Saturday, August 22, 2009

CloneZilla: More than a Ghost of a Chance

School started for the teachers at my school last Wednesday, so no code for me. :( However, there has been an up side to it all. To make a long story short, I get to teach some junior high and high school computer classes and had a need to image a total of 10 laptops. In the past, I used Norton Ghost 12 and recently upgraded to 2003. Both were provided by my school. Never again, however. While I was in the middle of waiting for a machine to be imaged, I did a little looking around Wikipedia for alternative software, having never heard of any alternatives or bothered to look for any. There is a wonderful alternative: CloneZilla.

What is CloneZilla, you ask? It is a Linux-based Live CD project which does the same basic stuff has Norton Ghost 2003 (and a lot that it doesn't), but is free software and -- as far as I can tell -- faster, too. Both allow you to back up your machine to one big file and then clone others from that file. CloneZilla, however, is quite a bit more technical than Ghost, which tries to market itself as both a backup solution for the regular user and a sysadmin's imaging tool. With that said, CZ is quite technical, and there were quite a few options that I had no clue what they were for. It was a wise idea for those behind the project to incorporate both a beginner and an advanced mode. The latter is well-named!

Some of the other things that I really thought were nice to have: backup can be done via SSH, NFS, or Windows file sharing (Samba) or to a local disk. Quite literally, you could clone a machine from the Live CD and a flash drive! Maybe I'm just really happy because Ghost 12 leaves you using PC-DOS and 2003 sticks you with the Vista pre-install environment. While for different reasons, they're both junk. It took 2003 probably a good 5 minutes to boot and the CZ disc about 2. Multiply that by 10 machines and you have something significant.

One thing I did not test out was the server version of CloneZilla. It comes as a part of Diskless Remote Boot Linux and requires loading a machine with Linux to act as a server to handle booting over the network. If the testimonies on the project's website are any measure, not having to buy the expensive enterprise version of Ghost coupled with the speed of cloning up to 100 machines over the network at the same time is nothing short of phenomenal.

This is not to say that working with CloneZilla is all wine and roses. I did run into one major problem with my first attempt. The first image I created with it was done over the network to a disk I was sharing from Windows XP. The image had somehow gotten corrupted when it was created. However, I made a new one to a USB hard drive I had lying around and it was all fixed from there on.

I can't stand Norton's antivirus package, but Ghost is a solid product. CloneZilla feels like it's based on Linux, full of technical terms and a slew of unfamiliar options. Guess what? When it comes to price, speed, and hardware compatibility, Norton seems to lack the spirit.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Haiku Alpha: More than Pleased

I am *so* glad about the appearance of the alpha at last. It's something that I've wanted for myself and the community for a long, long time. Let's hope that there is an influx of developers into the community -- in the words of Michael Phipps, Haiku itself is a slow but steady train and while there are plenty of apps out there thanks to BeOS' legacy, there are some key ones missing, such as good office software.

What kinds of applications are we, as a community, missing? Major ones.

  • Word processor - the AbiWord port is by no means complete. Productive was lightweight for 2000. It's not even really worth mentioning almost 10 years later.
  • Spreadsheet - Sum-it, now that it is open source, is missing features that many office workers need.
  • Personal Information Manager - I hate Outlook. Haiku needs something better that fills the void. E-mail is covered with BeMail and Beam and contact management (mostly) with Mr. Peeps, but there is no good, easy-to-use calendar program. Sunbird isn't stable enough to count.
  • CD Burning - Helios is the only good one, but it's dead in the water because it's closed source and won't even run on Haiku. Melt is only open source one, it's hard to use, and its code is a mess.
  • Photo manager - Think of the many things that Picasa does. BeAndSee in combination with PhotoGrabber is a step in the right direction, but, as a community, we're not there yet. Wonderbrush is a great image editor, but it doesn't to photo-related work like red eye removal or color adjustment.

There are websites that let you do almost all of those, but there are a great many times when you don't have access to the Internet. What do you do then? If you dual boot with another OS like me, you reboot to another OS. If not, you're pretty much stuck.

