Open Source: Live Migration of Mandriva to Mageia

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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

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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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Open Source Horror Story – A Linux Recovery Tale

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Hi children! I know it is a bit early for scary tales. We usually get to those in October. But I have one for you that you just might want to hear now. So. Get your hot cocoa, your S’mores and your sleeping bag and come over here by the fire. I have a tale of chills and thrills to tell you young’uns. There now. Are you all snuggled in and ready for a scary tale? Good. Here goes …

It was late on an August evening. August 30th to be exact. A brave independent consultant and Linux administrator was finishing up a long, slow upgrade from Mandriva 2010.2 to Mandriva 2011 for a client. He had noticed the upgrade was taking an excessively long time, but as this was only his second upgrade of the new release of Mandriva, he chalked it up to the new release of Mandriva. Little did he suspect the slow upgrade was due to … due to … oh, I can hardly say it to you sweet, innocent young’uns. But to tell the tale properly I must say it … A FAILING HARD DRIVE! (Look! I have goose bumps!)

When he rebooted following the last stage of the upgrade, he saw a … a … a … KERNEL PANIC! The system could not find the root / boot partition. So, he booted a PartedMagic Live CD to access the drive and see what was wrong. But PartedMagic refused to mount the partitions too. When he checked with GParted he saw that the /home partition, which he knew to be an XFS file system, was being “reported” as a “damaged” EXT4 file system. This looked bad. Very bad. So, he ran GSmartControl and tested the drive. Oh no! The drive was giving errors by the megabyte! Oh the horror! The angst! The tearing out of the hair … Okay, so he’s 50ish and mostly bald on top with a ponytail. He really avoids pulling out what hair he has left. But you get the picture.

Okay, not to worry. He had sold the client a new, spare hard drive just the right size to replace the failing drive. He also “knew’ the client had backups, because he had set up the backups for them and told them how to run them. Plus they had periodic automatic backups as well and had been told how to check that the backups were running and completing successfully. But when he checked for the most recent backup … it was in May! No one had been running the manual backups and the automated backups were returning error logs that NO ONE WAS READING! (Yeah, he should have run an “extra” backup himself, but time was pressing because he had a time limit from the client to get the upgrade done. The time limit left no time for a backup.)

Now things were starting to look grim. He knew that losing three months of financial data stored in QuickBooks in the XP Professional virtual machine on the /home partition of the client’s drive could be a disaster for this small business client. Thinking it over, he decided the only solution was to run xfs_repair on the /home partition. So he did. Lo and behold, it worked! Well, somewhat. There were hundreds of megabytes in lost+found but the user directories showed up and most of the files were there, including what appeared to be the XP Professional virtual machine directory named .VirtualBox in the user account that ran the VM. Unless you have been in this position, my children, you have no idea the sense of relief this brave Linux denizen felt. But it was a premature relief, as you shall see.

He immediately shutdown the system and installed the spare hard drive. Then our brave lad rebooted with the PartedMagic Live CD and ran GParted again to create a new partition layout. Then he ran Clonezilla to clone the recovered /home partition to the new drive. Keeping his fingers, toes, arms, legs and eyes crossed for luck. (Did I mention he is a contortionist? No? Well, he’s not. That sentence is just for “color”.) The clone completed successfully and our intrepid Linux fellow shut down the system, removed the naughty hard drive, and gave it proper rites before smashing it with a sledge hammer. (Yeah, you guessed it, more “color”.)

Then he reran the “upgrade”, which was now morphed into a fresh install of Mandriva 2011 on the new hard drive. It was 4:00 AM on August 31st at this point. He was now into his 14th hour of an “upgrade” that had been supposed to take less than six hours by prearranged agreement with the client. By 7:30 AM, when the client’s staff began arriving, he had the system “finished”. The printer was printing. The scanner was scanning. The VM was booting. The rooster was crowing … just checking to see if you are paying attention. All appeared well and the client was understanding about hardware failures happening. After going over backup procedures with the client, again, our weary Linux consultant headed home for a short nap before starting his new business day.

