Category Archives: FOSS

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

12-12-12.

Raj Mathur

What a very very sad day. I lost a dear friend, Raj Mathur.

People who knew and have met Raj will always remember him as a lively and humourous person – brutally honest and a man of principles.

Raj was a founder member of the Indian Linux Users Group and a very active member of the Free and Open Source community. Well respected and extremely knowledgable, he was often sought after for advice which he readily dispersed.

Raj loved to have fun and encouraged everyone around him to do the same. He loved his food, his movies, his music and being with friends and family.

A brilliant hacker and much respected for his pioneering work, he will be missed by one and all.

Raj’s IM status always stated “Permanently out to lunch”, this is one time he will not return 🙁

Rest in peace, Raj “Oldmonk” Mathur.

Virtually save the day

Virtualisation has been around for a while now. As early as 1960 it just went by a different name, but even at the desktop level its been around since 1988. In recent years, its just become the big buzzword and with”cloud” computing being the fashion statement in technology circles everybody knows about it. I am not going to say much more about this, for between Wikipedia and Google there’s more than enough for you to read.

What I am going to talk about is how virtual machines are critical for a host of features. From simply trying out a different operating system to actually running multiple servers and services on a single physical computer to end-user support.

A few weeks ago, I got a panic call from a friend. She had bought a new phone and wanted to do the simple and logical thing, transfer her contacts from the old phone to the new one. Simple? Well it should be, however while trying to do this over the phone, I kept hitting stumbling block after stumbling block. Not only because I was not familiar with the OS running on her laptop, but more from the point that there seemed to be many critical components of software missing.

I suggested she come over with her laptop, old phone and new phone. We started by looking at what was installed and what was missing from her laptop. It was running Vista and no amount of trying made it work with my hidden WiFi so could not get it on the Net to install the missing components. I decided to fire up my Windows XP Virtual machine. Literally, a few minutes later I had the old phone all synced and backed up to my virtual machine. A few minutes more and I had all the contacts nicely synced to the new phone. Done in 20 minutes. I wasted more time trying to do this over the phone the previous evening and the time to trying to configure the WiFi.

At a recently concluded workshop for a client, I needed to demonstrate setting up a WordPress site. While I could have done this very easily directly on the net, I decided to give the participants a virtual machine on the wokshop CD so that they could actually try before they buy. I used the ready-made VM from TurnKey Linux fired up the VM on my machine and a few minutes later we were adding themes, plugins and had a good site running. the participants were amazed when they logged into the site from their own machines. All this over a small WiFi network that was running there. Totally rocked!

On a side note, the session I had was post-lunch and I had the mandate of keeping the participants awake. One of the organisers mentioned how everyone seemed alert and attributed it to my voice or rather the sound levels. Promptly, led me to introduce the session as “loud” computing 😉

If you are not using virtualisation in any form, I’d suggest don’t shy away. Your computer is definitely capable of doing more and you’ll be happy with what you can do with virtual machines. Who knows it could save the day for you sometime.

Cheers…Kishore


The post is brought to you by lekhonee-gnome v0.9 (from a Virtual Fedora)

Name, Game, Blame

No its not about the IPL. Enough is being said about that elsewhere or if you are in India then enough and more is being said about that EVERYWHERE.

This is about domain name servers or the lack of them. A few days ago I noticed that my IP Phone was no longer registered and hence would not receive any calls. I wondered what happened to it and promptly started poking around to see if some settings had changed. Nothing had changed at all. I went as far as resetting passwords only to discover that while my IP phone could not connect to its server, my cellphone which has a SIP stack and is configured with the same credentials and service was happily able to register. This got me thinking. A little later I started getting random calls from friends and clients asking if there was an issue with “name your favourite site here”. Mail was not working for some, SMTP not working for some, certain sites not opening at all but the rest seemed OK.

Very strange indeed.

Since most everything was working on my notebook, I decided to just change the DNS servers for my IP Phone and Voila! everything worked again.

Now for all the people calling me, I recommended the same change. Suddenly, everyone was a happy puppy again.

The magic – Simple. I changed from Airtel’s DNS to Google’s DNS. The Google DNS servers have easy to remember numbers. The primary one is 8.8.8.8 and the secondary is 8.8.4.4 so things were back to normal again. Of course, that would not keep me satisfied or happy for long, I did want to get to the bottom of this. I asked casually on Twitter if anyone else had issues and got a flurry of responses. One of them was really nice, a user wrote back to say Airtel customer care actually called him and told him that there is going to be a change in DNS zone-wise and he is not affected by the change as yet. The rest of us seem to be lesser mortals, for the change affects us and we are not told or informed. Not wanting to get into an endless loop, I never bothered calling customer care.

