Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Distro Disco!

For those of you not familiar with the wide and wonderful world of Linux distributions; a trip over to DistroWatch.com  can be a tad overwhelming.  The typical Linux distribution (or distro from here on in) usually has a rather asinine name.  Distros like Yellow Dog, Mint, Debian, Slackware, etc often have very odd origin stories behind those names that don't often give the slightest hint at what they have to offer to the user.

OK...Stop reading for a sec and hit up DistroWatch and read about the top 10 Linux distros here.

Ok now that you have read their reviews I am going to give you my unique perspective on a few. :D

Ubuntu / Mint

Or as I call it... "My Other Computer is a Mac" distros.  Ubuntu and Mint Linux are hands down two of the best disros for new users.  Their live cd's just plain work with no real need to configure anything beyond plugging in your wifi password (which is simple and intuitive).  Also both distros have made adding new software to the system very easy via the GUI.  I haven't played with Mint as much as Ubuntu, but it seems to share many of the same strengths.  The only real "negative" aspect of Ubuntu is that it kind of locks the user into the GUI and the command line is given a backseat.  Now you will need to trust me on this when I say at first this is great if you are new to Linux or have no interest in messing with the command line, but more experienced users will soon chafe under the lack of a proper root account.

Red Hat / Fedora / CentOS

These are the big names in enterprise level Linux.  Big companies use these distros to get big things done.  They are robust, they are tested extensively and they are deployed damn near everywhere.  Lets look at Red Hat first.  It has been around for a long time and since it started it has tried to make Linux more...profitable.  Free open source software is great for the end user, but it requires a sound business strategy  to make a profit from it.  Red Hat does so by relying less on the open source community, and more on in house developers.  They still publish a huge amount of code to the open source community in the form of Fedora their "free" (as in beer and lunch) OS.  It is feature rich and is a great OS to learn as many of the programs included with it are also found in Red Hat Enterprise Linux.  CentOS is a very popular distro that takes Red Hat Enterprise Linux and removes all of the non-open source software.  The result is a very stable, very free, and very robust distro.

SuSE Linux

Please forgive my bias...SuSE and I go way back.  Each time we have met... unfortunate things have happened lol.  The first time I installed it was way back in 2000 and the YaST installer sucked...but to its credit, almost every distro of Linux was a bitch to install.  But in my case, I totally nuked my new computer to boldly try Linux...and I was sorely mistaken in doing so.  But even still...I gave it a second chance.  Things haven't progressed all that well.  They have their "build-your-own-os" site called SuSe Studio.  In theory it is great, in practice it blows goats.  Getting your personal distro to work is tedious and frustrating.  Maybe I will take another stab at later...but not likely.  SuSE is widely used in Europe as it was created in Germany.  Also in many European nations they have to use open source if it is a viable option so it is widely used there. I can't recommend it.  But again take that with a grain of salt.


One of the oldest and most respected distros around.  The main thing that sets Debian apart though is its development cycle.  IT IS LOOOOOOONG.  Like years between releases.  The reason for this is that Debian is like the universal OS.  It can be slapped on anything from a clock radio to a server farm.  The developers are kinda like the Marines...leave no architecture behind.  They code it for all then release the update.  Does this mean it is not secure or that it is a dinosaur before it is released? Hell no.  They release security patches as they become necessary.  Now, if you can't tell by the banner on my page I am a bit of a Debian fanboi.  I don't view it as a real stand alone distro though...think of it more of a framework.  When I install Debian I install it with just the bare essentials.  Then I add on things bit by bit.  Hell most times I don't even load a GUI (or a minimal x windows manager like fluxbox).  For me this works and setup goes smooth every time. It should be noted that Ubuntu is based off of Debain...and Mint Linux is based off of Ubuntu.  The main benefit of Debian is that can be used on a wide variety of hardware and it is a very stable build.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't Fear the Penguin

I think when most people think of Linux they think of scary black and white command lines and GUI interfaces that require a PHD in computer science to configure right.  While this might have been true back when it first started, it is no longer the case.  

