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Adventures in Linux

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Despite my last series of posts about using the BSD based Mac in the office...

 

 

.. my main workhouse is and remains Linux. For example, and because this one is fresh in my mind: If I need to fix a hard drive at home that "broke" on a Mac, I reach for Linux.

 

At the office I have been experimenting in the odd moments with Fedora 17 on a Dell M4500 laptop, and once it settled down a bit, I decided that the XFCE version of F17 would be the next OS on my main desktop system. A Dell Optiplex 745 with 3 GB of RAM and an Intel(R) Core(TM)2 CPU 6300 @ 1.86GHz, this is not bleeding edge hardware. It would not run MS Vista well for example. It is plenty fast with Linux on it, even with the compositing window manager enabled. To be fair, the compositing working as well as it does is partly due to the low spec Radeon HD 2400 XT with 256 GB off Video RAM. Even as low end as that is by today's standards, it works extremely well with the two 19" Dell E198FP monitors

 

That hardware has been running Fedora 16 pretty much since it came out, and Evolution with EWS has been running fairly well there, filtering my email. The EWS feature has replaced DAVMail as the way I access email from MS Exchange, and it is fast. There were occasional hangs, but nothing that a quick "evolution --force-shutdown" would not cure. I could go on vacation for two weeks, and it would just keep running, sorting my mail into folders so that when I looked at if from my iPhone my inbox was not a hot mess of trade emails from all the different mailing lists I am on. Chrome worked there, and had no memory leaks like on the Mac.

 

Painless Upgrade

 

Technically, "PreUpgrade".

 

There are a fair amount of architectural changes between Fedora 16 and 17. Fedora is quite specific about not using "yum" and doing an update, in part because of a change in the underlying file system. If you are used to the traditional file system layout:

 

/bin → /usr/bin

/sbin → /usr/sbin

/lib → /usr/lib

/lib64 → /usr/lib64

 

The file system looks like it is still the way it was at first glance, but they are now symlinks to the new locations. The reasoning behind this change is quite sound, and probably long overdue. Its well documented at freedesktop.org.

 

Any change like that would normally cause huge amounts of pain when upgrade time came, and this is part of the reason it is not recommended to use "yum" to do the OS update. If you must, there are pages out there that say how to do it. I'm the cautious type, especially on my production desktop, so I went the PreUpgrade way. PreUpgrade is a thing of beauty. It boiled down to three commands. One to get the current system as up-to-date as possible. Then to install PreUpgrade. Then to run PreUpgrade.

 

  • sudo yum update
  • sudo yum install preupgrade
  • sudo preupgrade

 

There are caveats, like making sure you have enough room for the upgrade. When I did it, it downloaded about 850 megabytes of files, but I had more than enough room:

 

Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on

rootfs           11G  6.1G  4.9G  56% /

 

Interestingly,  '/' was 55% before the upgrade, so upgrading ultimately took very little additional space.

 

A reboot showed a new menu option in GRUB: To upgrade to F17 A.K.A. "Beefy Miracle". F16 was 'Verne". Taking that option, a series of scripts ran re-laying out the file system, and then an install ran that looked like most any Anaconda installer of days gone by. I watched it for a bit, then went off to do other things. When I turned around, it was done, rebooted, and the FC17 login splash was sitting there.

 

F17

 

F16 has some of the nicest theme graphics I have ever seen associated with Fedora. As a SciFi geek, the whole idea of Verne was just cool:

 

verne.png

That image (both on the login and default desktop) would be a hard act to follow, so "Beefy Miracle" did the logical thing, and just made it easy to set that one back instead of the picture of fireworks it came with.

 

I almost went back to the Verne one. I decided instead to use pictures from Hubble and the Mars rover "Curiosity" instead.

 

desktop-mars.png

When I get time, I'll figure out how to get the fireworks off the XFCE login screen as well. meantime, I still have my geek on.

 

Overall this has been one of the best upgrade experiences I have ever had, in terms of how well things were brought over from the previous release.

 

Evolution 3.4.3

 

Being a desktop that I use primarily for office automation tasks, of course having Evolution working is the first thing I look at. I was a little worried at first when I put F17 on the laptop. Evolution was not stable. Several updates came out, and it settled down, so I had a great deal of hope for the upgrade.

 

It is working perfectly so far. Faster than before. More options for EWS setup. Better autodetection of configuration. Filters are faster. Having fast filters is key to my happiness in Evolution too: I have over fifty of them.

 

The conversion was not 100% perfect, but I do not mind what it missed. Some of my setups for default calendar and address book went missing, but that was easy to fix. It forgot that I like to expunge without being asked if that's OK. Understandable. It brought over my signature without issue, something that is often dropped.

 

Clicking on a calendar, it populates quickly. This is a far cry from the EWS of the early days, and a distinct improvement over the F16 version.

 

Smooth.. Everything

 

Its not just Evolution that is better / faster. Everything is. I liken it to when I upgraded my Samsung Galaxy SII from 4.0 / Ice Cream Sandwich to 4.1.1 / Jellybean. The whole point of Jellybean was Project Butter, to smooth everthing out. It works too. Jellybean is great, and on everything Android I own but one thing, and I am looking at that one.

 

For F17, fonts are smoother and better rendered (I never could get them to quite look right under FC16), the applications load quickly, the system boots quickly. Everything I have tried just seems to run a little better. Doubly impressive because of the antiquity of the hardware it is running on.

 

I do not think that F17 gained anything from Project Butter, but it seemed to.

 

Put it Back the Way You Found It

 

One of the things I expect to happen during an upgrade is for alternate repositories to be disabled. It only makes sense that, during an upgrade, the inputs be controlled. Google Chrome is a great example of that. It is not just an application, it is an application with its own update channel. I run the Dev version so I am usualy a couple of releases ahead of whatever is GA.

 

Often after an update, not only was Chrome not installed any more, the channel to install it was disabled. This has happened many times across many distros. Not this time. After the install, everything was back the way it should be, and updates still coming in from alternate repositories.

 

Nice.

 

XFCE 4.8.3

 

After a great deal of messing around with desktops after Gnome 3 and Ubuntu Unity forced me off those platforms, I settled on XFCE as my current standard. My home Linux system is running KDE at the moment, and I am leaving it there just to be able to watch what the KDE project is doing, but I have to admit I prefer XFCE. LXDE is good as well, but XFCE has just enough additional functionality, without being heavy, to have me prefer it.

 

The one thing I miss is Expose.

 

With Compiz stock, it is possible to set up the Apple Expose-like task switcher (called Scale in Compiz). If there is a way to do it under XFCE (with Compiz apparently buried in its guts), I have not been able to figure it out just yet. There used to be a tool called "Skippy" or "Skippy-XD", but that project appears to be dead, and never had an RPM based version as near as I can see.

 

Oh well. alt-tab it is.

 

I do have the compositing turned on, via Settings / Settings Manager / Window Manager Tweaks / Compositor, but that is just for some eye candy like drop shadows, and making windows translucent while being moved, etc.

 

I read often in the trades about the new end-user desktop paradigm that is being pushed. The latest is the don't-call-me-Metro version of MS Windows, AKA MS Windows 8.

 

Where have I seen this discussion before? This hatred of a new desktop paradigm?

 

Oh. yeah. Gnome 3. Ubuntu Unity. More treating a powerful desktop / laptop with a good graphics card like it can not window and it can not multitask. We get it. tablets are cool. I have two not counting the baby tablets called Smartphones. In that case I have five. Does mean I want my laptop or my desktop to act or work like them.

 

For us Linuxen, there are other desktops that still treat the desktop like it has a keyboard and a mouse. XFCE. KDE. LXDE. Enlightenment. Afterstep. Cinnamon. Etc. I think it is interesting that Linux Mint, formerly very tied to Ubuntu, has been the place the Cinnamon came from, and also that there is now an XFCE version of Mint. Good thinking.

 

Windowsen have a choice too, and other than staying on Win7, there is also "Classic Shell". Looks interesting. If Win 8 (and mainly its Gnome 3 / Unity looking interface) ever gets foisted off on me, I'll be going there. Windows 8 also has a desktop mode of sorts, but MS knows that people don't really want to use it, so they are helpfully blocking it, at least at boot. Going to wear you down till you just get used to the new thing.

 

Fedora Next

 

The next Fedora comes out before the end of the year. For me, this F16 to F17 was a pretty late-in-the-cycle upgrade. If it is anything like how good the F17 upgrade is, I'll be moving to that much sooner. With F17 now on my main system, the M4500 is freed up for the upcoming F18 Alpha.

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In my last post I talked about the office suites and Mac's. Bottom line there is that I never have any issues with document compatibility, but most of the documents I see and create do not take advantage of every single last feature that MS offers.

 

Since then I started working on a new data center consolidation (much material for my Green IT blog!). I have had occasion to really test out the road worthiness and readiness of Macs for professional purposes. My main office system (other than my Fedora 16 desktop) is a Mac mini, and my main road system is a 13" Macbook Pro. I knew when I was going in that I would want to run virtualization on the MBP, so I went with the latest Intel i7 processor and 8 GB of 1600 Mhz DDR3 RAM. The disk is a small but speedy 256GB SSD, and I have a 1 TB external disk for Time Machine backups and storing ancillary things that I don't want on the SSD (mainly data center pictures: Big files that I need infrequent access to). I went with the 13" rather than the 15 for portability, and the 13" standard MBP rather than the 13" Macbook Air because I wanted the faster system for virtualization. It sits nicely between the ultra-portable Air, and the uber-nice and super expensive 15" Retina.

 

Sure. I would have liked the Retina. I just could not see spending the money. When I am in Houston, I connect to a 23" Dell external monitor for dual screen. I know a lot of people that have and love the Thunderbolt external display. That is an amazing screen, and it adds the Ethernet, extra USB, and Firewire ports. Screen and docking station. Very nice.

 

Remote Access

 

Being able to get back to my systems back home in Austin while I am sitting at my temporary work space in Houston is invaluable. My Linux system has my email archive on it, plus all sorts of other useful things. My Mac Mini has a much bigger hard drive than my MBP, and so often has current copies of various documents that I was working on when I was there. If I forget to put them on the MBP ("Oh... I won't need that!" he says), then it is nice to be able to reach across the internal WAN and get to the desktops of both of these systems. There is also a need to access various Windows systems from time to time, installed around the world.

 

VNC is how I get to the Linux and Mac Mini, and it is as easy as starting Finder, and going to Go / Connect to Server (Or apple-K keyboard shortcut. Konnect I guess...? Apple-C was taken.). From there I enter the VNC server password, and I can do whatever I need to do as if I was sitting there. The remote response time is quite good. I often find myself just using the remote systems to do things rather than bringing it local. That way whatever it was I was working on stays in one place.

 

I have secure FTP on the Linux system, and AFP enabled on the Mac, so I can also reach out over the WAN and block copy files to me if needed. This may be something that makes me a bit mentally lazy in fact: I don't really spend a lot of time trying to figure out if I need it or not. I can always get it. The systems back home are on UPS in my office to help ensure they are available at all times.

 

For Windows I need RDP, and there is an excellent RDP client available from Microsoft, so that need is covered as well. It also works so well that I can spend a great dela of time on remote MS WIndows systems and work feeling more or less like I am local to them. BMC has a good WAN though, so that helps.

 

Browsers and IE

 

In the modern world of the browser, with HTML 5 and ACID compatibility tests and such, any decent web page works from any modern browser. If it does not, its the very definition of poor web design, and you know you are accessing a page from someone that does not understand the Web.

 

OS.X ships with Safari of course, but there are a good number of alternatives, such as Camino, Seamonkey, Opera, Firefox, and Chrome. I use mostly Chrome and Firefox, and that is true no matter what OS I am using: OS.X, Linux, or occasionally MS Windows.

 

There is one application I have to use that is deeply, stupidly IE only. Worse, the poorly designed web application is not doing anything all that unique as to require anything special of IE. When that happens, and I am forced to IE, I have the choice of remote access, or virtualization to get to a copy.

