Saturday, December 15, 2007

Where is Vista at the Office?

A year ago I purchased a single volumn license of MS Windows Vista and decided that we, the company I work with, was not ready for migrating to this new version any time soon.

Over that year I've kept my ear to the ground, regionally I mean, speaking with other IT leaders in my area - the larger, well established, vendors - what are others doing with Vista in the workspace? Across the board, without exception, not a single medium to large company that I've spoken with has upgraded to Microsoft's latest Windows offering.

Makes you step back and think about the larger picture.

Asus Eee PC 701 Review

I will admit that I had not heard any of the hype associated with this device until I read an online article - a quick check of my preferred corporate vendor, a couple clicks, and ordered. I received two days later.

The Asus Eee PC 701 is very very cool - I am extremely thrilled with this new device and have yet to wet my appetite for tweaking it. Having purchased the Nokia N800 as well as the earlier Nokia 770 I only used these devices sparingly - usually on a business trip. The Eee PC is a full Linux computer with the Xandros distribution installed on a Intel chip. What this means is that I can easily change the software on this device to suite my needs (or desires) - more on this.

I took it out of the box at work but had no time except to plug it in and turn it on to answer the couple questions needed before I had to turn off. I got home that night and my wife immediately grabbed it, was playing most of the games that came with it for over an hour - telling me this could replace the Nokia 770 that she had been using at her work, for purchasing and surfing, etc. She obviously saw the immediate use of this computer as well. I only got my hands on it late that first night and immediately started to dig further than the Easy Mode would allow me.

The hardware for the Eee PC is extremely small - I had read the reviews, watched a clip or two online and I was still not prepared for just how light and tiny this thing is. Many of my hardcover books I port around are heavier than this computer. The next thing is the keyboard - with my fat fingers I can not comfortably type on it, so that is a negative (on my fat fingers, I won't sacrifice size for this laptop because of a larger keyboard). And the everything just works as expected for a laptop running Linux - standby power, wireless, sound, touchpad, etc.

Since this is Xandros Linux, a Debian based distribution as well, I quickly became hungry for more - knowing it could do more. I found this site which had a great wiki. A couple minutes later and my default desktop environment is running KDE with the Full Desktop (Advanced) Mode. I installed VLC, copied a couple full mp4 movies to a 4GB memory stick and off I go - full screen my video worked great!

I don't doubt that my Eee PC will be running Gentoo or Ubuntu in the next day or two, as I've only just begun playing with this fantastic device.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My Day to Day Computing

I've been asked a couple times what do I use for hardware and operating systems on any given day. Those that know me would not be surprised that the answer is not a little one.

I use two laptops every day: an Apple MacBook Pro with OSX Leopard and a Zareason MegaLap with Ubuntu Linux. I have been trying to move much of my day to day work to OSX, so the Linux laptop is there for the things that I haven't gotten migrated as yet.

For desktops I have a HP workstation at the office running Microsoft Windows XP Professional. At home I have a self-built (very cool) Windows XP Professional desktop (mostly for games) and a Intel Apple iMac.

But if anyone asks next week, I'm sure the answers will be different.

Zareason HomeBox Review

After the positive experiences of purchasing a Linux laptop from this small company, I emailed Zareason to see if they would customize their HomeBox for me.

What I wanted was a stripped down machine with a second network card as I wanted to use this box as my gateway at home. The box (or cube) is beautiful, a small silver computer that tucks neatly into my shelf and does the job I intended perfectly.

I ordered the box with two 250 GB drives, 2 GB RAM and (of course) 2 NICs. Runs like a dream. Plug in an external 1 TB Lacie drive and I have a gateway as well as a public file server. This beast is now doing so much that I rely on it for my home LAN.

The only negative I had, not of the hardware or the company but of my configuration, is that I used Ubuntu Server rather than my usual Debian installation. But thats for another posting.

For the company and for this hardware, I highly recommend the both of them.

