Thursday, June 28, 2007

Learning Experience

Yesterday, I helped a new small business owner out with an Ubuntu system. A Dell GX60, 512 mb ram, 20 GB hard drive, with Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn OEM installed - with extras added for a small business. Everything worked fine till I got to the business. The keyboard didn't work, the mouse was bouncy and sticky, and the wired connection wouldn't connect. One of those tech times when nothing works right. And, to top it off, I forgot to sudo oem-config-prepare the computer for the user!

The business owner had a nice Dell Inspiron 5100 laptop computer that she originally intended on using, but it just wasn't working for her. This is actually typical of Windows XP Laptop owners.

Windows XP Laptop users generally have these problem:
  • Almost no system updates are ever done - Even if the automatic updates are set to 'on', they don't happen because the owner has the computer off at 3am in the morning. If you own a Windows XP Laptop, check for updates DAILY! At least every Tuesday.
  • No hardware driver updates are ever done - Sometimes Microsoft will push some hardware driver updates out, but not too much. Unless the computer has a manufacturers program that automatically updates and install fixes, the user never checks for them. Check for your specific computer drivers on the company website - Especially for computer two years old or older. And, especially check for a BIOS update. If there is, use it! If you're using Ubuntu, most likely it's the only update you really need.
  • Anti-Virus software gets update, but the Anti Spyware doesn't - And the Anti Virus programs, especially Norton, seems to miss things. You need to have at least two Anti Spyware programs: Windows Defender and Spybot Search and Destroy. In my experience, both have found things the Anti Virus programs missed. Update your Anti Virus and Anti Spyware programs daily, and run them at least ever other day.
At the very least you can keep your system up-to-date. Checking for system updates on Tuesdays is very important. Microsoft puts out updates and security fixes on the third Tuesday of the month (I think). Malicious experts wait for those updates to come out, the learn and practice the exploits. They know that less than half of Windows users will do the updates.

Both laptop and Desktop Windows XP users should completely reinstall their system every year. If you are a serious user, every six months. Laptop users should probably reinstall every six months anyway.

To continue my Learning Experience: I should have checked out the equipment before I left the house. The keyboard was an eMachine keyboard, and they tend to work only with eMachines -if at all. I still have no clue on why the internet wouldn't work. Weird.

This experience also brings me to another point: Until there is a Linux version of QuickBooks, or at least a viable alternative, Linux won't be useful in a small business. GnuCash just doesn't cut it -at least for less tech savvy businesses. A small tech based business would probably be able to work with Linux, especially Ubuntu. But a company that isn't tech savvy won't have much use for it.

The only way to get more of the business type software made for Linux is to get more Linux boxes out. As Free Geek, Dell, and System76 get more Ubuntu boxes out, and as more people install it as an alternative to Windows Vista, It will eventually get there.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Solaris, Sun, and Xubuntu

A few weeks ago, I attempted to install Solaris 10 on an older dual 450 MHz SunSPARK ultra workstation. The idea was to learn Solaris. As it turns out, Solaris is basically a fancified Unix with a greatly modified Gnome desktop. I played with Solaris for a few hours, the installed Kubuntu on it. Kubuntu is nice, but I'm not a KDE fan. I have nothing against it. I just prefer the Gnome desktop. I know Linus Torvalds likes KDE, but it's just not for me. I'm glad there's alternative desktops though. I uninstalled Kubuntu, and installed Xubuntu on the Sun Workstation. Solaris 10 and Kubuntu ran like cold syrup on that system, but Xubuntu worked just fine. Solaris 10 and Kubuntu ran like cold syrup on that system, but Xubuntu worked just fine.

When Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon comes out in October (the 10 refers to October, and 7 refers to 2007 - good number scheme), I'm considering installing the Xubuntu version on my Laptop (it's more of a portable desktop). Xubuntu is fast on older hardware, really fast on new hardware, and it's what I'll be installing on most Free Geek systems. I know how it works fairly well, but it might help to be much more familiar with it.

My experience with Puppy Linux on really old systems (like a Pentium 200 MHz) gives me the idea to try doing a basic command line installation (server), and install IceWM on top. IceWM is the desktop interface for Puppy. This way, I might be able to keep consistent to the Ubuntu/Debian base systems, and have a uniform upgrade method for those older system. The disadvantage would be that the people working on distributions like Puppy and DSL have done a really good job of figuring out what works best on older hardware. That, and some of the newer Linux kernels don't work well on older hardware.

On second though, maybe I'll stick with Puppy on those old systems.

