Dual-boot Laptop – Vista and Kubuntu 9.04…

I started last night.  First, I decided to use the 32-bit LiveCD installer.  I booted off the CD after shutting down Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium, and soon was at the GUI (I chose the first option; to test before installing).  Once there, i opened up a konsole session, ran “sudo -i” to get root, and installed gparted – “apt get install gparted”.  After it installed (to RAM of course), I ran it to see what I could do.

NOTHING.

I could not resize the 140 GB partition Windows called a “C drive”, because I forgot to defragment it first.  Crap.  So I booted back into Windows, Safe Mode.  I found the defrag tool under the System Accessories, but it would not run.  I tried from the command prompt as well.  I rebooted, into SAFE Mode With Console, and it still wouldn’t work.  I finally just rebooted into Vista normally – then it worked.  It gave no status other than a flickering hard drive light and a spinning cue that meant it was not finished.  Eventually, it did finish.  It claimed to have been doing it on a schedule, and the last defrag was back on the 5th of May, yet it took over two hours to complete.  Guess what?  It made all the difference in the world.  I suspect it wasn’t really defragmenting after all.

Once I rebooted into Kubuntu Live CD and reran gparted, I was able to resize it.  The first attempt failed – I cut it too close to the bare minimum space i could shrink the drive.  I decided to split it 50-50, giving about 70 GB for each side, and then it worked.  This took another hour, but I had 70 GB or free space.  I went into cfdisk and manually made a 10 GB bootable partition for root, a 3 GB for /var, a 2 GB for /tmp, a 2 GB for swap, and the rest for /home.  i then rebooted into Windows.

Windows behaved as expected, like it had been punched int the mouth, but didn’t know by whom.  It rescan itself, determined that everything was still ok, and rebooted again.  This reboot came up fine.  Satisfied I had not broken Vista, I rebooted a final time back into the Live CD.

I went ahead and formatted everything with XFS except the swap partition:

  • mkfs.xfs -f -d agcount=1 -i attr=2 -l lazy-count=1,size=128m,version=2 /dev/sda3
  • mkfs.xfs -f -d agcount=1 -i attr=2 -l lazy-count=1,size=128m,version=2 /dev/sda5
  • mkfs.xfs -f -d agcount=1 -i attr=2 -l lazy-count=1,size=128m,version=2 /dev/sda6
  • etc…

I then made the swap partition and then installed, choosing to manually select my partitions and not to format them.   I went to bed, abd when I woke up and checked in the morning, it was done.  I had been unable to get wireless to work (no proprietary drivers needed, just would not work) on the Live CD, so I had connected it up via network cable.  Once I booted into the new system, I saw that it had a GRUB entry for Windows (it works).  After logging into KDE, I was able to set up a working wireless connection with no real drama.  I also modified my /etc/fstab to mount the XFS partitions with the following options:

noatime,nodiratime,logbsize=256k,logbufs=8

I edited /etc/X11/xorg.conf and added in the section to reenable the CTRL-ALT-BACKSPACE zap for X:

Section "ServerFlags"
      Option          "DontZap"               "false"
EndSection

I installed the medibuntu repositories, the kubuntu-restricted package, the sun-java6 package, the non-free flash package, the libdvdcss and libdvdread packages, lots of TTF fonts, the MSTTF core fonts, skype2, firefox, thunderbird, and the packages needed for a DoD smartcard.

Links:

Medibuntu

DoD CAC

Thunderbird setup with AKO

Kubuntu-restricted and Sun-JRE6

Xorg no-zap

Results:  It boots and shuts down much faster than Vista.  It is a Compaq lapto, Pentium Core-Duo, 1 GB RAM, uses the ath5k driver for wireless, has an integrated Intel graphics adapter (maybe 800 fps max on glxgears), and a 160 GB SATA drive.  It has sound, a mic, speakers, a DVD writer, some USB ports, and a network jack.  Overall, not too bad for what I need it to do.  But it is a little shaky and unstable from time to time, so I have shut off the compositing effects and unloaded some troublesome widgets (RSS news widget especially seemed flaky).  But the suspend and hibernate functions work great, and the webcam i bought (Logitech) worked right off the bat with skype.  So did my smartcaard reader.  I also installed the Acrobat Reader from the Adobe website – with it, I added the coolkey security device and am able to sign fillable PDF files with my card.  DVDs also play (region-free, of course).