Zareason MegaLap Review

During Ubuntu Live 2007 one of the exhibitors was a small company called ZaReason. They had a host of systems on display but the one that caught my eye was the MegaLap running World of Warcraft with Compiz (it was running with Wine but what really caught my eye was the ability to move between desktops and task switching effortlessly).

This laptop is a generic Asus Z84J - 17" LCD display, 2GB RAM, NVidia Geoforce 7700, 160 GB 7200 RPM drive. The hardware is great. It comes pre-installed with Ubuntu Linux.

There is no bells or whistles with the product (though it does have stereo sound), you get stock parts with a stock Ubuntu install. The company is small but friendly and delivers as promised.

I do recommend this option for those looking for a pre-installed Linux laptop, if you want something besides a Dell (still not available in Canada) or a System76 machine.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ubuntu Live Thoughts

Its been two days since I returned from Ubuntu Live 07 and wanted to give my thoughts on the conference.

Overall, a great collection of people and minds - I enjoyed it very much and came away pleased with the experience.
  • Sessions were too short, too high level, that I came away with less than I could have seen after 30 seconds reading online
  • Disappointed that there were not more non-linux people there - more companies and individuals wanting to move to Linux (or Ubuntu specifically)
  • O'Reilly hosted it and did a wonderful job
  • Next year I'm staying for OSCon as well
  • Tutorials were great and I could have done more (time permitting)
  • Pleased that Canonical's initiatives are focusing on businesses
  • Landscape looks great, especially for an initial release
  • Speakers, to a single one, were excellent
  • Missed the Linux Action Show guys, so disappointed (I was looking but I didn't get the podcast until I returned)
  • Food was very good - lunch boxes were actually too large
  • Stayed downtown Portland and the Maxx is free and easy transportation
  • Audience was generally good, Tutorial audience the best for participation and general help and friendliness
Geez, I can probably go on forever but again its all good baby... see you at the 2nd annual...!

FSF - Got the tee-shirt!

Okay - I've had to get defencive when someone called me on wearing a FSF tee that I purchased at Ubuntu Live.

I purchased two tee-shirts and the book "Free Software Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard Stallman" - but stopped short from purchasing membership into the FSF.

The Free Software Foundation aren't the bad guys - philosophical differences aside. (read my rant on GNU GPL v3)

Where would we be today without the GPL licenses? I doubt Linux would have gotten to the level of use it now enjoys without the 'FREE' license. And I remember back in the day, the first thing you did on any un*x installation was to install the GNU tools (ls, emacs, grep, find, cut...) - they were functional and just worked.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ubuntu Live Keynotes

I've seen all the keynotes for the conference and each was great in its own way. From Mark Shuttleworth's introduction, to Matt Asay's warning to Ubuntu, Eben Moglen's eloquent description to our state of affairs to Tim O'Reilly's excellent out-of-the-box thoughts.

It was great to listen to these gentlemen, as well as all the others, I really owe each of these guys a beer!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Hello from Ubuntu Live 07!

I'm here at my first Linux (specific) conference and greatly enjoying it! Hitting all the keynotes as well as many sessions as possible. I'm meeting some great people, shaking a lot of hands and doing a lot of thinking about Open Source and Linux.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


What can I say? Have you heard that the Free Software Foundation has released the newest incarnation of the GNU GPL version 3? If you don't know what this is, skip this entry. And if you do know, what do you think?

Me, I think its a mistake. I really do.

Version 2 of the license is about the software, encouraging success through sharing. Take from the source but give back your changes for the common good of all. Crazy talk perhaps in the late 80's and a hard sell even in the late 90's - but for more than a few companies and people now, this model not only works but excels. I am a big fan of GNU GPL version 2 - the successes of which are too many even to highlight.

Then comes GNU GPL version 3 and I get nervous.

You see, I come from the corporate world and really want to see GNU/Linux dominate this market. This version of the GPL is about the individual - freedom if it does not infringe on you as a person. What it does do is take, in my opinion, freedom away from businesses.

