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Editor's Note: Microsoft Support? Ha! Better Use Linux Instead

Jul 01, 2005, 23:30 (19 Talkback[s])

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Man, this was one heck of a week here at the global headquarters of Linux Today. On all five days this work week, a new and unique problem struck nearly all of my machines. Needless to say, I could be a complete basket case right now. But, mostly thanks to Linux, all of my problems were quickly taken care of.

It all started on Monday, when I got the word that my requests for a newer machine from the home office were heard by the Powers that Be, and I was granted a Dell Precision 340. With a P4, 40 Gb drive, and 256Mb RAM, this would sing past my older model, PIII, 750 MHz workstation. Happy, happy, happy.

Too bad that was the day my broadband connection decided to flake out. After trying to power down and reset the modem, I called Comcast. No reported outages in my fair city. (This was Monday. Their tune would change by Thursday.) The tech support dude said to try unplugging the cable, bend the connector pin a bit, then reinsert the cable in the jack. Er, okay, but are you seeing my modem? "No," he replied, "but everything between me and you is active."

I did the fix, and lo and behold, it worked. I got the ticket number and wrote it down, just in case. A fix that easy makes me suspicious.

Tuesday. I got the new machine. I thought I would have to wait until the next day to start configuring it, as I was going out of town for an overnight trip Tuesday to pick up some furniture from the ancestral abode. But, I made some progress on the web site and got to it before I had to leave.

But, as I was sitting there trying to install Fedora, Someone noticed my glee and reminded me What Was What. In the form of a thunderstorm. Now, my new Linux box and my old one were hooked into the UPS, but the Windows machine was plugged naked into the wall so my kids could play their games before the trip to Grandma's.

So, naturally, the power went out. Five times in ten minutes. I shut down everything storm progressed, to put less drain on the UPS. The Windows machine never came back up after I just pulled the plug out. It was about time to leave, so I left the configuration for the next day.

One of the nice things about working on the Web is that you can work on your job from anywhere with an Internet connection. Of course, that means being flexible with the choice of platforms you have available. Tuesday night's session was conducted from Mom's Mac OS 9 iMac on dial-up. Hey, it worked, though I have got to get her a better machine. Soon.

Wednesday. One truckload of furniture later, I arrive at the home office and start working. The Internet connection is still flaky, but it comes back right before I reach for the phone. The old Linux box is okay, and the new one has Fedora Core 4 Test 3 installed as new (with, finally, a separate /home partition, so I can install and test new distros as will). I spent the afternoon using yum to update to full Fedora 4 (using a nice guide to accomplish this with ease, thanks Brandon!). Round about six-ish, my oldest wants to play on the Windows machine, and tells me it won't start.

I go see what's happening, and indeed, two seconds into the Windows reload, there's a flash of blue, then a reboot into the boot configuration mode. I tried safe mode on the next cycle. Same thing. I tried last known good. Same thing.

Sighing, I slapped in the XP disc and booted to it. When I got to the recovery option, I went for that. Boom! A blue screen of stupid: a stop screen telling me my ntfs.sys file was being naughty.

At this point, I am thinking the multiple bad shutdowns on Tuesday likely damaged the NTFS tables on the main drive. I go back to the Linux box and start Googling. And get nothing. I hit Microsoft's support site. Type in the relevant data. Nothing.

Oh, I got information all right, but every single one of the solutions needed the recovery console, which I could not get to thanks to the blue screen of stupid. Then, I tried broadening the search, and hit the jackpot.

Apparently, there's a wonderful utility out there that will fix a corrupt NTFS table with a single command. Is it buried in Microsoft's labrynthian support site? Is it a third-part fix offered by those who profit from the "all-powerful" Windows? Is it even something that Microsoft might have thought would be useful to have on it's own perfectly bootable install disk?

No.

It was ntfsfix, and it resides on, among other Live CD distros, Knoppix.

So, CD-R in hand, I downloaded the latest copy of Knoppix from nearby Purdue University (though somehow I got the German version. I suspect revenge for teasing computer science geeks when I was attending Purdue as a physics geek). I burned the ISO, booted the Windows box and after getting into su on the terminal, typed:

ntfsfix /dev/hda1

In 44 seconds (I timed it), it was done. I rebooted to Windows running CHKDSK, and eventually a repaired machine.

Now, I have heard the virtues of Live CDs before, and I am here to preach the word. If you don't have one of these in your office or home, get one. SimplyMEPIS, Knoppix, Damn Small Linux... get what looks good to you and burn a CD. You will not regret it.

And, beyond that, I have another bone to pick. Too often I have heard the whine about how Linux is hard to support compared to Windows. Faced with that argument, how is it that I could not find a solution in the Windows universe of support and I had to go to a Linux solution to bring up a dead machine?

I will spell it out: Windows is such a proprietary, rigid system, that unless you can follow an inflexible support model, the only answer seems to be reboot or reformat. Sometimes both. An open development model allows for creative and nondestructive solutions, because more creativity is tapped.

Oh, but wait, critics argue, just because Windows is hard to support doesn't get Linux off the hook. This, I will concede, is certainly true. Until today.

But first, there was Thursday. Thursday everything worked fine on all of my machines, but the Interet problem came to a head. It's not a good sign when you see your town listed as a major Comcast outage on CNET. With old ticket number in hand, I berated the Comcast support staff for a good 15 minutes. Got off a lot of steam.

Then, this morning my new Linux box decided to flake out. My running instance of Evolution decided to spontaneously stop running. Restarting was not an option, either.

I wasn't panicked yet, though certainly a workable e-mail solution is a big part of my job. Taking some time this morning, I Googled the problem and bing! Found the solution. Apparently there are some conflicts in evolution-connector with some of the new GTK libraries. Well, I POP everything, so I don't need an Exchange connector. One yum remove command later, and I was back in action.

This weekend, I may just try to migrate to Thunderbird. (Here's the tutorial I found.)

No operating system is perfect; things do crash, even in Linux. But the difference in support in these two instances is glaring. I spent 55 minutes looking for a Microsoft solution. I spent 11 minutes looking for the Linux solution (and two minutes implementing it). Granted, these are anecdotal, but it does poke a big hole in the old saw about Windows support being superior. Puh-leeze.

So, there you have it. My week of trials and tribulations. I hardly had time to think of something new and insightful to say.

Though something did dawn on me that I had to share, since I can't let ESR have all the fun in throwing out controversial theories. I was reviewing the stories about SCO's OpenServer 6 launch at Yankee Stadium last week and given Computer Associates' presence and various statements made by SCO CEO Darl McBride, an idea clicked.

See, Computer Associates has made a big deal about how open source is not just Linux. Sun Microsystems has taken that idea one step further with their CDDL-licensed OpenSolaris. IBM has pledged even more support for open source projects.

So, I got to wondering... what if The SCO Group decided to try to hitch a ride on the open source bandwagon and release OpenServer under an open license?

It wouldn't be under the GPL, of course, because that's "unconstitutional," according to McBride. But under CDDL or CPL or something completely new and Open Source Initiative-endorsed? That could be something.

Just a thought that popped up during my feverish repair efforts this week. Something to chew on over the long holiday weekend.