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Archive for February, 2009

A Short Review of KNOPPIX v6.0.1

February 26th, 2009 4 comments

LXDEWhat can I say but Knoppix is a great distribution! Always has been. Even back when I was in college I used to use Knoppix on the Microsoft Windows 2000 client desktops just so I can remain somewhat sane and continue to work in an environment I was more comfortable in. Even when I used to be a service technician, Knoppix was always around to be able to perform data recovery/transfers from one medium to the other. Over the years I have continued to use Knoppix as the excellent tool for data recovery that it is. To those less familiar with the GNU/Linux operating system, Knoppix is based off of Debian and designed to run from a CD/DVD. It is a good way to run an operating system without installing it, which also gives you access to all your hardware. The latest CD image is only 661 MB.

With version 6.0.1 I must admit that I was extremely impressed with the load time. It literally took 1 minute for the CD image to be loaded into memory and have me running with my work on the desktop. This is much quicker than what I was used to working with years ago. The desktop environment that you are loaded into is the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment (LXDE) which I will add, runs beautifully with Compiz Fusion on top of it. All 3D graphically appealing features over Compiz Fusion was extremely impressive for the lightweight GNU/Linux distribution. The great part is that they made available the Compiz Fusion Configuration Manager so you are able to customize even further from its default settings.

the cubeKnoppix recognized all of my hardware with zero problems and came packed with the iceweasel web browser, the Open Office Suite, Pidgin, GIMP, XSane, MPlayer, VirtualBox (which I am interested to see work from CD; note that you are given the option to install Knoppix to your local hard drive), and plenty of more. Navigating the LXDE was simple and smooth along with its native file manager: PCMan. As always, you also have access to your traditional terminal with a wealth of command-line binaries.

I had decided to download and use Knoppix to quickly run a clone of a failing drive using dd_rescue. From the very beginning everything worked great. Knoppix, as I mentioned above, recognized all hardware including the failing and new disk devices. Dd_rescue did its job and saved the day. I am glad that I decided to use Knoppix. I am really impressed with how far it has come along.

Categories: Linux Tags:

The Future of Linux File Systems and Volume Managers

February 25th, 2009 3 comments

This is a topic I can be extremely passionate about. I enjoy working with data storage technologies and especially enjoy topics on file systems/volume managers. It is true when they say, “Once you get into data storage it is difficult getting out.” That is because the industry is fascinating. Working with enterprise class equipment is an experience that cannot be forgotten. We are talking about rack mountable blade servers, RAID and JBOD storage arrays working with SCSI-based technologies such as Fibre Channel, SAS (SATA under the SAS), protocol analyzers and more. And that is only the hardware. Step into the software aspect of it such as High Availability, i.e. Clustering, Dynamic Multipathing, Load Balancing, things tend to get a bit more exciting.

Over the course of time, I have had significant exposure to this industry in both permanent and part-time consulting roles. With that, I have also had a significant amount of exposure with UNIX, GNU/Linux and Microsoft Windows running in these environments. With this exposure I have seen what has been efficient and what has not. It is my personal opinion that both UNIX and GNU/Linux are more well equipped to cater to enterprise market although I am still concerned for the future of GNU/Linux with regards to one specific area and that is storage management.

The Dilemma

To date, I don’t think I have ever seen any other operating environment support so many file systems and volume managers. You name it and I can assure you that one way or another, it runs on Linux. The problem with having multiple choices of methods or applications in configuring and managing your storage is that there may come a time where you will have to toggle between multiple interfaces in order to accomplish one set of tasks. A good example is that you integrate an older setup running md-raid on an environment which is also running dmraid/lvm2 with multiple managed volumes each with their own respective file systems. Some of those volumes have snapshot enabled while others are in a cluster. On top of that, you are multipathing/load balancing through device-mapper. How do you manage this? There is no single complete solution that aids in connecting these types of technologies. Between the command line and whatever limited graphical wrappers that exist for these technologies, you must toggle between all of them in order to accomplish some of the simplest tasks.

Years ago in the 2.5.x kernel development days, there was a struggle between two types of technologies, LVM and the Enterprise Volume Management System (evms). In the end LVM won the epic battle but the evms team did not give up. They decided to take a different approach of creating user land based utilities that do just what I am describing. It wasn’t too long later that the evms development group ceased further development on the project.

