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My Linux life has been pretty stable and mundane lately (other than a DAVMail outage, mentioned below). The main desktop runs Ubuntu 10.04, and it has been humming along without issue. Every now and then the summer rainstorms come along and pop the mains, and it and its companion PC, a Windows 7 system, crash to the ground. When power returns, the Linux system spins right back up and keeps right on going. The Windows 7 system committed Harikiri a couple weeks ago after one of the power hits, and it was a slow painful process to get it put back together. The office UPS system went to meet its maker a few month back, and I guess I should have replaced it sooner. I did not replace it because I had a new laptop coming, and I was rethinking the need for desktop PC's at all. Laptops have their own built in UPS's.

 

There is a lesson in business continuance in there I think. I was in the middle of playing around with some new data center designs (working on trying to push our green envelope) and I did not need that down time. No one ever does I think.

 

As soon as the Windows 7 computer had been built, and the missing/lost/corrupted data center designs re-created, the new laptop arrived, as if on queue.

 

In my personal life, I use a Mac mostly, so I am used to the Apple design ethic. I don't know what I thought the M4500 would look like (it was ordered for me, so I had done ne research on them), but I was not expecting the slab that arrived to be sure. The is not a laptop. It is a tank. I have never used a laptop.. or even a desktop... that has the kind of power and resources this beast has. Quad core i7, 1.73 Ghz, hyperthreaded, full virtualization support, 8GB of RAM, and two 64 GB SSD hard drives. There was supposed to be one SSD and one 500GB mechanical, and soon there will be, but for right now two SSD's. When the fan comes on, it si amazingly quiet: I just notice it because my left hand feels this subtle warm breeze. Sometimes even a hot breeze.

 

Wow. Big bright beautiful screen, LED back-light, nice keyboard touch... it is a nice nice system. Way more powerful than any laptop one would normally need for day to day office stuff, but there is a reason I needed this M-1.

 

Discovery

 

BMC buys companies from time to time, and when we do, one of my jobs is to work on the M&A team that integrates the new R&D team into our existing facilities. One of the BSM-related tasks around that is to know, as quickly and as accurately as possible exactly what computer hardware the new company has. Windows systems need to be updated and anti-virus standardised. R&D systems need to be known so we can figure out what we need to do and in which lab to accommodate them. Etc. Etc.

 

Fortunately, we make a product that does network discovery, ADDM (for Atrium Discovery and Dependency Mapping), and there is an appliance version of it that runs on Linux. I can load it up to a stout laptop and on Day One, I can collect the data about the systems... all the systems... and report those back to the CMDB, and plans can be made from that.

 

For obvious reasons, I have no idea before we are well into the process of buying a company how big the company might be, so I can not predict how big this mobile network probe needs to be. Our internal ADDM expert, 3 doors from my office, configured up this computer and said "this will do for most of the situations". Thus, a monster laptop that is normally what you would expect as a CAD workstation or the like.

 

It would be silly to have such a computer just sitting around, so it was decided this was my next laptop for the rest of the time. With the option of two internal drives (and SSD card + a standard 2.5inch, 7200 rpm disk) dual booting would be easy, and maintaining the ADDM appliance to keep it current would be something I would be able to do all the time because I would always have it with me. A win-win.

 

Ubuntu 10.10 Beta 1

 

I wondered how well such a new technology laptop would work with Linux. Linux will sooner or later support everything, but on bleeding edge hardware, if the manufacturer of the internal devices, like the wireless card, have not released open source versions of their drivers, then it can sometimes be a bit of trouble getting things going.

 

Ubuntu works around most of those issues, and Mint does even more, but they do so at the cost of "purity". I am not a purist about my Linux, so this does not matter to me: I just want it to work. Others in the Linux community live and die by whether or not a device has unencumbered drivers.

 

I figured 10.10 was a good place to start: It would have the most current kernel in a mainstream distro (2.6.35.22 as I type this), and the latest of pretty much everything else. When the appliance is loaded, that will be RedHat based, but all that needs to work there is the NIC, the screen, the keyboard, the processors, and all the other basic bits. It does not matter if the SD card reads or the PCI express slot works. They are not going to be needed. A personal laptop is a different story: Even if it is my corporate laptop, it is handy to have wireless working, at the very least.

 

Everything I have tested so far works. In the case of the wireless and the Nvidia graphics card, I am running the non-sourced versions (though Broadcom just released an open source driver for their cards, so that will change). Here is the 'lspci':

 

 

00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor DMI (rev 11)
00:03.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor PCI Express Root Port 1 (rev 11)
00:08.0 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor System Management Registers (rev 11)
00:08.1 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor Semaphore and Scratchpad Registers (rev 11)
00:08.2 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor System Control and Status Registers (rev 11)
00:08.3 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor Miscellaneous Registers (rev 11)
00:10.0 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Link (rev 11)
00:10.1 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Routing and Protocol Registers (rev 11)
00:19.0 Ethernet controller: Intel Corporation 82577LM Gigabit Network Connection (rev 05)
00:1a.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset USB2 Enhanced Host Controller (rev 05)
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset High Definition Audio (rev 05)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 1 (rev 05)
00:1c.1 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 2 (rev 05)
00:1c.2 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 3 (rev 05)
00:1c.3 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 4 (rev 05)
00:1d.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset USB2 Enhanced Host Controller (rev 05)
00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801 Mobile PCI Bridge (rev a5)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation Mobile 5 Series Chipset LPC Interface Controller (rev 05)
00:1f.2 RAID bus controller: Intel Corporation Mobile 82801 SATA RAID Controller (rev 05)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset SMBus Controller (rev 05)
01:00.0 VGA compatible controller: nVidia Corporation GT216 [Quadro FX 880M] (rev a2)
01:00.1 Audio device: nVidia Corporation High Definition Audio Controller (rev a1)
03:00.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4313 802.11b/g LP-PHY (rev 01)
04:00.0 CardBus bridge: Ricoh Co Ltd Device e476 (rev 02)
04:00.1 SD Host controller: Ricoh Co Ltd Device e822 (rev 03)
04:00.4 FireWire (IEEE 1394): Ricoh Co Ltd Device e832 (rev 03)
3f:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QuickPath Architecture Generic Non-Core Registers (rev 04)
3f:00.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QuickPath Architecture System Address Decoder (rev 04)
3f:02.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Link 0 (rev 04)
3f:02.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Physical 0 (rev 04)
3f:03.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller (rev 04)
3f:03.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Target Address Decoder (rev 04)
3f:03.4 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Test Registers (rev 04)
3f:04.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 0 Control Registers (rev 04)
3f:04.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 0 Address Registers (rev 04)
3f:04.2 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 0 Rank Registers (rev 04)
3f:04.3 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 0 Thermal Control Registers (rev 04)
3f:05.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 1 Control Registers (rev 04)
3f:05.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 1 Address Registers (rev 04)
3f:05.2 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 1 Rank Registers (rev 04)
3f:05.3 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 1 Thermal Control Registers (rev 04)

00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor DMI (rev 11)

00:03.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor PCI Express Root Port 1 (rev 11)

00:08.0 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor System Management Registers (rev 11)

00:08.1 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor Semaphore and Scratchpad Registers (rev 11)

00:08.2 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor System Control and Status Registers (rev 11)

00:08.3 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor Miscellaneous Registers (rev 11)

00:10.0 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Link (rev 11)

00:10.1 System peripheral: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Routing and Protocol Registers (rev 11)

00:19.0 Ethernet controller: Intel Corporation 82577LM Gigabit Network Connection (rev 05)

00:1a.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset USB2 Enhanced Host Controller (rev 05)

00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset High Definition Audio (rev 05)

00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 1 (rev 05)

00:1c.1 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 2 (rev 05)

00:1c.2 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 3 (rev 05)

00:1c.3 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset PCI Express Root Port 4 (rev 05)

00:1d.0 USB Controller: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset USB2 Enhanced Host Controller (rev 05)

00:1e.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 82801 Mobile PCI Bridge (rev a5)

00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation Mobile 5 Series Chipset LPC Interface Controller (rev 05)

00:1f.2 RAID bus controller: Intel Corporation Mobile 82801 SATA RAID Controller (rev 05)

00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation 5 Series/3400 Series Chipset SMBus Controller (rev 05)

01:00.0 VGA compatible controller: nVidia Corporation GT216 [Quadro FX 880M] (rev a2)

01:00.1 Audio device: nVidia Corporation High Definition Audio Controller (rev a1)

03:00.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4313 802.11b/g LP-PHY (rev 01)

04:00.0 CardBus bridge: Ricoh Co Ltd Device e476 (rev 02)

04:00.1 SD Host controller: Ricoh Co Ltd Device e822 (rev 03)

04:00.4 FireWire (IEEE 1394): Ricoh Co Ltd Device e832 (rev 03)

3f:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QuickPath Architecture Generic Non-Core Registers (rev 04)

3f:00.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QuickPath Architecture System Address Decoder (rev 04)

3f:02.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Link 0 (rev 04)

3f:02.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor QPI Physical 0 (rev 04)

3f:03.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller (rev 04)

3f:03.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Target Address Decoder (rev 04)

3f:03.4 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Test Registers (rev 04)

3f:04.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 0 Control Registers (rev 04)

3f:04.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 0 Address Registers (rev 04)

3f:04.2 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 0 Rank Registers (rev 04)

3f:04.3 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 0 Thermal Control Registers (rev 04)

3f:05.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 1 Control Registers (rev 04)

3f:05.1 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 1 Address Registers (rev 04)

3f:05.2 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 1 Rank Registers (rev 04)

3f:05.3 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Core Processor Integrated Memory Controller Channel 1 Thermal Control Registers (rev 04)

 

Look at all the Intel bits: Intel has always been great about supporting Linux (even to the point of co-creating their own version) so all the Intel bits are probably at least part of the reason why this is working so well with Linux out of the box.

 

This bodes well for RedHat 5.x working on here: The person that configured this laptop and did the research probably already knew all this. I'll know more about that when the 500GB drive arrives and I have room to install it.

 

 

Evolution

 

 

I won't say I had high hopes for Evolution and MAPI this go round: I had already tested the Gnome 2.30 / Mapi .30 software on Fedora 13, and it was still slow, and did not do well with calendaring. Saying it was better than the last release (2.28) would be damning with faint praise. 10.04 just carried forward the same Gnome and MAPI as 9.10 had. Suffice it to say that the Gnome / Evolution (and for that matter, Ubuntu) community has not really been focused on solving this problem.

 

I think that is probably the key viewpoint. Linux desktops in the Enterprise are about waiting for companies to catch up to the Cloud, and things like Open Standards around messaging and calendaring, rather than spending a great deal of time trying to go back and figure out the intricacies of the MAPI / RPC stack. If one used Google Apps (for example) then Linux works perfectly well as your desktop / laptop / tablet as-is.

 

MS Exchange 2010 is supposed to have a decent web client for the first time, so I am hoping we'll upgrade to there soon. My other choices are installing Codeweavers so I can run IE / Outlook, or a VM under VirtualBox / Parallels / Vmware, and while I already have suchs VM's built, I would really prefer a native solution.

 

DAVMail

 

DAVMail is now at 3.8.5, and includes EWS functionality. This is a lifesaver for me because the WebDAV access to our MS Exchange servers was disabled altogether, and I was having to revert for a while to using IMAP / LDAP direct to the Exchange server. That never works as well because of oddities in the MS implementations of those protocols. DAVMail has been my workaround for a while for that, and not having it was hard to deal with. With EWS support added, DAVMail is not actually WebDAV anymore (though it can still do that for those with WebDAV enabled servers). It is RPC-over-HTTP. The current Holy Grail of MS Exchange compatibility.


 

 

EWS in DAVMail is still under development: Autodiscover for example is not there yet. Calendaring does not work from Evolution, but does from Thunderbird's Lightening plugin... Not sure why Evolution stopped working with DAVMail in EWS mode, but whatever. The new Thunderbird is nice. Reminders are not working, but I can live with that.

 

(Addendum 3: To use EWS in DAVMail you do have to enable a hidden setting. I assume this will appear the the GUI soon. Edit .davmail.properties in your home directory, and add the line davmail.enableEws=true to it)

 

The fact that someone.. anyone... in the Linux community is doing this makes my ability to stay on my Linux desktop possible, or at least less stressful.

 

IM

 

I continue to be amazed with Pidgin / Sipe. Having the ability to IM others using MS's Office Communicator from Linux is very nice. No having to run a VM as I never was able to get Communicator going in Codeweavers.

 

IM is very big around here, especially when working with folks in different office or time zones. I am guessing that IM was more important to the folks that develop Linux than getting MS Exchange access working via MAPI/RPC.... although it probably was a simpler nut to crack too.

 

Pidgin is not the default IM for Ubuntu anymore (that is now Empathy), but it is supported and installable easily.

 

Browsers

 

I have Firefox 3.6.10 installed by default in Ubuntu 10.10, and there is nothing really wrong with that on this super-speedy laptop. I can not really feel only of the bloat FF may have these days here. I have not tried FF 4.0 yet: I use FF as my fall back browser, so I keep it at the supported release.

 

Chrome is at "7.0.517.13 dev", as I installed it from Google. It is screaming fast, and has lots of new features like add-ins and themes and other FF-like things. It coughs on a few pages (like the editor for Communities.bmc.com), but otherwise is my preferred browser.

 

Unless I am spoofing my user agent.

 

Sometimes, to get around poorly designed web sites (or websites that were well designed, but used poor, non-standards complaint toolsets), I have to pretend to be something I am not, and for that, I turn to Opera. with site settable UA changing, accessible from a right click, as well as good speed and reliability, Opera is my go-to when the Web Application is not smart enough to be standards compliant. 10.62 is the version I have installed on the M4500. It is also the best of the three browsers for working with this web site. Editing / spell checking just work better.

 

Ubuntu's Install and Installer

 

Not much has changed with the way Ubuntu installs. There are a few new screens, chief of which is a reminder that one should be connected to power, and have network access. (Addendum: It also asks you if you have enough disk space, and whether you want to do updates at the end of the install or not. Even nicer, it asks you if you want to install things like MP3 support. This makes it a bit more Mint-like out of the box).

 

Addendum II: The disk layout prompt is the next question, before things like times zones and userids. This is nice because once it knows the disk layout, it goes ahead and starts laying things down even while asking you its other configuration questions. Makes too much sense...

