Entries Tagged as 'Linux'

Remember when…

Remember when it was just so darn easy to share files with other computers on your local area (home) network?  It was ever simple to share files between PCs and Macs.

Have you noticed that while Windows was once a very easy platform to share files with others from it’s become almost impossible to even share files between two PCs running the same version of Windows?

If Microsoft is seeking to make their operating system more secure by making it unusable I they are getting very close to realizing their objective.

I really have grown tired of the complexities of sharing folders between PCs, more and more I’m finding that just using Box or Dropbox, or Google Drive is a much more efficient way to transfer small numbers of files between two machines — even if it’s a one time transfer.  I mean, yeah, it’s kinda retarded to send files to cloud storage potentially on the other side of the country to just copy it to a machine that’s a few feet away — but let’s be serious, it’s quicker than figuring out why Windows say the same user (with the same password) on two different machines, who should have unlimited rights to a directory can’t copy a file from and certainly can’t copy a file to a machine.

Yeah, it may seem retarded, but the days of using *nix copy command between remote machines seems easier…

Microsoft needs to take a hard look at human factors, and not of all the wizzy new feature they keep adding to their operating system, but to the foundation features that people (all people) actually use day in and day out for productivity — after all, we don’t all have domains at home… and not only do we sometimes move files between machines we own, but occasionally some of us might have a friend with a laptop come over.

I guess that’s why I keep a few fairly large USB drives around, because Microsoft certainly doesn’t want to actually make computers that run their operating system usable.

Originally posted 2013-11-03 10:00:23.

Bloatware

Normally you’d think an article with a tittle like this would have to be ripping on Microsoft Windows – but in fact I’m talking about Linux.

Windows XP minimum requirements were 256 MB of RAM and a 800 MHz CPU, but if you take a look at the minimum requirements for Gnome and KDE you’ll see they’ve surpassed it.

Desktop Required RAM Required CPU
fluxbox/idesk 48 KB 100 MHz
XFCE4 128 KB 200 MHz
Gnome 1.x 256 KB 500 MHz
Gnome 2.x 384 KB 800 MHz
KDE 3.x 512 KB 800 MHz
KDE 4.x 512 KB 1 GHz

Now we are comparing a “modern” operating system with one that’s nearly a decade old; but still, Linux used to be a lean mean performing machine… apparently though making Linux usable has had its trade-offs.

Personally I have no problem with a machine meeting the minimum requirements for KDE; I think targeting a machine with 2GB of memory and a 1.8 GHz process is perfectly reasonable for modern computers (as long as Linux retains the ability to trim down to run on older computers)… but then again, I do think that paying attention to performance and footprint are important — and hopefully the Linux community will  make sure that every byte and cycle count.

Originally posted 2010-08-28 02:00:58.

Cloud Storage

 There are tons of free (and paid) cloud storage services… and you can use more than one of them (I actually use all of the following myself).

 

Amazon

Amazon changes their cloud storage option fairly often, currently it’s 5GB free with 250 songs — the subscription for storage and music storage are separate now.

 

Box

50GB of storage.  Works with Windows, Max, Android, and iOS – plus there are several other apps that allow easy migration of files to Box.

 

DropBox 

2GB of storage plus an extra 500MB for using the above link to sign up (there are other bonuses you can get as well).    Works with Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and BlackBerry.

 

GoogleDrive

If you have a Google GMail account (or Google App account) you already have this, just sign in to activate it.  Works with Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS — probably others as well.  The storage amount you get seems to vary based on when you sign up.  NOTE:  Google Music is stored separately.

 

SkyDrive

If you have an MSN, HotMail, Live or any other Microsoft hosted/provided account you already have access to it.  Works with Windows, Android, iOS — probably others as well.  The storage amount you get seems to vary based on when you sign up.

 

Ubuntu One

5GB of storage, plus an extra 500MB for using the above link to sign up.  Works with Windows, Mac, Ubuntu (Linux), Android, and iOS – plus can be used automatically to store large Thunderbird attachments (great if you’re sending the same attachment to several people).

Originally posted 2013-08-27 11:10:21.

MoneyDance

A little over a year ago Microsoft announced the end of Microsoft Money…

In the beginning I used a program written by a friend of mine to manage my check book (he actually marketed it), it was basic, and worked reasonably well.

