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industry (no, not that industry), to be used on Red Hat 5.x servers; they use Fedora because CentOS is hopelessly out of date for things like wireless support on his computer; however, unfortunately, they have been finding Fedora 12 unstable … not my experience so far.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 he’d 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? 🙂

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 … 🙂

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. 🙂 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. 🙂

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

Wireless under Fedora 11

Back in September, I cried for joy that wireless worked out of the box in F9, even if it was only 2 bars out of 4, inches away from the wireless router, and surmised that this might be due to a presumed lack of Ndiswrapper in the Fedora kernel, expecially since a plain old vanilla kernel downloaded from kernel.org gave me 4 bars. The number of bars and signal strength on my PIII 450 laptop varies from about 10% (zero bars but still connected) to about whatever 2 bars represents. On rare occasion I get 4 bars, which usually drops back down in seconds.

Under F11, things seem to be the same. No complaints.

Seems that I might not haven Fedora enough credit, if you can believe it.

On my new Acer Aspire One, I have 4 bars, all the time. And it’s about a foot or two further from the router than the PIII 450.

So it seems that it could be my card, the drivers available, and the age of the technology.

Good going Fedora!

Fedora 11 finally released!

The past 2.5 weeks have been a little hairy for me, I finally came back from a month long business trip and, well, I had some computers to update. And another to update at the same time to sync it with the other two instead of updating every 6 months. And, a birthday gift to reformat.

First, the old PIII 450 laptop was a breeze to update; a bit peppier on just about everything, except videos are now completely out of sync instead of occasionally just a bit. Maybe changing from Gnome to XFCE will do the trick … but, obsolescence moves on, my outright need for videos has been … well shifted back to the DVD player at the cottage is back in service with a “new” tv. And, well, read on. In the meantime, the bootup sequence is slightly different from the other systems, the line with the three advancing “line heads” à la F10 is there instead of the advancing line on the Fedora logo on the other systems.

Next was my P4 2.8. Funny thing happened, the Palimpsest Disk Utility said that there were some fatal errors on my HD. So before doing anything, I got another used HD and reformatted it. What fun to eradicate Ubun… to have an opportunity to enjoy a new installation. 🙂 Palimpsest again comes around and says that the new drive has fatal errors. A quick net search reveals that this apparently isn’t a bug, it’s working like it should and well I have two used drives with “fatal errors”.

Next is a new Acer Aspire One. This one was fun. Over about 6 hours, my brother and I tried to get F11 on the machine; no, my 512meg usb ramstick was not big enough for a CD, and it we couldn’t make it bootable to put in the net install. Couldn’t get his 1gig mp3 player to boot. Several other ways later, we finally tracked down a USB dock and put in a CD player, and it worked.

Then my PIII 550 used-to-be-a-casino-server-then-a-printer’s-server-then-my-main-desktop server formatted nicely on the 80gig drive … which died about 100 packages out of 1100 from the end of the install. Hey, I still have that HD with an install that Palimpsest says has bad errors; things boot up nicely. I still have to put in some of the daemons, my brother is interested.

In between I’ve bought a 16gig usb memory stick. Nice story: The price is $49.99, ok I’ll buy it. The cash register says $67 with tax … hey, that’s not right, and lower down the price says $59.99 before taxes. I show the clerk the price tag on the shelf … and thanks to Quebec’s consumer protection laws, the new price is $10 off the “correct” (lower in this case) price at $39.99. Including all taxes, that’s less than the $49.99 price.

Then I ran out of space on the Acer trying to add Google Earth … what’s the deal? Seems maybe I made a typo or something during the setup, the system said 5.9gig drive when another utility recognizes the full 160gigs. So I decide to reformat today, and I finally get a bootable image onto the USB memory stick and after 3 attempts (the first was good but I had a snag in the setup, something about I can’t do an ext3 filesystem given the existing ext4 on the usb stick, and I can’t do an install under ext4 — I think I forgot to uncheck the usb stick as a target) I finally get the net install iso on the stick. The repo? Duke University. Really good, since a yum update only had ONE update; they keep their images up to date!

I’m finally in the process of doing all the little details and transfers and installs, and all just under the wire — I’m off on another business trip tomorrow!