Category Archives: IT

Heading Uptown to See Fedora Linux – A Tale of Science, Secret Agents and Corporate War

After a night and a day of feeling at home and happy with an “unstable” Debian, last night I decided to get a taste of another distribution. First, I quit Ubuntu, ending up with the rough and tumble Arch Linux, then back home to my old flame Debian. But I’m not yet ready to settle down.

By the way, I’ve been helpfully “educated” a few times by people telling me I should use virtualization to try out other distributions, rather than installing them outright on the workstation. Yes, I am already aware that several virtualization technologies exist and I am completely comfortable using three of them. But the virtualization experience is never the experience you have on your bare metal workstation. Your workstation can run virtualizations. I’m looking to replace my workstation. I want to know how it looks, how it feels to drive it, its subtleties and idiosyncrasies on the bare metal. Virtualization cannot fully provide this.

So during this experimental phase, I’m using various LVM volumes on the workstation to install the OS’s. Last night I was planning on wiping out the Fedora one and trying Pinguy OS, at the suggestion of someone named “Anon”. I like the story of it: someone wanting to take Ubuntu and dress it up with all the things to it that a normal person would want, like a stock DLNA server, for example, and rich media capabilities already installed and made lovely. And, apparently, a bazillion mozilla browser plugins pre-installed for you. That’s where I started thinking, this Pinguy OS might be just a little too eager to please. I’m not really wanting to be drown in gifts and attention. I’ll feel awkward. It ended up making me want to run. Perhaps I just don’t deserve Pinguy OS’s lavish generosity. But my primary reason for deciding against it is that it’s built upon Ubuntu, and Ubuntu is why I’m in this homeless mess right now. Well, not really. It’s all my fault.

So I decided not to blow away my Fedora volume, and instead thought to give it another go. Off I went, booting into Fedora 15. It was right in the grub menu, where Debian put it, having detected it from the last couple installs. Debian put all my possible boot OS’s into grub menus for me. What a sweetheart.

Up comes Fedora. It’s a striking Gnome 3 environment, just like unstable Debian, and unlike the phony Ubuntu unity. I ran the software updates and it found quite a few, which took quite some time to install. For a very well-performing OS, Fedora seems to have a very slow software package management system. Perhaps it’s just very careful, and that takes time. Or maybe it’s written in Python (oh no he didn’t!).

Of course, I need Flash in the browser so I can watch… videos. So I went out searching for the “special” Fedora way to install Flash — I don’t want to gum up their works and get punished later. That’s not a dig on Fedora really — lots of distributions have their own special ways for Flash. By the way, why won’t Flash die? I think Silverlight did today at least.

Then I remembered a guy potentially named Mike mentioning rpmfusion; a Fedora repository that contains all the seedy, unclean software like Flash, supported by Fedora and absolutely not supported by Fedora. You know how it goes. But I discovered while reading the instructions that Fedora 16 had arrived already. That was fast. So I thought, yes! Let’s experience a Fedora revision update!

Well, the little 100M standalone partition I had made to install the /boot in Fedora 15 (to get around lack of LVM) wasn’t large enough to handle an upgrade (which is fairly ridiculous) so I decided to do a fresh install of Fedora 16 instead. So I did end up wiping the Fedora volume, to be replaced with a new Fedora – which understood both RAID and LVM during the install process! Many cheers for Fedora, and Red Hat. It’s incredibly gratifying to find this level of quality in a Linux install.

And I have to say, the install process was both simple and even a little beautiful to watch. They did a very slick job. And it was fast. I very much liked the thoroughness of their user creation step, too, allowing you to specify custom uid & gid (without having to pre-create a gid). They also have seemingly excellent support for installation onto SANs, and even iSCSI doohickies across the network. Most impressive. I was really starting to feel this Fedora, and I was liking the feeling.

Fedora felt fresh, clean and surgically well-organized. A kind of tight business suit, styled up, with hair pulled back in a bun so tight the face contorts into an implied grin (or maybe grimace). I couldn’t help getting a little thrill of memories of my days spent working in an IBM shop, where everything is documented and thoroughly planned, even the errors. They supported all the right stuff there on install, and even offered support for encrypting your swap area. I’m at the FBI here. And it felt nice.

