Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Why Linux? Why Debian?

Why Linux? Why Debian?

Here is a great article that fits nicely about why I choose Debian over other Linux distributions. My first attempt at linux was with Debian Potato. I was able to install the OS but I couldn't figure out how to get the graphics to work. I was able to login at the prompt but I didn't know what to do in Linux or why I'd want to work in Linux. It certainly didn't seem like it was a reason to switch from Windows.

I started with Debian because the Red Hat website said they wanted money for Linux and I didn't want to spend time downloading something that would have a type of shareware restriction. Debian was one of the only distro's that was free and they had a step by step guide for downloading and installing the OS. Of course, that didn't include an easy graphics installation.

My second distro was Mandrake. This installed a GUI interface without any problems. In fact it seemed modeled after Windows 2000 installations. I was able to finally see what Linux was all about. It had a few games installed but I had a hard time understanding what was so special about Linux. Why were so many people talking about it? I soon found problems with Mandrake. It was easily installed but I quickly broke it probably because of my inexperience with Linux. And I wasn't able to easily update the software because Mandrake also wanted to charge money for their software. It is possible that by spending money on either Red Hat or Mandrake, I would have increased my enjoyment of Linux but I wanted to test-drive Linux and see what all the fuss was about.

I gave up on Linux for 3-4 months. Sure, I had it installed as part of a dual-boot environment at home and as a seperate test computer at work but the software did very little for me. I was able to play a couple games that were fun (Lbreaker) but as far as productivity it hindered more than it helped.

After trying Debian again and toughing out the video driver issue, I was able to understand why Linux was doing so well. (I attempted to install a newer Xserver from the source, which worked but I found out later that all I had to do was work with testing) Linux/ Debian gave me hundreds of quality enterprise software that wasn't even available under Windows, let alone easily found amongst the proprietary crap. I was able to monitor network traffice with EtherApe, use MRTG to easily monitor traffic. I figured out that if I spent time understanding what all the 8,000 packages did, I would be able to learn how to better manage all types of computers.

After a while of being able to create test environments on Debian, I was required to go back to Windows exclusively. I learned quickly that there were some things that were easier to do on Debian that couldn't be done on Windows. I downloaded Cygwin and other Windows ports for GPL software and found that it was inevitably harder to keep software up-to-date than it was with Debian. Under Debian, I can 'apt-get upgrade' to have every software package installed from Debian upgraded without breaking my system.

Now I compare my Windows 2000 machine to Debian unstable and find Windows much more unstable. The Windows hard drive constantly needs hand holding because of fragementing. The Debian machine has never needed defragmentation, never and I have abused the Debian machine more. My computer quickly because a test machine that constantly gets software installed and uninstalled which works out fine under Debian but not under Windows. Granted Microsoft controls only a fraction of the packages installed on it whereas I am usually able to use Debian packages for 99% (unofficial packages like mplayer may take up to 5%), but under Debian the system works after it is installed.

Anyways, I probably won't convince anyone of which OS to use but hopefully I can encourage someone else to try out Debian and fight through the initial difficulties.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Microsoft's Security Problem

Microsoft's Security Problem

Here is a great article explaining the philosophy behind Microsoft versus Open Source philosophies. Microsoft is all about making money with software, which is fine but it doesn't produce great software. I believe Microsoft's greatest asset is finding the balance between having features that users want and having bugs in the software. Users are able to tolerate X number of program failures. Microsoft can always fix software bugs in the next update.

For the most part, people don't understand how software is supposed to work. When they click on a button and it doesn't do anything, they click on the button a second time. They expect a different result from the same input. It is very hard to teach a person how to get around specific software bugs by showing them a different way to do the same result.

Best quote:
a security flaw is just an exploitable bug...Security is not a feature you add to a product. It's not even a process, or a an attitude, or whatever else you thought I was going to say. No, security is an emotion. Computers don't have emotions, people do. Security, to a programmer writing code, is having confidence that his code is correct. To be correct, it must be shown to everyone, including to the bad guys.

The trick to creating software is that it is full of mistakes. It is the mistakes and resolution to those mistakes that drove me to find a different option in Open Source.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

BackupPC: Open Source Backup to disk

BackupPC: Open Source Backup to disk

I needed to find a network backup solution that would backup our 6 Windows 2000 servers without much of a budget. After looking at a host of Open Source options I finally found one that just worked, BackupPC. It is elegant in the way that it can save space on the hard drive by using Linux's hard linking. Basically, it only saves one file once and creates hard links whenever another computer uses the same matching MD5 sum. I experienced close to the same savings as listed on thier website.

One example of disk use: 95 latops with each full backup averaging 3.6GB each, and each incremental averaging about 0.3GB. Storing three weekly full backups and six incremental backups per laptop is around 1200GB of raw data, but because of pooling and compression only 150GB is needed.

I installed BackupPC on a test system and it worked like a champ. I was able to very easily see what files were locked from Windows. I am currently having some issues because one of my production database servers has a file over 4 GB which seems to be a Samba limitation.

Another good option was Bacula. Bacula was my first choice because it had a Windows native client and also had plenty of enterprise options for future expandability. I believe that it is more efficient to spend time early on learning about the more complex system and adapting it to a simple task than discovering that you need to impliment a new technology because the current techonology doesn't scale very well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Geeky Organizational Strategy

MineZone Wiki - MVance.GettingThingsDone

Jeff Sandquist - Microsoft Evangelist - How I get things done / Kicking some butt on your email inbox - Part 1

Jeff Sandquist - Microsoft Evangelist - How I get things done / Kicking some butt on your email inbox - Part 2

I want to see if this system can help me improve my organization skills and give me more opportunity for creativity. I'm currently using Outlook 2000 and having difficulty using it effectively. I am currently using Lookout from http://www.lookoutsoft.com. Lookout is an indexing system that has been purchased by Microsoft. Instead, I would like to work in request tracker3 into the picture to store all tasks.