 

Other than that, I can do everything I need to do, web-wise, from Chrome and / or Firefox. I keep both around to compare speeds and features and because I don't like getting to locked in to doing things just one way. I like to stay educated about my options.

 

(Update 8/3/2012 about Chrome: http://www.macrumors.com/2012/06/29/google-chrome-causing-freezing-and-crashing-on-new-mac-notebooks/

My MBP has frozen twice. Not an experince I am used to on UNIX based OS's. The first time it happened I looked at the traceback and saw Google Chrome had been running at the time. The second time it was again. OK. Pattern. Quick look, and sure enough, as noted at the link above, Chrome is is causing the CPU to panic. Google thinks that the browser should not be able to do that, and had opened a problem with Apple on it. But they are apparently also looking to fix Chrome.

 

I agree that the browser should not be able to do this, and I hope this does not degenerate into finger pointing. This does not happen on my Air, my iMac, or my Mini. Only the new MBP. The problem is pretty specific as to which graphic card is in the computer though.

 

I use the bookmark syncing a great deal, so I will be glad when this is fixed. It is weird to not be able to use the browser I want to use for any given task, above and beyond the IE issue already noted here)

 

Virtualization

 

... and the apps I have to use with it.

 

When I have to bring up a virtual environment to do real work, I don't consider that a win. I like being able to carry around different OS's to play with and learn from of course, but having to rely on a VM to get daily work done always feels like failure in some way. Still, I have been tilting at the Linux desktop for a long time now, so I have a pretty good idea which things I have to go back to a VM for.

 

One of these, as noted before, is IE. While there is no excuse for an IE only app, they do exist, and they sometimes end up doing something you need done. Being able to run IE without having to carry around an entire other computer is a Good Thing (tm). The good news is that the Mac has plenty of ways to crack that nut. One is dual boot of course, but I can not see any reason to do that. When I am booted somewhere else, I can't get to the Mac stuff!

 

Virtualization is, for me, the better way. Modern computers with i7 processors and half way decent amounts of RAM can run a VM without issue, and in the case of the MBP, it runs Windows 7 as a guest faster than any other computer that I have access to runs Win 7 on the raw iron. The SSD really makes a big difference there. Back when I used to do the Linux in a Windows world presentations at LinuxWorld, I attached USB hard drives to spread the I/O out over multiple disks, so I could run more than one VM on a laptop. With one guest on the MBP, Win 7 runs crisply on the shared-with-OS.X SSD disk.

 

I have given thought to taking out the CD ROM and putting a second disk in. I did that on my personal Mac a number of years ago, and it was hard to beat having two disks internally for things like virtualization. I have that on my M4500 laptop running Fedora 17. Spreading guest I/O to the virtual disk acroos multiple real disks is a Good Thing (tm)

 

On Fedora I have KVM and VirtualBox set up for virtualizing. On the Mac I am currently using VirtualBox, but have a license for VMware Fusion, and Parallels. I really have no preference here. They all run well. They all share disk space with the host OS so that I can keep documents in one place.

 

There is one other thing I am using right now that I have to use some sort of virtualization for, and that is MS Project. The current data center consolidation I am doing is quite large, and I have to have a project for it. Since the guest is speedy, the only real issue here is the 13" screen size is suboptimal for the huge project. Thats why I have the 23" external screen.

 

Codeweavers

 

I have had a license for Crossover since way way back. Currently 11.2 is out, and it is amazing all the things that the WINE based tool can do these days. I mentioned I do not like only having one way to do something and this is my other way to do MS Windows things on the Mac other than virtualization. I have a copy of IE 7 installed there for example. Other than the fonts being very old school, it works pretty well for most applications. IE under Codeweavers is not as fast as a native browser of course.

 

The most recent version of Crossover supports Office 2010, including Project, so there is another reason to be sure that virtualization stores its working files out on the host file system rather than inside the virtual disk image. I may need to see those files from a Codeweaver's hosted application, if not a Mac native one.

 

Back to Linux

 

This is "Adventures in Linux" so I'll head back to that territory, even though for the next year I'll mostly be living on a MacBook. Its BSD under there, and if I forget how to do something the Mac way, there is always the Terminal.

 

Last night I was sitting in a restaurant, and I had my Mac with me. I opened it up and turned it on, and it booted in no time. SSD drives and the OS.X OS. The waiter came over and said "How did you get that booted so fast? You just sat down!". Yeah. Well. I did not expect such fast service either... what can I say?

 

One of the reasons we like to use Mac's in the office is the same as why we use them at home. The Apple esthetic. They are lovely to look at. Hold. They slide in and out of backpacks smoothly. They are tough. The keyboards are nice. The screens are nice (especially the Retina..). The trackpads are amazing: like nothing on any other laptop. I rarely feel the need for a mouse, and in fact most of the time a mouse seems less efficient. The systems go to sleep in a flash and reliably wake back up. My MBP lasts for seven hours or so between charges. On and on. They just work. I know that sounds a bit Fan-ish. This is not meant to be an ad for Apple. Lest I be mistaken for such I will say that I traded my iPad in a Xoom, and prefer it. Ditto my iPhone for an Android phone.

 

I also do not like Apple's recent trend towards making their hardware practically unserviceable. My wife broke her Air's screen, and there is nothing to do but replace the whole screen as a unit. You can also forget adding RAM or disk space to an Air. They just work, but get them how you want them to be...

 

I did not even talk here about BYOD, but I imagine when more and more people start having the option of choosing what they have to live on at home and at work, Apple is going to see even more uptake than they already have. Macs in the office. Here to stay, at least until the Next Big Thing (tm).

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Prelude

 

Last time out I looked at corporate email from the Mac, and was promptly taught by pseagers a very cool thing I did not know: That being there was actually a way to collect all the unread emails in mail.app in one place: Smart Folders. I have been using that ever since the comment was posted, and now Outlook 2011 is rarely brought up. The mail.app adaptive junk email filters add another very nice layer of protection beyond Outlook 2011's. Enough that mail.app is now my Mac email client of choice, the way Evolution is for me on Linux (posts too numerous to link).

 

The Big Three

 

Once past email, the problem becomes the so-called "productivity software". Word Processor. Spreadsheet. Presentation package.

 

There are numerous ways to go with this. The Mac does not want for solutions here. The gating factor here is interoperability with MS Office. All over the place there are still people using MS Windows, and still using MS Office. They didn't go to the cloud yet (Google Docs, Zoho, ThinkFree, et al). No: They are using locally installed software, and they are emailing .doc, .docx, .xls, and so forth out to those that they love and worth with. They expect me to be able to read it because they are pretty sure I am just like them, and use the same software they do.

 

As a Linux desktop user for years, I am used to this. Linux adapted to this years ago, and Mac's are able to do the same kinds of adapting, in some cases using Mac versions of the same software.

 

LibreOffice

 

There used to OpenOffice, and there still is, but due to a nasty breakup, LibreOffice came into existence as its more-or-less successor. Except OpenOffice is now part of Apache. Complicated. For the purposes of this, I'll talk about LibreOffice, but most of it applies to OpenOffice too. I use LibreOffice everywhere, just like I used to use OpenOffice. When I go to Fedora now, LibreOffice is what 'yum' installs and updates, so when I looked at what to put on the Mac, it was an easy choice.

 

My favorite word processor, bar none, is still Word Perfect. But it runs on an OS I do not even personally have, and I am not putting my personal copy on my corporate machine, so it sits sad and alone on its install disk, waiting for the day that there is a Mac or Linux version again.

 

In the meantime, I like LibreOffice. I use it for all my reports, especially the ones that have a lot of imbedded pictures in them. It is not page layout software, but it has enough of the layout page controls that I can build fairly nice looking reports fairly quickly. I save everything in .ODF format, and only when I need to send it to a another do I spin off a different format version. Usually PDF, unless they will need to edit it, in which case one of the MS formats like .doc.

 

The issues of old, like pages laying out oddly when viewed from another package are largely gone. Sometimes the pictures and captions act odd, but by and large there are no serious issues. My spread sheet work is all fairly simple. Not much in the ways of macros or RDB imbedded data searches. Nothing I do around power planning for data centers spreadsheet math-wise, for example, causes issue. It just works. Same as it always does on Linux.

 

Presentations used to have problems with fonts and page sizes, and it still happens from time to time on really cmplex templates, but nothing I can't live with.

 

Most of the time, people do not know I created it on the Mac any more than they did when I created it on Linux. Document. Spreadsheet, or Presentation.

 

Apple's iWork Suite

 

I have talked to many people here that wish they could just switch over to using Apples premiere office software, namely Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. That the software is beautiful is clear. Easy to use.

 

Where I have had problems in the past interoperability. I create something in Pages, save it as .doc, and it just does not import quite right. Same thing for Keynote. I have never had that issue with Numbers, but again, my spreadsheets are very simple.

 

The iWork suite is not updated very often. The current version is iWork '09. it was last updated in July of last year, and that appeared to mostly add OS.X Lion support. not new features or increased compatibility.

 

Another thing that works against the suite in the corporate world is that it is available, as near as I can see, only in the App store now. No bulk buys.

 

Pages used to be very page layout oriented, but the last version introduced the ability to run in a word processing or a page layout mode. Kind of an interesting way to think about document creation

 

Still, for compatibility reasons, I tend to work in LibreOffice.

 

Office 2011

 

This one is pretty obvious. Here are Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, plus the previous posted about Outlook. What is not here is Project or Visio. The two I really need. Nor is InfoPath, the XML formatter that some, especially Sharepoint users, seem so fond of.

 

Internet Explorer is also no longer built for Macs. No loss: the Mac version was not the same code base, and web sites that are stupid enough to require IE usually did not work with the Mac version of IE.

 

The apps that are here are hybrid Mac / Ribbon look and feel. Not bad. Very usable. Very compatible.

 

Communicator is also available.  I have 13.1.3 at this writing. It allows me to share desktops with MS Windows users, which is nice.

 

SO....

 

In summary, I can maintain nearly 100% interoperability with the MS Office users of the world. I had this on Linux before now, and oddly it took a while for the Mac to catch up with Linux here. OpenOffice (pre LibreOffice) took a very long time to go abut creating a port of their software ot the Mac. So long in fact that back in the early days of using a Mac at home, I used another project, called NeoOffice. NeoOffice uses the OpenOffice code base, but the authors were far faster than OpenOffice at porting it. For years it was the only good office suite available on the Mac. It predated iWork, and the Apple sourced office suite on the Mac before iWork, AppleWorks, was ... suboptimal.

 

NeoOffice looks more like a Mac app than, say, OpenOffice. Its fast, and it is updated quite frequently to stay current.

 

So, there are at least five valid office suites for the Mac now. All of them work, most are very compatible, and if you are coming over from either Linux or MS Windows, there is something that you will find that makes you comfortable working on the Mac at the office.

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In my last post I introduced my use of Macs as a daily driver in the Enterprise Desktop space. Then I went on vacation for one and a half weeks.

 

Like anyone else these days, that meant my email was piling up, and when you return to a full inbox, the foibles of your email client really start to matter. I have spent the last 12 work hours in email dealing with the backlog.

 

It would have been worse, except my Linux system (Fedora 16, Evolution 3.2.3, using EWS to access the email) was dutifully running a large set of rules cleaning up my inbox, filtering out all the various mailing lists and a good bit of other stuff. Still, over 1000 emails were there to be looked at.

 

When I use my personal Macbook Air, I do not use mail.app. Not because it is bad, but because all my personal email is on the web in various places, and the web browser is fine to deal with it. Chrome in my case, but Firefox , Opera, Camino, or Safari would all work fine. At the office that is not so optimal. We have MS Exchange 2007, and its web interface is OK for one-off usages, but plowing that much email would be torturous. I hear MS Exchange fixes that in the 2010 or 2012 version. It needs fixing. I am not going to load up and run IE on the Mac just for webmail to be more workable.

 

No Webmail means needing to run a native email application though, and here the native Mac mail.app nearly gets the job done. It understands the remote access protocols of MS Exchange, and can use them to download all your email, calendaring, and related things, and operate in native ways that are comfortable to Mac users. Email is in the mail.app. Notes are here too, in a folder called "Notes". Calendar is over in iCal.app.

