Building an OpenServer 5.0.7 System on New Hardware in 2013

Your venerable (SCO) OpenServer 5.0.7 Point of Sale server bit the dust and you need a new system right away to get the Point of Sale software running again so your PoS terminals, whether dumb serial terminals or “smart” network stations, are not just expensive bricks. Of course some of the VARs that cater to the Unix based Point of Sale market stopped building Point of Sale systems on OpenServer when the former owners of the SCO brand went litigation crazy and started suing … get this … their customers. Maybe your VAR was one of the ones that moved on. Or perhaps he is just old and retired now. If not, you can probably get a new system built with OpenServer from your VAR. If your VAR has moved on, you may be looking into your options. Well, if you have the disks and the license key, why not build it yourself? I will tell you some parts you can use today, in 2013, to do just that.

I recently rebuilt a failed OpenServer 5.0.7 Point of Sale server for one of our local clients. I received a call that the server would not boot back up after a power event where the circuit breaker blew out on the power strip connected to the system. The server’s power light would come on when power was applied, but the system would not POST. This was a low-end server actually built on a desktop motherboard. It was a bit over five years old since the last rebuild and it was about time for the hardware to be replaced anyway. As my shop is an AMD shop of course this was an AMD build.

Likely just the motherboard was the dead part, but a direct new replacement for that over five year old motherboard could not be found. There are plenty of used ones on the used parts market. The client did not want some used motherboard that might die at any time. (His words, not mine.) So I shopped around to find a real BIOS based (No UEFI please.), AMD CPU capable, small business server motherboard and came up with the ASUS KCMA-D8 server board. To this I added an AMD Opteron 4122, socket C32, Quad-core CPU. Then 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) of Kingston 1066MHZ DDR3 ECC Registered RAM. The OpenServer 5.0.7 product is a 32-bit system, so anything more than 4 GB of RAM would be a waste … unless we were installing this as a virtual machine on top of another host. In this case, it was a “bare metal” install, so 4 GB it was. A Dynatron 2U and Up 60mm CPU Cooler model F661 was purchased to provide cooling for the Opteron 4122 CPU.

This Point of Sale shop does not need more “horsepower” than the build shown here. They are not even using SMP, so three of the cores on this CPU are idle. But if you need more “grunt” and you do use SMP, this board will take two Opteron 4100/4200/4300 series CPUs with up to 8 cores each. That should be enough muscle for almost any small to medium sized Point of Sale, or vanilla Accounting, back-end server.

The KCMA-D8 motherboard has no parallel port(s) and no IDE connectors. This can be a problem when replacing an older system that did have those parts. The client has two perfectly good parallel printers used in the PoS shop, so a Startech.com 2 Port PCI Parallel Adapter Card – EPP/ECP was acquired. Since the client’s old DVDRW drive still worked, and is an IDE, I found and procured a StarTech.com 1 Port PCI Express IDE Controller Adapter Card.

The old ATX mid-tower case was partially gutted to remove the Adaptec SCSI controller used for the SCSI boot/data drive, the dead motherboard, RAM and CPU. The new motherboard, RAM, and CPU were installed. Then the Adaptec SCSI controller was reinserted and connected to the SCSI drive. The new add-on boards mentioned in the previous paragraph were installed. Then the power supply, after testing in another system, was reinstalled. The system was connected to our KVM switch and powered on. The OpenServer 5.0.7 operating system came up with a few errors related to the old missing parts. But it did boot and I was able to “get root” and begin setting up the new parts after removing the references to the old parts, relinking the kernel and rebooting.

The IDE controller was seen as a second IDE device, but after running ‘scoadmin hardware’ to add the new card for the kernel, relinking and rebooting, it showed up and the DVDRW drive could then be used. The motherboard has dual Intel 82574L based network adapters. The latest eeG_5.1.2 drivers for 5.0.7 from the ftp.sco.com site cover this chip. As the network adapters were not yet working the driver was downloaded using my Mageia 2 Linux PC, burned to a CD, then copied to the OpenServer file system. From there the driver could be installed with the ‘custom’ command. This was done and the adapters were configured for use via ‘scoadmin network’, one with a static IP address for the PoS store, one with a DHCP client for use here at our office. The server does not run as a gateway, so this setup was left in place when it was delivered.

Finally the dual-port parallel card was the last item needing to be configured in the kernel. This card has a ASIX/MosChip MCS9815CV chip on it. The OpenServer 5.0.7 system sees this as “Other communications device” rather than a dual-port parallel card. So, I had to dig into the internet to find a way to set this up. To make a long search short, I found a way to get this working by hand editing the “pa” file located at /var/opt/K/SCO/link/1.1.1Hw/etc/conf/sdevice.d/pa with the IRQ 7 address assigned to the card by the BIOS (after moving the card because it was conflicting with the USB on IRQ 11), then inserting the base address and ending address for each port (After several trial and error attempts due to the card having several addresses reported with ‘hw -r pci’, but no documentation for OpenServer of course.) then relinking the kernel and rebooting. Here is how that “pa” file looked once the proper addresses were found:

pa      Y       1       2       4       7       0       0       0       0
pa      Y       4       2       4       7       0xb480  0xb483  0       0
pa      Y       5       2       4       7       0xb080  0xb083  0       0

As far as I know there is no documentation for hand editing the “pa” file in OpenServer 5.0.7. This may have been documented in older releases, but I have none of those available these days. I simply looked at a copy of the file by logging in remotely to another OpenServer 5.0.7 system that has a single working parallel port built on the motherboard and figured out where to place the IRQ and address data.