Then I switch to Quicken… which never worked reasonably or well… but did the job (sort of like hammering a nail with a screwdriver rather than a hammer).  Obviously from what I’ve said I never liked it and never wanted to contemplate going back — financial management is about function, not form (or in Quicken’s case, pretty pictures, graphics, and selling as much of your information to anyone who will pay anything for it they can).

One of my friends used MoneyDance, and I’d pointed him that way when he decided gnucash just wasn’t what he wanted… so at the end of last year when I decided to make a decision to move to a financial management (tracking) software that was a little more current I paid for MoneyDance… and honestly, I’ve regretted it ever since.

The program basically works, and works on OS-X, Linux, and Windows… but one of the whole reasons to use financial management software is to be able to download transactions from your financial institutions and them just basically automatically match up with what you’ve entered and be done with balancing your records with your statement in a matter of a very few minutes…

And there in is the problem.

If you just let MoneyDance import and process those imported transactions you will have the biggest mess you’ve every seen — and the more accounts you have and the more transfers between accounts you do — well, let’s just say “exponential” growth only give you an idea of how bad it gets.

But, of course, like most “commercial” pieces of software, MoneyDance recently released a new version (I’m never in a hurry to upgrade to anything — even if I’m having minor problems I like to wait and make sure there’s no major regressions).  I did, however, install the update this weekend.

All I have to say is: are you F^(#ing kidding me… how is is possible to make an almost completely broken “feature” worse???

Now the transaction matching not only seems to do a worse job, but it’s on the side now rather than the bottom, so it obscures most of the (wrong) transaction it wants to match to so you have no idea what the F^(# it’s about to screw up…

My personal feeling is that you’re better of using crayons in a drawing book to track your financial records than wasting your time or money on MoneyDance… this has to be one of the absolute worst products I’ve ever seen, and based on the “features” that actually work you can stick with Microsoft Money, a 20 year old version of Quicken, or use a free program like gnucash… or a spreadsheet, because at the end of the day all you’re going to get with MoneyDance that works well enough to trust is a simple ledger.

Needless to say at the end of the year, I won’t be using MoneyDance, and if I can figure out how to get this years financial data out of it I will delete it (of course, this years data has very little value since to really “fix” the issues I’d have to go back and manually re-key everything).

Do before you reach for your credit card; consider saving your money and trying something else.

Originally posted 2011-08-08 02:00:00.

Operating Systems

I have computers running Windows (most flavors), OS-X, Linux, and BSD (or we could generically call those *nix) — and have had computers running SunOS, Solaris, and OSF… so I consider myself well versed in operating systems from a user standpoint (and a developer standpoint as well).

Recently I took a look at how practical each of the “popular” choices were as a desktop environment for what I would consider an average user; and I set the goals of an average user to be:

  • Email
  • Managing contact and schedules
  • Browsing the internet
  • Office tasks (word processing and simple spread sheets)
  • Multimedia (music and movies)
  • Managing finances

And I looked at Windows (Vista Ultimate, but for this much would apply to XP as well), OS-X, and Ubuntu Linux (I felt that was a good distribution for an average user).

On email, managing contacts and schedules, browsing the internet, and office tasks I would say that all three of the operating systems were reasonably equal… very few real differences in capabilities or ease of use (both Vista and OS-X have option for commercial as well as free software; on Ubuntu only free software was used).  For multimedia both Vista and OS-X were far better than Ubuntu (yes, Ubuntu could do most everything the other two could do, but the software was very piece meal, and didn’t “fit” well with the rest of the system).  For managing finances all of them had non-commercial and commercial solutions and depending on your needs whether any or all of them would be sufficient.

Vista

Microsoft’s current Windows operating system for desktop PCs.  Vista is well suited for most tasks an average user is likely to do.  Since the cost of Vista is included in most PC purchases only upgraded expenses need to be considered (this isn’t true if you’re building your own PC from parts — but if you’re recycling an old PC it may already have a license for Windows).  The cost of a PC does not generally include an office suite.  There’s a host of free software that you can use if you elect no to purchase additional software from Microsoft.

 

OS-X

Apple’s current operating system for Macs.  OS-X is well suited for most tasks an average user is likely to do.  Since the cost of OS-X is included in Mac purchases only upgrade expenses need to be considered.  The cost of the mac might include iLife, but not iWorks.  There’s a host of free software that you can use if you elect not to purchase additional software from Apple.