 

Some nice things about the mail.app are that its very good Junk email filtering is layered on top of whatever the company is doing. The mesage threading (Organize by Conversation) is pretty nice. Cut and paste and other GUI elements work very well. The attachment preview function very useful. Overall there are only two reasons I do not use it at work:

 

  1. There is a bug in marking a message I have read as read. It is random, but shows up on long threads fairly often. I assume this will get fixed someday, but till then it is great, when reading so many emails, to keep re-reading the same ones because it is still marked as 'unread'
  2. The big one is that there is a weirdly missing feature: I can not filter the inbox to only have unread emails shown.

 

Screen Shot 2012-06-01 at 3.42.25 PM.png

So, I can sort unreads to the top, but that is not the same thing as only seeing unread messages, especially in threaded conversations. This is especially odd given all the things I can do with Spotlight elsewhere on the Mac.

 

Its annoying enough that I use Outlook 2011 instead when there is major email work to process.

 

How weird is that? if Evolution worked on a Mac, i would use that instead I suppose, since I like Evolution well enough, but without that option the best mass-mail cruncher on the Mac for me is Outlook. Here is the key feature:

 

Screen Shot 2012-06-01 at 3.51.30 PM.png

That one silly thing (Unread Filter) makes all the difference to me, and the way that I want to process 1000 emails in my huge inbox.

 

Outlook 2011 on the Mac is not the same animal as Outlook 2007 or 2010 under MS Windows. It is mac'ified. The people at MS that wrote it blended the Mac look and feel with a major subset of the MS Windows product. It does not do everything quite the same. Part of that is likley that, under the covers, Outlook 2011 uses the same EWS remote access protocols as Evolution. MAPI and all its related RPC's were not ported to the Mac.

 

Outlook 2011 does not look the same or act the same as Outlook for MS Windows. That is both a good thing and occasionally a bad one. If you are used to the Mac way of doing things, it is not a leap. If you are coming over from MS Windows though, Outlook 2011 is not a direct plug-in replacement for Outlook on MS Windows. Once you learn the way of the Mac, it is easy to use, but many of the people I know with new-to-them-Macs here struggle with that particular learning curve more than anything else about the Mac.

 

Chrome is Chrome. Firefox is Firefox. Outlook is not Outlook.

 

There are of course other options. DavMail for example can be set up. it is developed on a Mac I believe. With that, you can run Mozilla Thunderbird and proxy it to your MS Exchange server. EWS even works, so MS Exchange 2007 and 2010 are supportable. The Calendar can be proxied into iCal.app by DavMail as well. I have played with this a few times, and would use that if I did not have Outlook 2011 as an option, because Thunderbird lets me filter by unread status. I know, I know: Really pounding on that one...

 

If calendaring is not critical to you, then you can toss the EWS part of it all, and use IMAP to access MS Exchange instead. Then most any email client is available.

Steve Carl

Using Macs at the Office

Posted by Steve Carl May 18, 2012
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I first got into Macs when I bought a used iBook from a friend. I had played around with previous versions of the mac operating system going back to the original Macintosh. I did not like the OS. It was not terrible. It just was not anything like anything else I used. it was nothing like the CMS command line on the mainframe. There was no obvious command line way to do anything. To eject a disk from the disk drive you dragged the icon to the trash icon, which I did not know until after I had taken the computer apart to get the disk out. I had considered that, but has decided that would erase / format the disk, not delete it. That was the logical action to me.

 

I had at that time been reading all about the wonders of OS.X. The way that Apple has basically started over. Started with BSD at the core, wrapping in bits from Next, and building a whole new thing. A UNIX OS with a better GUI than anything else out there at the time. A low hurdle

 

Still, I figured it was worth the risk. It was UNIX. I knew that OS. There was an obvious command line. UNIX commands worked mostly like they should, as long as I remembered to do BSD style versions, not ATT System V style. Over time I learned the GUI, and when I was stuck trying to do something, it was easy to open the Terminal and do something. In some ways, mass moves and the like are still easier there. Unlike many, my path in to OS.X was not iPods, iPhones, or iPads. It was that I was comfortable with the core operating system.

 

The iBook was nice hardware. It was the first Apple product that I liked the design of. Personal opinion. I know. The iBook that was a clamsheel before it was cute, but it did not make me personally want it.

 

I did not like the iBook keyboard all that much, but other than that it was good hardware, Power PC CPU and all. My next Mac was a 15" Intell based Macbook with a stamped Aluminum case. Backlit keys. Nice screen. Fabulous keyboard. Everything I did not like about the iBook was fixed here, and I liked OS.X enough by then that between it and Linux, my house was emptied of MS Windows computers, one by one. If I needed a simple GUI, I had the mac. if I needed the power and flexibility, I had Linux. One by one my family members got Macs of their own. Even my extended family. My current personal unit is the 11" Air, and I like this computer better than any hardware I have ever had.

 

But all of that is personal use, and that is the key to this post. Mac's are creeping in to offices from the people in. Corporate IT departments, with years and years of managing MS Windows, and trying to decide if they need to support a Linux desktop or not are facing the fact that, while they weren't looking, a UNIX computer crept in from a different quarter of the field. Unlike the UNIX like Linux, this was real UNIX. BSD.

 

There are a thousand reasons why this happened, and it is not my intention here to talk about all of them. Rather, this is "Adventures in Linux" and since 2003 I have been talking here about using Linux as a full replacement for MS Windows, in what is largely an MS Windows infrastructure based world. With Linux there were and are ways to cope with the essentially closed standards world of MS Windows, and Apple has taught OS.X some of them. Part of it came about when Apple actually bought CUPS (Common UNIX Printing System) and continued developing it not just for OS.X, but most all its UNIX predecessors. There is even an MS Windows version. CUPS solved one of the major adoption roadblocks for UNIX: Making it easy to Print. Seems easy now. Used to be so very very hard.

 

Everything I learned over the years from being a Linux desktop person in an MS Windows world (Still am: Fedora 17 Beta spun up right over there.) has applied to the Mac. In many ways its easier on the Mac, because there are things like MS Messenger, to talk to MS Communicator based colleagues. Office 2011 brings MS Word and MS Excel, in addition to being able to deal with those document formats with OpenOffice and LibreOffice downloads.

 

Google Chrome and Firefox are here, in addition to the Safari browser from Apple. Other browsers are Opera and Camino and SeaMonkey. If you don't know SeaMonkey, but remember Netscape and Mozilla's application suites, this is that made modern.

 

Flash can be installed, and Java is already available (though there are some issues around the versions lagging current a bit)

 

So, coming up soon will be a diversion from Linux (though Fedora 17 will be coming in for a post soon) as I look at using a Mac desktop in an MS Windows world.

Steve Carl

Disruption

Posted by Steve Carl Feb 10, 2012
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As I have settled in to my new desktop of choice (Last two posts, here, and here), I have been working to figure out how to put back together my disrupted desktop existence. Evolution with EWS seems to work well most of the time, but there are occasional hangs requiring Evolution to be restarted. Better than the past, but still not as stable as I would like. Calendar invites seem to be the thing that cause hangs the most. If I just wait, they often time out and clear up, but sometimes I just xkill it and restart it rather than waiting.

 

Fedora 17 seems so far away right now, with its newer version of Evolution. Half the bugs I have reported are fixed upstream there. I'll be Alpha and Beta testing that for sure.

 

IM Not Sure What is Happening

 

Pidgin / SIPE started working with MS Communicator again, like it did under Mint. When I was trying to figure out what was wrong I decided I needed to run a Wireshark trace and compare the working version of Pidgin (1.11/Mint) with the non-working version (1.12/Fedora). I set up Mint 12 in a Virtual Machine, and configured Pidgin / SIPE. That came right up and all my 'buddies' appeared. They like to think of themselves as 'co-workers'.

 

I went back to Fedora 16 and fired up Pidgin / Sipe there, all ready to start the trace... and everything worked.

 

I do not understand everything I know about that, other than it means I can now IM from Linux, and that can be handy when talking to my MS Windows using co-workers. Buddies. Whatever.

 

Side note on Mint 12: I looked at Cinnamon while in the Mint VM, and while it really helps make Gnome more usable again, there was not enough there yet to make me leave XFCE. Evolution-EWS was not on Mint 12 at all, so Mint, as popular as it now (I just looked at Distrowatch, and it is number one by a wide margin: 3564 to 2083 for number two Ubuntu, Fedora at 1721) stays a VM for the foreseeable future. Reading the various trades about Cinnamon makes it clear though: the disruptive change that is Gnome-shell (under gnome 3) or Ubuntu's Unity is facing a disruption of its own. There is a Fedora version of Cinnamon, and that sounds like something I may want to watch.

 

Virtualization

 

By and large, MS Windows is something I hardly need anymore. I was working with another disruptive technology and came across something where I had to use MS Windows. No choice about it. I was working with... Re Hat Enterprise Virtualization. The new one. 3.0. I thought about that as I stared dumbfounded at the message saying I had to use IE and MS windows to access the RHEV Manager console (Think the V/Sphere console if you are VMware literate).

 

I knew that the older version of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization had this requirement. It was the technology from the Qumranet acquisition. The console uses .NET bits. I know RH is moving to port all that to technology that will work from any browser under any OS rather than dictating such a specific OS and browser need. I had hoped that some of it would be in place with 3.0, but clearly not.

 

Andrew Cathrow is doing a RHEV Roadmap at the upcoming Red Hat Summit in Boston, so hopefully there will be some good news about when this restriction is removed there. Here is the RHEV lifeccyle diagram, and I see RHEV 3.1 and 3.2 there. There is something of a cognitive dissonance having to configure my RHEV environment from Windows 7. Not to mention the fun and games it took to get IE 9 to accept the certificates from the RHEV-M console.

 

Other than Windows

 

Other than the oddity around doing all this from Windows, I have to say I really like RHEV. As someone that has been doing virtualization for thirty years, RHEV's design presses all the right technical design buttons for me.

 

First and foremost, there is KSM. I like everything about the idea of Kernel Samepage Merging. It just makes too much sense. The secret sauce of virtualization is how well memory can be over committed, or even if it can be. In my internal monitoring of our virtual R&D environments, memory is the bottleneck 80% of the time.

 

Next is the fact that I can set up both appliance like servers, using the RHEV-H, and standard RHEL servers with the RHEV packages installed, if I want the entire Red Hat Linux software stack available for other things. Either plugs in to the management console, RHEV-M. This makes setting up a RHEV environment easy and / or flexible. The RHEV-H appliance model is a boot, configure, and go thing, and I was able to set those up quickly. It took me longer to figure out how to get a remote console than to install it. the first RHEV-under-RHEL took a little longer, but the second one was fast once I knew what to do.

 

RHEV-M will look familiar to anyone who has used any sort of management interface for a virtual environment. Leaving aside the Win7 / IE part, it has everything required to configure networks, storage, and has a very granular permission model to allow special userids to be set up in large shops that can only do what you want them to do.

 

Red Hat documentation is amazingly good as well. Very detailed. Fully indexed by Google so answers to questions are easy to find.

 

Important to performance in the Hypervisor world is how fast a particular Hypervisor adds support for the latest hardware features. AMD had virtualization assists in the microcode for years, and Intel added parity there with Nehalem and now Sandy Bridge. We have seen huge drops in overhead with those more recent chipsets in our virtual infrastructure. None of that does you any good if the hypervisor does not support the assist though, and RHEV has a strong history of early adoption of those kinds of features.

 

In the discussion about multi-hypervisor clouds, I am firmly on the side of more is better. In the world of Hypervisors, this is designed as/looks like/runs like one of the best.

 

The Math of Disruption

 

One of the funny things I often come across is math around disruptive technologies. As it pertains to Linux, one example I often see is around tablet computers. Full disclosure: I have a Motorola Xoom. I had an iPad, which I gave away to get a Xoom.