Because they thought it all out, right? They got it all planned. They’ve got a pride in perfection. And I’m lucky to be using it. Really, they’ve done a lot. And Red Hat contributes so much back to Linux. Fedora absolutely reeks of class. And up-tightness. And strategy. I swear to God I’m back in an IBM shop, at the FBI.

So onto the Gnome 3 desktop I go. Beautiful work. And my first order of business, assigning a keyboard shortcut to open a terminal. Easy enough. But when I go to use the shortcut I just defined, I’m told that no terminal program has been defined. What? The gnome-terminal, you git. Okay, I can live with that. So then I fire up a software update, and get a load of new things, which seemed to install noticeably faster than Fedora 15, which was a relief. Happy. Firefox starting up, version 7. Then adding the repositories for that filthy Flash. Also, the nvidia proprietary drivers instead of the nouveau ones that don’t offer full 3d acceleration…

And the nvidia kernel drivers are built. It’s time to reboot. What a joy. I could stay with Fedora easy – the model of beauty and efficiency. Then the grub boot menu comes up. What! You psycho! All my other operating systems have disappeared from the menu, except for Windows. Now this kind of thuggish behavior I would expect from Arch Linux, but from you!? Fedora? Arch Linux just doesn’t know any better. But you, what the hell is your excuse!? Are you going to play dumb? Tell me you didn’t plan this? Well, fine. No big deal. I can set you straight in a minute here, and we can just move on from this. But seriously, even the brute gave me fair warning, and an out, before taking a club to me!

Then the screen flashes. Just like a X video driver problem. I ran the damn script to update the Xorg.conf file to use the nvidia module. I even double-checked it. Oh, I see, but for some reason you stubbornly loaded the nouveau kernel module instead. So somebody didn’t bother updating the initramfs for boot, or they left out an autoload definition. OK. I’ll go figure out the “special” Fedora way for keeping that driver out, and bringing the nvidia one in. Done. Rebuilding the init image. Reboot. Hey, it’s starting up! The video screen displays a crisp, sharp gdm background image. Then a flash! And are you serious? You’re giving me a sad mac picture in the middle of my screen, telling me to contact my system administrator? You know what? Who needs you, you up-tight psycho – playing at being all sane, together and professional. What an act. Oh, I’m sure you’re just great when everything is going your way. But one little thing, and you just explode!? Cya!

So, to the reset button, and up comes my vandalized grub menu, the last claw-slash that Fedora will get into me this time. I manually set grub to boot back to the unstable Debian installation, which is proving to be anything but unstable. Back to the beautiful desktop, with the nvidia drivers working just fine – never a hassle. Ah, Debian, I really don’t deserve you. Even when you’re supposedly “unstable”, you’re a saint.

Now, to be fair, the Fedora issue is a little overly dramatic. Could you tell? It probably wouldn’t have been a big deal to get the nvidia drivers working with it. I did see a mention at one point about their being a “conflict” with that version of the gnuc libraries in a Fedora 16 beta, and the nvidia drivers, with Fedora claiming it was nvidia’s fault. Get out the cannons, boys. Point the fingers and guns. I’m happy in a just as functional and more solid unstable Debian.

And here it is. I really liked Fedora. Truly. I may head back later and tinker with the video driver. Fedora feels like science. It feels like Engineering. With all the coldness in between. I like that. But I also like the more ruffled homey-ness of Debian. Debian somehow manages to be just as science-like and engineered, but somehow with a sweet little breath of magic. It’s the difference between a ultra-sleek corporate-styled modern living room that looks amazing and you want it – and you get it – but after a little while it’s more like you’re intruding in IT, than it’s being a living room for you. I don’t know what it is that Debian does differently here. Maybe it’s just the cartoon stars and rocket ships! Or the genie swirl.