The iPhone comes out this Friday. I won't be rushing down to the AT&T store to get one. Far too expensive. That, and I'd rather wait for the iPhone 2.0 to come out. Besides; what I have right now works just fine. Well, at least it does when my bill is paid.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Errand Caution

I've decided to change my name to Errand Caution. People name Errand seem to get all the action. Everyone has to do Errand, or has Errands to do. I've known girls named Erin, and a guy named Arron, but neither of them got as much action as I thought they did. Well, maybe Erin did, and I just never knew. Arron, however, was butt ugly. Then again, girls seems to go for the caveman look.

Also, many people like to err on the side of Caution. I haven't known anyone name Caution either, but now they'll be erring on my side. Then again, too many people throw Caution to the wind. I like hang gliding, but not sure about being thrown into it. Maybe I'll stick with my own name: Emperor Daniel.

At the moment, storage and recycling are my biggest concerns. At least as far as Free Geek of Central Florida goes. Well, that and getting a job. But, I've got to get the A+ certification for that. Recycling is going to be a big concern when we get the full Free Geek chapter going. There are very few recycling solutions in the Orlando area. I'll probably have to work out some sort of shipping method, eventually. The Free Geek in Portland breaks all unusable components down to their basic parts, and sells the materials; aluminum, steel, plastic, etc. Recycling old CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitors is really difficult. They contain mercury and lead. Explains why they're so heavy, I guess. I use a 21" CRT monitor. While it's not great on my eyes, it gives a better color picture than LCD does. Unless as good used LCD comes across my Free Geek path, I'll keep using this one till it's dead.

That's a big part of the Free Geek idea; use things through their entire life cycle. Maybe Windows was un-Godly slow on your old Pentium 200 MHz machine, but Puppy Linux runs it just fine. A wee bit of getting used to, with only needing to click things once, but other than than, not much different that Windows 98. It's not a speed demon, but it's more than fast enough for someone to use.

The Free Geeks around the country operated a bit differently, depending on their unique circumstance. Free Geek Vancouver, for instance, didn't have a regular place for quite awhile, and operated with independent people. It seems Free Geek Chicago operated in the back of another warehouse. I'll probably have to follow those models at first, doing the independent Free Geek "agent" at first. We'll have to do some sort of collaborative work at first, until a storage solution can happen, and eventually a storefront of some sort.

Right now, I'm simply giving the systems away. Most of the Free Geek chapters do some sort of volunteer thing, enabling people to use sweat equity to get their system. In Portland, they work on five computers, and they get to keep the sixth one. They also have the 'adoption' program, where people can purchase a rebuilt, refurbished computer for $50 or under. For now, I have to keep giving them away, until I can create a volunteer program.

The way I envision it; with the help of volunteer instructors, a volunteer can build a really nice computer, taking the best of the materials available. The computers they build will go to the 'adoption' program, or computer labs we'll help build. Buy coming in and working on the machines themselves, they earn the right to the best of the bunch, using the best parts available. While some computers will fall into the 'adoption' program, I'll probably still give away any computer that under 800 MHz. Something like a 600 MHz machine, with 128 ram loaded with an OEM installation of Xubuntu will be completely free. This way, the user can trade a bit of slowness for something that's absolutely free. In reality, I'll probably be able to make most of those computers have 256 ram. With Xubuntu, those are still pretty fast machines.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

More on Old vs New

Latest Ubuntu Laptop screenshot:

New hardware is easy. Everything is design to just work. Plug it in, boot back up, and away it goes. With somethings, you don't even have to power down or boot back up. With USB and Firewire, but plug it in and go. New hardware is fast, fun, and easy. But it doesn't teach you much.

Older hardware teaches you how computers actually work. You have much more configuring you have to do.

When I'm working on a Free Geek computer, I have to make some choices. I prefer to work on the best equipment first, and give them the best of the extra hardware I have available. Make a good machine run even better. Ideally, working with one of these machine won't take more than 2 hours (most of that involving wiping the hard drive clean):
  1. Check and clean the hardware
  2. Boot and Nuke the hard drive (makes a clean install much cleaner)
  3. Add in extra hardware
  4. Load Ubuntu or Xubuntu on as an OEM installation
  5. Update the system
  6. Add any more programs/packages I think should be on (like Ubuntu Extras)
  7. Add extra artwork, if necessary or desirable
  8. Write out an index card of the machine and installation -stick it in the A-drive slot
  9. Right before the machine goes out, I update the system and software, then do "sudo oem-config-prepare" and the machine is ready for a new user
This sequence gets quicker each time I do it, especially with newer hardware. If I'm using a hard drive that's already wiped clean, I can do all the above in less than an hour. But sometimes an older system comes in, and steps 2, 3, and 4 are difficult at best. Part of me doesn't like to be beat, and I want to make whatever is in front of me work. But, sometimes the hardware just isn't worth it. It's just too old.

