Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Linspire's CNR to go multi-Linux, remain free

Linspire announced that it plans to expand its CNR ("Click 'N Run") digital download and software management service to support multiple desktop Linux distributions beyond Linspire and Freespire, initially adding Debian, Fedora, OpenSUSE, and Ubuntu, using both .deb and .rpm packages. And, the standard CNR service will remain free.

CNR was developed by Linspire in 2002 to allow desktop Linux users to find, install, uninstall, manage, and update thousands of software programs on their Linspire-based Linux computers.

Previously available only for Linspire and Freespire desktop Linux users, the CNR Service will begin providing users of other desktop Linux distributions a free and easy way to access more than 20,000 desktop Linux products, packages and libraries, a Linspire spokesperson said.

Support for different Linux distributions will begin in the second quarter of 2007 via a new website, Debian, Fedora, OpenSUSE, and Ubuntu will be the first supported, with others planned to follow.

Even as the Linux desktop has made strong advances in usability and capabilities, the difficulties of finding, installing, and updating software -- with each distribution requiring its own installation process -- has remained one of the most commonly cited complaints among desktop Linux users. With more than five years of development behind it, Linspire CEO Kevin Carmony hopes that CNR will now normalize these tasks for the most popular Debian- and RPM package-based distributions.

You can read more of the article and view screenshots of Linspire's CNR here

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

European Commission vouches for open source

The European Commission has issued an endorsement of open-source software, offering a boost of confidence for businesses considering the use of Linux and related software.

In a report on business deployments of open source software, published in full late last week, the Commission said that in "almost all cases" savings would be made by switching from proprietary to open-source software.

The findings come in stark contrast to assertions from Microsoft that Linux savings are a myth.

The Commission's work is based on detailed analysis of open-source projects in six European Union countries.

"Our findings show that, in almost all cases, a transition toward open source (produces) savings in the long-term cost of ownership," said the report, which was written by academics at the United Nations University in Maastricht, Netherlands.

Microsoft has attempted to persuade IT professionals and businesses that Windows can be cheaper than Linux, though its Get the Facts campaign. Get The Facts cited examples where Microsoft's software had offered a cost advantage over open source software.

The EC report also issued encouragement for organizations considering the Open Office applications suite. "Open Office has all the functionalities that public offices need to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations," the report said. "Open Office is free and extremely stable." It added that people were as productive with Open Office as they were with proprietary software.

The report did list two notes of caution. First, it said, short term costs will be higher for organizations migrating, even partially, to open source, largely because of the initial cost of training. Second, some workers may feel undervalued if they are required to work with free software.

The EC, the executive arm of the European Union, has taken several strides towards encouraging the development of open-source software.

In October, it granted $3.88 million (3 million euros) toward a project, called SQO-OSS, to test the quality of open-source software. And just before that, the Commission extended its open-source Web portal, the Open Source Observatory and Repository, to develop interoperability between applications.

By Richard Thurston

Monday, January 15, 2007

Windows screwup forces Ubuntu shift

You never quite wrap your head around how anti-consumer Microsoft's policies are until they bite you in the bum. Add in the customer antagonistic policies of its patsies, HP in this case, and vendors like Promise, and you have quite a recipe for pain. Guess what I did today?

It started out quite simply, a client needed to set up a small branch office, something I do almost every week. Four workstation and a repository for files, occasional backups, and a shared printer is all they would need, nothing special. Five HP 5100s, a printer, a Promise TX2300 with mirrored drives and a DVD-R was all I needed. That was the easy part.

Out came the anaemic 40GB drive from one HP, and in when the Promise controller and two WD 200GB SATA drives. The TX2300 was a snap to set up, the hardest part was rebooting 10 times until I caught that CTRL-F is the key to get into the card BIOS. A minute later, the RAID was built and it was time to restore the OS from the CDs. Two thumbs up to Promise here, it really could not be easier.

