Walking in the Footsteps of Giants

I have a project at work I have been dreading. Our current wiki is running on Ubuntu JeOS and PostgreSQL, and we are moving to Microsoft Windows Server 2008 and Microsoft SQL Server. The move to Windows was frustrating, but pretty easy–to be perfectly honest, getting it to all work on Linux was a lot more difficult, but that was partially because I had no friggin’ idea what I was doing 2.5 or so years ago when I started working with Confluence. But I could handle that OK. Moving to MSSQL is a bit terrifying though. I’ve been avoiding it for a week.

Confluence was built to work with Postgre, and it works very well. There’s no configuration, no real tricks to it. You just drop the driver in the right folder, click the install button, and go. For MSSQL, though, there are a lot of hoops to jump through, both in regards to software configuration and the database setup. What’s more, the DB is running on Enterprise System‘s SQL Server, which is kind of a Big Deal. This isn’t me just playing around with a local toy anymore, so if I screw something up, it’s going to be a little more noticeable.

This afternoon when I began working on it, though, I had already spent about 4 hours researching the topic. I had read all the comments on different wiki pages and I had all my notes. I followed the directions Very Carefully.

And it worked.

I was pretty nervous when it took over two minutes to connect to the DB and get set up, which it did silently so I had no idea if it was about to stab me or not. But in the end, it did connect, and now I’m getting ready to push a ton of data to it.

That’s my next big hurdle: will the data pulled from PGSQL push into MSSQL without a hitch? According to what I read, it should as long as the DB username is the same, but I’m still nervous. Regardless, I want to offer public thanks for all those early adopters who blaze the trails I hesitantly step down.

How to install Wrath of the Lich King on Linux

You have your shiny new expansion, but you (quite understandably) don’t want to shell out another $90 for a crappy operating system to play it. No problem, says I, because WotLK is Cedega Certified!

Unfortunately, while the game works pretty well, installation does not, and you’ll quickly encounter a bug in the Death Knight starting quests that will prevent you from advancing along that quest chain. No worries, though; just follow these simple instructions and you’ll be up and running in no time.

Installation

First, you need to mount the DVD properly. I use Ubuntu, which means I have Gnome, so I use Nautilus as my file manager. After inserting the DVD, you’ll need to open your file manager (Nautilus in my case) to unmount the DVD. You should see Lich listed in the left navigation bar: right click on it with your mouse and choose Unmount.

Now, open a terminal window and type in the following line. You’ll need to modify userid and insert your own userid (what you use to log in). You may also have to modify the cdrom0 point if you use something else; you can check this by browsing to /media in Nautilus or the terminal.

sudo mount -t udf -o ro,unhide,uid=userid /dev/scd0 /media/cdrom0/

Now you can open Cedega and install as you would normally, just using the Install button. However, when the Cedega installation window pops up, notice that it wants to put WotLK into its own folder. You need to change this so it installs into the folder in which you already have World of Warcraft. Edit this, then you’re ready to proceed with the install.

Installation and patching should proceed smoothly and normally from here. Now it’s time to play!

Setting the OpenGL flag

Personally, I don’t like playing with OpenGL. Maybe it’s just my system, but I get some bugs with it, most notably that WoW doesn’t close when I quit the game, it crashes. Despite this, there are a few quests that glitch out on Linux, and you need to use OpenGL to get through them.

When playing as a Death Knight, this is most notable when doing the quest involving the Eye of Archerus. Your screen will go all solid colours, though you can still see the UI, so you can’t very well proceed with the quest. This is due to the Death Effect and Full Screen Glow, but just disabling those options in WoW doesn’t resolve the problem.

There are two steps to setting the OpenGL flag.