A Possible Solution

We have seen the success of GNU/Linux in the enterprise market but I believe it can be more successful if we introduced more user friendly methods of management? One approach could be the revival of evms. Another approach is to redesign a similar and updated concept for the user land and like evms design both CLI and GUI based management environment. Add additional support for automation such as a scriptable interface from interpretors like the UNIX shell or even Python.

I know if I had the time and possibly invested finances, this would be one of the first open source projects I would tackle. Having too many tools, volume managers and file systems is never an issue. The issue is bringing them together under one hood and making an administrators life much easier.

Do you, the reader feel that things are fine the way they are or that maybe we need to invest some focus for a more universal storage manager?

Categories: File Systems, Linux, Storage Tags:

Copycat Linux?

February 22nd, 2009 3 comments

In my review of the ASUS Eee PC 901 with Xandros Linux pre-installed, I received a comment which disturbed me. The part of the comment which disturbed me was in response to my negative views on modeling the Simple Mode icewm with Microsoft Windows XP themes. The response to my comment on this theme for the window manager was: “And what is the problem with that taking into the account the target user they had in mind? They just want to keep it somewhat familiar and simple. Fair enough.

My immediate questions back to him were: “So are average end users that “stupid” that they need to be kept in familiar territory only? Will they get lost if it doesn’t look like Microsoft Windows XP? Is this the type of mentality we wish to promote? Whatever happened to PC users before Windows XP?

I took some time to really think about that response and the more it disturbed me. What are we trying to promote here? As more people are getting introduced to GNU/Linux for the first time, do we want them to believe that nothing in GNU/Linux is original and that it is nothing more than a copy of a “superior and more expensive Microsoft Windows?” Please note that the last comment is facetious. I am sorry that this may come off a little biased but I want GNU/Linux to be able to represent itself and not stand in the shadow of what is another failing operating system. That means I do not wish to deceive end users into thinking that they are using Windows XP or that GNU/Linux is a copycat of Microsoft Windows products. In the same respect I also feel the same way about GNU/Linux using the Mac OS X themes.

Nothing is wrong with these themes as long as the end user likes them enough to install it or set it themselves. In those cases, there is no deception. Sometimes I just wish we could let GNU/Linux just be GNU/Linux. Coming from the open source community most of us already know that GNU/Linux has been doing advanced and impressive things long before Microsoft has copied it into their environment; especially relating to graphical effects and experience. You can find a lot of these impressive videos on YouTube.

This post is not an attack toward Microsoft or Apple or anybody else (including the poster). Call it pride or anything else but I just feel that in order for GNU/Linux to gain wider recognition and be able to hold its own ground on the desktop/laptop market, it needs to be able to stand apart from the competition which is why I cannot respect Xandros’s decision to use a Microsoft Windows XP theme as the default theme for their window manager on the ASUS Eee PCs. People need to know that GNU/Linux is NOT a copycat.

Categories: Linux Tags:

xrandr and the X Window System

February 21st, 2009 4 comments

For those of us who have traveled outside of the world of Microsoft Windows and into UNIX-like operating systems, we should already be somewhat familiar with the X Window System. Some of us even understand its full potential and use it in ways that most have never dreamed of. Through this very environment, it was the first “remote desktop” I became familiar with and before the concept flooded into the mainstream. I spent a lot of time learning about and playing with the whole X Server/X Client interface across multiple nodes within a network. Through this environment I understood what it was like to have multiple desktops running multiple tasks in each while still be able to easily toggle and manage them all. Through this environment I learned that it is a blessing to have the ability to choose whatever desktop environment strike me as the most efficient for my needs; desktop environments such as GNOME, KDE, Xfce, etc. What I enjoy the most of the X Window System though is the ability to tune it exactly to my liking. A wealth of tools exists to define the display resolution apart from the EDID information that was read from the CRT/LCD panel; to rotate, resize, mirror and span the desktop environment; and many more. What else can I say except for the fact that X is great.

Over the years, I have grown really fond of one specific command line utility and that is xrandr. Taken from the manual page:

Xrandr is used to set the size, orientation and/or reflection of the outputs of the screen. It can also set the screen size.

