Entries Tagged as 'Computers'

System Update Readiness Tool for Windows

If you have any issue installing Windows V6 SP2 or an update for Vista or Server 2008 you might want to download and run the System Update Readiness Tool from Microsoft.

You can read about it and download it via the link below.

 

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/947821

Originally posted 2009-06-08 11:00:04.

Good-Bye CVS…

I’ve been using the Concurrent Version System (CVS) for almost a decade, running mostly on a Windows server machine (the March-Hare CVSNT Open Source build); but a few months ago I made the switch to Subversion (the VisualSVN Open Source build).

Why?

Well it wasn’t because CVS wasn’t working (well — there were a few nasties in a couple recent builds of the client; but that wasn’t it)… it was because CVS and TortoiseCVS simply weren’t taking Vista (and particularly Vista64) seriously and I didn’t want to be limited by my source control.

The transition from CVS to SVN was painless, and the server works great (and the GUI administration tool from VisualSVN is really why I picked them — I don’t want to be a full time source control administrator; for professional use the CollabNet Windows SVN Server might be a better choice); and of course TortoiseSVN clients (they have both 32 and 64 bit versions, that work fine with Vista as well as Server 2003 x64 & x32 plus XP).

The SVN model is a little different from CVS… and of course SVN is designed from the ground up to work over the internet (it’s hosted as a module for Apache).

If you’re in the middle of selecting a “free” source control solution; I’d say you only have one real choice in this day and age… you simply need to decide the platform you’re going to run your server on, and which build you want to use of Subversion.

Originally posted 2008-07-16 16:48:46.

Thinking Inside the VirtualBox

Sun Microsystems used to be a major player in the computer world; and I guess since Java belongs to Sun they are still a a fairly major force…

There’s a number of open source or free projects that Sun sponsors:

And, of course, it’s VirtualBox that has inspired this post.

VirtualBox 2.0.4 released on 24 October 2008, and from my initial experiences with it, it’s a contender.

A fairly mature x86/x64 virtualization framework for x86/x64 platforms.  VirtualBox runs on Windows, OS-X, Linux, and of course Solaris.

What sets it apart — well it’s to my knowledge the only fairly mature cross-platform virtualization framework that’s FREE on all platforms.

In general it doesn’t require hardware virtualization support with the exception that to run a x64 guest you must be on an x64 host with hardware virtualization.

Going through the list of features and playing with it there’s really nothing I couldn’t find that it didn’t do (and in playing with it, it seemed to work well)… the one feature that VirtualBox supports that none of it’s competitors had last time I looked (and that Hyper-V is sorely missing) is SATA (AHCI – Advanced Host Controller Interface) support… that provides much more efficient emulation of disk channel connections to the guest (and thus much better performance — and if you recall from my post on Hyper-V the fact that Microsoft doesn’t have SCSI boot support or AHCI support at all is what prevents me from moving to Hyper-V).

VirtualBox does apparently support VMWare virtual disks, but not Microsoft virtual disks (both of them provide open specifications, so my only conclusion is that Sun’s anti-Microsoft bias is at play which is sad since VirtualPC, Virtual Server, and Hyper-V account for a fairly substantial segment of the market, and a growing segment).

Like any product, you really need to carefully evaluate it based on your needs, but my feeling is that certainly for Mac users this might be the choice if you don’t want to by Parallels Desktop… and for Windows desktops this looks to be a very good.

NOTES:

On Windows if you want to use this on a server host machine (ie one that doesn’t require users to control the virtual machine) VirtualBox doesn’t really provide any interface for controlling machines in this manner; however, you can launch a VirtualBox machine from the command line, so you can have your server start up VirtualBox sessions at boot… though there are no tools provided by VirtualBox for managing running instances started this way.  My recommendation is that the VirtualBox team add a tool to manage and launch instances in a server environment.

On Windows (and other OSs) the way VirtualBox handles host networking (the default is a NAT’d network through the host… which could have some performance impact) is buy using the TUN/TAP driver.  Certainly they way Microsoft handles virtualization of the network adapter is far slicker, and I found that using host networking is not as reliable as NAT; hopefully this is an area where there will be some improvement.

