Archive for category Operating Systems

iOS8 and OS X Yosemite

A week or so ago I succumbed to the hype (and the nagging from my devices) and installed iOS 8 on a second iPad.  As far as updates go it was smooth although the post-install setup wizard crashed before it could ask me about things like iCloud Drive, which made me wonder whether I might be due for later problems.  For the most part I was proving immune to the “this feature only works with Yosemite” bait but I knew it was probably just a matter of time…

Call it serendipity, call it fate, call it whatever you will… but yesterday I was looking at my OS X desktop and thought “y’know, I’m a bit tired of that Apple font”.  You can probably imagine my wry grin when I surfed to Apple’s OS X Yosemite preview pages to find that one of the key features of the “new design” is a very clean replacement for the old Finder font!  So that, along with the nagging of the devices… and in the spirit of “better late than never”, I decided to join the beta of OS X Yosemite.

Signing up was incredibly easy and well integrated into the App Store.  It only took a login and a couple of clicks and Yosemite was being poured into my MacBook.  I took the opportunity during the download to make sure that my Time Machine backup was up to date, and let it do its thing.  Around 20 minutes later it was finished.  One weird thing I found though was that during the installation — while the big grey X was on the screen, and the progress bar was still counting down — my other iOS devices started squawking that a MacBook had “logged on to FaceTime”.  I even heard VoiceOver alerts from the machine itself, complaining about things in my auto-start that weren’t set up correctly, despite the OS X Installation progress bar reporting 7 minutes to go!  I guess I’m used to the installer for an OS being a different environment entirely from the running system, not just a wizard running on top of a user logon.

While I was poking around things in Yosemite, the iOS 8.0.2 update was released… and was duly applied to the old iPhone 4S and the main iPad.  I am concerned about battery life on the phone — for example the Facebook app seems to take 1% out of the battery every minute it’s running — but in honesty I was having battery issues while still on iOS 7.  I think it’s to do with the age of the device, but at this stage the best I can say is that iOS 8 doesn’t seem to be that much worse than iOS 7 for me, plus of course I get the benefit now of being able to see battery usage by app.

It hasn’t even been 24 hours in Yosemite yet, but I’m impressed.  The update to the look and feel of the OS X desktop is well overdue (although we still can only choose Blue or Graphite for Appearance?).  I really like the iOS integration features of Yosemite, but haven’t had a chance yet to see them in action.  I have to say though, at least for this Little Black Duck™, Yosemite and iOS 8 have reinvigorated my interest in the Apple ecosystem.  I mean I like the iDevices, but the “wow” of some of the Apple tech had faded for me in recent times…  If features like Handoff and the call and message integration actually work as designed, this could put Apple back into the lead position when it comes to “devices designed to work together”.

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Oracle Database 11gR2 on Linux on System z

Earlier this year (30 March, to be precise) Oracle announced that Oracle Database 11gR2 was available as a fully-supported product for Linux on IBM System z.  A while before that they had announced E-Business Suite as available for Linux on System z, but at the time the database behind it had to be 10g.  Shortly after 30 March, they followed up the 11gR2 announcement with a statement of support for the Oracle 11gR2 database on Linux on System z as a backend for E-Business Suite — the complete, up-to-date Oracle stack was now available on Linux on System z!

In April this year I attended the zSeries Special Interest Group miniconf[1], part of the greater Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG) event COLLABORATE 11.  I was amazed to discover that there are actually Oracle employees whose job it is to work on IBM technologies — just like there are IBM employees dedicated to selling and supporting the Oracle stack.  Never have I seen (close-up) a better example of the term “coopetition”.

On my return from the zSeries SIG and IOUG, I’ve become the local Oracle expert.  However, I’ve had no more training than the two days of workshops run at the conference!  The workshops were excellent (held at the Epcot Center at Walt Disney World, no less!) but they could not an expert make.  So I’ve been trying to build some systems and teach myself more about running Oracle.  I thought I’d gotten off to a good start too — I’d installed a standalone system, then went on to build a two-node RAC.  I communicated my success to one of my sales colleagues:

“I’ve got a two-node RAC setup running on the z9 in Brisbane!”

