Saturday, March 28, 2009

Linux Experience - Pains of OpenSource or Price for Going Free?

opensource annoyance

In the earlier posts it is mentioned in details on how we planned to move to Linux, how we hopped across different Linux distros and finally settled on PCLinuxOS 2009.1. Overall we are having much secure, free and better computing experience with PCLinuxOS. But there are still a few glitches that turn it down on our Search Engine Optimization in India.

The first and perhaps the most annoying difficulty we are facing is interoperability with Microsoft Office generated files. PCLinuxOS 2009.1 ships with OpenOffice 3, needless to say we can read/write Microsoft Office documents from Office 97 to 2003, and can only read 2007. But the problem with OpenOffice lies in the way it renders Microsoft Documents. Sometimes the rendering of document is so poor that the reading is meaningless. We have to review and update hundreds of Microsoft Documents that contain a fair amount of tables, graphics and other artworks. OpenOffice jumbles up the display of these documents. After having this experience we tried GO-OO and OxygenOffice. Both these OpenOffice clones seemed little enhanced performance- and feature-wise. But again the proper document display has still been a problem. Seems it still lacks the polish, features and usability that alternatives such as MS Office and Apples iWorks have. OOCalc fells flat when it comes to working on complicated excel sheets calculating financials. Sometime it can't read the tsv files at all.

Next comes the issue of System Performance. PCLinuxOS 2009 seems very responsive on the machines with more than 1GB RAM and P4 or above processors. But its performance is not that good on machines with 512MB RAM. Of Course, we had worse experience with Mint and Fedora on these machines. The worst part is that the system becomes sluggish like a turtle even with a couple of heavy spreadsheets open.

A minor annoyance also lies in realtime editing on ftp. Earlier we used cuteftp. On it we used to open files from clients website, do the editing realtime, and upload. But on linux we are missing some of its comforts. We have to save those files first on local drive, then edit and upload. Filezilla on linux also has the feature of realtime editing. And it asks for a text editor while editing realtime. But the problem appears after you leave Filezilla. For example, if you make kwrite your default editor for editing HTML files realtime on Filezilla, you will experience konqueror crashing while you browse your computer. Because Linux tries to open the local drives and directories on kwrite.

Another problem is related to password security. Previously we were using roboform in Windows. We searched for applications comparable to it on Linux. We could not find one as easy and effective.

The last noteworthy annoyance is about CPU scorching. Sometimes we need to download files from client's website. We have been using downthemall (firefox extension) for this purpose. But strangely while downloading a large number of files with downthemall the CPU usage rises above 90%, fan moves frantically, and the desk becomes noise. This was a not a problem with Windows. Would anybody find a fix for it?

PS:

None of these problems are specific to PCLinuxOS. They are even worse in other distributions. There are so many other problems besides the ones mentioned in this post.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Desktop Linux Help – How to Import Outlook Mails from Windows to Thunderbird in Linux?

how to import mail from microsoft outlook in windows to thunderbird in linux
We have almost migrated from Windows Platform to Linux. PCLinuxOS is sitting on 40 out of 44 Desktops in our Search Engine Optimization Company in India. What about the rest 4?

Well, he had to pause installing those rest four. Because those machines where use by our customer care people and almost 4 Gbs of Outlook mail files are there. We could not think of moving till we get those imported into Thunderbird in Linux.

We searched a lot of Linux Forums on how to import Outlook mails in Windows to Thunderbird in Linux. Most of the solutions offered in the forum was to install an extension pst-import-plugin, which did not work at all.

Next our System Administrator, T. N. Pandeya, resorted to a desi-formula that worked well. Let's see what he did.

1. He first installed Thunderbird on those Windows machines having Gbs of outlook mails. Dont make Thunderbird the default mail client.
2. While configuring Thunderbird on those Windows machines, he imported outlook mails through import wizard of thunderbird. Please make sure while importing mails outlook must be your default mail client.
3. After that Thunderbird automatically imported all the Outlook mails to its mail folders. (example, browse this folder - "C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator.AGONSIS\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\fjhawubs.default\Mail\Local Folders" and copy everything related to outlook such as - outlook mail.sbd (folder), trash.sbd, outlook mail.msf, outlook mail, etc.)
4. Then he copied Thunderbird mail folders of all windows machines to our linux server (you can also copy them to any media), renamed them as per their respective users.
5. Next, he installed PCLinuxOS 2009 on all those windows machines.
6. Then, he configured Thunderbird on those machines.
7. Finally, he copied the thunderbird mail folders from the linux server to the mail folder of the thunderbird mail folder (example browse /home/user/.thunderbird/4pth.default/Mail/Local Folders/) in the newly installed PCLinuxOS 2009.1.