Lastly, I haven’t run any actual performance tests head-to-head with  Parallels, VMWare, VirtualPC, and Virtual Server… but I can tell you that guests “feel” substantially faster running under VirtualBox (I was quite impressed — and surprised).


VirtualBox

Originally posted 2008-12-08 12:00:55.

Computer Tid Bits; Malware

Computer viruses, worms, trojans, etc are on the rise… if your computer is connected directly to the internet (or on a public wireless network) you’ll definitely want to have a firewall enabled.  The firewall in Windows XP SP2 (or better) and Vista is reasonably good (so there’s no reason to spend money on one).

Also, you should definitely consider running Windows Defender (free from Microsoft) and a Virus scanner.

Two good free Virus scanners are Avast and AVG.

Avast is extremely thorough, but can put a bit of a load on lower end systems.  AVG isn’t as thorough, but a great deal lighter on CPU.  Also, Avast will require you to register for a key — you can use a throw-away email address (from my experience they don’t seem to SPAM).

Avast

AVG

Originally posted 2008-05-09 18:20:12.

Free

I found this web page on GNU.org by the Free Software Foundation to be hilarious… it just reeks of doublespeak and I’m sure George Orwell would agree.

Now see, I thought the “free” in “free software” meant “free” — and it didn’t really need any qualifications.  Software that was free from encumbrances and cost… but now the Free Software Foundation is telling us that “free” might cost…

Maybe they’re looking for ways to pay their salaries?

I don’t know.

Maybe that other kind of software that wasn’t “free” might turn out to be less expensive in the long run.

Selling Free Software

Originally posted 2009-12-28 01:00:36.

Kit Kat – Android 4.4 / 4.4.2

My Nexus 4 and my two Nexus 7s updated to Kit Kat about a month ago and other than Google+ becoming far more pervasive I can’t say I’ve really seen any improvements that matter much to me (yes, I’m aware that “under the hood” there are some substantial changes)…

Some things I have noticed (that I’m not happy with) are:

  • Bluetooth shuts off and cannot be turned back on until you reboot the device.
  • Bluetooth will disconnect and reconnect (by itself) from devices that worked perfectly under Jelly Bean.
  • Devices reboot periodically by themselves (without asking for confirmation — probably more often than you realize since you’re not using them continuously).
  • Devices freeze; sometimes they respond after a couple minutes — sometimes you have to power cycle them (I haven’t had a case where I had to force a reboot yet).

I’m hopeful I won’t see this on my Nexus 5 (when I start using it after the first of the year), but from what I’ve read in the forums I’m not the only one seeing stability issues with Kit Kat, and it appears to be on all devices that have received updates — including the Nexus 5.

I’m afraid this is another case of people who work on Android not really using (or testing) the product well before it hits the street — and while I don’t feel that Google employees working on Android should be forced to trade out their iPhones, I do feel that a substantial number of the engineers working on Android should have to use the latest release (maybe replace their desk phones with cellular handsets that run the latest Android version to help debug the hardware and software).

Bottom line — you might want to hold off on your move from Jelly Bean to Kit Kat until Google releases a few more updates.


 

Android: Kit Kat

Originally posted 2013-12-30 08:00:58.

CompactCMS Review

CompactCMS is an extremely light weight and fast Content Management Solution (CMS).  Actually it might be a bit of a stretch to call it a CMS, it’s more like a content management foundation.

CompactCMS is an open source software project and is totally free (nothing related to it has any costs or restrictions beyond the Creative Commons License).

No question it makes managing a small site very easy, and it has a huge selection of (free) CSS templates that offer a wide variety of layouts and appearances.

Why do I say it’s a foundation?

Simple, it provides the basic of editing pages and content, builds a sitemap — but it really doesn’t offer modules that provide enhanced capabilities.  Now in it’s defense, it does provide the ability to build pages that can call PHP directly, but it doesn’t provide any framework to use managed content within your PHP code (well — you can access the MySQL database directly, but there’s zero abstraction).

Several days ago I made a comment about most users only need a two page (mostly static) web site — and that’s true, and CompactCMS certainly provides that ability to users with very little understanding of web editing (it certainly provided more than that to users who have some understanding of web editing).