 

The disk layout dialog is "simplified", except that if is slightly harder to use if you don't take the defaults, which I never do, and with the complex disk layout and booting arrangement this laptop will have (Ubuntu, RedHat, and Window 7, across two disks) if would have been nicer to have a more complete disk management option. I can get it done, it is just that the screen presentation is very basic and clean, but not very distinctive. Hard to see the difference at first between /dev/sda and /dev/sdb. Kind of important though.

 

The software installer called "Ubuntu Software Center" is very clean and nice. Invoked when I click on something with a .deb extension, such as when I was installing Opera, if does a very nice job depicting the install as it runs along. The software selector reminds me strongly of Lindow's / Linspire's software management application. Most of the time I still go to Synaptic, but that is habit as much as anything.

 

Java

 

Another recent trend in Ubuntu that I have not ever talked about here is the propensity to use Java implementations other than the Sun one. I do not know why, but it is annoying because the other Java's are not functionally equivalent. DAVMail, one of two Java apps I currently run, only works with the Sun version. Better as in it does not work at all unless I take out the Ubuntu sourced Java and replace it with Sun's version.

 

With 10.10... at least with the Beta, there is not even a repository with the Sun Java, so I had to go and add the one for 10.04 for now. That installs Java 6.20, which DAVMail likes. It is not the end of the world that it is not the default. It is just annoying, and when trying to attract people to your desktop, it seems to me a good idea not to annoy them unnecessarily.

 

Maybe it is Necessary. Maybe there is a legal thing here. I don't know. I would not even care if the version sourced worked that same: I am not a purist. I just want it to work.

 

BMC Blade Logic

 

This brings me to a happy place: BMC's own Blade Logic. I have the latest and greatest version client version installed, and that is a Java application. It takes a while to spool up for some reason, but after that I can go in and work with the Blade Logic jobs exactly the same way I can with the BL console installed on MS Windows. It is even a 64 bit app!

 

BMC probably does not list Ubuntu as supported, and clearly a beta version would not be, but still: It works for me, and as I spend more and more time inside the Blade Logic Console, working on things like running compliance jobs to install another BMC product (BPA), it is wonderful to be able to run the console from Linux, and not have to run a guest, and RDP into a virtual desktop, etc. Big win.

Steve Carl

RedHat Summit 2010

Posted by Steve Carl Jun 28, 2010
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I am traveling back from the RH Summit 2010, and have a couple hour layover in Detroit, so I thought I would try to get some thoughts about it down here while they were still fresh. Never mind the pages upon pages of notes I took on the iPad, where next week I will be editing them for an internal presentation and going "What in the world did I mean when I wrote "rhev next advantage T.P."" (Oh yeah: RedHat Enterprise Virtualization version 2.2 (next version) will take advantage of transparent large pages in EL 6)

 

The Experience

 

If you have never been to a RedHat Summit it is probably worth talking about what it is like. In some ways, it is like many other of the very best tech conferences I have been too, reminding me favorably of SHARE and BMC Userworld, mostly because it is non-stop, never ending, drinking from a fire hose of information delivery. Like a good conference, one person can not cover it. In fact, two of us went and could not cover it. And we did not even try to get to anything about JBoss. Just the Redhat and and Cloud tracks were massed with things I wanted to attend, and I was very often choosing between two different talks that I very much wanted to be at.

 

The energy and the drive of the whole thing was palpable, and the geekery was also off the scale. Over and over I heard, when a GUI was being described that we should not worry because the command line was still there, and everything was still script-able. Competence and Confidence. There were also quite a number of decision makers there: It was an interesting melange of the corporate and the creative. IBM even sponsored dinner one night, which means IBM bought us all a beer! The HP booth was right next to the RedHat booth, and if there were any ill feeling about the fact that RedHat is pulling Itanium support with RHEL 6, it was not in evidence there. Of course, with Nehalem-EX and AMD's 6000 series, there is not much reason to miss Itanium either.

 

Geekery

 

One of the cognitive dissonances for me came from all the references to the new memory and processor addressing limits of RHEV 6 over RHEV 5.5. I live in what they call the "upstream" kernel space so much on the desktop that I forget the RHEV 5.5 starts with kernel 2.6.18, and then starts backporting things from later kernels. In fact, the whole kernel number system really does not have much meaning in RHEV. One of the basic limits that appears to have been in place though were those surround how many processors, how much memory, and how well NUMA was handles. I imagine that would have just been way to hard to pull out of the upstream kernel because the changes are everywhere. With 2.6.32 as the new starting place, all sorts of new capabilities are enabled.

 

The last paragraph is *not* a criticism of RedHat, though I can see how it might read as such. That complication is the cost of providing Enterprise level, tested in every possible way code, so that it can be supported for the very most critical applications, be they medical or something that underlies the very heart of a stock market computing process. This is not just even about support per-se, but how long it is supported and supportable. RHEV 6 will have a seven year life span! Sure, it support 4096 cores now, and that seems like a lot, but seven years from now? One session I went to was also very careful to point out theoretical limits versus tested ones. In truth, we don't really know how many CPU's Linux can support in practice because the kernel does not really put a limit on it. Just money does, and I can not buy a 4096 core system from anyone yet... and probably not for a few years.

 

The "tickless" kernel is another example of a huge change for RHEV 6 that actually we have had upstream for a while. Sure, it changes all sort of things, not the least of which is how one might go about figuring out time related problems. The old days of the 1000-times-a-second loop are yesterday, and the quantum that was based off it is too. It's a brand new world of scheduled interrupts for everything. Sure, for mainframe or VMS folks that is old news, but it is a huge change with subtle effects all through the kernel. I went to two back to back session about problem determination in this new world, and it was barely able to scratch the surface of all the new things this, and other changes to RHEV 6 bring to the table.

 

One stat alone should tell the tale, at least for the permutation minded of you: RHEV5 was about 1500 or so packages. RHEV 6 is 3000+.

 

That is not a simple doubling of packages. That is orders of magnitude more permutations that need to be looked at and tested.

 

Enterprise Virtualization

 

My main focus while at the summit was around KVM, and to a lessor extent, VDI. I had been looking at this for a while, but I viewed the summit as a chance to take a deeper dive. While there I got a chance to talk to some of the people that helped write KVM, and the management tools around it, and I am impressed. I have been a virtualization guy since 1980, and there are things here that both reminded me very much of my roots (such as AMD and Intel's microcoded page table assists) and leveraging the modern such as the data-de-dup like Kernel Samepage Management (KSM). It was also clear that we are still think in more mainframe like terms here with our virtualization servers, since we just switched to Dell R810's with 256GB of RAM, and folks I talked to at the conference were saying their sweet spot was 32 GB of RAM. And a PS about KSM: One person in RH mentioned that calling KSM "Kernel Samepage Management" was a bit of a struggle, and that others used different words like "Kernel Storage Management".

 

Either way, KSM is one of the big big wins of RHEL 6 / RHEV. It just makes too much sense. If the page is the same, just keep one copy. It does not matter what type of Guest VM it is. If the page matches, just keep one. This is huge for things like Windows, that zero memory at boot, so they have lots of pages with recent writes that are all zeros, but Windows isn't the only guest that can have a page like that, and it should not matter..  and to KVM and RHEV, it does *not* matter. It is simple, and it is elegant. It should also help safely overcommit memory without a lot of jumping through hoops with special memory managers and guest device drivers or modified guests, etc.

 

I will be starting on a test deployent of KVM in the near future, and that will be my next "Adventure" in Linux. Read about it here...

Steve Carl

Mint 9

Posted by Steve Carl Jun 3, 2010
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Fedora 13's stay on my Dell D620 was short-lived. The T43 still has it, but the D620 needs to do actual work at the office and on the road. It needs to be a production ready desktop. If I was not interacting with MS Exchange, Fedora would be better, but since neither KDE's Kmail nor Evolution are really working all that well against MS Exchange 2007, I decided to move on with the D620.

 

My first stop one evening was OpenSUSE 11.3 Milestone 6. Interesting things happening there, but not stable (nor advertised as such) so I decided it was time to go back to a favorite and see what was new. Mint 9 recently came out, and a friend of mine had it running well on an Acer Revo. Why should they have all the fun?

 

In theory, this should not be all that different from Ubuntu 10.04, but Mint always seems to take that extra month and really polish things up.

 

I did not see anything really new during the install. The timezone map is nice now... everyone should copy this way of setting the default time zone. It was the usual 7 panels that Ubuntu has as far as I could tell, but with the colors being set up for Mint's themes.

 

The disk layout as usual required manual override, and here is a place where OpenSUSE is much smarter. It looked at my Fedora 13 install, and correctly guessed the way the disks should be done, I.E., P1 as NTFS / "/windows", P2 as "/" and formatted, P3 as swap, and P4 as "home" and not formatted. Neither Ubuntu nor Mint can figure that out, even though it is pretty simple and to me fairly obvious as dual boot configs go:

 

Disk /dev/sda: 80.0 GB, 80026361856 bytes

255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 9729 cylinders

Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes

Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes

I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes

Disk identifier: 0x00019fb7


   Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks         Id    System

/dev/sda1               1           4256     34179687+   7    HPFS/NTFS

/dev/sda2   *       4256        5468     9741313       5    Extended

/dev/sda3            5469        5711     1951897+     82  Linux swap / Solaris

/dev/sda4            5712        9729     32274585     83  Linux

/dev/sda5            4256        5468     9741312       83  Linux

 

/dev/sda2 is the extended partition that all of the Linux logical disks live inside.

 

Disk Partitioning Aside

 

I was having a recent conversation offline with someone that reads my blog, and they were asking me about the how and why of the way I partition my disks for Linux. As I noted, set up the way I am, OpenSUSE 11.3 correctly divined the exact way that I have to manually set up the disks when I install Mint, Fedora, or Ubuntu on the same system.

 

Some of what I do is just habit from days gone by, but there are reasons for some of it.

 

Keep "/home" separate: This allows me to serially install all sorts of OS's and not have any of my documents, photos, music, whatever be deleted. It also means all my settings as stored in various config files are kept. That last part is a mixed blessing.

 

Having all my documents stay without going to the trouble of having to always move them offline to a USB disk or something is nice, but sometimes when I change releases, Gnome or KDE stop working correctly because the config files that live on in the home directory are there, and trying to make things be the way they were, and that does not always work. From time to time, I have to do some research, and figure out what config file is misbehaving, and delete it, and usually that just means shotgun blasting something like .gconf rather than messing around with it.

 

Having my config survive past an OS install also means that if the distro did something to the look and feel, I miss it half the time because my desktop goes back to the way it was, not the default. I'll read in a trade about the new theme's nicely smoothed corners or something and I won't see it. Again, easy to erase a config file, or even easier, set up a temporary userid to look at what the default looks like.

 

The good news is that, I keep my top task bar, and most of the things I have installed on it, like the applications pull-down menus. Mint has its own "start" button application menu, and it follows the trend started back a few years ago by OpenSUSE to having a sort of Windows XP'ish set of menus, try's to hide not commonly used things, integrates a search bar, etc. I dislike them all, though Mints is better than average. I like the classic Gnome menu bar. Having /home separate means I do not often have to re-set that up when I install something new.

 

Dual Boot / Windows at the front: I do not know if it is still true, but there was a day when your Windows partition had to be the first one. For a system that comes with WIndows already installed, and Linux is going on second, all the partition shrinking programs seem to still run everything to the front for MS WIndows. It may be that this is not the case, but it is easy, it works, and so far I have not really needed to put Linux up front. The old days of /boot needing to be within a certain distance of the front of the disk for addressing reasons are gone, so Linux is happy pretty much anywhere.

 

Four Partitions: for whatever reason I have never tried to set up triple boot, with two different Linuxii and an MS WIn. That means I always have four partitions: the NTFS one for MS WIn, then one each for "/", swap, and "/home". That means I could get by without an extended partition. For some reason, something somewhere along the way set up this computers with two partitions, and dropped the three logical partitions into the second real one. I guess it was trying to conserve real partitions for something or the other. Had I laid it out, it would just be four real partitions. It does not matter that much, and it would be a pain to fix, so I leave it like this.

 

Swap: Here is a case where I am really living in the past to some degree. I have 2GB of RAM on the laptop: That is plenty for Linux and most of the applications that I run at the office. Unless I am running a virtualization solution, 2GB at the time of this writing leaves me with 44% of the RAM being allocated as cache, and the swap not in use at all. I have OpenOffice, Evolution(MAPI), Tomboy, and Chrome with 8 tabs all running.

 

swapon -s

Filename    Type      Size            Used      Priority

/dev/sda3    partition 1951888      3716     - 1

 

Clearly nothing happening in swap-land. I could just not define it, but it always feels to me like cheap insurance. 2GB in disk space is not much anymore, and 2GB of RAM, even slow virtual RAM is still something. If I was disk constrained, and had lots of RAM, and was not going to running any Virtual OS's as a guest, I might decide not to define a swap space... but that corner case has not happened to me yet.

 

Evolution 2.28.3 is ... working?

