AT&T does it again! (AKA Will I Ever Learn?)

So I just turned on my TV and here’s a commercial … family dinner … It’s Mom’s tablecloth … Back in the day my grandmother made this for me, they don’t make them like they used to anymore … pass the spaghetti … OOOPS! — NO, WAIT! Don’t do anything!

And they all naturally go to the net to look for a solution (peroxide and something else, everyone in internet cafés and schools around the world yell at their computer screens.) And what does the computer screen look like?

A vague resemblance to the Gnome desktop under Ubuntu, with the white toolbars on top and bottom with hints of brown here and there, but it’s just a touch too blurry to identify it as anything other than NOT Windows, and that it’s probably MovieOS.

I guess that every time they shoot a commercial, the geeky “I use linux at home, I’d love to have the bragging rights to *that* computer in the TV commercial” IT guy in the back is on their day off, or they don’t want to give Gnome or KDE a financial nod. Yet they want to go to the trouble of avoiding an MS or Apple desktop. Interesting.

(sigh …)

19 months, 16 *successful* installs

I just did a tally of all the installs I’ve done on my personal systems since the end of June, 2008, when I bought a new-to-me desktop and took advantage of the opportunity to upgrade from the CentOS 4.x series (to the CentOS 5.x series. πŸ™‚ ). And I was a bit blown over; unfortunately, not surprised, but blown over nonetheless.

Over 5 systems, I’ve done 16 successful installs; then there were a few dud installs that had to be restarted right away, although a couple of said duds were counted because the installs were actually useful for a few weeks, including one not counted as a successful install during the most recent cycle despite the fact that it was a successful install; unfortunately, the boot sector on the drive died (it was to be expected, back last June or July, Palimptest identified the drive as having a fatal error on it, and the drive was declared as having about 6 months to live, and whaddya know!) so I had to get another “new” drive, which I happened to have handy, and do another install.

To be fair, there has been one factory sealed new system thrown in there (what fun to wipe the Windows install, which curiously, apparently irreparably froze up after all the updates were done, the whole thing to be able to say “yeah, but Windows worked on it!” — which it didn’t!), another system that just about hasn’t been used since and after a few months has now been removed from the upgrade cycle, another system that finally died or at least on whose ghost I have given up, and a finally a replacement system for said “death in the family”.

One of the reasons why I always say “I’d love to go back to CentOS if it weren’t so hopelessly obsolete” is that it’s stable and has a long life to it (something like typically 7 years) — Fedora *has* been good to me since I started using it from version 9, and hence with CentOS you don’t have to upgrade every six months like with Fedora — oops, that’s every 12 months or so — given the support cycle (wink wink). πŸ™‚

Problem is that when you have several systems, you’re still doing installs every 6 months or so if the systems aren’t in sync with each other; further one of the consequences of using second hand or third hand computers, buying new computers, upgrading parts and hard drives, and even trying out another distro at least once is that your systems are hardly every likely to be in sync for the whole 13 months or so lifespan of a new-version-released-every-6-months distro like Fedora. And of course, that someone who would like to avoid having to do new installs every 6 months is going to upgrade a system that is out of sync to bring it in line with the others in the hopes that “this will be the cycle when I get to enjoy the whole lifespan and not have to upgrade 6 months from now”.

Hence the ideal of trying to avoid the “install every 6 month habit” by syncing the installs with each other when a single new install is done in order to hopefully avoid having to reinstall in 6 months is fallacious when you have at least two systems — in fact, you end up doing the opposite since you not only are installing (or re-installing) at least once every six months for one legitimate reason or another, but you end up doing multiple installs, many of which are unnecessary in and of themselves, every 6 months, just to keep everything in sync. And as such, the “install every 6 month habit”.

