July 2014 Archives

Project Heresy Redux


linux_inside (Photo credit: Adriano Gasparri)

Some years ago I described my experiences converting a non-technical computer user to the Linux desktop. In fact, it was nearly 10 years ago to be precise. I remark on that experience now as there is a great deal of talk regarding the end-of-life of M$ XP and the real possibility of Linux replacing XP or at least having common Windows users considering Linux as a viable candidate.

Although, my first experience working with a novice and non-technical user was clearly a mixed bag at best. In truth, that experience could be considered a failure due to the fact that particular user complained that there was no exact replacement to Outlook. Another issue was certain attachments did not open upon clicking the hypertext link in the email.  All of these are valid points, but honestly that was over 10yrs ago and the Linux desktop has made great strides in the quality department.  In truth, I have not used Evolution in quite awhile, so I do not know if their design and software development strategy is still to simply mimic Outlook. Hopefully, the Evolution project has evolved to do far more than mimicking a commercial piece of software.  For whatever reason, when people are faced with the prospect of using a new software package they automatically think certain commercial packages are the gold standard on how things should work. If the new software offering does not have the identical bells and whistles that they are accustomed, it is assumed to be a shortcoming.

This appears to be flawed reasoning in my book. I digress, but anyway. Now while many people are talking about replacing WinXP with Linux, I am actually getting a chance to do that. One of my friends has decided to take the plunge and replace the XP box with Linux.

His requirements:

  • Share digital media to multiple M$ Windows clients on LAN
  • Access digital content remotely
  • Stream digital content to LAN

It is true that experience is the best teacher, so one of the lessons I learned when I converted a non-technical user to Linux nearly a decade previously is to temper expectations. While I know Linux (and for that matter BSD) is super operating system, it will be a significant challenge for a non-technical random Windows or MacOS user. Particularly if the user has spent their entire computing life using a GUI. It is important to note that there are significant differences from my earlier experience to that which I have been asked to do now. The previous heresy project was strictly geared around userland applications or desktop computer usage. In contrast, the present task at hand is to deliver a Linux server and not a desktop computer. The entire interaction will be done via command line and web browser. A typical headless monster scenario.

I explained in no uncertain terms that a computer lab book and help texts would be in order. I forewarned them that they would get frustrated, as the learning curve would be steep initially. Most importantly, I told them not to blame me, as they asked for the transition :-)

Again, I chose Debian as the GNU/Linux distribution.  Not sure if Ubuntu was available a decade ago, but perhaps I would have chosen that distro for the previous heresy project. Only because the desktop experience may have been a bit more polished with sufficient hand holding.

So in this instance, I set out to do a myriad of software installs. I needed to install a web and file server. SMTP server and some cloud application server software. I settled on Apache, samba, and OwnCloud.  I installed the i386 netinstall for Debian. I had not installed Debian netinstall in some time, as I prefer Slackware for my own use. I noticed thatn f Debian installer seems to assume that everyone users DHCP on their network. What about people that use Debian for a server? Why on earth would you choose DHCP for a server?  This particular default setting forced me to drop into a shell and manipulate network settings manually, so that I could get beyond the base software install. I would suspect that this would clearly intimidate someone coming from the Windows or MacOS world. Outside of this snafu the install was rather uneventful. I setup initrd and LVM. 

Sharing digital media to the clients on the local area network can be done with samba and Owncloud. Not tough at all.  Accessing digital content remotely requires a bit of finesse for an elegant solution. Obviously ssh is all most geeks needs, but that is not good enough for non-technical end-user. I installed OpenSSL and of course openssh. I explained that self-signed certificates would be best and most cost effective alternative.  I also showed them dyndns.org and their service for registering dynamic IP address. I instructed them on the use of puTTY software for secure access to Linux box from Windows computer. 

Thus far all is going well. I still need clean up the self-signed OpenSSL certificates, so that they can access OwnCloud with https secure protocol.

I will update everyone on the progress of this project at my earliest convenience.

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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