Entries Tagged as 'Software'

Remote Access

I’ve been using a combination of bitvise WinSSHD and Tunnelier for remote access to my home network.  It basically allows me to tunnel a RDP (or simple command shell) via SSH to a Virtual machine running on my server (actually each “user” has a virtual machine all to their own, so there’s no contention).

I really like the simplicity of the SSH tunnel, and find that running it on port 22 and port 443 provides me with a very good likelihood of being able to connect through all but the most draconian firewalls.

You will want to make sure that you implement good security policies on your SSH server, and that you either use pre-shared keys or certificates OR that you make sure you have a strong password.  There are a number of bots out there that try to break into an SSH server using a list of well know user names and dictionary attack for the password.

WinSSHD will lock out IP addresses after a number of failed attempts; but I created a test account called “test” with the password “password” just to see what the bot would try to do (the account was jailed without any write priviledge in a safe sub-directory with no files).  The bot got frustrated and went away, but I was trying to upload files, and I would guess execute them (probably propagating itself).

You can black list IP addresses, and if you’re like me you run the DynDNS client (I use DynDNS.org for my dynamic ip naming service; it’s free, and it works well) on your notebooks so that you “know” their IP address via a fixed host name (though in WinSSHD the IP black list superceeds a DNS name white list).

http://www.bitvise.com/

http://www.dyndns.org/ or http://www.dyndns.com/

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…

Windows 8.1

The Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT updates are out, and the start button is back (though you could re-enable it with a number of hacks) if you want it — Metro is still available (and always there).

While those with touch devices may not see why the start button might be preferred, those who still have to use a mouse or other pointing device definitely will appreciate not needing to emulate finger swipes any longer.

The other big change is that SkyDrive is now installed by default (but no greater storage for free to Windows 8.1 users than anyone who just installs SkyDrive or just sets up a SkyDrive account).

The Windows 8.1 update is easy and free to install for Windows 8 users; however, Windows 7 users (or previous) will need to install Windows 8 first.

You can find a number of lengthy reviews of Windows 8.1 on line, but if you’re a Windows 8 users it’s an update you’ll probably want to install.  If you’re a Windows 7 user there may be no real motivation to upgrade.


Update to Windows 8.1 from Windows 8

Mac Envy

I was talking to one of my friends several weeks ago and once again he ask me why I wasn’t a big fan of Linux… and I gave him the two hour answer.

It really boils down to Linux fails to be cohesive; the many distributions fracture it even more than the lack of any defining road map for a user experience.

My conversation with my friend started to point to OS-X; it has, after all, become a very important force on defining not only what Mac users expect from a computer, but what Windows users get in a new operating system.

Why then not graft a Mac like desktop manager onto Linux?  It seemed like a good idea, so I figured someone else must have thought of it.

After all, making computers usable for computer experts isn’t the real issue; it’s making computers usable for the masses of people who do not know what’s under the hood, and shouldn’t have to care.

I started my exploration by finding a Mac theme and widgets for Gnome. I installed Mac4Linon an Ubuntu virtual machine.

It certainly did make the interface for Linux much more Mac like, but most anyone who could have gone through all the steps to get it installed probably wouldn’t care much about using a Mac like interface, and it just really wasn’t that satisfying.

Next I decided that this _is_ a good idea, and I was sure that many others had gone down this path (and I’m not one to duplicate effort, I have no problem standing on the shoulders of giants — or midgets).

A little bit of searching on the net found me four distributions that attempted to mimic the look and feel of Mac OS-X.

I’m going to list these alphabetical — this isn’t a review, it’s just an overview.  I’m going to have to play with each of these more than a couple hours to be able to tell you the strengths and weaknesses.  Watch for future posts.


Dreamlinux

Based on the website address Dreamlinux must be in Brazil; but the web pages and documentation are all in English (no requirement to learn Portuguese unless you want to be ready for your vacation in Rio).

The Dreamlinux distribution is based on Debian, and builds on that very stable base.  And rather than using the Gnome desktop manager, this distribution chose the XFCE desktop manager as the default — but includes Gnome and will include LXDE, TDE, and Fluxbox.

Dreamlinux used Rocket Dock to provide a Mac-like dock and is targeted heavily for a multimedia experience.

Dreamlinux is easy to install, and maintain… put it on your hard disk, a flash drive, or just about anything else.


