Getting an iMac

Over the past year I’ve been thinking about getting a new PC for the family.  The current Dell Dimension 8200 (almost 10 years old) was having a hard time running Windows XP and all the patches and security to keep it mostly virus and malware free.  I installed Ubuntu 11.10 server on that Dell PC and turned it into a media server and backup storage device.

So what to get for the family?  I could go with another Windows 7 PC and have the option to have more virus and malware installed every time the kids go to one of their kid friendly sites.  My wife might need Windows 7 for remote access to work, plus it’s a familiar interface for everyone.

I could go with Linux OS such as Ubuntu 11.10, Linux Mint 12 (when it is available), or some other disto.  But the problem with Linux for the family, a whole bunch of kid websites just don’t work with Linux.  For example, Cartoon Network has some pretty cool games, but most of the games will not work in Linux.  Those games require different engines such as Unity (not to be confused with Unity for Ubuntu).  Also, many games that I like to play are not available in a Linux environment.  I tried running Windows XP in a VM, but the performance is terrible and the games require high-end video cards which you never see in a VM.

My buddy at work suggested getting an iMac.  The first thing that went in my mind, “How am I going to afford that?”  Turns out the entry level iMac is within my budget.  So I stopped at the local Apple Store and took a look.  Usually I’m in there for a few minutes with the kids to kill time while my wife is shopping.  Now I had time to shop.  As usual I was assaulted but several employees right away.  But I needed time to look over what they had and get some ideas before I would talk with someone.

Steve, the sales person, saw I was ready to have my questions answered.  After a few minutes of talking about my concerns and what I wanted to accomplish, Steve unlocked the iMac and let me install some of the games from Cartoon Network.  Out of all my years in IT, from selling to support, I’ve never heard someone say let’s unlock the computer and install the web apps you mentioned.  So I played some of the Cartoon Network games. I was hooked.  Just need to upgrade the memory from 4GB to 8GB.  The Apple memory is expensive.  Looks like I’ll be checking on-line for a better price.

Now, what am I going to do about some of the Windows only applications I need?  I will keep my notebook PC as a dual boot between Windows 7 and Linux (not sure about keeping Ubuntu).  Maybe I’ll install VMWare Fusion, VirtualBox, Parallels or Bootcamp for my Windows needs.  I doubt I’ll ever break away completely from Windows.  Too many applications I need for Windows for my job.

So this Christmas Santa will deliver a new computer for the family.  It will meet the needs of my family, address my concerns, and also give me a little education in the Mac world.

Now, what book should I get…

Moving On to a New Job

Today is my last day with my current employer and working for a fantastic client here in Delaware.  I made a lot of new friends in IT and on the production floor.  Some of them I will stay in contact with on Facebook or Google Chat, others I will see in the area.  But now it’s time for me to move on, to take care of my family’s needs.  Sadly the new job will not include Linux work, but there are high profile projects which are scheduled to begin shortly after my start date.

My notebook running Linux Mint 11 and my fart bank

During my two year stay, I really appreciate the client giving me a wide latitude to develop my Linux skills.  When I first arrived in 2009, my cube was filled with twelve PCs all running Windows XP or Vista.  Shortly afterwards I installed Ubuntu 9.04 to learn how to use Linux in a production environment.  Soon, I was running two Linux boxes; one as a personal file server with Samba and NFS, the other as a VM host for multiple Windows XP machines in multiple non-trusting domains.

By the time I left, I had four Linux PCs (one as a Linux Mint 11 notebook with a Windows 7 x64 VM, my original Ubuntu file server, a new Ubuntu 11.04 x64 file server with an external RAID 5 1.3TB disk box running Samba and NFS, plus a Linux Mint 11 PC running a Windows XP VM in the other domain for Active Directory support).  I’ve also deployed Ubuntu 11.04 to my manager’s Dell M4500 notebook, Linux Mint 11 to a colleagues’ notebook, and started training another colleague, on using Ubuntu 11.04 with NFS and Samba.

I also had the chance to deploy RHEL 6 workstation as a host with a disk box for off-site archive, and a introduction to ESX for creating new Windows Server VMs.

I wish all the best to previous employer, my manager, my colleagues (local and other sites through out  the U.S.), and to all the people I supported at the Delaware locations.  I will miss working with you, and hope to see you soon!