 

Color me confused. Part of the reason for the side trip into disk layouts is to mention that this systems has sequentially had Ubuntu 10.04, Fedora 13, OpenSUSE 10.3, and now Mint 9 on it. I have installed and tested Evolution on each version, and that meant for Fedora 13 and OpenSUSE 10.3, I was at 2.30.1, and for Ubuntu and Mint I am at 2.28.3:

 

dpkg -l | grep -i evolution

ii  evolution                                      2.28.3-0ubuntu9                                       groupware suite with mail client and organiz

ii  evolution-common                      2.28.3-0ubuntu9                                       architecture independent files for Evolution

ii  evolution-data-server                 2.28.3.1-0ubuntu2                                    evolution database backend server

ii  evolution-data-server-common 2.28.3.1-0ubuntu2                                   architecture independent files for Evolution

ii  evolution-mapi                            0.28.3-0ubuntu1                                       Evolution extension for MS Exchange 2007 ser

ii  evolution-plugins                         2.28.3-0ubuntu9                                       standard plugins for Evolution

ii  evolution-webcal                         2.28.0-1                                                     webcal: URL handler for GNOME and Evolution

ii  libcamel1.2-14                            2.28.3.1-0ubuntu2                                     The Evolution MIME message handling library

ii  libebackend1.2-0                       2.28.3.1-0ubuntu2                                     Utility library for evolution data servers

ii  libebook1.2-9                             2.28.3.1-0ubuntu2                                     Client library for evolution address books

ii  libecal1.2-7                                 2.28.3.1-0ubuntu2                                     Client library for evolution calendars

ii  libedata-book1.2-2                    2.28.3.1-0ubuntu2                                     Backend library for evolution address books

ii  libedata-cal1.2-6                        2.28.3.1-0ubuntu2                                     Backend library for evolution calendars

ii  libedataserver1.2-11                 2.28.3.1-0ubuntu2                                     Utility library for evolution data servers

ii  libedataserverui1.2-8                2.28.3.1-0ubuntu2                                     GUI utility library for evolution data serve

ii  nautilus-sendto                           2.28.4-0ubuntu1                                        integrates Evolution and Pidgin into the Nau

ii  python-evolution                         2.30.0-0ubuntu1                                       Python bindings for the evolution libraries

 

As can be seen here, these are not even Mint special packages. These are the ones Ubuntu provides. But Evolution, with MAPI, is up, and running, and moderately stable. No Calendar, but email and GAL are working well, if slow. I don't get it. This was not working at all well Under Fedora 13 and even worse under OpenSUSE 11.3. With Ubuntu 10.04 it worked some, but was prone to crashes and locking out my userid in the AD domain. I am speaking here only of MAPI: I was able to get IMAP to work in all cases, although IMAP+ was not working well, so I used the original IMAP.

 

But Evolution with MAPI is working under Mint 9. I just don't get it. More Evolution fragility I guess, but working in my favor this time.

 

OpenOffice 3.2

 

Mint 9 comes with Openoffice 3.2:

openoffice.png

It is interesting to see the it is:

 

1) Already Oracle branded

2) From Debian, through Ubuntu, to Mint.

 

I don't see any special Mint massaging here. There is one thing I wish that Distros would do, and that is provide access to the HTML/Web editor mode from the menu, rather than making me launch the writer, switch it HTML, and then start to work.

 

OpenOffice works well, launches quickly, and is extremely usable these days in mixed Linux / non-Linux environments. I get files from non-Linux users all the time, and so far there has not been anything that OpenOffice has not handled. There have been files that were corrupted that *only* OpenOffice could deal with though.

 

IM

 

Something I have always been unable to do with Linux is talk to people who use MS's so-called "Communicator". I say so-called because as a closed platform, it was clear one could only communicate with others on the system. I wondered how the SIPE project was doing these days, and looked in Synaptic, saw pidgin-sipe was available:

 

 

dpkg -l | grep pidgin

ii  pidgin                                1:2.6.6-1ubuntu4                              graphical multi-protocol instant messaging c

ii  pidgin-data                       1:2.6.6-1ubuntu4                              multi-protocol instant messaging client - da

ii  pidgin-facebookchat       1.64-1                                                Facebook Chat plugin for Pidgin

ii  pidgin-libnotify                  0.14-1ubuntu14                                display notification bubbles in pidgin

ii  pidgin-sipe                       1.8.0-1ubuntu1                                  Pidgin plugin for connect to LCS/OCS

 

Installed it. Configured it. Now I can IM non-Linux users inside the office! Wow... I wonder when that happened?

 

Browser

 

Mint 9 comes with Firefox 10.6.3.  I like Firefox still, but these days for speed reasons I mostly use Google Chrome. Currently I am at 6.0.422.0 dev. I run Chrome on Linux, the Mac, and WinXP/7. On resource limited, slow computers, it is just the thing to make it feel faster. On a fast computer the differences are less obvious, but still there. the other thing I like about Chrome is that it has a trick Opera has, where I can resize some text input fields to be larger. Some web forms default input boxes are stupid-small, and this lets me get around that.

 

And yes, I always run the developer channel version. In early days that was where you had to be to get feature / function comparable to Firefox. these days I mostly see the speed improvements first. While there is no guarantee about it, I have only had a crashing browser once in several years of using the developer channel, which the next update fixed.

 

One nice trick Chrome does is that once I install it's .deb, it updates the repository list so I keep getting fresh updates as part of a standard updating process. I don't have to do anything special to stay current.

 

It's like coming home...

 

After all the bleeding edge stuff: the early releases of Ubuntu 10.04, the betas and GA of Fedora 13, and the Milestone 6 of OpenSUSE 11.3, Mint 9 just feels like a warm cozy fireplace on a cold winter day. Everything is stable. Everything just works. No messing around.

 

Too bad I'll probably load Ubuntu 10.10 Alpha up soon... Can't stay comfortable too long.

Steve Carl

Fedora 13

Posted by Steve Carl May 12, 2010
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I was in a meeting recently with a Fedora fan. I had my Ubuntu 10.04 laptop there for note taking and email during the breaks, he asserted that the new Fedora would make me want to leave Ubuntu behind. I am paraphrasing a bit: others in the room looked about in panic at the discussion, and quickly brought us back onto the topic of the meeting. This is a sign that I was in a meeting with people that did not know me, for while I am well known for not mincing words, I am also well known for not treating computers as forms of religion.

 

The discussion made me wonder what Fedora had baked up since I had last installed it. I generally use old laptops for testing Linux because they take up less space, use less power, and are portable when I want to take one home to continue working on something or the other. Besides all that, Laptop hardware is harder to support / less standard hardware-wise, so how well a version of Linux works on a laptop is always interesting.

 

I have avoided Fedora on laptops for a while, since the distro's position on hardware support is "Open or Nothing". As admirable as that might be, it has always made Fedora painful to install unless you happen to have a laptop with all the right hardware bits. I have such a laptop now though: the IBM T43.

 

The T43 was last running my tests of Ubuntu 10.04, but with that migrated over to the Dell D620, and the T43 was turned off an in the bag waiting for its next mission. This seemed like a good one.

kde442-ubu-fed.jpg

Dell D620 / Ubuntu 10.04 / KDE 4.4.2 on left, IBM T43 / Fedora 13 / KDE 4.4.2 on right

 

Installation

 

The installation was done twice on the laptop. Both times it was the beta Fedora available at the time of this writing, which is less than a week from the release of the OS. There have been no updates in the last two days, so this is probably pretty close to the released version..

 

In addition, this is the KDE 4.4.2 based version of Fedora 13. I decided that as part of this test that I would continue looking at where KDE has arrived at after the major rewrite that was release 4.

 

KDE is not normally considered Fedora's natural habitat: It has traditionally been a Gnome based release. For a while now though they have been packaging up a separate version for KDE, and one would assume that it is a serviceable version.

 

The first and second installs were largely the same. The first one had to be replaced when I did an update, and it broke NetworkManager so badly that it would not do anything with either the Broadcom Ethernet or the Intel Wireless cards. I poked at it late into one evening trying to figure out why it was lost. The  /etc//nm-system-settings.conf file and /etc/sysconfig/networking files all appeared to be correct. I could activate the interfaces manually with the correct ifconfig, dhclient, and iwclient commands. But I could never get Networkmanager to admit it could or would manage either resource. the online doc at the project was not a big help either. I finally gave up and reinstalled, and this time the update did *not* break NetworkManager, probably because it was updated *right after* my config was broken. OK: Its Beta. Reinstall fixed it. Moving on.

 

I was doing all this in part because I was supposed to love this new Fedora so much. You would think that would start with having a better install process, or at least one as good as Ubuntu's, but where Ubuntu has seven screens, I filled a notebook page with all the steps I took on the install, and I was taking mostly defaults. I let it write over everything, and made no effort to keep anything from the last install around.

 

Of particular need for updating is the date / time screen. It is still the "pick-a-city" type. Ubuntus world maps and vertically barred timezones is so much cleaner and nicer.

 

One very interesting question on the install was what type of disk I was going to be using: There was an option for "Specialized disks" like SAN or mainframe. This illuminates Fedora's server room rather than desktop orientation. After all, Fedora feeds the RedHat releases, and RedHat 6 is largely based off the work up to and including Fedora 12.

 

Also an indication that Fedora is more interested in the Enterprise is that if you let it (and I did) it installs everything except /boot in LVM. Seems overkill for a laptop.

 

Yummy

 

The basic tool for installing updates is Yellowdog Update Manager, or "yum". Yellowdog is a long time distro for PowerPC based Macs and now just PowerPC based gear. it is based of RedHat, so the reverse pollination of the service tool back into Fedora has always been kind of interesting. it is what the Linux world is supposed to be about.

 

Yum is a nice tool, and its GUI, Yumex, is not too bad either. Yum ultimately sits on top of the RPM repository. RPM has command line options as well, but for me, at least for now, I like and use yum. It reminds me favorably of the power and ease of use of apt over on Debian/Ubuntu.

 

"yum update" brought down 397 updates plus 20 new packages, then after those were installed 16 more appeared. That is fairly typical of a Beta, and it is why I always retry the command after it runs to be sure I have *everything* current. It is also how I know that NetworkManager got an update after I did the first install.

 

I had a broken package for a day or so called usb-modeswitch, but that was fixed moments ago, when I reran yum and it not only fixed usb-modeswitch's little problem but grabbed 4 other packages. It was good to see a package problem get fixed so quickly. Clearly Fedora still has an active developer community.

 

NetworkManager

 

The newly updated NetworkManager still has issues. The Broadcom ethernet is fine, but I can not get it to connect to a hidden access point. This is especially bothersome as I had this exact same laptop connected to that exact same access point when I was running Ubuntu 10.04 Alpha, Beta, and GA code. Fedora's track record even on supported hardware remains spotty for me.

 

Evolution 2.30

 

evolution-2.30.1-2.fc13.i686 to be exact, plus evolution-mapi-0.30.1-1.fc13.i686.

 

A reason to be here on Fedora was because Ubuntu 10.04 had chosen to leave Evolution downlevel at 2.28.3 rather than bringing it up to 2.30 with the rest of Gnome. I discussed this in my last post and won't rehash it here. Part of the discussion I was having with the Fedora Maven revolved around MAPI. He had been following the issues around MAPI and MS Exchange and said that MAPI was showing promise. That so did not match my experience that I had to try the current code.

 

Bottom line: "Meh". Its better than 2.28, and stable enough to show that Ubuntu's decision on  staying back level with Evolution was probably just a resource / time issue. Evolution had it's Bonobo removed, and was supposed to be having some early stability issues as a result: I did not see any major crashing in Fedoras implementation of the Evolution 2.30, but it was slow to access Exchange, and I had notes I sent just hang and refused to be delivered. Calendaring seemed to work, albeit slowly, and I only looked at viewing, not scheduling.

 

Maybe the MAPI code is promising, but I stick for now with my opinion that rpc-over-http is the way to go. I recently loaded up Outlook 2010 on a test system, and it appears that MS is even using some version of RPC-over-HTTP on their regular desktop clients these days.

 

KDE 4.4.2

 

Part of this exercise was to continue t use KDE. I have some slight sympathy with MS Windows being forced to learn new things: It has been long enough, and KDE is different enough both from itself in the pre-release-4 days, and from Gnome, that I feel frustrated that I can not just do things like I am used to doing.

 

For this post, I started in Kjots, which is a sort of Tomboy-like notetaker. It is very nice, and has much better controls, but there was no spell checking, and it's HTML export is every bit as messy as Tomboys. I switched to Blogilo, which I have used before... and it has no spell checking either. This is odd because under Ubuntu it does. I must be missing a package, or Fedora does not enable it by default... something. Annoying though. I ended up back in Tomboy because it would at least spell check, even if it did not have some of the other packages formatting features. As noted, Tomboy's export to HTML feature is not very good, so I'll end up taking this back through Blogilo before I post it to clean up the markup.

 

When I diss an HTML export, it is usually because it exports things with way too much markup. All sorts of things added to try and make a page look exactly the way it does on screen. Some may like that, but I like clean, simple code that flows, and lets the end user browser make all the choices about rendering. That may just be me though. I like the HTML code that Blogilo generates.

 

Having old eyes, I looked for a Gnome-Control-Center like function to allow me to control the DPI of the screen. I found one, but unlike Gnome where I can tweak it exactly, I had three options: System Settings, 98, or 120. I went with 120, and that helped, but it is odd that KDE's latest and greatest overlooks or at least under-implements this very basic function.

 

I was looking at a fairly complex spreadsheet on my Ubuntu system with OpenOffice: It was still .xls, so pre-Office 2007 format.  Fedora does not install OpenOffice by default, at least in the KDE edition, so when I tried to open it kWrite was automatically called all I got was a blank spreadsheet. Kmail is also still not very usable against MS Exchange. I moved Evolution over to IMAP+ mode, and installed OpenOffice, and that solved most of my internal office compatibility issues.

 

Nothing to see here: Just Browsing

 

Fedora's KDE does not install Firefox by default. The Konqueror web browser, being WebKit based, and strongly related to Safari and Chrome therefore, is an OK browser. But I have pretty much standardized on Chrome 5 across all platforms, with a Firefox backup. Install Firefox was as easy as "sudo yum install firefox". Getting Chrome going took a bit more work.

 

First I had to get the current developer channel .rpm for 32 bit Linux at http://www.chromium.org/getting-involved/dev-channel

 

PackageKit would not install it directly from the browser, so I had to download it. Then I had to manually install the pre-reqs of lsb and wget. Yum made that easy. Then I had to manually run it the first time so it would appear in the menus by typing "google-chrome" from the command line.

 

For some reason, every time I start it  is says it is not the default browser. Not sure if that is a KDE or a Fedora thing right now. Guessing KDE. But it is installed, and in the menu, so I am good to go. It is fast: Faster than Konqueror, to be sure. It works well with Oracle Financials (the only web pages I have tried it on so far) so everything seems to be in order.

 

What happens next is anyone's guess. I'll leave Fedora 13 on the T43 for now, and jumps back and forth between the Dell and it. Both have KDE 4.4.2, so I'll get a chance to try and learn KDE again, one way or the other. In the meantime, I'll upgrade my desktop from Ubuntu 9.10 to 10.04... but that is another post.

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I described in my last post setting up a Pre-GA version of Ubuntu on an IBM T43. With Ubuntu now being GA, it was time to start propagating that release out to my "production" systems. Production here means the Linux laptop and desktop that are my primary workstations.