Companies as well as individuals co-existed nicely under version 2 - we have widespread adoption of GNU software on a huge number of domains. Under version 3, I fear it too restrictive (ie, less 'free') for companies to adopt.

What do you care - you are just 1 person right? Well, your newest gadget vendor may no longer use Linux when version 3 becomes more widespread. Large companies that use version 2 but can not use version 3 will migrate to a different choice. Folks, these companies are the major contributers to our favourite kernel and supporting applications! Remove their freedom and we remove their contributions - which reduces your choice and, subsequently, your freedom.

Is it too late? Perhaps. Stay with GNU GPL version 2, encourage your favourite upstream developers to stay with version 2, or move to one of the Open Source licenses.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Upgrade Debian Sarge to Etch

I have a Debian server that has been around for 6+ years. Oh sure, the hardware has changed, even failed and replaced, but the OS has been going this whole time. I have used the DEB packages almost exclusively, maybe even religiously on this box - using whichever flavour of package management application I felt like at the time (apt-get and aptitude are my preferences).

After a Debian machine has been running for a while, and especially one that is very eclectic and is used for various services and roles, it starts to get a little nuts. What I mean is, you install a deb file from the stable release, a host of deb's from testing and a random set of debs from various sources like Debian Backports. Hell, I like to roll my own debian packages as well - from the kernel-package to dh-make-perl, a crazy assortment of packages are installed to my system - Debian makes it easy. I just followed one rule - stay with deb packages.

Okay, I'm writing this before Etch, the current testing release, has gone to stable. The reason is because I'm starting to need more and more packages that are not available in the stable release but which are in testing. Sure, I can use backports, but I'm starting to get pissed at waiting (yet again) for the stable release to be upgraded. (this is not the first release I've done this and knowing the Debian release cycle as I do, I doubt it will be the last)

So its time to upgrade Debian Sarge to Etch! (or stable to testing)

Can you hear the drum roll... or is that just in my head?

Ensure you have backed up (off the box) any information or configuration that you are not willing to part with - just in case!

Head on over to your /etc/apt/ folder (I don't have X Window on my server, if you do, ensure you kill your xdm and drop to shell).

What you need to do is change any instance of stable (or sarge) with etch - while also using a little reasoning. Why not use the name testing? Because I've been hit one too many times, when an update caused havoc on my box when I had not expected a distribution upgrade. Managed upgrades are always a smart move.

Look in /etc/apt/apt.conf to start. (if you don't have one, no worries) I only have two lines in there that now look like this:

APT::Cache-Limit 10000000;
APT::Default-Release "etch";

Next is /etc/apt/preferences, which I had used to managed several sources coming from all three Debian releases. But since I'm starting from a fresh slate, so to speak, I'm going to remove this file altogether.

The last file I needed to edit was the /etc/apt/sources.list file, that you are
probably familiar with. My sources file just became easier - commenting out all
non-testing references, use etch in place of testing, stable or sarge. I even go so far to take out deb-src sources, adding these and other repositories as I need later. My greatly simplified sources now look like this:

# main package repository
deb etch main contrib non-free
# security updates
deb etch/updates main contrib non-free

Don't forget to use your favourite regional mirror!

Do a apt-get update.

Easy right? Well the interesting part is coming up.

First find some wood... and knock on it with your knuckles.

Do a apt-get dist-upgrade.

I have 599 upgraded, 114 newly install and 33 to remove packages. Good idea to review what is being removed, installed, etc.

At this point, its completely up to you if you want to hit that enter key! I make no promises. :-)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Review: Lenovo ThinkPad X60

As a long time Thinkpad user, my vendor convinced me to try the Lenovo ThnkPad X60 Tablet out (I didn't make it very hard for him).