This is basically “it” as far as this build is concerned. You should now have all the information you need to build and install your own, new OpenServer 5.0.7 system on new hardware. Of course, if that is not your cup of tea, there are still a few of us x86 Unix VARs around that can do it for you.

FOSS: Breaking the Chains of Apple and Microsoft

It has been a few weeks since I posted an article here at The ERACC Web Log. I have been kicking around some article ideas, but nothing has gelled until today. I do have some projects going that I will be writing about once they are done. I do not believe in writing articles just to have new content. In that direction lay mediocrity. I prefer actually having something worthwhile to write about. At least something I think is worthwhile.

A recent event with a local client has started me thinking, again, about Microsoft, Apple, FOSS and vendor lock-in. I am not a proponent of vendor lock-in. This screen capture of my VirtualBox Windows XP Professional test VM speaks to that.VM with XP-pro on fluxbox window manager under linux

This local client had decided to abandon Microsoft and change out their office systems for new hardware with new operating systems. Thus already requiring retraining and all that comes with such a change. Of course, I made the pitch for Linux with all FOSS. In general, they only use their systems for e-mail and creating quote documents for clients. Under FOSS systems, the e-mail is covered with any number of FOSS e-mail applications, while the quote documents are covered with LibreOffice to create PDF files. One of the systems does run accounting software for billing and payments. But they do not do their own payroll, so LedgerSMB would work for their billing and payments accounting system.

However, their office manager is an “Apple Person”. She and her husband just adore all things Apple. Her husband once told me they have six Apple systems in their home, not including their iPhones and iPads. He said to me he “hates” Microsoft and Linux. Although as far as I know, he has never even tried a Linux distribution. Since his wife is an insider with the ear of the business owner, and I am just the outside consultant, you can guess which system they picked. Yup, they went all-in for Apple on the desktops, an Apple server and QuickBooks for OS X. The new systems do look nice and do the job required, but at a price that I personally find repugnant. That price is more loss of freedom.

As far as I am concerned this client has switched one set of chains for another, prettier set of chains. Apple is no friend of freedom when it comes to software or hardware. If anything, Apple is even more binding than Microsoft because Apple refuses to open up their operating system to run on 3rd party hardware systems. In the few cases where a 3rd party vendor has tried this, Apple has done everything within its power to stomp on that and kill it.

Apple fanatics appear to suffer from a form of Stockholm Syndrome. They are chained down by Apple and chained to Apple products, yet seem to love and revere their Apple overlord. These poor folk seem to believe Apple is the apex of excellence in computing. This perception of Apple as the arbiter of excellence in the computing market place is a fine piece of marketing by Apple. It is not Truth, but the Apple Believers think it is Truth. In the world of the mind, perception is reality.

I do my best to “market” Linux as a “computing excellence” system that is open and provides freedom. Unfortunately, I am just one businessman running one small business with no budget for large advertising campaigns. All I can do is make the pitch for Linux on a small scale with a hope that the listener is open minded and will give it a fair shot. Too often, I am up against the big marketing machines of Apple and Microsoft that pay big bucks to advertise on television, internet and radio and the True Believers for same in a business setting. The chained True Believers can point to any large computer store chain to support their claims that Apple and/or Microsoft are the way to go. There is no such “proof” for Linux use.

So far, I have some small successes getting Linux into use in some settings. Those end-users have come to appreciate their freedom with Linux. However, until there is an organization with big bucks to market “Linux” and gain mind-share with the public, the chains of Microsoft and Apple will still be unbroken for many people who are unaware of the opportunity to break free with Linux and FOSS. I do not mean marketing a specific end-user distribution such as *buntu or a business distribution such as Red Hat, I mean marketing the entire idea of FOSS and all Linux distributions.

FOSS+CSS: Closed Source DOS Accounting Meets Linux and DOSEMU

About the middle of December 2012 I received a call from a long time SCO OpenServer Unix and IBM PC-DOS using client. This client has four Point of Sale business locations and runs a mix of DOS, Unix and Windows in the retail outlets. The main office, here in my town, runs a SCO OpenServer box I built them with Advantage Accounting Point of Sale that is accessed using PuTTY on two Microsoft desktop clients at the checkout counter. The Microsoft systems are basically “dumb” terminal replacements and are used for nothing else.

(One of the locations runs that Intuit PoS system. I had nothing to do with that one.) Two of the other locations run DOS based Advantage Accounting Point of Sale on stand-alone DOS boxes. One of these boxes I had built them about 10 years ago finally gave out. The hard drive would spin up, but the box did nothing else. So, they called me to get a new DOS PC. I explained that DOS was best served these days in a virtual machine or using a DOS emulation layer on something like Linux. We talked over the options and they decided to send me the old case to gut and rebuild with new parts, Mageia 2 Linux and a DOS Virtual Machine.

I ordered the new parts to go in the old case. While waiting for the parts I gutted and cleaned the old case. Everything came out except the old hard drive, which did still work. The new parts finally arrived. Then a new hard drive and all new “guts” went into the case with the old drive. The old drive, being an IDE, had to have an IDE <> SATA adapter. This was installed to access the old drive after Linux was installed on the new drive. I backed up the old drive to a file with ‘dd’ once booted to Mageia 2 on the rebuilt PC.

