Open Source: Live Migration of Mandriva to Mageia

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 took the plunge to migrate my personal / business desktop PC from Mandriva 2010.2 to Mageia 1 today (Sunday, 4 September 2011). I used the instructions from this page: Migrate from Mandriva Linux. Specifically the section titled, “b) Upgrading inline, using urpmi (CLI)”. The migration is roughly three quarters done as I type this. I decided to try to use the PC while I ran the migration from console 1 (Ctrl Alt F1). In preparation for this I closed programs I suspected would be most affected. Such as:

  • Firefox 3.x – which will be replaced with Firefox 4.x
  • OpenOffice.org – which should be replaced with LibreOffice
  • Gnucash – which has my accounting data I do not want to risk
  • Kopete – which is being upgraded

To access our company site and begin this article I kept Opera open. I did try to print a page from Opera and crashed Opera once while running this migration. I forgot about the migration running, or I would not have tried that. I also am able to use light applications such as gedit, but still cannot print from those. I do still have access to the LAN and the internet so the system is usable. But the system is not as useful with not being able to print while the migration runs. Of course, problems like that were not unexpected.

The system has not gotten to the point that X is unstable or anything like that. Which is pleasantly surprising to me. I had a 50/50 expectation that X would crash while this migration ran. I am only continuing to try to use the system so I can report to our readers about the experience. Otherwise I would close X, switch to runlevel 3 – which can still be done as I am not yet forced to use systemd, then run the migration at the console without running a GUI at the same time.

I am about to close X since I see X stuff being migrated. I will reboot following the migration. I am interested to see if everything “just works” or if I will have to fix something before I can get back to using the PC. I will be back to report more …

It is about 1.5 hours later and I’m back. Here are some interesting items about this migration:

  • Migration began at 11:30 AM CDT and finished installing all the packages at 6:00 PM CDT.
  • In total there were over 2600 packages migrated.
  • The average download speed from my chosen mirror over my broadband connection was around 400k.
  • The 16 GB /usr partition got to 94% full due to having several old kernel-source packages installed. These were all removed following the migration.
  • There were several hundred “orphaned” packages after the migration. These were removed with the command: urpme –auto-orphans.

My use of the proprietary nVidia driver was picked up and followed through to the new system because I enabled the ‘tainted’ repository (see Edit below) prior to migration. I did notice several old game packages being migrated that I have been running from source builds. So, I do not need those packages. These took up time and space and had to be removed following the migration. In hindsight, I should have gone through and removed unneeded packages before migration.

I did have to restart the migration with a specific mirror at the beginning. The mirror chosen for me by the command –

# urpmi.addmedia –distrib –mirrorlist http://mirrors.mageia.org/api/mageia.1.i586.list

– was a mirror that was across the Atlantic from me and very slow. So I instead used the command –

# urpmi.addmedia –distrib (mirror_url)

– to choose a faster mirror closer to me. Where (mirror_url) is replaced with the HTTP address of the mirror I chose. In all, the migration went very smooth following the directions given by the Mageia people.

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Edit Mon Oct 10 21:28:08 CDT 2011: I discovered later this was actually due to using the ‘nonfree’ repository, although I did have ‘tainted’ enabled for the migration.

Open Source: Mandriva 2011 vs Mageia 1

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.

By the way, if you did not read my previous article, Open Source Horror Story – A Linux Recovery Tale, you do not know what you missed. Basically the article is about recovering from a failing hard drive after an attempted upgrade of Mandriva to the 2011 release. The article is written in 3rd person from a story teller’s point of view. It has some good information in it for those of you who may find yourself in a similar situation. Go have a look, and make a comment if you wish. Okay, enough about that, on with the new article.

As of today I find myself in the position of deciding whether or not to stick with my previously preferred distribution, Mandriva Linux. This is a bittersweet realization for me. I found Mandrake Linux several years ago in the early 2000’s, about the time they were working on coming out of bankruptcy. When I saw and understood the command-line urpm* package management tools for the first time I immediately “fell in love” with them. In my mind those tools were, and still are, one of the best package management implementations in all of Linux. At that point, Mandrake Linux became my distribution of choice. When Mandrake merged with Conectiva and reorganized to become Mandriva, I stuck with Mandriva. When Mandriva narrowly avoided another bankruptcy, I stuck with Mandriva. When Mandriva development seemed to be imploding and many developers left or were fired, I stuck with Mandriva. Now Mandriva 2011 is out, and Mandriva seems not to be “sticking with me”.

My preferred “desktop environments” for X on Linux are in this order: fluxbox, XFCE4, WindowMaker. Notice something? You got it!  Those are all “light” window manager / desktop environments, a category that does not include KDE or Gnome. I have never been a fan of desktop environments that are more resource hungry than most of the applications I want to run. I am even less fond of the direction both projects, meaning KDE and Gnome, are taking with their current  DE implementations. I stick with minimalist GUI implementations such as those mentioned in the first sentence of this paragraph. Now with the release of Mandriva 2011 I see this disturbing, to me, tidbit on the Mandriva Linux 2011 Release Notes:

Deprecation

GNOME, Xfce and other Desktop Environments (DE) and Window Managers (WM) are no longer included in the official Mandriva packages. Contribution packages from the Mandriva community are available for these desktop environments however. Starting from Mandriva Desktop 2011 only KDE Plasma Desktop is officially supported. If you need Mandriva with another DE or WM you can use unofficial packages or distributions prepared by community members (which are described below).