“Great!  Good work,” he said.  “So the two nodes are running in different LPARs, so we can demonstrate high-availability?”

” . . . ”

In my haste I’d built both virtual machines in the same LPAR.  Whoops.  (I’ve fixed that now, by the way.  The two RAC nodes are in different LPARs and seem to be performing better for it.)

Over the coming weeks, I’ll write up some of the things that have caught me out.  I still don’t really know how all this stuff works, but I’m getting better!


IBM System z: or

Linux on System z:

Oracle zSeries SIG:

Oracle Database:

[1] Miniconf is a term I picked up from — the zSeries SIG didn’t advertise its event as a miniconf, but as a convenient name for a “conference-in-a-conference” I’m using the term here.




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Another round of Gentoo fun

A little while back I did an “emerge system” on my VPS and didn’t think much more about it.  First time back to the box today to emerge something else, and was greeted with this:

>>> Unpacking source…
>>> Unpacking traceroute-2.0.15.tar.gz to /var/tmp/portage/net-analyzer/traceroute-2.0.15/work
touch: setting times of `/var/tmp/portage/net-analyzer/traceroute-2.0.15/.unpacked’: No such file or directory

…and the emerge error output.  Took me a little while to get the answer, but it was (of course) caused by a new version of something that came in with the system update.  This bug comment had the crude hack I needed to get back working again, but longer-term I obviously need to fix the mismatch between the version of linux-headers and the kernel version my VPS is using (it’s Xen on RHEL5).

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ppc Linux on the PowerMac G5

With Apple’s abandonment of PPC as of Snow Leopard, I began wondering what to do with the old PowerMac. It’s annoying that so (comparatively) recent a piece of equipment should be given up by its manufacturer, but that’s a rant for another day. Yes, we can still run Leopard until it goes out of support, but with S and I both on MacBook Pros with current OS I know that we would both become frustrated with a widening functionality gap between the systems.

I had always resisted runing Linux on the PowerMac, thinking that the last thing I needed was yet another Linux box in the house. I had tried a couple of times, but it was in the early days of support for the liquid cooling system in the dual-2.5Ghz model and those attempts failed dismally. I figured that by now those issues would be resolved and I would have a much better time.

I assumed that Yellow Dog was still the ‘benchmark’ PPC Linux distro, so I went to their site. I saw a lot of data there about PS3 and Cell; it seems that YDL is transitioning to the cluster and/or research market by focussing on Cell.

The next thing I discovered is the lack of distributions that have a PPC version, even as a secondary platform. My old standby Gentoo still supports PPC, as does Fedora (I think: I saw a reference to downloading a PPC install disk, bit didn’t follow it), but every other major distro has dropped it — openSUSE, for example, with their very latest release (their download page still has a picture of a disc labelled “ppc”, but no such download exists, oops). I guess that since the major producer of desktop PPC systems stopped doing so, the distros saw their potential install base disappear. Unfortunately for those distros, I can see the reverse happening: now that Apple has fully left PPC behind, plenty of folks like me who have moderately recent G4 and G5 hardware and who still want to run a current OS will come to Linux looking for an alternative… I guess time will tell who is right on this one.

So I went to install Gentoo, and to cut a long story short I had exactly the same problem as before: critical temperature condition leading to emergency system power-off. I found that if I capped the CPU speed to 2Ghz I could stay up long enough to get things built, but then the system refused to boot because it couldn’t find the root filesystem. Probably something to do with yaboot, SATA drives and OpenFirmware. So again I’m putting it aside.

My next plan was to treat it as a file server. Surely a BSD would support my G5 hardware: after all, Mac OS X is BSD at heart… Well, no. FreeBSD has no support for SATA on ppc, OpenBSD specifically mentioned liquid-cooled G5s as having no support, and I don’t think I saw any ppc support on NetBSD more recent than G3 [1].

This is one of the things that annoys me about the computer industry: that somehow it’s okay to so completely disregard your older releases. What if the automotive industry worked that way?

So I may yet try Fedora, or give the game away for another year or so and see what the situation looks like then.

[1] I may have mixed up a couple of these details.

Edit: Gentoo’s yaboot has managed to make it so that I can’t boot Mac OS X on the machine any more.  Oh dear.

