The elephant gun uninstaller

This morning I was served up yet another reminder as to why CleanApp can be such a dangerous tool in the wrong hands, not that I needed another reminder. However this example is pretty succinct in that it highlights one of the main issues with an uninstaller that offers any file an application touches, as a candidate for deletion.

You see a lot of applications will access your data files, whether that’s documents, spreadsheets or even mp3 files, and in the case of the latter if you go to uninstall an mp3 tagging application then CleanApp may offer to delete any mp3 files you’ve tagged with that application. Case in point The Tagger which I was trying out earlier to see if anything could ever replace my trusty Tag & Rename (which I have to run under VMware Fusion). After messing around with the tags in just two mp3 files, I decided that nice as The Tagger is, it’s not for me (mainly because I do a lot of bulk tagging and The Tagger seems more geared towards tagging a file at a time). So I go to let CleanApp do its thing and as you’ve probably guessed by now, it offered up the two mp3 files I’d edited as being files I should delete! In addition it suggested deleting something called cookies.plist which I am suspecting is a file accessed and updated by any application that accesses the web (The Tagger accesses the Discogs website). Deleting cookies.plist would I guess be the equivalent of purging all your cookies, given that the file does not appear to be application specific.

No... not the mp3 files!

No... not the mp3 files!

In the end I kept the two mp3 files and the cookies file and let CleanApp do the rest. But just imagine the damage you could do if you edited a lot of data files with an application and then let CleanApp do its thing without a second look!

I still like CleanApp but think it really needs more features to help people protect themselves against accidentally deleting stuff they want. It already knows about protecting certain system files, but I think there are a number of ways this could be extended. For example, automatically protecting known Apple applications, protecting data files shared between applications, monitoring an app and protecting all the files it uses, or even protecting files of a certain type such as mp3 files.

While we’re on the subject of VMware (were we?!) I thought I’d install the latest Windows 7 beta build under VMware to have a look. The install went fine and after a quick Windows Update I even had sound working. Then I thought I’d install ESET Smart Security 4 rather than rely on Microsoft’s built-in anti-malware tools like Windows Defender. Result? Well see for yourself…

Windows does its thing

Windows does its thing

Well it is beta and no-one ever said ESET Smart Security 4 would work with it, but the effects are pretty dramatic. I’ll see if I can unpick the mess in Safe Mode, failing that I’ll just do a re-install. After all, it’s nice to keep an eye on what the other side is doing.  As it happens, I also installed Ubuntu 9.04 in another VM, but I’ve yet to make it fall over…

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Synology Diskstation DS108J – Jack of all trades

Wanting something to replace my large, noisy, energy guzzling Windows 2003 Server PC in the loft, and to free up my Mac Mini from a life of server servitude, my attention inevitably turned to the Synology Diskstation DS108J, given that it supports AFP, and the Synology website specifically talks about Mac compatibility rather than just adding it as a footnote as some manufacturers do.

Eco-friendly packaging

Eco-friendly packaging

This single-bay device is essentially an external disk enclosure with NAS built-in. You pop in your own hard disk (this model takes a single SATA disk, but there are IDE models and multi-bay models too) then work through some fairly quick and intuitive configuration screens and you’re done – the disk appears on your network. The range of things the Diskstation can do is almost mind boggling for a NAS device, plus there are a few features where you think “I’m really glad they thought of that”. Unfortunately it seems there’s a fly in the ointment, and a fairly large hairy one at that called AFP. But let’s start at the beginning…

For the casual home user, the DS108J looks like the ideal model with a price tag of around

What's in the box?

What's in the box?

£95+VAT. I ordered one from Novatech together with a Samsung SpinPoint 1Tb SATA drive (HD103UJ), which according to the Synology compatibility list is OK and doesn’t have any hibernation issues in this setup.  I’ve also used this same model of hard drive in various PCs and it’s always performed well. Assembling the device is simplicity itself, just slide the two halves of the enclosure apart, fit the drive then put it back together, a real no-brainer that took all of two minutes. Plug in the power and ethernet cables and you’re good to go. The manual is (supplied on disk) is good with one or two minor exceptions, and given the intuitive Diskstation Manager 2.0 software which presents a beautifully designed Ajax interface via your browser, all you really need to know is what address your Diskstation is at. There’s also a wizard to help with the initial setup so it’s incredibly easy to get this thing online. Build quality is nice and solid, although the unit has a slightly 70’s design look about it if you ask me – perhaps if they got the Apple designers to give this the once over?

