Monday, December 01, 2008

Back in the Ubuntu saddle again!

ubuntu If my brain were a ping-pong game then this is probably the longest game in history!  Choosing between one distribution and another for my laptop has gotten me going around in circles for some time but it seems to keep returning to Ubuntu for a few different reasons.


It Just Works

Probably the biggest argument I have had for Ubuntu since I was introduced to the Breezy Badger (a badger with gas?) has been how easy it is to not only install it but to maintain the system.

In the beginning, when I was learning it wasn't such a big issue to take time to learn how to do or fix things. On the other hand with so much overhead required I wasn't about to add the frustration and difficulty in supporting Linux for anybody else but me.

Now, though, I have kids and want to spend more time doing things with (and without) the computer than spend time working ON the computer. This is in addition to providing a stable, maintainable platform for the rest of the family to use that won't keep me up all night.

Basically I've wanted a system that I can get up to what I expect my Windows machine to be; easy maintenance and facilitates (or at least doesn't get in my way of) doing things.  Whether it is really that much easier or that I've spent enough time with Ubuntu to know how to do things just as I have spent so much time learning how to do things in Windows, I don't know.

With Ubuntu, I have wireless working well, hibernate and suspend workings and volume buttons activated.  Except for the wireless, which was painless, these features have actually run without my intervention and, in the case of the power controls, just needed me to learn how to use them and where to access them.

Everybody Else Is Doing It

Yes, it seems if you run across somebody who doesn't look at you cross-eyed when you mention Linux there is a fair chance that they are running Ubuntu and a greater chance that they have at least heard of it!

I am part of a computer club's Linux special interest group and just at this last meeting I found myself outnumbered 4-to-1 on distro of choice.  Alone, this isn't enough to make me change.

On the same token, though, if I am in this Linux special interest group it behooves me to use a distribution that the other members will likely be familiar with so that not only are we all on the same page, but when I research a question or setting I will be less likely be caught in the "but they do it THIS way" or "we don't do things like that".

Plus Ubuntu is the #1 recommended Linux for newcomers and the easiest to get your hands on so the chances of new people coming to the meeting will be running Ubuntu is not an astronomical number!

Of course this doesn't account for the difference in how Gnome does things and KDE, but that's an even bigger battle than what little 'ol distribution to install on my laptop.

There Is A Future With Ubuntu

Now I'm not talking about the "End is Near" for any distribution or even operating system. What I am talking about is the momentum that Ubuntu has developed in their push to get into the Enterprise market.

Of course Red Hat is the biggest one, and Novell (SUSE) is a running second largest enterprise Linux in use, but when you look at smaller places the iron grip is not so tight.

When  I hear somebody running CentOS, I find that usually the small business has a larger company mind set which isn't wrong and I think they are doing the right thing going with CentOS or even openSUSE.

For smaller operations, I hear some people using Debian or even Gentoo. This market, though, is almost perfect for Ubuntu due to it's strong Debian underpinnings, Linux security and Ubuntu "just works".

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Entering Dangerous Territory!

For a while now I've lived a double life.  (shh... don't tell my wife)

At work I've been immersed into Microsoft; Office (especially Excel and Access), VBA, SQL Server, VB6, ASP and now VB.NET (actually ASP.NET). Even if it doesn't come from Microsoft the clients have been Windows-only at work and home such as Cognos, Crystal Reports, Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Photoshop.

At home, though, I've been toying around with Linux distros ever since a friend of mine introduced me to Red Hat. At that time I was running Windows 98, Macs were coming out all nice and shiny and there was no way I could afford one (and all the software to do what I currently was doing in Windows).  Since then, I've been hooked; installed multiple distributions over-and-over again, active on multiple Linux forums and now the special interest group leader for the Linux SIG.

These two worlds don't meet very much because some of the things I use in Windows such as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Publisher, Live Writer and Visual Studio do not transfer over the same to Linux. sure there are applications to do the same thing (Gimp, Scribus, Monodevelop) but they are either clunky or don't have some feature/ease that I am used to.  Photoshop is probably the one to lose out first.

I've liked the idea of Mono, the open source project that creates a framework allowing .NET applications to work on multiple platforms without having to rewrite the code.  Really cool, but hte problem for me is that the IDE, Monodevelop, is rather klunky for me and doesn't fit well on my laptop screen. Plus Mono is prmarily a Gnome-based tool, with close bindings to the GTK+ toolkit and I've been moving more and more to KDE.

So last night the person who started my computer schizophrenia has returned, and has planted another seed of restful night destruction!  He convinced me to download and install Eclipse and Java!

Danger! Danger!

My previous attempts at Java were failures because I didn't know enough about programming or object oriented programming. Now that I've been taking classes for .NET through work I have a better understanding than ever before. 

Now I know enough that last night it was easy enough to download and install everything, determine I was missing the Java development environment from Eclipse, and to write the ubiquitous "Hello World" application and understand what I was doing!