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Are we letting Microsoft define our industry?

I’ve been trying to solve a problem at work for a few weeks now — one of those tricky “it’s only software so it shouldn’t be this hard” sort-of problems for which you know the solution is just a matter of putting the right bits and pieces together. At work, I’m more-or-less forced into using Red Hat Enterprise Linux (the distro formerly known as RHEL), and one of the pieces I’m looking at is OpenLDAP.

My first stage in the process was to get OpenLDAP set up with the right config — but when I started it, slapd complained about an error in slapd.conf. The overlay I was trying to use, it claimed, was not found. I spent the next couple of hours trying to find additional packages, trying different things, reading doco, searching Google, to no avail. The overlay I want is missing from Red Hat’s build of OpenLDAP.

So “boo hoo”, you say, “just build from source”. Well, remember how I said I was forced into RHEL? The corollary to that is that I am only allowed to use exactly what the Shadowman ships on the DVD. No build-from-source, no other OSS, is allowed.

But what does any of this have to do with Microsoft?

In my research, I found the release notes for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5. In it was the following text (highlighting mine):

OpenLDAP Server and Red Hat Directory Server
Red Hat Directory Server is an LDAP-based server that centralizes enterprise and network data into an OS-independent, network-based registry. It is set to replace OpenLDAP server components, which will be deprecated
after Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5. For more information about Red Hat Directory Server, refer to

You guessed it: Red Hat Directory Server is a pay-for product. So Red Hat’s setting a direction here: server platforms comprising only the base OS, and additional function provided through extra-cost modules — now where have we seen this before?

Does this now mean that on RHEL-next, in order to run a Samba server with an LDAP IDMAP backend, companies will have to pay for RDS? That won’t fly at my work: “we already have a corporate directory, we’re not paying for another” will the customer sayeth.

“Okay”, you say, “so don’t use Red Hat”. As far as I’m allowed (this is at my employer remember) the only other choice is SLES… from Novell… that organisation that felt the need to cross-licence with Microsoft to “protect” against undisclosed and unproven patent infringement.

(Note that this post is not about Novell-Microsoft, nor is their deal a reason not to use SLES in my opinion. The thought only popped into my head because I was already thinking about Microsoft as a result of the Red Hat thing with RDS.)

So it seems like the two biggest names in corporate Linux are marching to Microsoft’s drum. Have I misread something? Am I overreacting?

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OpenSolaris on System z

It’s all the rage on YouTube, apparently…  posting video of a z/VM system booting something.  Only kidding, this is a good piece of tech.  If you search YouTube for “OpenSolaris System z” you’ll find a set of five videos that show an interview (recorded at the recent Gartner datacentre conference) with David Boyes of Sine Nomine Associates demonstrating OpenSolaris running on an IBM System z mainframe.  It’s a great achievement, and a fine piece of work — but there’s a catch.

I can’t stress enough what a great job David, Neale (Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!), Adam and everyone at SNA have done.  Networking is not there yet, but I trust it’s not far (need a hand fellas? (: ).  It must have been a hard slog, and for some (particularly Neale) perhaps brought some unpleasant memories (anyone remember Bigfoot?).  Congratulations are deserved.  I can see the lolcat now: I IS SUN. IM IN UR MANEFRAYM, KIKIN OUT YR PENGUINZ.  YA RLY!  Only joking!

The catch is, ironically, the aspect of the port that makes it most useful in the “real” world.  The guys have made the port dependent on z/VM.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s the right thing to do — without z/VM, you can’t play to the strengths of the System z platform and it’s capabilities for massive resource sharing in a virtualisation environment.  Many believe that Linux on System z should have been taken in the same direction, as other platforms (like System p) do big-single-Linux-footprint better than what System z does.

The twist is that by tying the OpenSolaris port to z/VM, they’ve eliminated a set of would-be hackers from contributing to the effort.  Those with motivation, time, skill, and a big Intel box who can get a couple of hundred MIPS out of Hercules.

There are, rightly or wrongly, a lot of people who think that Solaris is a good platform.  These are the kind of people I’m thinking of — maybe folks who have always derided the mainframe, but perhaps are now thinking “gee, well if it runs Solaris now, it can’t be all bad.  Maybe I’ll check it out”.