Easy as (SATA) pie.

Easy as (SATA) pie!

Once I’d set up the basics, the first job was to copy around 380Gb of data on to the device as my first ‘backup’. Doing a drag & drop file copy using PathFinder, I could see that with an estimated transfer rate of just 6MB/sec over 100MB ethernet, this was going to be a slow process. Thoughtfully Synology has equipped the DS108J with three USB ports and an ‘instant USB copy’ button. All that’s needed is to connect a USB drive and press the button and the entire contents of the USB drive will be copied to the Diskstation under a (pre-configured) folder of your choice. The only gotcha is that the USB drive must be formatted using FAT for the Diskstation to recognize it for this operation. As luck would have it, I had my data on just such a drive so I plugged it in and off it went.

Copying 380Gb of data from my Freecom 500Gb USB hard drive using the wired connection took a few minutes short of a staggering 24 hours (yes, twenty four hours), which I wasn’t expecting. Armed with this I set about running some speed tests. I use Super Flexible File Synchronizer to run daily, weekly and monthly backups to various locations. One particular backup is an incremental backup of a local folder on the Mac Pro containg around 50,900 files totalling 239Gb. The software scans the target directory and then presents a list of what has changed and needs backing up, so I decided to test this step using identical sets of files on the local and target drives, and here are my results:

  1. Lacie d2Quadra 1Tb FireWire 800 – 1m 09.1s
  2. Mac Mini 1.83GHz, 2Gb attached Freecom 500Gb USB drive, AFP share via 100Mb ethernet – 2m 27.1s
  3. D-Link DNS-323 NAS, SMB share via 100Mb ethernet – 5m 10.4s
  4. Synology Diskstation DS108J & Samsung SpinPoint 1Tb, AFP share via 100Mb ethernet – 23m 29.7s!!
  5. Synology Diskstation DS108J & Samsung SpinPoint 1Tb, SMB share via 100Mb ethernet – 6m 11.8s

The closest comparison is obviously between my trusty old D-Link DNS-323 NAS box and the Diskstation from which you can see that the Synology took well over four times as long when using AFP, but only slightly longer when using SMB. Currently I’m puzzled as to why this is other than it being down to the Linux implementation of AFP, which I know from my attempts to get it working under OpenSUSE can be pretty painful. I should mention that I was running these tests with all the extra features of the DS108J like media sharing, photo sharing, FTP, etc., switched off. Switching these features on may slow the performance of the Diskstation, but hopefully not by an appreciale amount. My next task will be to investigate whether or not there is any way to improve on these figures? To be fair the Synology website does show it’s own performance figures and rates the DS108J as 2 out of 5 ‘blobs’ compared with the DS107+ which sports a faster processor and more memory but costs another £65+VAT. The figures here suggest that uploads to the DS108J take almost twice as long as for the DS107+, while for downloads the DS108J achieves around 65% of what the DS107+ can manage.

Bursting with features!

Bursting with features!

There is so much more I could write about the DS018J given it’s huge range of features, but there are plenty of reviews out there, plus the Synology website covers these features pretty well. Just look at the left-hand side of the screenshot to see what sort of things this gadget will do. One thing I did notice in the manual about printer sharing (you can connect a printer to one of the DS108J’s USB ports and access it over the network), is that this will only work for Macs when using PostScript. It’s not a feature I plan on trying given that my Canon ip4000 is already attached directly to the Mac and if I need to share it, I’ll probably do so via the Mac. Also I found that when directly connecting a USB drive to use the one-button disk copy function, it would only work using the port on the front of the unit next to the button itself, which isn’t mentioned in the manual.