Later that day he received a call. Yes, children, it was the client. The QuickBooks data was showing nothing past April 2010. Since this was August 2011, that was a Very Bad Thing. So, our fine Linux fellow headed back to the client and the “problem” system as he was now calling it. Upon review he discovered the restored virtual disk was one that had been a backup made in April of 2010 prior to an upgrade of VirtualBox at the time. Where was the most recent virtual disk with the client’s data? Gone. Vanished. Eaten by an evil hard drive. But, a light appeared above our hero’s head! Due to having had some sleep and some caffeine, he remembered that QuickBooks had been reinstalled with a new release in late June of 2011. He Had A Backup Of The System On A USB Drive From That Day! Yes, it would still mean losing two months of data. But that was much more acceptable in the client’s view than losing a year and a half of financial data. Which would mean near certain doom for almost any small business.

So, our Linux protagonist retrieved the USB hard drive, attached it to the system and ran a restore to get the virtual machine back from June 2011. This worked successfully and the VM booted. A check of the VM showed the data from June was there and intact. Our nice Linux guy packed up his gear, went over backup procedures with the client, again. (See a trend here?) Then headed home for supper and a good night’s rest. The End …

Well, not yet. You see, losing data really irritates our Linux Paladin. His mind would not let go of the problem. He kept thinking there was something he missed. Something he could have done to get all the data back. Something … something … some* … Ah HA! He recalled that lost+found directory with the hundreds of megabytes in it! He quickly called the client and arranged to go on-site after hours on that 1st day of September 2011. He combed through the lost+found directory with the ‘find’ command searching for files around the correct size of our missing, most recent, virtual machine file. There was one hit, just one. But it was enough. He had found the latest copy of the virtual machine. After making a backup(!) he copied this file to the correct directory, set back up the virtual machine using this found file and all the financial data was recovered. Everyone rejoiced and there was much feasting. (Yep, “color”.) The Real End.

What is the moral of our story young Tuxes? It is this: Never rely on someone else to do a backup. Backup, backup, backup, backup, backup for yourself. Then when you think you have enough backups, do another backup. You can be sure our Linux star has learned that lesson … again.

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Linux Hardware Support Better Than Windows 7

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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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Open Source: Multitasking with X and Linux

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I am talking about human multitasking here, not operating system multitasking. Every time I have to work on repairing a Microsoft Windows based system for a client I feel as if I am restricted to typing with one finger while blindfolded. Okay, I admit that is hyperbole. But after using X with fluxbox and Ten Workspaces on fluxboxten workspaces as well as the Linux console (1, 2) with screen for several years now, a Microsoft OS experience seems very restrictive to me. There are no multiple workspaces by default on a Microsoft desktop and adding anything to give a Microsoft system multiple workspaces would not be the Right Thing To Do when working on someone else’s PC system.

Another restriction is with multi-user on Microsoft. With my Linux desktop PC I have a user for work related tasks and a user for relaxation and gaming tasks. I can keep the work user logged in, switch to a Linux console using Ctrl Alt (F1-F6), login the game user, start a second X GUI session with startx startxfce4 — :1 and play a short game while “stuff” keeps running under the work user in the first X session. If I am playing a buggy 3D game that may crash X, I have no worries about my tasks in the other X session as they would be unaffected if a poorly designed 3D game took down the second session. I can do this “out of the box” on a typical Linux distribution installation. If you are from the limited Microsoft universe you have no concept to compare to this on a standard, out of the box, Microsoft desktop PC. Yes, you can switch users. But if you switch users as I do to play a game that subsequently crashes the Microsoft GUI called “Windows” it all crashes. Not just the session where the faulty program broke the GUI. It is also truly simple to switch between or among multiple sessions of X on a Linux PC. Just use Ctrl Alt F# to switch back and forth, where # is the virtual terminal number for an X session. For example, my first session is on virtual terminal 8 and my second session is on virtual terminal 9. To switch between them I use Ctrl Alt F9 and Ctrl Alt F8.