Thats it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Desktop Linux - Felicia Failed in My Office - Part 2

Those who are interested in what the Part 1 was please read it here.

Where did I leave you last time? Oh! We had our way from a bad Linux Mint Experience to Fedora 10. That administrator took almost a week to install Fedora on all the desktops. There were several problems (more than that of Linux Mint) related to internet connectivity, wi-fi configuration and many others specially related to internet access and web services, all of which are crucial for a Search Engine Compay in India like us.

Strange, we had to struggle our way to just maintain internet connectivity, and manage wi-fi alongwith ethernet. On several occasions the net_applet would just vanish and require us to manually run the command to activate it again. The biggest annoyance with Fedora 10 was working on the FTP client. We first tried it on FileZilla, then gftp, and then ftp. Every time the client would download just 5kb of data and then get stuck until we kill it. The next big annoyance was to maintain continuous connectivity with mail accounts in pidgin. The last pain in the ass was that Fedora 10 was slow like turtle. No doubt, booting was quite fast and sophisticated but the real problem came along when running many applications together. With as few as 10 applications running, after pressing ALT+F2 we had to wait around 4 secs for RUN dialong box to appear.

Fedora 10 was a no-go situation. Now, it was the turn for PCLinuxOS 2009.1 shine. Tomorrow, our office is ready to go Linux with PCLinuxOS. Many are still sceptic about PCLOS, but I am confident, it will create a cult of linux-conversion among our employees.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Absence of a General Purpose installable CD or DVD Media - a Debian Delirium

Debian is the best, most stable, and the biggest community distro! No doubt about it. I liked its latest, Lenny very much. But all the way from downloading it and installing was not a joyride. First, I hit their download page. It was where actually my frustration began. Though the Debian download page is great with multiple options such as Minimal Bootable netinstall image, Buying Options for finished CDs/DVDs, Downloading options with Jigdo, Bittorrent and HTTP or FTP, it lacked a General Purpose installable CD or DVD Media. By "General Purpose installable CD or DVD Media" I mean the disks like Mandriva DVD, Fedora DVD, Centos DVD, using which anybody can have a smooth installation. The user can have a smooth journey of installation by choosing his/her favorite desktop environment (KDE, GNOME or XFCE) and desired platform (server or desktop). Of course, after installation he/she can choose to add/remove packages by getting connected to that particular distribution's software repository.

Debian CD/DVD Download Page

I browsed my way to download using HTTP or FTP, chose Official Stable CD/DVD Images, clicked on i386 architecture of CD and landed on a page that's quite puzzling.

There were as many as 35 CD iso images.

Debian i386 CD Download Page

Likewise, the Official DVD download for i386 had 5 DVD images.

Debian i386 DVD Download Page

What to choose? And how? Even there were no information on what the individual disk images contained.

Then I came to netinstall image download. It was of 150 MB in size, so it got downloaded soon. But problem began while installing as I could not connect to net. It's also not a fault/bug of Debian, but the nature of my connection. Debian installer asked to enter IP address, Netmask, Gateway and DNS servers of the network. I furnished those information, but could get connected to debian mirros. Because, My ISP requires to enter a particular username and password after furnishing those network details. So, I halted the installation then and there.

Later, I took my notebook to my office where I could connect to net by just entering IP address, Netmask, Gateway and DNS servers of the network. The installation was very smooth and clean, except for some minor problems while configuring Wifi and display resolution. Those problems were fixed in half an hours of googling around.

So, here my request to the Debian people is that they should bring out a general purpose DVD image (like that of Fedora DVD, Mandriva DVD, Centos DVD) or a Desktop CD image (like that of PCLinuxOS Live CD, Mepis Live CD, Mandriva One Live CD, OpenSuse LiveCD ), in addition to those 35 CD images and 5 DVD images. It will definitely bring more users to the Debian domain by clearing the confusion of so many installable media.

Friday, March 13, 2009

PCLinuxOS 2009.1 Bounces Back with a Bang!

