web browser you like rather than the KDE Konqueror file manager and Web browser. However, we only tested the procedures here with the KDE Konqueror file manager and browser and the KDE desktop. One reason we chose the KDE desktop for this article is that the KDE desktop is very similar in look and feel to the MS Windows desktop -- particularly if you choose the Windows configuration options. You can do this easily in Mandrake 9.0 by opening the K-menu and launching the K Desktop Settings Wizard -- K > Configuration > Other > Desktop Settings Wizard.


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