I am a “computer guy” and am one of the people that other folk call when they have a computer problem. Several of my clients are set up with VNC software so I can connect to their systems over the internet. For the clients that are running a Linux server or desktop PC from my company, I can connect with SSH to provide support. Some of these clients have contracted with my company to handle their Microsoft updates each month. So, for a fee, I do the boring work of making sure their Microsoft updates apply each month and resolve any problems that may arise for them due to a Microsoft update failing or conflicting with installed third party software. I also check third party software to see if those too need updates, as there is no central repository for updating everything as there is for a typical Linux distribution. I use UltraVNC at the client sites, because it has a Win64 version, and Vinagre with Two SSH Sessions RunningVinagre here at the SOHO. With Vinagre I can connect to multiple systems, using SSH and VNC, and be working on each of them simultaneously. My limitation is usually the “speed” of the internet connection at each end. Usually more than two client systems updating at the same location while trying to use VNC will cause remote sessions to timeout and drop. But, I can easily connect to two, three or four PC systems at two, three or four different client sites simultaneously and work on their systems remotely at night without a noticeable problem on my end. Being able to do this all with “free” software both at the client and on my side means I can multiply my ability with multitasking to support my clients without breaking the bank for my small business.

My Linux “desktop” is fluxbox as I stated above. I also stated I have ten workspaces. In my experience workspaces allow more efficient human multitasking. I do not suffer GUI clutter as one does on a single workspace system such as Microsoft’s “Windows”. I keep several programs running on my system all the time. Each workspace is designated to a specific task. So I know if I need to create a Labor Sheet for a client and make an invoice to send them, that is workspace 8 where I have Writer and GnuCash running. If I want to chat with a friend on Instant Messaging that is workspace 5 where I have Kopete running. If I want to browse the WWW or write an article for blog.eracc.com, that is workspace 3 where Firefox and Opera are always running. Should I want to listen to music while I work that is workspace 6 which I designated for multimedia tasks, meaning music and videos. With these multiple workspaces I can keep programs running with their window showing. So, when I want to switch to a running program, I just switch to the workspace where the program is running. I do not have to hunt through a list of minimized programs on my task-bar. Thus saving my time to be more productive.

What does this mean to you if you are a Microsoft user? Well, until you can experience multitasking on a Unix or Linux PC this will mean little to you. I regularly get comments like, “Oh, that would just confuse me.”, or, “I see no need for that.” from my Microsoft using friends. But my Linux using friends will likely all nod sagely and smile when I talk about work efficiency and human multitasking on Linux. Until you have experienced it and used Linux enough to get familiar with this, you will not really understand how beneficial multitasking with Linux can be for you. But if you come from the Microsoft camp to the Linux city and do give multitasking a serious look, and I mean long enough to get familiar with it, you might just get a clue about what I mean here.

  1. Meaning the text mode interface for Linux where no GUI or window manager is running. (back)
  2. Where is the Microsoft console? You may say there is one, but not really. Not compared to what one has on Linux and Unix. (back)

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Open Source: Pondering the Linux GUI

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First we had the KDE 3.5 to KDE 4.0 debacle. A release numbering scheme by the KDE folk that differed from what is considered the norm ended up with alpha level code being pushed out in most major desktop distributions of Linux. Many people were so upset about radical and broken changes to KDE during this period they left KDE, swearing never to return. It does not matter if KDE is “okay” now. Some of these people will probably not return to KDE.

Some of the disenchanted former KDE using folk moved to Gnome and liked what Gnome was at the time. These people got comfortable with Gnome 2.x and enjoyed the features it has. Now we have the strangeness that is Gnome 3. Once again, many people are not happy with the changes in Gnome 3. Especially upsetting to some is the loss of functionality they took for granted and an extreme change in the look and feel of Gnome.

What are these KDE and Gnome desktop FOSS developers thinking? “We want to be more like Microsoft!”? In other words, change the Graphical User Interface (GUI) just for the sake of change? (That is a rhetorical question, I already know the reasons given by these major desktop developers. I just disagree with much of their reasoning for such radical changes in major release versions.)

The change of the Microsoft GUI from Microsoft Windows XP to Microsoft Vista and Microsoft Windows 7 was radical. The Microsoft GUI change was basically just glitz, bells and whistles on top of the same broken OS with the added insult of removing and obfuscating much of what users had come to expect from their Microsoft GUI. There was no real need for such a radical change of the GUI. Sure, the new Microsoft GUI “looks pretty” if one has the hardware to support it. But the changes to add the “glitz, bells and whistles” also made older hardware obsolete faster since the older hardware did not have the “muscle” to run such a resource intensive GUI as was released with Vista and later Windows 7. At least the underlying Linux system is still robust, secure and works like it should. At least on Linux we still have sane window managers and GUI systems we can fall back to when the major desktop GUI developers go off the cliff with radical changes we do not like.