 

When the iPad came out, it owned the tablet marketplace. I saw numbers like 93% (and I wondered what the other 7% was, since the category of tablet computers seemed to have sort of died there for a while)

 

Later articles talked about the iPad was trouncing the market with 80+% of the market. Android tablets were failing. Later articles noted that Android was still an also ran with iPad having over 70% of the market. Later I read how Android tablets were in trouble because they were so fragmented, and now that the Kindle Fire was out, the iPad still had something around 59% of the market (This article has Android at 39% too).

 

Humm. Is there a trend there? Apple keeps selling record numbers of the iPad. the unit volume is growing, yet the percentage is trending down. I predict that there is a magic number in there: Probably around 50%. Once Linux based tablets have more percentage market share than iPads, we'll start seeing the articles about how Apple has failed in its quest to dominate, and what Apple did wrong and stuff like that. Even though they will still be selling record unit volumes, and tablet computers will be *everywhere* and the real story (for me) will be just how disruptive all this was, and how big a piece of it Linux has.

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I was walking around Fry's over the holidays. One of the numerous Linux magazines in the technical publications section had an interview with someone at Canonical, and the title on cover was something like "Unity is a Conversation We Must Win". There was so much wrong with that sentence I wonder now if it read that Unity was a Conversion that they must win. It does not work for me personally either way.

 

It's hard to know the future. I look at all the top 10 lists, and predictions and think that about 90% of them are probably just something a writer was told 'Hey: Go put together a top 10 list about why Android tablets are failing in the marketplace", and then three weeks later "Hey, same writer, go put together a top ten list of why Apple is slowly losing tablet market share", and of course eight of the ten reasons have something to do with Android tablets.

 

Over at Distrowatch I just looked at Linux Mint versus Ubuntu versus Fedora, and for the last thirty days, Mint has been nearly twice as referenced, and for the last six months Ubuntu has been running at about two thirds of Mint. Fedora is running very close to Ubuntu. Over the next year it will be interesting to watch how that works. The way the distrowatch tool works, the shorter in you pull the time frame (last 1 year, last 6 months, last 3 months, last 30 days), the wider Mint pulls out from Ubuntu, and the closer Ubuntu and Fedora get. Ubuntu stays ahead of Fedora, but only just.

 

[Update: Just found this: "Linux Mint Touches All Time High On DistroWatch, Will Ubuntu Recover?" and found it interesting, since it looked at Mint versus Ubuntu the way I just did.]

 

Maybe they turn it around. Maybe putting a tablet interface on a desktop or laptop computer is just so amazingly innovative that I just can't grok its glory. Maybe.

 

Ubuntu had been doing a good job attracting the technical users along with the non-technical ones, but it appears to me that the technical folks: The ones that form a pretty good part of the Linux desktop world, are voting with their feet, and that the non-technical ones are also voting with their feet but perhaps in a different direction. Clearly Mint is getting a lot of them. Over the holiday I upgraded my dad's laptop from Mint 8 to Mint 11, and he has been very happy with that. I was tempted to put him on Fedora 16, but since he already knew Mint 8, it was such a short leap to Mint 11 for him that for now that's where we went.

 

No Unity, but KDE, LXDE, and XFCE

 

One of the nice things about Fedora is that, at the same time more or less the base release goes out, the 'Spins' go out too. Not only the Gnome base (which I am not any more intrested in than Unity at the moment, and for the same reasons), but LXDE, KDE, and XFCE versions. Ubuntu and Mint have those too, but they usually lag the main release. I just looked and the LXDE version of Mint is still based off Mint 11 as of this writing.

 

After I posted about switching to the LXDE version, a comment to that post, plus some private email told of the virtues of the XFCE version as well. I decided a shoot out of sorts was in order. The LXDE version remained on my Dell 745. It is reliable and snappy. Has been for the entire month since the conversion, making it feel like new hardware was installed. It had been running Ubuntu before.

 

The 64 bit version of XFCE version went in on my Dell m4500. This is by far my fastest computer, with four cores and 8GB or RAM. It also boots over to RedHat when I am running the ADDM scanner. It screams, but oddly does not feel all that much faster than the much slower hardwared 745 dual core / 4GB desktop running LXDE. I credit LXDE's amazing light footprint with that. XFCE is far from heavy, but it is more feature rich. After a bit of getting used to the slightly different ways things like adding apps to panels works, I like it well. Since the faster M4500 can easily deal with it, it's staying put there.

 

The last system to get the Fedora 16 spin was my very tired Dell D620 with 2GB of RAM and dual core processor and much older processor. When I pulled it off the shelf, I thought it might be a goner. the spare battery in the CD ROM bay had expanded to 150% its normal size. The batteries inside the plastic case looking like the Incredible Hulk busting out of jail. I spent a few hours taking the Dell apart, extracting the bulked up battery, and putting it back together. It had bent the frame, the keyboard, and the screen, but all flexed back to shape once the pressure was removed, and it booted right up. The KDE version of Fedora 16 landed there.

 

It would be very easy to make the case that the KDE version should have gone on the M4500, but I had different things I was going to try. This was not really a speed comparison, but just seeing which one I subjectively liked to work with the best. I wanted to do virtualization on the M4500, and was curious how the lighter weight user interface would feel when running a Guest Windows 7 operating system.

 

The thing I was going to try with the KDE version was seeing if I could use Fedora 12 instructions to get the Juniper SSL VPN working. By having a task for each one I could use it. Get used to its user interface. Decide which one I liked best.

 

Less Mealymouth Than Average

 

Ever read a shootout and the reviewer concludes something like "Which one is better? I can't say. They all have their good points" and you just want to tell them to go write a "top ten reasons not to read anything they review" kind of list? This isn't that. I admitted up front that this is subjective, and the hardware hardly matches for capabilities.

 

Here is my mealymouthed thing about these three. Any of them suit me better than Unity/Gnome-Shell/tablet interfaces on desktop / laptop computers.

 

KDE has come a long way since the first version of release 4. I still find it coated in eye candy, and spend half the time I am setting it up turning off special effects. Really: Just give me a decently kerned font, windows, slider bars, and good system configuration tools. I dislike the KDE start menu as well. At least is has a working search tool to find things, but it took me a while to find "Apper' when I wanted to apply updates. Really: Apper? I had to google to find that name. It works well, if a little too eye-candyish, but whatever. It works once you know not to be looking for something silly like "Update Tool" or "Software Installer" or any of a dozen other things I tried before I hit the google. KDE has lots of config tools, lots of widgets, is easy to set up for remote desktop, and such. KDE is useable, and for all its GUIfications, and even though it was running on the slowest hardware, it was plenty fast.

 

XFCE does not appear to have a native way to get VNC remote access up and running any more than LXDE did, so I assume I will have to load up the same x11VNC server I did for LXDE to get that working. It more panel apps that are easier and more intuitive to install and configure, and it manages the desktop real estate of the M4500 dual monitors better. I tried LXDE on the M4500 and it really freaked out about the dual screen, even though it handles them nicely on the 745.

 

XFCE would be my choice of these three unless the hardware target was very constrained, and then I would use the LXDE. There is no getting around how fast the 745 runs with it on there. Fast enough I'll leave it be for now. Its just not that hard to jump back and forth between XFCE and LXDE.

 

A Month of Evolution 3.2.2

 

Evolution has run in EWS mode all during the holidays, and never had a problem. In the old days it would have lasted about a week and then crashed for some reason or another. I use the 745 as sort of a service machine. When I am home, it is my Linux jump box. It filters my email into handy folders. Things of that nature. That is why remote access has to work, and X11VNC seems to do that well. Harder to install than Vino in Gnome, but once in, it works.

 

One thing crashes, but it crashes fast, and in isolation. The addressbook from the MS Exchange GAL is busted, It core dumps on the first try, every time. According to the bug reports, this issue is fixed upstream, but that means waiting six months for Fedora 17.

 

I tried to not wait. I gathered up the Rawhide Evolution packages, worked through all the co-reqs, and laid down Evolution 3.3.3, but it crashes on startup. It was a wild try anyway, since pulling upstream things down to earlier releases is almost always fraught with problems.

 

Dropping back to 3.2.2, I just told it to not use the GAL, and instead do LDAP lookups on the Active Directory Domain Controller. That is working extremely well. SO I have full access to email, calendar, task list, and address book, and I don't need MS Windows for any of that. Nice.

 

IM, Pidgin, SIPE and the One

 

The one reason I still have to run a VM is if I want to use our MS sourced IM. The MS Exchange IM is based off a Microsoft extended version of SIPE, and that is not working on Fedora. It did work on Mint 11 and Ubuntu. I do not know what to think about that, as no googling about turned up an references to what the differences might be. It could be as simple as they changed something in out server room between the two times I tried it.

 

Whatever the case, I have no native IM client. Seems silly, but the main reason to run a VM is to IM people.

 

What Conversation?

 

Magical thinking, denial and spin. I have to think that, when it comes to Ubuntu right now, they are just so sure that they are right about the desktop user interface that they are willing to burn down the market share house to prove how right they are. One month in, the conversation goes like this: Fedora is working just fine. Evolution is working better than it ever has in my whole history of using it (and that is a while).

 

I get that there is a reason to have a tablet interface. On a tablet computer. I get that maintaining two code trees is harder than one, so a desktop and a laptop user interface are harder than just having one. See Android 2,3, and 4 for details on what Google went through with that (except theirs was a phone and a tablet setup). I get that there are enough proof points around of people that use Unity and Gnome-shell of Gnome 3 to think that maybe this is the right direction.

 

I also get that I can leave for other Distros, and that I am hardly unique in doing so. Its easy to win the conversation if everyone left in the room are the ones that agree with you. Maybe that is enough people. Maybe the ones left dislike mints and cool hats.

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In my last post, I talked about not being happy with the new Ubuntu. Short term, I rolled that desktop down to Mint 11. Mint is now more popular than Ubuntu, so I am not the only one unhappy with the Ubuntu design and attitude. More on that in a bit.

 

Mint 11 is a great version of Linux. If it were not for the fact that I want a more current version of Evolution, I would just stay there. However, upstream in Evolution there is something called Evolution-EWS, and that is a plug-in to the more upstream version of Evolution that can access MS Exchange without a DavMail proxy.

 

Here then was the choice thing that Linux users have. My goal: Get a windowing user interface that looks a lot like Gnome 2.x, but have Evolution-EWS.

 

I knew Ubuntu 11.10 did not package -EWS, so that probably meant Mint did not either. I looked. it didn't. I went ahead and installed Mint 12 over Mint 11 just to have a look at the stuff the Mint team was doing to try and mitigate some of the Ubuntu decisions. It was better. Not great, but I think I could have tweaked it out to meet my needs. The multi-monitor support was terrible, and various thematic elements were coarse looking. But it worked and was usable. if I was going to stay in the Ubuntu-based end of the pond, I would have stayed on Mint 12, and when the Mint 12 LXDE version came out, jumped over to that. Or perhaps run over to the Mint Debian based version. Either way I could have gotten Mint set up the way I wanted it to be. I think the Debian based version is going to be the future of Mint if Ubuntu keeps hopping down the 'ignore the end users' bunny trail.

 

I don't have time to wait for it, and I don't have to. I am a Linux user, and I have choices. I set Fedora 16 up as a VM, tested everything I wanted would work,and then today, while on a con-call no less (and mostly listening to the con-call), I installed Fedora 16 over the top of Mint 12. I had practiced on the VM, and knew what I needed to do, so it was simplicity itself.

 

Fedora 16, LXDE spin

 

One of the first things about being on Fedora is switching to RPM think from APT think. They mostly do the same things, but syntax is different, and the GUI is Yumex, not Synaptic. It is not a hard adjustment.

 

First up, my hard drive was already partitioned the way i wanted it, so I just had to take manual control of the Fedora disk setup (which it lets you do easily), and tell it how to install things:

 

   Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System

/dev/sda1   *        2048    23437311    11717632   83  Linux

/dev/sda2        23439358    31250431     3905537    5  Extended

/dev/sda3        31250432   312498175   140623872   83  Linux

/dev/sda5        23439360    31250431     3905536   82  Linux swap / Solaris

 

/dev/sda1 is '/'. /dev/sda3 is '/home'. A simple layout that keeps my data separate from my OS.

