Entries Tagged as 'Linux'

OpenGEU – Luna Serena

Let me start by saying I like OpenGEU quite a bit; it’s a very nicely done distribution, it seems to be solid, and it seems to have most of what an individual would want loaded by default.

However…

It’s not really very Mac-ish.

So before I continue talking about my finding on OpenGEU I want to redefine the parameters…

In my mind it’s not necessary for an operating system to mimic Windows or OS-X in order to have a reasonably good usability, in fact we can see from the steady evolution of the operating system and the money and resources that Microsoft and Apple throw at the problem that they don’t have it right — they just feel they’re on the right path.

So… I’m not looking for a Mac clone (if I were I would have put Hackintosh on the original list); I’m looking for an operating system default installation that achieves a highly usable system that non-computer users will be comfortable using and highly productive on from the start.

Now I feel like I should find an attorney to write me a lengthy disclaimer…

OpenGEU may well be a very good candidate for non-computer users who wish to find alternatives to Microsoft and Apple (either because they simply don’t have the money to stay on the upgrade roller-coaster or because they feel they do not want their productivity and destiny tied so closely to a commercial software venture).

OpenGEU installs easily, it creates a simple, easy to use, easy to understand desktop environment.  Most every tool you might want or need is there; and of course the package manager can help you get updates and new software fairly easily.

While I cannot tell you that all the multimedia software that I would like to see are present by default, there’s enough to get the average user started.

The overwhelming characteristic of OpenGEU that I feel I must underscore is how clean the appearance is — a testament to the fact that a designer may in fact be much better qualified to create human usable software than an engineer is.

OpenGEU makes the cut; and deserves a thorough evaluation.

I’ll publish a much more extensive article on OpenGEU when I’ve finished going through the candidates and had more time to use it… but I’m excited at the possibilities!

OpenGEU

Originally posted 2010-01-06 01:00:41.

Compression

There are two distinct features that Windows Server 2008 outshines Linux on; and both are centric on compression.

For a very long time Microsoft has supported transparent compression as a part of NTFS; you can designate on a file-by-file or directory level what parts of the file system are compressed by the operating system (applications need do nothing to use compressed files).  This feature was probably originally intended to save the disk foot print of seldom used files; however, with the explosive growth in computing power what’s happened is that compressed files can often be read and decompressed much faster from a disk than a uncompressed file can.  Of course, if you’re modifying say a byte or two in the middle of a compressed file over and over, it might not be a good idea to mark it as compressed — but if you’re basically reading the file sequentially then compression may dramatically increase the overall performance of the system.

The reason for this increase is easy to understand; many files can be compressed ten to one (or better), that means each disk read is reading effectively ten times the information, and for a modern, multi-core, single-instruction/multiple-data capable processor to decompress this stream of data put no appreciable burden on the processing unit(s).

Recently, with SMBv2, Microsoft has expanded the file sharing protocol to be able to transport a compressed data stream, or even a differential data stream (Remote Differential Compression – RDC) rather than necessarily having to send every byte of the file.  This also has the effect of often greatly enhancing the effect data rate, since once again a modern, multi-core, single-instruction/multiple-data capable processor can compress (and decompress) a data stream at a much higher rate than most any network fabric can transmit the data (the exception would be 10G).  In cases of highly constrained networks, or networks with extremely high error rates the increase in effect through put could be staggering.

Unfortunately, Linux lags behind in both areas.

Ext4 does not include transparent compression; and currently no implementation of SMBv2 is available for Linux servers (or clients).

While there’s no question, what-so-ever, that the initial cost of a high performance server is less if Linux is chosen as the operating system, the “hidden” costs of lacking compression may make the total cost of ownership harder to determine.

Supporting transparent compression in a file system is merely a design criteria for a new file system (say Ext5 or Ext4.1); however, supporting SMBv2 will be much more difficult since (unlike SMBv1) it is a closed/proprietary file sharing protocol.

Originally posted 2010-07-11 02:00:49.

Dynamic IP Filtering (Black Lists)

There are a number of reasons why you might want to use a dynamic black list of IP addresses to prevent your computer from connecting to or being connect to by users on the Internet who might not have your best interests at heart…

Below are three different dynamic IP filtering solutions for various operating systems; each of them are open source, have easy to use GUIs, and use the same filter list formats (and will download those lists from a URL or load them from a file).

You can read a great deal more about each program and the concepts of IP blocking on the web pages associated with each.