Wow. Does that suck or what? I have seen the new ROSA interface for KDE on Mandriva 2011. All I can say about it nicely is, “That is not for me.” The new community driven Linux distribution called Mageia, which is based on Mandriva 2010.2, has my beloved urpm* tools and will still “officially” supply / support fluxbox, XFCE4 and WindowMaker. Not only that, but after having had to do one fresh Mandriva 2011 install after a problem with a failing hard drive, I found out I have a strong dislike for the new Mandriva GUI installer. I really prefer the older Mandriva installers that work like the one in Mageia 1:

Installing Mageia 1

OGG Theora Video best viewed in Firefox.

Finally, Mandriva 2011 is to the point of switching from sysvinit to systemd for bootup. Yes, one can still run sysvinit with Mandriva 2011. But since sysvinit in Mandriva 2011 is deprecated I suspect it may become broken with subsequent updates. My suspicion may turn out to be wrong, but why should I take the chance? While I understand systemd on Linux is probably the future for us all, I am not yet ready to switch. Mageia 1 still uses sysvinit for bootup at this point with systemd possibly arriving with Mageia 2. This gives me a bit more “wiggle room” to learn about systemd before I take the plunge into using it on my systems.

Due to all of the above, but specifically the DE part, I am now seriously considering a move to Mageia. In fact, while writing this article I have convinced myself it is time. I am researching my needs in anticipation of switching to Mageia this very weekend in fact. By the time you read this article I may already be in the middle of a distribution switch or finished with same. Once I do switch and have a chance to become more familiar with Mageia I will begin writing about that distribution here on The ERACC Web Log.

Obviously, my choices here will not be the choices that others will make. Regardless, I am hopeful the information I give here may help someone else with his or her own decision about a distribution to choose.

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New Linux Laptop from ERACC – Self-Review

Edit Wed Oct  5 23:28:50 CDT 2011: The laptop in this review is no longer available. Our new laptops use nVidia video controllers and thus work fine for 3D with the nVidia drivers if that is what one wants. Go to Laptop Quote on our shopping site to see the specifications for these.

Laptop Running Mandriva 2010.2If you are interested in a new laptop pre-loaded with Linux or shipped with a bare drive for self-install read on.

About a month ago, April 22nd 2011, I quietly posted a “press release” about the laptop line we are using for Linux, FreeBSD and FreeDOS installations. Since we were just getting lined up for offering these laptops and had not actually installed anything on one yet, I did not want to post all over the world until we had a chance to vet one. Right after that post, I received an order (1) for one of these laptops with 64-bit ERACC Linux Laptop - Lid ClosedMandriva 2010.2 installed on the drive and eComStation 2.1 (2) and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit in virtual machines. We had not even gotten one of these laptops in for a test install and already had an order for one. I explained this to the fellow wanting the laptop and he said he did not mind financing a test install as long as he got a working laptop at the end of the test. I agreed, of course. Following is the most objective review I can create for this laptop, the good, the iffy, and the bad, regardless of my interest in selling them.

This laptop was ordered on a tight time schedule so some of the things I would like to do, such as install and configure with different Linux distributions and FreeBSD, had to be skipped. I will do those tests with the laptop we order for in-house use, once I have the funds for that. Or, one of you “out there” could order one of these laptops with a bare drive and beat me to that review. I would not mind that at all.ERACC Linux Laptop - Lid Open

The bad. I am aware that the Linux driver for the Intel HD 3000 video chipset is very new. The Mandriva 2010.2 release does not include this driver and rebuilding the kernel and video system to include this driver was not something the end-user wanted us to do even if there had been time to do it. He stated he does not need 3D video. So, the video is running in VESA mode. The VESA mode works good enough to use the laptop. I did post a request for a back-port to the Mandriva Bugzilla site. But was told that was unlikely to happen in the Mandriva 2010.2 release. Which is not surprising considering that the Mandriva 2011 release is imminent.ERACC Linux Laptop - Keyboard

The iffy. I tested suspend to RAM and suspend to disk. These appear to still need some work in Mandriva at least. After leaving the laptop suspended for 30 minutes in both cases I could not “wake it up” again. In both cases I had to power cycle the laptop. This might be considered part of the “bad” section to some. For me it is “iffy” as I have never used any suspend feature with my own laptops under any operating system. If I am not going to be using it, I just save my work and shut it down. In any case, suspend should “just work” no matter what laptop one is using.

The user ordered a serial Express Card for use to control some hardware that needs a serial connection. He said the serial control is not something that is a critical need, just desirable. This needs to work from within the Windows 7 Professional VirtualBox virtual machine. The serial express card is working just fine from Linux. I connected a MultiTech 56k MultiModem to the serial port and used minicom to send AT commands to the modem. I was able to control the modem from minicom. Unfortunately I could not get Windows 7 in the VirtualBox virtual machine to use the serial port. I tried every permutation of serial configuration over a period of about two days and never got Windows 7 to “see” the serial port. The client is going to keep the Express Card so we can keep trying to get it working with remote support. This is in the “iffy” section because it may work in the future even if it is not working now.

The good. Everything else I was able to test works. The sound is working. The wireless NIC connected to our wireless router and pulled an IP address from the wireless router after I entered the WPA2 security information. The wired NIC, when connected to our LAN switch, pulled an IP address from our Linux internet gateway. The DVDRW drive is working to read and write DVDRW discs. USB ports are working. The external headphone and microphone jacks work. I do not have any eSATA hardware, so could not test the eSATA port. As already reported above, the Express Card port works. Even the 1.3 Megapixel Web Camera works. I started Kopete and ran the video configuration to test this.

Here are a few more pictures for you to enjoy:

ERACC Linux Laptop - Left Front ERACC Linux Laptop - Left Side -  Rear
ERACC Linux Laptop - Right Side - Front

ERACC Linux Laptop - Right Side - Rear

The bottom line is this laptop is a good Linux system. For now we are still working on a quote page  to put up on our web shop for this laptop. So to get a quote one has to use our main contact form shopping site contact form and choose “Quote Request” from the Category drop down. If one wants to do a self-install, then request a quote with a bare drive. There are other laptop models we hope to offer in the future if we see there is a demand for laptops pre-loaded with Linux.

