A while back I was asking about how to look at server load issues. I wound up using
collectd, which was pretty useful.
I identified a handful of disk I/O spikes - unfortunately it’s hard to match these up against the subjective delays/lag problem. However, I looked into ways to improve I/O handling, and found information about caching and
I’m currently experimenting with upping
/proc/sys/vm/swappiness (to 90), to encourage more swapping to disk - on the grounds that I do have an active server, and I’d rather use the disk cache more. I think. I’m a little unsure of my logic here, but so far this seems to have improved the situation a bit, so maybe I’m on the right lines.
In When Do You Trade in Your Gibbon for a Heron?, I mentioned that I’m considering upgrading my System76 laptop from Gutsy Gibbon to Hardy Heron. A commenter named Scummy suggested that a similarly configured Dell system is cheaper:
Dude - you just paid a $350 ‘Linux Tax’ by NOT going mainstream in your hardware…
Maybe so, but I think not. It depends on what you value.
Fedora 9 is now available - http://get.fedoraproject.org/ As someone thats been working with it for months already I’m quite pleased with this release.
My main computer these days is a laptop from System76. I was very happy to support a vendor willing to ship and support a laptop without the Microsoft or Apple tax, and very pleased to have hardware supported by a Linux distribution.
That was a couple of Ubuntu releases ago. Now that Hardy Heron is out, I feel the urge to run through the upgrade. Improved battery life is one big draw, but getting updates for all sorts of software I rely on is nice. (New Wine, new Valgrind, new Firefox, new GCC….)
Upgrades are never 100% perfect, though. There’s always a risk of mishap that’ll take me a few days to straighten out. I don’t have any talks to give or books due in the next several weeks, so the timing seems good, but perhaps I should wait a few days more for the early adopters to expose any bugs that I’m happy not to fix?
I know plenty of people like Jim Zemlin who were very happy to run pre-release versions of Hardy Heron, but he had Greg K-H to help him out.
How do you decide to upgrade?
10 days ago the Linux Loop blog had a post titled “Linux Eee PC Far Faster Than Windows Version”. I’m sure many Linux users nodded and had assumed as much. The author compared the times of three tasks: boot up, loading Firefox, and shutting down. That’s hardly a comprehensive set of tests. Some people commented to dismiss these metrics as “meaningless”. They aren’t meaningless but they certainly aren’t the whole story. Others pointed out that IE on Windows was faster than Firefox on Linux and that MS Works was faster than OpenOffice. Some then responded that Works isn’t the equivalent of OO and that MS Office would be a better comparison. It all got a little shrill with those who believe that Linux is faster than Windows and those who say it isn’t so talking past each other and resolving nothing.
I’m going to try and sift through the morass and say what I think the numbers really mean and what they don’t mean. Those with an agenda, either agenda, will, I’m sure, attack what I have to say. I think anyone who really tries to look at things objectively probably won’t. I’m just not sure that very many people are truly objective.
In the interest of fairness let me disclose where I am coming from: Yes, I tend to have a pro-Linux bias. I also have a bias against hype and B.S. When it comes to my professional life I’m an IT mercenary. If someone wants me to support Windows systems along with Linux or UNIX systems I will gladly take their money and do the work. I also won’t evangelize on behalf of Linux. Why not? In business everything comes down to a cost vs. benefits analysis and there are situations in the real world where a change of OS is far too costly to justify any perceived benefits. There are many situations where Windows or commercial, proprietary UNIX really and truly is the best fit. Back to those pesky metrics…
There are some “interesting” issues being raised due to an incompatibility between e2fsprogs and GRUB legacy that results in non-booting systems. Newer versions of e2fsprogs default to creating new Ext3 filesystems with 256-byte sized inodes, instead of the old default of 128. GRUB legacy has absolutely no clue what to do with 256-byte inodes, so it barfs up the “Error 2: unknown file or directory type” message and sits back down. GRUB legacy will not be patched to support 256-byte inodes. Yay! But this is a transitional problem; read all about it here:
GRUB vs. the Inodes: Who Needs a Bootable System, Anyway?
This week’s discovery: a bug with IE7’s CSS handling (I’m sure you’re all very surprised), and the workaround.
The bug: I have rollover submenus, set up with CSS. In Firefox and Safari they behave as expected: the submenu pops up on rollover, and then you can navigate the mouse to the submenu item you want and click on it. In IE7, when you try to navigate to the submenu items, as soon as your pointer moves off the rollover-trigger item, the submenu vanishes. Most irritating.