But the thing for me is, Fedora felt like the old IBM shop I worked in. So perfect and engineered. Always an answer. When something’s broke, it’s broke for a specific reason. This page intentionally left blank. It’s a little exciting, in that leathery-bondage kinda way. Or should I say cellophane wrap. A cat-o-nine-tails to tell me how it is. How I’m going to like it. Whereas back here with unstable Debian from the future, we’re just chillin, and everything is right as rain.

Tempted By a Sexy Debian from the Future

After you decide to leave something behind, there’s nothing left but new. Or, perhaps, returning to what you left behind a long time ago instead.

I decided that Ubuntu and I were no longer going to work out. We had a good thing for a while. A pretty face, took care of the domestic chores for me, while I brought home the bacon. I left Debian for Ubuntu, knowing that Ubuntu was little more than an imitation of Debian. I was seduced by its beauty and how little it demanded of me. And all the while I knew Ubuntu wasn’t just doing it for me – Ubuntu wanted something back. I can’t blame it. I gave it money instead of attention. And I was rewarded. But lipstick and sculpted abs only go far. The superficiality was becoming an issue, and I didn’t like where Ubuntu was leading me. So we called it off.

I can’t go long without a workstation, though. Ubuntu and I were through. I found myself looking around for anything, anywhere. Any glimmer of intelligence, beauty and strength, and most importantly, a good heart. My first night I went to the city, to the warehouse districts where things were new and exciting. So many of the fresh, beautiful people talking about Arch Linux. I’d been there before. Once. It was raw. Passionate. Like how it used to be when I was a kid, just starting to explore. And now, here I was again. The dark warehouse allies of the city, in the arms of hairy Arch Linux again.

But all the while, my thoughts always wandered back to Debian. So steadfast. So true. So set in its ways, but always still evolving. Taking the punches dealt out from young upstarts who want a piece of their own. Always remaining an example. An inspiration. Being something that others can always look to and count on to offer advice and help. Someone that lets others even blatantly steal from them, and remains nonplussed – for imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

But I couldn’t go back. Not after being away so long. I remember what it’s like being stuck there, day after day, for 2 or more years at a time. I’m not some 9 to 5 desk jockey who always needs the same things, unchanging. I want new, spice and variety! Yet not in the savage streets. I couldn’t go back yet.

So I decided instead to travel to the future, to a future Debian, who I know will always have the good heart. Last night I installed Debian Sid, or unstable. It’s where I will live, while still exploring. We have an understanding this time. Debian unstable can be just that, unpredictable and every so slightly dangerous, yet free to let its hair down in all its glory. I’ll be gone at night, checking what else is out there, but will be coming home to Debian Sid until I find something better. I know, I’m a real fucker. But Debian takes it, from everyone and everything else. It’s an amazing organization that has evolved over the years. And always, the servers I deal with will run Debian stable. Unless we need something wild… then we’ll see…

So I’ve moved in to Debian Sid now on a temporary basis. I’m not going to make myself too comfortable just yet. But I tell you, the future Debian is quite a sight to behold. What a fool I was to ever leave for Ubuntu. No, I can’t say that. Things wouldn’t be how they are now, otherwise, and things now are good.

The install of Debian Sid (unstable) was pretty painless. I started with a “business card” image of the stock Debian installer, cat’ed it to a USB thumb drive, and booted the install. I selected the advanced install, which allows you to select other Debian distributions, like testing or unstable.

The install was mostly flawless, after realizing its failure was my fault for having created a 100Mb LVM partition for it instead of a 100Gb one. It did fail at installing grub on the boot sector, saying it couldn’t find the drive. Not bad, though. Who needs to worry about a grub install failing when grub’s already on the drives?

So here I am in the future Debian, the unstable branch. It’s using Gnome 3, which I got my first taste of in Fedora. But somehow, it feels like a better experience here. It is certainly much better than Unity. And I’m not exactly happy with Gnome 3’s disconnect from Compiz, either. I shouldn’t eat so many sweets, anyway, though.

Now, Linux Mint has a version that is based upon Debian instead of Ubuntu (which is, of course, also based on Debian). Perhaps the Mint people have been getting some of the same feelings I’ve been getting about Ubuntu, and have decided to start migrating to the source, rather than going through any middle-men.