  1. Intel Core I5 CPU, 8 GB RAM, 500 GB hard drive. 3 year depot hardware warranty added. Default hardware warranty is for 1 year. (Back)
  2. Actually, the order was for eComStation 2.0 and a license for that was ordered. But eComStation 2.1 was released before the laptop install was completed so we automatically upgraded the order to the 2.1 release. An eComStation 2.0 license can legally be used with the eComStation 2.1 release. (Back)

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Edit Mon May 23 09:49:07 CDT 2011: change contact information to shopping site form for quote requests.

Linux: Bacula is for Everyone* (backup software)

* Well, almost everyone. If one just wants to backup a few files on random occasions then Bacula is not the software to use. But if one wants to run regular, scheduled backups to just about any type of storage media then Bacula will most definitely work.

I must admit, I have been a tar + cron Unix guy for over 20 years and never really considered anything else necessary for backups on Unix, until now. I recently decided to learn how to use Bacula to implement it for one of our clients that needs a new backup solution for their shiny, new PC systems and Linux server. The server is running Mandriva 2010.2 Linux with SAMBA and can easily handle adding Bacula to the mix. The PC systems are running Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, for which Bacula has a solution. During this process I have decided I can now add Bacula to my short list of "must have" Unix software for small, medium and large businesses.

In all honesty, I am still a Bacula novice. However, I am not a backup software novice and can already see, based on my slightly over two weeks of working with Bacula, that this is some excellent, well designed and well documented software. Bacula is also complex software and takes a willingness to study and learn before one can get one's mind around how it all works. Here is a PDF of a simple diagram I created based on my experience with Bacula for those who like to see graphics: Bacula Components

It can be daunting to begin working with Bacula if one is completely new to business backup systems, especially enterprise grade business backup systems. But with some study of the Bacula documentation, experimentation with several non-critical test backups and the Webmin (Warning!) Bacula module, the work to get several PC systems backed up on a regular schedule can be much easier. In my experience, it is easier than running something like Retrospect Express, a typical small business backup solution, on each PC.

Here is how it works on Linux in a nutshell. One installs an SQL database back-end, such as MySQL or PostgreSQL. Then one installs the Bacula components from one's distribution or downloads and compiles the Bacula components oneself. (The former method is recommended unless one needs to compile Bacula from source for some reason.) Then, one runs these commands to set up the Bacula database (In our system these are in /usr/lib/bacula and are symbolically linked to the actual script to run for the database chosen.):

  • create_bacula_database
  • make_bacula_tables
  • grant_bacula_privileges

One's Linux distribution may or may not run these for one. By default the database is password-less. One may or may not wish to add a password to the Bacula database. If one does, then the password needs to be used in the Director configuration file.

Then the configuration files need to be set up for one's system and LAN. The files one needs to edit are bacula-dir.conf, bacula-fd.conf, bacula-sd.conf, and bconsole.conf. (In our system these are in /etc/bacula). This can be a bit confusing at first, but experiment and keep reading the documentation. Eventually the way it works should "click" in one's mind. Since Bacula integrates all the components at the Director, once all the system configuration files are done one can then do all the work to create storage volumes, create backup jobs, and so on using the bconsole program at the command-line or the Webmin Bacula module in a web browser. We recommend Firefox.

Here are some example files from my working test setup here at the ERACC office.

File Daemon, bacula-fd.conf, on a PC to be backed up:

#
# List Directors who are permitted to contact this File daemon
#
Director {
  Name = router-dir
  Password = "BigSecretStuff"
}

#
# Restricted Director, used by tray-monitor to get the
#   status of the file daemon
#
Director {
  Name = era4-mon
  Password = "MySecretStuff"
  Monitor = yes
}

#
# "Global" File daemon configuration specifications
#
FileDaemon {                          # this is me
  Name = era4-fd
  FDport = 9102                  # where we listen for the director
  WorkingDirectory = /var/lib/bacula
  Pid Directory = /var/run
  Maximum Concurrent Jobs = 20
  FDAddress = 10.10.10.4
}

# Send all messages except skipped files back to Director
Messages {
  Name = Standard
  director = router-dir = all, !skipped, !restored
}

The passwords can be any text string one desires, including random characters, as long as they match when each daemon tries to contact one another.

Storage Daemon, bacula-sd.conf, on the system handling the storage media:

Storage {                             # definition of myself
  Name = router-sd
  SDport = 9103
  WorkingDirectory = /var/lib/bacula
  Pid Directory = "/var/run"
  Maximum Concurrent Jobs = 2
  SDAddress = 10.10.10.100
}

#
# List Directors who are permitted to contact Storage daemon
#
Director {
  Name = router-dir
  Password = "BigSecretStuff"
}

#
# Restricted Director, used by tray-monitor to get the
#   status of the storage daemon
#
Director {
  Name = router-mon
  Password = "OurSecretStuff"
  Monitor = yes
}

Device {
  Name = Data_r0
  Media Type = File
  Archive Device = /data_r0/bacula
  LabelMedia = yes;                   # lets Bacula label unlabeled media
  Random Access = Yes;
  AutomaticMount = yes;               # when device opened, read it
  RemovableMedia = no;
  AlwaysOpen = no;
}

#
# Send all messages to the Director,
# mount messages also are sent to the email address
#
Messages {
  Name = Standard
  director = router-dir = all
}

The Director configuration file, bacula-dir.conf, is rather large, so I will just post some of the parts that one needs to edit to get started.