  1. You need to add the following line to the config.wtf file. This file can be located at:/home/userid/.cedega/World of Warcraft/c_drive/Program Files/World of Warcraft/WTF
  2. SET gxApi “opengl”

  3. Set the -opengl flag in the Cedega shortcut, as pictured below:
  4. Click to enlarge

Conclusion

You should now be good to go. After the Eye of Archerus quest, I promptly disabled OpenGL and removed that line of code from my config.wtf. It’s good to know that there’s a solution for this Death Effect bug, and I may have to use it again (especially if it crops up when the Death Knight dies and becomes a zombie that can keep fighting), but if I can avoid OpenGL, I will. It just doesn’t seem as fast or as stable as D3D to me.

Happy gaming, and suffer well!

Ubuntu 8.04 on the Asus EEE PC

A couple of weeks ago, a faculty member brought her Asus EEE PC (pink, as she often pointed out) to our Help Desk, asking that we connect it to our university’s wireless network connection. I fiddled with it for a few minutes before coming to the conclusion that, quite simply, making it work on our wireless wasn’t worth the time it would take right then. The version of Xandros that ships on the EEE is very stripped down, to the extent that I couldn’t find a tool with which to acquire and install software. Not only could I not get the Madwifi drivers I’d need to make the Atheros card handle the level of security we require, but even if I could, there were no tools to compile the drivers.

There were two solutions open to me. The first was to get the drivers and recompile the kernel with them (after somehow getting the kernel build files onto the EEE), which would probably have taken 2-4 hours, all just to get wifi to work. The second option was to install a different distribution of Linux on the device. This solution might take equally long, but it was more guaranteed, might take less time, and would probably only have to be done this once. For future installations, a procedure would be codified and setup would therefore take a lot less time.

Thus, we begin. The Asus EEE doesn’t have a CD-ROM drive, so we could either do a netboot installation, pulling the ISO from a network drive, or we could do the installation off a USB jumpdrive. The EEE’s BIOS handles booting from removable devices, so I decided to give that a go.

Crucial Stats:

Asus EEE PC 4G (4gb SSD) with webcam
Lexar 1gb JumpDrive
Ubuntu 8.04 Desktop Edition for x86, 32-bit edition
Linux Kernel: 2.6.24

Instructions originally from the Ubuntu Community Wiki:

Converting an Ubuntu ISO to a Jumpdrive

The first key to this process is having a computer with the version of Ubuntu on it that you want to install to your target machine. This can be particularly troublesome if you are beginning your first ever installation of Linux on the EEE, and therefore don’t have another machine to use as your base. If that’s the case, my sympathies; I don’t have a solution for you. You can try to download the image to your EEE and do this process from there, but it probably won’t work. I initially attempted the ISO-to-Stick process from OpenSUSE and it failed. The instructions recommend using Ubuntu if you want to turn your jumpdrive into an installation of Ubuntu, so that’s what I recommend as well.

I was intending to put Ubuntu 8.04 on my laptop anyways, so I downloaded the ISO last Thursday and burned it, then installed the operating system on my HP zv5000. Now that I had a working install of Ubuntu, I could proceed to make my jumpdrive an installation device.

The first step is to install syslinux

sudo aptitude install syslinux

Insert the USB device you want to use for the installer. A few seconds after plugging in the USB device run the dmesg command or sudo fdisk -l (I prefer this method, myself) to find device it was assigned. The rest of the instructions refer to /dev/sdX1, remember to replace X with your device location. This changes from distro to distro, so don’t assume that your device is named the same as it has been in the past.

Preparing the Flash Drive using isotostick.sh

The easiest way, which also works with the Desktop installer, is to use the isotostick.sh script from http://www.startx.ro/sugar/. To make things as easy as possible, place the ISO and the script in the same folder. Use the following commands to download the script, make it executable, and run the script.

wget http://www.startx.ro/sugar/isotostick.sh

chmod u+x isotostick.sh

sudo ./isotostick.sh ubuntu-8.04-desktop-i386.iso  /dev/sdX1

Be sure to replace /dev/sdX1 with the partition name of your USB stick found in the previous section. You will see some “operation not permitted” errors when the script tries to copy the symlinks for /dists/stable and /dists/unstable. This is because fat16 file systems do not handle symlinks, but it will not cause any problems. This process will take some time and it won’t look like anything is happening, but be patient. If you desire feedback, open up Nautilus and browse to your removable device. You can refresh the view to see how much free space is left, which should shrink rapidly as the script runs.