Linux is everywhere and I am positive you interact with it on a daily basis, but you don't even realize it.  Small embedded versions of Linux are everywhere from routers to Roku boxes.  Full versions of Linux power everything from your company network to billions of webpages.  While user friendly distributions like Ubuntu and Mint Linux have greatly expanded the number of average joe users using Linux as their primary desktop environment, it still lags far behind Windows and Mac OS X.  But the times they are a changin...

Enter the Android.  Yup that is right, the rising star in the world of cell phone OS'es is based on the Linux kernel (think of the kernel as a kind of computer brain stem - it controls all the base functions of the phone).  This allows it to work on a very wide variety of hardware platforms.  Now I know you are saying, umm dude Android is for phones and shit, not computers!  O RLY?  Exhibit A - the Motorola Atrix. The Atrix is an Android powered smartphone with a twist; it can utilize a special "laptop dock".  The dock is just a screen and keyboard that looks like a laptop, but it totally powered by the Atrix...OS and all.  Yup you heard that right...a phone that doubles as a friggin laptop.  The way I see it, this is the future.  Take your phone with you where ever you go, sit down at your work, a coffee shop, or at home and surf, shop and post to your fav social network or blog.  When you are done, your personal data and your computer come with you.  And if Android continues to gain market share I am sure it will be done with Linux.  

So until that days comes, cozy up to Linux.  Install Ubuntu or Mint and explore everything it has to offer.  Heck, if a full install scares you, you can get a live cd or usb flash drive and boot to a "live cd".  It doesn't install anything, just runs from the cd or flash drive and gives you a nearly full Linux experience.  When you are done take the disk out and go back to your normal OS, no harm done! 

For more information on the different flavors of Linux out there check out Distrowatch  or to jump into a live cd go to Ubuntu.  

PS - Below are some Amazon.com adds that I will be adding to a few posts here and there.  The items I will post are top rated and reviewed hardware that can make your Linux machine fly.  I will only recommend Linux friendly hardware.  Peace!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Oooo Shiny!

So after struggling to watch a small 480i video on YouTube I decided to upgrade from the stock Xorg drivers to the closed source NVIDIA drivers.  I give much respek to the Open Source community, but I am not a techno-vegan.  Sometimes I gotta get me some of that closed source meat.  :D  So I hit up NVIDIA's site and find their glorious linux drivers. Side note...ahem..ATI/AMD I love you, but really would it fucking kill you to lock some code monkeys in a room for a week and have them bang out a functional open/closed source driver or three? Anyhoo, I download the biglongNVIDIAdriver.run and couldn't get the fucker to run.  So after asking my *NIX guru buddy Andy just what the hell a .RUN extn was I was able to run the install (btw... .RUN is a shell script and you run it from a terminal with the syntax (if not root) sudo sh sillyfile.RUN).  So I run it and it says I don't have my kernel straight...so no install for me.  Well fuck you then...TO THE GOOGLE!  Oh! Did I mention that after running the NVIDIA driver script I decided to bypass the "suggested" settings and I kinda jacked up my display drivers so I had to find this article via the LINKS browser (a command line only browser with frames support). Below are the exact steps I followed... from http://nvnews.net/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=72490

"Debian GNU/Linux or [K]Ubuntu with Xorg 7.x

If you wish to install the NVIDIA Linux graphics driver on a Debian GNU/Linux or Ubuntu system that ships with Xorg 7.x, please ensure that your system meets the following requirements:
* development tools like make and gcc are installed
* the linux-headers package matching the installed Linux kernel is installed **for the linux-headers bit you will need to know your kernel version you can find this out by typing  uname -r at the command prompt.  
* the pkg-config and xserver-xorg-dev packages are installed"