Of course, I have often been enjoying the process despite myself; in fact, I’ve managed to put together an ever-increasingly long list of steps to take from start to finish when installing a system (which I’ll be presenting to one of the local LUGs in a few weeks.) Fortunately, my computers are purely home desktops or hobby servers without any critical processes on them, and my brother at least humours my habit by doing those little bits that are still beyond my ever-increasing sysadmin skill set (which of course is growing with each install cycle). And in the process I’m gaining a practical appreciation for what I’ve known all along since I started using Linux in 2006 and started using CentOS: The likes of Fedora and Ubuntu may be great, but you have to re-install every 6 months! Who wants to do that?!?!” (Apparently, I do. πŸ™‚ )

It must be interesting having multiple production servers with multiple versions of a given distro, let alone more than one distro (ie. a mix of CentOS, Debian, SuSE, and for some good fun, Slackware). Good thing that usually having “the latest and greatest” usually isn’t as particularly important on a server so that it can actually have a useful life. Must be hard for the likes of Red Hat, for instance, when it must add new drivers all the time, but in order to keep from breaking compatibility and adding “bad change” into the distro other things don’t happen (things like the HPLIP version that is one incremental subversion or whatever it 0.x increments are called behind the minimum requirements for my 2.5 year old printer, and which has since gone through several such incremental upgrades and at least a whole version upgrade since.)

News Flash — Linux spotted in the wilds of Montreal!

This morning I did something very unusual, for me. I took the commuter train into work instead of driving my car, and I saw a Gnome desktop on someone’s laptop computer! Doing a double take, I checked, and whaddya know, it’s definitely a Gnome desktop, it’s very familiar, it isn’t brown, and yup, it was Fedora 12.

A few weeks ago my brother had posted on SlashDot asking if anyone had seen Linux in use in the wild — not data centres, of course, nor at LUG meetings or other such gatherings of Linux types where of course Linux is expected to be seen, but random, innocent spottings in places like at restaurants, café’s, university or college student halls, on the streets, on the train, etc. The responses were an underwhelming (or disappointingly overwhelming) “no”. In fact, my brother said that I was the only person he knew who used a Linux desktop besides himself, and that I’m far more pure about it than he. (In fact, he uses Windows as regularly as Linux on his personal systems, while I “only” use Windows at work, and don’t particularly care for it.) Besides seeing Linux desktops at LUGS and Linux Meetups, offhand I can only think of two people I know who say they use Linux at home as their desktops.

I started chatting with this person, and they apparently develop software for a particular industry (no, not that industry), to be used on Red Hat 5.x servers; they use Fedora because CentOS is hopelessly out of date for things like wireless support on his computer; however, unfortunately, they have been finding Fedora 12 unstable … not my experience so far.

Suffice it to say that even put aside the Fedora part, this chance meeting made my day!

Fedora 12 installed — I’m a linux addict with an install every 6 months habit

Well over the past couple of weeks I’ve just installed Fedora 12 on three systems — mainly because I got a great great great new P4 3.0GHz home server, which I have been considering using as my desktop while using my current desktop as the server, a P4 2.8GHz.

To my dismay I have done this 6 months after I made a point of having the same version of Fedora on all my computers so as to avoid the “reformat a system every six months” treadmill that I was on by having different versions, because, well, my old server died and of course there was no point to putting a 6 month old version of Fedora on which I would only *have* to change 6 months from now, anyway … Sigh, the bliss of using CentOS, were only it not so completely obsolete, I would love to use it again … However on the other side, Fedora is the crack cocaine of “latest and greatest”, so for the moment there’s no going back!

All of this started back in, what, September, if not before; I couldn’t get the 80 gig drive and the 500 gig to play nice together, or so I thought. There *was* an issue with different spin speeds, but wait folks, there’s more. When I *did* have the 500gig as the boot disk, something seemed off with the amount of available storage, although I wasn’t fully aware. When I finally brought the 500 back as the boot drive, the installation went well several times with Fedora, then with Centos 5.1 (which would have been promptly updated upon reboot.) Except, the first reboot wouldn’t work, the system would freeze, and the keyboard buffer would fill up real quick. Forums were of little help, with sufficient dead ends and apparent red herrings. Finally, I started figuring out on my own that the BIOS was way too old to recognize such a large drive, and flashing it with a “new” bios would have required a lot of fun with WINE, which I wasn’t really wanting to get into using a live CD.