 

The laptop went first: I'll do the desktop last because it is the most central of my systems. It filters my email, stores my .ISO's and .PDF's, and so forth. The laptop is less critical, so it goes first. I was not too worried about it though: I have installed Ubuntu 10.04 on several systems including a Dell D600, so I was pretty sure that the install on the D620 would not have any major issues. It did not.

 

In fact, I was sure enough that I would have no issues that I decided it was time to have a look at KDE again at the same time. Changing multiple things at the same time is normally a bad practice for a Systems Programmer, but I felt fairly sure it would be OK.

Gnome, Evolution, and LTS

Ubuntu 10.04 is a Long Term Support (LTS) version of Ubuntu. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is obvious: three years of support available.

 

The bad thing is that LTS releases changes the mindset of the people working on the release. Package selections become more conservative: Stability is favored over being out in front. Even that all sounds like a good thing from one point of view... but it means that Ubuntu 10.04 is not easily usable as an Enterprise desktop in a MS Exchange 2007 environment, at least not without adding DAVMail. Further, that conservative thought modality about packages is already out there in Enterprise Linux Desktop space: Two other vendors have that covered already. People choose Ubuntu over them many times because they want the more current package levels. Looked at another way: It is easy to stay backlevel. Everyone can do that.

 

The Gnome version released with Ubuntu 10.04 is 2.30. That is that latest and greatest. But the Evolution released is 2.28.3. That is the last version. The reason it is backlevel is that Evolution 2.30 has some major changes in it (the elimination of the Bonobo dependency chief among them). That had the Ubuntu folks worried that Evolution would not be stable.

 

At the same time it meant that Evolution-MAPI would stay backlevel. I do not know if the 2.30 version of the MAPI package is workable, but I do know the 2.28 version of it is not. Most of the changelog information for the 2.30 version of MAPI looked promising for at least making MAPI better. By staying backlevel on Evolution, 10.04 stayed backlevel on MAPI too.

 

I am not sure how much that matters: I am not convinced from anything I have seen that MAPI is the right way to go. RPC-over-HTTP (Outlook Anywhere) is. And I have seen nothing about that coming to Evolution anytime soon.

 

Evolution 2.28 + Davmail is the same for Ubuntu 9.10 as it is for 10.04: There is no advantage to moving up to 10.04 if you have an MS Exchange 2007 dependency, other than being on a release with three years of support. You are supported on backlevel stuff for three whole years... something is just wrong with that picture. It feels like having to live with a bad haircut till it grows out.

 

This is of course a limited problem: You have to be a Linux desktop user in an MS Exchange 2007 based shop for this to affect you. If you are a Linux user with something else providing you email and calendar, you are probably better off and see this as a non-issue.

KDE 4.4.2

I started with a standard Gnome based version of the install, in case I wanted to revert back to or at least look at the GA version of Gnome 2.30, but I have been using Gnome for years, and the pre-GA version of Gnome on 10.04 for months, so I was pretty sure I had seen most of what I wanted to, at least for now.

 

At the same time, I have looked at KDE a couple of times since the 4.0 release, and every time I have decided it was not quite fully baked yet and went back to Gnome. KDE took a huge risk with such a major redesign of just about everything, including the very core ways that video was composited. It was a huge break with the past, similar in magnitude to what Apple did between OS9 and OS.X. Gnome is about to make a change with their new 3.0 release, but from what I have seen and read, it will not be as major a redesign as KDE's was. The 10.04 version of Gnome is 2.30 ... mostly.... and that is the last 2.x version of Gnome that will be. GNOME 3.0 will be released in September 2010. About the same time as Ubuntu 10.10. Hopefully the Ubuntu folks will be back to thinking like early adopters, and we'll get to see Gnome 3 as part of the distro.

 

The trades had been reading recently like the growing pains for KDE 4 were about over with the new 4.4 release, and so I decided it was time to have a look and see what all the pain had bought.

 

I am still feeling my way around this new place, but KDE is not a bad place to be now. It is a bit more eye-candy-ish that I like, but everything seems to be working. No app crashes. No odd slowdowns. Everything unified in the control panel ("System Settings") that you would expect.

 

Gnome apps like Evolution 2.28.3 work smoothly under KDE 4. If anything, they seem to run better there, but that could just be that this is a fresh clean install, and so Evolution has not had time to build up digital cruft. Evolution at 2.30... without Bonobo... would have built up less digital cruft. I am just saying...

 

I needed to do an expense report for a recent trip, so I fired up Google Chrome 5.0.375.29 dev, which I had installed from the developers channel at Google, and walked through an expense report and scheduled a trip on the internal travel web site. There were no major hiccups: Chrome and Linux were well accepted by the internal server infrastructure. What a change from the bad old days when all the web sites around the Internet were IE and only IE tested.

 

Printing was not problem either: I started system settings, told it to find printers on the network, it found one nearby, and I printed from Chrome to it. Easy... way easier than when I had to do the same thing on Windows 7 not that long ago.

 

I loaded up Blogilo, a KDE blogging client to write this post. I had used it under Gnome in the past, but KDE is its natural habitat, and it works very nicely there.

 

It took me a minute to figure out the way that panels worked now. I kept adding panels expecting a panel to appear, and I kept getting little bubbles in the corners that were the panels all squished down and minimized. Then I had to figure out that to add applications to a panel required looking at the app and right clicking on it from the application list. In Gnome you tell it to add and application, and it brings up a selector. Not saying one way or the other is better: I just had to get used to the difference.

 

I added a few widgets from the Internet, and not all of them work. Many complained about missing something. PyWifi was one of them. There were a number of others. It seems odd to me in this day and age of apt-get and rpm that a simple applet type install would fail for lack of a pre-req.

 

When I told it to install more widgets, that dialog opened *behind* the panel dialog. Nothing moved out of the way, and there seem no way to shift focus short of closing the panel dialog. All together it added up to feeling like it still is not fully cooked yet.

Kontact

A few years back, when I was giving the labs at LinuxWorld about how to use Linux in a corporate environment, I was using KDE, and in particular showing folks how to set up the calendaring part of Kontact to access the calendar on the MS Exchange server. This was an experimental plugin that never really worked all that well, especially relative to something like todays DAVMail.

 

I had read that, coming soon, Kontact was going to start accessing MS Exchange the same way that Outlook does: RPC over HTTP. From poster BradH in February of 2010 in the KDE forums :

http://forum.kde.org/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=6553

"We are planning to implement RPC-over-HTTP (the "outlook anywhere" connection method). It needs a bit of support within OpenChange, quite a lot of code within the samba libraries, and a bit of code in the akonadi resource."

That would mean that kmail and kalendar and whatnot would be full replacements for Outlook. I was curious if it was there yet. Short version: Nope. Not even. Whenever that feature is planned, it is not in Ubuntu 10.04 / KDE 4.4.2.

 

Frustrated and even more curious I starting poking around trying to find out more about the feature and possible delivery version. So far I have not been able to uncover anything that looks authoritative.

 

Will I run back to Gnome? No. Not yet. There are things to learn here. I imagine the Gnome team looked at the pain the KDE folks went through with all the major change and decided to dial back just how major a change Gnome 3 will be. Spending some time with KDE ahead fo the Gnome major release should be instructive.

The Install on the D620

When I set up the D620 as dual boot XP / Linux several years ago, I was having problems with XP running out of space on several systems, and I over-compensated with the 80 GB storage on this laptop. I split it 50/50. XP was allocated 40GB at SDA1, Linux's "/" had 5GB at SDA2, there was a 2GB swap at SDA3, and a 33 GB "/home" at SDA4. With Ubuntu 9.10 I was always having to manage that "/" a bit, since /var was in there. It was a pain.

 

With the advent of more recent versions of OpenOffice, and DAVMail, my need to ever boot XP had also diminished. It was a waste of space. XP was using 23 GB of the 40GB. I needed that storage, and it was right up against "/", where I needed it.

 

I have resized NTFS many times before with the Ubuntu installer, and had done it on the Dell D600 with 10.04, so I was not worried about messing around with the XP's NTFS based partition. I kicked off the resize, went and made some tea, and came back to find it already complete. I played it fairly safe and only shrank /dev/sda1 by 5GB. That would leave XP 12 GB of free space. That was added back in the /dev/sda2 partition which was now 40% full after the first install completed.

 

The way I installed was fine for Gnome, but I installed KDE via Synaptic: This was not the nicely packaged up Kubuntu. That is probably OK, except that it meant that I kept coming across missing bits I forgot or did not know to install for a while: KDE's base level of packages are very basic. For example, I did not have wireless card management by default, nor did I know what Kubuntu installed to provide that. I poked around in Synaptic to see what sorts of packages were available there, and installed several. Ultimately I went all shotgun on it, and installed KDE-full, and Kubuntu-desktop. This put a ton of new packages on, and took the "/" to 6GB... glad I expanded that file system! That left me plenty of room to add even more software packages, and to have /var grow over time.

 

I now had the ability to manage the wireless card, and since this D620 uses an Intel wireless card, there were no issues getting things going. I already knew there would not be because I had checked with the "iwconfig" command. There was also that it had been working before on the Alpha and Beta levels, and the GA 9.10 version of Ubuntu before that. I just wanted the GUI under KDE. Call me lazy.

 

This was probably not the optimal way to install KDE for Ubuntu 10.04, but at least it is up and mostly running and I have both Gnome and KDE available in their entirety. If I have some time, and I decide to keep KDE, I may go the other way, and install Kubuntu and add Gnome.

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I was discussing a feature I use in Gnome today in a meeting (which was mounting a .iso with a right click) and a senior technologist in the room said "Yeah, but thats Ubuntu: Its more advanced than other Linux versions".

 

It is an interesting perception, and is not untrue, even though the feature in question is a Gnome feature that could be in Fedora or OpenSUSE as easy as Ubuntu.

 

The problem here in part is that we work all the time internally with the production versions of Linux: Redhat EL 5, and SUSE 10 or 11. RedHat is due out with EL 6 at some point later this year. In other words, they are all, by Linux standards, quite old. RedHat 5.x for example is 15 point releases behind the current 2.6 kernel version 2.6.33 versus 2.6.18. Ubuntu 10.04 at one month before release is running 2.6.32

 

Whenever the new versions on Redhat or SUSE ship, they are always playing catch up to Ubuntu when it comes to feature/function. This is even OK for many people. They like the slow revision rates because it allows them to deploy something in a stable way and then be able to just leave it deployed for years on end. Our internal Wiki is running all the way back on Fedora Core 2! We don't need all the latest and greatest stuff. It just works.

 

But Ubuntu Server tracks the desktop release. When Ubuntu server 10.04 ships it will be with at least 2.6.32, and updated versions of almost everything in the application tree.

 

The backlevel nature of RedHat and SUSE (not Fedora and OpenSUSE, which play leapfrog with Ubuntu, but are not meant for production usage) create that perception gap. Ubuntu is the "Advanced version of Linux" in some pretty savvy, technical peoples minds.

 

In the struggle for mindshare on the Linux desktop, Ubuntu is winning hands down.

 

For desktop Linux, being as current as possible has many rewards for me. Faster boots, more efficient use of minimal resources (in the case of my IBM T43 laptop running 10.04), solid 64 bit performance (in the case of my Dell 745 desktop running 9.10). Functional, stable, low impact video compositing so that things like windows previews in the taskbar and the Apple Expose like "Scale" of Compiz work without issue and on hardware that Windows 7 or Vista would refuse to run Aero on.

 

DAVMail

 

Remote access to email is possible via DAVMail on many platforms, but I did have to "fix" it on the new 10.04. By default, Ubuntu installs OpenJRE from the IcedTea project. I am all for having Java alternatives, but in this case DAVMail just does not work with OpenJRE... at least not yet. It was easy to remove OpenJRE and install Sun-java6-jre instead, and that fixed most of the issues. Evolution has access to my Exchange email and calendar again. The "Show logs" bit is not working at all, even with the Sun JRE.

 

For reasons not clear to me, I had to set the "Calendar Past Events" time to 10 days, or Evolution's calendar app would crash. It is probably an Evolution problem, but I had to fix it for now in DAVMail. Evolution is currently at the transitional release of 2.28.3-0ubuntu7. This is odd because Gnome is at either 2.29.1 or 2.30, depending on which bits you are looking at. Clearly Evolution is staying back while the Ubuntu team works on other parts of Gnome first. Hopefully Evolution will be at 2.30 on the 10.04 GA date, as there are some new MAPI fixes there I would like to test.

 

Tomboy and Gnome Conduit

 

I have have mentioned the speedy boot up, and other efficiencies that I am enjoying with the new 10.04. What I have also started to use for the first time are two very nifty little apps that have been around for a while but I am just now getting around to looking at them. They are "Tomboy" and "Conduit". I have to admit that the name Tomboy kept me from looking at the app sooner. It has been installing for quite a while in Ubuntu, and it always annoyed me that it was there. With 10.04, at least at its current level, Tomboy was not installed.. and I found myself wanting a note taking app. I googled a bit, and Tomboy showed up as the dominant app here, so I sighed about the name and installed it.

 

It is very cool.

 

I am writing this post with it. I wrote the last one with it too. It has everything a simple word processor needs, including very nice inline spell checking (courtesy of GTKSpell)  and some simple text highlighting. It creates output that imports to Communities without having to do a great deal of formatting re-work (unlike OpenOffice or Komposer, where I lose all my inter-paragraph spacing). The reason for this is oddly simple: Tomboy does not use much markup. When I export it to HTML, it preserves the format, but only has markup for things like bold and emphasis. No <br>. No <p>.

 

Even better is the way the Tomboy works with Gnome Conduit to sync all my notes between my laptop and my desktop automatically. Anything I enter in one place appears in the other. Very Google Docs like. I did have to configure Conduit first, and having to set up both the Tomboy-to-network connection and the Tomboy-to-Tomboy connection on each end was not intuitively obvious, but now that I have it going it is very handy.

 

I dislike the name Tomboy (and can not find any reference to why a note taking app has such a name: Probably an inside joke of some kind...), but I like the app, and I wonder how long it has been this mature and usable. I installed it on my Windows 7 system too, but it has less use there because it is slow and Conduit does not work on Windows 7, at least not yet. I found a 2008 note saying that Gnome Conduit was coming, but there is no download for it short of "making" it yourself. In the history of porting apps, I have never had much luck in those Windows "make" scenarios unless someone else, who knows the code tree and all the code dependencies, pre-sets-up the areas and libraries it will all happen in.

