Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ubuntu Updates Warning

Is it just me or have there been A LOT of updates since Ubuntu moved to Hardy Heron (ver. 8.04) in April? I suppose that's a good thing, except that these updates have repeatedly broken VMWare server running on one of my Ubuntu desktop machines.

The problem initially happened when I was running an older version of VMWare server (ver. 1.0.4), and I got the message that VMWare was not configured properly. The message said I should run, VMWare.config. Unfortunately, doing so generated errors and did not restore my virtual machine.

So, I downloaded and installed VMWare server 1.0.6. There is a good set of instructions for this here: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=779934. BTW, do not ignore Step 4. Post-install configuration. I ignored Step 4 and ultimately found out that that was a mistake. With Step 4, VMWare server 1.0.6 works on Ubuntu Hardy Heron

Now at least, when the updates crash VMWare server, I get the message that VMWare is not configured properly. Then, I run VMWare.config again, VMWare works again and my virtual machines are restored.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Email Frustration

One of the topics I speak and write about often is email. Email has become essential to business. Many of us rely on it in our everyday lives. And yet, there is a persistent frustration with email that indicates both ignorance and inflexibility on the part of many.

Back in 1986, Robert Fulghum had a best-seller with his book, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.” That book came out just before the Internet got rolling. Even if it was true then, it is not true anymore.

But it is not just about learning, it is about change. People don't like to change. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Baloney! The patent office is full of “better” mousetraps, and the world took no notice.

Email, on the other hand, the world noticed, so you and I cannot afford to ignore it. Be forewarned. In order to “get” email, you're going to have to change.

Here's your motivation.
  • Imagine if your letter carrier delivered your mail right to your door, immediately, whenever you had a new piece of mail sent to you.
  • Imagine if your letter carrier picked up each piece of mail you sent and delivered it immediately, too.
  • Imagine if your letter carrier, finding that you are not at home when he tries to deliver mail to you, tracks you down on the other side of the world and delivers your mail to you. Immediately.
  • Imagine if sending mail cost nothing -- no postage, no envelope, no paper and no ink. And you can send photos, recordings, and books et al. for free.
  • Imagine if you could find a piece of mail easily, whenever you needed it, without turning the house upside-down.

Email is like that; like magic. But if you don't understand email and/or you refuse to change, email can be like this; frustrating and annoying:
  • Imagine if much of the email you received was offensive and obscene.
  • Imagine if you sent an email containing your credit card number to a grandchild to buy a graduation present. Next thing you know your identity is stolen by somebody in Eastern Europe and thousands of dollars in charges are run up on your credit card.
  • Imagine if you got an email from someone you weren't sure if you knew. You opened it, and boom, your computer never worked again.
  • Imagine if you shared a secret or your feelings or a tasteless joke with a friend of yours by email. Your friend may not appreciate your sensitivity and forward it on to other people you know. How mortifying would that be?
  • Imagine if you went away, telling everyone that email was be the best way to reach you while you were gone. Then when you are on the road, you find you cannot get your email.
One day, you may want or need to know the distinction between POP and IMAP email protocols. If and when that day comes,you can Google those terms, and you will have the answer.

Let me talk about indoor plumbing for a moment. When I was in my teens, my parents bought an old farm house, way off in the country. They bought it from an old man who had lived there for a long, long time. The place had water in the kitchen, but no bathroom. There was an outhouse in the back. After he sold his place to us, he moved into a place with indoor plumbing. And he liked it, especially in the winter. But I was also told that he never did go in for bathing regularly/often.

Indoor plumbing has been around for a lot longer than computers and the Internet. If people can do without indoor plumbing, for certain they can do without computers, email and the Internet. But why would you want to?

