The New Toolbox

In days gone by, any computer guy worth his salt had a collection of boot floppies, 5.25″ & 3.5″, containing a mix of MS-DOS, DR-DOS, Toms Root Boot & Norton tools. These days passed and the next set of essentials was boot cd-r, containing BartPE, RIPLinux, Knoppix etc. People quickly switched to carrying these tools USB sticks, smaller, easier to change, great when the dodgy PC you were trying to breathe life into supported USB booting.

I think there’s a better way, based on the last 3 days of hell spent setting up what should have been identical touchscreen machines (no cd, slow USB interfaces)

Your new toolkit is a cheap laptop, with a big hard disk, running the following:

  1. Your favourite Linux distro (I’ve used Ubuntu for this laptop)
  2. tftpd, dhcpd & dnsmasq setup for PXE booting other machines from this laptop (FOG uses dhcpd for all it’s automatic DHCP magic, use dnsmasq for simple local DNS, required for Unattended)
  3. FOG Cloning System
  4. Unattended Windows 2000/XP/2003 Network Install System
  5. CloneZilla PXE Image (for good measure)
  6. RIPLinux PXE Image

Why?  USB booting stills seems troublesome, installing Windows from flash seems very slow.  Nearly everything supports PXE these days, if it has a built in ethernet port, it’s pretty much guaranteed to support PXE booting.  There is nothing like the feeling of being able to image a machine into FOG over a 1Gb crossover cable in a matter of minutes.  Got everything working? image it and walk away, safe in the knowledge that if somebody comes along and breaks things, you can image it back in minutes, instead of having to do another clean install and build all your updates & software back on top.

There’s a little bit of plain in getting all of separate packages to run from the one /tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg/default, but it’s just a matter of careful copy & paste from the canned configs.

What’s changed?

Matt Johnston commented recently that the recent surge in activity in the community side of the local tech & business scene could be “the ‘real’ end of the ‘Troubles’?”.  It’s definitely a positive thing, I’m delighted the next generation of technologists in Northern Ireland has a growing & diverse community around them.  Something that was sorely lacking in my formative years, where it seemed that the only exposure to technology was from inside the technology firm you worked in.  [and I’m a committed technologist, not a 9-5 salary man].  So what’s changed?

Many of us are of a similar age, all in full-time IT roles from the mid-90’s onwards, some for much longer.  Is it the relatively recent additions that have invigorated us? People like the hyper-active Andy McMillen, or what’s caused “the old guard” like Matt to push on with xcake & startvi, or Colm & Norbert to persevere with MobileMondayBelfast, or Darryl & the first Open Coffee Belfast?

Surely none of us would admit to letting Northern Ireland’s previous problems get in the way of the way we lead our lives?

So what changed?  How do we make sure we don’t loose momentum?

How much would your life changed if you had the community & adventure surrounding you 10-15 years ago when you first discovered your passion for technology could pay the bills?  Would you have endured the 10 years in big, faceless corporations? [how did we get brain washed into thinking that the best IT career involved one of 3 or 4 companies in NI?]

Would I still be doing what I’m doing now? Probably, but probably not for who I’m doing it for.  And I hope I would have had a much interesting & independent path here.

Portadown – Open Source Hotspot

I’m just back from the Open Source Solution Centre’s Information Evening at the Seagoe Hotel, Daniel Bled has obviously worked hard at sharing his passion for open source software, he and the rest of the team from Southern Regional College & InvestNI put on an evening they should be proud of.  Daniel did a sterling job of trying to convey the Open Source philosophy to the gathered non-technical, business oriented audience.  He focused on:

  1. Open Source – the source code is available for all to view.
  2. Open Licensing – zero licensing costs for using the software, although support costs.
  3. Open Access – your data isn’t locked away.
  4. Open To Change – you have the source code, you can make it fit your needs.

I’m paraphrasing all of this as I didn’t take notes and this is all from memory – Daniel please feel free to correct me.  I’m sure Stallman & Co would be spitting blood by now, but Daniel’s pitch seemed to strike home with the audience, I think The Four Fundamental Freedoms would have been lost on them in the 10min Daniel had.

After a substantial meal, we had a talk from an InvestNI representative who attempted to convince us that the current economic environment is tough, but we have some come through tougher aspects in the last few decades, and he did a fairly good job – the outlook is gloomy, but a lack of confidence will only make things worse.  He repeated a comment I have heard before, “the project was good last month, it’ll be good next month, if it makes sense, do it.  Don’t let the bad outlook on the news put you off”.  Here here.

The next stage was a little more depressing, the idea was for local businesses who have worked with the OSSC to talk about there experiences & benefits, unfortunately Bowman Group’s Marketing & Sales Director couldn’t resist a captive audience and squandared the bulk of the time to tell us all about the group and what great windows they make.  Luckily their HR & IS manager was more direct & to the point, explaining that data lock-in, a lack of flexibility & rocketing costs helped them select SugarCRM as their CRM platform, helping them track there sales process and possibly even drive part of their manufacturing processes.

Next up was one of the owners of a local HR outsourcing firm, it was a similar story of meeting with Daniel and Daniel & his team helping them use SugarCRM to manage there growing list of prospects, customers, projects and related tasks.  The speaker put across her point well, explaining that even her as a non-technical user could see the benefits and use the software easily.

A brief wrap up from Daniel was followed by the usual attempt at a panel Q&A session, which failed miserable as they usually do in this part of the world.

What I’m looking forward to next is discovering what the next step is for the Open Source Solution Centre is, how do we in the Open Source community enagage with the OSSC and how do local businesses do the same.

Open Source Solution Centre, Portadown

The Open Source Solution Centre are running an information evening at the Seagoe Hotel, Portadown on Monday 30th March 2009, there’s more info here and here. I hope attend and help convey what open source can do for business users and what the tangible benefits and advantages are. There is more information about the Open Source Solution Centre here. You can find more about Job Done Right, my open source consultancy and advice service here.