When you type xrandr in the terminal (only when the X server is loaded) with no arguments you will get a similar output displaying all of the host’s video ports and if connected, additional display information:

VGA disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
LVDS connected 1280x800+0+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 331mm x 207mm
1280x800       60.0*+   60.0     50.0
1280x768       60.0
1280x720       60.0
1024x768       60.0
800x600        60.3
640x480        59.9  

Notice how the output generated displays a list of supported orientation options followed by another list of supported display resolutions which are read from the panel’s EDID information. Right now, the display is set to 1280×800 @ 60 Hz which is also the LVDS (laptop LCD) panel’s native resolution.

It becomes useful knowing this in those situations where you might want to manually adjust your display or quickly automate something for when you need it. Such as spanning across multiple display monitors to even mirroring an image across those same set of monitors. It becomes extremely beneficial when you need to hook up to a projector for a presentation. I know how frustrating it can be when you attempt to press the Fn + <VGA> hotkeys and then realize that the laptop was designed around Microsoft Windows and that Windows was tuned to respond to those keys. Understanding xrandr can fix that.

But let us first start with the basics. To change a display resolution, the command is simple. Just specify the output and the mode:

xrandr --output LVDS --mode 1024x768

Let us say we want to turn off one port and enable the display on another (be careful when you turn off a port because if the one you are trying to enable fails, it would be difficult to recover when your primary port is disabled):

xrandr --output VGA --mode 1024x768 --output LVDS --off

If we want to mirror the same image output onto two different displays:

xrandr --output LVDS --mode 1024x768 --output VGA --mode 1024x768

Note that it would be most appropriate to pull up xrandr with no arguments and  make sure that the display resolution that you are attempting to mirror is supported by both connected panels.

Spanning a display can be accomplished in the following way:

xrandr --output LVDS --mode 1024x768 --output VGA --mode 1024x768 --right-of LVDS

It is that simple. Now set up some automated bash shell scripts to do a little error checking and recover from unwanted scenarios when needed and you are good to go. It may even help by separating some of the xrandr functions to help problem detection even more. Have one xrandr function enable an output and have a second disable another. That way you can make sure that one returned appropriately before initiating the next. You can even further the use of this script by assigning a hot key sequence to execute it. For example, in GNOME you can set it in the Configuration Editor. Again, thank goodness for the flexibility of X.

Categories: Linux, UNIX Tags:

A Review of the ASUS Eee PC with Xandros Linux pre-installed.

February 19th, 2009 24 comments

Yesterday I finally received my ASUS Eee PC 901 pre-installed with Xandros Linux. Note that Xandros is a Debian-based distribution. I was really excited to start playing with this new toy. Almost from the beginning I was experiencing problems and after doing some Internet searching, I realized I was not the only one. All problems though were related to the operating system and not the hardware.

Xandros Linux Simple ModeBy default the operating system loads in a Simple or Beginner Mode. Knowing that this PC is mostly intended for basic PC users that just use the Internet and a few productivity applications, I did not mind it. There are some methods to enable Advanced Mode which is the desktop that you and I are more familiar with. I must admit though that the tabbed navigation feature for the desktop is kind of neat. It is just that the icons and font sizes are much larger than they need to be. It sort of makes you feel like you are playing with a children’s educational toy.

On the first power up (out-of-the-box) you are asked a few questions which will set up your login profile (i.e. name and password). At first glance all seemed pretty smooth. I have a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, a 20GB SSD, etc. The wireless signal being broadcasted was picked up and connected without any problems. I was good to go, right? Well, not really.