I’ll have a look at the other features of this device in due course, but for now it’s a definite thumbs up – if you’re a Mac user looking for a cheap yet flexible NAS device, the the DS108J fits the bill, and gives you plenty of options to play with. Incidentally, with UPnP DMA turned on, the Diskstation appeared on my XBox 360. I haven’t tried out streaming yet, (currently I use Connect360 on the Mac and it works really well), but that’s something else to keep me busy this weekend.

The FreeNAS experiment

Kalyway kernel panic

Kalyway kernel panic

I am still searching for that elusive ‘server’ that’s going to be a little more Apple-friendly than my Windows 2003 Server machine up in the loft. The Kalyway 10.5.2 exercise was interesting but seemed stricken with some fatal flaw. It stopped responding and when I went to investigate, I discovered the machine had suffered a kernel panic. Over the course of the next hour or so, every time I rebooted, the machine had a kernel panic within 5 to 10 minutes. I’m sure that with a bit more patience and effort I could have worked through this, but as a robust system for taking backups to it wasn’t looking good. Time to move on…

Enter FreeNAS.

What could be better? A free, Linux based OS that does nothing but share out disk space and that supports AFP. It’s a 22Mb download – that’s right, just twenty two meg. Burn the iso image to a CD, pop it in the drive and you’re away. I opted to install it on one of the hard disks in my ‘server’ rather than repeatedly boot off the Live CD, and installation took just a couple of minutes.

The server sets itself up with a default address of 192.168.1.250 and configuration is then done by browsing to that address from another machine and using the Web GUI. Everything you need is in a very good Setup and User Guide, and if you follow this you really can’t go wrong. All I had to do was provide a couple of settings, format and mount my 500Gb disk, then enable AFP and share it. This really is a clever piece of work – the Web GUI is pretty intuitive, and the OS itself has a tiny footprint, so you could run it on pretty much anything. My next job is to ‘soak test’ the setup by copying 400Gb or so of data to it and seeing how it performs over the next few days.

My only advice is to think carefully about what file system to use when formatting your data disks. FreeNAS defaults to it’s own ‘UFS’ scheme. That’s no problem in itself, except that should the worst ever happen and you need to transfer your disks to another machine, you might be stuck being able to read the disks unless you can install FreeNAS on the new host. FreeNAS does allow you to use FAT32, EXT2 or even SoftwareRAID, although a bit worryingly there’s a warning on the Disk Format screen that says:

UFS is the NATIVE file format for FreeBSD (the
underlying OS of FreeNAS). Attempting to use other file formats such as
FAT, FAT32, EXT2, EXT3, or NTFS can result in unpredictable results,
file corruption, and loss of data!

Possible file corruption is really something I’d rather avoid if it’s all the same to you.

A little Linux diversion (Synergy on OpenSUSE 11.0)

My work laptop is a dual-boot Windows XP/OpenSUSE 10.3 affair, and although the company is trialing the use of Macs, I am so far down the pecking order that the only place I can enjoy relatively stress-free computing is on my Mac Pro at home. However, every so often I start tinkering and the latest project was to convert my trusty (but frustrating) Windows XP home PC to an XP/OpenSUSE dual-boot affair as well.

I have three computers and a laptop. No I’m not rich, the two PCs were built from parts acquired over many Two screensyears, the laptop was provided by the company and the Mac Pro… well, I’m still paying for that! Anyway, this plethora of hardware is fed through a pair of handsome Samsung monitors, a SyncMaster 226BW and an equally impressive 2493HM, but the challenge is in how to hook up all machines to use a single keyboard & mouse. I have tried my fair share of KVM switches in the past and aside from the cost, I’ve never really found them a satisfactory solution. Then about a year ago I discovered Synergy. Put simply it’s a free opensource utility that lets you use a single keyboard & mouse to control multiple computers (each with it’s own monitor). It does other clever thing like sharing the clipboard between multiple computers and synchronizing screensavers, but I’ll just concentrate on the keyboard/mouse sharing here. Incidentally, the keyboard is Logitech’s DiNovo Edge, while the mouse is a Logitech MX Revolution, (both wireless).