Still not totally satisfied with my solution, I decided to check out namebench. Its an interesting little open-source DNS benchmarking tool. It tells you the fastest DNS available to you and if you change to their recommendations, you would generally experience a faster Internet. Download it, install it and keep it for a rainy day. Useful little utility, available for Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. Would be nice to see this on some phones as well since all the “smart” ones have WiFi anyway.

If you need to change your DNS and are clueless, check the Google Public DNS site instructions are fairly clear. My recommendation, leave the setting for “Obtain IP Address” to automatically but manually set the DNS entries. This way no matter where you go, what network you join, you always get the DNS of your choice.

Google Public DNS
Primary – 8.8.8.8
Secondary – 8.8.4.4

And if you are averse to all things Google, then here is an alternative.

OpenDNS
Primary – 208.67.222.222
Secondary – 208.67.220.220

In an unrelated incident, for some reason I only seem to encounter the Bloglines Plumber. Been happening since last night. Adds colour to the post. Enjoy!

Cheers…Kishore

TechnoVision 10

Friday 9th April 2010 Its 0400 hrs and I am up! Why? In fact, not only am I up I seem to be waiting for a cab only to realise that there is no cab coming, I am supposed to be driving to Ludhiana. Well not driving all the way but at least up to the Delhi-Kundli border where I will join up with Sudev Barar.

The plan was very simple, a few of us were invited by the Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College, Ludhiana to conduct some FOSS awareness. Sudev, Tirveni, Gora and I decided rather than take the train (Shatabdi) to Ludhiana, it would be more fun to drive. Of course, definition of FUN here is subject to interpretation. Everyone I spoke with said that Ludhiana is a seven-hour drive, Sudev insisted it was five! Considering, he is a rally driver, he had us a little worried but then he is an experienced driver and is totally in command of his machine (a Grand Vitara).

The drive was surprisingly smooth, there were a few moments of anxiousness but Sudev is really in complete control on the road and as he promised he had us in Ludhiana before noon.

Poster outside the college

Its funny how some colleges and students have no idea of the FOSS community and start by wanting to formally greet them, and escort them around. We managed to bypass all that and soon found ourselves outside the main auditorium. However, we did have to wait our turn to takeover. But I must say the organisers both students and faculty took good care of us.

I gave about a forty-five minute talk which the students seemed to have enjoyed, several came up to me later to tell me that. Always feels good helping and talking to students. I had a great time.

Next up was Sudev, he gave a very informative talk on FOSS resources. Again highly appreciated by the students.

We broke for a late lunch and post-lunch went straight to the computer labs for some workshops. One room with a programming workshop conducted by Gora and the other room with Tirveni doing a systems administration and some basic command-line stuff on Linux.

Both workshops were well attended and equally enjoyed by presenters and participants.

On the way back from Ludhiana, we were tempted to swing by Chandigarh for OSSCamps, but sadly we could not and headed straight back home. Including our dinner break. back at Kundli border in exactly five and a half hours as promised by Sudev.

In all a great visit and all seemed to have enjoyed it.

Some photos of the event on my flickr gallery. A special thanks to Pushkar, Samir, Prof. HS Rai and all the students who were brave enough to stay with us the whole day and listen to us attentively.

Cheers…Kishore

The Netbook Storeee

A couple of weeks ago, we decided to go out shopping for a Netbook for Jyoti. Details of her experience can be found on her site. But there is a whole other side to the story.

Starting with the purchase process. After having read about netbooks and gotten first hand experience and reactions from several users, one thing that was clear was that although pretty much every brand has stepped into making them, ASUS stands out as the leader, in terms of features, build quality and most importantly battery-life.

After having made several inquiries on various models, we thought it best to go and see some in real life and actually touch and feel and see some of the differences. We must have seen at least 7 brands that I can recall.

We started with the Samsung NC-10, which has a very good spec, but in appearance for some strange reason they have a chrome lined body, made the machine look quite tacky. From what I have read and heard the NC-10 is actually a very good machine, if Samsung decides to change the look a bit, who knows it may be a killer product. At Nehru Place it was selling for about Rs.24,000/- including a free Samsung cellphone. In fact, we were asked if we wanted the price with the free phone or just the netbook.