  • When I first shut it down, it did not shut down properly. The screen went black after a few seconds but the PC was on and stayed on. I had to manually press down on the power button to force a hard shut down. I have yet to experience this behavior since the first and only time. After searching on the net I found that this was an extremely common problem.
  • The webcam and bluetooth have been disabled by default and it baffles me to think that ASUS is attempting to build a user friendly environment which may require a user to travel into less than familiar territories such as the BIOS to enable it.
  • Sometimes when moving the mouse cursor from the touch pad, the cursor seems to jump to random places.
  • When you initiate an application from Simple Mode, there seems to be a long pause between the time you clicked to the time it takes to start loading.
  • In Simple Mode the icewm uses a Windows XP theme ONLY!!! Seriously?!?!
  • Even the graphical update process is horrible. It is horribly set up and horribly managed. I would normally bring up the terminal (to bring up uxterm simply press CTRL + ALT + T) and use aptitude, but one of the updates killed this hotkey function and I am unable to get it back! A PC without a command line! I cannot survive this.
  • Also out-of-the-box the operating system came partitioned into two separate partitions: (1) the system (for apps and such) and (2) the home (for personal files). After I finished my initial updates the 4GB system partition read 100% used and I am unable to get more updates and install any more Eee apps. I also cannot do anything from the OS to modify the partition. There is a disk viewing utility that you can load but it only allows for you to view your partitions and not modify it! After some research I also found out that this was a known problem. The Eee PC was setup with UnionFS. Space becomes a problem when updating applications, in which older packages never get removed and space is wasted.

What kills me is that they give you a set of recovery CD and DVD but unless you have a USB external DVD-ROM drive you will obviously not be able to do much with this. It would have been more appropriate for them to install an image on a small USB Flash Drive and package that in instead of the CD/DVD.

Very shortly I will be dumping this operating system and install the Ubuntu Netbook Remix or even Easy Peasy (another Ubuntu-based distribution specifically for the ASUS Eee PC). All the frustration is just not worth it. I also believe that this Xandros Linux installation may be giving GNU/Linux a bad name to the end-user market. Whatever it is doing, it may not be doing the good we expect it to be doing in the adoption of GNU/Linux.

Categories: Linux Tags:

A Review of Damn Small Linux 4.4.10

February 18th, 2009 5 comments

For the first time this week I finally had the pleasure of taking Damn Small Linux (hereafter, DSL) for a test drive. One of the companies that I work for required an easy, lightweight and quick solution to salvage an older project. The owner had approached me and demanded that I, ” Get rid of this Compact Windows s*** and get this thing up and running” accomplishing X, Y and Z. A lot of problems had risen as a result of going with Microsoft Windows in the first place. The biggest of which was licensing. Being installed in public areas, this project/solution was to accomplish 1-2 specific task(s) without user interaction and nothing more.

Installation

It did not take me long to decide on downloading and trying out DSL, a Debian based solution. I downloaded what appears to be the “current” 4.x release: 4.4.10. The installation was simple but I could see how it may be a little intimidating to those not comfortable with the command line and GNU/Linux in general. I had downloaded the ISO and wrote the bootable image to a CD-R. I powered on the unit, in the CD-ROM drive the LiveCD went and up came the boot screen.

After reading some of the basic installation instructions, I knew I had to load up into runlevel 2. From that point I was modifying the partitioning and formatting of the Compact Flash (hereafter, CF) card to which was connected to an IDE channel. I rebooted the system and loaded up into runlevel 5 (default). From the Joe’s Window Manager I was able to navigate to the point of a Frugal install and all image files were downloaded to the CF card appropriately. Out came the LiveCD and I rebooted again.

DSL had loaded from the CF card without any problems and I was finally ready to go. Note that I was surprised that only around 64MB was used from the CF card.

Functionality

From basic navigation to functionality, the operating system seemed to run smoothly and great. While I had a good amount of choices of basic and lightweight applications to use (i.e. text editors, word processors, web browsers, image editors, etc.), there was the option of also using mydsl to retrieve additional apps from a DSL repository.

Again, as far as performance all seemed to run fairly quick and I had not noticed any obvious problems. Also, the wireless internet was recognized immediately and I had no problems browsing the internet.

Customizability

This is the part which required a bit of additional learning. This is also the part to which I might say that DSL may not necessary be a distribution for those attempting to learn GNU/Linux (and coming from a Microsoft Windows background).

For example, whenever any modifications were made to the core image, from Window Managers to display resolutions to even as basic as startup scripts (i.e. .bashrc, .xinitrc, etc.) a backup must be made to the partition holding that core image. That way, whenever you rebooted the operating system, those settings will be preserved.

Also when installing DSL extensions from mydsl, you have to know to load those extentions whenever you need them (using mydsl-load <extension name>) and if you need them at boot time, you must then modify your startup scripts and backup the image.

One thing that I had to install and boot from startup is python and pygtk, along with the single purpose application. This gave me no problems.