That is why I decided to try Linux Mint’s Debian-based distribution, which takes from Debian Testing, I believe, so it will have newer software packages than the stable branch. My thinking was, maybe the Mint people will work out any bugs that might come through from using one of Debian’s non-stable branches, so I don’t have to worry about anything breaking.

Unfortunately, Linux Mint’s installer doesn’t recognize LVM/raid drives. For me, that’s pretty much a deal-breaker, unless there is some very compelling desire I have to try out a specific distribution that does not support it LVM/raid on the install. It isn’t rocket science, which means they should be supporting it, but it is very inconvenient to have to reassemble all that by hand. Do people still use just one partition of one hard drive on their workstations? I suppose if impermanence isn’t an issue…

So tonight I’ll be trashing Fedora off the workstation here and trying something else. I’ve had a few good suggestions from people and I really appreciate it. And for now, my venerable, steadfast companion Debian, from the future, is where I’m at. Smart, stable, strong and hot? It will take a lot to get me away from here this time.

The saga continues here: Heading Uptown to See Fedora Linux – A Tale of Science, Secret Agents and Corporate War

Out of Ubuntu’s Bed to Hairy Arch Linux in a Dark Alley

I’ve long used LVM for servers, since it gives you such flexibility with your storage. A few years ago I started using LVM on my workstation as well. I experiment with things. The flexibility LVM gives you for creating new “drives” and partitions out of any old thing is incredibly convenient when you experiment a lot.

For a good long time, Debian’s install process has supported installing to and booting from LVM “drives”. So to, by degrees, has Ubuntu, at least through their “alternate” install method, which I’ve had to use on my workstation.

Now, considering my disillusionment with Ubuntu ( Ubuntu and I – Beauty Isn’t Enough ), I’ve decided to leave it behind for a brief life of experimentation with other fish in the sea.

My first thought was to give Arch Linux a whirl. The amount of noise and adulation people generate about it borders on the cultish. They consider themselves “advanced”, which is nice. They seem to consider themselves advanced because it takes a certain amount of tinkering to successfully run and maintain Arch. Interestingly, many Arch users also claim Arch is easy. C’est la vie, and I’ve learned it almost always takes getting naked and swimming for yourself before you make any judgments.

Several weeks ago I tried Arch for the first time. I thought, let’s see what so many of these tech heads are raving about. But after the install process couldn’t see my LVM volumes, and wanted to install on a single drive partition, I immediately tossed it aside. Of course, I could have gone and made sure lvm2 was there, and the raid modules, assembled my RAID and LVM volumes from memory or printouts, and then started the install process again. But I know that route. And the first boot afterward will fail – then I’ll need to go rebuild the initrd images with the proper drivers, and re-copy all my definitions in the new installation for RAID assembly because the install process won’t be smart enough to remember to copy down what’s there during the install. And that’s fine. It’s a good way for people to learn. But I’ve already done that enough times. For me, it’s simply a tedious chore.

Last night after deciding to give everything a new try, I downloaded the latest Arch install and gave it another go. None of my LVM or RAID drives showed as targets for the install, but upon looking from a terminal, I found Arch had detected my RAID drives and started them, and had also assembled my LVM volumes on those drives. None of them were showing up as a target in the install scripts, however.

So I used the terminal to delete a logical volume and create a new one, then checked again. For some reason, the LVM volume now showed up as a target for install. This is excellent – I was thrilled to see this. Obviously, the Arch people are considering that some people might want to easily install on more than 1 partition of 1 drive. They are so wise. Almost as wise as Debian was gods know how many years ago. Yes, I remember going through these same hassles with Debian long ago. But not any more. If it’s bootable, Debian will offer it up as a candidate for install.

And more importantly, if you offer it up as a candidate for install, and you install to that medium, it’s just as important than when you reboot the computer, your boot will work off that same medium. It appears Arch is still working out their thinking on this. Or trying to find someone to exert the time and effort required to make it work.