The section of bacula-dir.conf that tells the Director about its own setup:

Director {                            # define myself
  Name = router-dir
  DIRport = 9101
  QueryFile = "/etc/bacula/scripts/query.sql"
  WorkingDirectory = /var/lib/bacula
  PidDirectory = "/var/run"
  Maximum Concurrent Jobs = 2
  Password = "BigSecretStuff"         # Console password
  Messages = Daemon
  DirAddress = 10.10.10.100
}

The Name should be unique.

The section of bacula-dir.conf where one will tell the Director the database password, if one set a database password. Otherwise, leave this section alone.

# Generic catalog service
Catalog {
  Name = MyCatalog
  dbname = "bacula"; dbuser = "bacula"; dbpassword = "dbSecretStuff"
}

Here is the bconsole.conf configuration file:

#
# Bacula User Agent (or Console) Configuration File
#

Director {
  Name = router-dir
  DIRport = 9101
  address = 10.10.10.100
  Password = "BigSecretStuff"
}

As stated near the beginning of this article, Bacula is well documented. One should be ready to spend some time reading documentation and looking at the configuration files before starting on a Bacula implementation. Once one does "get it" then using Bacula to backup one, dozens or hundreds of PC systems should be easy to understand and use.

Warning! We strongly recommend reading the documentation and learning how things work at the command-line before using Webmin! Webmin cannot substitute for lack of knowledge. (Go back.)

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A Miniature Linux Office Solution (Mini ITX)

Back in January of this year (2011) I was on-site at one of our local client offices setting up yet another Microsoft Windows XP system for a dedicated use. That PC is there just for running the United Parcel Service (UPS) WorldShip™ software for the client to enter UPS shipments off-line then batch upload them at the end of the day. Of course that software "requires" a Microsoft operating system to run. (As an aside, It irks me that people have to buy a Microsoft license just to run software like this. When are major companies like UPS going to realize it is in their best interest to create this "free" software they give away to their customers and make it available to run natively on Linux? Please do not start with the "use WINE" comments. If I wanted "Windows" software I would use a Microsoft OS. So would most Linux users, I would bet.) When I was finishing up with the shipping system the office manager asked me about setting up a dedicated system for sharing scanned versions of all their client files. They want to reduce the time it takes to look up client information in their several thousand or so paper client records. I told her I would get some prices together and send her some quotes for that.

If you are a Linux administrator for a Linux/SAMBA file sharing system in a mostly Microsoft based LAN you likely already have an idea about my plan. I put together prices for some dedicated Network Attached Storage (NAS) drives. I also put together a price for what I call our Miniature Office Server or Miniature Desktop PC. A system we build around a Mini-ITX board using motherboards from two different manufacturers and Lian-Li Mini-ITX cases. This system is installed with a limited selection of Linux distributions depending on which motherboard is needed for the end-user's desired purpose. In this case I chose Mandriva as it is my personal favorite and the end-user needs a relatively easy to use and configure Linux distribution.

Be aware that this client has never had a Linux system in their office before now. I have mentioned Linux as a possible solution to upgrade some of their systems from Windows XP, and that is still on the table at this point. After reviewing the quotes our client contacted me a couple of weeks later and said to go with the Miniature Office Server system running Linux. Picture of Mini Ofc PC Front We arranged for the parts and built the system once they arrived. After the system ran through diagnostics successfully we installed Mandriva 2010.2 Linux x86_64 and SAMBA. A minimalist LXDE "desktop" with X was included since this client is familiar with using a GUI to manage their systems. I called and arranged for delivery of the new system and set up a time to deliver.Miniature Office Server / Desktop PC Installed with Linux (Back)

I delivered the system thinking it would just be used as a file server to share documents scanned from one of the Microsoft systems in the office. To my surprise this system was to be used not only as a file server, but as a "scan station" with a scanner attached and a real live person sitting at a desk interacting with the PC. There had been a break-down in communication between me and the client. But this was easily remedied once I got the idea of what they wanted to do. Had I realized this in advance I would have installed something other than the light desktop that I installed. Probably Gnome would be my choice in this case as the office manager is an OS X user and Gnome has been favorably compared to the Apple GUI by some. Besides, I am still not convinced KDE in Mandriva is up to being ready for production use yet after the KDE 3.5 versus KDE 4.x fiasco that has ensued over the past many months.

Now the project was not just to configure SAMBA shares for their office LAN, but to configure an Epson GT-S50 ADF scanner and get it working on Linux. So I used Mandriva 'urpmi' to download and install Xsane. Unfortunately Xsane did not "see" the GT-S50. I know that Epson drivers for most of their scanners are found at the Avasys web site. So I accessed the site and downloaded the software and drivers for the scanner there. After installing the Image Scan software and testing it all appeared "okay". The following day was for training the young lady that would be using the system. However, once we began using the Image Scan software it was discovered that the page size could not be adjusted. There were no settings in the configuration to change this so a different solution had to be found. The young lady I was to train left as there was nothing she could do until this problem was resolved.

Luckily, now that the Avasys driver had been installed Xsane was able to "see" the GT-S50. I spent some time figuring out how the scanner would work with Xsane and making mental notes about multi-page scanning, as almost all their scans will be multiple pages for client project records. Then made a few tweaks to the SAMBA setup to allow some of the staff "administration" access to be able to rename and delete documents as needed. Everyone else got read-only access.

The following training day arrived and we began again with training on the new system This time, things went much more smoothly. The only glitch with Xsane is it apparently does not have a way to use the dual-sided scanning capability of the GT-S50 scanner. However a work-around was developed that would be satisfactory when using Xsane's multi-page scanning feature. Then one other problem cropped up. Some of the directories created on the Linux side were showing up in the old, broken DOS 8.3 format on the Microsoft systems. This turned out to the a name mangling problem with the version of SAMBA used and ending a directory name with a period, such as "Acme Explosives Co." The simple solution is to not end directory names with a period, and that is what was decided. The only item left to be decided is how much extra drive space may be needed in the future to store thousands of the scanned documents stored as PDF. Of course the eSata ports, shown in the picture above, will be put to use in the event more than the 400 GB available is needed. Logical Volume Management will be used to seamlessly add new storage to the existing storage.