 

Ubuntu

Provided you have a way to download Ubuntu and burn it onto installation media (CD) there’s no cost in acquiring it.  If you have very old hardware using Ubuntu (or a lighter weigth Linux) might be the only option you really have — but my comparison here is not based on what’s cheapest, it’s what’s reasonable.  Most all of what you will need will be installed with the operating system.  There’s a host of free software that you can use by simply downloading it.

 

Observations:

  • Apples are only easier to use if you’re used to Apples — like all tools, human beings have no inherent ability to know how to use them.  Regardless of the operating system you choose you will need to invest a little time into learning how to use it.  How much time you invest will be determined by the relative sophistication of what you’re trying to do, and what kind of background in computers you have.
  • You’ll find that both Vista and OS-X will provide an inexperienced user with much more “hand holding” than Ubuntu.  But that said, one of the first things you need to get proficient at is searching the internet for “answers”.
  • Pretty much all the annoyances people gripe about are universal in all three of the operating systems (it’s comical that Apple had a whole series of advertisements about Vista annoyances — annoyances their own operating system had had for years for the most part).  There are often system settings that can turn off many of these annoyances, but in fact they are present for a reason — and while you’re learning I recommend you just learn to deal with the annoyances and don’t change system settings without good cause.
  • You’re going to find making changes to many settings on Ubuntu (or any Linux) much more difficult than either Vista or OS-X.
  • You’re going to find that things are far more cohesive on both Vista and OS-X; with Ubuntu it becomes fairly obvious quickly that you’re using a collection of dis-associated widgets and parts.

 

Conclusions:

For most computer users I’d recommend that you consider using either Vista or OS-X for your computing needs.  Leave Ubuntu (and other *nix based operating systems) to more experienced computer users who have a “need” for it.  I suspect that we’ll see improvements in the cohesiveness of non-commercial operating system, but for the moment they just aren’t ready for prime time.

Originally posted 2008-12-26 12:00:38.

Ubuntu – Creating A RAID5 Array

A RAID5 array is a fault tolerant disk configuration which uses a distributed parity block; this provides the ability to lose one drive (or have damaged sectors on one drive) and still retain data integrity.

RAID5 will likely have slightly lower write performance than a single drive; but will likely have significantly better read performance than a single drive. Other types of RAID configurations will have different characteristic.  RAID5 requires a minimum of three drives, and may have as many drives as desires; however, at some point RAID6 with multiple parity blocks should be considered because of the potential of additional drive failure during a rebuild.

The following instructions will illustrate the creation of a RAID5 array with four SATA drives.

Remember, all these commands will need to be executed with elevated privileges (as super-user), so they’ll have to be prefixed with ‘sudo’.

First step, select two disks — preferably identical (but as close to the same size as possible) that don’t have any data on them (or at least doesn’t have any important data on them). You can use Disk Utility (GUI) or gparted (GUI) or cfdisk (CLI) or fdisk (CLI) to confirm that the disk has no data and change (or create) the partition type to “Linux raid autotected” (type “fd”) — also note the devices that correspond to the drive, they will be needed when building the array.

Check to make sure that mdadm is installed; if not you can use the GUI package manager to download and install it; or simply type:

  • apt-get install mdadm

For this example, we’re going to say the drives were /dev/sde /dev/sdf /dev/sdg and /dev/sdh.

Create the RAID5 by executing:

  • mdadm ––create /dev/md1 ––level=5 ––raid-devices=4 /dev/sd{e,f,g,h}1

Now you have a RAID5 fault tolerant drive sub-system, /dev/md1 (the defaults for chunk size, etc are reasonable for general use).

At this point you could setup a LVM volume, but we’re going to keep it simple (and for most users, there’s no real advantage to using LVM).

Now you can use Disk Utility to create a partition (I’d recommend a GPT style partition) and format a file system (I’d recommend ext4).

You will want to decide on the mount point

You will probably have to add an entry to /etc/fstab and /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf if you want the volume mounted automatically at boot (I’d recommend using the UUID rather than the device names).