The main problem with CompactCMS for users who just don’t know anything at all about web technology is it requires a little understanding of how to setup a database, import a schema, and edit configuration files (by hand).  Yeah, that’s not really much to ask a techie for sure, but there’s lots of people who know where the power button is on their computer, but re-arrange the icons on the desktop and they’re lost…

I personally like CompactCMS — I’m not sure I have any real use for it, but it would be fine to use to setup simple web sites for clients that actually wanted to be able to make modest changes to the site themselves (remember, most low end web site offerings don’t include unlimited changes — and generally don’t include any changes).

http://compactcms.nl/

Originally posted 2010-04-07 02:00:28.

Disk Bench

I’ve been playing with Ubuntu here of late, and looking at the characteristics of RAID arrays.

What got me on this is when I formatted an ext4 file system on a four drive RAID5 array created using an LSI 150-4 [hardware RAID] controller I noticed that it took longer than I though it should; and while most readers probably won’t be interested in whether or not to use the LSI 150 controller they have in their spare parts bin to create a RAID array on Linux, the numbers below are interesting just in deciding what type of array to create.

These numbers are obtained from the disk benchmark in Disk Utility; this is only a read test (write performance is going to be quite a bit different, but unfortunately the write test in Disk Utility is destructive, and I’m not willing to lose my file system contents at this moment; but I am looking for other good benchmarking tools).

drives avg access time min read rate max read rate avg read rate

ICH8 Single 1 17.4 ms 14.2 23.4 20.7 MB/s
ICH8 Raid1 (Mirror) 2 16.2 ms 20.8 42.9 33.4 MB/s
ICH8 Raid5 4 18.3 ms 17.9 221.2 119.1 MB/s
SiL3132 Raid5 4 18.4 ms 17.8 223.6 118.8 MB/s
LSI150-4 Raid5 4 25.2 ms 12.5 36.6 23.3 MB/s

All the drives used are similar class drives; Seagate Momentus 120GB 5400.6 (ST9120315AS) for the single drive and RAID1 (mirror) tests, and Seagate Momentus 500GB 5400.6 (ST9500325AS) for all the RAID5 tests.  Additionally all drives show that they are performing well withing acceptable operating parameters.

Originally posted 2010-06-30 02:00:09.

Web Servers

For several years I’ve used a combination of Microsoft IIS and Apache, which fits in with my belief that you choose the best tool for the job (and rarely does one tool work best across the board).

About a month ago I “needed” to do some maintenance on my personal web server, and I started to notice the number of things that had been installed on it… like two versions of Microsoft SQL Server (why a Microsoft product felt the need to install the compact edition when I already had the full blown edition is beyond me).

As I started to peel  away layer upon layer of unnecessary software I realized that my dependency on IIS was one very simple ASP dot Net script I’d written for a client of mine and adapted for my own use (you could also say I’d written it for my use and adapted it for them).

I started thinking, and realized it would take me about ten minutes to re-write that script in PHP and in doing that I could totally eliminate my personal dependency on IIS and somewhat simplify my life.

In about half an hour (I had to test the script and there was more to uninstall) I had a very clean machine with about 8GB more of disk space, and no IIS… and the exact same functionality (well — I would argue increased functionality since there was far less software that I would have to update and maintain on the machine).

Sure, there are cases where ASP dot Net is a good solution (though honestly I absolutely cannot stand it or the development environment, it seems to me like an environment targeted at mediocre programmers who have no understanding of what they’re doing and an incredible opportunity for security flaws and bugs)… but many times PHP works far better, and for very complex solutions a JSP (Java Servlet / JavaServer Pages) solution would likely work better.

My advice, think through what your (technical) requirements are and consider the options before locking into proprietary solutions.

Originally posted 2010-03-24 02:00:33.

Hyper-V

I started to switch my virtualization hosts over to Server 2008 about two weeks ago; and I’ll give you some feedback on my experience.

The first thing you’re going to find with Hyper-V is that migrating your old virtual machines to Hyper-V isn’t particularly easy unless you want to purchase Microsoft’s virtual management server — quite a large expense for most users.

You can download a tool called VMC2HV (that converts Virtual Server / Virtual PC VMC files to Hyper-V format) and that will make it fairly easy for you, but there are still some things you need to watch for.

Before I talk about VMC2HV, there are some setting in Hyper-V you’ll want to change right off.

  • Set the path for your virtual machine configuration files.
  • Set the path for your virtual disks.
  • Setup a virtual network (you may need more than one depending on your configuration).

