Ubuntu 12.10 – First Impressions

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I finally got the chance to try the latest release of my favourite desktop Linux distribution – Ubuntu 12.10. And wow, have things ever improved on the installation front! This was easily the simplest Linux installation I’ve ever been through. I launched VMware Player, created a new virtual machine, and powered up the new Ubuntu VM. Beyond VMware Player’s “Easy Install” service asking me for a username and password, I didn’t have to do a single thing. It launched, copied the files, installed them, downloaded some extra language packs, and then did some clean-up near the end of the install.

The VM then restarted, installed the VMware Tools component, and I was off to the races. A very simple, clean install process that provided me with a highlight of new/improved features (à la Microsoft Windows), and then I was off to the races!

I logged in, and my initial impressions are very positive, overall. I quite like Ubuntu’s default colour scheme and Unity user interface, especially when you see their vision for using Ubuntu on TVs. The pre-installed software is basically all you need to get started. Out of the box you get Firefox, LibreOffice (Writer, Calc & Presentation), Ubuntu One (cloud services), a link to Amazon (???), and the Ubuntu One Music store. The Ubuntu Software Center is readily available as well from the app launcher, and has morphed from an old school package manager into an app store, similar to Google Play. The Software Center even includes categories like Books & Magazines (all about free and open source software, of course!), and Science & Engineering.

The biggest change for most people (non-Mac OS X users at least) is Dash. Dash is an integrated search funtion, allowing you to search both your local computer and the web at the same time. A similar feature is built into Google Now (Android 4.1+), and the now-retired Google Desktop software for Windows. But Ubuntu’s implementation is, again, very clean and far more usable. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’ll run normal queries (i.e. “derek silva”) on the web, which seems a bit like an oversight since the homepage in Firefox is set to a Ubuntu-branded Google.com. But a search for “prometheus” yielded a tonne of results including digital copies of the film, music, etc. Plus it will return any media you already have stored locally that matches the search. You can also filter by media type, whether it’s an application, file spreadsheet/presentation/document), music, photo, or video.

Ultimately I live a very web-based computing lifestyle. I use Gmail for email, Google Drive for most quick document creation (especially if I want to share it), I use the only Google Play store to find and install new apps for my phone and tablet, and read news online as well. Save for Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and Winamp, I rarely use any desktop software. And while there still isn’t a true alternative for much of the advanced functionality available in Office or Photoshop, there is alternatives that are perfectly good for the average user. It still boggles my mind when “normal” people tell me they’ve purchased Office or Photoshop. I ask them if they’re using certain advanced features, and typically they haven’t even heard of those features. So why did they purchase the software? Because it’s all they know, or they heard someone else talk about it. While Microsoft and Adobe certainly have all rights to build and sell that software, the average consumer would do well to take 5 minutes to do a bit of
research into free alternatives, or simply jumping off of Windows or Mac OS X entirely.

Backing up a bit, my mostly web-based computing means I have access to everything I need with a modern web browser. I launched Firefox and was pleased to see version 16 was installed and ready to go. I was a bit surprised that a Java applet wouldn’t load immediately, and was even more surprised to see that not a lick of Java appeared to be installed. Not a big deal that can be quickly addressed via the Software Center, which is far easier than visiting Java.com, and following Oracle’s instructions.

Overall, I’m seeing less and less reason for many consumers (and even corporate employees) to have Windows on their home machines. I know that switching to a different OS and ecosystem may seem like a drastic thing to do in order to save money, but when you factor in all of the costs you outlay to buy a new PC, why wouldn’t you consider it? A free OS (with support available), plenty of free software (paid software also available), an app store that makes obtaining said software very simple, and really no more need to visit the command line. I know Linux got a bad rep early on for not being user friendly, but that’s exactly the problem Ubuntu is attempting to solve. And I think they’ve gone a long way in doing that, making the OS just as easy to use as Windows or Mac OS. Recent controvery around including links to Amazon aside (you have to make money on free software somehow, without relying on the average end user buying support), Canonical is making big strides.

Windows Server 2012 In Your Small Business – Part 5

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Not only can Hyper-V be more easily leveraged in small businesses now, but Windows Server 2012 also introduces additional storage flexibility, allowing the use of cheaper storage in more ways, and adding new features to your existing storage solutions.

SMB 3

The server message block (SMB) protocol is ancient in technology terms. However it’s a ubiquitous protocol that serves an important purpose, and it does it well (like FTP). But new features continue to be added, making it a more powerful protocol than ever before. Let’s highlight how it can help serve your small business.

SMB Directory Leasing introduces a longer living directory cache. This means fewer round-trips from the user’s device to the server because metadata is maintained in the directory cache for a longer period of time. You can look forward to shorter application response times here, especially if you’re in a branch office.

SMB Encryption introduces end-to-end encryption, providing greater protection for SMB data being transferred over unsecured networks, like your ISP’s. No additional cost for encryption appliances or WAN optimization devices required.

SMB Scale Out is good for the growing small business. It lets you create file shares that provide direct, simultaneous access to data across your entire file server cluster. This reduces bandwidth, load balances across the nodes in the file server cluster, and increases bandwidth as additional cluster nodes are added.