 

Once everything was installed (which took practically no time. Linux Installers are so easy these days) I rebooted, answered a few more questions about me and my account. It noticed there was already a home directory with my name on it, and asked if it should be adopted. I said yes, and now I was up and running with my data intact. Multi-monitor support was instant and the default. Very different than Ubuntu or even Mint in that regard.

 

DHCP was the default, and worked, but my desktop has a static IP address. Right clicking the icon in the panel for the network took me to the menu to fix all that.While I was in the panel, I like a lot more detail in my clock than the default hour and minute. I changed the setup string from '%R' to '%r %m/%d/%Y', which puts it into 12 hour time, shows the seconds, plus the month / day / full year number. This is a first clue just how lightweight LXDE is. There is no GUI for setting that up. I arrived at those settings by pure guesswork.

 

Evolution-EWS

 

The first order of business (even before patching!) was getting up and running against MS Exchange 2007. I had practiced this, and captured all the information I needed, so this was easy. The first time around: Not so much.

 

To set up EWS under Fedora's Evolution 3.2.2 version, you need two bits of information that Outlook and mac's Mail.app are able to auto-discover. Watching the forums, the Autodiscovery is coming. You enter your MS Exchange name, plus the 'Host URL' and the 'OAB URL' What took a while was in reading through to forums about where to find this inside of Outlook, they kept referring to 'right clicking on the Outlook button'. I, being literal minded, looked all over for something like that. Finally I started right clicking on everything everywhere that had anything to do with Outlook, and at long last figure out that this was that litte micro-icon in the task bar, over on the right. If you hold down the control key, and right click on that icon, you will see an option labeled 'Test Email AutoConfiguration'.

 

Run that, and you will get back, buried in a raft of other things, those two URL's. Copy them into an email to yourself or something, and get them entered in the EWS configuration. Your Exchange GAL, your Calendar, your task lists all appear. When I was running this virtually it worked pretty well, but running it on the real hardware, it flies.

 

This effectively replaces not only DavMail, but the Evolution MAPI plugin. at least for me. I keep getting  crashes of the address book in the Fedora bug tracker for some reason. Three times so far today. A SIGSEGV signal 11. I may have to re-add Davmail, or go to direct LDAP connection to an Active Directory server someplace to work around the directory issue.

 

[update: after many successive SIGSEV Signal 11's, I did in fact add an LDAP address book pointing at one of our MS Domain Controllers. It is working very well that way. Also, the bug I reported against it is closed upstream, so hopfully Fedora 17 will fix that, if not sooner.]

 

Other Config Items for Fedora

 

Once Evolution was up and running and, other than the address book issue, running very well (better / faster than I have ever seen it do in fact), It was time to get the rest of the patches on. a simple 'sudo yum update' took care of that. My userid is in the 'admin' group, so sudo works about the same on Fedora as it used to work on Ubuntu / Mint.

 

I wanted Chrome, and that requires LSB on Fedora. 'yum install lsb' took care of that. Fedora only has Firefox on it, and while that works just fine, I actually use both browsers most of the time for research reasons.

 

I normally enable the Fusion repositories, so that I can get easy access to some things Fedora does not package. Today the mirrors for the Fusion repositories have been having some issues. I'll wait and see what is happening there over the next few days.

 

The fonts are not as smooth by default as I would like in LXDE, but via googling I found a way to configure the .Xresources file to change that:

 

more .Xresources

 

Xft.dpi: 96

Xft.antialias: true

Xft.hinting: true

Xft.rgba: rgb

Xft.autohint: false

Xft.hintstyle: hintslight

Xft.lcdfilter: lcddefault

 

Again, like the clock settings, there is no GUI for this. Welcome to the world of light weight display managment.

 

I had an MP3 audio track from a meeting I needed to listen to, and that required installing Audacity. With Fusion installed, getting MP3 support was no problem.

 

There is no GUI to get remote desktop access going, so I am going to try and get that set up using this: http://forums.fedoraforum.org/showthread.php?t=259665. Seems to be working so far.

 

Choices

 

It is not convenient to have to manually set up all these things that I used to have easier, more GUI ways to do in Gnome. (Side note: I loaded up XFCE as well, and played a bit with it instead to see if it makes anything easier than LXDE. Not enough time on it to tell yet, and another choice to be explored.)

 

The choice is whether I want to go back and relearn where all the manual setup is that Gnome hides from me, or use the Gnome 3 or Ubuntu Unity interfaces. For me, that answer is to go back to the manual configs, at least until LXDE picks up some unified tools. You'd hate for LXDE to not be light and fast anymore, but a few more config tools would go a long way towards making it a viable desktop for a wider range of people.

 

I mentioned at the top of the article things about ignoring the user, and the general attitude of some about the redesigns. I know that no one is ever going to think and feel the same way about every design. One example: Looking a a recent car redesign I said 'Wow: They really beat that car with an ugly stick'. I did not like all the new angles going off in odd directions. My mom, looking at the same car, said "It looks like a used bar of soap". OK. She did not like it either, but we were clearly not seeing the same things. Then another person said "Oh: Look at that cute little car!"

 

No design will please everyone.

 

What I have seen however in various forums is that people (like me) who do not like the design changes are more or less told to shut up: The decision was made. Please stop talking about it. We don't want to hear about it any more. That is even OK. Its their project, and they can do with it what they want, even if what they want to do with it makes fewer people happy with it.

 

However, closing off the discussion. Stopping the listening. That is how you lose people, and that is part of why I am gone from the world of Ubuntu and Gnome. If they someday come up with something interesting, I will of course look at it, but Fedora is a big world to explore and find Linux happiness in.

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My primary desktop system is a Dell 745 with 6GB of RAM and Intel Core 2 1.86 Ghz processors. For Windows 7 that same kind of PC is pretty slow, but for Linux it snaps right along.

 

I like Mint 11 for my personal system, since they kept the classic Gnome desktop, but the problem with that for the Enterprise desktop is that I wanted the latest and greatest Evolution so I could continue to get the stability and speedups from that project. To be a primary Enterprise desktop, I need my corporate email. As an aside, Mint 12 will have both Gnome 2 and Gnome 3. Excerpt from http://blog.linuxmint.com/?p=1845:

 

Linux Mint 12 “Lisa” will be released in November this year with continued support for Gnome 2 but also with the introduction of Gnome 3. The radical changes introduced by the Gnome project split the community. At the time of releasing Linux Mint 11 we decided it was too early to adopt Gnome 3. This time around, the decision isn’t as simple. Gnome 3.2 is more mature and we can see the potential of this new desktop and use it to implement something that can look and behave better than anything based on Gnome 2. Of course, we’re starting from scratch and this process will take time and span across multiple releases. Until then, it’s important we continue to support the traditional Gnome 2 desktop. We’re likely to release two separate editions, one for Gnome 2.32 and one for Gnome 3.2. We’re also working in cooperation with the MATE project (which is a fork of Gnome 2) at the moment to see if we can make both desktops compatible in an effort to let you run both Gnome 2 (or MATE) and Gnome 3 on the same system, either in Linux Mint 12, or for the future.

 

I am pretty sure that if I choose to run Gnome 2 in Mint, I will not have Evolution 3.2. And if I run Gnome 3, then I will have the Gnome 3 user interface.

 

When I upgraded Ubuntu from 10.10 to 11.04, I got a message saying that the hardware was going to run in Classic mode because the graphics card did not support Unity. I thought "Cool! There is a classic mode!"

 

When I in-line upgraded from 11.04 to 11.10, the box became a twisted up snarled mess of unbootability. According to this post:

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/perlow/why-ubuntu-1110-fills-me-with-rage/19103 , my upgrade issue was not an uncommon problem. near the bottom of the rage is this:

My other problem is that since 11.04, I haven’t been able to do a distribution upgrade cleanly. Indeed, when 11.10 came out two weeks ago, the nice little upgrade reminder popped up in the package manager, and it downloaded all the files when I told it to update to the new version. And it installed all the packages.

And then when I tried to reboot all hell broke loose. The console started spitting out all kinds of errors about missing files.

Fine: I did a clean install from an Xboot USB of 11.10, and unfortunately now the graphics card supported Unity. The upgrade was a downgrade. Unity was my new desktop. I was willing to give it a try, if for no other reason that a fellow long time Linuxer / blogger had originally disliked Unity, and now liked it ( http://www.zdnet.com/blog/open-source/ubuntu-linux-1110-unity-comes-of-age-review/9744 ).

 

After 24 hours, I was thinking of all the ways I could get rid of Unity and get back to something I wanted to use. I do not know what problem Unity is trying to solve, but it is not desktop usability. On a tablet, sure. I get it. Unity would not be Ice Cream Sandwich or anything, but it would be better than most. Yet apparently Ubuntu is not headed to tablets for some time to come yet: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/open-source/ubuntu-linux-heads-to-smartphones-tablets-and-smart-tvs/9834?tag=nl.e539.

 

Shuttleworth said that he expects a fully-baked and ready to go Ubuntu for all devices will appear in Ubuntu 14.04-April 2014

 

We are not getting a touchscreen based device till 2014, and we got the tablet user interface now? Worse, the Dell 745 is not a touch screen, and has a spacious monitor. All the big icons and attempts to save desktop real estate just end up slowing me down. Slowing me down is not the way to go. Macs are making their way into the enterprise because they make people more efficient, not less http://www.tuaw.com/2011/10/27/forrester-turns-180-on-macs-in-enterprise-finds-most-productiv/ :

 

Mac users forced to use Windows laptops find the PCs are "slowing them down."

"Time is the only thing that these fierce competitors can't make more of. ... They're drawn to uncluttered Macs -- especially those with solid-state drives, which are more responsive and boot in seconds."

I know that is a quote about Windows, and this is not about a Windows diss. I think the point is the same for Linux. You put a lot of things in the way of using the computer effectively and you end up with unhappy users, and users have choices.

 

Linux users more than most.

Innovators Dilemma

 

If you have been following the trials and tribulations of Netflix lately, you know that the the CEO has been talking about trying to change his business ahead of the problems created by the Innovators Dilemma. http://blog.netflix.com/2011/09/explanation-and-some-reflections.html:

 

Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business. Eventually these companies realize their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover.

 

To their credit, they realized that they had made a mistake, but not before they lost 800,000 customers: http://money.cnn.com/2011/10/24/technology/netflix_earnings/index.htm

 

They understood part of the lesson from Innovators Dilemma, that you have to be ready to manage and properly react to a disruptive technology change in your business model (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_technology), but it seems to me that the lesson was misapplied. You can not anger your current customer set while attempting to engage in the new technology, and in the case of Netflix, they were quite successful in both the new tech and the old, and they did not understand that one of their values was their integration.

 

Also interesting is just how "old" the established technology of Netflix was: Really they had not been shipping DVD's, and taking apart the brick-and-mortar stores like Blockbuster for all that long before the 'next cool thing' came along.

 

it seems to me the things like Unity and the new gnome-shell from Gnome 3 are similar things to this: They have seen the new technology, and they are trying to adapt to it, all the while forgetting what made them successful in the first place. They are trying to be innovative but they are losing sight of their value proposition in the process. The siren lure of the tablet and the smartphone made them think we all wanted everything to look like that.

 

My least favorite part of OS.X 10.7 is where it tried to pretend its an iPad, and puts all the app icons in a grid on the screen. That does not speed my up. That does not make me faster. At least on the Mac I can just ignore it.

Lubuntu / LXDE

 

Jason Perlows 'rage' quote from above aside (He says he does not want to explore other desktop options), I am a fair weather desktop user. I started on KDE, and switched when KDE 4 drove me off the ranch. Now Gnome-shell from Gnome 3 and Ubuntu's Unity are doing the same thing.