Now you can boot from the USB stick and install Ubuntu just like if you had booted from the Desktop CD. I prefer to partition the hard drive to have /home on a separate partition, and chose to do so in this case. With only a 4gb drive, you don’t have a lot to work with, so I looked at my laptop to see how it had turned out. The root files had used approximately 2.9gb of space, so I gave 3.3gb to root and 600mb to /home. This left about 400mb for the installation of programs and about 90mb of swap space. That’s less swap then is recommended, but with 512mb of RAM, I figured it’d be OK. The device has reportedly been working fine for the last week and, when doing nothing more than checking email or running Skype, I think it will continue to work fine.

Instructions originally from the EEEUser Wiki:

Ethernet and Wifi

While it doesn’t always occur, you may notice that your Ethernet connection does not work on first boot. I’m not sure why this is, but the solution is simple: unplug the device, turn the device off, remove the battery for about thirty seconds, plug the battery back in, and turn the device back on. I imagine this resets something in the BIOS (maybe there’s not a separate BIOS battery?) that was keyed specifically to Xandros, and after resetting it works in a more default manner. Probably how it should have to begin with.

For wireless internet, we still have to install the Madwifi drivers, it’s just a lot easier than with Xandros. Enter the following commands in order, waiting for each step to finish before continuing (of course):

sudo apt-get install build-essential
wget 'http://snapshots.madwifi.org/special/madwifi-ng-r2756+ar5007.tar.gz'
tar zxvf madwifi-ng-r2756+ar5007.tar.gz
cd madwifi-ng-r2756+ar5007
make clean
make
sudo make install
reboot

Your wifi should now work as advertised, even with more advanced forms of PEAP authentication. Be aware that, due to the low power spec of the EEE, its wifi antenna is not very strong. Using the same operating system, sitting side-by-side, I had my laptop and the EEE. My laptop had a connection of 90% to our wireless while the EEE was hovering between 40% and 55%. Not twenty yards away, it was barely 35%.

Built-in Camera

The built-in camera (in the versions of the EEE that have one) works right out of the box with Ubuntu. The strange thing is that, despite the fact that Ubuntu 8.04 has the drivers necessary for the camera, it is not turned on in BIOS. At some point, slip into BIOS (I think it’s F12, but my memory’s hazy on that one; just keep an eye on the splash screen when you reboot sometime) and turn it on. It’s easy to find and easy to change. After that, you can test the camera by installing Cheese and playing around with it.

I was pretty impressed with this little camera. Good picture quality, and it picked up motion pretty well. If you move too fast, though, it overwhelms the tiny processor (900mhz usually) in the machine, so be careful or you’ll lock it into processing for a few seconds before it can catch up. Ubuntu’s stable enough that we never crashed it with the processing, but we did have it freeze a few times while it churned away at drawing the images.

Conclusion

Ubuntu 8.04 runs very well out of the box on the EEE PC, but you will often run into window-size issues. Some of the menus and windows don’t scale down well, and you’ll have them spanning down below what the EEE displays. For instance, when we setup the WPA2Enterprise connection for our wireless, the button to connect was way below the bottom of the screen and only accessible via hotkey (alt+o).

However, the EEE works surprisingly well when connected to peripheral devices, and I used a USB keyboard, mouse, and a VGA monitor on it with great success. With a 19″ LCD monitor, the EEE was able to push a resolution of 1280×1024. My memory’s hazy on the matter, but I seem to recall that the advanced graphics did not work on it (like wobbly windows or cube turning) but other, standard operations ran just fine. OpenOffice.org was usable in Web view (print view extended the document off the screen to the right), Firefox was perfect, and Skype fit on the screen without a problem.