SynergyThe beauty of Synergy is that it’s cross-platform, supporting Windows, Mac OS X and Linux in its multitude of flavours. It’s main requirement is that the machines you want to control are all networked (using IP). I was already using it between the two Windows PCs and my laptop, and when I got my Mac Pro I got it running on that too. The basic setup is that one of your PCs acts as the ‘server’ sharing its keyboard and mouse with any machine running the Synergy ‘client’, just so happens that my oldest Windows machine became the Synergy server – well, it’s the most reliable of my Windows machines and it’s always switched on.

Synergy on the Mac (OS X 10.5.3)

Apple Mac OS XInstalling Synergy on the Mac was as easy as downloading and unpacking it to a suitable folder, in my case I ended up creating a ‘Synergy’ folder inside my Applications folder. Running the Synergy client is then just a matter of opening a terminal window, navigating to the right folder and running synergyc with the right parameters, like this:

synergyc -n macpro 192.168.1.3

The -n specifies the name the client is to be known by, here it is ‘macpro’ and the last parameter is the address of the Synergy server (you can use either the IP address or the DNS name, your choice). Having tested that it all worked ok, my next task was to get Synergy to start automatically when I logged on to the Mac. Another freeware application called Lingon came to the rescue here. I installed it, then created a User Agent for Synergy with /Applications/Synergy/synergyc -n macpro 192.168.1.3 in Lingon’s ‘What’ box (note you need to give Lingon the full path to the command). I ticked the box ‘Keep it running all the time no matter what happens’ and it’s worked flawlessly ever since.

Synergy on OpenSuse 11.0

opensuse To cut a long story short, the install of OpenSUSE 11.0 was a breeze, unlike the hair-tearing efforts I went through to get Ubuntu 8.04 on to the same machine. I expect by now the web is awash with blogs detailing every aspect of the new OpenSUSE 11.0 offering, but what follows is my little success story with installing Synergy the easy way.

Getting Synergy installed was more of a challenge as Linux expects you to know your way around the system a little if you decide to stray off the standard application path so to speak. I downloaded the rpm version of Synergy for Linux and put it in its own folder. Navigating to that folder as the root user, I was greeted with a dependency failure when I attempted to install it … something about libstdc++-libc6.2-2.so.3 is needed by synergy-1.3.1-1.i386 !  When my friendly Linux ‘guru’ called I mentioned this and he started reeling off what I needed to do to find dependencies, get rpm’s and, well… it all sounded just too complicated. I gave up for the evening and decided to sleep on it.

The next day I started up the Linux machine and started to Google for a solution. There wasn’t anything that didn’t involve arcane commands and compiling things, but as I was browsing through YaST the penny dropped! Tell YaST that my Synergy download folder is a software repository (well it does contain an rpm file) and let YaST worry about the dependencies. So, what follows are the steps to install Synergy under OpenSUSE the ‘easy’ way:

  • Start YaST and enter the root password when prompted.
  • In the righthand pane of the YaST window, choose Software Repositories.
  • Click on the Add button, bottom left.
  • Choose Local Directory and click Next
  • Give your new repository a name and then use the Browse button to navigate to the folder where you downloaded the Synergy rpm file to and click Next.
  • YaST will add your Synergy download folder to its list of Configured Software Repositories.
  • Once that’s done, return to the YaST Control Centre window and choose Software Management.
  • In the Search box type ‘synergy’ (without the quotes).
  • On the right you will see details of the package YaST has found inside your rpm.
  • Put a tick next to the synergy entry and make sure that the Autocheck box at the bottom of the screen is checked.
  • Click on the Accept button and YaST will obligingly install Synergy for you and will also resolve any dependencies it has, downloading extra files if needed.
  • The final step is to open a terminal and test it out. You can use the same command line as you use for the Mac version.

Provided you have already configured the Synergy ‘server’ with the name your client machine is going to use, and which edges of the screen will switch to other computers, all should be well. My last task is going to be to set the Synergy client to automatically load as Linux starts up, but for now I’m just happy that my desk is back down to just ONE keyboard and mouse!

