Saturday, 30 September 2006

Broadband upgrade!

I just checked my router - I've been upgraded to 8Mbit broadband (from 2Mbit).


Thursday, 31 August 2006

Experiments with Monad

I've been using the Unix shell for years and working on a Windows box is always a frustrating experience in comparison. However, in the last week, I've downloaded an RC for Monad - or Powershell as Microsoft are officially calling it.

My first impressions? Monad is the best thing I've used this year!

There are a couple of things about it that I like: The logical naming of commands (or cmdlets as they are known). This takes the form of a verb-noun, for example, get-process, sort-object etc.

The second thing is that Monad passes objects instead of strings.

Imagine the output of the "ps" command. A set of tabulated data including process name, parent PID, PID etc. This can be passed to other commands, but it's all in the form of a string. The output of a the get-process cmdlet is an object, where the methods can be executed, or properties pulled out.

An example - to get the process name, PID and number of file handles of a machine, sorted by the number of file handles would be: get-process | sort-object handle

Very logical, very simple, very powerful.

It's taken a long, long time, but Microsoft appear to have matched (exceeded?) the Unix shell.

As an aside, the O'Reilly book on Monad is very easy to read, especially if you have an understanding of Unix shells.

Monday, 28 August 2006

How to do Linux backups

My "professional OS of choice" is Solaris for most tasks, and the standard method for filesystem backup is ufsdump.

Linux is a bit of a different story, with Linus Torvalds once saying that dump is deprecated. The main problem of dumping a mounted read/write filesystem is that the contents can change during the backup and the dump program has no knowledge of what is currently in the disk cache.

Hmm, what to do then... Maybe tar or [cringe] cpio?

The method I've used and prefer is to still use dump, but to take advantage of LVM snapshots to provide consistency. I've got this working with Ext3 with no problems, but my main Suse 10.1 install is having problems taking snapshots consistently. I am managing to take normal xfsdumps of my [mostly] idle filesystems which are written out to external firewire drive.

Backups are one of those things we all agree is a good idea, but most of us fail to put into practice (for our personal machines anyway). Having a dump of a filesystem on an external disk gives a little peace of mind.

Friday, 28 July 2006

Taming SUSE

I generally believe that to fully understand a new system, it requires three installations; the first to familiarise yourself with the options and to see what's possible, the second to repeat the process with an understanding of what you want to achieve (ideally documenting as you go) and the third to implement properly (using the documentation if written during the second phase).

I try to apply this approach to all my projects at work, but didn't anticipate doing it for my home install. Learning SUSE required three installs, primarily because I broke the first two...

The first attempt was getting familiar with the operating system. In my enthusiasm, I installed, added loads of repositories and then updated loads of files. Somewhere along the line, something broke. I think it was a kernel upgrade. Either way, booting because erratic, sometimes getting to X (with a non-responsive mouse) and other times just hanging on the boot.

So I re-installed and didn't try to add the repositories initially. I carefully patched the system, checked it booted okay and then fiddled with Xgl. I knew that this was still experiemental, but was keen to see the effects. Massive problems with not having the right kernel source.

Third install - patch, add the full repositories, get the commercial Nvidia drivers, check all works okay (reboot just to be sure), then setup Xgl. All works fine.

Take backup of system!

Now everything seems to be working very well. Xgl is gorgeous and actually "feels" better than normal X. I'm still putting all my key applications back on (VMware Server, Skype etc.), but it's all very impressive.

Thursday, 27 July 2006

Getting used to SUSE

My first experience with Linux was Slackware running the 1.3 kernel, but I didn't understand it well enough to do anything apart from play. Following a traumatic experience with NT4 crashing a disk and not being able to recover, I made the leap to Mandrake Linux (version 8.0 I think). It wasn't perfect, but was good enough.

Over the years, I've upgraded through 9.0, 9.1 and to the 10.x. I've tried to support Mandrake (now Mandriva) by joining the Club; a concept that I was never really persuaded was useful.

With the purchase of a new PC earlier this year, I upgraded to the latest "Club" release of Mandriva. It was... okay. I hated the "cute" Christmas theme and battled to remove it. After years of being mostly satisfied with Mandake/Mandriva, I started to get frustrated at the clunkiness of some of it.

So for the first time in several years, I tried out different distros. To put things in perspective, I spend all my working day doing computers - Solaris, AIX, Linux and Windows. I enjoy it, but when I get home, I just was something that works. This ruled out the more hardcore distributions. On the other hand, I didn't want my choice of software limited to a few choice apps.

I downloaded Ubuntu, but wanted something a bit more feature-full without me needing to do a lot of extra installing. I'd been hearing good reports of SUSE 10.1, so did the DVD download. I'm on my third attempt at installing it, and I've learnt a lot of lessons. So far, it's the best I've used and I think it'll stay.

Sunday, 16 July 2006

VMware Server

I've used VMware Workstation for about a year at work and think it's one of the best pieces of software available for Windows (along with the mighty Visio). I'm looking into consolidating some servers using ESX, especially now the price of ESX 3 is so much more reasonalbe than version 2.

I've also done a bit with VMware Server, initially using the beta version and now the GA. This is the product that was formally known as GSX server. Unlike ESX, it requires a host OS which can be Windows or Linux. At work, I've used it to host a Solaris 10 installation which has been configured to run Jumpstart Server (for network installs of Solaris servers). At home, I've used it to play with ReactOS and Syllable. Today, I've downloaded and installed Ubuntu (to see what the fuss is about. Quick review: Looks easy to use, hate the default brown!) and OpenFiler ( is installing as I type this journal.

At the moment, OpenSuse 10.1 is downloading, which I'll test in a VM. If it works as well as the reviews and looks as good as the screenshots, I might be tempted to replace my Mandriva install. A story for another time.