Obviously I can’t speak for Sun (nor for IBM or SNA), but I’m sure I read that one of the objectives of OpenSolaris was to get Solaris into more hands and to try and benefit from the “millions of set of eyes” effect that Linux enjoys.  It seems ironic then that the first “non-Sun” platform to which OpenSolaris has been ported is one that doesn’t contribute to that goal.

Not to worry.  David at SNA has stated that they are committed to releasing their work to the community.  This will be the point at which an interested party could look at the code and potentially rip out or rewrite the z/VM-specific bits and replace them.  It wouldn’t be impossible — even CMS was able to IPL standalone once upon a time — but it would be a huge piece of work (no doubt part of SNA’s reasoning was to let z/VM do a lot of heavy lifting for I/O and such tasks; that would have to be written for OpenSolaris).  Bags I not-it.  Likewise, our potential interested party would be very likely to turn away to Linux… or even away from System z entirely.

Meh, enough doom-talk.  I’ve downloaded three different flavours of OpenSolaris for x86 (NexentaOS which I had a brief look at previously, Solaris Express Developer Edition, and something that called itself the “Indiana Preview”) and I’m running them in VMware to have a poke around (but not all at the same time, they need a heap of memory).

I’ll be following this as close as I can (or as close as I’m allowed).  I think it will be really interesting to see how this progresses.  Good luck to all involved (and if you need a hand guys… 😉

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Nokia sync software for Mac!

I managed to fill up the multimedia card on the N70 — the only thing that’s surprising about that event is the length of time it took me to do it. 🙂  So I went looking for ways to get photos out of the phone into iPhoto.  I can’t believe it took until the third page of Google’s responses to come up with this little treasure: Nokia Multimedia Transfer.

It would seem that the good folks at Nokia have finally discovered Mac.  Nokia Multimedia Transfer allows you to browse your phone’s contents in a Finder-like window (similar to how the Nokia Phone Browser on Windows is Explorer-like) with full drag-and-drop support, sync music from iTunes to the phone, and have iPhoto treat the phone as a camera.

I installed the software (which is still labelled as a beta) and started it up… and straight away iPhoto lit up and told me that photos were ready to import.  I had already set up Bluetooth connectivity to the phone for iSync, and the Nokia utility just used it.  From this aspect alone, the integration of this software with the OS beats the Windows experience hands-down[1].

It’s not perfect, mind…  It took a looong time for the iPhoto import to prepare (although it was looking through about 160 items, over Bluetooth 1).  It finds all the supplied stock media as well, and wants to sync that (again, not really the tool’s fault, I probably should clean all that rubbish out some time or other so that it doesn’t show up in the phone’s Gallery either).  And I still had to go through each photo to make sure the timestamp was correct and fix it if it wasn’t (there seems to be no pattern to this problem, a group of photos taken all at the same time had some with correct timestamps and others that were wrong).

Despite the problems though, it still beats sending photos via Bluetooth file transfer and manually importing them to iPhoto!  Good stuff, Nokia.

[1] Okay, so Nokia doesn’t really get the bouquet all to themselves for that… the brickbat has to go to Windows’ stupid arrangement with third-party Bluetooth stacks and how hard that makes it for Nokia et-al to write their software.

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Rebooting my belief system

I’ve been away from SHARE for far too long.  It’s really great to hear positive things about Linux on zSeries again, rather than the crap I have to put up with at home.

In Australia, there is no evangelism of zSeries.  There’s an attitude bordering on arrogance that seems to say “we’re not going to explain zSeries to you; if you don’t know you want it already then you’re not worth it”.  At least that’s what it looks like to me.

I’m surrounded by people who think that all problems can be solved by installing an xSeries or pSeries machine.  Maybe some can be, but IMHO they’ll be replacing one set of problems with another (possibly greater) set.

Anyway, it’s nice to hear different stories — like a company whose IT costs went from 1.7% to 0.9% of sales by migrating their ENTIRE server farm (including about a dozen p690s) to a z990 running Linux.  Like a company that has placed 250 Linux server guests onto z/VM inside a year, freezing acquisition of new discrete servers.

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