Overall Summary

Now I know I didn’t go that deep into detail but for a 64MB operating system, there is not much to say. I thought it was a great solution for what I was attempting to accomplish and would recommend it those who are looking for something lightweight and somewhat simple to use.

Categories: Linux Tags:

New technologies, tactics and more.

February 13th, 2009 Comments off

If you didn’t notice yet, I enjoy doing a lot of “thinking about the past.” Last weekend I walked into a Target and while browsing through their electronics section, I noticed that they were selling a version of the ASUS Eee PC 900. Priced at approximately $250 and coming with a version of Xandros Linux. For well over a year I have been reading of these new sub-notebooks coming pre-installed with GNU/Linux but I had never seen one in person. This notebook is probably the smallest I had seen (8.9 inch). I immediately wanted one but did not get it…yet.

The event made me travel back in time to a remote and distant period when I used to work in retail; specifically at Best Buy, during the 90′s as a service technician. On the shelf, Best Buy used to carry and distribute other Operating Systems outside of Microsoft Windows. This was at a time when people saw that they had choices. You could have chosen from Red Hat Linux, SuSE Linux, Mandrake (now Mandriva) to even BeOS. Then, all of a sudden they all just disappeared. Retailers began selling nothing but Microsoft products and every now and then you may find Apple products. At least this was the case until recently (8 months ago or so) when I walked into a Best Buy I noticed that being sold, on the very bottom shelf and hidden to the side was Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux. I got excited but that excitement was very short lived when I realized that the average PC user will not know what it is, even if they do take notice of it. They have grown too accustomed to believing that there only exists Microsoft.

Now I do not know what tactics Canonical has to start gaining additional recognition beyond the GNU/Linux community but now is a better time than any for the company to start promoting itself more into the public’s eye. Modern day computing has literally gone through a face lift and almost everything has moved toward the cloud we refer to as the World Wide Web. Individuals are looking for something that is light weight and performs well; which is ideal for the up and coming sub-notebook industry.With some of these laptops offered preloaded with GNU/Linux, some people are starting to realize that there exists more beyond Microsoft Windows and the Mac OS X. But is that enough?

In the past I had posted on other blogs some tactics to which companies such as Canonical can use for additional recognition. You can find some of those posts here and here; but I will repeat them again in this post. For the time being I will continue to pick on Canonical seeing how they offer a great and easy-to-use desktop solution for the beginner to advanced PC users. And while the company has been providing a nice stable solution, it is my personal opinion that they have been spreading themselves too thin. What I mean is that they cover a little bit of everything in an attempt to provide an all-in-one solution. What I would like to see is more focus on specific aspects or industries, i.e. an Education, Business, etc. versions of Ubuntu. With regards to education,  I am not talking about Edubuntu. I am talking about something that a middle to high school student could be using at school for productivity and such and also something that a college student could be using. I am talking about an affordable solution that the schools could deploy on all of their systems. Here is an extract from my original post:

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As a good example, the foundation of the Microsoft Windows platform rests on three unstable pillars. If one were to fall, the rest will follow. These pillars are: (1) Education, (2) Productivity and (3) Multimedia related. The easiest and more influential to go after initially would be education. Not only would it be cheaper for a school to deploy and run the Linux Operating System but the students come out with familiarity in the platform. By the time they go into their respective careers, the seed would have been planted. It also would not stop a student from purchasing a Linux-based PC for their home computing seeing how they would be familiar with it at school.

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In my second comment I wrote:

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I understand that Canonical has a Ubuntu variant known as Edubuntu, but it is really not emphasized enough for the younger generation while the older middle-high school and college student will need more applications outside of the traditional productivity suites (i.e. Open Office, etc.).

For example, when I went to college I was studying in an Electronic Engineering course. Outside of Matlab, there was no known support of other electronic/engineering related applications for the Linux platform. There could be more applications to fill in this void.

Also, Microsoft pushed these “bundle software packages.” At that time it was Microsoft’s Windows 2000 with Office 2000, Visual Studio 6, Visio, etc. A student obtained this to be able to accomplish school tasks from home. The catch was that it was all added to your tuition! Why did I have to pay for this?!?!? Why can’t a company like Canonical devise a method of deployment? First market and influence the school(s) to start converting to a Linux Operating System and then provide their own bundle packages.