 

I knew about Lubuntu from a few months ago. I had come into possession of some very old laptops, and I wanted to see how well they would perform with a low-impact Linux desktop. Some googling found Lubuntu: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Lubuntu. Lubuntu is an official spin of Ubuntu as of May, 2011.

 

Installing Lubuntu was as easy as going into Synaptic, and picking Lubuntu from the menu. a couple hundred packages later, I had a new option when logging in from the chooser. Actually, while I was at it, I installed Afterstep, Enlightenment, KDE, and a few other desktops, just to get a feel for where other desktop option were at these days. I tried the "Gnome Classic" fallback. After a great deal of testing, I decided that, even though LXDE and Lubuntu were missing a few things I liked from Gnome, these were mostly widgets in the task bar I liked, and that I could live without them if it meant not having to use Unity or Gnome-Shell. Classic mode Gnome was missing most of the panel widgets too (things like system temp,memory and disk I/O, and such) so being on Lubuntu was not a loss relative to what I had in Gnome.

 

Further, Evolution and Davmail and all my needed apps work just fine. X is X to a very large degree. I had all the support libraries and whatnot so that Evolution 3.2 clipped along.

 

The entire desktop fairly clips along. Lubuntu had worked well on the low resource laptops I had used, so I was pretty sure that it would do well on the Dell. It does. The only issue is that I have so many desktops installed that some of the desktop themes are a little mixed up. I still have the KDE mouse pointer for example.

 

Evolution 3.2

 

The new spin of Evolution continues to be a bit faster and a bit more stable with every release. Email is working well with Davmail (http://davmail.sourceforge.net/) against an MS Exchange 2007. My calendar went from working well under Ubuntu 11.04 and the 2.32 version of Evolution, to not working at all though.  For calendaring, it is back to using the Web Mail interface to Outlook.

 

Other than that, everything else about Evolution seems to be speeded up, stabilized, cleaned up. The removal of Bonobo (http://www.go-evolution.org/KillBonobo) really seems to have helped the project.

 

Ubuntu makes no attempt to package Evolution-EWS, and from what I can see from some basic looking around, it is not ready yet. Not sure what it taking so long. Here is how to add it for the adverturous: http://osdir.com/ml/evolution-list/2011-05/msg00047.html

 

The other way to access an Exchange server, MAPI, locked me out of my account the first second I tried it. I have not hung on the forums. I do not know how fast MAPI is maturing relative to EWS. For me it is unusable and always has been. I just removed it from the system and use Davmail.

 

Davmail

 

Davmail is at 3.9.6 at the time of this writing. It added a neat "Autodetect" feature in the last point release so that you do not have to know if your Exchange servers webmail interface uses DAV or EWS. Davmail figures it out for you.

 

In a Nutshell

 

I do not want to be piling on to the very popular Gnome 3 and Unity bashing bandwagon here. I think the efforts are lost, but maybe they are only lost on me. As a Linux user I have so many other choices that I don't have to remain unhappy. Lubuntu is my new happy place for now, but who knows: Maybe the Fedora spin of LXDE is the place to be: http://spins.fedoraproject.org/lxde/. Or http://spins.fedoraproject.org/xfce/.

 

Whatever I do next, I only started looking because Ubuntu and Gnome have decided they no longer want to make a desktop that is optimized with a mouse and keyboard, and presorts applications into clickable folders. They appear to think they are tablet interfaces now, and don't get the fundimental difference between a mouse/keyboard interaction and pointing at something with your finger. So I am looking around.

 

Ubuntu (and Gnome) made me do it.

Steve Carl

Mint 11

Posted by Steve Carl Jun 9, 2011
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I try to keep an open mind about things. Try new things. Give them a chance to sink in. Show me their value. Absorb their new thinking and ideas. Figure out why they went and did the things they did. One of the reasons I love to travel and meet new people. One of the reasons why, as an adult I started to learn some history (after being a science/music nerd all through school): History in part also is about other ways of thinking.

 

Some new ideas have staying power: My Android phone or my Xoom tablet are both new ways of doing some old things, and I would hate to go back to the way I did some of that before. Other new ideas take a very long time to come to fruition: X86/AMD64 were years and years behind virtualization, and so far all the innovation I have seen in that space I saw already once before, back in the 1980's. It just took a while to catch on (but, on the other hand it was resilient enough to survive many attacks on it too)

 

With that in mind, it was a very nice thing to install Mint 11 on my Dell M4500. I had tried Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSUSE on various computers (primarily my IBM T43 and Dell D610). Putting Mint 11 on was like coming home from a very long trip.

 

There were many interesting things along the way: Interesting ideas, both good and bad (see the discussion at the end of my post about Ubuntu 11.04 for example), but in the end, at least for now, Mint 11 is the distro getting it right for me. Having a quick look over at Distrowatch as I write this, it is the number two distro, just after Ubuntu, and Ubuntu is barely ahead 2294 to 2147 Hits Per Day. Fedora is number 3 at 1547. Go to the longer term stats, and Mint is actually number one for the last month, and has maintained number two position for the last year.

 

Install

 

Installing Mint 11 is easy, as usual. I booted the LiveCD, checked that a few things worked, and then clicked the install icon. Ubuntu 10.10 had been on the M4500 before, but I went with a completely clean install this time, wiping out even my old home directory.

 

One of the things I really like about the way that this gets installed is that all the disk layout questions are asked first, and then the installer goes off and starts formatting and installing things in the background while you are answering the usual questions about your name, time zone, and other administrivia. Once those are done, you move into an install status screen, already in progress.

 

Once installed, grub is configured and installed to the MBR. In the case of the M4500 I have the triple boot Mint11 / RedHat 5 (ADDM scanner) / Windows 7 correctly set up in the Grub menus.

 

At first boot, I had the proprietary drivers installed. Sorry: I am not a purist here. I know Fedora does a better job at provisioning all unencumbered device drivers, but I do want my screen and wireless to work, so I let the nVidia and Broadcom drivers be installed. I am not really sure why the Broadcom stuff is here, since they released their drivers some time ago. I guess they have not flowed in from upstream yet.

 

Update


The first thing I do, no matter what the OS, is get current. I would rather deal with a problem created by patching every day than prying Day 1 black hat stuff out of the OS's innards. Nor am I silly enough to think that Linux (or OS.X for that matter) is immune from evil, just because MS Windows is a more popular target.

 

Mint uses its own update process to achieve this. The main difference between this and Ubuntu is that Mint takes an extra test cycle to verify that all software being installed works. I can not imagine how many people must be doing that, given how many packages a week typically get updated in an Ubuntu based installation. Maybe they don't do it for every package, trusting that certain non-critical system packages from Ubuntu are fine as tested and delivered.

 

Either way, once everything is up-to-date, I made my changes.

 

Configure


No distro (unless of course you are the creator of the distro) can be delivered tweaked out exactly the way you want it. Mint excels at getting the big things right, but they can't know I want to read Mac formated disks, create blogs using Komposer, want Hubble space telescope pictures for my desktop background, that I like my taskbar at the top, or that I prefer the old Gnome menus to their menu bar. They make it possible via either their work, or Ubuntu's before them, or Debian's before them, for me to get everything installed as I want it, and laid out.

 

The good news is that there is no Unity interface here. No Gnome 3 netbook looking desktop. This is the Gnome desktop from the 2.32 series, not the 3.0 series.

 

Over on the IBM T43, I switched to KDE 4 rather than deal with Gnome 3. I hate to sound like a luddite, but I (so far) just do not like Gnome 3. I hope it will get better, the way KDE 4 got better, but right now, the interface is, to use a technical term, yuchy. It does not make me faster using a laptop. Its idea that any screen real estate used for anything other than what you are working on at that second is not the way I use a laptop. Its how I use my phone, and even my tablet, but my laptop is for doing bunches of things at the same time, and doing them all quickly. Right now I have four things going at once, and that is probably about as low as it ever gets.

 

If my laptop gets all tablet-y, then why even use a laptop? My Xoom is pretty snappy, dual core, etc. I can just add a keyboard to it and then that can be my laptop.

 

Creeping Crud


My point about all this then leads me to a one major interface boo-boo (in my opinion) of Mint 11 so far. It inherited it from Ubuntu, and I noted it in my 11.04 post but it is worth repeating here. I do not begrudge a few pixels of my 1920x1080 screen space for scroll bars. They are not big clunky screen wasters, they are click-able without guessing where they are and they tell me where I am in the document. They are not chrome or cruft or decorations. They are useful. They increase usability, and that is more important than some design ethic, at least to me.

 

Thus this command is required:

 

sudo apt-get remove overlay-scrollbar liboverlay-scrollbar-0.1-0

 

This should be a settable behavior. Christian Giordano and Andrea Cimitan at Ubuntu (thanks again for the link Paul) went to a lot of trouble to implement this feature. There are no doubt people that like it. It makes sense on small form factor devices even. But I want it off on my big screen laptop.

 

Device Support


I have not yet been able to install a version on Linux on my M4500 from anyone and have it get the touchpad right. Here is the output from the xinput command:

 

xinput list

⎡ Virtual core pointer                          id=2    [master pointer  (3)]
⎜   ↳ Virtual core XTEST pointer                id=4    [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ Logitech USB-PS/2 Optical Mouse           id=10   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ ImPS/2 ALPS GlidePoint                    id=12   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎣ Virtual core keyboard                         id=3    [master keyboard (2)]
    ↳ Virtual core XTEST keyboard               id=5    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=6    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Video Bus                                 id=7    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=8    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Sleep Button                              id=9    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ AT Translated Set 2 keyboard              id=11   [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Dell WMI hotkeys                          id=13   [slave  keyboard (3)]

 

The problem is the ALPS Glidepoint at device ID 12. For whatever reason (guessing closed source, not reversed engineered device), Linux treats it like a mouse. That means, among other things that as you type if you touch it, the cursor jumps. Things are highlighted that should not be. Things are deleted, moved, and mangled, and at first you think that the computer has gremlins.

 

I ended up after some research in just deciding to disable the trackpad. I use a mouse most of the time with this computer. It is too big to really be a laptop. Its more of a transportable computer. I have a Xoom and a Mac for the more portable use cases. These commands toggle the trackpad on and off respectively:

 

  • xinput set-prop 12 'Device      Enabled' 1

  • xinput set-prop 12 'Device Enabled' 0

 

I put the 'off' command version in my login profile.

 

Everything else works. Sound, backlight controls, wireless, and so forth.

 

Evolution 2.32.2


I would be remiss if I did not mention that, like Ubuntu 11.04, Evolution is working using MAPI now. It is not great. It is not fast. But like Ubuntu 11.04, I can see my MS Exchange calendar, and I can use a combination of IMAP, LDAP, and MAPI to have a useful Linux based enterprise desktop.

 

While it is not fast, it is fast than my Ubuntu 11.04 desktop, just by virtue of the Dell M4500 being faster than the Dell 745 desktop. That does make MAPI more livable. 27,665 bogomips versus 7,443 bogomips. Its not a totally valid measure of speed, but it does explain to some degree why the M4500 feels snappier.

 

Until Mint 12....


In most ways the M4500 is very Linux ready. Its speedy, and with Mint 11 fully configured it feels like coming home. What the Mint team does next will be interesting. I am sure it will get much harder to avoid things like Unity and Gnome 3's massive user interface changes over time. Retrofitting Gnome 2.x to new OS's would no doubt be a pile of work. There is a version of Mint that moves away from Ubuntu to a pure Debian code base, so that might help. And there are a ton of desktops other than Gnome out there.

 

Or they may embrace change... In which case I will have to decide what to do next. Which is part of why I have Fedora 15 running KDE over on the T43. Whatever happens, I'll want to have at least tried the new stuff, and make an informed decision.

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Ubuntu has been in the news quite a bit. The biggest bit of contention has been around decisions Ubuntu has made to start moving away from some very traditional parts of Linux, such as Gnome, towards what they call their "Unity" interface. This looks like an updated version of the Netbook Remix interface, and the idea is that the same interface works regardless of screen size.