Originally posted 2010-08-17 02:00:55.

gOS – Nothing but ‘Net

Strike two — another candidate falls by the way side.  Don’t worry, this isn’t baseball so I’m not feeling the pressure of striking out (just yet).

gOS is a descent Linux distribution, and it works — in fact it works nicely.

The applications that come bundles are heavily dependent on Google; and it really doesn’t follow the Mac look and feel very completely (you would have to scab on a better theme and my feeling is that way too advanced for the target audience). 

gOS is also missing most every multimedia capability that an average user would want.  That’s allegedly to avoid legal issues in many countries, but the fact of the matter is if you can’t play a DVD or most video and audio streams a person is likely to find it’s just not an acceptable OS for the general public.

If you want something fairly basic that works when you install it and doesn’t require much fussing, but you’re not interested in multimedia this might be a reasonable choice; but you’re probably better off to stick with a distribution that doesn’t carry the weight of Ubuntu (something derived directly from Debian or built from scratch).

gOS

Originally posted 2010-01-05 01:00:48.

Video Encoding

A little over a year ago one of my friends with a Mac wanted to get into re-encoding video; I knew about the tools to do it on a PC, but none of the tools really had a OS-X port at that time, so I set out on a quest to find tools that could enable a person who didn’t know much about video encoding to accomplish it.

One of the first tools I stumbled on was HandBrake; it was an Open Source project leveraging off of a number of other Open Source products intended on creating a cross platform suite of tools for video encoding that was reasonably straight forward to use and produced reasonable good results.

Well, the version I tested was a near total failure… but the project showed promise and I keep tabs on it for quite some time.

Over the past year it’s steadily improved.  In fact, I’m probably being a little hard on it, since right after I played with an early version a much improved version was available that did work, and did allow my friend to accomplish what he wanted.

Last month HandBrake released a new version — a much improved version.

With Windows, OS-X, and Linux versions you can try out HandBrake for yourself and see the results.

I did two separate tests (and for some reason I always use the same two DVD titles — Saving Private Ryan, and Lord of the Rings — the reason is that both movies have a wide range of  video type from near still images to sweeping panoramic views to everything in motion (blowing up)…

I had two separate machines (a Q9300 and a Q9400 both with 8GB of DDR2) doing the encodes, and did both normal and high profiles; one test was H.264 into a MPEG4 container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track; the other was H.264 into a MKV container with AAC created from the AC3 5.1 track in addition to AC3 5.1 pass-through and Dolby Surround pass-through with [soft] subtitles.

For the high profiles: Lord of the Rings took a little over three hours; Saving Private Ryan took just under two and a half hours — so don’t get in a hurry, in fact, run it over night and don’t bother the computer(s).

The high profile achieved about a 2:1 reduction in size; the normal profile achieved about a 4:1 reduction in size.  The high profile’s video was stunning, the normal profile’s video was acceptable.  The AAC audio was acceptable; the AC3 5.1 was identical to the source, and in perfect sync.

There are a number of advantages to keeping your video in a MPEG4 or MKV container verses a DVD image… it’s much easier to catalog and play, and of course it’s smaller (well, you could keep the MPEG2-TS in a MKV and it would be identically sized, but I see little reason for that).

The downside of RIPping your DVDs is that you lose the navigation stream and the extra material.  Do you care???

HandBrake will read source material in just about any format imaginable (and in almost any container as well)… you can take a look at it’s capabilities and features online.

I’ve got some VCR capture streams in DV video that I’m encoding now — trying a few of the more advanced settings in HandBrake to see how it works (well, that’s not really testing HandBrake, that’s testing the H.264 encoder).  My expectation is that once I get the settings right, it will do a fine job; but with video captures you should never expect the first try to be the best (well, I’m never that lucky).

While HandBrake is very easy to use, your ability to get really good results from it is going to partially depend on how willing you are to learn a little about video re-encoding (which will require a little reading and a little experimentation).   But that said, NO product is going to magically just do the right thing in every case…

Overall I would say that HandBrake is one of the best video encoders you’re going to find, and you cannot beat the price — FREE!

Here’s some additional notes.

For Windows 7 you will want to download the DivX trial and just install the MKV splitter (nothing else is needed) so that Windows 7 can play media in a MKV container using it’s native CODECs.

With Windows Media Play 12 and Media Center I haven’t figured out how to switch audio streams; so make sure you encode with the audio stream you want as a default as the first stream.  With Media Player Classic and Media Player Classic Home Cinema it’s easy to select the audio stream.  Also, Windows Media Player will not render AC3 pass-through streams, it will just pass them through the SPDIF/Toslink to your receiver — so you won’t get any sound if you’re trying to play it on your PC.