 

Google Chrome

 

Chrome is my default browser on all platforms now. Linux, OS.X, and Windows. I run the developer channel on each platform in order to try and help but Chrome rarely does anything that needs reporting these days. Early on in OS.X and Linux things like Flash did not work, and some web pages clearly had no idea what to do with the agent being reported to it by the browser, but other than those early teething pains, Chrome has been stable and more importantly on marginal hardware, fast. I have it on my personal Acer and Dell Netbooks as well. For speed, there just is not anything else as fast. Under Ubuntu 10.04, even on the T43, it flies. Page rendering looks like it is running on a much faster computers. Ubuntu and Linux in general probably gets part of the credit for the speed here: The T43; even with Chrome browser, Evolution, Synaptic, Tomboy, and a few terminals open; is using only 23% of the system memory, and the cpu stays parked at 800 Mhz, not even needing the Pentium M's potential 1.87 Ghz most of the time. The fan comes on every now and then, but is mostly idle, though as explained last post that is partly because of ThinkFan running.

 

Chrome is not in the base Ubuntu library as an installable, but when you go to Google and install the .deb for it, your apt repository is updated with a line so that new versions are offered when they are available. I have the google-chrome-unstable version at 5.0.360.0-r42309 right now. 5.0.342 is the current beta.

 

The installed version of Chrome may be Alpha, but like most Google alpha / beta code, it is clearly extremely functional already: Enough to have replaced Firefox for me. I still have Firefox for those websites that are just not working yet in Chrome, but those are few and far between these days.

 

OpenOffice 3.2

 

OpenOffice is at version 3.2, and launches in a matter of a few seconds on the T43, even with the aforementioned apps  open. The 23% of memory use becomes 28% (on a 2 GB system) In addition to the fast launch speed up (which is very noticeable) the newest version enhances compatibility with MS Office. Most of the people I deal with are MS Office format people. All day long I am getting .doc and .xlsx files for one reason or another. So far Oo 3.2 has handled everything people have send to me. Fast and compatible. Hard to beat. I will be interested to see how the user interface redesign turns out. There has been some press about this recently, where OpenOffice is thinking about "Ribbonizing" their user interface (OpenOffice.Org's Renaissance Project). I did not like the ribbon at first in MS Office 2007, but have at least gotten used to it, so I am not as upset by the idea as some. Seems like a waste of screen real estate, and I'd rather they worked on making things like building pivot tables easier.. but whatever. It looks like the end users will at least make sure that the updated OpenOffice user interface, when it arrives, it at least optional. 3.2 has the same interface as far as I can tell as any other version of OpenOffice 3.x does.

 

Compatibility

 

Linux is the nexus of my computing life, in the sense that it is the most compatible with everything else. That means can read and write to both MS Windows formatted disks (NTFS, FAT, FAT32) as well as HFS. There is a caveat on HFS: The writing is limited to non-journaled HFS. Journaled HFS is read-only unless you force it to write. I did that. Once. I was able to get everything back OK, but it was a mess. It is better to turn off journaling on HFS before you need to write to it from Linux, and then turn it back on when you are done. Thus, from terminal:

 

sudo diskutil disableJournal /Volumes/hfs_journaled_disk

 

Oddly the Disk Utility GUI does not have the capability to turn off journaling in OS.X. Only enable it.... but I digress.

 

I can put EXT2/3 on the Mac or Windows via Fuse and some drivers:

 

http://macntfs-3g.blogspot.com/2009/04/ntfs-3g-200944.html

http://www.fs-driver.org/

http://code.google.com/p/macfuse/

 

..... but they are slow. Linux is the glue: the cream filled center of the Oreo cookie. It is what I use to fix broken disks, diagnose networking issues, and copy things back and forth between unlike platforms when standard network protocols are not an option.

 

Ubuntu does not install the OS.X stuff by default, but it is easy to add:

 

• macutils      2.0b3-15               Tools to deal with the specially encoded disk formats / volume types

• hfsplus        1.0.4-12build3      Tools to access HFS+ formatted volumes

• hfsprogs       332.25-5               mkfs and fsck for HFS and HFS+ file systems

• hfsutils          3.2.6-11build3     Tools for reading and writing Macintosh volumes

 

With these one, I can get a USB/Firewire/Flash disk from pretty much anyone and deal with it on Linux.

 

Polishing

 

I imagine that the Ubuntu folks will be focused now on the fit and finish of their next release. Its a Long term Support release, so it will have people using it for years to come. I have seen far fewer package problems even in the Alphas and the Beta than I did between 9.04 and 9.10, for example. Whether that is luck, or just Ubuntu trying to be less bleeding edge for the LTS release I do not know. It is already something I use every day. It is hard in fact to switch back and forth between 9.10 and 10.04 sometimes, because 10.04 is already so much faster for some things, and I get addicted to a system feeling quick very easily. 10.04 will be going onto my Acer Aspire One Netbook in the very near future.

Steve Carl

Ubuntu 10.04 and the T43

Posted by Steve Carl Mar 16, 2010
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Recently I came into possession of a used IBM ThinkPad T43. Ever since the death of my T41's screen backlight, I have been mourning not having a Thinkpad for use with Linux.

 

When this T43 came to light in a stack of old gear, I begged to be allowed to have it, and I guess I looked pitiful enough that they had mercy on me and it followed me home. I had the unit for about 5 minutes before I had it booted to a Mint 8 USB key, and was installing Linux over the top of whatever version of Windows XP it had been running. Once the unit was fully checked out, it was time to move it to its new bleeding edge OS testing role.

 

The unit itself is not pristine: Like most Thinkpad's of its age, it was ridden hard across the prairie, and put up wet. The screen back-light is showing signs of fading away, just like the T41's did, and the keyboard has about 20% of the letters polished clean off by hard typing. Still, it is the lovely-to-use IBM Thinkpad keyboard (second only to a Mac's these days), and it works.

 

The T41 has:

 

• The 15” 1400x1050 panel, which is beautiful, if dim.
• The processor is the 1.83 Ghz Pentium M, and it has 2 GB of RAM (533 MHz front-side system bus PC2-4200 DDR2 SDRAM 533 MHz SO DIMM memory).
• The hard drive is a 7200 RPM 60 GB unit.
• The graphics card is the standard Mobility Radeon X300 with 64 GB of RAM.
• This T43 uses the Intel chipsets that collectively define the brand name “Centrino”, which means Wifi is supported by Linux without any muss or fuss.

 

By todays standards, in other words, about the same specs as my Acer Aspire One or Dell Mini-9 netbooks, other than the screen resolution. Laptops have come a long way in the last 4 or 5 years! The netbooks have LED screen backlighting, which would have added years to the life of the T41, if that had been available back then. It is clear the T43, when it goes to the great Linux laptop junkyard to join its ancestors, will die of feeble back-light syndrome too. I would buy a refurb'ed screen if someone could figure out how to replace the Cold Cathode Tube with LED's on these units.

 

Ubuntu 10.04

 

It was time to get back into Linux on with my new/old Thinkpad. The old T41 had always run Linux well, and the newer spec T43 does as well. The main performance related differences between the old T41 are:

 

1) The T41 was a 1.7 Ghz Pentium M, and this is a 1.86. Not much extra speed there.
2) The T41 maxxed out at 1.5 GB, and the T43 takes 2GB: That is enough to make a difference, at least on memory bound applications. Linux does not need it all. Even running Gnome and Compiz and Chrome and Firefox and Evolution all at the same time, only 33% of that 2GB is in use.

 

The screen resolution and the hard drive were the same between the two laptops. I mention all this because Linux runs amazingly well: feels downright crisp in fact, on this T43. I credit that not to the CPU or the RAM, but to changes in Linux itself. Ubuntu has been driving a lot of effort into faster boot times and other related performance enhancements, and they show.

 

To see how well 10.04 was progressing, I grabbed the daily build and installed it, then updated it with the current updates via apt-get update / apt-get dist-upgrade. Gnome is still at 2.29.92 rather than 2.30, but it appears that Ubuntu will ship with the latest Gnome. I was not sure that would happen, since 10.04 is a Long Term Support (LTS) version, and that tends to make the package selection be a bit more conservative.

 

I won't waste a lot of electronic ink of my normal Evolution status. Evolution works via DAVMail, but not via MAPI, and that is the way it has been for a long time. Nothing to see here: Move along.

 

OK: One thing of interest in Evolution land: There is a new IMAP backend coming in 2.30, and it implements the IMAP IDLE functionality. That is going to be very very nice, since that means that changes in the inbox are reflected in near real time to the client. Apparently you will have to define the IMAP inbox again to pick up the new backend: Existing accounts that are migrated will continue to use the old back end, if I understand this correctly.

 

From stone cold to fully booted is a matter of less than a minute, even on this old hardware. Compared to my Dell D620 booting Windows XP or Windows 7, it is a rocket, and the Dell is much newer. Of course the Dell booting Linux is fast, and I imagine when I get 10.04 on there it will be *very* fast.

 

Oh Be Quiet

 

One annoying thing about the Thinkpad is the fan. The default fan settings under Ubuntu are just too loud. I am sure the CPU running at 46C is better, but not if I can't stand the box. Ubuntu has the "thinkfan" utility available in the repository, version 0.6.6-1. This very simple deamon read a file called /etc/thinkfan.conf. I updated this file to look like this:

 

(0,    0,    55)
(1,    50,    60)
(2,    58,    62)
(3,    60,    64)
(4,    62,    66)
(5,    64,    66)
(7,    65,    32767)

 

The leftmost number is the fan speed, and it is a predefined speed. 0 is slowest and 7 is fastest. On 7 the Thinkpad doubles as a hovercraft. The next two numbers on each line are ranges of temperatures in Celcius. The first is the temp that the fan kicks it up a notch on. The last defines the range and overlaps the value of the next line so that the fan is not jumping up and down like a rabbit, but instead running a bit longer than is absolutely required.

 

I run the gnome sensors applet in the taskbar, and watched the CPU temp for a while (the IBM ACPI is well supported and presents *tons* of temperature zones), and came up with the above. I am not running in in daemon mode yet, rather I am starting it from the command line so I can watch what it does still. Eventually that will stop being entertaining, but by then the temp and fan speeds should be fully tweaked out.

 

sudo thinkfan -n -p:

 

Config as read from /etc/thinkfan.conf:
Fan level    Low    High
0        0    55
1        50    60
2        58    62
3        60    64
4        62    66
5        64    66
7        65    32767
Disengaging the fan controller for 0.500 seconds every 5 seconds

 

sleeptime=5, temp=52, last_temp=0, biased_temp=52 -> level=1
sleeptime=5, temp=50, last_temp=51, biased_temp=50 -> level=0
sleeptime=5, temp=55, last_temp=54, biased_temp=55 -> level=1
... etc

 

The -p option is what causes the fan controller to be disengaged every 5 seconds. This appears to keep the fan from making this little 'pulsing' sound, as the fan speed makes a brief, mad attempt to speed up only to be tamped back down when it is realized it is not needed. The old T41 pulsed its whole life, and this setting alone makes it worth the trouble of getting the package going.

 

Other ThinkPad Goodies

 

When I first got a ThinkPad, I thought the ThinkLight was the coolest thing since sliced bread. With backlit and virtual (which are backlit by virtual of being virtual) keyboards being the norm for me now, it is not quite as cool as it once was, but it is still better than having no keyboard light at all by a long shot. And there is a package called "Pidgin-ThinkLight" that will make the ThinkLight blink whenever you get a new message. There is one for Kopete as well.

 

That may be cool, or it may be annoying. There is another package in the repository called "tleds" that I took back off. It blinked the Scrollock and Numlock leds with TX and RX on the network. I kept forgetting it was doing that and thought the ThinkPad was having a cow. Maybe I could adapt to it over time, but I decided I did not need to know that much about my network traffic: I have the system monitor in the taskbar, and gkrellm. The winken-blinken-lights just made me think the hardware was having intermittent connections.

 

Hardware Support

 

I have said over the years that I am not a hardware purist when it comes to Linux, meaning that I'll install Nvidia drivers or NDISWrapper  if that is what it takes to get my hardware working. But I like it better when all the drivers are right there, in the box, and fully sourced. Ubuntu installs no special drivers to support the T43. It all just works. Wifi is solid. The special ThinkPad keys work, and as mentioned, the IBM ACPI package exposes the myriad sensors in the Thinkpad:

 

sensors.png

 

Compiz runs extremely quickly in full on graphics mode (called "Extra" at System/Appearance/Visual Effects), giving me all the wiggles and shakes and other visual stuff that I actually rarely use. It is mostly interesting that this older hardware runs all that stuff so well, and extends my wonderment at why Windows needs all that graphical hardware juice. The Compiz Settings Manager has to be added from the repository to be able to set up the graphics that way I like them (which is to say, with the "Windows Previews" and expose-like "Scale" enabled and configured.)

 

OpenOffice is 3.2, launches much more quickly than past versions, and looks great on the T43 panel.

 

Ubuntu 10.04 is looking extremely solid: It is clear that it will be a good long term release, and the Mint based off it should be a nice place to be in a couple months as well. It has this older ThinkPad running well, with only fan tweaking to get it past its one major annoyance. My primary Linux desktop, currently 64-bit Ubuntu 9.10 will be making the move to 10.04 as soon as it GA's, based on this set of testing.

Steve Carl

Wrong Turn

Posted by Steve Carl Feb 19, 2010
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The history of software development is written large with wrong turns, experiments that went wrong, bad guesses, false starts, and so on. All you have to do it look at all the inactive projects at sourceforge to get a good idea of the ratio of how often something is adopted and takes off versus how often they lie fallow or fail utterly.

 

The adoption of something, or the lack of it is not always a reflection of the quality of the object in question. Several things got me to thinking about this recently.

 

  • Microsoft's announcement of Office 2011 for the Mac, and the inclusion of something called "Outlook" in it, replacing "Entourage".
  • My setting up MAPI on my Mint 8 laptop
  • DAVMail fixing the SMTP outbound delay issue in the new version 3.6.3-929.
  • Looking at an old box of software on my shelve called "ECCO Pro".
  • Talking with my wife about another software package called "Lotus Agenda".