Christmas and a new server came along, and I’m up and running with a desktop upgraded from june 2008 — CentOS 5.1 to 5.2, July 2008 some version of Ubuntu, December 2008 Fedora 10, July 2009 Fedora 11, and now January 2010 Fedora 12 … and a netbook, a laptop which is no longer used, an old server, and a new server following a similar route for much of the way each. So much for even taking advantage of Fedora’s “1 month after the release of the second version following” … I’m still upgrading every 6 months!

As a result, though, I finally now have refined my “to-do” list when installing a machine so that it’s not so much of a hassle, and in fact two of the three setups were not only a breeze in and of themselves but the to-do lists also made the rest of the work a breeze, too. Of course my brother told me two years ago that his list was 300+ steps long and heÒ€ℒd found a two year old such list, that was only about 120+ items long. My list is currently somewhere around 58 items long depending on how you count it … I wonder how long it’ll take to get to 300? πŸ™‚

However, I had problems with the desktop right after it was installed like a breeze, the disk boot sector died (I expected it would anyway as of about 6 months ago) and funnily enough the mem stick on which the setup worked like a breeze before suddenly wasn’t cooperating. Gotta figure out what was going wrong with UNetbootin creating the ram stick images from ISO, in which, curiously, the boot image required after the disk formatting in Anaconda wasn’t being properly copied or at least activated on the ram stick.

Anyway, I think I have to work on getting the most out of the system, I bet that months from now Fedora will find a way to make me upgrade again, with that lucky number associated with it and all … πŸ™‚

FTP clients and Windows

This week I had what I consider to be curious experiences with others regarding ftp.

I’m what I would call old school; I started using ftp about 15 years ago when the internet was barely, if at all, entering the greater public consciousness, and the piece of software I had access to, gFTP, wasn’t chargeware. Way back when, Windows didn’t even have its own integrated network stack, let alone effectively having integrated ftp abilities in Windows Explorer.

Then Windows and the Vice President came along and claimed to have invented the internet :), and people use drag & drop the way you can between two directories in a gui. I have never done it this way. Ever. Even the first time I asked IT to set up an ftp site for me for a work project, I naturally downloaded and installed FileZilla after immediately finding their instructions on how to do it through Windows Explorer confusing. So the Windows way is completely foreign and confusing to me.

The first curious experience was when I, probably naively, sent out an email to a bunch of co-workers who have access to a corporate ftp site for download of files resulting from field work, such as photos. I said that if people were having difficulty transferring files using the “windows” way of transferring files, that they could use Filezilla. The response from the project manager was “Why can’t we do it directly?” Simple response, “apologies for the confusion, just in case the way IT described it doesn’t work, here’s another way to try to directly do the transfers.” Again, I became aware that I was probably naive in presuming that the “windows” way may or may not work once outside the corporate IT network — why wouldn’t it? I just checked using the windows machine down the hall on my home network, and of course I was wrong and it works.

But I found the reaction curious anyway; maybe I was taking it too literally, but I found the “why can’t we do it directly?” part curious since I was proposing an alternate DIRECT way of doing things.

The second curious experience was more concrete. A co-worker was beside me, and we’re discussing the contents of the FTP site. I fire up FileZilla, and they ask me what I’m doing. I carefully respond; they say they’ve never seen it done that way, and it looks confusing. My turn. I explain “I’m starting up an ftp client. Here are the files on my computer on the left side, here are the files on the ftp site on the right.” “oh really? That must be a new way.” (harumppphhhh.) “Uhm, I’ve been using ftp clients that look this way for the past 15 years.”

I didn’t continue into a tyrade about how Windows has people brainwashed into thinking that they way to do anything on a computer is the “Windows Way”.