The faculty member reported getting right over three hours of battery life with Ubuntu 8.04 installed.

It’s not a device I would likely buy due to the tiny keyboard (I use my laptop mostly for writing), but it’s certainly handy, sleek, and can get the job done. And yes, it does run Linux.

Ubuntu 8.04

Ubuntu 8.04 is the latest offering from Canonical and part of their every-six-months release schedule. More importantly, it is the latest Long-Term Service (LTS) version of Ubuntu, which carries with it support for two years. This potentially makes Ubuntu more appealing to enterprise users, and offers home desktop users a more stable, better guaranteed experience.

I have installed Ubuntu on both my laptop (HP zv5000) and my home desktop (homebrew built using components from NewEgg) and used it for a few days now. I am also installing Ubuntu Server in a virtual machine for a webserver, and though the installation process is significantly different, operation of the distribution is similar. So, let’s dive right in.

Installation

Ubuntu 8.04 Desktop Edition featured an installation process very similar to the previous two versions released by Canonical, with one small but pleasant change. Previously, Ubuntu loaded by default to a Live CD, and from within this Live CD (which took a significant amount of time to load depending on the amount of RAM you had available and how fast your computer was), you could install the operating system. I’ve always enjoyed having the flexibility of being able to see if all of my hardware works before installing the operating system and, of course, being able to browse the web and get on with my life during the installation process. Nevertheless, when I am doing the install on a second computer and already know the hardware is compatible, there isn’t necessarily a reason for me to take the time to load a Live CD.

Ubuntu now has an option to install on the original menu, which is a nice addition. Prior to reaching this, however, a very long box (wrapping into multiple columns) appears so users can select the language they prefer. Considering that a lot of Ubuntu’s focus is on improving the user experience and the polish of the distribution, such an obtrusive and ugly design for a language picker at the front-end really surprised me. It felt tacked on and ill-considered.

Once inside the installation, the user is walked through partitioning and the settings the operating system needs. A new interface for selecting the time zone has been added to Ubuntu 8.04, where hovering over a section of the map zooms in to that section, rather than clicking to zoom in. I’m willing to cut this feature some slack because it scrolls well and is fairly accurate, but it still annoys me, if for no other reason than that it is unexpected. In attempting to move the cursor to North America, I first zoom in on Africa, an unintended response. Such occurrences should be minimized, and I felt like this addition was unnecessary and a little distracting.

8.04 seems to install and run faster than 7.10 did by a fair margin, and I don’t think the installation on my laptop took more than about 14 minutes. As usual, the user is prompted to press Enter to restart at the end of the installation, and the CD-ROM drive is ejected, which I always felt was a nice touch.

First Impressions

The login page has been dressed up a bit, and a new desktop background added as the default with some artwork of a Heron (due to the code name of version 8.04, which is Hardy Heron in keeping with the naming scheme of Canonical). Initial load was quick, and Gnome was exactly what I was used to and expected. After using Linux Mint for the last several months, I was a bit disappointed in returning to vanilla Gnome, but it still fits with my usage philosophy better than KDE. I practically live within the web browser, so I want my OS and UI to get out of my way and let me work on what I wish, rather than having to deal with everything else.

When you log into 8.04, you’re presented with nearly the same Ubuntu we’ve had for the last six versions. Don’t expect much of a change until version 8.10, and maybe not even then. It’s functional and fast, and that’s enough for me for now. If you want beautiful flashiness (and I do), install Compiz and the Avant Window Navigator.

Drivers

Because I installed this the day it released, there were no updates, which was a pleasant surprise. I had gotten used to having dozens if not hundreds of updates on a fresh install (both in Linux and Windows) that being done immediately upon reboot was really nice.

One of the complaints I have heard (and somewhat share) about Linux is the requirement for an Internet connection, and broadband is implied in that statement. I knew that software installation would be difficult the first few days after release because all of the hosting servers would be hammered by the masses attempting to procure the same software, but I was unaware how very much relied upon that connection.