 

It is a good idea, and you can just look at all the turmoil surrounding the current issues in Android to see why Ubuntu would want to go this way. Android now has a 2.x series for phones and 3.x series for tablets, and the two user interfaces are moderately different. I have a Motorola Xoom running Android Honeycomb 3.1, and a Samsung Captivate running 2.2, and they are two very different to operate beasts. Not hard. Just different. Worse are applications designed for the phone that do weird things when presented with the tablet size screen.

 

All of this is to say that I get why Ubuntu wanted to do something to keep from having to support all sorts of different interfaces. I think in the end what has happened, at least for now, is that they have managed not to simplify or unite, but to add Yet Another User Interface.

 

I managed to squeeze in an update to my primary system a couple of weeks after the 11.04 rollout. Rather than  do a re-install, I went with the Upgrade Manager option to just download and update inline. These types of updates are the hardest since they have to figure out what is installed, what is no longer supported, what is replaced or otherwise superseded, and then install the right things.  I usually try this at least once per release, but not usually on my primary system, and not as the first time I was trying the new release, but this time I threw caution to the wind. My time was limited at best, and I wanted to know what 11.04 was all about. My laptop was tied up doing ADDM scanning things (upgraded to 8.2.1 now) with our new Coradiant acquisition, and so, based on the fact that I have almost always had good results with this type of upgrade despite the complexity, I went with it. I figured that, worst case, I would have to re-install with a clean download late that night, and best case I'd get the upgrade done quickly and with a minimum amount of my time.

 

It worked well. The Dell 745 desktop, with 6GB of RAM and two 1280x1024 monitors, hooked to an nVidia GeForce 7300 SE/7200 GS card, did all the usual things. It disabled the external sources in the repository (including the one for Google Chrome), downloaded the updates, removed the depreciated and superseded packages, installed and configured everything, re-enabled the Google Chrome repository, and then rebooted to the new release.

 

No Unity

 

I was curious what Unity would look like, but the first thing I got was a message that Unity was not supported on my hardware, and it automatically switched to Gnome 2.32.2. My new desktop looked almost exactly like my old one. So now I got to wondering about all the rending of garments out there about Unity. If Gnome is still an option, and still works just fine.. what is the big deal? You'd think it was the end of the world as we know it.

 

The thing about Linux is that there is this choice thing. Linux does not just have one user interface. It does not even have just 10. Counting all the desktops, the new Lubuntu for example, plus all the different user interfaces in Android, and the embedded Linuxii and on and on, the user interface can pretty much be whatever it *needs* to be. It drives some people nuts, but it is also one of the strengths of Linux.

 

Enterprise

 

Of course the first thing I did was drive over to Evolution and see how the newest version was working. I have been running it in pure IMAP mode most of the time, but I set up the MAPI stuff to see where that was at now. It has been so many years that my hopes were not high, but it appears that MAPI is now actually useful for the one thing I need it for: Seeing my MS Exchange Calendar. I have not tried to create meetings but for just being able to see what is there is useful. I tried to accepts a meeting, and that failed with a nasty error:

 

calendar-error.png

 

Tasks are appearing correctly now.

 

The eMail Inbox is still sluggish via MAPI, taking seemingly forever to download individual emails and display them. Generally unusable, but I can run IMAP for that, so no big deal. Contacts are also not working yet against the GAL (Global Address List) but I can set up an LDAP connector for that, so again, not a show stopper. At the end of the day, I have it running in a hybrid MAPI/IMAP/LDAP mode. It is not great, and I still have to use webmail for some things, but it is ever so slowly getting better.

 

Interface Boo-Boo

 

Here is a very useful command:

 

sudo apt-get remove overlay-scrollbar liboverlay-scrollbar-0.1-0

 

Why you need it: Sometimes people designing user interfaces just do things because they can do things. Native Gnome apps with scroll bars lost the visable scrollbar. I have no idea why. Now one has to hover over where the scroll bar was, and a little slider appears. Sometimes not under where the mouse currently is. It is a pain. I do not need to save the 10 pixels a scroll bar takes (and I am guessing this was done for small screen devices where pixels are at a premium) and it makes scrolling more work. Bad plan.

 

That command removes the library the implemented the change, and now Evolution (for one) is back with real scroll bars. Much better.

 

Moving Files Around

 

I nearly panicked when I did the upgrade, when, a few days later I wanted to look inside the folder where Evolution stored the local files. And they were gone. But I could see the folders from inside Evolution.. except that when I would click on a master folder with subfolders and click "Mark messages as read", and it does not work at first, and instead issued an error message saying the folders did not exist.

 

I looked. They didn't. Well, they did really, but they had moved. "~/.evolution" is no longer where local stuff lives. Its over in  "~/.local/share/evolution". OK. It felt at first like more changing stuff just to change stuff, but all the gnome stuff is collected here now, so I guess this one makes sense.  Standardizing the location of Gnome application related files is goodness, and that the migration moved everything automatically is also goodness. Would have been nice to get a message about it doing it though.

 

What happened to DAVMail?

 

Davmail stopped working for me, and I had to fall back to IMAP a few months ago. I had no time to figure it out, so I reverted to IMAP/LDAP, and now MAPI. I have a guess though....

 

The Evolution RPC over HTTP option

 

One new thing that appeared in this release is an early cut at supporting RPC over HTTP. It is not working. Like DAVMail is not working. Humm.

 

Here is my Android phone (See?). It can read my corporate email. And over here is my iPhone, and it can too. And this is my Xoom, and it can too. So could my iPad before it.

 

What is up here?

 

At first I suspected that the implementations were just not there yet. Being the curious type, I googled a bit to see what the state of EWS for Evolution is. Looking at what they are planning for Evolution 3.0, it is clear that they are pretty much not using any other code, but starting clean, and that the feature set planning and timeline is stretched out for a while to come yet.

 

But still: Davmail was working. What if they (the BMC email people) turned off RPC over HTTP? How would I be getting email on all these devices. then I remembered something I had read a while ago, and a connection was made:

 

 

My Linux based tablet and phone have a way in my Ubuntu Linux desktop does not. Phooey.

 

Will Ubuntu Stay Viable for an Enterpise Desktop?

 

Out there in the Interwebs, people love to toss out controversial, often unsupportable statements and ask silly questions just to drive views. Such is not my intention here. When I pose this question it is only because I have started to wonder about the whole idea of what an Enterprise desktop even is any more.

 

There is a whole trend going on where there is convergence between Enterprise and Home. People wanting to use Mac's and iPhones and Xooms both at home and at the office. Then there is the Virtual Desktop, where whatever device one has at hand can be a view into the glass house applications. Add in cloud, HTML 5 and standards supporting browsers.

 

At the end of the day, maybe the fact the Evolution is lagging the current state of the art is not that big a deal for most shops. They have already moved on, and are solving this problem a different way. Are Chromebooks running VDI software and Motorola Xooms the wave of the future? Will the controversy move to which tablet has the best battery life and the best DPI, and the coolest dock accessories?

 

Looked at that way, does it matter that Ubuntu may change its user interface, or the default X server, what old email protocols are supported, or even which email client is the default? It seems like Ubuntu is hedging its bets here, and while there are rumors all over about an Ubuntu tablet, nothing is announced just yet that I can locate. Youtube is full of Linux running tablets demos, including ones that run Ubuntu.

 

So, at the risk of this post being outdated 12 seconds after I post it, I think that Ubuntu *is* going to stay viable in the Enterprise. Just not in the traditional MS windows, desktop PC kind of way. Clearly Ubuntu is spending no time and resources pursuing that.

 

And so, is 11.04 worth the upgrade? I like it. It provides some useful things like the updated MAPI libraries. I can get used to or fix the user interface issues (You can see I went back to "Clearlooks for my theme is the error message capture above). So... yes. it is a good upgrade. It is just one that has taken far more time than usual to get used to, and to put the way I personally want it to be.

Steve Carl

Green Linux

Posted by Steve Carl Feb 15, 2011
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I have recently been talking (at least tangentially) about intuition and computers, most notably in “Isolation Experimentation” and “Spaced Out”. As computer professionals we often base our thinking on how computers are and how they should work off an unconscious synthesis of the facts, and unfortunately, the opinions that we have. Often we even base prejudgment about the computer systems we work with on things that used to be true, but are not anymore. Sometimes it is guilt by association even: See ReiserFS for details.

 

Here was one of my intuitions: Linux is more power efficient than MS Windows.

 

As the Green IT person, I got to thinking about and questioning assumptions, and that one floated around in the back of my head. I pulled if forward, and looked at it, and tried to decide why I thought that (or maybe “felt that”). Clues started to assemble as I pondered it.

 

Mostly the idea came from laptops I have built over the years. Many times rather than deleting the MS Windows (98, NT, XP, Vista, or Win7) that was installed on it, I would make it dual boot. All kinds of laptops, from IBM, Dell, Toshiba, and Acer. Small portables like the Dell D420 or Acer Aspire One, Medium size systems like the IBM T41 and T43. Big systems like the Dell M4500 or Acer 56xx. Processors from AMD and Intel. Six cell batteries and nine cell batteries.

 

You name it. Whatever the laptop was, it always seemed to run longer when on battery and booted to Linux than when on battery and booted to whatever the MS Windows de Jour was. Seemed to. Very subjective.

 

Another utterly subjective, almost unmeasurable thing: the desktop always felt faster under Linux, which my mind mapped to it was doing less when I was not asking it to do things. It waited more quietly. I always run with the system monitor in the task bar so I can watch what the system is doing, and most of the time it is not doing much of anything.

 

The fans ran less when on Linux. That in and of itself would map to better battery life, since a fan uses a lot of power. A fan running is a symptom of a hotter CPU though, and more heat equals higher power drain as well. I can observe this every day now on the Dell M4500. When using Linux (Mint 10 at the moment), the fan runs less often, and far slower. When under Win7 there is a warm breeze always emanating from the left side of the system. In fact, if the fan starts running when on Linux, I start looking around to see what is doing it: Almost always some web page with a ton of active content.

 

I use the same web browsers, although the email is Outlook versus Evolution. I use LibreOffice / Open Office both places, though I do occasionally fire up Excel for certain spreadsheets that don't work as well yet in OO/LO. I tend to have about the same number of applications up at the same time. That stands to reason as I use Linux as my desktop, and I use it to do the same things I would do when Win7 is up.

 

Still: Subjective. Indicative even. Not evidence. Not controlled study. Bias is noted and admitted.

 

As both the Green IT person and the "Adventures in Linux" writer, someone sent me a link to this:

 

http://www.networkworld.com/research/2008/060908-green-windows-linux.html

 

This is data showing Linux does in fact use less power than MS Windows on servers, and they detail their testing methodologies.  You can argue that the power profiles chosen favored MS Windows, since they did not use the most power saving settings, or that they favored Linux because they did not user powercfg.exe on Windows to try and squeeze everything down to to the lowest possible settings. Etc. Etc. Certainly the conversation in the comments section showed much disagreement about the methods chosen.

 

At the end of it all, Linux, specifically RedHat 5.1, was 12% more power efficient overall.

 

What stood out for me was that (even though this was 1.6 years ago) they were testing ancient versions of Linux (RHEL 5.1?) On ancient hardware (Dell 1950's? Really?). This was all pre the Linux tickless kernel! RHEL6's major power saving features were not in play at all! The huge advancements in recent years on the hardware side, where entire servers can be quiesced were not in scope. On and on.

 

To balance it a bit, this test was Windows 2008, not 2008 R2. From everything I have read R2 really should have been almost another version of Windows: Sort of like what Windows 7 (or as some wags call it, Vista Service Pack 3) was to Vista. Inverts the Server 2008 / 2008 R2 naming a bit. What's in a name? I digress....

 

I have a number. Ancient RHEL 5.1 Linux is 12% more power efficient than MS Windows 2008.

 

Now my intuition is telling me that by today's Linux release and vendor hardware standards, it is low.

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First, the news. BMC bought a company last week: Gridapp. I am, as I write this, in the newly minted BMC office with my Dell M4500 laptop.

 

I wrote about the M4500 laptop here, back when I was first setting it up as a triple booting device. Acquisitions like this are the reason I have it.