The eventual solution was to give the submenu a background image (also in CSS). This background image doesn’t need to actually exist (mine doesn’t, to save creating a transparent one) - just the call to it seems to be sufficiently to counter the bug. I confess to having no idea whatsoever why this works, but work it does. In fact you probably do want the background image file to exist (to avoid errors in your logs), but just touching it will be fine.
(I would like to extend intense gratitude to whoever it was put me onto this; unfortunately I went through so many different sites over the hour or so I spent struggling with this that I don’t know who or where it was that I found the idea. I’m still very grateful to them, though.)
Last month distro-review ran an article titled 10 ways that Linux is outgrowing the stereotype and becoming the best OS. While I agreed with all 10 points in the article something just didn’t sit right with me. I bookmarked the article and gave it a good long think. My conclusion: the facts are correct but there are problems with both the premise and the goal of the article.
My problem with the premise is in the opening paragraph:
I’m occasionally asked “why do you bother with Linux?” by people who haven’t used it recently under the assumption that it’s difficult to use, counter intuitive, geeky, nerdy and any number of other adjectives.
I hear that too. People who tried Linux back in the ’90s often came to that conclusion and haven’t tried it since. Microsoft, Apple, and their supporters certainly do all they can to maintain that stereotype.
Having said that, the question I here far more often from non-technical people is “What’s Linux?” Outside technical circles a lot of people have never heard of Linux or if they have heard the name it simply didn’t register. Think about the recent Apple commercials. You know, the ones that start with “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC”. They make the assumption that PCs all run Windows and that Macs all run Mac OS X. So do most people.
In the next sentence the article states its goal:
However it is my intention to raise awareness that Linux is remarkably usable these days, so on that note let’s start looking at how Linux has outgrown that stereotype.
The article then details all the wonderful advances in Linux. It’s all accurate and spelled out in clear language. There’s only one problem: these points all assume you have Linux installed and running or, at the very least, that Linux installation is a no-brainer. The sad fact is that the average Joe or Jane user has never installed an operating system and probably never will. They use what comes on the computer. Changing operating systems is too much work to even consider. Why should they if they think their computer is working just fine for them? They need a reason to want to learn something new and do extra work that they think, rightly or wrongly, is difficult. What’s the incentive for them?
Radio silence here of late as I have been moving old website to new website; a process which is time-consuming and gives rise to a very long to-do list, but which isn’t remotely interesting to anyone else. Although I have discovered that IE7 handles CSS boxes, percentages, and padding differently from Firefox/Safari/Opera. (This irritates but does not surprise me.)
I’ve also been dealing with some user queries about compiling Fortran. Can anyone recommend a good online beginner’s tutorial on the general subject of makefiles, or on the specific subject of makefiles for Fortran? Or a decent Fortran book?
Just over a year ago, Greg Kroah-Hartman announced the Linux Driver Project, which combined education and mentoring with the promise to write Linux drivers for any hardware manufacturer willing to work with the project.
Greg has just released the Linux Driver Project Status Report as of April 2008. LWN has comments at A Linux Driver Project status report.
Greg’s comments are particularly interesting:
The Linux Driver Project (LDP) is alive and well, with over 300
developers wanting to participate, many drivers already written and
accepted into the Linux kernel tree, and many more being currently
developed. The main problem is a lack of projects. It turns out that
there really isn’t much hardware that Linux doesn’t already support.
Almost all new hardware produced is coming with a Linux driver already
written by the company, or by the community with help from the
After much cajoling and harassment on my part, I’m happy to say that the
Linux Foundation’s Vendor Advisory board’s top 10 list of things that need to
be worked on with Linux doesn’t mention drivers at all.
So let’s put this myth to rest once and for all please.
Of course, the quality of support of certain devices is still an issue — in particular certain wireless cards and, as always, 3D devices.
Instant Messaging for Introverts
This is an excellent article about the intrusiveness of modern “always on” communications tools, especially instant messaging. The author framed it as an introvert vs. extrovert problem, which I’m not sure is a correct assessment- to me it’s manners vs. rudeness. Some folks think because they have instant messaging it’s OK to be constantly interrupted, or to constantly interrupt other people for every trivial thing. Well, no, it’s not OK.
Matt Asay makes one crucial observation in Microsoft’s dilemma: The importance of the downstream:
To work within the open-source community… Microsoft must stop polluting the downstream with patent encumbrances.
(Emphasis in original.)
This is my problem with Microsoft’s patent pledge, with the Microsoft-Novell deal over codecs for Monopolight, and just about everything coming out of Redmond except for the pretty words of the open source interoperability lab.