I got that impression a lot from my couple go’s with Arch. Their finger in the Linux pie are minimal. They let people build their own systems how that person wants to. It’s almost a mantra. But you have to really watch yourself if you justify your own laziness or incompleteness by saying, we leave this incomplete to help others be free to do what they want. Lines have to be drawn somewhere if you offer an install method at all. They are doing great with Arch. But the install process doesn’t offer freedom and flexibility, it offers an install into one partition of one drive, out of the box.

You always have to ask, does something done for you make you more free, or less free? It depends on what it is. There are a very finite number of ways to assemble mount points. And yes, you are free to go do it yourself, to assemble yourself, and make it work after the install. And that’s great. But it does take time and effort, time and effort that has been, and can be, pretty easily automated.

As another example, the install process during grub install offered up the grub menu file for you to edit – to customize however you like. Out of all the operating systems I have installed on this workstation, the only one listed for booting was Arch Linux. I could have gone to a terminal and reassembled all I needed to, to find the devices and images necessary in all the others, then copied them all into the Arch grub menu file. But I’m not going to. There are simple tools out there that will do that for you. It’s quick and dirty to offer up a generic grub menu file with only your own thing in it. And I’m not complaining that they do that. It’s just not right for me. And it’s not giving me any more flexibility or freedom. It only lays the burden of work on me – a burden that didn’t need to be there.

But again, it’s super great for learning. God help you all who try figuring out device names or UUID’s with RAID and/or LVM in different ways that different kernels and grub builds might best expect them during boot. And dealing with the creation of proper initrd images, based on what you have, rather than what you hope you remember you have, or might assume was built in. Arch truly is great for learning.

Maybe it’s great to use on a day-to-day basis, too. I love having the newest releases of software. I have very little confidence in rolling release distributions, though. In my experience, invariably, things break. Often badly. But never so bad you can’t fix it. If you have the time and inclination to devote to such things. But I can’t say anything about Arch regarding this, from my own experience. Many claim the Arch rolling releases have been flawless for them. Yet others claim it’s been pretty good, but sometimes things break. From my experience, to me, this means, yes, it breaks. And this makes sense considering their approach to scripting the install.

They’re bringing it together, though. Obviously there are some very good and smart people working on it. From just the last two releases, they’ve progressed leaps and bounds. I really like what I’ve seen of it. And I trust the gooey lovey gushings of people and friends who tirelessly go on about it. I might be the same one day soon. But not today.

I have to mention, you Windows and Mac people, if you’re reading this – it may sound like bad talking Linux here, or Arch, or any other things. But it’s not. You guys don’t even have the capacity to have arguments or discussions about such things as these. One day you may. But it doesn’t seem likely at all. There is no freedom of choice on nearly any level, after your one choice of proprietary OS.

Next in this series: Tempted By a Sexy Debian from the Future

Ubuntu and I – Beauty Isn’t Enough

I’m not a new Linux user. Actually, I’m about as far away from being a new Linux user as you can get. I’m perfectly comfortable getting down as low as you want to go, rolling in the grease, re-routing the pipes and wiring, or smashing about in the subatomic.

So you Arch Linux cutie dilettantes, you go have your fun running your scripts and googling for what someone else did to fix something, and feel all big about yourselves. That’s wonderful. It’s good to learn. Maybe you’ll be solving some problems some day too, that other people will benefit from. But don’t think I need to hear anything about how wonderful Arch Linux is.

I don’t want my main workstation computer to be used for tinkering. I want it to be no hassle at all – no time sinks. I want it to look nice, function well with the developing “ecosystems” on the net, and be stable. I want it to be a no-brainer. My brain and time is needed for other things. The workstation is merely the conduit. I don’t want to waste time fiddling with it.

This is why a few years ago I started using Ubuntu. They just gathered up all the stuff and slopped it into a pretty package that worked, for the most part, without me having to hunt down drivers, recompile, decide which messaging client was going to work best now with the ever-evolving technologies, etc., etc. They gave me the no-brainer for my workstation. Yay for them, yay for me. And they embraced Free Software! Mostly.