Elive

If sex sells operating systems, this would be on the top of the heap.   Their web site features the tag line “Elive Gem – Luxury Linux” and comes complete with a high resolution video to demonstrate Elive.

The Elive distribution is also based on Debian.  It uses the Enlightenment desktop manager (OK, so Enlightenment is more than just a desktop manager — but it’s sufficient for the moment to refer to it as just that) and the ibar dock.

Elive is filled with eye-candy and again targeted at multimedia.

It’s slick; has very modest hardware requirements, and according to Distrowatch it has a lot of users.  The “official” download of the stable versions will cost; I recommend you find an alternate download to try it out, or get an invitation code to try it before you commit to supporting it.


gOS

The g in gOS might be for “green” — not green as in energy efficient, the color; the default them is definitely green.

gOS is probably one of the most complete experiences right from the get go.  It’s also based on Ubuntu (which is based on Debian) — so a little heavier weight.  It uses LXDE for a desktop manager and wbar for a dock (though Cairo-Dock apparently can be used instead).

gOS leverages heavily off Google… Google Apps (Mail, Calendar, Documents, Spreadsheet, Presentations), Google Gadgets, Google Desktop Search, and even installs WINE to use Google Picasso.

I know I’ve said this is probably the most complete; and you may well want to start with this one — but for some reason this distribution just didn’t impress me (maybe because it sets expectations so high).  I will give it a more complete test, there was certainly nothing about it that suggested it wasn’t a good candidate.


Macpup

With a name like Macpup it bring to mind warm images that immediately makes you feel comfortable.

The Macpup distribution is based on Puppy Linuxwhich also has a Windows XP look-and-feel version (they refer to these as Puplets).  Puppy Linux and Macpup are designed to have very modest hardware requirements, and will likely work on any computer hardware you have sitting in your basement.

Macpup uses the Enlightenment desktop manager and the ibar dock with an incredibly ugly default theme.

Macpup is lightweight, but it’s the least Mac-ish of all these distributions.  So if your goal is to get something that mimics the Mac, this probably isn’t it; however, if your goal is to get something that provides a use paradigm similar to the Mac on lower end hardware, this might be perfect.


OpenGEU

When Gnome reaches Enlightenment you get OpenGEU, at least that’s what their tag line says.

The OpenGEU distribution is based on Geubuntu (which is based on Ubuntu which is based on Debian) — so a little heavier weight.  It uses the Enlightenment desktop manager, comes in a Sunshine and Moonlight edition (read their web page — it’s heavily themed) and is part of the InTiLinux Projects.

If you’re looking for eye-candy you’ll think you’ve found Nirvanna.  The OpenGEU project is lead by a designer, not an engineer — so there’s a great deal of focus on the look, the feel, and how things work.


There are several components that these distributions use to achieve a Mac-like look and feel; and some of these deserve a separate article to talk about them.  I’ll put a little time into writing up some background information on desktop managers; docks; and themes.

I will say that after installing these and playing with them for just a few hours each I would put Dreamlinux and Elive on the top of my Mac-Linux list; but until you’ve actually tried to do useful work with a Linux distribution it’s hard to really say which will work the best.

All except the Elive distribution allows you to download for free from their web site or provides you with torrents or mirrors.   I do encourage you to support any project you use through a donation of resources or currency.

P2P

First let me open by saying I do not condon copyright infringement or theft.  Companies and individuals are entitled to fair and just compensation for their work; however, US Copyright laws entitle you to backups for personal use, and there are a number of indisputably legal uses for P2P file sharing.

I recommend you check out Shareaza (DO NOT USE shareaza.com — that’s a SCAM site — use the Source Forge link below).  Shareaza is a multi-protocol P2P file sharing client; it does Gnutella, Gnuetella2 (G2), EDonkey2000, and BitTorrent.  It also includes the ability to search for files.

If you’re just interest in exchanging files via BitTorrent then uTorrent is by far the best client.  BitTorrent has a search tool built in, and you can certainly use other sources for torrents as well.

Reguardless of the client you choose, you should consider running PeerGuardian 2 fro Phoenix Labs (you can read all about it on their site).

And I recommend you consider running your P2P client in a virtual machine.