Then VirtualBox was installed and the ‘dd’ copy of the drive was cloned to a virtual disk image (VDI) using the VBoxManage command line tool. A virtual machine to run the IBM PC-DOS on the VDI was created and booted to test. All seemed well. However, this PC needed parallel port printing. The motherboard ordered has a parallel port and serial port on-board. But no matter how I tried to get parallel printing working with VirtualBox, it never did work. I either got errors (No, I do not recall the errors exactly. I remember permission errors, I think. Silly me lost my notes about that.) or making changes to the setup got no errors but no printing either. This was a show stopping problem, until I recalled that DOSEMU allows one to set up printing to Linux print queues in its configuration file. Whew!

So, out went VirtualBox and in came DOSEMU. I copied the files from the old drive to the appropriate DOSEMU directory under the user account. Edited the CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT for use of IBM PC-DOS in DOSEMU. Then I set up a RAW printer to use with the DOS accounting application and placed the command to access that in the appropriate section of the DOSEMU configuration file. A test print worked as expected and all was well. Well almost.

I still needed to address backups. The old floppy tape drive would not work because these new motherboards do not include a floppy controller. Besides, tape is just so passe. Instead, I took a CDRW disc and used K3B to create a backup job that could be run with a double-click from the Xfce desktop used with this build. Yes, I could have whipped out my bash foo and created a backup script from tabula rasa, but time was of the essence on this job. I usually want to spend a bit of time tweaking my scripts to make them extra awesome and fool proof. In this case, I just did not have the time to create an excellent, one off, debugged script. The shop needed its Point of Sale system back “yesterday”. Besides, K3B works fine and this PC has plenty of resources for adding in some KDE bloat to run K3B. Plus, these guys need to see some eye-candy as this is the first Linux box they have ever had.

Now they have their DOS Point of Sale back in place. They also have a new Linux based PC with a GUI, LibreOffice and other office goodies installed for creating flyers, making custom spreadsheets and all the other office PC tasks a DOS only system just cannot do easily or at all. Mission accomplished.

P.S. Old DOS Geeks – Yes, I know there are still those of you using WordPerfect for DOS, Lotus 123 for DOS, [insert name] for DOS and you can do whatever you want with those. But I live in the 21st century and so do my clients. We like the pretty GUI while we do our work. 😉

Open Source: Why Military Forces Should Use Linux

Why? Because the level of skill required to crack a Unix-like OS is much higher than that needed for a Microsoft OS. Further, properly configured Unix-like systems are much more robust than Microsoft systems. Were Military forces using properly configured and properly secured Unix or Linux systems we would not see items like these below being reported.

I just had a, “What were they thinking?!”, moment while reading this article at ars technica: Computer virus hits US Predator and Reaper drone fleet. First, it is not a “computer virus”, it is a Microsoft operating system virus. Second, using Microsoft operating systems for any critical Military computer systems is just wrong. I know the US Military has specifications for rugged computer systems that must be made in the USA. That makes sense. What does not make sense is the fact that the US Military will accept Microsoft operating systems on its critical, sensitive hardware at this date in time. That is like specifying a bank vault that can withstand a nearby nuclear blast, but allowing the builder to install a screen door for access to the vault. It is just a Bad Idea!

This was a deja vu moment as well. I was following news about Military systems back in the 1990’s and had a similar experience when I read about the US Navy “smart ship” running Microsoft Windows NT … and having a ship killing system failure: Software glitches leave Navy Smart Ship dead in the water. I completely agreed with Ron Redman, deputy technical director of the Fleet Introduction Division of the Aegis Program Executive Office, at the time when he stated:

“Unix is a better system for control of equipment and machinery, whereas NT is a better system for the transfer of information and data. NT has never been fully refined and there are times when we have had shutdowns that resulted from NT.” … and … “Because of politics, some things are being forced on us that without political pressure we might not do, like Windows NT,” Redman said. “If it were up to me I probably would not have used Windows NT in this particular application. If we used Unix, we would have a system that has less of a tendency to go down.”

Actually, after re-reading that, I disagree that NT, or any Microsoft OS, was or is “a better system for the transfer of information and data” when compared to a Unix-like OS. I would use Linux for that too. Especially in a critical Military system like a “smart ship” or a drone control center. Frankly I do use Linux for operational security and the secure transfer of information and data in my own small business. I thank God that I do not have to succumb to political pressure forcing me to use a Microsoft OS for my business. It seems to me, if I can figure out how to implement Linux for my personal and business use, surely the US Military can do the same for its critical systems infrastructure. Obviously some people in the Military “get it” when it comes down to what system is best for critical control systems. Now if only the Microsoft lobbyists can be shut down from affecting the decisions as to what systems are best for the US Military.

Microsoft still makes a decent gaming operating system. But that is about the sum total for which I would agree a Microsoft system should be used. Even there I am agreeing reluctantly only because the majority of current PC game development targets the Microsoft OS.

Hey, US Military folk and US Senators with military oversight, if it has to be from the USA, ever hear of Red Hat Linux? How about the US NSA’s own Security-Enhanced Linux? Perhaps it is time for you folk to rethink the requirements for Military computing systems and make one of these Linux operating systems part of the requirement. Or take the Linux kernel source code and use your own internal Military IT staff and programmers to collaborate and build a custom system just for Military use. Any of these would be a better option than relying on a “known to be owned” OS like any of those from Microsoft. I will be glad to introduce you to Linux if you want to pay me for a Linux consultation. Just sayin’ …

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Edit Sat Oct  8 20:57:30 CDT 2011: Due to a salient observation elsewhere, change “pwn” to crack in the first paragraph.