Are these GUI changes in KDE and Gnome “better” than what we had previously? The idea of “better” is completely subjective. What a Geek Code Jockey (developer) thinks is “better” is possibly, even probably, not going to be what an end-user thinks is “better”. Actually, most average PC end-users I know personally would prefer that their GUI not change so radically from one major release to the next. Incremental changes are good, especially if the changes do not break, obfuscate, move or remove something the end-user likes about said GUI. On the other hand radical changes are Bad, especially if said changes do break, obfuscate, move or remove something the end-user likes about said GUI.

For example, one of the reasons I like and stick with fluxbox is the fact that it does not change. The add-ons and keyboard shortcuts I put in place for my fluxbox “desktop” will still work as I expect when I get the next release of Mandriva Linux installed. That is what *I* want. Not some radical change such as we see with Gnome 3. Another optional GUI I use on some systems is Window Maker. Again, when the Linux distribution on which I am running Window Maker is upgraded to the next release, Window Maker will still work as I expect it to. No radical changes just for the sake of change or to scratch some itches of FOSS GUI developers. In some cases change can be good. Such as, I would really enjoy a change to a higher income bracket. But when it comes to getting my work done on my PC, I would prefer my GUI stay pretty much how it is now. After all, that is why I picked the GUI I use in the first place.

Do you have a GUI you like on your Linux system because the GUI does not change radically? Feel free to post a comment about it.

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The Century of the Linux Desktop

Here we go again. Some fellow has gotten all whiny about being such a big Linux fan, "… hardcore Linux user …", but he just had to go back to Microsoft to get things done. Why? Because he is tired of having to tinker with Fedora Linux to make things work, or fail to work, with cutting edge hardware … and 64-bit Flash on 64-bit Linux is sucky … and Skype on Linux is sucky … and … and … and. It was all just so painful and time consuming he could not take it any longer and went back to the safe arms of Microsoft to escape the horror that is Linux. Good grief.

Okay, first and foremost, a true "hardcore Linux user", in my mind a fan of Linux, is unlikely to switch from Linux to anything else. Oh yes, he or she will switch Linux distributions in a heartbeat, or maybe three heartbeats, if a distribution fails to work as needed. But switching to Microsoft and leaving the Linux desktop behind? Not likely, my friends. I consider myself a true "hardcore Linux user" and I see no voluntary switch from Linux in my future … ever. Here is why.

I deal with Microsoft systems for our company clients that insist on Microsoft, or need Microsoft for some lock-in software that only runs on Microsoft. I clean up Windows malware infected Microsoft systems, yes even Microsoft Windows 7 with anti-malware installed gets infected. I can, and do, install and set up modern hardware systems running Microsoft Windows 7 that run quite well day after day after day. The Windows 7 operating system is fairly stable and works well with the systems we custom build for clients to use with it. The software written for Microsoft Windows 7 installs and "just works" in every case where we have set up a system for a client. So am I tempted to defenestrate my Linux DVDs and install Microsoft on my personal and business PC systems? Uhm … no.

I am a fan of Linux. I mean the word fan in this sense of the word:

From WordNet (r) 3.0 (2006) [wn]:

fan


3: an ardent follower and admirer [syn: {fan}, {buff}, {devotee}, {lover}]

 

As a fan of Linux I am not going to switch to something else voluntarily. I can and will admit that Linux distributions and FOSS packages all have flaws and need work. The KDE4 debacle I think proves my point. When KDE4 applications I used finally ticked me off enough with fighting their problems, I switched … to different FOSS software running on my Mandriva Linux desktop, not to Microsoft. Of course, nearly everything designed by humans is flawed at some level. Any long-time programmer knows that a program is rarely "finished", it is just "released". Then the programmer moves on to work on the known flaws to fix them for the next release. This is true of Microsoft software, Apple software, proprietary UNIX software and FOSS/Linux software. None are exempt. End users get software that is "good enough" in most cases and are somewhat content. So, since this is true, why care about switching desktop platforms or not switching desktop platforms?