Office Applications for Windows 7

Microsoft has announced the release of Office 2010 first quarter of next year available in both 32-bit and 64-bit; and I’m sure it will be a fine application suite; I’m sure it will also be expensive.

I tried Office 2007 when I first moved to Windows Vista, but I found it very difficult to figure out how to do even simple tasks; so I stuck with Office 2003.

Now I’m at the point that I’m reconsidering my needs in an office suite, and I’m finding that I really only use very basic features, and I value a consistent, simple interface over most anything else (well, that’s assuming that the software works).

A good friend of mine has been using OpenOffice for quite sometime now, and he’s been extremely happy with it.

I’d looked at OpenOffice a few years ago, but I’ve never really been a fan of any software written in Java that requires the JRE (I’ve always found it to be sluggish).

Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say.

I downloaded OpenOffice (for Windows) and installed it on my work station.

My initial test was to open up some of the more complicated documents I had; not that I really have any documents that are that complicated.  It worked, it worked well, and it was fast.

I played with it a little more, and then I decided to take a look at how much disk space it consumed… it was tiny compared to Office 2003.

Then I decide to create a few new documents and spreadsheets with it — no problem, it seemed to do everything I needed.

WOW.

I just don’t know what else to say… why would I pay Microsoft for a huge suite of office applications that I rarely use; and use only a small fraction of the features???

OpenOffice is available for a number of operating systems, and works fine on Windows 7.

A good way to save some money on your computer needs is switch over to OpenOffice when you upgrade to Windows 7.

OpenOffice.org

VirtualBox on OS-X

After the extremely poor experience with my upgrade to vmware Fusion 2.0.1 I can certainly tell you that VirtualBox was a totally satisfying experience.

First, VirtualBox doesn’t have all the whizzy features that vmware Fusion has; but the only thing I really care about is being able to reliably run a virtual machine.  I don’t need all the features that I don’t use and don’t ever work right — all I really care about is reliability.

The user interface for VirtualBox is clean and simple (though I would recommend you spend a little time looking at all the options for VirtualBox and the settings for virtual machines before you get too carried away).

The documentation and FAQs are excellent.  They cover almost every question that came to my mind before I started (including how you could move a vmware machine to VirtualBox if you wanted to).

Since VirtualBox emulates an Intel SATA AHCI controller, it’s very simple to install XP or 2003 (I actually did both) using IDE drives and then switch over to SATA AHCI (which improves performance).  In fact, all you need to is enable the SATA controller in the machine configuration, start the machine, install the Intel Matrix drivers, shut down the machine, change the connection of the drive from IDE to SATA channel 0, and start the machine… couldn’t be easier.

The only feature I would like to see in VirtualBox is support for more than one processor.  And I guess it would also be nice to see 64-bit support on the Mac (but I don’t use 64-bit virtual machines right now, and that’s something that’s already support by other hosts, so it isn’t far off).

And the only gripe I have with VirtualBox thus far is there doesn’t seem to be a good way to share virtual machine configuration files (well — a soft link would do it).  I guess this isn’t a huge issue since it’s not something that most people would probably want to do (but I do).

At the price (FREE) you just can’t beat it.  VirtualBox works, and it seems to work well.

With vmware releasing code that isn’t fit to be taken out of a garbage can; Microsoft chipping away at the high end of vmware’s market; and everyone giving away virtualization software for the desktop you’ve got to wonder how long vmware can survive.  And frankly, I don’t care — I’ve tossed my copy of Fusion away just like I did my copy of VMware Workstation.  Microsoft provides me with perfectly function virtualization hosting software on all versions of Windows; Xen provides it on *nix; and VirtualBox provides me with a reasonable solution on OS-X (and I’m betting on Apple incorporating Xen or something like soon).

My next task is copying my machines from my MacBook (where I tested VirtualBox) to my two Mac Minis and my Mac Pro… looks straight forward.

Linux – Desktop Search

A while ago I published a post on Desktop Search on Linux (specifically Ubuntu).  I was far from happy with my conclusions and I felt I needed to re-evaluate all the options to see which would really perform the most accurate search against my information.

Primarily my information consists of Microsoft Office documents, Open Office documents, pictures (JPEG, as well as Canon RAW and Nikon RAW), web pages, archives, and email (stored as RFC822/RFC2822 compliant files with an eml extension).