Sheesh, I don’t know how to fix my car when it breaks down. Doesn’t mean I don’t have an idea about what it looks like under the hood.

Bill Kurtis yet again

In the latest Bill Kurtis AT&T 3G commercial (something to the effect of “3G Anywhere” where he’s sitting in front of a Green Screen and all sorts of backgrounds are flashed, such as a kitchen, the park, the fairgrounds, etc.), it again seems to me that there is a white line across the top of a blue screen that is similar to a Gnome desktop.

I of course have come to accept that it’s just a fake, static imitation screenshot that is put in during post-production editing, and anyway in this case, there isn’t the taskbar at the bottom of the screen to further make me hop in glee yelling “Finally! He’s really using a linux distro this time with Gnome!”

Now what’s really getting me is that they’ve obviously put a bit of time and trouble into making up unique fake, MovieOS screenshots for each of the various commercials. Sheesh, for all the trouble AND expense they’re going to, I have to wonder why they just don’t send that money to Canonical or the Fedora Foundation, or maybe the Gnome people, as a quid quo pro “thank you” contribution to avoid any licencing issues or whatever when they ask one of the techies in back “Hey you use linux, right? Well we can’t / don’t want to / find it too expensive to get a licencing deal with either MS or Apple to have one of their computers appearing in a TV commercial, and we’re gonna make a LOT of commercials with different screenshots, can we borrow your laptop with that free OS where we won’t have to pay any licencing?”

Again, I think that the guy/girl would be scampering over as fast as possible just to get the bragging rights to “Hey you know those Bill Curtis AT&T commercials? He was showing *my* computer! Cool, eh?”

XFCE

Well last week I was in a bit of an experimentation mood. Now that I have a new laptop, my old laptop, a PIII 450 with 320megs of RAM, can be used for experimentation.

In the meantime, it has slowed down and over the past year video has been anywhere from just fine to sketchy, depending on the complexity of the video.

So I removed the Gnome desktop, figuring that the memory footprint had probably been at the cusp of affecting other processes. Curiously, this didn’t cause the computer to explode and it seemed as though as long as I didn’t turn off the computer, I would have been able to continue indefinitely with Gnome.

And of course, I turned off the computer.

This was not a good thing, the boot up sequence appeared to freeze. Fortunately the single user mode was available — hey, they changed the key sequence in F11 from control-alt-F1 to control-alt-F3, and even the exit sequence changed from control-alt-F7 to control-alt-F1! However, getting my wireless to work was not obvious, and I learned just how much of wireless seems to be controlled by the desktop. So connecting to the repos to install XFCE was not possible.

I wonder for about a week when my brother suggests “well just plug in your network card and use a wired connection.” Duh, this works. πŸ™‚ Yum install group XFCE works, and things are humming. (In between he suggests “don’t worry about getting the wireless up until the desktop is installed” … until he suggests using a wired connection, this was like telling someone stranded with an empty gas tank on the side of a desert road to drive to a gas station to get more gas!)

The installation went like a breeze, and while there are differences, the whole experience seems very similar to the Gnome desktop experience.

My brother was impressed that it seemed so easy and seamless, he said that a years ago this easiness factor would have been unheard of.

A quick test of video while I was doing a yum update — an unfair test on this machine in this day and age — showed a slight amount of choppiness. I expect that things will go well when I test again and nothing else is going on.

Trying to use Opera as a baseline

I decided that time of day could cause differences, who knows. I did side-by-side comparisons of two of the three ASP pages from this morning. The windows machine had not trouble, my F11 machine with Firefox 3.5 RC4 decided it still wanted to hang around.

I ask my brother who looks into it, and so far has no idea yet. He suggests trying Opera to set a baseline reference. Now that I think of it, I’ll try both firefox and Opera on my business machine, just to really try things out.

So I download and install Opera as a baseline on my computer, figuring that either things will work and I’ll figure out that it’s Firefox 3.5 RC4, or that it’s something else. That licence screen isn’t as scary as other licenses, it appears that I can use it to browse the web and so on — as long as I’m not doing so as part of air traffic management or running my nuclear power plant — but it’s still interesting.