Open Source: Niche Markets, Linux and Microsoft

If you are a Linux protagonist who has been around as long as, or longer than, I have, you have seen responses like these over and over as to why Linux distributions will never go mainstream on the PC desktop:

  • “Linux will always remain a niche platform because it does not have a native release of Adobe (Photoshop / Creative Suite / etcetera)!”
  • “Linux does not have Microsoft Office and Microsoft Office power users require Microsoft Office!”
  • “The web portal at (insert portal here) needs Internet Explorer. There is no native release of Internet Explorer for Linux, so no one will want to use Linux!”
  • Program X does not have a Linux version or equivalent!”
  • Or other claims along the same lines …

Yes, these comments usually do have exclamation points to show how emphatic the claimant feels about the statement. I think these claimants have the equation backwards. All of these cases are what is known as a “niche market”. How many people using PC systems need to use Adobe Photoshop? How many Microsoft Office users are a “Microsoft Office power user”? How many end-users of a PC system need to go to a web portal that requires Microsoft Internet Explorer? (I will ignore the fact that many of these “IE only” web portals usually work just fine if one fakes the browser string with Firefox or Opera.) How many people need to use Program X on their PC?  I am thinking, “Not that many.”, for all the above.

To me this suggests that the Microsoft platform is the niche platform:

  • Do you “need” Adobe (Photoshop / Creative Suite / etcetera) for your job? Then you are a niche user.
  • Do you “need” Microsoft Office because you are a “power user”? Then you are a niche user.
  • Do you “need” access to an IE only web portal? Then you are a niche user.
  • Do you “need” to run Program X on your PC? Then you are a niche user.

The vast majority of PC users do not need, or want, any of the programs that are often claimed to be the problem holding back adoption of Linux on the PC desktop in the mainstream. In my experience with the few end-users I have switched from Microsoft to Linux, some of them did have special needs that precluded using Linux on their desktop PC at this time. The others have zero problems using a Linux desktop PC.

These latter are people that do not try to solve PC problems themselves. They call a “computer guy” when they have problems. They would call a “computer guy” even if they ran Microsoft systems and had a problem. They have no “need” for any of the niche usage scenarios above. They are perfectly content that they can send and receive e-mail, access FaceBook, play Flash games, browse web sites, use personal finance software and make a simple spreadsheet with LibreOffice. All from their Linux based desktop PC.

One of these Linux desktop users is also a Skype user and there are “millions” of Skype users “out there”. Skype usage is less of a niche market than it used to be. That is going to be problematic once Microsoft kills Skype development for other platforms in favor of its own software now that Microsoft owns Skype. The “embrace, extend and extinguish” paradigm is still Microsoft’s bread and butter. But if Microsoft does what I suspect, Skype will end up being merged into some Microsoft based software. At that point our smart FOSS developers will likely figure out a way to inter-operate with the Microsoft software from FOSS programs. However, this “problem” would be non-existent if end-users were aware of and used FOSS communication projects like Ekiga.

So, that said, how do we get from where we are to the mainstream desktop?

The “problem” with adoption of Linux on the end-user desktop is not these niche usage scenarios. As I see it Linux adoption is a fourfold problem, apathy, education, marketing and pre-loading agreements.

  • Apathy – Okay, there is not much we can do about this one. If an end-user is apathetic about what operating system is on his or her PC just let it go.
  • Education – There are still many people who have no idea what Linux is or can do for them. I still meet people who have not even heard the term Linux. When I can, I give them a brief overview of what Linux is and then give them a Live CD distribution to play with. Those of us who are Linux professionals can take the opportunity to present Linux systems at local Chamber of Commerce gatherings and local technology shows.
  • Marketing – There is no one company marketing Linux to the masses on a large scale. We will see no advertisement on television or in print from an “Apple” that offers an alternative to Microsoft. Most of the “Linux Big Boys” are only marketing to businesses. Actually I think this should be one of the jobs of The Linux Foundation. But until that organization takes on major advertising, we can use local media and continue to use positive “word of mouth advertising” to “market” Linux.
  • Pre-loading Agreements – Microsoft has pretty much sewn up the pre-load venue with major PC manufacturers. Sure, some of these manufacturers give a slight nod to Linux and offer a few systems with Linux pre-loaded. But I am not content with the puny offerings from these major manufacturers. (Of course since my company builds custom systems with Linux pre-loaded this should come as no surprise to our regular readers.) I do not expect this to change any time soon. So, no consumers are likely to see a Linux based PC from HP, Dell, etcetera on the shelves at Best Buy. The only way I see to overcome this at this point is with education and marketing. If we can create a demand for Linux systems like Apple has done for Apple systems, the end result will be Linux systems on the shelves at major retail outlets.

There are people who should stick with Microsoft or Apple systems for their niche usage. For the rest of the PC user base, Linux on the desktop is ready to go.

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Linux Hardware Support Better Than Windows 7

Are you in the market for a new laptop, desktop or server PC with Linux installed? Please give us the opportunity to quote a preloaded Linux laptop, desktop or server system for you.

I will start this off by adding, “… with the exception of some wireless chip sets and high end graphics cards.” to appease those of you who will act like Arnold Horshack (1, 2) if that is not mentioned. If there are other unsupported devices on Linux that are supported in Windows 7 feel free to scratch your itch and tell me in a comment.

The concept of better is a subjective idea. What is better to me is possibly, even probably, not better to someone else. In my case, and in the case of some of my clients, Linux hardware support is “better”. I do not buy cutting edge hardware and tend to keep systems and peripherals until they stop working and can no longer be repaired at a reasonable cost. When a new release of my favorite Linux distribution comes out I can be 100% certain that my hardware that works with my current release will still work with the new release. That is something I just take for granted. This is not so in the Microsoft camp.