So, these are my ramblings on the notebook.  I dual-booted because my wife insisted I keep Vista, just in case the Linux machine she is on dumps.  But she is getting more comfortable without Vista already – I can tell.

Waiting to Move In….

Well, we have been in the States now about a month and a half.  Fourth of July, and I am blogging over a really good beer (New Belgium Mighty Arrow), from the second long-term stay hotel of this adventure.  We are waiting on flooring to show up as we continue renovating our house, as well as for our stuff from the move to show up (probably next week for the stuff, no telling on the flooring).

We got cars about a week after we got here – new ones.  I swore I would never do that, but my wife really wanted new, and we got decent deals on them, so I am not too bothered by it.  I like mine quite a bit.  Yesterday, we got a new puppy – an eight week old chihuahua (shorthair), who stole our heart.  We named her Hana – it means “Flower” in Japanese.

Work is great.  I would be criminally underestimating to say that my last job had turned into swirling puddle of crap – but that is my way, Gentle Reader.  My job now is the polar opposite in so many ways.  Money, cooperation, teamwork, trust, even some hint of leadership.  I know, hard to believe.  I am seriously buzzed on the happy.

The beer helps, of course.

I am working a lot on Linux systems (at work).  For the wife, I bought a laptop from Best Buy with Vista Home Premium on it.  nice laptop – too bad the operating system is junk.  Oh well, once I figure out how to get her internet TV shows to work on Linux, Vista will be a distant memory.  But God, what a piece of junk it is to work with!  Anyway, I will be working on a lot with Linux and VMware at the office, and I am no longer involved in network or computer support and operations (I work in a lab now).  Lots to be happy about.

Hopefully, we can move into our renovated house soon.  Life is getting better…..

GIMPShop and iPod Fun…

Surfing through tags, I came across these links on VistaSucks.WordPress.Com:

  • GIMPShop – an add-on to GIMP that adjusts the menus and toolboxes to look more like Photoshop (soften the learning curve a little for those already familiar with Photoshop).
  • A thread on how to convert DVD content to MP4 content for your iPod, without encryption.

By the way, VistaSucks.WordPress.Com is a really funny site, with lots of “cautionary tales” (horror stories) of using Vista, as well as some interesting Mac articles. Good read!

Microsoft Patch Badness – Who Is To Blame?

Talk about timing. I just did a write-up on product quality from Microsoft, and right around the corner is a nasty zero-day bug that even affects Vista. Today, after Microsoft releases a patch, it is revealed that the patch BREAKS THINGS (specifically, Realtek audio and Ethernet devices seem to be most affected – they stop working). Question is, is it Microsoft’s fault? The easy answer is yes, but how can Microsoft be expected to know the inner workings of all of the driver manufacturers? Are the third party vendors not also capable of bad code, and of being constrained by the same pressures that likely result in less-than-the-best code from Microsoft?

Microsoft has long argued that many “bugs” in their software are really caused by third-party manufacturers – this problem with their patch seems to highlight that point rather nicely. Of course, further investigation is the only thing that will really show if it is a good patch stepping on a bad driver, or vice versa….

It also seems to highlight a strength of open source, as the chances of this happening if both driver and patch were open are greatly reduced.

Zero-day for Microsoft – Three Months Warning Not Enough?

Today, SANS went to InfoCon YELLOW, due to an exploit involving how Microsoft Windows OS’s handle malformed ANI files. It seems to affect nearly any OS Microsoft makes, so long as they are at the latest patch levels. This includes Vista, and includes IE7. IE7 on Vista in Protected Mode seems to offer protection.  The exploit is silent, and allows arbitrary code execution.

According to the article on SANS, Microsoft was warned about this back in December by Determina.  Yup, three months ago (this is being generous, since it is now April).