 

Looking at those one at a time....

MacOutlook

 

According to things I have read in the trades, the 100% new, ground up rewrite with Cocoa technology based Outlook included in the new Office 2011 will connect to MS Exchange via the EWS protocol.  This is the same protocol Apple leveraged in Snow Leopard so that their mail.app, address book, and iCal could connect to MS Exchange.

Mint 8

 

I recently updated my Mint 8 laptop. I had not been on Mint for a while, since my primary desktop is Ubuntu 9.10 at the moment. A fair number of updates we needing to be installed, among them the new 0.28.2-0ubuntu1 version of "evolution-mapi". I set up Evolution to use the MAPI connection, to see what was what.

 

I could see my inbox, and I could even reply to emails. Performance did not seem all that bad either. I had one hang in an outbound send out of four test emails, but opening it, and sending it again from the Outbox got it to go. This means that all sorts of things that were not working before are now fixed, and so even if it was slow I was starting to think that maybe this was workable now.

 

Then I tried calendaring. It prompted for my password. Over and over. Then I was locked out of MS Exchange, and had to have my userid reset.

 

Not ready.

 

Two years have passed since the MAPI project was announced, and it still is not ready.

 

DAVMail update


I reported here that I had switched my entire email stack a while back to using Evolution and DAVMail, and that the main issue I was having was slow SMTP sends. That was fixed in the very next point release of DAVMail, now at release 3.6.3-929 at this writing, and now sends are fast.

 

That problem being gone, my worst problem now is that once in a while I get a calendar invite, usually an update to an existing meeting, and DAVMail reports is in an invalid format. Also, there is a noticeable pause when a new or updated meeting comes in while the meeting is searched for on the existing calendar. This is in part because I have the number of days to look at on the calendar set to 360 days. The default is 90. It does not even happen all the time, and it may not be DAVMail but Exchange Web Services being slow.

 

Neither of these issues occur often, and they are not show stoppers enough to keep me from using Evolution / DAVMail.

MAPI is Probably Not the Way To Go (TM)

 

Even Outlook itself is moving away from MAPI. The new'ish (since 2003 version of Outlook) "Outlook Anywhere" feature is RPC over HTTP transport, and requires the MS Exchange server to have enabled HTTP... I am pretty sure that means EWS.

 

MS was forced to document MAPI and the related RPC's that Outlook used to use as part of the anti-trust legalities over in the European Union. At the same time, it appears that MS itself was moving away from MAPI. This only makes sense: MAPI is terrible over high latency, slow network pipes. I can remember times when I was on the road, and dialed in at 56k to the network, fired up Outlook, and then waited 30 minutes to get just the most basic inbox synchronization. That was, as they say, the "Bad Old Days".

 

Apple uses EWS for Snow Leopard. DAVMail appears to do the same thing: It clearly is not expecting the old DAV interface that MS Exchange had for two releases (2000, and 2003) that MS deleted/replaced with EWS on E2007. There is clearly convergence here, and while EWS may or may not be technically lovely (I have no idea if it is or not: I have not studied it closely enough) it is clearly better than MAPI for remote usage, and it is where everyone, including Microsoft is going.

 

Linux is out there, via Evolution's Exchange-MAPI, hewing away at dead wood. Linux, via DAVMail is right in there with everyone else. Therein of course is one of the beauties of Linux and its family. There is never just one way to do anything.

 

Maybe MAPI will arrive and be useful some day, and I will keep checking new releases to see. Ubuntu 10.04 is due out in a few months, and they are being a bit coy about what version of Gnome it will have. This is because Gnome itself is about to go 3.0 in the same time frame, and it is probably a bit hard to see from here if it will be stable enough to be fully tested for the Ubuntu 10.04 release.

 

The version of Gnome of course intersects with what version of Evolution and its related packages such as MAPI will be. It is possible that there will be no significant updates in Ubuntu to MAPI support until 10.10!

 

Really really late to the party by then. Thank goodness for DAVMail!

 

Things that Should Not Be Dead (TM)


If MAPI and some of its related RPC's are yesterdays email access "protocol", and it could be argued not only lived far longer than it should have, but never should have lived at all, there is always the reverse case where things of worth die that never should have.

 

Back in my MS-DOS using days, I was a Lotus Agenda user. Loved it. It worked in ways that no other software at the time and hardly every since then has. When Lotus killed it (last version was made free and is available for download still) because it did not have enough market, it killed any hope we Agenda users had that there would be an MS Windows version (never mind any other platform).

 

Eventually a small company named Arabesque created something similar for MS Windows called ECCO. Multiple ownerships later, it was also mostly killed because it did not have enough market share either.

 

Nothing has ever come along to fill that void for me. I tried Chandler for example, since Mitch Kapor, one of the people that were there in the creation of Lotus Agenda was involved with the creation of Chandler, but funding for that ended in 2008, and the last Linux version was built against 6.06 of Ubuntu... might still work, but not a promising sign.

 

I watch the way that things are moving around in Web 2.0 and social networking, and keep thinking that every now and then I see a glimmer of the thinking at went into Agenda and ECCO: I had hoped Google Wave for example was going to be that. But so far, it isn't.

Survival of the Fittest

 

The thing I keep having to remember about Linux and its ecosystem is that the forces that push what lives and thrives, and what withers and maybe dies are indicators of those things that either a business someplace was willing to pay to have developed (75% of the Linux kernel is developed by commercial entities these days) or what was interesting and fun. Linux has *tons* of different ways to blog or interact with social networks for example. It has tons of available email packages and web browsers.


That no one other than DAVMail (at least so far) has created a way to access EWS probably means that Linux's usefulness in the Enterprise as a desktop is a sign more of the way tha the Enterprise has moved towards open standards than the way Linux has molded itself to meet the old business environement I am thinking here of things like OpenOffice 3.2 (announced the other day) with enhanced file format compatibility to ODF!


I keep reading articles about how Linux squanders opportunities like the detour MS went on with Vista, as if Linux had ambition. Too late now! MS righted the ship with Win7.

 

Yeah.

 

Except Vista was never as bad as its press, Win7 is not as good as its hype, and Linux could not care less either way because it morphs and moves based on the interests of the people that create it. Linux survives in places that Agenda and ECCO could not. It is not about survival of the fittest (which many people think means "strongest". It is about survival of the most interesting and most useful to the people that create it.


DAVMail came about because someone needed it to fill in the gaps being left by other tools like Evolution and Thunderbird and all the other email / calendarding packages out there. Someday I predict the Evolution-MAPI code will morph into something else: the RPC code mined for useful bits and connected to EWS or whatever comes after that. Be a shame to toss it. just because they made a wrong turn.

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One of the things that I like about working here at BMC is the way in which we do some things like we were not in fact a large company. This web site is one great example of that, as well as its predecessor, Talk.bmc.com. We are one of the few companies our size of which I am aware that engages our community at the level, and in as many different ways as we do. I am a good example of this, having been blogging here and at Talkbmc for nearly five years now.

 

It seems especially appropriate to be putting up this post today, given Apples announcement a few hours ago of the iPad. Among other things, the new iPad will run all the iPhone applications: over 140,000 of them at this writing, unmodified. It also will be a great platform for reading all sorts of offline and online content.

 

It seemed obvious to the folks behind the infrastructure that we needed an iPhone (and now iPad) app to allow people to have an additional way to access to the amazing amount of technical and related content here on Communities. I was happy to have been involved in the beta testing program of that app, called “BMC Today” (In the App Store now). I guess the name implies that it allows one to stay completely current here, but it also goes to the fact the application is not the entire web site. In any given area, it is the last 10 results (or less: a settable option) for that area. Areas are things like Video Podcasts, Audio Podcasts, News, White papers, and so forth.

 

These are my three favorite features of the “BMC Today” application:

 

1) Blogs: if you have a favorite blogger at Communities, of course you are probably subscribed to their RSS feed, but if not, this is a nice way to be able to read the blogs from wherever you are, and have them nicely pulled out and easy to see. It also lets you see what all the bloggers are talking about in case some related content for someone you are not subscribed to should appear.

 

Here is a screen shot of that:

 

photo.jpg

 

2) Filter: the screen shot above displays another of my favorite features, the filter. After you refresh your content, you can over in the preferences settings create filter “tags” and then the filter button toggles those filters on and off over the top of the content you are viewing, making it easy to find things like articles about Linux, Linux on the Desktop, Cloud Computing, BSM, or whatnot. The filter does only operate over the top of the content in the iPhone/iPad-to-be cache.

 

3) White Papers: if we should publish a white paper about something I am interested in, say “Cloud Computing In Perspective” (which we did on January 12th, 2010) it is handy to be able to have all those in one place. If you are a technical person, you probably read a lot of white papers, so this is a very easy way to find the latest ones we have.

 

I should note that while the application caches the data when you hit refresh, it does not load the entire content of that area: It is page summaries, and descriptions, not entire blog posts or video podcasts. For those long airplane trips you can download via the "BMC Today" app the Video and Audio Podcasts though: Take off here, and then land over there a BSM expert. For text related things, you will be able to look at the summaries of things while in Airplane Mode and note what you may want to take a deeper dive on later.

 

I like to read rather than watch or listen, so while the Video and Audio podcasts are cool, it is somewhat lost on me, other than just being really nice tech. We may not have gotten the flying cars, but our communicators rock! Take that Star Trek. Others who are more visual or aural will prefer those media features more than likely, and that is the beauty of the application. It is the 1.0 version and it already has quite a number of different modalities in it. And of course, did I mention that it is free?

 

Where the application goes next is of course up to you. We'd like to hear back from everyone about what they like, don't like, and what new features are desired and/or required. I have mentioned a few things here I would like to see. The application is not a replacement for participating on Communities, and we would of course like to hear from you. To that end, there is a feedback feature that allows you to ask for new app features, or comment on anything else on “Communities”.

 

Whats your “BMC Today”?

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In my last two posts [ 1 ] [ 2 ] I have been talking about using DavMail to access my MS Exchange 2007 inbox from Linux. Over the holidays I had a chance to test this out in real life, remote action. Almost as good as a new Phaser! Almost. I got one of those too though. I clearly was good last year. No lumps of coal or anything.

 

Since DavMail interfaces via the web interface, it can not do anything that the web client can not. More or less, DavMail just allows you to use the mail client of your choice *instead* of the web interface. In the case of Exchange 2007, the web interface is better than it was in previous releases, but I am still not a big fan. Maybe Exchange 2010 will be better. Maybe it will learn from gmail. Maybe. I can dream. Being able to use Thunderbird, Evolution or mail.app on OS.X is a huge improvement in the meantime.

 

Along the course of the holiday I had two systems with me as I traveled about: My Dell D620 laptop running Ubuntu 10.04 Alpha 1, and my Macbook running 10.6.2 of OS.X. I installed DavMail on each.

 

Note here that the OS.X instructions on the DavMail site are for the last release of OS.X: it took some interpreting to get them to work for 10.6. A few things, such as the directory utility have been relocated (from Applications / Utilities to System Preferences / Accounts / Login Options/ Join/ Open Directory Utility: Why it is buried here I have no idea) . But it all works: directory, calendar, and email.

 

Out and About

 

The holidays for me are a sort of progressive dinner, traveling and seeing family for several weeks, and across 700 miles.  It is not called the "holiday season" for nothing.

 

Internet access was everywhere but varied from broadband running at seven megabits to satellite running .5 Megabits.

 

In every case, I was able to read, update, and reply to email, calendar, and find people in the address book of MS Exchange. On the slower connections it was obvious how chatty DavMail is. Here is an example of that: I loaded up DavMail on OS.X when I was working with the satellite connection (A worse case scenario short of dial up, to be sure), with low bandwidth, and long latency since each packet was running up to geosynchronous orbit. My inbox was getting rather large, as this was towards the end of the trip, and there were over 700 items in it. Since I had not installed and sync'ed the mail.app via DavMail before, it had to load up everything. Ditto iCal. Over 400 Megabytes of conversation occurred.

 

The Dell D620, having been previously sync'ed, only needed the new items, and worked fairly quickly. OS.X plodded along for nearly 2 hours getting everything for the first time. When I got the Mac inside of a 3 Mb connection, it ran well (and in fact finished up the initial sync, as I got tired of waiting and put it in standby even though it was nearly done).

 

All of this is about the same as running Outlook remotely. It is very chatty as well. It is odd to see things running slowly when one is used to more efficient protocols like end-to end IMAP, but DavMail is taking your IMAP connection and mapping it to the web interfaces way of doing things, and it is slow as Outlook natively. I imagine that if Evolution ever delivers a workable, high fidelity MAPI that it will be torpid when on slow lines too.

 

SMTP

 

To send email from mail.app or Evolution (I did not try Thunderbird this trip) you set up an SMTP connection to your DavMail proxy. For some reason, no matter how fast the connection, delivery is very slow. It is like the SMTP send has to be polled for, and that the polling interval is set at something very long, like two or three minutes. This is true on 1 Gb LAN connections at the office too. Things do get sent, it just takes a while.  Once it gets polled for, it transfers quickly, but it waits for something unknown first. It was not uncommon for me to have 3 or 4 emails queued up for delivery in the outbox, and then see them all go at once. I looked around the DavMail settings, and this does not seem to be a set-able behavior. Clicking on send/receive does not seem to speed things up appreciably either.

 

Calendar

 

In either iCal on the Mac or Evolution on Linux, the one set-able DavMail behavior (right click on the DavMail toolbar icon, choose 'settings') that seemed important was  the one called "calendar past events". It defaults to 90 days, and that means you will only see events *created* in the last 90 days, not ones that *occur* in that time frame. I assume that MS Exchange stores meetings once, and uses the reoccurrence info to display the meetings, rather than have a discrete entry on each day the event occurs on. To make this work on my office Linux (Ununtu 9.10, Evolution 2.28.1), I set the DavMail past events time to 720 days! That may be overkill, but when you have been working at one place for a long time, cruft tends to accumulate... maybe I should just miss those old meetings?