Deploying Ubuntu 11.04 onto a Friend’s PC

Unity

Last week I received a Facebook message from a friend asking for PC assistance.  Over the last 2 years, they have seen my PC running Ubuntu 10.x and heard me talk about how stable and secure my PC is.  When Ken’s hard drive failed a short while ago, he ordered a new hard drive from Dell (it was cheaper through Dell than other retailers here) and installed Windows XP Home Edition.  Unfortunately Ken was not able to install the drivers for his PC.  Ken brought his PC over to my place, and we talked about Linux while I installed the missing drivers and SP3 for Windows XP.

I had my work computer (Dell Latitude E6400) which runs Linux Mint 10 at home.  The Dell PC and my Sager PC were booted and I gave a demonstration of each OS.  After about 30 minutes, Ken wanted to run Linux Mint 10 on his Dell Inspiron1525.  So I used my Linux Mint 10 USB stick to verify this PC would run Linux without problems for Ken.  Everything worked except for the Dell wireless NIC.  Linux Mint 10 was unable to detect the card, and since I was running out of time and didn’t want to configure it manually, I shutdown the PC and booted from my newly made Ubuntu 11.04 x32 and x64 ISO USB stick.

Ken’s PC is several years old so I tried the 32-bit version.  For once I was pleasantly surprise with Ubuntu 11.04.  Unity worked, and it wanted to install the proprietary drivers for the Dell wireless NIC. So I started the installation as a dual boot system and went back to some house work.  I installed all third party codecs and drivers from the initial installation screen.

Afterwards I gave Ken a quick tutorial on how to use Ubuntu 11.04.  Although I am not a big fan of the Unity interface, I think this might be a great introduction to new Linux users.

So far I’ve nothing but happiness from Ken about Ubuntu 11.04.  He is using Facebook and has access to his e-mail.  I wish I could have installed a client that would allow Ken to use his iPod Touch to connect to his iTunes store.  If anyone knows of an application that will give Ken this ability in Ubuntu without using Wine, I would like to try it out.

Ubuntu 10.10 on Work Notebook

Last year when a new IT Service company took over the contract from another IT Service company I was working for, they issued a new Dell Latitude E6400 notebook to each of us.  This PC is not the beefiest notebook from Dell, but this is not a review of the PC.   The notebook specs are:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo P8700 @ 2.53GHz
  • 2GB RAM (upgraded to 4GB by employer)
  • Intel Video
  • CDR / DVD ROM
  • 14″ Screen
  • SD Card Reader
  • Intel network

The PC came with Windows 7 x32, Symantec EndPoint 11, MS Office 2007, and a few other applications.  Being a good IT technician, I used Symantec Ghost to create a backup image the day it was delivered.  At first I left the PC as is and installed a bunch of software to support the client.  After a year of hard use, computer was having problems booting or just being stable.  In no way is this a bash of Windows 7.  I like Windows 7 but the system needed a rebuild and it was time to try something that’s been on my mind.

After sending an e-mail to my manager asking for access to the ftp server to download MS Office 2007 and Symantec EndPoint 11, I wiped out the HDD and installed Ubuntu 10.10 x64.  With a 64 bit OS, I can use the full 4GB of RAM.  Just like before, installation took about 20 minutes, and everything worked without having to install additional drivers.  Since the client I’m working for has started to roll out Windows 7 x64, I wanted the same for my VM.  Running Windows 7 x32 would be all that I need for the VM, but as I found out over the last 5 months, some applications that work in the 32bit environment will not work in a 64bit environment.  Sometimes you need the native 64bit software to install or work correctly.

So I chose VMware Player to run Windows 7 x64.  The VM is configured for 2.5 GB of RAM, 2 processors, with the NIC configured at bridged for DNS registration.  After activating Windows 7 x64, the system was ready for MS Office 2007 and Symantec EndPoint 11.  While waiting for may manager, I installed Banshee, Filezilla, Terminal Server Client, Google Chrome, Adobe Air, Tweetdeck, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Gimp, Skype, VLC, Ubuntu Tweak, Shutter, modified my Pictures Screensaver, plus a bunch of minor configurations I use for Ubuntu.  After several days of using Outlook Web Access (OWA), I finally received my email with the server information and software keys.

So now I am supporting my client with Ubuntu 10.10 x64 at work.  I can honestly say Ubuntu is ready for the IT professional in a real world environment.  I have three different Microsoft Windows vms for supporting two non-trusting domains, covering x32 and x64 operating systems.  Due to the limited resources on my notebook, I can only run one VM at a time, but that’s OK.  There is a second Linux computer constantly running a Windows XP x32 OS which I use to manage one of the domains.