The short and dirty specifications are:
  • Intel Core Duo processor L2500 1.83
  • 80 GB hard drive
  • Gigabit ethernet
  • Bluetooth
  • Intel Pro/Wireless 3945ABG
  • 12.1" screen at 1400x1050x32 resolution
  • 2 GB RAM
The first thing that I notice is the weight - not even 4 pounds, easy to hold in a single hand. And portability, for me, is crucial. The next thing I notice is the size, this guy is small. Nice so far.

It has the standard Lenovo buttons, thumbpad reader, and a few new things. For one is the swival that allows the LCD to spin and close backwards - leaving the screen up like a thick book. Another button allows you to spin the screen contents around to the four arcs, choosing how you want to use your tablet when it is open like this. I have to use an external USB DVD/CD drive - no space inside - I don't mind.

I haven't even turned it on and I like it.

Windows XP comes up (ah well, nothing is perfect right!), I go through the usual questions, fingerprint authentication, etc. All good. I'm left with a ThinkPad laptop. I then spin the screen around and try out using the pen, which gets some getting used too! This is a different operating system than I'm used to with Windows, a few extras show up and I realize (ya, I know, I'm clueless) I am using Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005. The Input Panel is nice, intuitive.

Okay, so I get bored easy. I've that single corporate license of Windows Vista Business laying around and I read (somewhere) that the tablet features are now incorporated into this version of their latest desktop OS. Out goes XP, in goes Vista.

Installing the Lenovo software was easy, just install the ThinkAdvantage System Update. I picked and chose what I wanted (I think the Lenovo ThinkPads come with too much crap anyways). It ran better than my previous foray into Vista and it is still running (okay, its been only 3 days, but that is 1 more than my previous attempt).

The tablet features on Vista are marginally better than XP but overall slower.

I am going to give it a try for the next while - Vista on this tablet (if only to see how the un-enlightened live).

Virtualization on the Servers

I attended a virtualization conference with VMware presenting here in Vancouver.

I have used virtualization for some years on a desktop environment. On your OS of choice, setup VMware Server (or Player), then install any other OS of choice into a virtual environment. Very slick. Run your desktop of choice, a Linux distribution I hope(!) and then if you must, run Windows XP within a virtual environment.

Thats all great - been there, doing that!

What I started to get interested in is how to reduce the number of physical servers in our server room. For a small to medium sized corporation we have a large number of boxes to manage. The logical place to start, those nice shiny new HP servers we got (and haven't been used yet). We have two HP ProLiant DL380 G5 servers, 8 GB RAM, two Xeon quad-core CPUs, redundant power and drives - these are sweet boxes. We purchased on the intent that they would be J2EE application servers for our newly developed primary application - except they will be underutilized for 12-18 months. These babies are too sexy to just leave around.

Enter virtualization!

Before I call up VMware for pricing and get on their mailing list for nagging, I thought to try out Xen. It has been included in the enterprise-ready Linux distributions for a short while. It takes a different approach to virtualization and though I don't have the knowledge to tell you which is better, Xen's hypervisor approach seems to be the logical way to go. So I install XenSource XenEnterprise onto one of my sexy boxes.

Let me say that virtualization is very cool - no matter how you look at it! But using Xen on the server is (almost) better than sex!

I set up 4 of the 8 CPUs on the one server plus 4 GB RAM to be the J2EE virtual environment. Running a test J2EE environment under Debian GNU/Linux is liightening fast. We will be doing more tests, with diagnostics, but comparing to a handful of development environments the virtual environment flys.

That wasn't all. I installed Windows XP Pro as a 1 CPU, 512 MB RAM virtual environment for doing some testing of the Java client application. I will also be installing other virtual environments to max out the resources before we continue into diagnostics.

There are a few concerns with going the XenSource route rather than VMware - but the cost savings alone is incredible. We are not yet done evaluation but the more I play the sexier it all is!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Review: Nokia N800

In an earlier blog post I reviewed the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. Nokia has come out with a new version in January and I promptly ordered the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet for myself.

This sexy little device is what the 770 should have been. With updated memory, new OS version and some exciting new features - this is the device that I wanted when I purchased the earlier version.