 

Something that has worked very well so far is accepting or creating meetings from DavMail. They appear almost instantly over on my MS Windows 7 / Outlook 2007 calendar. The one problem I had here was when I used an email from someone and tried to create a meeting from it in Evolution (right click, 'Create a Meeting'). It kept trying to make the person that sent me the email the chairperson of the meeting, and that generated a write error. This is probably not a DavMail thing, but an Evolution thing: it should have made me the chairperson of the meeting. At least Evolution has the option of creating tasks and meetings from email: Outlook still can't do this. An odd oversight, given all the 50 bajillion things Outlook does do. Best I can do from Outlook is send a task to OneNote. Nice, as far as it goes, but I really prefer a shared if simple task list to a locked down application that I can only use from the one system.

 

Conclusion

 

Unless something weird happens, or there is a major new feature to report, this is my last post about DavMail for now. It is my working, active, in-use replacement for Evolutions Exchange Connector, and does what Evolutions Exchange-MAPI plugin should be doing, but won't yet. It has some speed issues, but it works, and keeps me on my Linux desktop (or Mac) most of the time, which is what I wanted. It allows me to travel and stay in touch with the internal email system without needing to do anything further to set it up: In that regard it is a lot like the MS Outlook 2007 clients new remote access feature.

 

All in all, with full time Linux desktop-ness restored after all this time struggling with MAPI, DavMail was a real holiday gift.

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As I noted in the last post, I decided to quit waiting for the Evolution project to ship a workable MAPI implementation just so that I could read my email, and more importantly, read my Calendar, from my Linux desktop. I had all that back when we jhad MS Exchange 2003, but ever since the MS Exchange 2007 upgrade, I have been stuck using either web mail, IMAP only (no calendar) or Windows 7 in order to get to my calendar.

 

A while back I had installed DavMail on my Windows 7 system, and yesterday I wrote about finally starting to use that. The setup was off of my Ubuntu 9.10 desktop, which is my primary workstation. I realized today that, whenever I am mobile on the laptop, and especially outside of the BMC network that I would not be able to reach the gateway. I would be back to using web based email.

 

This was my own doing though. there is nothing in the DavMail tool that was forcing me to do that. DavMail runs not only on MS Windows, but Linux and OS.X. It is self contained: It needs nothing special from Windows 7. The only reason it was there was curiosity on my part about how compatible software would be in general with Windows 7. Once it was installed, I just took advantage of it later to do what it was designed to do.

 

My laptop, at home, or on vacation, or on a business trip is not inside the BMC network. Perhaps even more interesting to me was that my laptop is currently Ubuntu 10.04 Alpha 1. How would DavMail do there?

 

http://davmail.sourceforge.net/

 

I installed the latest .deb from the DavMail sourceforge repository onto the laptop, and like before, I changed two things about its default configuration:

 

  1. Used https rather than http: This is BMC thing. We do not expose email over http. I would imagine though that most shops restrict http:// as well.
  2. Used /owa/ rather than /exchange/, as the doc notes to do for MS Exchange 2007.

 

Now I had a portable gateway. Wither the laptop goeth, there goeth my access.

 

Next, I installed Thunderbird and Lightning for email and calendar, and configured each. Unlike Evolution, Thunderbird uses the http:// formation rather than the caldav:// formation Evolution wants for its calendar, so this part works as documented:

 

  http://localhost:1080/users/mail@company.com/calendar1080/users/mail@company.com/calendar (change mail@company.com of course)

 

I also set up IMAP via localhost, and LDAP.

 

I did not quite pay correct attention the first time I set up LDAP: The key to getting is going was to set the BASE to:

 

  ou=people

 

... and then to look up people using their last name. It is clearly there in the doc, I just assumed that the BASE I had been using before would work, and it did not. It makes sense upon reflection: This is not really LDAP. This is LDAP to GAL. WebGAL. Something like that.

 

The first sync is lengthy, and the calendar sync time is downright ugly unless you cache it (which Thunderbird/Lightning says is experimental). One interesting setting is that the calendar sync time (how many days in the past to look for recurring meetings) is a configurable item in DavMail. Nifty. I set mine up to 180, but I am still missing meetings from my calendar. I have had some meetings on here for *years*.

 

What about Ubuntu?

 

Ubuntu 10.04 Alpha 1 is pretty much like 9.10 as far as packages, at least so far. Thunderbird for example is 2.0.0.23, even though 3 RC2 is out and reportedly working very well. Gnome is still 2.28.1, although I am sure that they are not eager to jump into the middle of the development version (2.29) that is leading up to 2.30. 2.30 will be out and integrated by 10.04's release date more than likely, unless Gnome slips their date.

 

Gnome slipping their date seems unlikely. As talk of Gnome 3 warms up, these next few point releases in the 2.x  line are probably going to be pretty minor bug fix releases with minimal changes in functionality, or so I am guessing.

 

All the 9.10 look and feel themes and related stuff are gone: it is back to a generic looking Ubuntu, waiting for whatever the designers do next.

 

The boot time is amazing. I have not timed it yet, but it seems to be just seconds.

 

So far, running Thunderbird email and Google Chrome 4.0.249.30 as my primary browser, the OS has been very stable and solid. Sound works. Multi-screen support in X works out of the box. Wireless is perfect, and the dock bar for the Dell D620 is not causing any issues (more than I can say for Fedora's latest GA release!).

 

At a guess, change has been pretty minimal: A1 appears to be about stripping out 9.10 specific stuff and getting the OS ready for what is to come over the next 4 months.

 

As this is my primary laptop, if there is a problem, I'll feel it right away, so this is going to be interesting.

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http://davmail.sourceforge.net/

 

I have known for a while that there is a gateway called DavMail (link above) that lets you get your calendar off of the web interface to Exchange for a while, but I had just kept hoping against vain hope that Evolution would get the MAPI stuff going. The fact that not a single of the fall releases of any of the major 4 distros I use or follow had a working MAPI meant I was finally willing to have a look at the tool.

 

The old MS Exchange connector for Linux was built around the WebDAV protocol, but it quits working when you install Exchange 2007. I had thought that something called DavMail would have the same restriction, but it turns out it does not. It works against E2007! Well... mostly.

 

I have all of about 1 hour of runtime on this tool, but so far it does appear to allow me to schedule meetings and between that and and IMAP access to email and LDAP access to the address book, I have a largely working Evolution again. More about my use of terms like 'largely' in a bit.

 

It also works In Thunderbird / Lightning: if anything it works better there.

 

Whats Up Doc

 

I found the documentation to be somewhat hard to use, but I finally noodled together a working config. Here are the key points:

 

  1. When installed the DavMail gateway, I had to configure its pointer to my MS Exchange server as an https, not http connection.
  2. For exchange 2007, you use a different URL than 2003 for webmail: the path is /owa/ not /exchange/
  3. Thus: https://mailserver.domain.com/owa/

 

It is amazing how many different ways there are to screw up something that simple.

 

On the client side, the doc is for Thunderbird, and it says that you have to use a construction like this:

 

 

Evolution will not use that form: It wants the http:// to be caldav://, thus:

 

 

I also did not use localhost, but set up the proxy on my Windows 7 system, so I really used:

 

  • caldav://hostname.bmc.com:1080/users/userid@bmc..com/calendar

 

As my general format.

 

I can schedule meetings, and they appear over in Outlook, so that is good. It won't be as nice as the integrated userid lookup in Outlook, and it won't show you meeting collisions, and all that, but it is better than nothing!

 

Here is the "Mostly": Not everything on my Calendar in Outlook appears in my Calendar on Evolution. I have looked over the ones that are appearing, and the ones that are not, and it appears the recurring meetings set long ago are just not there. This does not appear to be a DavMail thing, but a CalDav client thing, because the same thing is true over in Mozilla's Sunbird Calendar / or  the Lightning plugin for Thunderbird.

 

It is not perfect, but it is a lot better than Exchange-MAPI. IMAP is faster in any case, and LDAP works for address lookups. The funny thing is that this free's me from Evolution altogether. I can use Thunderbird now, which I like better, and which has a shiny new release! After all these years of having only one choice for corporate email / calendar, suddenly I see whole new ways to use Linux as my primary desktop.

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I was planning on writing a series of reviews about each of the above listed releases. it had been a while since I had looked at Mint in the office, and each and every release listed about came out *after* Gnome 2.28.1 was out, which meant that I had a chance that the fixes required to move Evolution work against MS Exchange 2007 via MAPI would be checked in.

 

I was dissapointed. Only Ubuntu and Mint even shipped Gnome 2.28.1: Fedora and OpenSUSE went with 2.28.0, despite the fact that Ubuntu shipped first of that list. Oddly Ubuntu shipped Evolution-Mapi at 2.28.0, which was before some very critical checkins in the GIT repository that would have allowed Evolution to have at least worked at a minimal level, if not as a full client of Exchange 2007

 

There is a PPA available from Keith Buel at:

 

https://launchpad.net/~kbuel/+archive/ppa

 

That adds a 2.28.1 version of evolution-mapi to either Ubuntu 9.10 or Mint 8, however it does not (at least for me)  make Evolution functional as an Exchange 2007 client. I doubt this is a PPA issue.  In fact, it may be unique to me, because several people have reported the the PPA version now has their MS Exchange access working like a charm. For me: Not so much.

 

For one thing, I can not send email with this installed at all: Exchange bounces everything back as invalid email addresses. When the calendar displays, it is not everything I have on my schedule, and it is offset by 6 hours: a bug in the way that the issue is that the timezone prefix file is read that leads to Evolution using UTC time. See:

 

https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=586203

 

for details.

 

I have worked around the sending mail problem by defining an IMAP connection to the MS Exchange server, setting it as default, which channels the outgoing email to SMTP rather than via MAPI, but that is such a kludge.

 

All told there are, as of this writing, 28 bugs opened against evolution-mapi 2.28.0 alone. My dream of having a Linux email client that works against MS Exchange 2007 by the holidays is going to have to be by the midwinter festivities of 2010 it appears. Or get a Mac. I would be much happier if Linux et al would get this together.

 

While I am using OpenSUSE 11.2, Ubuntu 9.10, and Mint 8, they are only used against MS Exchange as IMAP clients. No calendaring or tasks: In fact I just loaded up task management software on my iPhone instead of trying to deal any further with using MS Exchange as a central repository for things to do. Fedora 12 has, like most of its predecessors, proven too limited to be of daily use: it is still a pure R&D platform for the Linux community at large, not a useful place for me to do things day-to-day. It is not that I could not fix Fedora to work: it is just that I have too many options for other versions of Linux that already work, 'Out of the Box'. Call me lazy.

 

In the meantime, I am downloading Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Alpha 1 to see if they have loaded up a usable version of Gnome that has the fixes to Evolution required to make it useful in my MS Exchange environment. Whichever release finally gets MAPI working is going to be my day-to-day Linux for a long time to come. Since LTS means "Long Term Support", that normally means a more conservative level of package selection by the Ubuntu folks: However, if they are going to be supporting this version for three years, it would sure be nice if Evolution / MAPI worked!

 

One of the main developers of Evolution MAPI whose blog I follow, Johnny Jacob, has this:

 

http://johnnyjacob.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/push-email-for-gnome-evolutions-exchange-mapi-provider-exchange-2007/

 

In essence, he just got push working on MS Exchange. I can't even get pull working: I guess it is good to live in the development tree of the code right now. It is just that no one out in non-development land would consider a mixed Linux desktop / MS Exchange server environment if they had to build Evolution from GIT before they could use it. A usable version will have to hit a Distro first.

 

 

Steve Carl

Waiting Is...

Posted by Steve Carl Nov 6, 2009
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A serial Blog entry about installing Debian 5.03 in a Dell D620 to see if Evolution / MAPI works there.

 

I can not recall the last time I have done a plain Debian install. I do know that they did not have the graphical installer yet, so it was a fair amount of time ago.

 

Even though my primary Linux is Ubuntu (9.10 these days), which is Debian based, Ubuntu is not Debian. Ubuntu is not even, as near as I can see, a mix of custom packages layered on top. It is a complete repackaging, starting with Debian. Seems like a lot of work, but it is hard to argue with Ubuntu's success.

 

Success except that Ubuntu still does not have a version of Evolution that works against MS Exchange 2007. It is coming. Very very slowly. I read today that the critical packages I needed to take a stab at a working Evolution was already packaged over in Debian. This would be to bring the MAPI support from 0.28.0 to 0.28.1 like the rest of Evolution already is in Ubuntu 9.10. There is a bug to track getting MAPI up to speed in Ubuntu:

 

 

https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/evolution-mapi/+bug/472552

 

...but I think it would be fair to say that the rate in which the Ubuntu team has worked to get Evolution stable and working with Exchange has been lethargic at best, and at least in this they are no different from of the other majors, since no one has the 2.28.1 yet... Except Debian. And of course, Gnome.

 

 

http://packages.debian.org/sid/i386/evolution-mapi/download

http://git.gnome.org/cgit/evolution-mapi/

 

I do not know how this got missed, except that perhaps no one at any of the projects has MS Exchange servers and so they do not pay much attention to it. Just a guess though. It clearly lags behind the other features of Evolution. Another thought would be that most in the Linux community in general think more like the Fedora community in particular, and prefer open standards and protocols rather than closed, and supporting Exchange may feel like a betrayal of those standards?

 

I am *not* stating any of this as fact, just speculating why in the world the MAPI support so desperately lags in Linux, and Evolution. OS.X has had working MS Exchange support since August: Clearly no one in Linux land is feeling any heat of competition with Apple. I know Apple did not go the MAPI route with their support, but at least MS Exchange access works in OS.X, and actually works very well.

 

Knowing that the four fixes that should repair at least in part my broken Evolution are present in Debian, I dusted off the old Debian skills, and downloaded the 'new' 150 MB network starter CD, with graphical installer. Already this is light years ahead of the last time I installed Debian.

 

Debian Install

 

The new Debian graphical installer is nice, but it does not support my external monitor / keyboard / mouse from some reason. Not even as mirrored displays. That is really old school.

 

 

The first sticking point was that it did not have the drivers for my wireless card. I did not care, so I made it skip that and just used the wired interface, noting I'd have to fix the wireless later: it is only a 150 MB install image here. No way it has everything it needs out of the box, and I did not expect it too.

 

Next problem was my /home directory. I am installing this over the top of OpenSUSE 11.2 RC1 on my Dell D620 laptop. Gold comes out tomorrow, so if the Debian experiment flops, that will be my next install. The problem is that both Ubuntu 9.10 and OpenSUSE use Ext4, and Debian 5.03 150 MB installer disk only has Ext3. My home directory is formatted in Ext4, and Debian can't deal with it. I told it to ignore the partition, and now had a second thing to fix post install....