There you have it. A Linux based solution to an office need in a real-world environment. No need for expensive, and/or proprietary, and/or freedom killing sofware. Further, this PC can easily expand its role to include document creation and editing with any of the several word processors available on Linux. Or it could be used to create and edit graphics using The GIMP along with the scanning capability of Xsane. Essentially almost any task that does not require a proprietary Microsoft operating system can be done with this PC. I will let you know if this system gets retasked in the future. In the meantime, feel free to add your comments about other small business Linux solutions that you have done.

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Edit Thu Feb 24 12:55:57 CST 2011: Fix a run-on sentence.

Linux: Successful Upgrade – SBS 2003 to Linux

Late in 2010 one of our charitable organization clients, a local church, came to these decisions: 1) The aging XP Professional systems in their office needed to be replaced with new systems. 2) The existing XP Professional systems that were not so old needed to be upgraded to newer operating systems. 3) The existing SBS 2003 system needed to be upgraded to a new OS as well.

We at ERACC made the pitch for Linux on the desktop and the server but the staff at this client thought they “needed” to stay with something “famliiar like Microsoft” and voted for Windows 7 Professional on their new and “upgraded” desktop systems. (I knew they were not going to see fuzzy, cuddly familiarity with  a migration from XP to W7. But I also know when to stop promoting Linux and move on along.) However, the fellows in charge of decision making about their server decided they wanted to try Linux and not spend money  to “upgrade” SBS 2003 to Windows Server 2008. We considered this latter victory enough for our Linux sales pitch and laid out an upgrade plan for their office. Funds were procured and the parts for new systems were ordered from ERACC in late December. The work began the first week in January 2011.

The server was the first system to be upgraded and we chose Mandriva 2010.2 Linux for the server. Why? The primary reason is we know Mandriva has some easy GUI tools for new system administrators to use to get started. The secondary reason is we are most familiar with the Mandriva distribution “under the hood” here at ERACC. So we can provide the “not so easy” administration tasks that may be needed at the CLI. (A recent repair of the Bind / rndc configuration was one thing the GUI tools could not handle.)

One example of administration at the CLI that we will be providing in the future is installation of a  BiblioteQ library managment system. The client has an on-site library that is not “computerized”. The library will get one of the older PC systems that is being retired from daily desktop use. They eventually want library management software and we have recommended BiblioteQ on Mandriva on the retasked PC connected to a database on the Linux server. The setup of and connection to a BiblioteQ database is non-trivial for those unfamilair with the Linux CLI, so we will be doing that for them.

The server hardware is a Dell PowerEdge 2900 with 2 GB RAM, two Xeon dual-core CPUs and a PERC 5/i RAID controller with a pair of 160 GB SATA drives in a RAID1 configuration.Dell PowerEdge 2900 Linux File Server The old 160 GB SATA disks in a RAID1 configuration were backed up to a 1 TB NAS unit using a live PartedMagic Linux CD-RW disc. The server was booted with the PartedMagic disc. The NAS share was then mounted via NFS and the data on the NTFS partitions of the SBS 2003 installation were simply copied to the NAS. A simple copy was good enough as the SBS 2003 system was just used as a file server. Copying NTFS data with PartedMagic Linux Had the system also been a database server then additional steps would have had to be taken. If it had been a vendor lock-in Microsoft SQL Database server, a migration to Linux might have been too costly to do at this time. (Comments on experiences migrating from MS SQL on a MS server to a different database engine on a Linux server are welcome.)

Once the 160 GB RAID1 was copied and verified the system was shut down and a pair of 500 GB SATA drives were installed in the hot swap drive bays. A new RAID1 configuration was initialized on the PERC 5/i controller using the new 500 GB drives. Then the system was rebooted with a Mandriva 2010.2 Linux x86_64 DVD. The installation of Mandriva went smoothly and the system was rebooted once the install completed and the DVD removed.

The Bind 9.7.2 server was installed for mapping IP addresses to local area network (LAN) systems and to forward non-local requests to the router. Each PC is assigned a static IP address and these were mapped to the machine names for each PC under Bind.

All the user accounts from the SBS 2003 installation were recreated as Linux users on the server to create the private directories under /home where we would place their server based “My Documents” directories from the old SBS 2003 setup. Then remote media sources for Mandriva were set up and SAMBA 3.5.3 was installed. SAMBA was configured with the information for the workgroup used on the SBS 2003 setup. The users were added as SAMBA users using Mandriva’s excellent DrakSamba tool. Mandriva Linux Control Center 2010.2 DrakSamba At this point each user’s PC was accessed and the network drive shares were checked and recreated as needed. Then, while logged in to the user’s PC, each user’s server based “My Documents” directory was copied to the user’s /home directory on the Linux / SAMBA server and the Microsoft “shortcut” for that was recreated on the user’s Microsoft desktop.

The old setup and the new setup both required an installation of the PowerChurch church management software (Only available natively for Microsoft systems.) to be accessible from most user’s PC systems. Since the SAMBA server had the same network name as the SBS 2003 server, the PowerChurch software share was recreated under SAMBA to be the same path it had been on SBS 2003. When tested from each user’s PC this “just worked” and the PowerChurch software loaded as if nothing had changed.

At this point the upgrade from SBS 2003 to Linux is done. Some call this a “migration”, but we here at ERACC think of any move from Microsoft to Linux as an upgrade, so that is what we call it. Over the next few weeks each user’s PC will either be replaced with a new PC running W7 Pro or migrated to W7 Pro from XP Pro. To date, two of these are done and we are working on the third one this weekend. In case you are wondering, the W7 Pro installations work just fine with SAMBA 3.5.3 on Mandriva 2010.2 Linux.