On first boot, the Restricted Drivers Manager will usually appear to prompt the user that “restricted” drivers are available to them if they would like to install the drivers. Usually, these are video drivers provided by ATI or nVidia, so the user can check the box next to the driver they want and it will be installed. These video drivers are often required for any 3D effects, such as the flashy features Ubuntu offers (which I prefer to manage through Compiz) or the ability to play more advanced games, and are considered “restricted” because they are closed source. Unfortunately, they also require download.

Not only do they require download, but Ubuntu 8.04 has to check against the server and make sure the drivers are available before it will prompt you to download them. I knew I needed the drivers, but the dialog wasn’t appearing because the servers were responding so slowly.

Of course, once I did get them to install, everything ran flawlessly. Linux is so borin^H^H^H^H^Heasy these days. No other drivers were necessary on either computer.

Audio/Video

Ubuntu tries its best to stay pretty legit/free, and tenaciously clings to the philosophy of Open Source. It hasn’t gone as extreme as Debian, but it does not install very many non-free components by default.

That’s all fine and well, but when I took my laptop home on Friday and discovered that my DSL modem had died, it quickly degenerated into a more frustrating experience than it needed to be. Now, not only could I not access anything like I normally would, but none of the videos on my computer worked anymore. Ubuntu doesn’t install any codecs for AVI (the most prevalent container for my video files) or MP3s by default, and though it’ll download and install them pretty easily with a network connection, I found myself lacking.

When I did get to a location with Internet, I thought I would go to YouTube and make sure it worked. Flash has been a problem on Linux in the past, but with improvements in recent years (and Adobe releasing their player for Linux), matters have gotten better and better. When I went to YouTube, Firefox informed me that I needed to install a Flash player and I was given three options: Gnash, Adobe, and one I didn’t recognize and don’t recall.

I’ve been seeing Gnash around for the last year or so (I only started using Linux as a desktop OS at that time), but I hadn’t tried it, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. And after installing it, for whatever reason, YouTube failed to work. So, I went back to the page in an attempt to get Firefox to prompt me to install something again and went ahead with Adobe. Except that didn’t work either.

Turns out that 1) Gnash doesn’t work with everything and 2) Gnash and Adobe conflict with each other, or at least they did in this instance. Once I uninstalled Gnash, the Adobe player worked just fine. This is often one of the main criticisms of Linux: It simply offers the users too many choices. There are thousands of open source applications, so how is a user to know which is the best for their needs? Often, trial-and-error is the best solution, and that’s not really a solution at all. It’s all fine and well for me, but users less familiar with the myriad programs available will have a harder time with it.

Why can’t we just get MPlayer (with SMPlayer as the front-end) installed by default? Seriously.

Software in General

I’m not going to talk about every package that Ubuntu comes bundled with, but there are a few that jumped out at me.

Software Sources

I was pleased to discover two things about the Software Sources panel for Ubuntu. The first is that 8.04 only selects by default sources that maintain LTS versions of software. This means that new, beta, or less-supported versions will not be installed or updated-to, and my operating system will remain stable. The second is the ability to “scan for best sources,” where Ubuntu will select the best mirror from which to get software. Unfortunately, this feature fails entirely when all of the servers are overloaded (as they were on release day), but the feature is still appreciated.

Web Browser

There has been a lot of criticism of 8.04 including Mozilla Firefox 3 Beta. I understand that a lot of my regular extensions won’t work in it, which would probably cause me to uninstall the web browser and revert to Firefox 2. However, I haven’t gotten around to extension installation yet (due to my DSL not working at home), but just using Firefox 3 vanilla has been a pleasant experience. At the very least, I can see why Canonical would include the beta of version 3 in this release. Since 8.04 is a long-term service release that is good for three years, you want software that’s going to be around for a long time. Installing a browser version that is going to need to be upgraded to an entirely different version number in a matter of months doesn’t hold with the long-term vision of 8.04. Therefore, Canonical chose to go with version 3 of Firefox, even if it is a beta, because it is already proven and stable and, this way, users don’t have a version change in mid-stream, so to speak.