The nice thing about my setup is the dual monitors.  The default screen is the notebook display, the second screen I use for my VMs or if I need to focus on a particular task.  I usually run Banshee and Empathy IM on the small LCD, Tweetdeck minimized, and Google Chrome for all my personal stuff.  Terminal Server Client is used to connect to the three Windows 2003 or 2008 severs I support orto VNC into a Windows XP workstation.  Plus the other techs at work were impressed with what I accomplished.

So give Ubuntu or any Linux distro a shot at work for a month.  If you plan it a little, you can have your system running Linux with a VM or two to meet your clients needs.

Busy IT Month

Well it’s been a busy month for me at home and work.  I migrated my Sager NP8690 to Ubuntu 10.04 and created three virtual machines; Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.  To my surprise Windows Vista SP2 is extremely stable as a VM.  I disabled UAC because I don’t like being asked “are you sure you want to do this” from my PC.  Both Windows 7 and Windows XP SP3 ran well also.  Over all I was pleased with the performance from each VM.  Of course that changed when I tried to run two VMs at the same time,  I was running out of RAM.  I think if I had 8GB installed, running two VMs would have worked fine.

However, I was never able to get get Blu-Ray running in any VMs or in Ubuntu.  This bummed me out since I wanted I watch Star Trek.  Maybe I’ll ask Santa to bring a Blu-Ray player for Christmas.  Then I was informed by my wife that she needed Windows in order to work from home.  Plus she was not too thrilled that I didn’t create a account in Ubuntu for her.  Oops!

So I backed up everything (again) and reinstalled the image I took before wiping out my hard drive.  Since I am dual booting between Windows 7 and Ubuntu 10.04, I deiced to leave Windows with a larger partition and keep all my videos there.  I can access then easily enough from Ubuntu without much hassle.  I still need to install a few application in Ubuntu (Thunderbird, Filezilla) but for the most part I am finished.

Instead of trying to use Gwibber a buddy of mine said I should look into TweetDeck.  TweetDeck requires Adobe Air to install and run.  Being Adobe has issues with x64, there were no .deb files for my OS.  I downloaded the .bin file and from a Terminal window I typed ./AdobeAIRInstaller.bin.  Now I can install TweetDeck and have access to my LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Buzz accounts.

At work, I was asked to test a kickstart install script for RHEL 5.3 (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) client install on a test PC.  I used a Dell Precision 370 which has a Intel P4 3.4 GHz  single core, 2GB of RAM, 80GB Sata drive, Nvidia Quadro FX 1400 card, and a DVD drive.  Installation took about 30 minutes.  I test several applications, accessing network shares, and printing to several network printers.  I still prefer Ubuntu or Linux Mint over RHEL, but it was fun to be part of a Linux project.

I also help with installing a new Dell server this week.  The job required us to install a keyboard/mouse tray, move an existing server and tape library up, install a new IP console KVM, and install the new ESX server.  Due to space limitations, we placed a LCD monitor on the side of the rack.  Because I hurt my back several day earlier I was asked not to lift anything.  So for me it was more of a learning experience.  Hopefully I will be asked to assist with other data room projects.

Right now I’m downloading openSuse 11.3 x64 on DVD.  Maybe this weekend I’ll try it out on a VM to see some of the new improvements I’ve read about.

Issues with VirtualBox between Ubuntu and Windows 7

My Sager NP8690 is one awesome notebook (except for the battery life).   Right now I have it configured for dual boot between Ubuntu 10.04 and Windows 7.  The only time I really use Windows 7 is to watch Blu-Ray movies and the occasional office document that down for display correctly in Open-office.  But rebooting the PC to go back and forth between the two OS’s is an inconvenience.

To resolve this issue I installed Oracle Virtualbox 3.2.4.  Currently I have one VM with Linux Mint 9 x64 which works well.  So I attempted to install Windows 7 x32 just like I did at work on an old HP D530 tower.  When the install reaches the point of Installing Updates the OS fails stating it’s unable to find the hard drive.

I searched for an answer but nothing really fixed my problem.  Then I noticed the HDD controller for my Windows 7 VM was set for AHCI with a blank check box.  Selecting the check box allows the VM to access the HDD controller directly.  Installation of Windows 7 is complete.

Everything in Windows 7 seems stable and running well minus the Aero effects.  I checked for updates and out of 21, only 3 installed.  That’s no good, time to reboot the VM and tried again.  None of the available updates would install.  I found this solution for Windows Vista and it worked on Windows 7.

And since I am setting up VMs, I decided to install my copy on Windows XP and Microsoft Vista.  Why Vista?  Because I got it for free and gives me an opportunity to learn something new.  Plus I have friends and family that run Vista and they call for help on occasion.