I quickly check two of the websites I had trouble with this morning. And they hang.

Now I’ve just installed firefox on my business computer. To my great surprise, it worked — for the past several months I haven’t bothered on the presumption that somewhere along the line I’d get a message saying that I couldn’t do it without admin rights.

Surprise surprise — the two pages work without a hitch (firefox needs a couple of plugins, but the pages come up no trouble.)

At this point I’m going to let the Opera installation on Windows drop.

For those of you who are curious, the two sites in particular are geocaching.com and pwbrewing.com. The other two sites are not useful references since one is a corporate email server (all Windows, to my chagrin I have received confirmation from the techs there that they have no linux, and I’ve learned from other times not to bother mentioning linux to them, they seem more hostile to linux than I to windows — some say that it threatens their livelihood!) and the other was a survey tailored to my email addy as a customer satisfaction response.

Of course, I have read a few things about the latest Firefox Fiasco but that seems to be about load time and the way Firefox generates “random” numbers.

ASP and Windows centric web pages slow

I am at another hotel on business. (Ho-hum, they have a password, I don’t care at this point to find out how long it’s been in place, I’m sure it’s good odds that it’s been a while. Shall we say that it’s named after a good ship. I suppose I could be wrong.)

Surfing is, often enough, slow. A good number of pages hang and time out. At first, I don’t notice much because the main one I visit is always slow, always hangs and occasionally times out.

At first I was wondering if it’s because I’m in a hotel using their internet — you know, bottlenecks due to lots of people using the internet hookup at the same time (what, at 6AM?), people setting up repeaters in the bushes stealing signal because there is an insecure password that at worst would cost them a night’s stay to figure out, etc.

I also have the company laptop with me, to do company work (of course, I have my own laptop to do personal stuff, the company policy on personal usage of the computers is getting to be much like closed source licences that make you wonder whether you may use the software at all, even for its apparently intended purpose.) It uses windows on a Centrino Core 2 with something like 2.8GHz or more. For the fun of it I type in le web page du jour. It loads quite speedily, while the page load on the same web page on my F11 ACER Aspire One is still hanging.

And I notice something interesting: le web page du jour is in ASP. So is the historically slow site. Last night the site that was impossible to properly log into using my laptop, the work email server — such that I logged into my own web email to send the message to the home office — is, you got it, on a windows server. A fourth site this morning timed out in the middle of a survey I agreed to take; I hope it’s a linux server, it’s for a magazine I subscribe to on a little topic called linux (the publishing house also has a PC magazine, so go figure.)

I’m wondering: Am I having difficulties with these pages because I’m using Firefox? Linux? A slower machine? Is it Fedora’s implementation of Firefox 3.5 Beta 4 or whatever? Some combination of the above? Is this an ASP compatibility problem? Or an ASP discrimination problem? Or are the pages in question themselves biased against non-windows computers? Or non-IE browsers? (Never heard that one before!) (here’s my archive)

À suivre …

The new Google OS

Well for those of you who haven’t heard, internet darling Google announced in the past day or two that it will be releasing a new OS expected in 2010 (here’s my archive).

I had a few reactions:

– Google getting headline news should make it interesting, and they have the money and clout to be a real competitor. I saw the news about the new Google OS by watching the morning news and one of the taglines was “Google to launch operating system”. Sorry, Ubuntu only gets headline news within the likes of gearheads like me (see below), and it’s a footnote at best when people talk about that South African Space Tourist.
– What will “it” be? Linux? Google-Hurd? Open-source? GPL? BSD-licence? Apache Licence?
– I wondered what it would be about. Goobuntu? Ahhh, it’ll be an internet-centric linux distro — meaning, even though it’s obvious that it’s meant to be a MS-killer on the netbooks (with the possibility that it could be released, with appropriate changes, for the desktop too), its main comparison will be gOS. (Insert tongue firmly in cheek here. Then bite.)
– It’ll only have any way of working if it A) deals with the problems Fedora has out of the box (flash, mp3, avi, DVD, etc.) by no doubt including such support out of the box, and generally be AS GOOD POINT FOR POINT as MS, and then some, and B) do something better than MS — and be something that people want.
– It’ll have to likely change the computing paradigm. The cloud computing paradigm has been touted for about seven years or more now and has only been taking off in the past year or so. Google has been slowly eroding MS with things like gmail and google docs, alongside Firefox and OpenOffice.org, and generally contributing to opensource and other projects, but I’m wondering when the breakpoint will be when suddenly EVERYBODY drops MS and goes somewhere else, or rather the pie becomes properly split up such that what’s under the hood matters less than what goes on on the screen. Oh, and people don’t like change. Resistance to change is one of Open Source’s, no scratch that, “any alternative to MS”‘s biggest enemies.
– My original take on the above was that Google *would* be the people able to push things beyond the breakpoint.
– I’m wondering if it will have to go on par with MS by pulling a Novell to integrate MS-files nicely.
– Ahh, “machines with it will be sold starting in 2010” — it was but also wasn’t as specific as that … will there be a slice in it for Google? Or will there given away the way other distros are, but have insidious settings that encourage the user without realizing it to go to some web page that has google click ads? Or … what’s in it for them?

Then of course, I’m listening to one of these “deal to the lowest common denominator then add 2 points of intelligence” syndicated talk radio hosts who’s got a guest talking about this subject. To set the stage, the previous topic he discussed was a videoclip on YouTube of a person using both hands to shave his head while driving and whether there should be a law against such a thing, which he caps up with the likes of “there should be an anti-moronification law against such morons.”

To be fair, the stance he and his guest take is targeted at most people who inexplicably (to me, anyway) have no clue that there *is* an (easy) alternative to MS on the PC, besides the Mac, which he rightfully puts in a class of its own. And, Linux *is* mentioned as an available alternative, but “it’s pretty much for the gearheads”.

Here’s what I sent him, I was so riled up:

*****

Forget Ontario hair-shaving idiots making the roads less safe, I wonder about those on the radio who say linux is for “gearheads”.

I suppose I’m a gearhead, I do indeed like computers for their own sake beyond the day to day usefulness they present.

However I’ve been using various versions of linux for the past several years on my PC and take great pleasure in overwriting any existing MS format on any new computer I get — over the past three years, that’s about 5 computers, formatted a few times over on some. Some are older and more archaic than the netbooks your piece mentioned, let alone today’s top of the line desktops, and I’ve been using them for desktop uses, not server applications. On them are full OS’s that are not stripped down — unless, of course, I were to have chosen one of the minimalist versions — and interestingly are not all that slow.

There are several versions which are geared toward the “average” user. Most of the more common versions can do all of the day to day uses that were mentioned in your piece and are on par with — sometimes superior to — MS. I use a version that is a cross between the “gearhead” market and day to day usage. I recommend to newcomers Ubuntu, which I do not use. Virtually all users of MS however would be able to use Ubuntu, available at ubuntu.com, with no difficulty, and it is the most popular of the linux versions and is not aimed at the “gearheads”.

I was incredulous listening to the show to hear that people still think that MS is the only option for their PCs. I suppose that the few who have heard of linux figure that something given away for free is worth the money paid for it. Au contraire, MS is less configurable and as you know virus prone as compared to linux; for the virus part, you have to pay more to get properly protected. Linux on the other hand is safer, faster, and free compared to MS.

I found your guest informative but I found the bias toward linux not being a competitive alternative on the desktop — which it has been for years — compared to Windows “very interesting”.

*****

Oh, I do think that the driver in Ontario is a complete moron. πŸ™‚

And Mr. Shuttleworth, please note that I *will* recommend Ubuntu to the general public since the learning curve is easier than even Fedora’s.