For those people who hold on to working hardware through new Microsoft versions, their hardware may or may not be supported in a new release of a Microsoft OS. Take the example of a recent conversation I had with the manager at one of my client offices. I will call her “Mrs. B” here. Mrs. B is a Microsoft fanatic and will not even consider switching to Apple, much less Linux. When I mentioned switching to Linux for her office desktop during our conversation she laughingly said, “Gene, you know better than that.”, because we have had that discussion before. This came up in our recent conversation about her HP Photosmart 1115 printer.

Mrs B recently had to purchase a new PC for her office use because her old Microsoft XP Professional based PC died. She bought a cheap, commodity PC with Windows 7 Home Premium installed from an on-line discount store. She did not check whether or not her existing peripherals were supported. Why should she? They worked before, so they should still work. Correct? Not so correct. You see, HP has, for whatever reason, decided to not make drivers for the Photosmart 1115 for Vista, much less Windows 7.

Mrs. B had asked me to see if I could help her get her printer working on Windows 7 because she could not find the driver CD. So, I went to www.hp.com and did a search for drivers for her. I already suspected that HP had not created drivers for that model, and I was correct. I informed Mrs. B and mentioned that the printer does have support under Apple OS X and Linux. So maybe we could switch her to Linux so she would not have to get rid of her still working printer just to buy one that has Windows 7 drivers. That is when I got her response above. So, Mrs. B will be buying a new printer and either throwing away or giving away the still functional Photosmart 1115 printer.

While at HP’s web site, just for curiosity’s sake, I looked at the list of unsupported products in Windows 7. That is quite a list. Then I took items from the list at random and checked to see if HP reports they are supported under Linux. Oddly, some of the items in that list do have Windows 7 drivers. It seems even HP is not sure which of their products are not supported. Some of the products are not supported under Linux according to the HP driver search for them. Those also only have drivers for Microsoft Windows 3.1, Microsoft Windows 95 and Microsoft Windows 2000. It is possible these very old models are “win-printer” types that are gutted of any stand-alone capability and require a driver to function at all. But the other models I looked up all had support under Linux listed, but no support under Windows Vista or Windows 7.

One problem here is that Microsoft drivers are so closely tied to the system kernel that a new release of the operating system breaks old drivers. Under Apple OS X and Linux this is not a problem because most drivers, including those for printing, are separate from and not tied to the kernel. On Linux any driver that does require a specific kernel can be, and usually will be, easily recompiled by a distribution’s maintainers and released along with the new kernel. If the driver works with DKMS, even better. Printing runs as a separate subsystem, usually using CUPS. So, if one’s printer worked with Fedora 9 it still works with Fedora 15 and will probably still be able to work with Fedora 25 or whatever Fedora releases may be called later. So, one’s beloved Photosmart 1115 printer can still be used under Linux while it cannot be used with Windows 7. In my book, that is better hardware support with Linux.

These days I will only purchase new peripherals for my SOHO that specifically state they have Linux support or are shown to be supported by open source drivers. If the package says “Linux” on it, I also try to take the time to send an e-mail to the manufacturer letting them know I chose their product because they took the effort to put on the packaging the fact they support my preferred OS. This is my small effort to keep these manufacturers interested in supporting Linux. Perhaps you can do the same.

Do you have your own “peripheral horror story” with a Microsoft OS? Feel free to post a comment about it.

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Are You Smart? Then You Probably Do Not Use IE!

Note: The article at “AptiQuant” referred to for this story is probably a hoax. See this article at BBC News. Then compare the AptiQuant “team” with the team at Central Test based in France. A look at the domain record for the AptiQuant site shows an address that does not appear to exist. In my opinion, this was a pretty good hoax. But it does mean my conclusions below are now just based on my own observations and suspicions since we have to toss out the hoax. One comment to my article here did point out a different site with IQ results: http://www.iqleague.com/group/smartest-browser-and-os Thanks for that!

This is priceless. A recent article at Fox News (Internet Explorer Users Are Dumber, Study Shows) points out that a study by AptiQuant shows users of the web browsers Camino, Chrome, Chrome Frame, Firefox, Opera and Safari scored higher on IQ testing than most users of versions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. A follow-up article at AptiQuant states that some Microsoft Internet Explorer users are threatening to sue AptiQuant. That latter fact just proved AptiQuant’s point I think.

I read the PDF from the AptiQuant site, you can get your own copy here, and noticed that the respondents to their study were self-selecting. People found the AptiQuant test while searching for IQ tests on the WWW and chose to take the test themselves. This of course leaves out the millions of people who were not looking for web sites to test their IQ. It is possible that those looking for an IQ test are on average more intellegent than those who are not. But that is just my personal suspicion. I have nothing I can use to back that suspicion. In any case a sample of 100,000+ people is a decent sample.

Part of the conclusion of this study states:

The study showed a substantial relationship between an individual’s cognitive ability and their choice of web browser. From the test results, it is a clear indication that individuals on the lower side of the IQ scale tend to resist a change/upgrade of their browsers. This hypothesis can be extended to any software in general, however more research is needed for that, which is a potential future work as an extension to this report.

This suggests to me that Microsoft users who refuse to move from a Microsoft operating system to something else may be in the less intelligent group. I think that is more than likely. My anecdotal evidence for this is I know several people who moved away from Microsoft to Linux in the past few years. As I know these people personally I can state with confidence that all of them are rather intelligent people. I did not test their IQ, but I have had extended conversations with these people on substantial subjects. Without exception each of these people I know personally have sharp minds and can “hold their own” in discussions on a number of subjects. Many of the people I know who refuse to leave Microsoft for something better tend to be those who also keep getting malware infections that my company is called upon to clean up. Does this scientifically prove that Microsoft users are statistically “dumber” than Linux users? Nope. But it does show to me that those people I know personally who have moved away from Microsoft to Linux are smarter in some respects than those I know who insist on using Microsoft systems and software.

