Category: ubuntu

After four months of using a corporate laptop running Windows XP 64 bit edition, I finally made the jump to desktop Linux on my corporate laptop (Ubuntu 10.4 aka Lucid Lynx). In the past, working in various IT roles, it was easy for me to run whatever OS I wanted, and take the time to configure it to my liking. However; in a software pre-sales role you cannot afford to have any downtime, especially when you role is 100% dependent on having a functioning laptop. Something that was once a nuisance, such as external display issues with a projector, is now a mission critical bug.

Device Compatibility

Ubuntu Verizon Card

Using Linux on the desktop in some form for over a decade, I’m simply shocked at the major strides Ubuntu has made on device compatibility. After the OS installation, every device on my Dell e6500 worked out of the box. The wireless networking and bluetooth worked right out of the box. The screen was at the optimal resolution. The power functionality of sleeping and hibernate worked with no issues going in and out of the dock. Some of these items may appear to be trivial, but 5 years ago Linux laptop users generally had to use custom kernel modules and various hacks to get things working right. Even on the Windows side, you generally have to spend a lot of time hunting down correct device drivers. With Lucid, I was 100% functional after the base OS install.

From a third party device perspective I was also blown away by Lucid. I have a wireless aircard from Verizon. Getting it to work on Windows and OSX requires me install third party software from Verizon. With Ubuntu, I simply plugged the device in, and a wizard came up asking me my country, and my wireless carrier. That’s it, it simply worked like any other integrated networking device. Printer configuration was a similar experience, I simply picked the device from a menu and it just worked. No bloated drivers from HP.


Ubuntu VMware

Because I’m running enterprise software demos inside VMware VM’s, naturally I have VM workstation installed. I also used the VMware converter to convert my previous laptop Windows installation to a VM so I can run my old corporate desktop image as needed. Having used VMware for quite some time, the biggest advantage for desktop use in the last few years has been “unity mode.” Unity mode displays virtualized applications as native applications, so in Ubuntu I run Outlook and Visio without having to move back and forth from the virtualized operating system.

Areas for Improvement

There are still some areas where corporate Ubuntu users still face major challenges. Exchange compatibility is still my number one issue. Evolution works great if you have direct MAPI access, but for road warriors we usually only have access to Exchange’s web interface. Outlook can connect to Exchange directly through OWA (Outlook Web Access), and Evolution supports OWA integration too, but only with Exchange 2003. Most corporations are running Exchange 2007. Corporate VPN connectivity still requires some manual configuration and hacking to get it working. Web presentation tools such as Webex have very limited support for Linux. If your forced to use Microsoft’s Netmeeting, then you must use Windows.

With my previous file server down for the count, I decided to spend some money to build new home storage system.

Operating System
Linux is the obvious choice. I took a quick peek at Nexenta, but decided that ZFS was probably overkill. The harder question for me was what Linux distribution? I took a look at Openfiler, but decided that I wanted to run a more “general purpose” distribution. Typically, Debian is my distribution of choice for servers. I narrowed it down to Debian or Ubuntu server, which is really a Debian derivative. I ended up going with Ubuntu, because I figured it would have the most bleeding edge enhancements. If stability was paramount, Debian would be the right choice.

computer case
I wanted to over-engineer the hardware configuration. My last file server had about 850 GB of usable storage, and it filled up quickly with pictures, videos, and legal music. I also used it for backup space. Even though software raid has come along way, I still wanted to use a hardware raid card. I ended up getting a fantastic deal on a 8 port 3ware SATA II raid card with a battery backup unit. Processing power was not really a concern, I just needed to get the cheapest PCI-X compatible motherboard I could find. I ended up setting on Tyan board for $66. For the enclosure, I picked up a cheapo Antec case with 6 drive bays for $50. The most important part of the file server server is obviously the disks. For my storage partition I chose 5 Western Digital 1 TB SATA drives in a big RAID-5 ARRAY.

  1. Tyan S5161G3NR-RS $66
  2. Corsair 1GB DDR2 $16
  3. Pentium D 940 3.2 GHZ $89
  4. 3ware 9550SX-8LP $150
  5. Antec Case $50
  6. 5 1TB drives $500
  7. 1 80GB drive $35
  8. Power Supply $100
  9. Grand total $1006

It really doesn’t need to be that expensive, you could easily bring that total down to $700. Use software RAID, an existing case, a cheaper power supply, and a cheaper CPU.

I installed Ubuntu Server on a single 80GB drive, and I have the huge array mounted on /home. With the large RAID 5 partition, I had to use GNU parted instead of Fdisk to partition. Fdisk has a 1.5TB partition limit. I also had to use the GPT partition format, since DOS partitions have 1.5 TB limitation as well. For the file-system, I decided to use EXT4, since its supported with latest edition of Ubuntu server. If you really care about your data, I would suggest using EXT3.

For file access, I’m using NFS4 for my Linux and OSX clients. SSHFS and Samba are enabled as well For alterting, I have 3ware’s management interface from the server. Not only can I login to see what’s going on with the array, but I will receive e-mail alerts if anything bad happens to the disks.