When I was a kid, my mum always told me to say “Thankyou”, so…

Thanks to Chris Schoeneman for creating Synergy and ultimately saving me a bundle of money on trying out ever more expensive hardware solutions. It’s a shame Synergy isn’t being actively developed any more, but I’m sure Chris has better things to do these days and besides – it works! Thanks also to Peter Borg the creator of Lingon. I shall be hitting that Donate button! Finally, if you miss having the GUI that the Windows version of Synergy gives you, then check out QuickSynergy. I haven’t used it myself, but it looks pretty useful if you want to use a Mac or a Linux machine as your Synergy server.

Links

You might want to check out Christy Tucker’s blog for an interesting article about Synergy. Christy, WordPress popped up a link to your blog as soon as I published this article so I thought I’d give you a mention ;-).

Reading Christy’s blog also reminded me of an Engadget article about using Synergy, although their notes assume you know a lot more about resolving Linux dependencies and compiling modules than I do! My Linux friend might shriek in horror when I tell him how I’ve managed to install Synergy, and the next kernel update might well hose everything. We shall see…

Dante’s inferno (or the three levels of OS)

Dnte AlighieriDante had a sense of humour, even back in the 13th century. Anyone who can create such a nightmarish image and call it the Divine Comedy would have been the kind of guy who went to bed with a twinkle in his eye. But he proposed a very interesting concept about the various ‘levels’ of the Christian afterlife and how things can get progressively worse, and there’s my rather tenuous link. It’s about how depending on which OS you choose, and what your priorities are, some things just get progressively worse.

I thought about this following my ordeal with Ubuntu, and when I started wondering why I had bothered trying to install it in the first place. What was I going to do with it? I mean, really DO with it? I have a friend who is what I’d call a Linux guru. He’s built his very own ‘distro’ and arcane terminal commands flow from his fingertips whenever he’s sat at a Linux machine. Much as he’s an advocate for Linux, the GPL and all things open-source, he frequently recounts to me, horror stories about trying to get various bits of hardware to work – hardware that just springs to life under Windows.

So let’s think about my webcam, a rather neat little Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 that I bought for a modest outlay of £45 ($90) because of it’s superb picture quality and built-in microphone.

Under Windows XP SP3 it works perfectly (helped not least by the fact that Logitech, like virtually every other hardware manufacturer, supply the drivers for it on a CD in the same box). The camera has face detection and auto-zoom and is a joy to use with Skype in said OS. In fact using it is as difficult as popping in a CD and plugging the camera in.

Now we descend to the next level – Mac OS X Leopard. Again the story is reasonably good, the camera’s basic function of capturing an image and sounds via its built-in microphone are there and working. For the most part. Ok, with Skype the face detection and zoom have gone as you have to rely on a generic built-in Leopard driver, but it’s perfectly usable. Then we have programs like Evernote and MacJournal which can’t hear a thing through the camera’s mike. PhotoBooth is another – deciding whether it’s going to detect the camera based on, well… I don’t know, maybe the weather?! As for Leopard’s built-in Speech Recognition, it’s a complete non-starter.

Finally we reach Linux. You may find yourself trying to determine the camera’s device id at a command prompt and then searching for drivers courtesy of Google. If you’re lucky enough to find one, the features it supports and how are a bit of a lottery and you may have to compile (and re-compile) things and edit other system files in order to treat the world to a moving picture of your ugly mug. I appreciate that the hardware manufacturers don’t help by keeping the specs of their devices secret, but it’s a problem that unfortunately ends up firmly in the lap of the Linux user far too often, and let’s be honest – there are an awful lot of people out there who simply want to use a PC to do something creative or fun, rather than tinkering with the inner workings of its OS.

While I appreciate the community spirit of Linux and the stability and beauty of OS X Leopard, Windows has it’s place. For the millions who don’t care about the politics, about the proprietary code, about the struggle to win the minds of the computing public, about the tinkering trying to make things work, and who just want to use their PCs in peace… it’s there. Off you go. Just sorry I won’t be joining you.