That said, I do show three examples below where the users moved from Linux back to Microsoft. None of these people are “dumb”. Everyone else I know who switched to Linux as a user has been relatively content and, based on my anecdotal evidence, quite smart.

One of the people who moved from Linux back to Microsoft is a smart fellow who worked for NASA during the 1960’s and helped plan the first moon landing. He is not a “computer guy” and had long been a user of Microsoft based systems starting with IBM PC-DOS in the 1980’s. But he can do calculus in his head, which I cannot do, so he is not dumb by any stretch of the imagination. He just did not enjoy having to find and learn new software to do what he wanted on Linux. He does have a Linux VM running on top of his Microsoft OS so he still dabbles with Linux. But he is generally a Microsoft user again.

Another fellow that switched from Linux back to Microsoft has failing health and is on medication that impairs his ability to think and communicate. The change from Microsoft to Linux was therefore quite frustrating for him with the differences he encountered. He really needed familiarity to be able to do what he wanted with his PC, so he reverted back to Microsoft which was the right move for him.

The other people I know who moved from Linux to Microsoft did so because they run a small business that does much of its selling through eBay. We all know eBay is in the back pocket of Microsoft for some reason and has made it difficult to easily use some features of eBay with anything other than a Microsoft based system. Being on Linux made using these eBay features they needed either very difficult or impossible. So they moved back to Microsoft. However, these folk disliked having to use Microsoft so much they recently switched again and are now using Apple based systems for their business. I hope they are not similarly frustrated by eBay in their move to Apple. Time will tell.

In conclusion, I will be very interested to see a similar study done that takes into account the operating systems used. The quote above from the PDF document by AptiQuant states this may be done in the future. If that is done and released to the public, I suspect that we will find a similar pattern of IQ results based on the operating system used as well.

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Linux: OpenType Font Challenge

Edit Mon Jun 20 12:19:54 CDT 2011: This is meant to be a semi-humorous, “newbie” tutorial in response to an apparent challenge. My goal is to show how easy installing fonts could be for a non-geek newbie that is “scared” of the command-line. Based on some feedback I have seen, that was not clear originally.

So I am reading this article about the big Apple malware fail and see this challenge in the comments:

# redofromstart posted Fri Jun 17 12:56:48 PDT 2011

Hey, Linux luvvers: tell me how to install OpenType fonts so they’re available to all apps and all users. Go ahead, I have pretty much the whole weekend…

I am always up for a challenge. Especially if I get to learn something new. Since I really have no clue what defines an “OpenType font”, this will obviously teach me something. My goal? To see if this is truly a difficult task, or if the challenger is just another anti-Linux FUDster that is too ignorant to know how easy it can be to administer a Linux PC. This person does not really explain what is meant by “all apps”, so I am guessing that to mean usable in Office suites and programs like The GIMP by any user on the PC to set the font for creating documents and text in graphics.

My system is a Mandriva Linux 2010.2 PC. As far as I know I have never installed an “OpenType font”. If there are any on this PC, they came with the distribution. My first challenge is to find out, “What the heck is an OpenType font?” A quick Startpage search finds me this page: http://www.adobe.com/type/opentype/ where I learn that OpenType fonts are based on some beastly font rules created in a joint effort of Adobe and Microsoft. I am feeling squeamish already. This paragraph gives me the gist of the information:

The OpenType format is an extension of the TrueType SFNT format that also can support Adobe® PostScript® font data and new typographic features. OpenType fonts containing PostScript data, such as those in the Adobe Type Library, have an .otf suffix in the font file name, while TrueType-based OpenType fonts have a .ttf file name suffix.

Uhm, okay, sounds proprietary and thus “icky”. I know generally what TrueType fonts are but I have never seen an .otf suffix in my life. I have seen the .ttf suffix. This OpenType cruft is supposedly an “embrace and exten(guish)d” version of TrueType and Type 1 fonts rolled into one file. But okay, I decided to take this challenge, so I need to see if I can find some free, as in gratis, OpenType fonts to try to install. I need some unencumbered .otf and .ttf OpenType fonts it seems. I plan to just try to install them with the font installer in the Mandriva Control Center (aka MCC). What do I have to lose? Well, other than some time and a lame challenge about fonts for which I probably have no need.

However, before I go looking for fonts I believe I should do some more reading. This article at Linux.com gave me more than enough information: A font primer for Linux So, after reading that, I go font hunting. Another quick search finds this site which appears to be a cornucopia of OpenType fonts: fontsopentype.com

I decide to download four fonts and attempt to install them with the MCC font installer. Hmmm, the first one I click is not free and is listed as Price: $99.00 USD. Right, I am going to spend $100 on a font. Not. Next try … Price: $29.00 USD. I am beginning to smell a dead rat, or at least a site that is just a front for a commercial venture. Yup, each URL I check at fontsopentype.com goes to a site that sells fonts. Granted, I did not check every URL at the site. But all the URLs I checked point to the same web shop. I need “free as in gratis” stuff for testing this OpenType font thingie. I do not have money to waste on fonts that I do not really need to just meet some silly challenge from a probable anti-Linux dink. If you want gratis fonts for Linux do not go to fontsopentype.com. Back to the searches.