If you're a developer and even remotely committed to Haiku, find a project, get behind it, and help. Don't know how to code? Try learning. If a moron like me can teach himself how, anyone can learn. I'm not in the realm of Axel or Ingo, but, then again, I didn't go to college for computer science, either.

What if you don't want to learn to write programs or can't for some reason? Help developers in the community by using their programs and telling them about your experience. I don't know about other developers, but it makes me feel good that something I wrote is helping someone else and I want to know about bugs. I probably don't know about some of them. It takes a some time to write a few e-mails, but not nearly that of writing programs, and it helps everyone. Have a blog? Test and review some software. Tell other people of your experiences with it. Can you write well? Help work on documentation.

In some ways, I'm getting a feeling around the community that is probably similar to the days of BeOS DR9. The community is quite small and most people I talk to have never heard of BeOS, let alone Haiku, or they heard of it once and that's it. What makes open source work is people giving back, and not just developers.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Windows Responsiveness (or Lack Thereof)

It's official: I really have gone off the deep end -- at least if you talk to anyone from Redmond. BeOS fanatic zealot that I am, I'm acutely aware of the responsiveness of an operating system's desktop user interface. I expect my computer to run slower if I'm hitting the hard drive or processor pretty hard. I also expect programs to NOT take several seconds to respond to input or to redraw themselves. My experience with OS X is pretty shallow in comparison to my usage of various Linux distributions, BeOS and its variants, and all Windows versions save Media Center and 2.0 -- yes, I there was a time where I twiddled with Windows 1.0. Nonetheless, to my recollection, I have never seen Windows respond to the user very well even on a machine far beyond the recommended specs.

After spending the summer with my work laptop running Ubuntu, I had to install XP Pro. I didn't want to, but my school is a Windows-only shop. I disliked doing the install and resented having to hunt all over the Web for drivers only to have to install 500MB of system updates, but the last straw was when I was copying over my MP3 collection. Both machines were running XP and the file copy was taking forever. After about fifteen minutes, I rebooted the source machine into Linux, deleted what little had been copied, and started copying the collection using FileZilla to do an SFTP transfer. I had two files being copied at once and each one was taking half the time to copy as the XP file copy had. Somewhere in there, there's a problem. Worse yet, the destination machine was so slow (Athlon 64 3000, 512MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive) as to be unusable. Just plain sad. Man, I'm going to dislike using this machine with Windows again. :(

New Paladin Stable Release and More

Well, I finally got around to getting the patches I've made to the stable branch out the door. I actually was planning on doing it a little while ago, but BeBits and Haikuware were down, so it seemed kinda silly to do it then. Anyway, it fixes a couple of minor bugs plus a couple of major annoyances. Anyone who has done any development in Haiku with Paladin has discovered that projects don't keep their file type, which is very much like trying to walk a mile with a rock in your shoe. This is a bug in Haiku (#3231) that hasn't been resolved, but I *did* manage to find a way to work around the problem. Libraries in /boot/common/lib also show up in the library window. These two patches make developing in Haiku a lot more pleasant.

I'm not just standing still on Paladin's unstable branch. I'm working on what will probably be the last feature before I release an official build: the code library. What in the world is that, you ask? A feature itch I've had for some time which is now getting scratched. The C++ computer language lets you write code with reusability in mind. I have a bunch of files which I use quite a lot in my projects. The only problem is that if one of those files gets changed, I have to go through all my other projects that use the same files and update them, too. Paladin's code library eliminates this by keeping its own copy and updating projects when you open them. It's a little like using version control (CVS, Subversion, etc.), but much less work for this kind of task.

Despite its name, the unstable branch right now is pretty stable. It should be interesting to see some of the bugs that other people find once it's released. TTFN

Monday, August 3, 2009

Happy Everything

I just recently discovered this picture as a really cruddy jpeg file with lots of artifacts. I liked it so much that I spent several hours yesterday redoing it in Inkscape. While there are small differences, they're not very noticeable. I'm posting the results here so others can enjoy it, too. You can click on it at the left and save it (PNG, 1280x1024 for desktop wallpaper) or save the SVG version.