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Linux: The Best New User Distribution is not Necessarily Ubuntu

Update October 2011: I have left Mandriva due to problems with its change in ownership and direction in late 2010. The Mageia Linux distribution, a Mandriva fork, has all the things I liked about Mandriva, but none of the management problems that are affecting Mandriva’s quality. The points I make in this article in regard to Mandriva also apply to Mageia. My company now promotes Mageia Linux as our primary desktop Linux solution. We have offered Linux pre-loaded computers for several years now with choice of any of the “Top 20” at DistroWatch. Mageia is added to those choices.

For some time now I have watched Canonical grab headlines touting its ‘buntu releases, such as Ubuntu and Kubuntu, as “newbie” friendly. Much of the IT press goes along with this marketing scheme. Quite frankly, I am happy to see Canonical get attention for Linux in general. Getting more positive exposure for Linux is always good. Even “unfriendly” or “negative” exposure is good for Linux if one looks at it as simply more exposure. The people spreading Fear and Uncertainty through Disinformation (FUD) about Linux are simply helping to spread awareness of Linux. Good for them! Let us all pray they keep doing that. Not everyone hearing or reading FUD is going to take it at face value. Those that do not take anti-Linux FUD at face value are more than likely to become Linux users in the long run. The fact that almost everyone in the IT press and in the IT industry is aware of Linux or talking about Linux is excellent. Much of this exposure is due to Canonical and Ubuntu.

But, all that said, is Ubuntu truly the “best” new user distribution? Well, no, not really. (Wait! Before you tar and feather me, read the rest of this article.)

What one can objectively say is that the ‘buntu lines are new user friendly. However, the word “best” is highly subjective when applied to any man made creation. I submit that there are several, equally good, new user Linux distributions. The other new user distributions I would personally recommend in my order of preference are:

  1. Mandriva Linux (RPM based Package Management, independent development not based on any other distribution.)
  2. PCLinuxOS (RPM based Package Management, derivative of Mandriva Linux.)
  3. Linux Mint (DEB based package management, derivative of ‘buntu and Debian GNU/Linux.)
  4. MEPIS Linux (DEB based package management, derivative of Debian GNU/Linux.)

I am sure many will have other new user distributions to recommend and may argue against my choices. Debate over distributions is one thing that is not in short supply in the Linux community. However, I am going out on a limb to state that Mandriva Linux is easily at the top of the list of new user distributions. I am confident that this assertion will hold up under scrutiny once I make my case.

The Mandriva team has put a great deal of effort into making Mandriva easy to install and easy to manage from a new user perspective. For a small walk-through of a Mandriva 2010 installation using VirtualBox see this article at ghacks.net. One may take my word for it that Mandriva 2010 is easy to install, or one may get a Mandriva Linux One 2010 Live CD ISO or a full Mandriva Linux Free 2010 DVD ISO and try it out for oneself.

Caveat: all Linux distributions are likely to have problems with some proprietary WiFi chips on some laptop and notebook PC systems. I strongly suggest you Do Your Research before trying to install on your own laptop or notebook PC.

One excellent feature of Mandriva Linux is the Mandriva Linux Control Center (a.k.a. MCC) which has an X GUI version for the true novice and a text mode command line version for the not so much a novice or the true novice that needs to fix a broken X. A novice Linux user may manage Mandriva fairly well just using the MCC GUI. Here are screen shots of the GUI version of MCC in Mandriva Linux 2010 (clickable for full size versions).

MCC Software Management Page

The software management page makes it extremely easy for the new Linux user to manage the software on his desktop PC. Yes, there is some learning involved in using this software management system. For one thing, the first thing I do and recommend on a new install of Mandriva is to remove the default package sources and add preferred sources from http://easyurpmi.zarb.org/old/ on the first reboot following installation. While this is not necessary in most cases, it does help when one learns which sources are updated faster than others and are more reliable.

The need to learn new things is true of any new operating system. I would include learning Microsoft Windows 7 in that list for those that are migrating from Microsoft Windows XP. If one is going to have to learn a new system anyway by a jump from XP to W7, maybe it is time to give Mandriva Linux a try.

MCC Hardware Management Page

The Hardware Management Page makes adding printers and scanners a snap for the new user.

MCC Network and Internet Management Page

Connecting to a LAN or to the internet is made fairly simple with the Network & Internet Management Page.

MCC System Management Page

I think the options on the System Management Page are self explanatory. If in doubt, install Mandriva Linux 2010 and look it over for yourself.

MCC Network Sharing Management Page

Need to share files in some of your directories? Need to connect to some shared directories elsewhere on your LAN? The Network Sharing Management Page is the easy choice for the new user.

MCC Local Disks Management Page

Disk management under Linux made easy. If you just installed a second hard drive that you want to use for data storage (Think of all those digital pictures you take.) then this page is where a new user can go to set up that new drive. The “Manage disk partitions” section is where the magic happens for that.

MCC Security Management Page

Want an easy way to manage the firewall on your Linux PC? Look no further than the “Setup your personal firewall” section of the MCC Security Management Page.

MCC Boot Management Page

While the MCC Boot Management Page is not likely to be needed often by new Linux users it makes managing the boot settings of a Mandriva Linux system extremely easy. Yes, one should know a bit more about boot setup before diving into this but this page still makes managing Grub or LILO a fairly easy task.