Let me bring this discussion back to email and change. What kind of changes you need to be prepared to make?
  • Think about how you want to interact with people using email. Let's say you want to check your email once a day, every day from here. Or maybe you want to be always available via email, no matter where you are. Make a decision and stick with it for a while. If you want to change it later, you can.
    • This decision help you determine what hardware, software and services you need to support your email activities.
  • Learn how to use one email client. G-Mail, Outlook (business), Outlook Express (personal), AOL, etc.
    • How do you create an address book?
    • How do you open attachments?
    • How do you add attachments?
    • How do you create rules to filter incoming messages?
    • How do you black-list SPAMMERS?
    • How do you white-list friends?
    • How do you archive/store messages? Etc.
  • Write emails to people. Reply to messages they send you. Otherwise, they won't know that you are now "getting" email.
  • Ignore messages from anyone you do not know. Anti-virus software is good, but it is not 100% effective.
  • Ignore messages with subject lines that are obscene or offensive. Don't let it get you down.
  • Do not print your emails out. Read them on your computer screen. Think of your messages as living on a computer, not on a piece of paper.
If you or someone you know is frustrated with email, knowledge alone can take you only so far. Without change, your frustrations will continue. The answer is, be flexible and change the way you live and work to get all the benefits of email.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Support your clients remotely

We recently added single-click, remote support to Keystone Computer's services. Now, we are kicking ourselves we did not do it sooner.

Instead of traveling to a customer's premises, we can remote to the customer's machine and troubleshoot and resolve many common problems. It is a great time saver for us and a money saver for our customers.

Key features of the solution we have implemented are:
  • It is idiot-proof.
    • With a "single click" the remote-access-server software is downloaded from our web site to the customer's machine, installed and configured and the session is established with a Keystone tech.
      • No remote-access software needs to be installed on the customer's machine ahead of time.
    • When the session is over, the software is uninstalled, so there are no lingering security concerns for the customer.
  • It is free.

What's the Use Case?

You've got a customer who has a "computer question or problem." The customer has broadband Internet and the customer's computer is running and online. You want a quick and easy way to establish remote access to the client's computer so you can answer the question or resolve the problem.

What is VNC?

In the beginning (circa 1997), there was Virtual Network Computing (VNC). The original VNC source code and many modern derivatives are open source under the GNU General Public License.

VNC systems consist of a client, a server, and a communication protocol.
  • The VNC server is the program on the machine that shares its screen.
  • The VNC viewer (or client) is the program that watches and interacts with the server.
  • The VNC protocol, Remote FrameBuffer (RFB) protocol is very simple, based on graphic data from server to client and event messages from client to server.
Over the last few years, VNC development has forked. The forks now include RealVNC, TightVNC, UltraVNC, ChromiVNC, PalmVNC, et al. Needless to say, this adds a bit of confusion to selecting and implementing a VNC solution.

What is the solution?

Given our use case, we selected UltraVNC with the Single Click add-on -- UVNC SC for short. This is a compact server application (for the customer's machine) that is designed to be downloaded and installed with just a few clicks.

By editing a sample text file and uploading it along with graphics of your choice to the SC Online Creator tool, an UltraVNC SC server file is compiled that is customized for your specifications -- your logo and name and the IP address and port number of your viewer(s). You download the resulting .exe file and put it on your web site where your customers can find it. When they click on it, the file downloads and installs, and the GUI pops up with your logo, name and other info you spec'd. One more click, and the remote session starts (assuming you have a VNC viewer application listening at your end (see below))!

If you are running Windows on your side of the remote session, the viewer application you want is vncviewer.exe. You launch it in listen mode from the command line. Do Start/Run/vncviewer -listen (port #). This will start the VNC viewer in listen mode and put an icon in the system tray.


  • There is a certain amount of trial and error involved in getting to your final UVNC SC.exe file. Documentation for editing the text file is minimal and when the Online Creator didn't like some of the graphics I supplied, it just ignored my graphics in favor of the defaults.
  • The VNC viewer packaged in Linux/Ubuntu does not work with the UVNC SC server. It turns out that the Linux/Ubuntu vcnviewer is built to the latest VNC RFB spec. UVNC SC server is built to an older RFB spec. If you want to use a Linux box as the viewer host, you have to use the vncviewer.exe supplied by UVNC and run it in Wine. Ugh!
  • Don't forget to open your firewall on the ports you will be listening to.