Moving on, we went around several shops in Nehru Place and saw, an Acer Aspire (had to walk out of the showroom since the sales people were just not interested in talking to us), Dell, HP-Mininote (which for some reason was in a box, and the sales person refused to open it till we bought it??), LG and finally the Lenovo IdeaPad S2. All of them seemed to have some minor issue or the other, but the common factor on all was the fact that they all had only 4-cell or lower battery packs.

Finally, we quietly went back into our favourite little hardware store (an authorised AMD shop) and asked for the EEE-PC 1000H. Tax included it came to Rs.20,400/- this was for an atom processor based, 1GB RAM, 80GB HDD and most importantly a 6-cell battery. Of course, we got the unwanted Windows XP-Home (at least, I did not want it). But overall I was happy with ASUS and our dealer since I knew I would get some form of support. The warranty on these netbooks seems to be one year, so knowing your dealer or knowing a good dealer may help.

I should have probably taken some unboxing photos, but what came out of the little box was quite impressive. There was the netbook of course, then a tiny little power supply and power cord, a nice little neoprene case, a recovery DVD (which I needed sooner rather than later) but unfortunately no “online” storage. Apparently, ASUS provides upto 10GB of online storage along with many of their models but no confirmations if this is available in India. Sad, a 10GB online storage would have have been kind of nice, specially to transition from a desktop.

Now for the real fun part, here I thought, the ASUS netbooks are well tested with Linux and it would take at most 2-3 hours to just put in Ubuntu, leave the XP home as is and carry on with data migration and help Jyoti transition into using some FOSS!

Well, it was not to be, first of all Ubuntu went and totally screwed up the boot sector, leaving me with a dead XP (somehow it did not matter to me). Now we couldn’t have that could we. Even if the XP never gets used, it should at least be in working condition. XP came pre-installed with all drivers for all the devices including the webcam, WiFi, audio and everything worked, it also had “Star Office” and Microsoft Works installed which was quite surprising. Now I was faced with a real problem, blow the whole machine out and start over or try and fix it. Of course, I tried to fix it. I tried every trick in the book but I just could not get XP to boot again.

I then decided may as well do a fresh install of XP, that way I could also control the disk space used and the partitions, I would have to install all the drivers and software again, but that would not be too hard if I shared the DVD on the network or better still copied it to a USB drive. I hunted for methods to install XP via USB, came across several posts and the comments on most of those which lead to better solutions. One of the first posts I came across was from Roderick van Domburg’s Cache He does mention that the article was written in 2006 and that there may be better or easier options. To me it seemed very clear and precise and was easy to follow. However, while reading one of the comments, I saw a link which headed off to one of the EEE-PC guides and thought that one might be more relevant. It actually worked quite well, I had a working bootable USB in less than 20 minutes.

Booting with XP on the USB threw up an interesting option, since it detected the presence of an existing installation, it offered choices for fixing it. Nothing really fixed it but I was able to boot into the dead XP.

I finally gave up and got hold of an external DVD drive, booted off the rescue disk and ran a factory restore. That was really easy, it worked like a charm and in about an hours time I had restored the netbook to its original state.

In the meantime, I also started looking for what might be an ideal distro for the netbook. It seems that Ubuntu is a good choice, but there were many variations out there based on Ubuntu. One of them was called eeebuntu and the other that I finally used was called “easy peasy“. Essentially, they are Ubuntu with a a few critical modifications, the first of which is the replacement of the linux-generic kernel with the “array” kernel. It is possible to just install a regular Ubuntu and then replace the kernel, add a few tweaks like the “net book remix” and you’d basically be at the same point as easy peasy, so I took the easy peasy way out.

This time round, gparted, did not mess up the boot sector and installation was quite smooth, I installed easy peasy from a USB key. Several methods of making a bootable USB key with a linux distro on it and well documented at pendrivelinux.com. I used a simpler method since I have a running Ubuntu, System -> Administration -> Create USB startup disk, just point it to the where you have the ISO and creates a bootable distro in a matter of minutes.

After the install, a quick reboot showed me that XP survived and I now had a dual-boot EEE-PC.