I care about software freedom as much as I care about software usability. I am not willing to tie my hands with restrictive licensing without a Very Good Reason. A compelling reason. An "I have no other choice" reason. FOSS and Linux gives me a choice in every case of software that I need to run my micro-business and use on my personal computers … and I love it. Yes, I could run much of this on a Microsoft based system too. But why would I want to? Microsoft licensing ties my hands. Besides that, my printers all work including the multi-function ones I chose. I have decent sound (no Pulse Audio please). When I need to use Flash the 32-bit version works "good enough". I am not interested in using Skype since I have a perfectly good VOIP SIP phone from http://www.8×8.com/ for which I pay a monthly fee. I create all my documents in OpenOffice.org, soon to be LibreOffice with my next distribution upgrade. I can create invoices and keep up with finances using GnuCash. So on and so forth.

I do not use cutting edge distributions of Linux such as Fedora. I use a Linux distribution, Mandriva, that is a wee bit behind the bleeding edge and does all the heavy lifting to get hardware working for me. DKMS is included and handles the proprietary bits from nVidia that I use. If Mandriva did not work for me there are many other distributions to try until I find one that does work for me. Once I get a system set up with my Linux distribution of choice I never need to tinker with it, period. It … just … works. The desktop Linux systems my company sells and have installed for our clients all just work. The desktop Linux systems one can purchase preloaded from other vendors off the internet just work. If one wants to break out of the box and tinker with Linux, the option is always there. But if one just wants a system that works to do web browsing, picture editing, document creation and editing, e-mail and other typical desktop PC tasks without tinkering … well, a Linux distribution can do that. If one wants something atypical from a desktop PC, Linux can do that too. But be prepared to tinker in that case.

Some witty Gamer Person is going to mention gaming. I know you are thinking about it even if you do not mention it. Sure, the bulk of modern games are written for proprietary, restricted, "you are a slave to our license" systems. If you care more about gaming than anything else, then stick with proprietary systems for now. Given time this too will eventually come over to Linux and FOSS. But the movement is slow because gaming companies in the business of gaming only care about where they can make the most money. At this point in time those markets are the closed, proprietary Microsoft desktop and the closed, proprietary gaming consoles. I am mature enough to care about my freedom to the point I am willing to give up gaming with some cutting edge, new games. Crysis does not run natively on Linux? I could not care less about it then and will never spend my hard earned money for it. There are good enough games for me that run natively on Linux when I need a break from reality. Because they run natively on Linux I buy them. Maybe some day you, dear Gamer Person, will be mature enough to understand and agree with me.

Why the title on this article? My prediction is not that 2011 is "the year of the Linux desktop". My prediction is that the 2000's are the century of the Linux desktop. All human endeavors controlled by a few elite eventually pass away. This was true of Sun Microsystems, SCO and many other now defunct companies. This will also be true of Apple and Microsoft in the long run. But Linux and FOSS are different. They are not controlled by a few elite and cannot be so controlled due to the open licensing these systems enjoy. Eventually, based on the long history of human endeavors, FOSS wins. If the world does not end in 2012 that is. 🙂

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Mageia 1 Final – Summary Videos for Linux Newbies

I have been watching the Mageia development since it was first announced. As soon as I saw that Mageia 1 had gone from a release candidate to a final release I started the Transmission torrent download of three of the ISO files to keep and used one of them (mageia-dvd-1-i586.iso) to check it out with VirtualBox.

So, you are a Linux Newbie and want to know if Mageia is easy to install? Below is a 96.4 MB / 15 minute MPEG video to show installation of Mageia. Some of you may be relieved to know there is no sound, meaning no inane comments. I do not do a "guru" install. The only choices I make are those a new user might make. As one can see the GUI installer is very Newbie friendly. A time or three the mouse pointer in the VirtualBox window got out of sync with the mouse pointer on my desktop. That is the only "glitch" I noticed.

Video - Mageia 1 - Installing
Installing Mageia 1 – 15 Minutes

(Recommendation: download and view offline.)

Then after the install I booted Mageia 1 and logged into my account I created during the install. I open Firefox and LibreOffice to show the versions included You can see how that looks in the following 12.6 MB / 2.5 minute MPEG video. Again, without inane comments.

Video - Mageia 1 - Gnome Desktop
Mageia 1 with Gnome – 2.5 Minutes

(Recommendation: download and view offline.)

So, there you have it. Short and sweet. Perhaps these short videos can help you with your decision in your search for that Newbie Linux distribution that fits you.

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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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