Not too long ago, I wrote to our Secretary of Education in the U.S. and offered some friendly advice and suggestions to better our education system; saving costs that can be placed into something else more needed. The suggestions focused on open source alternatives. In their reply, it has been claimed that the concept of open source had started to be adopted (more in the private institutions) but it was not the national governments role to facilitate such a change. In the end it was up to the State and more on the school district that was made in charge of these decisions. Should commercialized Linux Operating System distributors start there?

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Going along those same lines, would it be to Canonical’s advantage to start packaging specific versions of Ubuntu Linux? Such as Ubuntu Server (which already exists), Ubuntu Business, Ubuntu Education, Ubuntu Professional. Take a chapter from the competitor’s hand book; i.e. Microsoft. It seemed to have worked for them, the only difference is that Canonical will charge the same price for all: free.

To make a long story short, I just bought an ASUS Eee PC 901 from Amazon which I look forward to getting. :-D

Categories: Linux, Ubuntu Tags:

Simplicity or Complexity?

February 8th, 2009 2 comments

Sometimes I sit back and wonder about the direction technology has taken, especially with regards to operating systems. I think back to my Apple days and even when I got my first PC running MS-DOS with Microsoft Windows 3.11. Obviously, some of you can go even further back in history while others not far at all. But when I think about it, I think of how simple things were and by the end of the day, it all still worked! As the years had gone by additional “fluff” has been added to these simple computing machine, now adding complexity into the equation. Complexity in terms of how things are accessed and managed. What is even more amazing is the fact that by attempting to focus on simplifying modern day computing (while adding more security), more complexity is introduced! Why? Is it because the average PC user has grown so accustomed to the more complex methods that by attempting to simplify things, you are challenging what they knew?

Is this the problem holding GNU/Linux back as a more popular choice for the desktop? While I have never had the displeasure of playing around with it myself, I have read that this was the case with Microsoft’s Windows Vista. Microsoft had attempted to simplify things for the average user and by doing so they challenged that same user. The user now had to be concerned with administrator rights along with other things. We all know that a huge majority of PC users rarely know the difference between their RAM and their hard drives, so why take things away and replace them with other methods? From network/user management to even basic navigation and file creation/modification. Now, in Microsoft terminology “simplicity” does not mean”faster.” In a Microsoft operating system or application, when something is simplified, it means that there are at least a minimum of 3 additional steps added. Windows 7 is following in the same direction. Will the average user be just as disappointed from 7 as they are with Vista?

Overall, for a while now Apple has remained somewhat consistent with its appearance and functionality (details aside). The same cannot be said for GNU/Linux and Microsoft Windows. GNU/Linux had been redefining itself through multiple interfaces where now many can say it is truly user friendly and ready for the desktop. I agree 100% with that assumption. As for Windows, owning the majority of the market share and remaining consistent between Windows 95-ME, slowly reinventing itself with XP and now turning its environment upside down and confusing the average user, how does this bode for its future? Chances are it will still do well but who knows how much success it will truly achieve and if it falls short of its success, will it help with the future of GNU/Linux? I hope so. The sub-notebook industry is increasing the usage of GNU/Linux (as is seen on Network Applications). Even entire countries such as Russia and China are creating their own distributions to be widely used across their nations.

While the graphical user interfaces of GNU/Linux are excellent and have plenty of similarities with their Mac OS X and Windows counterparts (for easy transitions), are its slight differences going to hold it back for mass adoption? I will express my opinion to this further down. I have been running GNU/Linux since 2001 and now I cannot imagine using anything else. I am writing this post from my laptop under Fedora Linux and when I think of how efficient I am on this machine, I know going back to Windows will slow me down. Efficiency is introduced with great tools such as Avant-Window-Navigator, GNOME-Do, Firefox with its numerous plugins, the command shell to even my own whipped up python/pygtk scripts, one of which is used to enable/disable and manage my Network Manager. Enable the special effects with Compiz-Fusion and we are talking about a graphically appealing and rich filled experience in GNOME, KDE or whatever GUI is the user’s preference. The point-and-click mentality as seen in a Windows environment, does lack in efficiency. And while GNU/Linux can still function in the same manner without any faults and in less steps, is it still too “radically different” from its Windows counterpart that through its simplicity, more complexity is added for the average user, as they have to learn a new environment? I say no. The average user is not as dumb as we have stereotyped them to be and they usually do nothing more than surf the Internet, checking their Facebook and MySpace pages while streaming music. They do their on-line banking and pay bills. They quickly bring up OpenOffice to do word processing, etc. At least this is the case for my wife. She uses Ubuntu Linux and never calls me for help. I installed it, which was so simple and from that point, she already knew what Firefox was. A quick study of task bar with drop-down menus revealed to her all that she needed to know. The Network Manager has been easily accessible and easy to use. She has had no problems coming from Windows XP.