I then re-ran  the NVIDIA script and voila! It worked!  Rebooted my computer and I was greeted with a fully armed and operational PCI Express Slot! \o/


Lazy Monday Firewall Hack

So yesterday was a slow day, this allowed me plenty of idle time...and as they say about idle hands...I decided to systematically test our firewall. :D  A bit of background first.  I work for a large Fortune 500 company, you know the type...they have millions of dollars invested in IT staff and hardware.  We also have a stifling firewall.  It blocks any site about gaming (console/PC/gambling/etc), all video (we can't even view CNN.com videos), and almost all social networks (only allowed are twitter and LinkedIn). In the past I have tried damn near everything in my geek tool box to circumvent said firewall.  Proxies, SSH tunneling, Google cache, you name it.  Every attempt has been met with the dreaded 

"Continued attempts to access prohibited sites may result in a review of your internet usage and expose you to appropriate disciplinary action"  

So imagine my surprise when adding a simple s to a web address let me bypass nearly ALL blocked sites!  Changing HTTP to HTTPS was the solution I had been searching for.  Why does this work I wondered...well apparently the firewall admins only filter traffic on port 80 not 443.  So if you are a network admin and you really want to lock down your system...be sure to plug the HTTPS hole. 

Until next time! o7

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lets get random!

So it is the end of the work week and thank god it is over.  Here is something funny to end your week with.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Getting Started with Debian - Basic Install and SSH

Let me start by saying I am not an expert programmer, nor am I a Linux guru, instead you can call me a technology explorer.  I am always trying to push the limits of what I can do with the technology around me.  I have flirted with Linux numerous times in the past (more on that in a later post), but each time I never really had a use or a need for it.  Well now both Linux and myself are a little bit older, and a little bit wiser so the time has come to take the plunge.

A friend of mine got an old computer from work and he gave it to me.  Dell Precision 670 to be exact.  It had all you could want from a server...2 Xeon procs, 4 gigs of ram and a TB hard drive.  After messing with Ubuntu for a bit and finally getting sick of not having full root access, I went and got me a Debian ISO file from here... http://www.debian.org/CD/live/ .

So...enough of the histroy lesson...first browse the page and you will see numerous options to choose from.  Choose the basic live cd (just command line) and make sure to get the one that matches your computer's processor (i.e. i386 for intel).  Save the iso file to disk. Use an appropriate iso burning program (I use http://infrarecorder.org it is open source and free \o/) and burn the disk.  Next power up your server and pop in the disk, then reboot.

You should now have some options to choose from...text or a graphical install.  I would go with the graphical install.  It will walk you though the basics, what is your region, what is the root password, time zone, etc. After all of this is done it will ask you to eject the disk and restart. (FYI - this isn't going to be a one stop shop for all answers in the Linux universe...that would be very bad for all parties.  This is more of a help for me to remember what to do when I setup a server at home for testing...cabbienot emperor or whatever those dead poets say. :D )

If this worked you should be sitting at a bash command prompt.  Now comes the fun part, picking packages you want to install on your new server! For starters we will install open SSH (so you can putty from the potty into your computer from any other machine)

So to install SSH type the following...

user@yourcomputer:~$ su
Password: yourpasswordhere
root@yourcomputer:/home/username# apt-get install ssh

After a bit it may ask you to install y or n.  So yeah...pick y :D

Congrats! You can now sit on your couch with your windows laptop and log in with putty!  \o/ I just helped your marriage!

Next Post: Customize your new home server!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hello from the commmand line!

Hello and welcome to my blog! From here I will post about my strange and wonderful journey into the dark and colorful depths of the Linux command line! First things first, a little about me.  I do tech support for Windoze based machines all day and at night I configure my baby...my dual 3ghz Xeon Debian server! :D  More coming soon...

Next post...how to install and configure Debian from a live cd!

pssst...this post was made on the command line using GoogleCL (more on that another day)! :D