Way to go, Microsoft.

Do You Trust Microsoft?

I try to give things, ideas, people, etc. a fair shake in most cases, and this even applies to the Microsoft Windows operating system (specifically Windows XP). Yeah, I use Linux and go out of my way to avoid using Windows, and yes, I sometimes _do_ feel like I need a shot of penicillin after touching a Windows box (which is an infrequent event itself), but I try to acknowledge the contributions and advancements that Microsoft has built on, when those things have happened. Some things are even admirable, like the time I plugged in a Firewire camcorder, and XP just popped open a program (Media Player, I think) and captured the video, no questions asked. Pretty cool, and I have not seen this happen on Linux (not to say that it can’t – I just haven’t seen it).

Two recent events (among many) stand out, however. I recently helped local school kids (6th grade and up, about ten of them) learn how to load Linux (Mandriva 2007) on some old donated Dell 3 GHz machines (512 MB RAM, Intel on-board graphics, 80 GB hard drives), and the installs went smoothly. They then got to take home their computers, free. We did not have much time to show them how to use Linux once KDE was up and running, and I honestly expect seven or eight of them to have reloaded their free computers with Windows by now – at least two seemed likely to stay with it, even though all of them seemed impressed by Linux and KDE. This doesn’t bother me – most of them game, and reloading seems to be ingrained way of troubleshooting for home users of Microsoft products. At least two seemed likely to stick with it, and that is fine with me.

I ran into one of the (likely-to-load-Windows) kids a couple weeks later at a store, and asked him how things were going. He then told me a tale of woe and sorrow that surprised me – his computer was now extremely slow and hard to use, and he was doing nothing but RELOADING DRIVERS. This surprised me, since the drivers were already loaded, and I mentioned this. He then clarified, saying that while he liked Linux and it had worked fine, he had gone out and gotten another hard drive, installed it, and proceeded to loaded Windows XP on it so he could play his games. The Linux hard drive had been pulled out, since he did not want Windows overwriting his boot loader – something I had warned the kids would happen if Windows was loaded after Linux. Now, no matter how many times he reloaded drivers and patches, the system crawled and was unstable – and he couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I smiled, nodded, and told him that this was one of many reasons I was glad I no longer used Windows at home. I wished him luck and offered my help if he ever decided to try Linux again.

The other event was when we were troubleshooting an odd error with svchost.exe (application error) that was showing up on some desktops. After Googling (the event logs were pretty useless – again), we found multiple identical fixes, posted from different sources, and similar explanations. Apparently, the error was suspected of being caused by a corrupted update pushed from Microsoft. (Anyone remember the bad old days when such an event could thrash a Windows network?) The fix was pretty involved – the typical home user would either put up with the error, or reload. We decided to make sure our images were clean and reimage to save time.

Quality software? These are just two examples of many that over the years seem to point to a pattern of poor quality that cannot be defended or excused. There have been many many times I have been troubleshooting weird errors in Windows workstations and servers at work in which I have found cryptic error messages in the event logs, looked them up on various Microsoft resources (including TechNet), and discovered absolutely NOTHING useful. Google has many times only provided links to others who have had identical results – but no answers. Another time, I found a workstation that was so boned it would only let me, and no one else, log in. Apparently, someone had power-cycled it in the middle of an update, essentially busting it quite nicely – which is what a quick Google revealed was the expected behavior. The fix, of course, was to reimage the machine. Nothing else would do. This is tip-of-the-iceberg stuff…

From the Windows side, rebooting, reloading, formatting, fdisking, destroying and losing data, starting over from scratch – these are acceptable methods of troubleshooting and problem-solving. People are used to not being able to find out why, or how. It is an annual event (sometimes more often than that) to rebuild because the machine has become slow and unpredictable – it is like Spring Cleaning.