Discriminatory distribution clauses are contrary to the four freedoms of software. Couching that discrimination in the language of business ($40 billion in annual revenue seems like a pretty fair return for $7 billion in annual research to me) and waving the tired old tatters of the flag of innovation doesn’t make that discrimination right, and it doesn’t hide it very well.
If Microsoft wants to interoperate with free software at the source level, it has plenty of source code — all of Microsoft’s own source code and all of the free software ever distributed.
If Microsoft wants to interoperate with free software at the business level, it could start by removing legal roadblocks to interoperability. The fact that the company continues not to do so leads me to believe that Microsoft doesn’t really want to interoperate with free software at a business level.
As long as the company offers only jingoistic pats on the head to us misguided little hackers laboring part time in our basements with no commercial aspirations, there’s little point in considering anything that comes out of Redmond as useful.
In eight months since Nat Torkington asked Bill Hilf What Will Change at Microsoft with Regard to Patents and F/OSS, nothing interesting has happened. OSCON’s four months away. Maybe Bill Hilf will have a big announcement then — maybe he’ll have set up mail filters. Don’t hold your breath for a sane patent strategy.
Over the past 14 months I’ve reviewed two previous releases of Vector Linux: Vector Linux 5.8 Standard and Vector Linux 5.8 SOHO. Anyone who has run those versions of Vector Linux would find the new version quite familiar. In reality the changes between 5.8 and 5.9, which was released in December, are like day and night. For starters up until now Vector Linux was a 32-bit distro. A 64-bit version of Vector Linux 5.9 Standard is currently in beta and looks very promising. However, since it is still beta code I’m restricting my review to the 32-bit version.
Last year Vector Linux came in four flavors. The list has now been expanded to seven different variations on the distribution: Standard, Deluxe, SOHO, Live, Light, Mini, and Light Live. SOHO, with KDE as the default desktop and all the most popular applications, is the full featured version. Standard is based on the Xfce4 desktop and provides superior speed and performance. Both are freely downloadable. Deluxe, available for purchase, is Standard plus a second CD with additional applications including KDE and OpenOffice. Live, as the name implies, is a live CD version of Standard. Light is a paired down, extremely lightweight version designed to run on older systems with as little as 64MB of RAM. In reality it will run with less than that. Light is built around either a JWM or Fluxbox desktop and lightweight applications. Mini is a further reduced version of Light that fits on a 5cm/3″ mini CD and requires only 1.1GB of disk space. Finally, Light Live is, as you’d expect, the live CD version of Light. So far only new Standard and Deluxe versions have been released but the others, all in various stages of development and testing, can already be sampled. This review will stick strictly with the Standard version from here on out.
My main box for testing Vector Linux 5.9 Standard my aging general purpose laptop, a five year old Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204 (1 GHz Celeron processor, 512MB RAM). Though this system has adequate memory for any current Linux distro it’s sufficiently challenged in terms of processing power for KDE to be sluggish and for Gnome to be noticeably slower than Xfce4 in most distros.
Vector Linux is almost to the point where it can seriously considered by almost any user, not just someone experienced with Linux, as most things do work as they should out of the virtual box. Some issues still require manually editing configuration files. I had hoped that by this point VL would be as user friendly as any distro out there but it isn’t there yet.
I have a server (LDAP and NFS) which occasionally seems to take a while to react. Load average is consistently high (10-12 for 4 CPUs, which AIUI means 2.5-3 per CPU); response may also be being affected by disk I/O.
I’d like to find out which processes in particular are causing the heavy load, and possibly also to track disk I/O activity over say a 24 hr period. Unfortunately, this has exposed a shocking lack in my knowledge, viz: I have no idea how to do this, what tools are out there, etc etc. (Obviously I am fortunate never to have encountered performance issues before; all my machines have previously either Worked or Not Worked.) Any suggestions?
(The other possibility is a network load issue, but as I’m not responsible for the network, tracking that might be tougher.)
Another, unconnected query: I have been asked to source quiet/silent keyboards for a couple of my colleagues who are noisy typers. Any recommendations? I’ve looked at the Saitek Eclipse but it sounds like it’s not very tough. Bonus virtual biscuit for recommendations which are actually available to buy in the UK (the IBM Quiet Touch appears not to be, for example). Real biscuit available to anyone able to implement a biscuit-over-IP protocol; failing that I shall just eat them all myself.
O’Reilly has a brand-new feature, book forums at http://forums.oreilly.com/category/13/Book-Forums/. Gab with your favorite authors and other readers. I’ll be posting tips and cool hacks that didn’t make it into the Linux Networking Cookbook. Come on down and join the fun!