Storage Spaces

The idea behind Storage Spaces isn’t new, but it’s a new feature for Windows Server 2012, and it’s built-in. It’s what you would call storage virtualization, and essentially it allows you to create a storage pool out of the local HDDs ins, or connected to, your servers. And this storage pool grows or shrinks as you add/remote disks from the pool, so it’s like a storage cloud in the sense that it’s elastic.

That’s all of the information I want to share today about improvements to storage in Windows Server 2012. There’s three parts left to the series, so please keep checking back to find out other ways Windows Server 2012 can benefit your small business.

Be Open to Changing Your Mind

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I just came across a blog entry from Jason Fried, co-founder of 37 Signals (developers of online services Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire). Apparently Jeff Bezos came to visit, and shared quite the observation about people who are “right a lot.” When I read Mr. Bezos’ observation, I couldn’t help but agree enthusiastically. I’ve blogged about this issue before under a slightly different light, but the result is the same.

In business and politics, you have to be flexible. If the past of business and politics has taught us anything, it’s that a firm ideology yields poor (sometimes mixed) results. Believing the same thing today as you did yesterday, despite evidence to the contrary, will only lead to the worst kind of failure. Failing and learning is fine under normal circumstances, but when you’re dealing with the coffers, lives, and repercussions on a national scale, you must be paying attention to what others are saying about an issue.

Looking at the same issue in a different light inevitably leads to observations you simply hadn’t made before. Whether you’re deciding whether to launch a new product, or making changes to the criminal code, chances are there are people (and research) outside your bubble that will help you make a better decision. Unfortunately, especially in politics, this willingness to take in other people’s opinions and research, from all sides of the spectrum, is sorely lacking.

So please, do yourself, and those around you, a favour. If you’re a business leader, or a politician, listen to the opinions and view the research. You don’t have to take the advice/recommendations, but you may just hear or read something that makes a world of difference.

Ford St. Thomas Plant May Have a Buyer

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In case you missed it, yesterday the London Free Press revealed that there is a London-led business group hoping to buy the old Ford St. Thomas Assembly plant, spend $700 million redeveloping it, and then leasing  it out to various users/companies. The initial $700M would be a boon to any local companies that are selected to assist in the redevelopment, and of course turning the plant into usable space once more, potentially housing up to 2,000 employees, would be terrific for the London area.

I, for one, have a few hopes for this plant. Hopefully whatever is done there is done in the most environmentally way possible. The redevelopment is going to cost a tonne of money anyway, so spending some of that money to help reduce long-term energy usage, reduce energy waste, and perhaps even introduce some self-reliability (some solar panels) would be nice. I don’t personally have any skin in the game, but hopefully the business group is thinking of these sorts of things.

Good luck with the purchase and redevelopment, folks!

Windows Server 2012 In Your Small Business – Part 4

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Today I’m going to highlight a few features that all revolve around Hyper-V. They are:

- Live Migration
- VM Import
- Hyper-V Replica

Live Migration

If you’ve been working in virtualized environments for any period of time, you’ll likely agree the migrating a VM from one host to another used to be a tedious task to undertake. Typically the VM would have to be shut down, all of the associated files moved, make sure the hypervisor manager reflects the move, and then started up again. If it was a big VM (filesize), and you weren’t running 10GbE yet, well then it took even longer.

While being able to perform live migrations isn’t new, the approach Windows Server 2008 R2 took required a fairly beefy infrastructure. With Server 2012, Live Migration is now possible if the VM is stored on a shared folder on your network, or without using any shared storage whatsoever. I won’t bore you with the process Hyper-V uses to move a VM without using shared storage, but if you’re like me, feel free to look it up in Microsoft’s “Introducing Windows Server 2012″ book. The implementation is very, very smart.

Anyway, the improvements to Live Migration are a huge improvement for small businesses that can’t afford (or don’t need) a storage area network (SAN), or have two standalone Hyper-V hosts.

VM Import

During the VM import process, Hyper-V on Windows Server 2012 now checks for possible configuration problems, and resolves them automatically if it can. A big time and headache saver. You also don’t need to export a VM from the original host either; you can simply copy the files over to the new host, and then start the import process. Another time saver.

Hyper-V Replica

It’s not likely your small business can afford a full-blown VM backup and restore solution, or an entire set of servers solely for business continuity purposes. Hyper-V Replica can help solve this issue, by providing you with the ability to replicate VMs across a WAN (or Internet connection) periodically, and asynchronously. It doesn’t require shared storage, and it works in clustered and nonclustered environments.

I see small businesses using this to replicate their mission-critical VMs to a hosting provider, ensuring those services are still available in case something happens to the on-premise servers. You can obtain Windows Server 2012 VMs from a hosting provider for under $150 per month, and that’s a small price to pay to make sure your business can keep running in case of a disaster.

Thanks for reading! That’s all the information I wanted to share with you today. We are half way through the series, so keep checking back for more ways Windows Server 2012 can benefit your small business.