This is where the pain began. Microsoft has a policy where the vendors can't ship you a Windows CD so instead they have to send you a series of restore CDs. These option-free exercises in rookie programming mistakes are a shining example of what is wrong with the industry. HP, like the weak willed jellyfishes that they are, went along with this plan rather than stand up for the people paying them.

The problem? The #*&$ers at HP made it so the brain dead restore scripts would not see any hardware other than the parts they shipped, and it would not recognise the Promise controller. Fair enough, it isn't HP's duty to recognise everything, that would be well beyond anything I expected. You just press F6 and install the drivers manually, it gives you the standard Windows prompt there.

Looking past the problem of the machine not having a floppy, you can easily add one for the initial install, things got ugly quick. The problem? Those weasels at Captain Junior Spy Central disabled the F6 driver install on their restore CD! There is no Windows CD so you can do it manually, you either use theirs or have your own copy.

If you have a copy of XP to use, guess what? The key that comes with the HP box is restricted to the version of Windows on the restore CD. Vanilla XP will not work, nor will any of the copies I have lying around. Your choice, use only HP hardware or buy a copy of XP. A big FU to MS and HP for this little ray of sunshine.

Money grubbing and brain dead tactics aside, I figured I could boot from the Promise CD and possibly manually format the drives and dump the install CDs to the HD. That trick will often work to get you by initial unrecognised drives. That is when I learned half of the problems with Promise, the CD it provides is not bootable and contains nothing resembling a tool. Sparse would be a step up from what it offers.

Biting back my fervent desire to throw this mess out of a window, get a gun, and go to Redmond, I put in the original HD and booted into it to see if there were any interesting tools to help my plight. I tried to install the drivers and noticed the second problem, the #$&#ing Promise CD doesn't have drivers on it! No, I am not kidding, they ship the card with a CD, but that CD has no drivers on it! Honestly.

If you click the install drivers option, it prompts you to put a disk in the (nonexistent) A: drive to make a driver disk. There is no option to unpack, no option to put it in any other location, you are just screwed. Manually browsing the CD comes up with the same programs the moronic installer offers you. A: drive or the highway. In this day and age, there is no excuse for not shipping a driver with hardware, Promise really screwed this up.

So, unable to transfer the install easily, unable to legally use a different CD of Windows with my legally purchased key, and unable to install the drivers with the one I had, I was left with only one option. The machine was put in place Saturday running Ubuntu. The owner of the chain was informed of it, why it was done, and what the ramifications, mainly stability and security, were.

Luckily, he is a smart man, and from this point on, Linux will be the OS of choice on all his servers, it is cheaper to buy, cheaper to install, and much more secure. Desktops are under evaluation, but Microsoft lost this chain for sure on the server side. If it doesn't think their brain dead policies are costing them money, I am proof positive that they are, and I am willing to bet I am far from alone.

By Charlie Demerjian

Friday, January 05, 2007

Letting Go of Windows NT and 2000
Linux Migration Made Simple

Running a Microsoft Windows NT server these days is a brave (or, perhaps, stupid) thing to do: Support for the product has finished, and as far as Microsoft is concerned, the product should be put in a rest home for retired software. Windows Server 2000 is also getting long in the tooth, and in a few years it too will reach the end of its support lifecycle and be looking for its rocking chair and slippers.

So if you work for one of the many organizations around the world still running NT and 2000, like it or not, you are soon going to have to migrate to another operating system.

There are many reasons to consider migrating some or all of your data center servers to Linux, and we won't go into them here. But if you do decide to go open source, some ways of going about it are better than others.

It may sound boring and trite, but the one thing which may dictate the success or failure of a whole migration project is the initial planning stage. Before you can embark on a migration (any migration), you must decide the scope of the project. Are you planning to migrate only the Windows NT file and print servers and domain controllers to Linux, for example, or do you plan in the longer term to move your entire IT infrastructure (including Web and application servers and user desktops) to Linux?

For the initial phase, it's vital to build up a clear picture of what servers you will be replacing, what tasks they currently perform, and how they will accomplish those tasks using Linux.