Here’s an example mdadm.conf entry

  • ARRAY /dev/md1 level=raid5 num-devices=4 UUID=d84d477f:c3bcc681:679ecf21:59e6241a

And here’s an example fstab entry

  • UUID=00586af4-c0e8-479a-9398-3c2fdd2628c4 /mirror ext4 defaults 0 2

You can use mdadm to get the UUID of the RAID5 container

  • mdadm ––examine ––scan

And you can use blkid to get the UUID of the file system

  • blkid

You should probably make sure that you have SMART monitoring installed on your system so that you can monitor the status (and predictive failure) of drives. To get information on the RAID5 container you can use the Disk Utility (GUI) or just type

  • cat /proc/mdstat

There are many resources on setting RAID5 sub-systems on Linux; for starters you can simply look at the man pages on the mdadm command.

NOTE: This procedure was developed and tested using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS x64 Desktop.

Originally posted 2010-06-29 02:00:15.

Windows Live Essential 2011 – Live Mail

Or perhaps better titled: Why I continue to use a product I hate.

When Outlook Express debuted many years ago Microsoft showed the possibility of creating a email reader for Windows that was clean,simple, and powerful… and for all the problems of Outlook Express it worked.

When Microsoft shipped Windows Vista they abandoned Outlook Express in favor of Windows Mail; largely it appeared to be the same program with a few changes to make it more Vista-like.

But not long after Windows Mail hit the street, Microsoft decided to launch Windows Live Mail, and what appears to be a totally new program modeled after Outlook Express / Windows Mail was launched.  I say it was new because many of the bugs that were present in the BETA of Windows Live Mail were bugs that had been fixed in the Outlook Express code line years before (as an interesting note, several of the bugs I personally reported during the BETA of Windows Live Mail are still present in the newest version – 2011).

The previous version of Live Mail was tolerable; most of the things that were annoying about it had fairly simple ways to resolve them — and in time, maybe we’ll all figure out ways to work around the headaches in 2011; but I just don’t feel like putting so much effort into a POS software package time and time again…

And for those of you who say it’s “FREE” so you get what you get, I’d say, no — it’s not exactly free… Microsoft understands that software like this is necessary in order to have any control over user’s internet habits, so it isn’t free — you’re paying a “price” for it.

Plus, there are other alternatives… Thunderbird for one.

Why don’t I use Thunderbird… simple, there is one “feature” lacking in Thunderbird that prevents me from embracing it.  You cannot export account information and restore it.  Sure Mozbackup will let you backup a complete profile and transfer it to another machine — but I want access to individual email accounts.

Why?  Well, here’s the scenario that I always hit.

I travel, and I tend to take my netbook with me when I travel — and often I’m using my cell phone to access the internet… while it’s “fast” by some standards… if you were to re-sync fifty email accounts each with a dozen IMAP folders, you’d take all day.  Further, most of those email accounts are uninteresting on a day-to-day basis, particularly when I travel — I only want to access a couple of those accounts for sure, but I might want to load an account on demand (you never know).  What I do with Live Mail is I have all the IAF files for all my email accounts stored on the disk (I sync them from my server), and I setup the mail program by loading the three or four that I use routinely, the others I only load as I need them, and I remove them from Live Mail when done.

OK — so that doesn’t fit you… here’s another.

You’ve got several computers, and you’d like to setup your email quickly and painlessly on all of them… but you don’t need all your email accounts on everyone of them — plus you add and remove accounts over time.  Again, Live Mail and it’s import/export handles this nicely.  You simply export a set of IAF files, and then import the ones you want on each machine.

The question is why doesn’t Thunderbird have this ability?

Well, there was a plug in for an older version of Thunderbird that did kinda this; of course it didn’t work that well for the version it was written for, and it doesn’t work at all for newer versions.

One more that I consider an annoyance (but it’s probably slightly more than that) is that there is no easy way in Thunderbird to change the order of accounts in the account window — and they’re not order alphabetically (that would make too much sense), they’re ordered chronologically (based on when you created them).  So you can re-order them, if you delete the accounts and add them back in the order you’d like them to appear; but wait, you can’t add an account any way in Thunderbird by type in all the information again.

And if you’re thinking, OK so write a plug-in that manages account ordering and import/export.  Sure, that would be the “right” thing to do if Thunderbird really had an interface to get to that information easily — but no, it appears you’d have to parse a javaScript settings file… oh joy.

