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LinuxDevices.com: Hacking Ellison's NIC for fun and profit

Jun 08, 2001, 21:23 (12 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jerry Epplin)

The New Internet Computer (NIC) is a 'net appliance that bears a slight resemblance to the late, lamented iOpener, the difference being that the company selling it (NICC) doesn't particularly care if you hack it to your heart's content. This article demonstrates some of the possibilities.

"To rectify the maddening lack of an available xterm in the NIC software, I modified /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc to run /usr/X11R6/bin/rxvt on startup. This provides a shell, but for a user named "web". I then removed the hashed root password in /etc/passwd so I could "su" to root from the xterm. These steps provide the bare minimum functionality needed to poke around the inside NIC while it is running. Because of the ample free space on the system disk, plenty of code and data can be added as needed.

I also added a full version of Netscape to replace the crippled one provided by NIC. The x86 architecture of the device makes this a straightforward exercise: download the latest version from Netscape, install it in a subdirectory in your NIC work tree, change xinitrc to refer to the new version, and burn the result onto a CD-R. The result is a full version of Netscape, including a usable mail client. Of course, the small size of the Flash disk makes it unwise to save large amounts of mail, especially those with large attachments. And the performance is unimpressive because of the frequent CD-ROM accesses. Given the resource constraints of the NIC, a better choice might even be to combine one of the many lightweight Gecko-based browsers with a standalone mail client like elm or mutt.

The presence of glibc 2.1 in the NIC means that programs compiled for most recent x86 Linux desktop PCs can simply be transferred to the NIC without even a recompilation, so setting up a NIC with your favorite programs is especially easy."

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