I would love to hear what you have to say. While all interfaces are different, everyone seems to be heading in the same direction of development and design. I ask, do you feel that this simplicity will affect the adoption of GNU/Linux?

Categories: Linux, Microsoft Tags:

Is Ubuntu Server ready for enterprise class computing? Part 2.

February 5th, 2009 2 comments

In continuation to my last post, I wish to pick up from where I left off. I had expressed some disappointment with my initial experience just after I installed the Intreprid Ibex (8.10) server edition of Ubuntu. I must admit that I was extremely pleased with the fact that the operating system did not install X. As an acting server, X is rarely needed and to those who are more than capable of working from the command line, it is pure heaven. That is my environment but is it a correct default environment? Let us say that the user is not as proficient on the command line, especially a UNIX/Linux command line running in your traditional bash shell. Would they know and be capable enough to run aptitude to install GNOME, KDE or any other graphical environment? With the default being the command shell, we are to assume that the user will be an intermediate to advanced one. If that is the case then why during the installation am I not prompted with the ability to set up my root password? An intermediate to advanced user is going to want to know what the root password is, even though it is taboo to log in as root; the preferable method being sudo. On the desktop version of Ubuntu, I can understand not setting up the root password. I just shouldn’t have to go into single user mode just to reset my root password into something I need it to be.

For example, Red Hat takes a lot of pride in being able to transition whole companies from Microsoft Windows Server to RHEL. They made it easy from setup to deployment. All tools and environments are there from the very beginning. Can you imagine a Windows administrator installing Ubuntu Server and getting a shell? A shell? That is unheard of, right?  ;-)

I know, there is plenty of documentation out there to address some of these issues, especially on Canonical’s website pertaining to Ubuntu Server; but what I have learned with real life experience is that a great percentage of individuals either do not have the time or patience to read this documentation. Frustrated I have told people to RTFM or man- the desired information until my face had turned blue. The point was never understood. I am sure that there are a lot of you who understand where I am coming from.

Going back to my initial problem and concern, my Qlogic Fibre Channel HBA was not being detected. Upon further research I noticed that it attempts to load a binary blob from /lib/firmware. It needs to load qla2300_fw.bin but fails to do so. Immediately after the failure, the system advises to go to a Qlogic ftp site to obtain the binary. Here is the best part, the binary DOES exist in in /lib/firmware and when I download the latest off of Qlogic’s ftp site, I get the same result. The best option, again, is to work from source and working with the physical modules stacked on top of the core module (i.e. qla2300 on top of qla2xxx).

I did find some other approaches to work around this here and here. Even in these approaches, I would still not be able to boot from SAN which is extremely common in enterprise computing. Qlogic is an extremely popular source for Fibre Channel and iSCSI HBAs and I find it extremely difficult to believe that out-of-box Ubuntu Server does not support it in full. I have yet to try my pile of Emulex and LSI Fibre Channel and SAS HBAs to see if I get the same results.

Some of you may be thinking, well that is just a piece of hardware and again, I will remind you that I am coming from a data storage background. This is not something insignificant when coming from that industry. Which brings me to my next point: High Availability. I was also surprised that I had to go through aptitude, after the installation, to install multipath-tools. Although, I do have to note that in RHEL and SLES, you do have to specifically add this package during installation. It is a shame that Ubuntu Server never gave me an option to review and install packages. It only asked for the types of services that this server was going to run. That is: DNS, LAMP, Mail, OpenSSH, PostgreSQL, Print, Samba, Tomcat Java servers or as a Virtual Machine host. No more details on packages are accessible beyond that point. I can only imagine how frustrating this can be when configuring 100 blades or more in a data center; even when setting up a Kickstart file.