My next search leads me to some sites that do have gratis fonts. This one, freewarefonts.com, appears to be run by the same folks that run the fontsopentype.com site. However, if the fonts are truly gratis, who cares? Certainly I do not. I now select four fonts I want to download and try. I know someone who just adores all things Angelic. So my first pick is Gabriels Angels off of the Christmas Fonts page. As a US citizen I find myself drawn to the United font in the U section. As a fan of the comic Calvin and Hobbes I just have to get the Calvin and Hobbes font from the first C page. I need one more font and settle on the Miss Brooks font from page 12 of the M section, in honor of a close friend of mine who listens to Old Time Radio shows on the internet. One of his favorites is Our Miss Brooks starring Eve Arden.

All these fonts are zipped. Once I have them downloaded to a new directory on a NFS share, appropriately labeled “fonts”, I unzip them. Hmmm, every one of these is a .ttf type font. Not a .otf in the bunch. I am not sure if this is a true test of The Challenge since I know for certain my Linux system already has some .ttf fonts installed and I use them regularly. They are available to all the user accounts on the PC too. Regardless of these facts, I decide to go ahead and see just how difficult it is to install these new fonts on my Mandriva Linux 2010.2 system. So I start MCC and go to the “Manage, add and remove fonts. Import Windows(TM) fonts” page:

Mandriva Linux Control Center 2010.2 Font Manager

Then I run the Import Fonts tool:

Import fonts

After that finishes I do not see the fonts in the font list. But once I close and reopen the font manager, there they are. Here is the Calvin and Hobbes font highlighted:

Mandriva Linux Control Center 2010.2 Font Manager - Calvin and Hobbes

I am wondering, “What was so hard about that?” Now I open a word processor to see if the fonts show up in the word processor:

Abiword - The Fonts Have Landed

There they are. I wonder what I am missing. Did the fellow mean actual .otf fonts? If so, I need to find some that are gratis and try those. I discover finding gratis .otf fonts is as easy as searching for ‘ “.otf” fonts ” free ” ‘. The first site I pull up, http://www.fontsquirrel.com/, looks very promising. Since I have already installed four .ttf fonts I decide to just look for two .otf fonts to install. I am always needing a good monospaced font, so I pick two of the .otf files from the Monospaced Fonts page. I choose Aurulent Sans Mono and NotCourierSans. Again these are zipped. I download and unzip the files, then run the Import Fonts tool again. And …

Mandriva Linux Control Center 2010.2 Font Manager - Aurulent Sans Mono Mandriva Linux Control Center 2010.2 Font Manager - NotCourierSans

… there they are. Okay, one more thing to try. I will open The GIMP as a different user from an xterm and see if these .otf fonts show up in The GIMP. I create a brand new user named testuser. Unique eh? Then I run su – testuser to switch to the new user:

su - testuser

Then of course I run The GIMP as that user:

Workspace 2 with testuser running The GIMP and showing the new fonts

There are the fonts I just installed. Oh, my. That was so freaking hard … No, wait. It was not hard. Eat crow, dear redofromstart and all you other Linux nay-sayers who have not a clue when you spout your Fear, Uncertainty and Disinformation about Linux. Try a modern, user friendly, Linux distribution for a full year before you try to tell people something is “too hard to do on Linux”. No, I do not mean Ubuntu. You may not convert to Linux as a result, but at least you can avoid keeping your feet in your mouths. Frankly I do not care if you do or do not convert to Linux. Just stop catapulting the FUD from your medieval bastions of ignorance. 🙂

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Microsoft Windows – Promoting Mediocrity Since 1985

What do I mean “… Since 1985”? Go here for a timeline of Microsoft Windows: A history of Windows – Microsoft Windows

I am a Unix / Linux guy writing this article out of sheer frustration, so if one does not like pointed, accurate ranting about that Not A Unix OS to which one may be partial, stop here.

Our company web log, web site, shopping site and forum get hit by varying degrees with SPAM bots, or in some cases possibly paid SPAM shills, signing up for accounts, posting “comments” and sending “track-backs” that aren’t. Constant administration oversight is needed to keep these cleaned up, which is one reason why all comments and track-backs here at The ERACC Web Log are moderated. We see the SPAM so you don’t have to. I also see the occasional SPAM in my e-mail. Even though I have measures in place to mitigate the problem in all these locations, nothing completely stops these annoying SPAM-ing jerks. Invariably, when I trace back the IP addresses of these SPAM attempts with nmap and check the running OS I see something like this:

Running: Microsoft Windows 2003
OS details: Microsoft Windows Server 2003 SP2, Microsoft Windows XP SP2

It seems another technically ignorant Microsoft user, or dare I say “administrator”, has zero clue how to secure an internet facing operating system. (By the way, saying these folk are ignorant is not a slur on their character, because ignorance can be cured.) You see, when a company designs an operating system so mediocre and so “easy” an ignorant person can use it to connect a computer to the internet, you get ignorant people connecting computers to the internet. This in and of itself is not necessarily a Bad Thing™. Unless the operating system in question has flawed design decisions from its inception that leave the OS open to attack when connected to the internet by ignorant users. (Psst, meaning Microsoft Windows from 1985 to now.) Yes, all the Microsoft “guru” types out there are gnashing teeth and insisting Microsoft operating systems can be secured. Yup, I agree. But not by the technically clueless who are coddled by intellect smothering GUI love, which means the majority of Microsoft users.