 

A quick review of the M4500 assuming you did not run back and read that post: the M4500 is a quad core i7 system with 8GB or RAM and a 500GB 7200 RPM hard drive. It triple boots: Right now it is Linux Mint 10, MS Windows 7, and the ADDM appliance, which is RedHat 5.5 based.

 

The ADDM appliance as configured on the M4500 can execute 360 concurrent discovery requests. The limit is set by this particular laptops hardware configuration. It is a big laptop, but a small server, so real server class hardware could do far more at the same time. While here at the former GridApp office, I am running daily scans of their network, and getting ready to be able to update the central Atrium CMDB with all of the information I have found.

 

Does BMC do Linux? Circa 2003

 

In the early part of last decade, I would be in the BMC booth at LinuxWorld, and would get comments for attendees along the lines like "I didn't know BMC had a Linux product" or "BMC? Isn't that a mainframe company?". It was fun to be surprising to people about the breadth and depth of the BMC product line, and in the last few years, between internal organic growth and acquisitions, the number of products that either have a Linux version, or maybe were even started / heavily developed on Linux has grown.

 

This adventure in Linux was about using one of our newest products.

 

Atrium Discovery and Dependency Mapping: ADDM

 

We only acquired the technology that is ADDM a little while back, so this is the first time we have ever had a chance during an acquisition to set up the appliance and scan the new network. It is therefore the first time we have ever had such in depth knowledge about the servers and applications of the company we acquired so quickly. This takes out a ton of manual effort for the IT team in the early days post the acquisition, and allows us to make fact based decisions about not just the R&D lab hardware, but I can tell our networking team what switches have been found, and our security team what desktop OS's are hanging around ahead of when they would have had a chance to get Marimba fully deployed.

 

Every acquisition and every company are different. One variable is how fast the deal goes from due diligence to closure. If it is fast there is no time to completely plan and deploy network integrations. New network connections require lead time with the vendors. There may be security issues that need to be resolved before the networks can be connected.

 

If the networks are not connected, it is very hard to scan them from the existing servers. That is where the Linux laptop based appliance comes in. The networks need no connection for there to be actionable intelligence created with the handy dandy ADDM in the M4500-can.

 

Non-automated due diligence and financial data will take you to a certain level of understanding of what the new company has inside it. One does not buy a company without knowing a fair amount about it. That is not the same thing as having the information needed to integrate and manage it though.  You cannot for example easily find out how many clusters there are, and at what level of the software. You can not see the way the servers "gather" around other servers like NAS or SAN. The network topologies will more than likely be manually created and have a good chance to be missing something or another. Devices like consumer grade wireless access points might even be around and forgotten.

 

How many VM's are there? What are the Hypervisor types and levels? LDOM's? LPAR's? IVM's? With Virtualization, it is easy to get sprawl. The chances of the documentation being up-to-date on the VM environment are a tiny fraction of the documentation on the network being current. Yet, for an R&D integration,  all these things need to be known so that the product can be quickly and efficiently integrated into the larger product line it is probably now part of.

 

What Does it Take to Get Going?

 

Day One. The ground team is there, and the new employees are being oriented to the new company. Everyone is excited about the changes and ready to dive in and get started. No. Really.

 

What does it take to get the ADDM appliance up and running? Before I got here I had installed the appliance onto the laptop obviously (full disclosure: I had a lot of help from my ADDM expert). I just booted up to RedHat 5.5 from the Grub menu rather than my usual Linux Mint.

 

I pre-configured the subnets I wanted it to scan based off some doc for the due diligence. One less thing to du while the day one fur is flying. Since I had never done this before, I tested the appliance back in Austin to make sure everything was working from the web interface. My poor Linux desktop was repeatedly scanned just to make sure I had some idea what I was doing.

 

Quick side note: I am *deeply* impressed with the ADDM web management interface. I tried several browsers, like Chrome and Firefox and several OS's like Linux and OS.x, and the web interface to the appliance works flawlessly. I love to see web-standards based work like this!

 

Set up the Slaves

 

The first thing I did was to add MS Windows Slaves. The MS Windows discovery is controlled by the appliance, but it has some Santa's helpers. We set up some small (2 GB, 1 VCPU in this case) VM's, browsed over to the appliance web interface, downloaded a small program, and set up the slave. The appliance is very self contained that way: Everything needed all built in including the downloads for the slave servers. There is one slave per MS Windows domain. Each slave is given a domain admin account so that they can log into (via WMI) and read out information about each system that logs into the domain. No changes are made on the systems being scanned.

 

For an R&D environment, there are potentially quite a number of domains, so being able to spread the work around, while it takes a bit of setup, speeds up the actual work. And the slaves can be pretty much anything. 32 bit. 64 bit. Server version. Desktop version. Laptop. VM on a laptop. The slave code is not picky. the M4500 has enough CPU and RAM to scan at least 5000 hosts in 24 hours, and obviously co-processing it via server slavery helps, even if it sounds bad.

 

For systems that do not log into a domain, another slave (or slaves.. no limit on the number of non-domain slaves there can be) is created and given a list of subnets and local credentials to try.

 

The Appliance Leads by Example

 

All the SNMP, UNIX and Linux scanning is done from the appliance itself, so the appliance is given the SNMP strings, usernames and passwords to try as well, and these can be arranged by subnets.

 

Run Appliance, Run

 

So: Subnets, Slaves, SNMP strings, and usernames. Once that is set up, you next configure runs. These can be one shots, or scheduled. I set up a daily run for each subnet, and over the course of the week as I learned things I added, subtracted and tweaked a bit to drive up the capture rate. My first scan looks like it will have been about 80% of the total I will have when I am done here, so pretty good first capture run. It helped that GridApp-now-BMC had terrific manually maintained documentation to work with.

 

Todays Topology

 

The last thing will be Topology. ADDM has been learning all week about the relationships between host-type servers and other servers as well as infrastructure. I can already see the clusters and the NAS and the network switches. Tomorrow I'll add a set of topology runs to pull all that together. ADDM will run a few other checks on the network to paint the whole topology picture, but most of the data will come from things it has already learned at that point.

 

Linux can Multi-task, and so can ADDM

 

The appliance sits right next to my Mac here on my temporary desk. It is GUI-less, but I can log in and run "top" to see what is going on internally to Linux. When the full tilt scan is running, the "8" CPU's (quad core, hyperthreaded, looks like 8 CPU's to Linux) are all running full tilt. A light warm breeze wafts from the left side of the M4500. At most 7 of the 8 gigabytes of the RAM on the M4500 are used, but the swap space remains untouched.

 

Even while the the current scan is running, I can look at the web interface and answer peoples questions about the assets that have already been found on the last scans. Look at the dashboards and start thinking about what my server consolidation opportunities are. What model the network switches it has found are, and what version of firmware they have. How many MAC addresses, and what IP address they are associated with. On and on. The web interface is a bit slower when the scan is under way, but it is still usable.

 

I am an ADDM newbie. this is my first time to ever do anything with it. Fortunately ADDM is an application with a fairly short learning curve, so that I have been nearly instantly productive. At the same time, there is an incredible amount of depth here, and our ADDM expert is able to make it do all sorts of amazing things with its advanced functionality.

 

And there it runs as I type this, over there on my Linux laptop. Very cool.

Steve Carl

New Green IT Blog

Posted by Steve Carl Nov 17, 2010
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I just started a new blog here at communities.bmc.com to go with a new role I am assuming as "Green IT Spokesperson". The new blog is simply "Green IT".

 

I'll still keep adding things here at "Adventures" as well, though. Linux has a huge role in the data center, and remains my primary desktop, so those adventures will be continuing. Probably a great deal of cross-pollination there as time goes by.

Steve Carl

Daily DAVMail

Posted by Steve Carl Oct 21, 2010
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DAVMail's the best, and right now, only way I have found to access my MS Exchange email from Linux other than using the web interface. I have written about it many times here.

 

If your MS Exchange admins turn off WebDAV in Exchange 2007, or if you have Exchange 2010, DAVMail quits working with its default settings, You have to place it into EWS mode. That is simple enough, as all you have to do is install 3.8.5 or later of DAVMail, and then manually enable EWS by editing .davmail.properties in your home directory. Here are the top few lines of mine:

 

#DavMail settings
#Thu Oct 14 15:26:57 CDT 2010
davmail.enableEws=true
davmail.allowRemote=false
davmail.bindAddress=
davmail.caldavAlarmSound=

#DavMail settings

#Thu Oct 14 15:26:57 CDT 2010

davmail.enableEws=true

davmail.allowRemote=false

davmail.bindAddress=

davmail.caldavAlarmSound=

...

 

Easy enough. However, there is a reason that EWS is not enabled by default, or even an option someplace in the GUI, and that is that it is not done yet: According to the roadmap, it is meant to be fully baked by 4.0.

 

It is working very well for me for email, but the calendaring is pretty iffy at times: I get timeout messages, and most of the time the calendar is not displayed, forcing me back to the web interface for now when I need to calendar.

 

I would be annoyed, but 1) It is very clear the EWS feature is not ready yet and they never said it was, and that most of the work being done right now is around the calendar and 2) It is being worked on, which is more than I can say about some of the other projects I have tracked over the years on this.

 

Really: Want to calendar / email from Linux? Way way way easier if it is someplace like Google, and maybe that is the point. Maybe the future of email / calendaring is the cloud, and in-house MS Exchange is not getting any significant attention from the Linux community because they see it as wasted time and effort. Could be. Bigger companies seem to be staying with in-house email right now though, and a pretty big chunk of that is MS Exchange, so I am glad to have this way in.

 

My problem then was how to test more current versions of DAVMail than were on the released list: The mail list made it clear there was daily activity there, and I was getting impatient waiting for it to spin out to the SourceForge download site as point releases. I kept seeing daily fixes that looked interesting and potentially helpful.

 

In the mail list I also kept reading that it was easy to build from source the daily updates, so I decided to try it. This web page contained the main bits of knowledge:

 

 

Beyond this, I had to 'apt-get install' Subversion (svn), Ant and the Java JDK (rather than the JRE I previously had):

 

ii  ant                                       1.8.0-4                                         Java based build tool like make
ii  ant-optional                        1.8.0-4                                         Java based build tool like make - optional libraries
ii  sun-java6-jdk                     6.22-0ubuntu1~10.10                 Sun Java(TM) Development Kit (JDK) 6
ii  subversion                          1.6.12dfsg-1ubuntu1                  Advanced version control system
ii  subversion-tools                 1.6.12dfsg-1ubuntu1                  Assorted tools related to Subversion

 

All this is Ubuntu 10.10, but would work on any Linux, given the right packages and pre-reqs. DAVMail works far better with the Sun provided Java rather than the other versions that are appearing in the various distros right now. While it is easy to get the Sun Java going in Ubuntu, it is not always as simple as it could be in some of the distros. In Fedora for example the "Unofficial Fedora Guide" is a big help.

 

http://www.fedoraguide.info/index.php?title=Fedora13#Sun_Java_.28Method_1.29

 

Depending on your distro, this might be the most difficult part of the install, or it may be a simple apt-get. I would also imagine that this is something that will change with time, as the open JDK's get more compatible, or as the Java community starts writing code to match the open versions rather than Sun's. I don't really follow this area closely, so I have no idea which way that wind is blowing. All I know is that right now, the Sun version works better with DAVMail.

 

Once the tools are in, it is simple to get a daily build going. Here is my simple script for that (I created the svn subdirectory in my home directory first):

 

cd ~/svn

svn checkout http://davmail.svn.sourceforge.net/svnroot/davmail/trunk davmail

cd ~/svn/davmail

ant

cd ~/svn/davmail/dist

sudo dpkg -i *.deb

 

All this takes about 15 seconds on my Dell M4500 before I am entering the password for 'sudo'. Easy to run every day, and so far I have seen no issues with being bleeding edge current. If I do, I'll probably add a bit of code to keep the last version "just in case". In the meantime, I'll keep testing the calendar with Evolution and post here when it starts working reliably.

 

That will be a great day.

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