These should be core features of Thunderbird; and in my mind they are huge barriers to wide acceptance.

Originally posted 2010-11-12 02:00:32.

Linux on the desktop

I’ve been experimenting with Linux as a server for several months now; and I have to say for the price it’s a clear winner over Microsoft Windows Server 2008.

Other than desktop search, Linux has been a clear winner across the board.  Network file sharing, application services, etc all seem to work, and work well.  Plus with the webmin GUI for managing the server, it’s extremely easy — easier in fact that figuring out where to go to do the task at hand in Windows Server 2008.

With my success using Linux as a server, I have decided (once again) to investigate Linux as a desktop replacement for Windows… after all, how much does one normally do with a desktop?

I experimented briefly with Ubuntu on a laptop when I was cloning the drive in it, but I didn’t put it through exhaustive paces (I was quite impressed that Ubuntu auto-magically installed drivers for all the hardware in the notebook; though that feat was no better than Windows 7).

I need to go over my requirements a few more times before I start the test, but what I believe is important is:

  • Hardware support; including multiple displays, scanners, web cams, etc
  • Office (which OpenOffice will work the same as it has been on Windows)
  • Financial Management (I guess I’ll have to move over to MoneyDance; it’s not free, but it’s fairly well thought out)
  • Media Playback (VLC runs on Linux just like Windows, plus there are a number of media players I’ll take a look at)
  • DVD RIPping (my last try to do that on Linux wasn’t very successful)
  • Video transcoding (I think HandBrake is broken on the current version of Ubuntu — so that might take a little work)

I’ll also evaluate it for ease of use and customization…

The evaluation will be done on an Intel DG45ID motherboard (G45 chipset)with an Intel Core2 E7200 with 4GB DDR2, multiple SATA2 hard drives, SATA DVD-RW, and I’ll test with both a nVidia 9500 and the Intel GMAC controller (X4500HD) running both a 32-bit and 64-bit Ubuntu 10.04LTS distribution.

Let the fun begin!

Originally posted 2010-08-12 02:00:28.

Ubuntu – RAID Creation

I think learning how to use mdadm (/sbin/mdadm) is a good idea, but in Ubuntu Desktop you can use Disk Utility (/usr/bin/palimpsest) to create most any of your RAID (“multiple disk”) configurations.

In Disk Utility, just access “File->Create->Raid Array…” on the menu and choose the options.  Before doing that, you might want to clear off the drives you’re going to use (I generally create a fresh GTP partition to insure the drive is ready to be used as a component of the RAID array).

Once you’ve created the container with Disk Utility; you can even format it with a file system; however, you will still need to manually add the entries to /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf and /etc/fstab.

One other minor issue I noticed.

I gave my multiple disk containers names (mirror00, mirror01, …) and Disk Utility will show them mounted on device /dev/md/mirror00 — in point of fact, you want to use device names like /dev/md0, /dev/md1, … in the /etc/mdadm/mdadm.conf file.  Also, once again, I highly recommend that you use the UUID for the array configuration (in mdadm.conf) and for the file system (in fstab).

Originally posted 2010-07-12 02:00:33.

Desktop Sharing

Maybe I’ve become spoiled, but I just expect desktop sharing (remote control) to be easy and fast.

Nothing, absolutely nothing compares to Microsoft’s RDP; and virtually any Windows machine (except home editions) can be accessed remotely via RDP; and all Windows machines and Macs can access a remote Windows machine.

Apple has their own Remote Desktop Client, and it works well — but it’s far from free (OUCH, far from free).  And Apple does build in VNC into OS-X (can you say dismally slow)… but they don’t provide any Windows client.

Linux and other *nix operating system you can use an X session remotely; or VNC (zzzzzzzzzzzzz again, slow).

As a “universal” desktop sharing solution VNC isn’t horrible (and it’s certainly priced right, and there’s plenty of different ports and builds of it to choose from), but it’s old school and old technology.

I personally think it would be a great standard to have an efficient remote desktop sharing standard, that all computers (and PDAs) could use… one ring — eh, got carried away there; one client could talk to any server, and operating system vendors would only need optimize their server and their client, other operating system vendors would do the same…

Originally posted 2009-02-23 01:00:41.