Here is a screen shot of the text mode version of MCC one can run from the command line:

MCC Text Mode Main Page

Mandriva requires that MCC be run as the root (administrator) user. Thus one must know the root password to access these controls. This means that the Mandriva distribution may also be easily deployed in a locked down state for business use where the end-user has no knowledge of the root password. A novice Linux user that installs on her own PC or purchases a PC with Mandriva pre-installed would need to learn to keep the roles of user and administrator separate with separate accounts, as the Unix gods intended.

Okay, I can already hear some of you Linux cognoscenti stuttering, “BUT… BUT … BUT this just teaches a new user how to use Linux the Mandriva way! They need to know The Linux Way!” I agree, to a point. Many a new Linux user needs a way to get started in Linux without needing to learn everything from the start. These graphical tools provided by Mandriva are one answer to this problem. Not all new Linux users are going to need to, or want to, learn the guts of Linux and how to do everything The Linux Way. These folks will learn the Mandriva tools and probably stick with Mandriva. The ‘buntu users will learn the ‘buntu tools and probably stick with ‘buntu. This is okay with me. It should be okay with you too. After all, we tout “choice” as one reason to use Linux. Therefore we should honor the choice of these users to do things as easily as possible, for them.

In any case, the Mandriva distribution provides an easy to use graphical interface for the novice Linux user to manage her Mandriva Linux PC. I know, I know, I know, other Linux distributions have similar systems. In my subjective opinion, the Mandriva Control Center is the most well done of those I have seen personally. This places Mandriva at the top of my list for new user Linux distributions. If you are a long time Linux user and disagree then please feel free to post a polite comment with your reasoning. After all, you deserve to be heard as much as I do on this matter. 🙂

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Linux: Updating a Linux Unfriendly Motherboard BIOS

You have a relatively new PC with your favorite Linux distribution installed. You are content and all is well with the world. Then you discover that your motherboard needs an update to the BIOS to allow some new hardware to work properly with your PC. Alas! Your almost new PC, which has an on-board floppy controller, was shipped with NO FLOPPY DRIVE. The BIOS update procedure, of course, requires a bootable floppy with (Egad!) Windows 98 DOS or higher. What the heck do you do?

I recently ran into just this problem with a ~2 year old Mandriva Linux based PC that my company built for a client. Of course, I have floppy drives I could use temporarily in this PC to update the, unfriendly to Linux, BIOS. But as I was pondering the situation I wondered what would I do if I did not have a floppy drive to use? Then I realized almost every PC made in the last 10 years or so has at least a CD drive from which one may boot a “Live” OS. This PC is no exception as it has a DVD?RW drive installed, actually two of them. One can create a bootable CD with a Windows 98 floppy image and load a BIOS update from a virtual disk created from that same boot.

While I do have a “legal” copy of Windows 98 I do not have that copy of Windows 98 installed anywhere at the moment. Also, my Linux work PC does not even have a floppy controller in it. So, I began to look around the internet for a bootable Windows 98 image and found one at the Boot Disks web site. Then I needed to get the BIOS update utility and the BIOS update image onto that ISO before burning a CD with the Windows 98 ISO image. A little bit of research with my current favorite search engine turned up ISO Master. I checked my Mandriva 2010 packages and there it was, waiting for me to install it:

Mandriva urpmq -i isomaster Results
Mandriva 'urpmq -i isomaster' Results

I installed ISO Master and opened the Windows 98 ISO file with it. I then used the ISO Master file browser to find the BIOS update software I had previously extracted from its “zip” file and dragged those to the file list in the ISO. Using the Save As option from the ISO Master File menu I created a new ISO file with the new files included:

ISO Master - New ISO Image
ISO Master - New ISO Image

I then created a bootable CD-RW disk from this new ISO using k3b from my fluxbox menus. I used CD-RW so I could update the disk image later as needed and then reuse the CD. I then booted the system needing a BIOS update using the Windows 98 bootable CD-RW disc. The Windows 98 DOS complained about the partitions on the hard drive, but I just ignored that as I already knew it would not “like” the ext3 partitions. The ISO image I chose at Boot Disks creates a RAM disk with the contents from the image in that disk. I switched to that RAM disk, started the BIOS update program with the switches needed to update the BIOS and watched as the update completed successfully.

I then removed the boot CD and rebooted the PC. The motherboard complained of a BIOS checksum error, which was also expected, and asked me to press “F1” to continue and load the BIOS setup screens. The BIOS settings were back to factory default so I changed the ones that needed changing, mainly the boot order. Then I saved the BIOS settings and rebooted again. No errors this time and the Mandriva 2010 Linux installation booted without a hitch. I checked to see if Mandriva 2010 now saw the new hardware. Yup, there it was.

So, if you find yourself in the same predicament maybe this article will help you get your BIOS update done. A comment to let us know this helped you would be appreciated!

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Edit Mon Apr 5 11:21:50 CDT 2010: Remove URL to Boot Disks site per Frank’s comment.

Desktop Linux: An Average User Success Story

I often see the sentiment expressed that desktop Linux is “too hard” for the average PC user. Yet the qualification for “too hard” is usually that it is too hard to install Linux or too hard to fix problems on Linux for the average user. These arguments seem to completely overlook the fact that an average PC user will never install his own operating system. Also overlooked is the fact that the average PC user will never diagnose and fix her own system. An average PC user is taking a “sick” PC to a local computer repair shop, or to Geek Squad at Best Buy or calling a geek friend to come fix it. An average PC user is buying a PC with an operating system preinstalled and not changing it for something else. Those average PC users would have zero problems using desktop Linux. I have proof.

I am no average computer user. I run a computer consulting and sales business and I steep my brain in computer related news, technical documents and computer trivia on a daily basis. I am the guy that people call on when they do have computer problems or are looking to buy a new PC customized just for them. The fact that I use desktop Linux every day to run my business and for personal use is not remarkable.