Also, I don’t know if it’s just me, but the spellchecking feature of Firefox has never worked for me in Linux. The words might be underlined in red, but I can’t right click on them and get spelling suggestions… until now. This feature now works properly in Ubuntu 8.04 with Firefox 3.

Email

C’mon, Evolution? You install Firefox, why not Thunderbird? I always ditch Evolution and install Thunderbird first thing (when the servers aren’t crippled, anyways), yet Evolution is always there on fresh installs. I can’t foresee a time when it will be worth using, so I stick with Thunderbird.

Word Processor

The version of OpenOffice.org included with Ubuntu 8.04 is the fork from Sun Microsystems. As such, it does not include the Novell patch to make it work with Microsoft Word 2007 documents. Nevertheless, it’s not that difficult to add such functionality; for more information, see the third reply in this forum discussion on the subject. I’ve used this on previous versions of Ubuntu with positive results, so I’d expect it to work here as well.

For the record, OOo looks like it can open .docx files by default, but it lacks an option to save as .docx. Since Office 2007 can open .doc files, this should cover most occasions.

If you’ve never used OOo, you should give it a try. I’ve been using it for years, and my wife started using it about a year ago and has grown quite comfortable; she prefers it over Office 2007 these days, at any rate. Of course, another alternative (though not for the faint at heart) is LaTeX, which I prefer for longer works. Versions of LaTeX are available through the Synaptic Package Manager.

Bittorrent

Ubuntu 8.04 brought Transmission in for Bittorrent. YMMV, but I wasn’t terribly impressed. It’s alright, I suppose, but the features are minimal, not centralized or organized well enough, and overall I just wasn’t satisfied. Thankfully, Azureus is available through Synaptic. Transmission is superior to btlaunchmany, the old default bittorrent client, but it’s not something I’d want to use on a daily basis.

System Manager

The System Manager has gotten a nice redesign, with more useful graphs and layout. I usually add System Manager to the bar at the top of my screen, and that display hasn’t changed any, but the graphs have been beautified within the manager itself. The rest is the same as standard Gnome, and likely will be until version 8.10. System Manager is one of those utilities that is hard to improve upon because it’s just a functional, practical feature, but I appreciate the changes they’ve made in this iteration.

Key and Encryption Management

FINALLY. This feature has been in Gnome for a while now, but the program (called Seahorse) has always been inaccesible save through the terminal. It had a GUI and everything, but a menu launcher had never been added by default. If you’ve ever wondered how to change your master password, this is the place and it is now available under Administration. Seahorse is a really, really nice utility, and I’m excited to see it on the menu. Suddenly, people who had no idea how to even change their password are doing it without having to be shown.

Synaptic Package Manager (and whatever other software you might want)

Still fast, still brilliant. Software installs quickly, cleanly, and is easy to administrate. In particular, installing postfix on Ubuntu Server was a surprisingly pleasant experience, but I’ve always been pleased with Synaptic in general. Something to note is that variations on Ubuntu have now been made packages and therefore can be modularly plugged in and out as desired. Edubuntu is now just a package to plug into Ubuntu, so you can install it through Synaptic. The same goes for different desktop managers and Mythbuntu and Ubuntu Studio (for TV recording and audio/visual work, respectively). Nothing compares with Synaptic in my experience.

Final Features

Just a few last things to mention. First, I’ve been pleased with this version’s power management utilities. They’re simple and straightforward, and the feedback they provide is really helpful. My laptop had a large glass of Kahlua spilled on it a few months ago, and the battery was damaged and now has very low (35%) capacity. The operating system displayed a dialog upon first boot notifying me that my battery was damaged or old because its capacity was so low. I’d never seen a message like this on any operating system, and I was impressed with the feedback.