The answers to these questions, together with the skill sets of the current IT staff, will help determine which Linux distribution to adopt. If staff members already have an extensive knowledge of a particular server-focused Linux distribution, it will likely influence your choice. If not, you'll want to choose a distribution with appropriate vendor support.

The next step is to estimate an approximate cost and time scale for the planned migration. The best way to do this is to break down the migration into as many manageable tasks as you can, and estimate a time and cost for each of these. The more detail you go into when describing these tasks, the more accurate your estimates are likely to be.

Later, in the pilot phase, the estimates can be checked and updated with the generated data.

Migrating an NT file/print server to Samba on Linux, should be fairly straightforward, and the potential to save money on Client Access Licenses (CALs) is high. "A properly configured Samba server is typically faster than a Windows NT or 2000 server, and clients will not be able to tell the difference," says Nick Lassonde, chief software architect at California-based Linux migration consultant Versora.

There are, however, a few pitfalls of which to be wary.

"The most common one comes from mapping security, as by default most Linux distributions only support POSIX security and not complete ACLs (access control lists). However, most modern file systems support ACLs, so this problem can be solved," he warns.

You'll probably also want to configure your file sever to authenticate against a domain controller, and there are plugins to achieve this. "Familiarize yourself with Samba's Vampire command," advises Lassonde. "This allows for automated migration of users from an NT domain controller to Samba."

In other words, it sucks the brains out of an NT server--hence the name. "Samba works flawlessly as an NT4 Domain Controller, but while Samba 4 has come a long way as an Active Directory Domain Controller, it is still not quite stable enough for production."

For Active Directory domains, it is possible to build Linux-based alternatives: IBM Software Group suggests a stack containing XAD (from PADL), LDAP, and Kerberos 5.0 running on Linux can serve as a viable alternative for Active Directory based Windows 200x domains, for example.

If your project involves migrating more of the data center to Linux, the next stage will probably be moving e-mail and messaging services from Microsoft Exchange to something like OpenXchange, which traditional Microsoft desktop clients can access, or IBM's Lotus Domino, which Outlook clients can also access.

Web and application server migration is much less straightforward. A number of questions must be asked:

* What server-side languages (e.g., ASP, ASP.NET, and PHP) are used on the server, and can these be used under Linux? If not, you will need to find a third-party solution or port the applications to Linux.

* What other machines do the servers connect to, and which be migrated first? For example, do you migrate a database to Linux first, or leave it on Windows?

* What sort of security options are required? Will you need to set up SSL connections on the new server? Will user authentication be local, or do you authenticate intranet users against a domain?

The obvious choice is to move from Microsoft's IIS Web server to an Apache Web server (which claims 65 percent of the Web server market according to Netcraft) and Linux-based databases including DB2, Ingres, MySQL, Oracle, and PostreSGL.

The hardest part of a Linux migration is migrating applications. If application migration is part of your project, it may be possible to use third-party solutions. Two examples of this are running ASP pages via Sun Java System Active Server Pages, or ASP.Net pages using Visual Mainwin, which provides a Windows library to which applications bind and run on Linux.

Tools that port applications from one environment to another are rarely worth adopting, says Lassonde. "Frequently the price of porting an application from one language to another will almost be the same as simply rewriting the application." He recommends leaving those applications on an ISS server, and then rewriting or porting them later in a more neutral language (such as Java) so future changes can be carried out more easily.

Whatever the scope of the migration project, before you start (especially if this is the first one you're attempting) bear in mind that however simple the project may seem, and however well prepared you think are, it's almost guaranteed problems will crop up.

Chances are, someone else will has had the same problems before. So at the very least, be sure to take full advantage of public support forums, and consider hiring an experienced migration consultant who--assuming he or she is any good--will have come across most of your problems before and will be able to suggest solutions to technical difficulties in minutes or hours that would otherwise take days or weeks to overcome.

By Paul Rubens