On the other hand my friend Chuck is an average computer user. Chuck needs to send and receive e-mail, use Flash based web sites, connect and copy music to his MP3 player, create and print documents, use Instant Messaging to talk to friends and play a few games to pass the time. Chuck does all this on Mandriva Linux and has done so ever since I built him a PC with Mandrake Linux, now known as Mandriva, preinstalled in 2004. When Chuck needs to upgrade Mandriva he calls me and pays me to do it, he does not do it himself. When Chuck has hardware problems he calls me and pays me to fix the PC, he does not do that himself. This is what average PC users do.

Chuck is my average user desktop Linux success story. He has been so for about six years now. Chuck does not want to go back to Microsoft operating systems as he sees no benefit to that. He does see some negatives to going back though. He would have to go back to buying and installing anti-malware software and keeping that up to date. He would have to go back to worrying about malware infections through e-mail or cracked web sites. Certainly if Chuck were using a Microsoft operating system I would do all I could to secure his PC for him. But I could not guarantee Chuck would never get malware “owning” his PC in that case. I am not there to watch over Chuck every time he opens an e-mail or browses web sites. With desktop Linux Chuck and I both know that he does not have to worry about those problems. Chuck is happy to use Linux as an average PC user.

I asked Chuck today, after finishing upgrading his PC to Mandriva 2010, if he considers himself an average PC user. He did not understand the context so I explained what I meant. Chuck agreed that he would never attempt to install his own operating system nor would he attempt to solve problems on his PC himself. He would call an expert for those every time. Just like he calls on an expert when he needs his home sprayed to prevent infestations of termites. Just like he calls on an expert when his SUV needs an oil change, new tires or some repair done. Chuck is very much an average PC user. Yet, Chuck uses desktop Linux on his home PC every day to do the things he needs to do. I asked Chuck if using Linux is hard. The answer? “No”.

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Virtual Control – Linux, VirtualBox and OS/2 or eComStation

This is part one of a two part article about a “real life” control system that is a candidate for moving to a VM on Linux. This control system is being used right now in a real manufacturing facility.

Last year in February I wrote the article “Windows 98? Linux and VirtualBox! (Maybe)“. It is about using VirtualBox to perhaps keep an old Windows 98 system running in a virtual machine (VM). In that article I touched on the concept of a business that runs a system controller on old hardware that may be saved by moving the system to a VM. This article is a follow-up on that concept to cover a recent test we did at ERACC for moving a control system from “real” hardware to a VM. I have not asked permission to name names so I will just call the company that contacted me “client” and use first names only for the people involved.

Several weeks ago I was contacted by Stan at the client about an IBM OS/2 Warp 3 system that runs a critical control system in their manufacturing facility. The hardware for this system is around 15 years old and they recently had problems with the SCSI hard drive. The concern is that this old hardware is eventually going to fail completely as all things man-made eventually do. They could purchase a new control system, but that would cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. Perhaps $40,000/US or more for the controller and cost of the installation from the control system manufacturer. In this current poor economy businesses are looking for ways to save money so a solution with a $40K or more price tag is going to be very carefully researched before such an expenditure will be made. This case is no exception. In the course of the client’s research my company was discovered as we still support OS/2 in its current incarnation as eComStation.

So Stan contacted me. He wanted to know if we could build them a new PC to run the current control system software. I assured Stan we could do that, but I suggested that we try running the software inside an eComStation VM using VirtualBox on a Linux system first. My reasoning is if it works this “future proofs” the current control software and keeps them from having to purchase a new system any time soon. I planned to help get the VM up and running at their facility and all of this could be done for well under $2500/US. I mentioned that I would need a disk image of his current control system and would work from that to create a VM with which to test. Stan agreed this sounded like a good idea and said he would get the disk image done and get back to me.

A few weeks passed. Then I received a call from Stan saying the disk image was ready on a USB thumb drive. I gave Stan our shipping address and he placed the thumb drive in the mail to us. When the thumb drive arrived I brought it to my work PC and copied the “disk.img” image file. This PC runs Mandriva 2010 Linux on an AMD Phenom quad-core based motherboard which includes AMD’s hardware virtualization. One needs hardware virtualization to run OS/2 or eComStation in a VirtualBox VM. The disk image was converted to a VirtualBox virtual disk image (VDI) using the command:

VBoxManage convertdd ./disk.img /data1/virtual_machines/virtualbox/vdi/disk.vdi

This VDI was then used to create a VM to try to boot it. Unfortunately it would not boot. So a new VM and VDI was created using eComStation 2.0 release candidate 7 (eCS2rc7). This new VM was booted and the VDI created above was mounted as a second “disk” in the VM. The data and programs were copied from the mounted second VDI to the new VDI and testing began. After editing the eCS2rc7 startup files, CONFIG.SYS and STARTUP.CMD, to include the relevant software for the control system the VM was rebooted. The first reboot failed as some of the old OS/2 Warp 3 based drivers failed to load. It was determined by trial and error what new drivers were needed to replace the old ones and which of the old drivers are irrelevant when using a VM. Finally we had a booting VM that started the control software.

We discovered that the control software uses TCP/IP to “talk to” the manufacturing hardware. This is important because a custom hardware interface would likely not work in this case. Any control software that communicates using TCP/IP or serial connections is likely to work just fine though. We had what we needed to know to proceed with this project. I contacted Stan and sent him the data, with screen shots, in an e-mail. Stan forwarded the information to MIS at the client. As of now we are waiting for MIS at the client to give the go ahead to continue. I am confident that this will get a “green light”, so I am “jumping the gun” a bit with this article.

I will write part two once the project has proceeded to its conclusion, good or bad. Although, “good” is the only outcome I think is likely.

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Edit Sat Mar 20 12:25:38 CDT 2010: Fix typo as pointed out by John Angelico, Thanks for the “heads up”.