When we give out a free geek machine, we also help support it for a year. If something goes wrong, and we can't fix it in fifteen minutes, we just give the user a new machine. Better than most support agreements, wouldn't you say? Just like any operating system, it takes a new user about three months to adapt. People who work with technology on a daily basis might need a week or two of support at best. I'm looking for a 'remote assistance' solution on Ubuntu to help me with that. I know they exist, but I've been too lazy to look them up, much less figure how they work.

When I'm trying to get a system working, if it's older and it takes longer that 30 minutes to do step 3 and 4, it's just not worth doing. I can only bother to learn so much about older hardware. If it's the last one that I have, I might play with it. But if I have other systems waiting for an installation, I move on. If a system is under 500 Mhz, the rebuild has to go smooth and easy, or it's not worth spending the time on. I can get something even as low as 200 MHz working, but the machine will probably never be used. If I could figure how to get it to a country where it might be used, I would. When I can do something like that, I might. Most of the equipment I get in is in the 400 MHz - 900 MHz range. Xubuntu is the primary installation I use for those machines. If something is 800 MHz or higher, and I have enough memory around to load 512 MB ram on, I'll load Ubuntu. Occasionally, I'll get a machine in that's over 1 GHz. To the victor......

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Open Source vs Proprietary Software

I experienced this problem with Microsoft Money:
I really liked MS Money. I used it, kept track of my income and expenses, made a budget, and stayed on top of my financial situation. The last time I used MS Money, I upgraded, but didn't like the newer layout. I wanted to downgrade back to the previous version, but was informed that wasn't possible.

That's the problem with commercial software. I've got no problem with someone wanting to make money from writing software, but I have a huge problem with being locked out of my older files. Ever try opening a database file from the 90's with current commercial software? Good luck! By the way, I no longer use MS Money. Apart from the above problem, I wasn't too surprised to learn the the MS Money product has never turned a profit for Microsoft.

Thanks to the Nixternal Blog for posting this video, and explanation of the problem. This is something businesses should consider:

Flickr Upgrade

I upgraded my Flickr account, so no all my photos are showing. All the way back to 2005. Amazing how much I've aged in two years. The cool thing is; as I age, I just look better and better.

My Flickr Photos

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Older and Faster

My Dell GX260 Desktop computer:
  • Pentium IV 1.8 GHz (Socket 478), 512k L2 cache
  • 400 Mhz Front Side Bus
  • 485g Chipset
  • 1024 MB memory @ 130 Mhz
  • 200 GB Hard Drive, 7200rpm
  • Dual Boot Ubuntu Dapper Drake 6.06 LTS , Windows XP sp2 - Both completely updated
Nancy's Compaq Presario 5004US
  • AMD Athlon (Thunderbird) (SocketA) 1.1 GHz
  • 133 MHz Front Side Bus (Possibly 200 MHz)
  • Not sure on chipset
  • 1024 MB memory
  • 80 GB Hard Drive, 7200rpm
  • Ubuntu Edgy Eft 6.10 completely updated
All the major benchmarks show my computer to be faster. Processing speed, memory access, even my graphics card is suppose to be better. Objectively, mine is faster.

But, Nancy's computer seems faster. Not much, but just enough to be noticeable. Nancy also has a Apple iBook G3 1.4 GHz, but her Compaq Desktop is much faster. The iBook only has 512 meg memory, so it's not a fair comparison. But my desktop is a fair comparison. And subjectively, hers is faster.

Does it really matter?

Yes, it does. It doesn't matter which one is faster, just that it's fast enough for the user. In this case, Nancy's computer seems faster than some of the desktops I see at stores today. The only time we notice a difference is when it's rendering pictures. I'm sure a cheap upgrade in the video card would fix that, but it one of those "why bother" things. If she needed it for lots of photo work, we'd upgrade it. But Nancy surfs and writes. Not much gaming, video editing, or composite photography work.

My point is: The speed of the computer in not dependent on it's processor. I know, I've said it before. But it bears saying again. Making old equipment work is about finding the best parts. That's what makes this Free Geek thing fun.

Remember when I was painting the Laptop parts?
I really didn't mean to set the monitor frame that way. Then again, there's that whole subconscious thing. I am male, after all.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Some Good News

Some good news came our way Sunday morning, but I can't say much more about that. Let's just say Nancy is skipping and singing around the house lately. In the midst of sorrow, comes great joy. More later.

