No more Ubuntu desktop headaches

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After an ambitious nearly two-year project to work daily on an open-source desktop platform of Ubuntu with the standard assortment of apps such as OpenOffice, Evolution, GIMP, Virtualbox, and Brasero, am throwing in the towel after a botched upgrade of 8.04 Hardy LTS to Intrepid 8.10.

This was possibly the WORST upgrade experience imaginable, reminding me of XP -> Vista horror stories, and back to Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 4. There is absolutely nothing that has improved following the upgrade, with the exception of slightly improved system responsiveness at the expense of strange delays such as attaching files in Firefox, in addition to the substantial time investment in researching new problems.

Following the standard recommended Ubuntu upgrade procedure, upon first reboot I got dreaded “read-only file system” messages that were only resolved by yet another strange Linux hack that modified the boot list.

Here are my Ubuntu desktop-related headaches which I about to leave for good:

  • A nagging Virtualbox error every time I launched my Windows XP VM. Many attempts to resolve the error were fruitless, meaning I have to enter a command manually after each reboot.
  • Non-functioning synchronization between Evolution and my BlackBerry. There’s too much hack-ery involved to get this to work. Plus, Evolution is plain Ugly, sorry kids-
  • Shaky dual-monitor support, mainly hesitance to mess up the dreaded “xorg.conf” file
  • Inconsistent support for Korean Hangul characters. Have to admit I underestimated the relative ease of East Asian language setup in Windows, which I’ve done for many family members. How is it that a document in OpenOffice displays Hangul, but the printer spits out nonsense??

But finally, I had managed to live with these drawbacks content in the labor of love participating in the open-source desktop world, but for these additional issues after the recent upgrade-

  • Brasero DVD/CD burner stops working
  • USB drives and SD cards no longer mount automatically
  • Ridiculous 1-2 minute delay in attaching files in Firefox
  • Multimedia file support broken (again!)

After gawking recently when my client bragged about his OSX Snow Leopard desktop (with a gazillion windows open), and realizing the majority of my projects have required Windows-only client software such as VMware VI Client or Internet Explorer…I’ve realized it’s time for this experiment to come to a close. In the short term, I’m humbly returning to the default install of Windows Vista on my Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop, to be followed by testing of Windows 7 and then, who knows? Maybe it’s time for another look at the Mac…

I certainly have developed a more nuanced appreciation for the pros and cons of open-source software, and admit that the outlook for Linux desktop continues to look bleak. On the other hand, the gravity of the computing world continues to shift away from a desktop-centric environment, and I’ve certainly benefited from deeper experience with Linux that has only helped my overall IT skill-set. Just a few years I certainly would not have been able to deploy a raw install of Ubuntu Linux to support a full-blown Nagios/Cacti deployment for a major corporate client, so it’s onward and forward!

Nagios is the real deal for network and system monitoring

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I’ve been heavily focused with getting Nagios implemented in my new environment at IHOP. It was surprising to learn that an overall monitoring and alerting system was not in place yet, given the complexity and maturity of the infrastructure. I had some prior exposure to Nagios through testing a VMA, but this was my first full installation.

One of the best aspects of Nagios compared to proprietary platforms is that there is a very active open-source community, and often plugins have already been developed for your particular need. For instance, I deployed one of these SNMP plugins (check_snmp_env) to monitor our Cisco switches and devices, so now we receive alert notifications in the event of any Cisco hardware failure.

There is an issue I discovered with installing the otherwise excellent NSClient++ on Windows hosts. Be careful with installing on SQL Server 2005 servers, sometimes the client install causes MS DTC Service and then SQL Server to shut down. Other than that, the NSClient++ has been stable on our Windows 2003 and 2008 servers, both 32 bit and 64 bit machines, and VMware VM’s as well as physical servers.

One more thing, if you haven’t yet implemented SNMP in your network, you’ll probably want to plan on getting at least SNMPv2 set up on the Nagios server(s), network devices and, ideally, Windows and Linux hosts.

I should mention there is an extremely useful book titled “Nagios, 2nd Edition” which will help provide additional documentation and get you up and running quickly.

Strange bedfellows – Microsoft and Red Hat partnership

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This announcement really caught my eye. Essentially, Microsoft and Red Hat have agreed to mutually support each other’s operating systems on their emerging virtualization platforms. Thus, Microsoft Hyper-V will support Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5, and Red Hat Enterprise virtualization will support Windows 2003, 2008 and so on. The timing of the announcement, last Monday February 16 which was a national holiday, was probably more than coincidental in order to lower the profile of the partnership. These two companies are not known to be friendly with each other, with Red Hat firmly established as the leading commercial vendor in the Linux market that competes fiercely with Microsoft’s Windows Server offerings. In fact, at SCaLE( Southern California Linux Conference) this past weekend, there was no mention or discussion of this announcement anywhere.

I recall testing an early release of Microsoft’s Virtual Server, the precursor to Hyper-V, several years ago and observing that the only non-Microsoft OS officially supported was SUSE Linux. Given that Red Hat and Ubuntu dominate the lion’s share of the Linux market, with SUSE a distant third, I was less than excited about Microsoft’s “cross-platform” support. Contrast this with VMware’s native support of Ubuntu, RHEL, OpenSUSE, in addition to Windows, Novell and Solaris. VMware’s competitors continue to maneuver for position, including Citrix recently offering the Xen hypervisor for free, along with enhanced coordination with Microsoft. But VMware is still leading the pack, and they’re not sitting still.