Unfortunately I made a small error when I installed Ubuntu 10.04.  Since I chose to dual boot, I kept the Windows partition at 2/3 total drive space.  Since I created four VMs I am down to about 7GB free on my Home partition.  If I can get my Windows 7 VM to play Blu-Ray I will copy off all VMs, backup all data files from both OSs, and then rebuild with Ubuntu 10.04 and import all data.  Looks like I’m in for a long weekend.

UPDATE:

After spending 2 hours reading posts about playing Blu-Ray in a VM, it looks like this is not possible.  I plan on moving forward with the migration since I’m out of drive space.  I read a solution in Ubuntu Forums that might work.

How to Verify you have .NET 3.5 SP1

Today I was asked how I could verify .NET 3.5 SP1 installed successfully on several PCs running Windows XP Professional.  I searched the Internet and found several answers:

  • Check Add Remove Programs under Control Panel
  • Open Internet Explorer and enter this Javacript in the url bar:       javascript:alert(navigator.userAgent)
  • Open the registry and look for this key  HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings\5.0\User Agent\Post Platform\.NET CLR 3.5.30729
  • Finally click on Start => Run and enter C:\Windows\Microsoft.Net\Framework\v3.5.  You should see a folder called Microsoft Framework 3.5 SP1

Thanks to Walker News for the information.

Rebuild Linux PCs at Work

Today is the Friday before Labor Day in the United States.  Many of the employees of the client I support are off today.  So I am taking this opportunity to rebuild my Fedora Core 11 PC (completed) and my Ubuntu 9.04 PC.  I am also building a new Windows XP PC for R&D.

So far everything is going well.

Of course I backed up my Ubuntu PC using rsync to an external HDD.  Since I decided to rework my partitions I also backed up the /home directory too.  Everything is being built from scratch.  Hopefully I can have everything finished by end of business today.

Remote Support Using LogMeIn to Resolve an Outlook Express Problem

The last several days, my brothers and I kept receiving a ton of strange e-mails from my Mom. These messages were coming in small chunks of 62 k in size, totalling 48 individual messages. At first I blew it off think my Mom sent something by mistake. We kept receiving these messages (all 48 of them) twice a day for three days. So I sent an e-mail to my brothers telling them I would fix her PC.

I live about 5 hours driving time away from my parents; so making a quick stop to see what’s wrong, get a free meal, and have a little chat is not an option. So I had my Mom do a little trouble shooting for me with the directions I gave her over the phone. No problems found. While we were troubleshooting, I asked Mom a few questions about this issue; when did this start happening, did one of your friends send you some spam or a virus, were your friends experiencing the same problem as you.  All of her friends are having the same problem as my brothers and I.  What I needed to do was sit in front of the PC try a few things and see what I can do.  I tried to run Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection, but it would not connect even though Mom enabled it for me.

Then I remember a tool my friend told me about called LogMeIn. Setting up an account only took a few minutes. After going through the e-mail verification, I had my Mom connect to the LogMeIn website, gave her my username and password (temp password that I am not using anywhere), and install the local client software. Since I was using Windows XP to help trouble shoot her problems, I used Internet Explorer to connect and take control of her PC.

I had Symantec Client Security conduct a full scan and then opened her e-mail application. The first test was sending a small text only message to myself. E-mail received correctly. So then I sent an e-mail with a 1.5 MB attachment. Bingo! Outlook Express stated it was going to break apart the message into 62k chunks, do I want to proceed. NO!!!! Since I didn’t know where to find the settings quickly, I Googled “Outlook Express break apart messages larger than” and found plenty of web sites to correct the problem. Here are the steps to resolve this issue:

  • From the Menu bar in Outlook Express, select Tools then Accounts
  • Click the mail account and then the Properties button on the right
  • Click the Advance tab
  • Under Sending, remove the check mark from “Break apart messages large than…”
  • Click the OK button and then click the Close button.

I sent three e-mails over 10 MB in size to myself as a test.  All messages arrived as they should. I disabled Remote Desktop Connection before disconnecting.

Somethings I noticed about using LogMeIn.  Although I can connect from with Ubuntu Linux using Firefox, many features were not available to me;  turning off the client wallpaper (even though it was checked), the screen refresh was painfully slow, and I could not get the remote connection to open in a new window or tab.  This might be due to the fact LogMeIn uses ActiveX.  However while writing this blog I found something that I might try out regarding using Linux with LogMeIn.  Running the same software under Windows was a completely different experience.  Everything worked as it should.

I like this product and would recommend it to anyone who needs to connect remotely.