The storeee does not end here, I then needed to migrate and transition data from a Windows desktop. The browser was easy, Internet Explorer was replaced with Firefox, all bookmarks duly imported and no issues there. The bulk of the data, documents and spreadsheets all work fine with OpenOffice.org, but the killer was going to be email! Jyoti was using Outlook so I had to get the data out of there and preferably into Evolution and not Thunderbird since it would look and feel a little closer to Outlook and would also have synchronisation with a Palm T5.

Its a three step process and a tedious one at that, first get the data out of Outlook by installing Thunderbird on the Windows machine and importing everything into it, mail and contacts. Next find and move the data to the Linux machine, the data hides in “Documents and Settings\Username\Application Data\Thunderbird” grab this folder and move it to an external storage or directly onto the netbook. Final step and the most painful of the lot, import the messages into Evolution, this has to be done folder by folder and Evolution doesn’t know about existing folder names so you have to create those as you go along. The nice thing is that since both Thunderbird and Evolution use the mbox format its not really a big worry.

I did come across a package called Outport but was not too happy with what it gave me at the end. I did use it to convert the calendar entries which it handled well. But I still have not been able to export all the notes and there are many of them.

In the end, everything seems to work and we have a happy customer. Interestingly enough, all the work I did to save and recreate the XP partition, currently seems to be wasted and I am hoping it stays that way, Jyoti has not even booted once into the XP partition. 😉 If we keep doing this, I think we can convert several more people to Linux without too much problem, that is if we really wanted to do that. I personally don’t convert anyone, but leave the choice to them, after educating them.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that my 80+ Dad got quite excited about netbooks, notebooks and Ubuntu, he even took a CD back to Bangalore to install on his desktop. I can feel a few support calls coming my way, but I’d be glad to take them!

Cheers…Kishore

IBM ThinkPad T42 Netbook

Well, my ThinkPad T42 died quite suddenly. For some strange reason it started overheating and worrying temperatures of 87 C is what I was seeing at an alarming frequency. Initially, I thought it was just an issue with the fan, but apparently it wasn’t. I got the machine thoroughly cleaned and the fan serviced but it still kept getting hot! Finally, I could not take a chance with my data on the disk, and decided to extract the disk out of it and push it into an external enclosure.

Once I was sure my data was secure, I could start playing with the machine again. First thing I did was to try out Ubuntu as a live CD. Of course, after a while the ability to save stuff, specially settings was sorely missed and I decied to use a pendrive to store the settings.

While that works fine, it would be even more fun to just boot of the pendrive instead. So I rushed over to http://pendrivelinux.com and did a quick read on the options I had. While there were several methods of creating a persistent USB based distro, the one that seemed easiest was to use Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) with its built-in option for “Create a USB startup disk” in System menu. It was really quite straight-forward. Just select the option, specify the drive to be used and look carefully for the option of how much space to reserve for settings etc. And thats it. A few minutes later you’ll have a working USB with the ability to store data and settings. Trivial really. For a detailed explanation look at the following article.

I managed to use the machine in this state for quite a few days. In fact, pretty much till I bought a new notebook. Trusty old notebook became a good netbook.

A few days ago, Jyoti said she felt the need for a good netbook, so I pulled out the T42 and decided to tweak it a little further. I was curious to see what the Ubuntu Netbook Remix was all about. The following article on Maximum PC seemed to be a really good guide. All that I needed to do was add two repos to the current list and install via aptitude two little packages.

The interface that showed up was quite amazing. I don’t think I would ever use it, but for a new user or a lighter powered machine its quite a snappy and bold interface best described by this screenshot:

Ubuntu Netbook Remix
Ubuntu Netbook Remix

All this was done on a 2GB Transcend USB pendrive. Jyoti is now a little more serious about using this machine, so I shall be using a 4GB pendrive instead and see if I can transfer her email from the desktop and a bunch of critical documents. Should be a fun project, specially transferring the email 😉

Before you get the idea, that I am some major Ubuntu fanboy, let me tell you that  I am not. I am currently stuck with it. Things work, its easy to manage, it looks slick but somehow at the back of my mind I am not convinced. I will run it a while longer and when I have the courage to redo my notebook, I’ll probably give Fedora another shot. If that fails, then it may just be Debian next.

Till then life goes on.

Cheers…Kishore

CPR for your computer

Trinity to the rescue!