Suspend/hibernate has been a problem with Linux for a while. I’ll write tomorrow about installing Ubuntu 8.04 on an Asus EEE PC, where suspend/hibernate did not work, but they do work (albeit slowly) on my HP zv5000. Still, I prefer to either turn my computer off or just lock it, rather than suspending it, so this has always been a non-issue to me.

Dual monitors are easier than ever to configure with this version, and I was duly impressed with the utility in 8.04. Note that this only really works well with nVidia cards or Intel integrated graphics. My work machine has an ATI and it has always been a pain to get my dual monitors to work right (until I perfected my xorg file, which I just make sure to keep backed up). I need to try it with more than just the EEE, but it’s a huge step in the right direction compared to previous screen management.

Last Thoughts

Ubuntu 8.04 is a stable, full-featured, and really pleasing distribution that is wowing a lot of people, especially with additions like Compiz. Installation was quick and efficient, the operating system is solid and well usable, and I’ve been thoroughly pleased with the entire experience. Reliance on network servers rather than having drivers available locally can be a pain, and an optional driver disc would be a nice feature that I’d like to see Canonical offer in the future. Nevertheless, keeping the image under 700mb is an impressive feat for such a full-featured distro, and I can respect that.

Any negatives one might have with Ubuntu are usually nitpicks that are relatively minor and don’t take a whole lot away from the distro as a whole. I’ve read criticisms that Ubuntu 8.04 doesn’t bring anything new and exciting to the table, but I argue that that’s not the point. A long-term support release should be perfecting the features introduced in the last few years, not bringing something new and potentially unstable to the distribution. It needs to be solid, and Ubuntu 8.04 is. My own complaints with Ubuntu 8.04 are negligible compared with the benefits it brings, and I’m excited to see where the distribution goes in the future. I’ll likely keep version 8.04 on my computers for quite some time, but version 8.10 promises to be very exciting, if somewhat less stable. 8.10 won’t be LTS, though, so who can blame them?

Just say no to IIS

Our university is not exclusively a Microsoft shop, but it sometimes feels like it is. We predominantly have Microsoft Windows PCs, all of our computer labs run Windows, most of our office computers, and the vast majority of our servers. Therefore, when I’ve had to build web servers for our department in the last year, they’ve always run Server 2003 and IIS. Quite frankly, I’m sick of it. My first webserver was Mandriva Linux running the LAMP stack, and though it was quite a learning experience resulting in reinstalling the operating system probably twenty times over the course of a month, I came to vastly prefer Linux over Windows. I now run Linux on all of my computers, both work and home, but I persisted in installing Windows Server on machines I built at work.

The justification was that no one else knew Linux, or at least not within our group. I wanted to build servers that others would be able to log into and administrate comfortably, if for no other reason than that I didn’t want to have to do all of the work. So I wrestled with IIS and ISAPI filters for redirection and poor SSL handling for encrypting logon pages and memory leaks and instability, just the whole gamut of problems one tends to run into when using Windows. The sad part is that I now have BSD on a second partition of my work computer, and even thoughts of that fill me with more warm fuzzies than having to put up with IIS.

Well, no more. I’m building a new web virtual machine for our wiki software, and today I configured the latest version of Ubuntu Server on it. I refused to touch the last version of Ubuntu Server (7.10) because it wasn’t mature enough yet. Last Thursday however, an LTS (long-term service) release of Ubuntu’s server edition dropped (version 8.04), and so I am more comfortable putting that on a production server.

So far, so good. I was able to get XFCE4 desktop manager on it with minimum fuss (once Ubuntu’s repository servers stopped getting hammered by everyone trying to acquire the software after release), and I have Confluence running smoothly. There were a couple of frustrating moments where something wouldn’t work right, but invariably a restart fixed it (like when I copied over a JDCB .jar file and it hadn’t been initiated yet because I hadn’t restarted the service, yet I was stupidly looking at my screen wondering why it wasn’t working).