PCLinuxOS 2009.1

There has been much hue and cry in the linux community for delay in PCLinuxOS 2009. But to me Texstar and the Ripper Gang are always on time. For example, In 2007 we had PCLinuxOS 2007, in 2008 we had PCLinxOS 2008 MiniME, and now, the freshly brewed PCLinuxOS 2009.1 (the small increment .1 is a minor bugfix). You might wonder if PCLinuxOS 2008 was actually a full-blown release? Again to me, it was. Unlike other mini distros, that MiniME was way too much easier to extend, you just had to pull in your favorite packages from the repo.

Well, now onto PCLinuxOS 2009.1. What's so great about it? I would again say, every bit of it. Like a labor of love. It has the usual video driver config tool, a gentle theme, a good selection of applications, RemasterMe and my all time favorite, PCC. Did I miss anything? Yes. This time it has introduced a Synaptic Repair Tool too. And it's as usable and easy, as any of the home-grown tools of PCLinuxOS. Kudos to the pclos people!

Here is one distro that does not run after those bleeding-edge things, all for good reasons. I have never faced any annoyances while working on pclos. So I don't care whether it is the latest like Fedora, OpenSuse and Mandy. I am sure it has the most recent stable stuff. I dare say it is this distribution that can give M$ a run for its money.

First I installed it on my spare Compaq notebook that has an aging Celeron M processor. And I find it quite snappy. Right from switching on the button to full-blown KDE took 1min 20sec only. On a Core2Duo Pentium or Centrino, I am sure it will dwarf many other desktop-wannabes.

Long live PCLinuxOS!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

PCLinuxOS 2009.1 is Released Today!

Hola! PCLinuxOS 2009.1 is released today! I am just downloading it......

FYI, PCLinuxOS 2009.1 ships with linux kernel 2.6.26.8, xorg-server 1.4.0.90 with many drivers backported, the most stable KDE 3.5.10 OpenOffice.org 3, Firefox 3.0.7, Gimp 2.6.4 and much more. The repo is also packed with lots of updated packages.

Keep an eye on http://distrowatch.com/table.php?distribution=pclinuxos for the announcements to come up, and visit http://www.pclinuxos.com to get the news and notes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Desktop Linux - CPU Scaling on Celeron M Notebooks

CPU scaling on Celeron M notebooksThough Core2Duo Pentium and Centrino CPUs have become quite popular and cheap, all the major PC vendors have still offering the budget notebook models that ship with Celeron M processor. And most of these low-cost notebooks come without an OS or a variant of DOS or Linux. On most of these notebooks pirated XP sits at sometime after purchase or a favorite linux distribution overtakes the machine.

If you are installing your favorite Desktop Linux such as PCLinuxOS, Mepis, Mint or Mandriva on these notebooks you might CPU fan moving rather speedily or overheating. (I have experienced it many times). Fortunately, with Linux you can set CPU scaling to enjoy optimum power consumption as well as a cooler computing. Here is how. (the examples are from Mepis, so it will work on Ubuntu, its variants, and many other Debian based distros)

Open a text terminal and be a superuser.

Code:
su

Install the following packages.

Code:
apt-get install cpufrequtils sysfsutils

Active the following kernel module.

Code:
modprobe p4_clockmod
modprobe cpufreq_ondemand

Enable the ondemand governer. It will govern the clockspeed of your Celeron M CPU.

Code:
echo ondemand | tee /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/scaling_governor

Make sure the exact modules are loaded at startup.

Code:
echo p4_clockmod | tee -a /etc/modules
echo cpufreq_ondemand | tee -a /etc/modules

Finally, make changes permanent. Edit the /etc/sysfs.conf file adding the following line at the end of it.

devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/scaling_governor = ondemand

You are done!

Reboot the your notebook. Check your CPU settings. Open a terminal and enter the following command.

Code:
cpufreq-info

You can see something like this.

CPU scaling on Celeron M laptops

Reboot your Celeron M notebook and enjoy better, cooler and silent computing.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Desktop Linux - Felicia Failed in My Office

Linux Mint Felicia Failed after kernel update - kernel panic message
After much discussion my CEO agreed to deploy Linux in our Content and SEO Departments (Our is a Search Engine Optimization Farm in India). Next, the issue on the table was which distribution to deploy. As usual, I put forth PCLinuxOS 2009 TR3. Many frowned at it - "It's just a test release!" I told them though in testing its remarkably stable than the final releases of leading distros such as Fedora, Ubuntu and OpenSuse.