Again, please do not misunderstand, I would love to see nothing more than Canonical succeed in everything that they do. I just feel that they are bringing too much of the Desktop mentality into the enterprise. I agree, that you do not have to install everything into a server and limiting the amount of packages installed can make for a quick and light weight installation; at least with the bare necessities. But if I have to install device drivers from source, then I am also going to need GCC along with the kernel source. If I am not familiar with GNU/Linux and the command line, I am going to need a GUI. As a more advanced user, if I am looking for a complete solution where I have control over what I am doing and that includes which packages to install, Ubuntu Server would not be my first choice. In choosing Ubuntu Server I would require some additional time to work and hunt down packages to get it to where I need it to be. In a lot of other situations, if you wanted to set up any of the services listed above where the storage is local to the host and not external in a SAN (but instead connected to a NAS solution) this may be ideal for you. I guess I cannot ask for too much when the installer is one CD.

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Is Ubuntu Server ready for enterprise class computing? Part 1

February 4th, 2009 Comments off

I know that a great percentage of you may feel otherwise but coming from a data storage background, I must say, I was a bit disappointed with Canonical’s Ubuntu Server 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex). Please do not misundertand me, I praise Canonical for all that they had accomplished. While my distro of choice may not be Ubuntu, my wife uses it with no troubles at all. As a desktop client, it is one of many excellent choices.

Now this post may be a little biased and I do apologize for that in advance. I am trying my best to let it not be. As I had just mentioned, Ubuntu is not my distro of choice, but instead I prefer and use Red Hat/Fedora for my server and personal computing needs. It all goes back to 2002 when I first picked up Red Hat 7.3 and stuck with it since. I had tried to use other distros, such as SUSE, Debian, etc. but always fell back to Red Hat. With that in mind, I have had a significant exposure to Red Hat products. I have also grown extremely comfortable with the Red Hat environment.

Coming back to the topic of GNU/Linux and data storage, it needs to be noted that most enterprise class storage suppliers/vendors focus their efforts to RHEL and SLES. Even without the support of these suppliers and vendors, out-of-box both RHEL and SLES are well equipped to be able to recognize and manage your external storage. No additional work necessary. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about my experience with Ubuntu Server 8.10. On the enterprise computing level Red Hat and Novell had time to mature their operating platform, but is it still too soon for Canonical?

Last weekend, I installed the server edition of Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex (8.10) on a dummy node for testing with a QLogic Fibre Channel Host Bus Adapter (HBA) installed and it did not have the appropriate driver for it. The core driver for the Qlogic family of HBAs, qla2xxx, was installed but when I went to insert the device specific qla2340 stacked module, it did not exist. I must admit that while in GNU/Linux, for years I have been working from source, in the past couple of years and right after a fresh installation, that is the last thing I want to do. I work from source everyday and if there is an opportunity where I do not have to, I will take it. Sometimes I just want things to work out of the box. That is what I got accustomed to with RHEL and SLES.

I initially went to Canonical’s Launchpad to search for any known bugs or problems with working on Qlogic HBAs. Unfortunately I did not see anything too specific with the Intrepid release but there are a significant amount of known issues for previous releases: here and here

After reviewing some of the notes, it became apparent that the local administrator needed to build the driver from source in order to get it fully functional. There are a lot of things wrong with that scenario. During a kernel upgrade, am I risking breaking the driver and have to rebuild it? This can be somewhat excessive. Also, if I am working from a fresh install and the storage that I am installing to is outside of a Qlogic HBA, the installer will most likely not be able to locate the devices. Even running in diagnostics mode from the CD image may not be able to locate the disk devices. Now, with regards to building it from source, I was unable to find what I needed in aptitude/Synaptic, through the Canonical repositories. Also, when you go to Qlogic’s website, they only have device drivers written for RHEL and SLES. I have been doing device driver development for years now and sure it would not be difficult to make a few changes in those Qlogic packages, but again, I have reached a certain point where I do not feel like it. I just want it to work.

Before I abandon this OS, I will continue to dabble around with it some more and see if I am overlooking anything. I will be sure to keep all updates posted to this blog, for all those interested. But I have to ask the question: Is Ubuntu Server ready for enterprise class computing?

Check out Part 2.

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