 

I picked the 'laptop' packages to add them to the basic desktop and core set, and turned it loose. The installer chugged along for about 30 minutes downloading and installing things. Finally it asked my if I wanted GRUB to understand the Windows 7 partition, and it was done. A quick reboot onto a fairly back-level 2.6.26 kernel (Ubuntu and OpenSUSE have 2.31), and I had a mirrored display and was able to log in to Gnome. The default Gnome desktop was clean, and the Debian default theme easy to look at if nothing earth shaking graphically. As an experiment, I pulled the CDROM, installed a battery, and the power manager instantly saw the extra battery. Looks like I had the laptop packages alright!

 

As Han Solo once said "Don't get cocky kid!"

 

Old Old School

 

Debian is an interesting animal. At any given time it has three versions: Stable, Testing, and "sid". I was looking at the current stable version, release 5, codename "Lenny". Lenny is really really out of date, once you get to looking. Gnome was at 2.22. That means 2.24, 2.26, and 2.28 have come out *since* Lenny. Lots of water under that bridge, including all the MAPI support in Evo. Ubuntu had revved three or four times since this level of Gnome. Also, there was no way to enable dual head support in anything I had installed: the monitor tools I was used to in OpenSUSE or Ubuntu were not installed.... of course, I had just over 900 packages installed, and Ubuntu and OpenSUSE default to twice that in their base installs easily. Another thing to hunt down...

 

To get to testing or "sid", you start with Lenny, and change the install repositories to enable allowing packages from further upstream. the Evolution MAPI 0.28.1 I want is *all* the way upstream, in sid.

 

sid is what Ubuntu is based off of, and it is quite stable over in Ubuntu, so my hope is that Debian is just very very very cautious, not that one of the reasons that Ubuntu is completely repackaged is because they had to rework *everything*. Even if they did, that would have fed back to sid, and so it should be fairly stable, if not perfect. I am not looking for perfect yet, just a working MAPI connection to Exchange.

 

I manually edited /etc/apt/sources.list and added sid, reloaded, and started to install Evolution MAPI. Synaptic can not deal with this at all, so I had to do it from the command line. su to root, and then apt-get install evolution-mapi

 

MAPI would not install, because Gnome was back-level, so that became 'apt-get install evolution-mapi gnome'. That broke another thing, so I added that new thing that needed explicit upgrade permission. And another thing. And another thing.

 

Oh. yeah. Now I remember why I had not done a Debian install in a while. It is coming back to me. I finally get enough things added that apt can figure out the rest, and installs 478 new packages out of sid, replacing over half of the packages from Lenny. Most of it is Gnome stuff. The general theory I have for this type of work is to only install the minimum I have to, to try and stay in the Stable tree as much as possible, but that theory is not looking good.... I guess at that point to get Xinerama going will take replacing xorg with the current version. Who knows what it will take to get the wireless going... But I stick to the theory. I want to see working Evolution before I get too wrapped around the axle about anything else.

 

Debian stops to ask me a few questions about restarting services and whatnot. Nothing new there: still curses based questions, even though I had done a graphical install. This many packages, with pauses to ask for things, takes a fair amount of time to get through... most of an hour in fact. Part of it is the size of the update, and part is the fact that the D620 laptop hard drive is well... a laptop hard drive. I while the time away by working on this post via Google Docs, and thinking about how to integrate Google Wave here.

 

Before I figure Google Wave out, the install finishes. I reboot, and X won't start. Nuts. From console login: 'apt-get install xorg'. 48 more packages. Much whining in the boot messages about needing to upgrade the kernel, but it boots, and goes into X. Opps: Forgot to install the MAPI package! 'apt-get install evolution-mapi'. 9 more packages.

 

 

While I am at it, I loaded up the firmware for the Intel wireless card via Synaptic It was easy, and the wireless now works... too well. Our Access point is outside the firewall, and the laptop *prefers* the wireless connection to the wired one. To get access to the internal network I have to disable the wireless and enable the wired, eth0 type connection. I see no easy tool for this, so I do it all from command line. Really starting to miss the spit and polish of Ubuntu or OpenSUSE for things like this.

 

Bingo

 

I can see my Inbox. I can use the actual server name in the account setup. The email addresses in the inbox are valid, reply-to-able addresses. The speed to load the Inbox is not great, but it is way faster than the last release which took forever to load the inbox, right before it crashed.

All of this waiting, just to get to a valid inbox. No GAL. No Calendar. Just a working if slow inbox. I should have been more specific when I said "Working". I want to be able to calendar, at the very least, and while I can use LDAP if need be for the address book, a more native GAL implementation would be nice.

 

And I am in a totally unsupportable place, with a hybrid of Lenny and sid. If you read through the Debian web pages about installing the Distro, they are quite upfront and even snarky about getting off into the woods if you are not a full fledged developer who can pull themselves back from the edge. You want stable Debian, you stay years back of the leading edge. Or you use a Debian based Distro like Ubuntu, although that last bit of advice is not on the Debian web site.

 

Back to waiting.. and got to get OpenOffice updated on Debian. OO 2.4 will not cut it when 3.1 is right there, just 48 more sid packages away... And OpenSUSE 11.2 Gold should be out today.

 

PS: Extra geek points for knowing where the title of today's post comes from.

Steve Carl

Happy OS Holidays

Posted by Steve Carl Oct 27, 2009
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We are at the beginning of an embarrassment of riches in the OS space. In case you have been living under a rock, the most recent OS release season was kicked off by Microsoft with their GA release of Windows 7 the other day. There was some minor fuss in the trades about it. Next to the plate will be Ubuntu with 9.10 on October 29th, then OpenSUSE on November 12th with 11.2, and then Fedora on November 17th with Fedora 12. This not to ignore the recent OS.X 10.6 (now 10.6.1) which came out at the end of August. Pretty sure August is in a different season, but maybe not "Computer Seasons".

 

I am not sure what is more interesting: The actual operating systems or the emotion and hyperbole around them.

 

Take Windows 7 for example: it is a solid release. It fixes most of what went wrong with Vista, most especially the *perception* of Vista. I used Vista from its first release, and it got gradually better with every patch and every service pack. It followed in XP's footprints in fact: XP was not all that great before Service Pack 1 either, and really only stable and semi-secure after SP2, though most appear to have forgotten that. XP in its current form is fairly fast, fairly stable, and will be the nemesis of Windows 7 for some time, as most will see no reason to leave XP unless they are buying a new computer with Win7 already installed. As new hardware comes out that does not have WinXP drivers available for it, there will be a slow gentle nudge over to Win7. By the time Win8 arrives, Win7 will have the largest market share of the the Windows OS's.

 

Windows 7 is not a bad OS, but as Jack Wallen over at Tech Republic points out, it is hardly anything new, with the possible exception that we won't have to wait for the first service pack to have a stable OS. Not being a bad OS will probably be enough to have Win7 do well. There will be some who figure that if they have to change OS's, why not go whole hog? Some will go Mac/OS.X. Others will revisit Linux, especially with IBM and Ubuntu working jointly on a Linux desktop intended to replace Win7.

 

Netbooks are currently a MS stronghold. MS was going to restrict Win7's special Netbook edition.. MS appeared to realize that might have opened up the playing field for Linux, in particular Ubuntu's NetBook Remix, Moblin, or the Moblin/Ubuntu NetBook remix. This set of restrictions was dropped, but the Win7 edition for Netbooks is still pretty stripped down: For example, no Aero.

 

No Aero: Is that so bad? No. Aero is to Win7 what Compiz is to Linux: Eye candy. The OS works well without it. But the dropping of Aero is somewhat artificial: I have Ubuntu 9.10 running on my Dell Mini 9 Netbook (a two year old design) *with full Compiz*. No problems. It is not that the hardware, even the low end NetBook hardware, can't deal with compositing the desktop.

 

Another thing about Win7 without Aero though: It looks a lot like XP. That could be good or bad, depending on your point of view.

 

Innovate

One word often tossed about in the trades when they are dissing one particular OS or another is that it does not "innovate". I have heard this about every OS at one time or another. Without exception, I have not seen that term defined in any meaningful way. Innovation is a slippery term, and in the eye of the beholder of course. One great example was the recent OS.X release: Was that innovation? It looked almost exactly the same as the 10.5 release before it. Apple had taken all their time and money and put it under the covers, improving and polishing and securing the plumbing. Then, in a nod to the fact that no one was going to perceive the work, they dropped the price of the upgrade, even though, from a changed lines of code, and therefore a cost to develop point of view, this was every bit as big an upgrade as any other.

 

Is that innovation? Innovative strategy? Shrewd timing? I have no idea. I fully support it though. I love 10.6. It is fast. It is stable. it does what I want, and does not get in the way.

 

By any sense I can think of, every OS coming out this fall is evolutionary. None of them are innovative exactly, but all of them are better.

 

The Ubuntu development model pretty much ensures it will always be more of an evolver: How much innovation can one inject with a major release every six months?

 

Ubuntu 9.10

Two days before Halloween we'll get the next GA version of Ubuntu: 9.10. I have been testing 9.10 since Alpha 3 or so, and it will be another solid release. Faster boots, more unified look and feel, easy install and upgrade, etc. All the hallmarks of Ubuntu.

 

With the built in OpenOffice, or the option of IBM's Lotus Symphony, the Ubuntu desktop can function in almost every way as a full replacement for Windows. If you are fully "Web 2.0" or "Cloud based" in your app stack, then it is a 100% replacement. Pretty much any modern Linux is.

 

I have the 9.10 RC1 loaded up on the D620, and it deals very well with the dual head configuration, as long as I remember to turn off Compiz first. It does not deal well with all the screen real estate of two monitors and the composite video at the same time: The Intel GMA 945 just does not have the juice for that. One or the other. Not both. The failure is disheartening too: The screen goes black, and cntrl-alt-backspace does nothing. Hard reboot to get back the screen.

 

The changes to X that made it far more able to dynamically deal with changes in graphic configurations were a good thing, but taking out the ability to bomb out of X via cntrl-alt-backspace was very much *not* innovation.

 

Evolution 2.28.1

Ubuntu will ship with 2.28.1 as its final version of Evolution. I had been testing Exchange 2007 functionality via MAPI all along, but RC1 was the first move from 2.28.0 to 2.28.1 I noted. The MAPI provider is (as of today anyway) still 2.28.0. The account sets up, authenticates (even using the real server name rather than the IP address like the version of Evo-MAPI that shipped with 9.04. Click on a message in the MAPI Inbox, and Evolution crashes.

 

The IMAP access appears to have been sped up a little bit though, so that is something. Since the rest of Evo is at 2.28.1, hopefully MAPI will go there soon. Looking at the GIT log for MAPI, there are at least three checkins that look like they are must-haves that are targeted at the 2.28.1 version.

 

OpenSUSE 11.2

I have been testing OpenSUSE 11.2 as well. Not quite as often as Ubuntu, to be honest, but my Dell D620 triple boots between Windows 7, OpenSUSE 11.2, and Ubuntu 9.10. I had hoped to see some evidence that Evolution MAPI (in it 2.28.1 form) would be appearing sometime soon in OpenSUSE, but it is not there by default as of RC1. Some quick poking about revealed no special repository that needed to be enabled either.

I took the opportunity of having OpenSUSE 11.2 installed to look more closely at KDE 4.3.1, since OpenSUSE is supposed to be the very best place to experience KDE.

 

I have had nothing but trouble from Xinerama and KDE under OpenSUSE. It just does not want to configure correctly my D620's 1440x900 internal LCD and the Dell 1901FP 1280x1024 external panel. I do not know what its problem is, but I am pretty sure it is a KDE thing, since when I load up Gnome it had no issues at all with Xinerama, same as Ubuntu. I have not tried Kubuntu to see what that would do.

 

That little problem, plus the no-show so far of MAPI, plus an annoying keyboard bounce (only there is OpenSUSE / KDE), have kept me from running what is otherwise a pretty good desktop (though I am typing this on it now, using the lovely Bilbo Blogger). I can see why people love OpenSUSE enough to make it their primary desktop OS, but it is missing a few things I need, want, and actually care about such that Ubuntu is where I always fall back to.

 

Linux in General

Looking across the sea of Linux releases that are being actively maintained, I perceive four major subgroups.

 

One is the cutting edge, leader type. I mostly review that type here. The folks that are actively releasing once or twice a year (OpenSUSE is going to an every 8 month release cycle). Right now those releases are all hovering around kernel 2.6.31, OpenOffice 3.1, Firefox 3.5, Gnome 2.28, and KDE 4.3. The near alignment of the package releases makes it difficult in some ways to really say that one Distro is really all the different from another. They are all hewn from the same materials... For all that common fuel, there are big differences between the big three, but they have to be experienced to be fully understood: YAST versus Synaptic versus YUM being one example.

 

Another group is the supported versions: The RedHats and SUSE's and Mandrake's of the world. Perhaps Ubuntu LTS. These releases stay behind current, do more internal testing, release only once every two or three years. These are the solid, reliable, day in day out server types. The Linux desktops in the group all suffer, in my mind, because they do not have the latest X11 and the latest kernel so that they lag in new hardware support.

 

Then there are all the special use Linuxii: the Real Time, or the embedded Linux. The WebOS and Android Cell phones. The system recovery and password reset disks. Clonezilla. This category, in sum, may actually represent the largest install base, if for no other reason than no one out there actually knows they have Linux in them. To them, its a DVR, not a OS, etc. Android 2.0 just came out, so clearly there are lots of holiday goodies here.

 

Then there are all the others. There may be more distinctions than I make, but to me they are an amber waving sea of single use / single developer systems. The "I did not like their Icons, so I started a new Distro" types.

 

And Finally ...

I recently noted in my personal blog that I was not enjoying Blackberry OS 4.7 on a BB Storm nearly as much as I would have hoped. I fixed that today by loading up OS 5.0. What a difference! it is not stable yet, but it is faster, it uses the keyboard better, and it generally makes the Storm a much more livable place to be. OS's may not be something everyone get excited about, even when we are in the middle of such a tidal wave of updates, but having a usable OS sure makes a person a lot less miserable.

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