From the ‘nix side – this is unacceptable. Heresy. Sacrilegious, even. Instead, you can read the logs, and they mostly make sense with only a little familiarity with Linux. You can Google and get real answers. There are lots of forums, chat rooms, and channels one can participate in to get answers, but help is so easy to find that I have almost never had to ask a question online. I have had many problems with Windows that have had no solution other than to reload. I have never, ever had this case with Linux (certainly, if one tries hard enough, such a problem can be induced on Linux, or any other OS, of course).

Linux has it share of faults, especially with printer management (I am sure you can think of other things), but it is free. No cost other than your time to set it up. It can happily coexist with other operating systems. It can happily use hardware long since abandoned by Microsoft. Forced upgrades in order to get Linux patches and security updates are possible, in some extreme cases, I suppose, (only because I try not to rule anything out) but I have never actually seen this in practice. Major updates and upgrades almost always seem to yield impressive results, making the effort feel very worthwhile. In most cases, stuff just works, and once you get things working, they tend to stay working.

Windows? Forced updates for hardware and software, if you want to keep getting patches. Pay expensive support fees to get security patches for older versions of Windows. Pay to get anti-virus subscriptions from a third-party to protect your PC from harmful software that exploits flaws in Windows. Pay to someone else to provide software that protects you from flaws in the Windows OS you already paid for. Pay for cleaners, spyware-busters, registry sweepers. Then get updates from Microsoft that break Windows. Then reload and start over when your computer, for no good reason other than enough time has passed, becomes slow and stupid. I won’t go into the reactivation schemes if you change hardware. I won’t go into DRM. I won’t go into UAC-nagging and phone-home-to-Microsoft features. These are things you PAY MONEY for. Oh, but I did get a patch to update the Microsoft Genuine Advantage program, to ensure I was using a real version of Windows, even though I had already done that previously. Sure did. Yup. Good thing THAT was free. Don’t forget upgrades that required you to relearn how to drive around the desktop and applications. Happened with 95 (good), happened with XP (sorta good), and happened with Vista (now I gotta wonder). Windows supporters grouse about Linux requiring the user to relearn the GUI, but the same has happened with Windows and Office before, and sometimes, you just cannot see why it had to be that way.

Windows does a lot of useful stuff for folks, and that is fine. Most people won’t actually *pay* for their copy, since they will just get a new PC in order to meet the increasing hardware requirements, and it will come with the newest offering from Microsoft, with all the drivers, 30-day anti-malware services, subscription discounts, some lightweight productivity software, some games, etc. And paying for useful software is hardly criminal. But how much money has to be sucked from your wallet to make the OS you bought with the new computer safe enough to stay connected to the Internet? How is it right to fund a third-party industry that was built around protecting Windows from itself – without complaint? How is it right that there are still known holes in widely-used Microsoft products that remain unpatched, products someone paid for?

Would you expect the coffee pot you just paid for to have a hole? Would you next obediently pay someone else to patch it, or or would you return it and demand your money back? Simplistic, sure, but come on – this is an operating system that drives entire groups of industries. Hundreds of billions of dollars move around because of Windows. It is astounding that so many have become so accepting of such shoddy quality. I am not addressing applications not written by Microsoft – I am addressing the operating system and Microsoft applications like Office and Internet Explorer.

All software has bugs, holes, flaws, and over time, it is expected that old ones will be patched, new ones will be found. But isn’t there a systemic problem when the anti-virus industry *grows*? When the anti-spyware industry *grows*? When the security-cleaner-defragger-performance-tweaker industry *grows*? If things were getting better, shouldn’t they be shrinking or at least *not* growing, since there would be fewer holes to exploit? What does this mean? Do you doubt that without these industries and their tools, your hardworking OS is in danger of being exploited or damaged just because you connected to the Internet?

Why are the holes that allow viruses and worms and keyloggers and trojans not fixed, when others are with patches? There is a long list of viruses that are quite old that can still infect Windows XP, even with SP2 applied. There is a lot of spyware out there that can still get in. New versions seem to spring up weekly, and some are just minor tweaks to older versions that were blocked by a patch. There have been Microsoft updates that can break software and countless patches to fix problems introduced by patches. Doesn’t anyone at Microsoft know their own software well enough to at least avoid that scenario?

