17.2 Other Hardware Components

17.2 Other Hardware Components

Now it's time to move beyond the essential components and look at your choices for the other parts that you can attach to a computer.

17.2.1 Monitors

Because you will work with the shell interface more under Unix than other PC operating systems, you should choose a monitor that displays crisp text. In addition, high resolution is important in a monitor because you want the ability to display at least two shell or text editor windows at once, so that you can quickly switch between them. However, you can only take resolution so far. To the beginner, it is always tempting to reduce the font size to accommodate more windows, but because this increases eye strain, there is no real substitute for a large display.

Traditional Unix workstations like Sun SPARCstations usually came with very large, heavy, expensive cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors offering some of the highest resolutions commercially available. CRT displays are now lighter and carry the lowest price tags of high-end displays. However, you should avoid them whenever possible. Above all, an LCD display offers a razor-sharp text display that is impossible on any CRT. This advantage, combined with a very light weight, small footprint, and lack of a flyback transformer makes a good case for an LCD display for all but the most special-purpose applications. (At some point in the not-so-distant future, a CRT will not even be a consideration, rendering this paragraph a historic curiosity.)

As mentioned above, traditional monitors that came paired with Unix machines had fairly high resolutions. The minimum that Sun and NeXT used was around 1152 ? 900 (often called megapixel displays ), and most users found it comfortable (you won't find this option on modern LCD displays). 1024 ? 768 is a little cramped but passable if you can keep a minimal desktop. It also may be the only option if you are shopping for a notebook. A 1280 ? 1024 display is the next step up and it is often ideal; if you happen to have just a little extra money and are itching to spend it on something worthwhile, this is it. Higher resolutions such as 1600 ? 1200 are good if you have large graphics to display. However, if you want to increase your workspace, especially for text, it's better to buy a second monitor and use the multi-monitor support mentioned in Section 17.1.5. A multi-monitor configuration costs less than a single huge monitor and gives you more effective onscreen space due to the layout of the monitors.

17.2.2 Keyboards

Choose your keyboard wisely, because you'll use it more than you ever imagined in Linux. First, check the basics of the layout. Is the ESC key in a reasonable place, and is it a normal-sized key? This is extremely important for vi users, who press ESC on a regular basis. Where are the tilde-backtick (~`) and pipe-backslash (| \) keys? These characters come up frequently in shell commands. (To those using non-U.S. keyboards, you might want to ask a friend about good key layouts and mappings.)

If you intend to run only Unix on your computer, keys other than those immediately around the alphanumerics aren't very important. You don't really need a numeric keypad or 37 function keys. Arrow keys are also slightly less important when running Unix unless you're playing a game. Nearly every program that takes text input accepts CONTROL-P, CONTROL-N, CONTROL-B, and CONTROL-F (up, down, left, and right, respectively). In vi, you will make use of h, j, k, and l (left, down, up, and right).

One little thing to watch out for is the CAPS LOCK key. On virtually every keyboard made today, it is next to the A key. This is wrong; the CONTROL key belongs there. Philosophical issues aside, see if the CAPS LOCK key is large enough and doesn't have an overly weird shape. You should remap the CAPS LOCK key to CONTROL and use it that way.

17.2.3 Mice

Other than your personal preferences and testing, there is only one important thing to remember when buying a mouse: Make sure your mouse has at least three buttons. The third (middle) button in X Window System applications does a paste operation; you don't want to be without it. You can even use it to paste a URL into a browser window. Also, clicking on a link in Mozilla with the middle button makes the link appear in a new window or tab.

In a modern mouse, the scroll wheel usually doubles as the third button when pressed down. The scroll wheel is more difficult to press than a real button, and many Unix veterans dislike this. However, there may be some merit to it, because clumsy fingers on traditional three-button mice have been known to paste strange commands into Unix shells and editors.

17.2.4 Modems

Most fax modems and many voice modems work with Linux. There is only one very important rule when buying a modem for Linux: Never buy a Winmodem. These devices require complicated software drivers to do signal processing. There are some straggling Linux drivers for certain Winmodems out there, but you shouldn't bother. You don't want to waste time trying to set this up, and you don't want the extra strain on your kernel. It is unfortunate that many notebooks come with Winmodems; if you have a Winmodem in your notebook, your only option is usually to get a PC Card modem.

That said, for desktops you have a choice between internal and external modems. Internal modems are cheaper, do not have external power supplies, and need no cords other than the telephone line. Unfortunately, they may also require some Plug-and-Play manipulation or disabling of built-in serial ports. You may be able to use an external USB modem, but make sure that there's a Linux driver before you buy.

17.2.5 Printers

Because Unix printer drivers generate the PostScript page description language, the easiest way to get a Linux-compatible printer is to buy one that supports PostScript. Many laser printers and some inkjet printers come with this capability. Unfortunately, these printers are also more expensive than those with simpler imaging technology.

Linux also supports printers that don't understand PostScript by using Ghostscript to transform the PostScript generated by the printer drivers into something that these printers understand. However, this adds an extra step to the printing process inside your machine, and it can be difficult to configure (see Chapter 12).

There are three common ways to connect a printer to a Linux system: using a parallel port, using a USB port, or adding the printer to a local area network. The parallel port is an old and somewhat primitive method, but it works well. USB is the newest method and should work as well as your USB drivers do (see Section 11.3). Printing over the network is fast, it requires no extra kernel drivers, and it is often the easiest to configure. Most network-capable printers also support PostScript, but they are considerably more expensive than their non-networked counterparts.