Too many Microsoft users have been taught the attitude, “I don’t want to have to learn something ‘hard’, I just want this thing to work.” when talking about computer systems. This brings to mind one of my favorite paragraphs from a book I have read more than once:

“Would you fight so with a sword? No? I thought not! You would try to cut your enemy even as his blade split your heart. That is the Angrezi vice; you would rather die than go to the effort of thinking. You are not stupid, but you are lazy —” He touched the side of his head to show what he meant. “You will toil like bullocks with your bodies rather than make your brains sweat.”

David bar-Elias to Athelstane King after King “gives up” during a chess match with Elias in The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling.

Unfortunately, since Microsoft systems always use a brain atrophying GUI for Every Freaking Thing, the ignorant users are usually not taught how to think for themselves. So these people rarely know the hows and whys of network security or how to parse and solve network problems with their own brain. The GUI keeps these poor people ignorant. If “it” is not in a GUI, “it” is not possible or even knowable as far as many of these folks are concerned. Substitute some network security task for “it” in the previous sentence. (Hey, you. Yeah, you over there using that Microsoft OS. That is a multifunction tool called a computer, not a microwave oven or a toaster or a television set. Get an OS that can teach you that.)

Further, when basic design decisions are made that start off without any thought of security for this same operating system you get an operating system that is easy to suborn, regardless of the endless Microsoft Patch Tuesdays. Anti-malware is a bandage at best, because anti-malware is primarily retroactive. Anyone who is honest will admit that there are attacks that get through anti-malware on Microsoft systems all the time. Not every Microsoft system, because eventually the anti-malware vendors catch up. But if one is the first to get a new “infection”, one’s “heuristic” anti-malware has a fair chance of not catching a new malicious package introduced through that “Excellent FaceBook Page!!!11!!” one just visited with Internet Explorer. (For the record, it is not a “PC Virus”, sweetie, it is a “Microsoft Windows Virus”.)

Add to this heinous equation all the clueless Microsoft users and Microsoft “administrators” clicking their way to GUI Nirvana to realize a world-wide network nightmare called Microsoft Bot-nets, Microsoft SPAM relays and other Microsoft related malware spewing sewers. Here have some Microsoft based SPAM, or a Microsoft based DOS attack. Isn’t mediocrity just Totally Sweet?

When a company promotes ease of use mediocrity over security for its operating systems, perhaps its operating systems should not be allowed on the internet. I’m just saying …

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Linux: Updating BIOS on an Old SCSI Controller

I have a FreeBSD file server sitting in my office that has happily been serving files for a few years now. But the server is built from a conglomeration of very old parts and some of them are now wearing out. I am in the process of building another PC from old parts to replace the existing server.

One of the old parts is an Adaptec 29160 SCSI controller that will host a used Maxtor Atlas 10K4_36LWS 36 GB SCSI drive and a used Seagate ST173404LC ~80 GB SCSI drive. The Seagate, having an 80-pin connector, has an adapter to get it to work with the 68-pin cable for the Adaptec. When I got the "new" server assembled and booted it to run the SCSI disk utilities and reformat the drives, the controller saw the Seagate drive as a 4 GB drive. This just would not do. I needed a BIOS update for the 29160 controller which Adaptec supplies as an .exe for extraction and use with a bootable floppy.

Here's the problem, my new PC systems all are built without floppy drives. The motherboards do not even have floppy controllers on-board. I have been meaning to buy a USB attached floppy drive Real Soon Now™ for about 2 years and never have. I am doing the work to replace the server this weekend because the old system cannot even be backed up at this point. It gives SCSI errors and reboots if lots of disk calls are made sequentially, which happens when streaming data to the backup server. So, I need to get this server replaced now, today.

The "new" server does have a floppy drive as it is using an older technology motherboard and I have some floppy drives sitting on a shelf in my office, just in case I need one … like today. My Linux router built from a ~5 year old Compaq Presario tower PC that was given me by a friend / client, also has a floppy drive. My Mandriva Linux desktop business PC is running VirtualBox with a copy of Windows XP Professional installed in a virtual machine. So, I figured out a process to get a floppy made from which I could boot the "new" server and update the 29160's BIOS.

First I ran this command to create a 1.44 MB diskette image file:

mkdosfs -C 29160upd.img 1440

Then I started the XP Pro virtual machine, mounted the diskette image and "formatted" it as a bootable diskette. Once that completed I ran the .exe from Adaptec to extract the BIOS update utility and files and copied those to the mounted diskette image. Then I detached the image from the virtual machine and copied it to my Linux router, where a floppy drive resides. But wait … there were no floppy devices in the /dev/ directory. This was a stumper. But this command found something interesting:

locate floppy|grep dev/

I noticed a file for udev, the device creation and maintenance utility, that looked promising:

/lib/udev/create_floppy_devices

A quick look at the help output for create_floppy_devices gave the clue I needed. This command, run as root, made the floppy devices that I needed to use the floppy drive:

/lib/udev/create_floppy_devices -c fd0

Then I used the good old 'dd' command to copy the diskette image to a floppy disk:

dd if=29160upd.img of=/dev/fd0

I had to try three old diskettes before I found a good one. Once that completed without errors I removed the diskette, placed it in the "new" server, detached the SCSI cable from the controller per the instructions that came with the utility, and powered on the "new" server to boot from the diskette. The BIOS update ran successfully and the controller "saw" the correct size of the Seagate drive. It is now reformatting that Seagate drive for use with a fresh FreeBSD install.

Hopefully, some of you that find this article will be able to use this information to fix your own old controller or motherboard that requires a diskette based utility. If you do, please share a comment with us about your experience.

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