My test metrics would be to take a handful of search terms which I new existed in various types of documents, and check the results (I actually used Microsoft Windows Search 4.0 to prepare a complete list of documents that matched the query — since I knew it worked as expected).

The search engines I tested were:

I was able to install, configure, and launch each of the applications.  Actually none of them were really that difficult to install and configure; but all of them required searching through documentation and third party sites — I’d say poor documentation is just something you have to get used to.

Beagle, Google, Tracker, Pinot, and Recoll all failed to find all the documents of interest… none of them properly indexed the email files — most of the failed to handle plain text files; that didn’t leave a very high bar to pick a winner.

Queries on Strigi actually provided every hit that the same query provided on Windows Search… though I have to say Windows Search was easier to setup and use.

I tried the Neopomuk (KDE) interface for Strigi — though it just didn’t seem to work as well as strigiclient did… and certainly strigiclient was pretty much at the top of the list for butt-ugly, user-hostile, un-intuitive applications I’d ever seen.

After all of the time I’ve spent on desktop search for Linux I’ve decided all of the search solutions are jokes.  None of them are well thought out, none of them are well executed, and most of them out right don’t work.

Like most Linux projects, more energy needs to be focused on working out a framework for search than everyone going off half-cocked and creating a new search paradigm.

The right model is…

A single multi-threaded indexer running in the background indexing files according to a system wide policy aggregated with user policies (settable by each user on directories they own) along with the access privileges.

A search API that takes the user/group and query to provide results for items that the user has (read) access to.

The indexer should be designed to use plug-in modules to handle particular file types (mapped both by file extension, and by file content).

The index should also be designed to use plug-in modules for walking a file system and receiving file system change events (that allows the framework to adapt as the Linux kernel changes — and would support remote indexing as well).

Additionally, the index/search should be designed with distributed queries in mind (often you want to search many servers, desktops, and web locations simultaneously).

Then it becomes a simple matter for developers to write new/better indexer plug-ins; and better search interfaces.

I’ve pointed out in a number of recent posts that you can effective use Linux as a server platform in your business; however, it seems that if search is a requirement you might want to consider ponying up the money for Microsoft Windows Server 2008 and enjoy seamless search (that works) between your Windows Vista / Windows 7 Desktops and Windows Server.

REFERENCES:

Ubuntu – Desktop Search

DHCP

DHCP, or Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, is an internet standard defined by RFC1541 and later by RFC2131(as well as a few other RFCs relevant to other physical mediums) as an extension to BOOTP.

DHCP is a fairly elegant method to give client computers configuration information to allow them access to an IP network.

Conceptually the protocol is straight forward:

  • A client machine boots and activates it’s network adapter
  • A client machine requests IP configuration information
  • A server provides IP configuration information with a time specific lease
  • A client consumes the IP configuration information and setups up it’s network adapter
  • A client attempts to renew it’s IP configuration information when the lease has half expired
  • A client releases it’s IP configuration information when done with it
  • A server release client specific configuration information either when it’s been released by the client or the lease has expired.

Most home and small businesses use DHCP and they use their router / gateway device as the DHCP server (most of these devices default to enabling their DHCP server).

Some gateways allow you a great deal of control over the DHCP server, they allow you to set MAC address to IP bindings, specify the DHCP records to be provided.  Some gateways only allow you to turn on or off the service.

An option to running the DHCP server in your router / gateway would be to run it on a machine that is always on (or at least is one when any machine that might need DHCP services might be on).

Microsoft provides a DHCP server as part of their server operating systems (Server 2003 and Server 2008), ISC provides a DHCP server that can be run on a variety of operating systems, and there are a few shareware and open source DHCP servers that might fit your needs.

There’s no question that DHCP is the way to manage IP configuration information in a small network, and most business and enterprises use DHCP as well.

Alternately if you don’t have a device that does DHCP and don’t want to or can’t use a software solution you can use the “Alternate Configuration” panel on a Windows PC to setup the IP address configuration information and if a DHCP server is ever present it will override the information you’ve entered on the PC.  This is very handy for laptops that need to be configured by DHCP when they’re out and about or at the office, but when you don’t have a DHCP server at home and need to connect to another machine.  This is different than statically setting the IP address on the machine, if you do that you have to change the configuration each time you need DHCP.

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.