My guess – some flaws in Windows are so deeply rooted they cannot be baked out of Windows without severe, drastic changes. Imagine a set of holes and cracks in a dam that cannot be fixed without gutting the dam and rebuilding it. So someone else installs a set of protective drains and diverters and pipes and valves that all needs constant vigilance and repair to keep the holes from growing and the cracks from spreading – because it is cheaper than rebuilding and affecting communities downstream. I suspect that the business realities of commercial software works against quality in a similar fashion.

  • Programmers have deadlines and deliverables.
  • Bosses and managers have progress reports to pass upwards, and cost-cutting measures to pass downwards.
  • Executives have shareholders and the media to massage and seduce so stock prices go up, not down.
  • Teams work in isolation so no one can know too many trade secrets.
  • Everyone has a job to protect and a promotion to work towards, and maybe rocking the boat gets in the way of some of that.
  • Code gets rushed, and sloppy code gets reused rather than rewritten to get things out the door on time.

I said I wouldn’t mention DRM, but quite a lot of effort went into it on Vista, and it seems to work quite well, restricting how users play their media on their hardware. Why couldn’t that same level of effort go into better security patches, overall better quality of Windows? Because you need to upgrade to Vista to be more secure, and Vista will sell beefier computers. Making XP better and safer to use works against those goals. Vista DRM helps establish future revenue sources. Security fixes do not generate income. The reasons go on, but they all boil down to profits first, everything else last.

It makes me wonder how much room is left at Microsoft for quality, except for the times when a large enough event forces a change, such as the revamped IE7. Why did this happen after Microsoft declared that IE6 was the last stand-alone release? I am sure the success of Firefox had something to do with it. IE7 and Vista sound like progress has been made in fixing holes and providing a more secure OS, but look at past releases – all prior versions have been the “most secure Microsoft operating system ever” (what else would they be?), yet all have rapidly been shown to be quite a bit less secure than hyped. Even now, many are advising users to wait until Service Pack 1 for Vista is released before upgrading. Any reason to think Vista, Office 2007, IE7, etc., will be any different? Are you getting better quality software, or just different looking software that essentially does most of the same things, and adds a few things you probably wouldn’t miss?

I lost my trust of Microsoft a long time ago, after security updates broke machines, after zero-day exploits slagged networks, after viruses repeatedly smoked corporate networks and slowed the Internet to a crawl in many places around the world. We paid good money for that software, and we paid more to secure it. We paid money to troubleshoot it, to learn it and understand it. After enough bad news, you cannot help but start wondering what you are investing in…. And being a convicted monopolist sure didn’t help Microsoft, either.

I have yet to lose faith in Linux. I have yet to see any event that affected a huge community of Linux users in a common fashion (and yes, there really are enough Linux machines out there to qualify as a huge community). I have yet to see a zero-day on Linux that flogged the Internet. I have seen at least one distribution-specific update that borked a major system component, Xorg, but fixes were quick and better tested, and the problem update only affected the one distribution, not all of them.

I had put up with a lot before I finally gave up on Microsoft – Linux still has a long way to go to before I do the same with it. In fact, it is my experience with Linux and the exposure to the level of quality of the OS and its major component applications that has made me more keenly aware of and less tolerant of the quality Microsoft puts into its software. So I ask – what will it take for Microsoft to improve their software, to make it safer for the end users at home, and to make it easier for admins to troubleshoot? And how much more trust will they be willing to place in Microsoft?

Finally, some related good reading, if you stuck it out this far:

“A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection”

“The Missing Microsoft Patches”

“Latest Ubuntu xorg-core update breaks X – this is quite old news”

Old article on a Microsoft patch break…

Googling on svchost.exe issues…

Microsoft phones home…

Remember – this is an opinion piece about trusting the quality of software you pay for and depend on from Microsoft. These links support my point of view – I am sure you can find plenty of links to support the opposite if you want. In the end, your personal experiences are going to drive you one way or the other – and mine have definitely made me question everything Microsoft does or does not do and say.

Update: Basic file operation problems in Vista…

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