When using VMC2HV:

  • Make sure you tell VMC2HV where you want your Hyper-V files (and how you want to organize them).
  • Decide where you want to store your virtual disks (don’t store them under the virtual machine directory, put them in a separate tree.
  • Make sure you check the “swap SCSI 0 with IDE 0” box; if you used SCSI drives on Virtual Server, you need to remember you can’t boot from anything but IDE on Hyper-V; any additional disks you have can (and should) be SCSI.
  • Correct the virtual disk paths (and file names) if you’ve changed the location of the files.

I found that VMC2HV worked well… but it was far from perfect.

After you finish with VMC2HV you’ll need to setup the virtual network manually, and you’ll probably want to check all the setting.

VMC2HV certainly made it easy for me to jump start, but then I found that just recreating the virtual machines under Hyper-V was just about as easy.  The only “difficult” thing with the Hyper-V interface I’ve found is that getting it to put the configuration files where you want them is a little tedious, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it.

__________

I’m running Hyper-V on machines with: Intel Q6600 (Quad Core2 65nm) with 8GB of DDR2 memory (Corsair DHX) on Intel DG33TL motherboards and hardware RAID5 (fifteen spindles or eight spindles — I’ve two machines with each configuration).

I find that giving each virtual machine two processors makes them much more responsive, and even running far more cores than I actually have doesn’t swamp the host processor (most of the time my virtual machines are IO bound, waiting on network responses or dealing with disks).

Most likely for a home (or small office) virtualization server you’ll find what I’ve shown several of my clients — invest in memory and spindles.

  • If you can avoid any paging in the virtual machines you’ll see much better performance (so don’t give the machines more memory than they need and you have, and don’t create a paging file).
  • For any virtual machine that reads and writes the disks heavily the more spindles that make up the host volume the more current IO you will have, and that mean you’ll be able to sustain a higher IO rate.  And if you use RAID5 you get fault tolerance on your virtualization store.

__________

Installing the Hyper-V integration files is also a bit of a pain.  The Microsoft Virtual Machine Manager will do it automatically, but for those who don’t want to spend the money on something that is probably far more than you need you’ll have to do it by hand.

First you have to remove the old VMadditions that were put there by Virtual Server or Virtual PC.  If you do that before you move the files off your old machine it’s easier (you won’t have a mouse or network under Hyper-V until you complete the installation of the integration files).

Second you will upgrade the HAL, which is done automatically the first time you try to install the integration file (once you do this, there’s no easy way to go back to Virtual Server or Virtual PC, so save a copy of your boot VHD if you’re not sure).

Third you will install the integration files (which install the Windows Driver Foundation; and that’s the only problem I saw — apparently if the temporary directory doesn’t get created before WDF install runs, it fails — check you log files for more information, and just create the temporary directory by hand and re-run the setup for the integration files).

When you have the integration files install and reboot the machine should be working perfectly.

__________

I’m seeing a rather dramatic speed increase in my virtual machines using Hyper-V; which is really surprising since IO on the boot drive should be slower (since it uses IDE) than it was with Virtual Server (which used SCSI — highly para-virtualized).

I suspect that overall the way Hyper-V is built (you can read white papers on Hyper-V if you’re interested; you’ll also notice that Hyper-V and Xen conceptually share a similar architecture) is responsible for the speed increases; and the fact that you can allocate up to the number of physical cores you have to a guest machine or run 64-bit operating systems and software under Hyper-V you can really build out a virtual infrastructure which has great performance.

__________

Overall I’m pleased with Hyper-V, and have found it much easier to use on Server 2008 than trying to start with a Hyper-V Server (Microsoft gives away a version of Server 2008 which can only be used as a virtulization host; unfortunately you have to remotely administer it, and that isn’t as easy as it should be — it does work, but the learning curve is a little steep).

My feeling is that there will be a significant update to Hyper-V soon, adding more device support (and para-virtualization).  And the real question is:  Why isn’t there Hyper-V for Vista?  The two operating systems derive from a common code base, and certainly for developers having Hyper-V on a Vista workstation makes more sense, and since Microsoft gives away Hyper-V server they can’t argue that it will cannibalize sales!

Originally posted 2009-02-03 01:00:13.