Ubuntu replaced Debian on my workstation. It made me feel ok because they drew from the quality of Debian, taking the latest developments, and packed them up nicely. I didn’t have to wait 2 years for updated software on the workstation. Joy! Of course, where servers are concerned, I am very happy for Debian’s more careful release cycle…

Lately, however, Ubuntu begins to irritate. A little like a beauty who turns out to be insanely controlling and utterly self-centered. Sure, I admit, I haven’t shown a lot of love back, but I just assumed we had an understanding that our relationship was a marriage of convenience.

Now, I find myself increasingly inconvenienced. For example, a couple days ago the Ubuntu boot process started to hang, telling me my Windows partition was horribly corrupt. I won’t deny that. But the filesystem really is fine. So I have to take out the Windows partitions from fstab if I want Ubuntu to boot, then add them back when I want to mount them later (in the specific way I want them mounted). Or write some scripts to mount and unmount them. Yeah, so what, you might say. Easy. Yes. But it means my workstation is requiring my attention and work.

And sound… sometimes the soundcards are detected, sometimes they are not. I can reboot until they are detected. Then sometimes the volume is locked all the way on, or all the way off. Despite muting. Despite levels. I can select a soundcard used for the speakers, or for the headphones, yet often times it doesn’t matter which I select. Sure, I can troubleshoot pulseaudio, alsa, or whatever else might have been thrown into the works. But that requires my attention, and my work.

The point is, if I were using Debian’s workstation right now, I wouldn’t have to worry about minor updates breaking things. I wouldn’t really have to worry that any of my customizations within the OS would break my boot process. I would, however, have to deal with a glacial release cycle, which is wonderful for servers, but annoying for desktops. Then again, I would have the same software versions to work with on the workstation as I do on the servers.

Ubuntu is beautiful, no doubt. Visually, I prefer it hands down over Windows 7 or OSX. Functionally as well. One of the worst things for me when working in Windows or Mac is that I feel trapped within what they’ve provided for me. Anything unique I must research and work to get past their many “easy” abstractions, and even then I am often locked out due to a proprietary nature. Though this is not the case with Ubuntu, I certainly have to dig through much fluff at times.

Also, I happily pay Canonical for Ubuntu One service. I do it more to thank them, than for any benefit – though it is nice having my music and documents automatically sync to my laptop. But I can’t easily use Ubuntu One with any other Linux distribution. It’s not like syncing files remotely is even remotely difficult! But this kind of “lock-in” isn’t compelling enough for me to remain true to them. In fact, it pushes me away.

Also, the noise around Shuttleworth’s directional intent for Ubuntu does not sit the best with me. Actually, it hasn’t from the beginning. I’m not fond of any person or business taking from another, then calling it their own. I’m looking at you, too Apple, especially. And of course, Microsoft.

So my no-brainer workstation based on Ubuntu is now up for re-evaluation. Arch is out because the install processes won’t install /root on an LVM drive made of RAID. Sure I can get around that. I’m not going to bother, though. Debian, I could boot over into right now. I like the look of Fedora with Gnome 3, but it’s a chore to get all the drivers right. Thank patents and proprietary nonsense. Debian suffers because of this, too. But the process is faster/easier with Debian. And I swore off Gentoo after the last library dependency debacle I experienced. Arch users, Gentoo is where you’d really do some learning, btw.

At this moment, I’m considering trying Linux Mint – the Debian version. I do this because I had almost convinced myself to switch back to Debian on the workstation and follow along the “unstable” path. My thinking is, Linux Mint may filter out much of the riskiness in doing this, since it goes through them (using the “testing” branch rather than “unstable”, apparently).

Basically, I’m really not liking the more commercial feel of Ubuntu lately. And since my no-brain reason for using it isn’t exactly valid any more, I think it’s time to switch. The irony is, many of the things that make Ubuntu more accessible to the masses is making it more difficult for me. I think I am not alone in this.

So we’ll see what the Mint can do. And if it can’t, then Debian it is. Recreating the eye candy functionality is easy, if I want to bother. It will be nice having my panel applets back. Best of all, I can always count on Debian to be a solid rock. And any deviation from Free and Open will be mine, not theirs. This makes me happy.

Next in this series: Out of Ubuntu’s Bed to Hairy Arch Linux in a Dark Alley