No, nothing to go. My teamlead jumped right in the middle pushing Ubuntu Gutsy. According to her, it's the most popular desktop and its forum is great. Our system admin, popped up the free Ubuntu disks in three of the desktops. There was not a glitch in installing. 15 minutes flat and the desktops are saffron - beautiful and quite responsive. But Ubuntu was sacked out after a short while as some of our team players had some annoyances reading docx files from server and listening some old MP3s (not musics, but some of our recordings - discussions and briefings with clients). Then a few others had problems with streaming multimedia on browsers. The poor system admin is noob windows guy. He could not help.

Next, came Linux Mint Felicia to the centerstage. It installed well, configured well (including wi-fi), ran well - for almost a week.

On a fine morning Mint popped up some package update notification and many of us okeyed to install the updated packages. After update, the team worked till night. Next morning 10 out of 12 systems did not boot up. Then it was doomsday!

The booting stopped in the very beginning with a kernal panic message:

Starting up.... [1.440101] Kernel panic - not syncing: VFS: Unable to mount root fs on unknown bloc (0,0)

I probed a system with the mint liveCD and knew that the instability was caused by updating the kernel.

Tried to solve the problem with that good old chroot technique, i.e.,

sudo init 1
mkdir /target
mount -t ext3 /dev/ /target
chroot /target
update-initramfs -u


But the system came up with another set of error messages telling something is missing in the /proc

Then I resorted to grub-install methods. It did not help either.

Finally, we called in a Linux Administrator who is going to setup the office with Fedora 10. Is Fedora 10 a good choice? May be. But, at least there are some RedHat Administrators around to troubleshoot.

So please, be careful while updating packages when it is going to update the kernel alongwith. Kernel Panic due to package update is really a mess.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Boost Your Disk Performance by Using Journal Data Writeback Mode of Ext3

boost your ext3 filesystem by using data=writeback mode
As of now Ext3 has been the default filesystem and Journal Data Ordered has been its default mode. Of course, Ext4 has already been included in kernel 2.6.28, but most of us are using Ext3 till we make a big leap in a year or two. So, let's make the best of it while we can.

Ext3 has 3 journaling modes:

1. Journal Data
2. Journal Data Ordered
3. Journal Data Writeback

Most Linux distros by default use mode 2 of Ext3, that is much safer though less faster. We can use mode 3, i.e., Data Writeback to improve with a little tradeoff of safety. In this mode you might loose some recent data in case of a crash. But as a home user there is less chance of such events.
Let's get on to the task.

Open Konsole and be a super user.

Code:

su

Modify /etc/fstab

Code:

nano /etc/fstab

Modify mounted partition by adding data=writeback

Code:

# Pluggable devices are handled by uDev, they are not in fstab
/dev/sda1 / ext3 defaults,noatime,data=writeback 1 1
proc /proc proc defaults 0 0
devpts /dev/pts devpts mode=0622 0 0
/dev/sda3 /home auto defaults,noatime,data=writeback 1 2
# Dynamic entries below
/dev/sda2 swap swap sw,pri=1 0 0
/dev/cdrom /media/cdrom udf,iso9660 noauto,users,exec,ro 0 0
/dev/hda /media/cdrom udf,iso9660 noauto,users,exec,ro 0 0

Modify /boot/grub/menu.lst file.

Code:

nano /boot/grub/menu.lst

Add data=writeback the way mentioned below

Code:

timeout 0
color cyan/blue white/blue
foreground ffffff
background 0639a1

gfxmenu /boot/grub/message

title MEPIS at sda1, newest kernel
root (hd0,0)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz root=/dev/sda1 data=writeback nomce quiet splash vga=791
initrd /boot/initrd.img
boot

title MEPIS at sda1, kernel 2.6.27-1-mepis-smp
root (hd0,0)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.27-1-mepis-smp root=/dev/sda1 data=writeback nomce quiet splash vga=791 /mnt/mepis/boot/grub/menu.lst
boot

Now change journaling mode of Ext3 in your disk partitions manually to writeback

Code:

tune2fs -o journal_data_writeback /dev/sda1
tune2fs -o journal_data_writeback /dev/sda3


Now check your filesystem.

Code:

tune2fs -l /dev/sda1

You will see journal_data_writeback applied to your default mount options. Please click on the image to see it in its true size.

boost your ext3 filesystem by using data=writeback mode

And finally, reboot your system.

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