Nancy has a daughter, Amy. Amy is married to Elias. Elias' sister, Chrissy, got married on Saturday. In the picture above Nancy and I are at the Chapel. We were early. Can you tell? The wedding went well, and the reception was fun. I had about three glasses of wine. Meaning, I was a slobbering drunk. Well, maybe not that bad, but after one glass of wine, there's no way I can drive. I had fun. So did Nancy.

Sunday morning, we got the most excellent news, and celebrated Sunday night. We ate at Aladdin's Castle (Cafe) again. Freaking awesome food! I'm afraid I won't like something, but that's never happen yet. Nor has it upset my stomach. Excellent place, and wonderful company.

Since Sunday morning, Nancy has been skipping around the house singing the theme from "Greatest American Hero" - Believe It or Not by Joey Scarbury:

Joey ScarburyTheme From "Greatest American Hero" (Believe It or Not)

Now, it's not that bad, but the line above is the only part of the song she knows, so she sings that one over and over. It's cute, but I thought I'd show here the updated version of Greatest American Hero:

Friday, June 01, 2007

Sun Solaris 10, Xubuntu and Free Geek, and Kubuntu

I've been studying for the A+ test this week. I have learning software for it, and practice testing software. So far, I still need more practice. I'm hoping to take the test in the next week or two at the latest. Evidently, no tech job will be open unless I have the A+ certification.

The Compaq Proliant 3000 Server is down, for now. I'm going to store it away until I can actually take more time to figure out what to do with it. I have to admit, for the price, it's a nice machine. Loud, but fairly easy to work with. As servers go. Mine is a way old machine, but some of the Proliant PIII's aren't too expensive. On eBay, I've found a few for as little as $250. With 4 gig of ram, and Ubuntu server, or even CentOS, that would be an excellent server for a small business or organization.

I got the Sun Ultra 60 machine I have up and running. This machine has 2 450 MHz Sun SPARK CPU's, 2 gig memory, and 2 hard drive -not sure what size, 18 Gb each, I think. I think it would make a good server, but I'm not sure. I really need a lot more server practice. I downloaded and installed Solaris 10 on it. Used it for about an hour. Solaris 10 is basically Unix with Gnome on top. Big whoop. Like Apple and Mac OS X, Sun systems tend to work best with Sun software. Even though Solaris 10 is interesting, you still have to go through this process. That's fine, but why bother since they've made it Free and Open Source Software. It came with StarOffice - pretty much the same thing as (or is pretty much the same thing as StarOffice). All the software you could download for it seem to be mostly banking, finance and database software. While that's impressive, nothing I could really use.
Being that it was made for Sun Hardware, it worked pretty well. Pretty fast actually, considering how old this hardware is. But, after playing around on it for awhile, I couldn't resist.

That's right; I install Kubuntu. It wasn't that easy. There's no specific Kubuntu iso file for SPARK CPU's. I downloaded and installed the Ubuntu Server for Sun SPARK, then installed Kubuntu Desktop. I've never really used Kubuntu, or any KDE type distribution, as a major GUI on any of my own equipment, or any equipment I work with. I know Linus Torvalds is partial to KDE, and Mark Shuttleworth is a major contributor to the KDE project, and my Linux Administration class used Novell SuSE, which is KDE based. I figured maybe I could use that for my server installations. Something different, just for the feel. And functionality. Maybe having a different GUI on my servers will give me some playful incentive. I might put Solaris back on, but why bother?

I have two more Free Geek computers going out this next week, and the potential for two more after that. I've decided to stick with Xubuntu for most of the Free Geek installations. That's what Free Geek Chicago did. Most of the machines that come in are older Pentium 3's or Celerons, usually in the 400 MHz to 1 GHz range. Rarely anything over 1 GHz. Xubuntu is a good installation for those machines, and I'm able to get at least 256 Mb ram in them, so they run Xubuntu pretty fast. If I get anything over 800 MHz, and I have enough memory to get at least 512 Mb ram, we can put Ubuntu on. I want these systems to be very usable, and fast enough.

I'm also looking into free dial up service in Central Florida for Internet access. It's not a priority. More than likely, most of the people who get a FreekBox (free geek computer), will not have a landline. Most people don't bother now-a-days, with cellphones and all. Even the prepaid ones can be cheaper than a landline. But I'd like to have it available if necessary. For now, I'll keep working on solutions to borrow wireless signals.