Ubuntu feels my wrath

I have a fairly modern high-spec Intel Core 2 Duo PC with 2Gb of RAM and enough hard disk space to take a family holiday in, so I thought I would give the latest incarnation of Ubuntu a chance to stretch it’s legs. Well I’ve been using openSUSE 10.x on my work laptop for some time now, and thought playing with another flavour of Linux would broaden my horizons. What follows is a lesson in how to burn a few hours of your life away in a completely unproductive manner.

I started by downloading the latest Ubuntu ‘distro’ (the Linux community love their lingo) for AMD/Intel 64-bit architectures, and burning it to CD. My PC has 3 SATA drives in it, two 500Gb ones on which XP is installed on the first, and a 640Gb one I use as a data store and backup. The plan was to install Ubuntu to the second 500Gb drive in a dual-boot setup. I say plan, because Ubuntu had other ideas! 53% into the install process it complained … Failed to copy files; faulty CD/DVD or hard disk? I repeated the exercise, this time running the optional Ubuntu media check feature which came up clean, and boosted by this message I repeated the install. Same problem. So I threw away the CD and burned it again. Repeated the media check. Ok. Restarted the install. Same problem. So my next move was to re-download the 700Mb image from a different source (not something that’s quick to do). I burned a fresh CD, same problem. I threw that CD away and burned a new one using the slowest speed setting on my CD burner. Media check ok – re-install. Same problem. So I threw that disk away, opened a fresh box of blank CDs from a different supplier and burned the original image at slow speed. Another successful media check by Ubuntu, restarted the install. Same problem. I also downloaded the i386 version and tried that. Same problem. I tried moving the partitions around during configuration. Same problem.

At this point I started searching Google for the I/O error message I was experiencing. I quickly learned from a variety of posts by hapless users that if you dare suggest it’s a fault with the Ubuntu install routine then some Linux enthusiasts (while generally helpful and fun-loving chaps) will not take kindly to you, and by that I mean they’ll set fire to your head and then jump on your grave. However I did find one or two useful pointers that might suggest the problem is down to less-than-perfect memory modules. Ahh, just so happens I have two new 1Gb modules of the correct speed/type sitting in a box, so I carefully removed both 1Gb modules from the PC and replaced them with the new ones. You know what’s coming next…. same problem!

Ok, it must be the CD burner itself, and guess what – I have a brand new SATA CD/DVD burner just waiting to be used. Trying both images, fresh CDs, slow burn speeds and successful media checks, I was no further forward. Next on the list … the hard drive. Using a bootable hard disk utility CD I checked the drive but found no errors. I even booted the machine into Windows, wiped the drive and having reformatted it to NTFS, ran checkdisk but again found no errors. Finally I loaded SpeedFan and checked all the S.M.A.R.T. diagnostics for the drive which came out as 100% healthy. Nevertheless, I pulled a 500Gb SATA drive out of an external enclosure I’d built and replaced the one I’d been using thus far. And… wait for it… SAME PROBLEM!

So, I’ve changed the image, the CDs, the burn speeds, the memory modules, the partition layouts during setup, the CD/DVD drive and the hard disk and still Ubuntu refuses to install on this PC. I consumed numerous hours of my weekend in the futile pursuit of trying to get Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 to run on my PC. What else can I do? Well quite frankly – nothing! No-one should have to go through this much pain and effort just to load an OS. Maybe it’s some obscure BIOS setting that needs to be changed, but I’m not going there. I’m ok with OpenSuSE but I am so sick of looking at those beige Ubuntu install screens that if I so much as sniff a heron in the vicinity I’d probably shoot it! Ok… I don’t own a gun and we don’t have heron in these parts, but you get my drift.

I just wish you could install Mac OS X Leopard on a PC. No I’m not talking about bootcamp or those ‘hacked’ versions of OS X that I’m sure are very clever, I mean the proper thing… on any old (ok reasonably modern) PC hardware. But then if I was Apple, I wouldn’t be interested in making that happen. Imagine the support problems, and what the infinite variety of hardware permutations out there would do for OS X’s reliability image! We’ve got Windows for that.

Postscript – I just installed openSUSE 10.3 on my PC. Where Ubuntu choked (repeatedly!), openSUSE installed first time without any problems. Sort of defeated the object though, which was to look at a different Linux package.