He says tonight he'll get me started on .JSP pages, which is appropriate since most of my VB and .NET programming have been web-based and this will get me into integrating a visual aspect with the code-behind piece.

Of course the real test (kiss of death?) will be when I can make something in Linux and use it on a Windows machine.  That, and once I get my home server running web pages I'll really be in trouble.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Don't you hate it when you are working on a presentation for a couple of weeks (days actually) and the computer you have the files in decides to crap-the-bed?

I have a Linux Special Interest Group meeting tonight and the subject I am going to cover is Digital Photography. I was going to go over F-Spot and digiKam for sorting, editing  and organizing pictures before moving on to using Gimp and possibly Krita.

I have my notes, as well as selected pictures on the hard drive. This morning I tried to boot it up quickly so I could copy the notes ( writer, saved as a MS Word doc file) and go over them during lunch at work.

So I booted it up, put in the encryption passphrase and took a shower.

The HAL daemon is dying. It gets stuck on that.  The hard drive "clicks" make a rhytmic 4-5 clicks and the repeats... over and over and over...!

Normally it would be "LiveCD to the rescue!" except that the hard drive is encrypted so  I *should* not be able to get the files off of it (otherwise the encryption is worth nothing)!

Luckily I have other avenues for the meeting, just without notes and hoping the pictures are available on my USB (otherwise I'll have to find the link to the Flickr album I got them from and download them again).

It always seems to happen at the last minute! Argh!

(looks like I'll be taking Fedora 9 off this hard drive and replace it with something else. Experiment done.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

IPCop Gateway

ipcop A while ago I was struggling to get my old Dell GX110 CPU with 2 NIC cards to act as a firewall and DHCP server.  I thought by using a full-fledged Linux distro I would be able to later on add such things as Squid, or DansGuardian proxy server and content management controls.

Content filtering and logging is something that software seem to do one one level or another.  Microsoft Vista and the Trend Micro Internet security suite includes parental controls and content filtering options for Windows, plus DansGuardian can be installed on the kid's Edubuntu computer and even my laptop. That's not the issue. The issue is that the first one savvy enough to realize they can bypass it simply by running a LiveCD or  a distro on a USB stick instead of the protected operating system wins!  That is, of course, after thorough attempts at breaking into the controls on the system itself.

By placing these controls on a gateway for the entire household, not only do I protect my file server from being accessed by unwanted hackers, but I protect the entire household regardless of if the user is using the installed operating system or a LiveCD or even if somebody access the wireless network (which I hope to have in the near future). Combine this with making the modem and router physically inaccessible and then I can provide protected access through either the switch or wireless.

The people in the forums were very patient with me and tried to understand my questions as I muddled away trying to set up the gateway using the available documentation and miniscule networking knowledge. I got to the point where I almost had it, I think. That is until a friend at the computer club meeting told me about IPCop.

Actually he mentioned Smoothwall and IPCop, but admitted that he finds himself going back to IPCop. I took a look at it that night and saw the ISO download is rather small plus it facilitates DansGuardian and Squid as well as a scan utility.  That night I downloaded version 1.4.18  and copied it onto my USB drive.

Thankfully this friend also gave me some advice on setting up the system, and told me about IPCop's "zones"

IPCop has a number of zones [1];

  • Green for internal (safe)
  • Red for external, or the internet (unsafe)
  • Blue for wireless (lock down so cannot access Green zone except through VPN or controlled "pinholes")
  • Orange for publicly accessible servers (cannot access Green or Blue networks except vial controlled "pinholes") such as mail or web servers

I don't have wireless yet, so I opted for Green + Red zones with one NIC being assigned to each. When I do get wireless then I can either add it to the Green zone and try to lock it down as much as possible, or add it to the Blue zone and lock the wireless access point to bare minimums.

The other piece of information he provided that was a big help is setting the IP address and range.  I foolishly was trying to set up all of the IPs in the same sub-domain as the DSL modem (192.168.1.x). He gave me a suggested internal IP sub-domain of 10.0.7.x  and leaving the external IP with 192.168.1.x.

IPCop also runs a DHCP server, so I can manage to have

With this knowledge in hand I gave installing IPCop a go, and installed it on over my previous attempt.

The installation was very easy, took less than 30 minutes and that's with the installer scanning the NICs to determine it the internal is eth0 or eth1. It helped that I already knew the static IP addresses for the router/gateway, the modem and the server.

Once it is installed and the passwords are set you don't need the keyboard or monitor hooked up to the gateway because it includes a web interface for configuring things.  You just have to remember the passwords you entered for each of the different roles (3 I think).

I feel so much better knowing I've got the gateway and firewall up to protect my network. Now my next excursion is going to be installing DansGuardian content filtering and parental controls. This looks to need to install  the (Unofficial) IPCop Firewqall Addon Server, which seems to include an easy manner to navigate the available addons which I see  DansGuardian being listed as Cop+. Considering the added interest in the Internet by my son, I best get this installed and working quickly.