Tomorrow, or Wednesday at the latest, I hope to get it setup as a mail server as well. It looks like that process is going to be significantly more difficult than it was with Windows, where I just installed hMailServer, but it’ll be a good learning experience if nothing else. And the most important part: no more IIS.

Week seems long! Sun rises in the east! News at 9!

Two nights ago, I had a dream that I slept all the way through Thursday and that it was Friday, blessed Friday, when I awoke. When I told April, she promptly pointed out that it was Wednesday.

And yet I still went through the entire day thinking it was Thursday and that today would be Friday and I would be done for the week. But nooo, because “reality” has to go in “chronological, linear time patterns.” I believe this is due to its complete and utter hatred for one Matthew Stublefield.

My week hasn’t been bad, by any means. I’m just tired and anxious for the weekend. I have a ton of fiction work I want to do on Saturday and I’m really excited about it. When I redesigned my website, I got rid of my wiki because, as cool and full-featured as Tikiwiki was, it still wasn’t simple/nice enough to just throw my thoughts at. It took too much formatting and work to really be comfortable just sitting down and mind-dumping into it. Maybe I’ll find something else before Saturday that would suffice better.

In super-positive news, the latest version of Ubuntu (and this one a Long-Term-Service release, no less) drops today o/ I’m stoked, and I’m also excited about a faculty member who is bringing her EEE PC by for me to try and get Ubuntu onto it. That should be a lot of fun.

From freedom came elegance

In an attempt to activate the Avant Window Manager, I deleted some system files (specifically, libc6) that are necessary for a great many things to run. “But hey,” I thought, “it’s Linux. This is no big deal.” Instead, it was an ideal opportunity to try a distribution I’d read some good things about recently, and since that distribution is based on Ubuntu (which is, in turn, based on Debian), there wouldn’t be a huge shift for me to get used to. Firing up ye olde web browser, I started downloading Linux Mint and burned it to give the distro a go.

The installation went smoothly, but it has been a bit of a bumpy ride to get it finished, due largely to the way I copied my backup over I think (overwriting some configuration files in the process). The restricted drivers tool that installed my video drivers didn’t activate 3D acceleration automatically, but a nifty tool called Envy was able to uninstall and reinstall them, doing all the configuration and activation on its own. Envy is one of the neater Linux tools I’ve seen among the various distros I’ve driven, and definitely worthy of praise (particularly if it can handle ATI drivers as well as it did my nvidia one; I’ll have to try that at work some time).

Still, I had to redo my video 3 times, and though I was impressed that the GUI never died on me (though it did downgrade to safe mode at 800×600), it’s not what I would call ideal. Package management is fantastic, however, and so far Mint has the best I’ve seen. Coupling the renowned Synaptic Package Manager from Ubuntu with their own Software Portal application, you can find nearly anything and install it with just a few mouse clicks. All dependencies and configurations are done for you, and its simplicity is startling to those used to compiling for kicks.

And, of course, coupled with its elegance, the Avant Window Manager is a crowning feature. Available on all distros, it just looks nice alongside Mint’s interface improvements (Gnome with a nice theme, to be honest), and since it was my original goal, I’m glad to have it working so easily through the Software Portal.

Unfortunately, I have the same problem with Mint that I had with Ubuntu 7.10 (yet do not have with Ubuntu 7.04), which is that my digital camera does not work. In 7.04, I plug it in, it is detected, and I can pull the pictures off, no problem. Now, nothing, and a lot of users have the same problem. There is supposedly a patch or way around it, but I haven’t been able to get it to work yet. I can transfer the photos to my computer via the laptop, but that’s sort of a pain and I’m not sure it’s worth having a distro installed that doesn’t do everything I want/need it to do (even if it is shiny).

In the end, Linux Mint is nice, but it is plagued by the same shortcomings as most Ubuntu releases and distros: by focusing on being cutting edge, some stability is lost. All-in-all, it’s a fantastic distro, but regression of features simply should not occur. I’ll dig around a bit more and try to apply this patch, but I’m not holding out a whole lot of hope. We’ll see what the morning brings.