I took my family to Disneyland this last couple weeks, while there I left all the laptops and (most) peripherals at home - I took the Nokia. Sitting in the hotel, around the pool - surfing on the Nokia, playing a simple game or two - this device shined. It was great. I even listened to streamed radio and stuck a few MP3s on the memory card. Daily I kept abreast of what was going on in the world by syncing the RSS feeds I like.

Here are some of the highlights for the hardware:
  • Weight: 7.27 ounces
  • Size: 2.98x5.7x0.5 inches
  • Display: High resolution 800x480 pixels
  • Memory: 128 RAM (2 memory card slots)
  • Networking: 802.11b/g WLAN, Bluetooth 2.0, USB 2.0
I purchased the 770 after it had been on the market for some time - there was plenty of add-on applications to throw on it. The N800 does not yet have much from the FOSS community - it is simply too new. What comes included is pretty good. Skype announced that they will port their application to the Nokia N800 early this year - I'm anxious for its release.

No regrets on purchasing this device - it simply is a great little tool.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Two Days with Vista

As many MS Windows users know, after a period of use you will need to reinstall your operating system. This happened to me at work - where I was running Microsoft Windows XP Professional. Being the little dweeb that I am, I thought to give this Vista thing a try - the designate test dummy for our corporation.

Microsoft Windows Vista is the newly released product from the Windows operating system line. I purchased the eOpen Business edition of the product - creating my own CD from the official ISO then using the eOpen license number.

Installation went very smooth on my Pentium 4 3.00 GHz 2GB RAM desktop. Post installation I had to manually track down and install the sound and firewire drivers - thankfully the Vista version existed. Manually added my desktop to our corporate domain (Windows 2000 AD) - global policies were enacted, login script ran. I'm in!

This is where the fun begins right?

The colours - more gawd-awful pastels that I can't stand. Next is the 3D effects - they are okay but nothing coming close to what I have with my Beryl (or Compiz) desktop. I don't really need eye candy - this is a work machine after all - so I configure the computer for Best Performance which effectively turns off all the toys. There is a noticeable increase in performance with all this garbage off. Didn't like the Windows Sidebar and Gadgets - just not customizable enough for me what I'm used too in Linux - so they are gone as well.

Fine - so now I need some applications. Can't install Microsoft SQL Server (client or server), sorry - won't work on Vista until next service pack. Okay, so everything else goes on - no troubles. The applications themselves seem to start slowly, archives painfully slow (30-90 seconds in some cases) - once running they seem to be okay to use. Every time IE starts it overrides my default brower, this pisses me off (and reminds me of the pain back in the early-mid 90's). Even as a member of the domain administrator group I am unable to change some functionality on the local machine - this must be customizable, and I don't bother looking. My legitimate music CD fails to play - looking into this it appears Microsoft was nice enough to put DRM shit directly into the OS (which is much much worse that most users will ever realize). My time is limited and the changes just browsing network files is different enough that I loose patience - I can't blame anyone else but myself.

In theory, I agree for the need to retool Vista. Security right? Wrong, DRM takes precedent when there is a conflict - that makes no sense at all. New innovative technology? I don't see anything but incremental changes to what our corporation uses already. So what about all that great eye-candy? Big deal - ask any Linux desktop user to see the desktop they have been using for the last year. And what is all this shit about Vista Content Protection hardware? Is anyone else getting scared - Vista is causing the markets other hardware costs to increase! But what is this about some users seeing upwards of triple the bandwidth usage?

There are a host of good things - don't get me wrong. Piles of great stuff in the AD itself should make every company look at reasons to upgrade. But is it enough? I barely even looked at Vista and it gave me a bad taste. I use Windows because I have to and I'm lucky enough to enjoy a Linux desktop because I prefer it.

Two days later I sat back and looked at my system and thought this is just stupid and on a day away from the office, asked a Junior System Administrator to re-install XP Pro back onto my system. I was worried about being forced to move to Vista (pre-installs, etc) but guess we should be good for 2 more years on Windows XP.