. I’m also using this server as my primary bittorrent client. I found
Deluge, which is a modern bittorrent client written in python. My only two requirements were that it had a web interface, and it supported UPNP. Deluge has 3 different client options to chose from: GUI, Command Line, and Web. Running deluge in the background, I can access the web interface from any computer.

Overall, I’m very pleased with my current configuration. Its amazing what $1000 will get you these days..
3.6 TB usable

Desktop Linux has come a long way over the last ten years. There are lots of projects and people who have made desktop Linux a viable option for users everywhere. Most notably, the development of Ubuntu has done more for desktop Linux than any other distribution or project.

A lot of the problems that plagued desktop Linux five years ago are solved today. The installation is a lot easier, and hardware support has greatly improved. Usability improvements are obvious, and fundamental applications like web browsing and office suites are on par with the closed alternatives.

While there are lots of areas where desktop Linux has improved greatly, there are a few notable exceptions:

E-mail and Calendaring

The Evolution project looked like it was going to be the great groupware client for Linux, but sadly Novell has pretty much abandoned it over the years, mostly due to their collaboration with Microsoft. There is not a viable alternative to Outlook that runs natively on Linux today. This is a huge barrier to corporate adoption.

Photo and Video Editing

This is the main reason why I had to buy a Mac. You cannot do advanced content creation and use Linux as your primary desktop operating system. There are many basic applications for managing and editing photos, but don’t even try to edit RAW files coming out of a DSLR. There are a few apps that will do it, but nothing close to the sophistication of whats available on OSX and Windows.

Video editing is another glaring support hole for desktop Linux. Sadly, there is no real good solution for this problem. None of the major Linux distributions are going to spend resources developing solutions for content creators. The existing market players like Adobe, don’t have enough fiscal justification for spending money on a Linux port. Sadly, I do not see this situation improving anytime soon.

Device Synchronization

Once upon a time, Ipods played nicely with Linux, but not anymore. Sadly, this is really an Apple problem. Apple has deliberately obfuscated the Ipod in order to prevent it from playing nice with Open source software. Because Ipods are such a huge part of people’s everyday computing, the integration with Linux needs to be seamless. Unfortunately, Apple is evil.

Smartphones are another issue. People need to be able to synchronize their phone with a Desktop computer without having to be a genius. In the age when everyone owns a device that syncs with their computer, Linux is way behind the times.

Ubuntu is popular, popular for a Linux distribution anyway. You think commercial and enterprise Linux distributions would look to Ubuntu for inspiration, but most companies are close minded.

I was in a meeting the other day with some salespeople from Novell, and we were discussing how RPM is essential broken, and its been frozen in time since the late 90’s. I suggested looking at the most popular Linux distribution for inspiration on packaging.

The salespeople looked puzzled, What distribution is that? “Ubuntu” I said.. From the looks on their faces, I think a few of them were questioning Ubuntu’s popularity.

Here is the data from Google trends..

ubuntu is popular Google trends.

Basically, if you take every other popular Linux distribution and combine them, it might equal Ubuntu’s share. Now, your typical sales person would say, “well that’s because they give it away for free!” Sadly, the lack of a price tag has nothing to with Ubuntu’s popularity. Fedora has been around a lot longer (for free) and has more money thrown at it, but Ubuntu still leads.

Redhat and Novell should take a hard look at Debian and Ubuntu, they could probably learn a few things about what makes a good Linux distribution.

The Novell “partnership” with Microsoft has been a hot topic in Linux circles since it was announced a few years ago. Recently, Novell and Microsoft introduced a joint-marketing site to promote their collaboration.

A few years ago, I had really high hope’s for Novell’s forays in to Linux. However; bad move after bad move has left me with no confidence in Novell or their Linux products. I can’t say I was shocked to find this work of misinformation touting the “benefits” of Novell over Redhat and “unpaid” Linux.

Novell has this lovely chart to highlight the benefits of SUSE over “unpaid” Linux. “Unpaid” is a complete spin word, sounding like something Karl Rove cooked up in a focus group.

Novell FUD Chart:

fud chart

With the exception of phone and on-Site support, community based Linux does everything listed in this table. As someone who was worked with Novell and Redhat in multiple enterprise environments, their phone support offerings are not very good. On-site support? For Linux? Why would anyone need a Novell presence on-site? Unless you’re doing a training or consulting engagement (ie not support,) their is no need for Novell to come on site.

Online support with community distributions such as Ubuntu and Debian is generally far superior to Novell’s online support. Novell’s Suse forums are a ghost town compared to the Ubuntu community.

Security and system updates via community Linux outclass Novell. Novell’s update system via yast is woefully inadequate. Debian and Ubuntu provide a much better mechanism for updates. Novell provides a crappy method for patching SLES systems, because they want their big customers to buy Zenworks to handle their Linux infrastructure.

In a nutshell, nearly every point in the Novell vs. “Unpaid” section is wrong with the exception of phone and on-site support. Having dealt with Novell and other commercial distributions in the past, phone support is completely overrated. Typically, community based distributions offer higher quality support for no cost.

So why buy Novell and Redhat? If you are using Linux as the platform for Oracle or some other proprietary product, typically commercial distros are the only route. Is there any other valid reason? Its certainly not for the quality of support.

I guess it boils down to the fact that most IT shops want someone to blame/call when something goes terribly wrong.