Don’t delete any of your source material until you are certain that you are happy with the results; and you might want to backup your source material and keep it for six months or so just to be sure (yeah — I know it’s big; but a DVD will fit on a DVD).

Handbrake

Originally posted 2009-12-17 01:00:07.

USB Hard Drive Adapters

 Everyone’s making them and they come in really handy…

 Basically they’re devices you can use to access a bare hard drive.  Most of them supports PATA and SATA 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives (though some vendors require a bunch of adapters to do it).  The APRICORN DriveWire unit is clean and simple and priced around $30 (use a price search engine) or less.

I was so happy to find these units that I purchased two of them and gave away my previous ones made by another vendor.

If you’re going to routinely swap drives on and off a computer, and don’t want to spring for an external case you might be better off with a hard drive dock also available for about $30, but they don’t support PATA (PATA is not hot swapable).

If you’re going to use these units to upgrade a computer’s hard drive, remember Acronis TrueImage is a great tool (you can find shareware and OpenSource tools as well — but TrueImage is well worth the price and has many additional features that you’ll likely find useful).


APRICORN: DriveWire – Universal Hard Drive Adapter

Originally posted 2008-12-29 12:00:32.

VirtualBox LinuxDesktop RealPerformance

The other day I installed VirtualBox OSE on my Ubuntu machine so that I could migrate over a Windows Server 2003 machine.  I wasn’t really expecting great performance since I was putting the virtual disks on a single spindle…

Sometimes you get a good surprise.

When I started up the virtual instance, it seemed very fast — so I shut it down and started it again.  Then I performed a few quick tests and I realized that not only was VirtualBox on a Ubuntu 10.04LTS Linux machine substantially faster than on a Windows 7 machine (with a faster hard disk and faster processor), but it was faster than on a Windows Server 2008 machine running Hyper-V.

The really incredible thing was that Hyper-V was running on a disk array with fifteen spindles verses a single spindle for VirtualBox.

I really didn’t have any way to do a set of rigorous tests, but what I found was that as long as the disk wasn’t saturated, VirtualBox was able to handily outperform Hyper-V on every test (read or write) that I performed… it was only when I started to push near to the limits of the drive that VirtualBox and Hyper-V had similar disk IO performance.

I didn’t evaluate how VirtualBox performed on Linux with a disk array, but my guess is that it’s simply much more efficient at scheduling disk IO than Hyper-V; and likely Linux is more efficient at disk IO than Windows period.

I’m a huge fan of VirtualBox; and if I knew now what I knew about Hyper-V eighteen months ago I would have avoided it like the plague and simply used VirtualBox or Xen as a virtualization solution.

I’ll put a more thorough investigation of disk IO and VirtualBox verses Hyper-V performance on my “TO-DO” list; but I don’t expect it’ll float to the top until this Winter at the earliest; until then my advice is choose VirtualBox (or Xen).

Originally posted 2010-08-24 02:00:27.

Ubuntu 11.10

I tested out an upgrade of Ubuntu 11.10 on a virtual machine and on a desktop machine… it seemed to go fairly well; but I can’t say that Unity really feels like something that was the result of human factor engineering.

I decided to go ahead and phase in the 11.10 upgrade to three of my five servers; and let me tell you that was a huge mistake.

First, I found that the upgrade didn’t properly detect the disk to update the grub configuration on (my RAID controller is the first device discovered, so it makes the motherboard SATA controllers come after that so my boot device is sdb rather than sda).

Then I found that FreeNX simply will not install on 11.10 — but I was able to fall back to the NoMachines.com “free” NX server.

Then I found that neither VNC or NX would work properly with Unity; simply switching to KDE fixed that.

What a nightmare.

What should have been a half hour upgrade turned into a day of wasted time… and for what?

This experience has definitely diminished my faith in the Ubuntu development community, and I find myself asking why should I continue to support a product that’s heading in a direction that I do not like, and obviously isn’t meshing well with the rest of the Open Source community.

What’s wrong with GNOME?  What’s wrong with KDE?  Why do we need lightdm and Unity as the defaults in a product that users depend on?  Particularly when Unity doesn’t seem to resolve any of the complaints I have about useability.

Personally I’d favor a desktop along the lines of Macbuntu for usability (it doesn’t have to look like a Mac, but at least pick a interface that looks coherent, and make it act coherent).

I think I might consider moving my servers back to Centos and returning to stability… to me it looks like Ubuntu is becoming the next Windows of the Linux world (and I have no need to be in line for that roller coaster).

Originally posted 2011-10-18 02:00:57.

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.

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.