Today I visited a network which was thoroughly infested with virii, not knowing what do do with the virii, I decided to look at one of the special distros that can help in the clean-up operation. I had an older CD of “auditor” in my toolkit and was not too keen on using that since it I knew it was over a year old. In the virus world, anything older than a week is just not worth it.

A quick search, pointed me to Trinity Rescue Kit. This is a live CD that offers so many options at boot time, that it does get you to wonder! I can boot of CD, network or USB, I can then scan a system for virii, and then clean it out To top it off, the distro is capable of reading so many different files systems including NTFS that it really acts as a CPR disk for a windows machine.

The list of features is very impressive, and I’d suggest that you head across to the site and grab the ISO for yourself. its certainly a CD to have in your tool kit.

The live CD was able to update ClamAV to the latest version and scan a machine without any issues.

I am still playing around with the distro, but the initial reactions of using it have been extremely positive and the distro is “highly reccommended”.

While I’m back to sanitising the infested network, and you should go look at Trinity Recue Kit in the meantime.

Cheers…Kishore

FOSS.IN/2008

Twenty-five days to go for FOSS.IN/2008. I have been so busy with some of the arrangements that I have ignored my blog and not even announced the various activities related to the event. The story so far, the event was announced and created a bit of a stir in the community. I do believe in the end what we are trying to do this year will be good in the long run. It raises the bar and that is a good thing.

Here’s the original announcement at the FOSS.IN/2008 site. Well, that is now history and its time to move on, today the first shortlist of talks was announced. The workouts and talks both look quite exciting. The speaker list so far is quite impressive and I am sure attendees will have a great time.

Registrations are also open, so if you plan to attend, you’d better rush over and get going.

To follow the event, visit the website on a regular basis and if you twitter then follow fossdotin.

I will be at FOSS.IN/2008, will you?

Cheers…Kishore

Software Freedom Day 2008

India Linux Users Group – Delhi chapter and Sarai participated in Software Freedom Day. As part of the celebrations a series of talks was organised at Sarai, New Delhi. The agenda included:

Software Freedom – By Raj Mathur
We are ILUG-D – By Kishore Bhargava
OSSCamps – By Kinshuk
LUG@IIT By Gajendra
Niyam Bhushan on Sound

There was of course some great food in between as well. A nice lunch and some good samosas and jalebis.

Later on some of from the LUG went out for dinner so we carried on the discussions well into the night, ending with dinner, a few beers and toppped off with Kulfi at Sonu’s in Defence Colony.

In all a great day. Hope you all had a good software freedom day too!

Cheers…Kishore

More photos on flickr. Other notes, photos and stuff here.

Its the time to upgrade…

Its been a while since I posted anything, in fact, come to think of it this is probably the worst case of writers block that I have had in a while. Can’t seem to get down to writing anything at all and add to that a slightly exaggerated work schedule and it only gets worse. Well, now I have a good reason. Yesterday, saw the release of Fedora 9 (Sulphur). Normally, I don’t write about a distro until I have actually installed or upgraded, but this time I have a question as well. Should I stick with Fedora and go to 9 or should I be looking at Ubuntu. Some friends have been after me for a while to switch to Ubuntu. I have actually given it a test drive several times but somehow, I just seem to come back to Fedora. Most of the servers I run and manage are all running Centos, so this brings me to the question:

What distro should I run on my laptop?

a) Ubuntu – supposedly slick and everything just works. Plus now has Long term support.
b) Fedora – Familiar is favourite. Cutting edge, most innovative and still my favourite.
c) Centos – A step back, but stable and longer life-cycle.

Last year when I was at FOSS.IN I met with Rahul Sundaram who gave me the time tested “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when I asked if I should upgrade from Fedora 7 to Fedora 8. I normally, like to wait for a while for the dust to settle down before I upgrade my main machine (my laptop) after all my livelihood depends on this machine. I can’t afford to spend hours trying to fix it to keep things running. I need it to be reasonably stable and extremely reliable.

Right now, I don’t have a choice, I do need to move on. Come June 13th and Fedora 7 will die. At least officially, and then there will be no more updates to it. Running a rapidly changing distro does have that disadvantage, but of course the changes in the new ones are always something to look forward too.

My gut (and its a large gut) feel is to stick with Fedora, just curious to know what others who may be in a similar state are doing?

Would love to get some comments and feedback. Plan is to change over this weekend. Fedora 9 looks tempting and I will be installing it to play around with. Yes, I did manage the download, despite all the chokes.

Cheers…Kishore