Just long enough to convert all our desktops to Linux.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Review: System 76 Gazelle Performance

I received my System76 Gazelle Performance laptop in November. Since the first day I received the laptop, it has become my primary machine away from the office.

Lets look at the statistics first.

Display: 14” Widescreen WXGA (1280X800)
Graphics: 128 MB nVidia Graphics
Sound: Intel High Definition Audio
Networking: 10/100/1000 (LAN)
Wireless: Intel 802.11 abg
Card Reader: 4 in 1 Card Reader
Expansion: PCMCIA 2.1 supports one Type II
Ports: VGA, 4x USB 2.0, Mic In, Headphone Out, FireWire 1394B, S-Video
Webcam: Integrated 1.3 Megapixel Camera
Battery: 6 Cell Lithium Ion, Extra 9 Cell Lithium Ion
Battery Life: 3 Hours, and 5 Hours
Dimensions: 13.15" x 9.9" x 1.4" (W x D x H)
Weight: 5.5 lbs
Processor: Core 2 Duo T7200 2.0GHz 4MB 667FSB
Memory: 2 GB DDR2 667 MHz
Hard Drive: 80 GB 7200 RPM SATA

We are talking a nice laptop regardless of the OS installed - but the laptop comes with the excellent end-user Linux Distribution Ubuntu Edgy Eft! System76 takes this a step further and integrates the OS with the hardware to create a very nice symmetry. Out of the box, everything but the built in camera works and has default applications installed. Some of these applications are different than the default Edgy choices - but all is good (or better!).

First thing I did after receiving my laptop was to scrub it, repartition and encrypt the home partition. Next I reinstalled the OS back to System76 factory defaults. Finally I started to install additional software that I would like to use - ruby, mysql, emacs, thunderbird, debug packages, restricted formats, etc.

Through work I have used numerous laptops over the years. The System76 machine comes somewhere between an IBM Thinkpad and the Dell Latitude for hardware quality (the Thinkpad at the higher end of the scale). It is a solid design - with a good number of usable ports - with ease of access keys, moderate weight and LCD that does not bounce around as I type (as do most of the Dell laptops that I have used). Hibernation and suspend work, sound, wireless - its all good.

As always there are a few things I am not crazy about with any piece of hardware (or software), this laptop is no exception. My largest grumble is that I have yet to find good settings for the touchpad sensitivity, so when I am typing away my focus will move to wherever my mouse caret is located. Not sure if I can blame System76 for this - but it is the largest pain in my ass with this machine (so that is really not so bad). The next complaint is that the camera is not yet supported - but has been promised since (at least) Feb 2006 (where I saw a forum message saying 'soon') - I want to use Skype with video while roaming! The last piece is restoring from hibernation, it is a 50/50 chance that you will not be able to restore to any wireless network - more than a little frustrating.

Overall my satisfaction is very good (better than the IBM Thinkpad T60 that I was using). I am in Linux, it all works and I'm happy. What else could I want?

Oh ya, I bought a System76 Koala Mini Performance because of this laptop and the service this company gave.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Vista Released, Does Anyone Care?

I have been pondering the release of Microsoft Vista. November 30 2006, Microsoft announced the availability of Vista for businesses (and broadly available on January 30 2007). The excitement (at least in the trash tech media) leading up to the initial release was in full swing. All the gears were in motion for another industry sweeping product from Microsoft.

So what happened?

Was there any release parties in November or December? Not in my area. It certainly didn't explode on that date like fireworks on Canada Day.

And where is all the excitement? The majority of the tech magazines are focusing on if you should upgrade, how little this release has changed from the prior, why it costs more, how stable will it really be and of course is it worth it?

Oh certainly, looking at Microsoft Vista, there are some great things within for any business. But I know upgrading is not high on my corporate agenda - maybe in 18 months or maybe not.