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Friday, March 10th, 2006

Corporate Network Maverick

Or
How To Get Approval For A Linux Desktop In A Windows Server Environment

This week has been a busy one for me, both at work and at home, but I’m going to write about the work aspect.

I ended up getting permission, if only in an surreptitious way, to do something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time but never thought I could get away with – I’m going to install Linux on my computer at work.

This may be a long story, but for those of you out there who consider Bill Gates to be the AntiChrist, or who just plain chafe at having to work with a flawed and vulnerable operating system when there are so many out there that are much better, and against all better judgment suffer at work by using Windows, this might be inspirational, and a roadmap for affecting change.

About five years ago, corporate send out a network engineer to install our new server, to replace some of our older machines, and to dump our old peer-to-peer network and hook us into a real WAN with Internet access at every desk. I got a brand new, 700 MHz machine running Windows NT – not top of the line for the time, but one of the faster machines in our office, because I was authorized to have AutoCAD. I also got to meet with Dane Hershberger. I hung over his shoulder every chance I got, asked a lot of questions, and later, after he got everything set up and left, I found out that I had been flagged as the local IT guy, complete with local administrator permissions (which in my opinion, were more like a power user than an administrator.)

For years Dane and I had frequent conversations, particularly about the corporate computer policy (which he wrote), that placed strict limits on what software could be installed on a company machine. I got tacit permission to experiment with any software I found useful, as long as I observed the appropriate licensing requirements, and I ended up submitting quite a few examples of useful applications I had found, all freeware or open source, which Dane posted for download on our intranet. The corporate IT people knew me well. I was also regarded with some suspicion – having been placed in the “knows enough to be dangerous” category, and being relatively open about my password-cracking and network probing past. I may have been the only person who got away with installing a hex editor and disassembler on my machine. Along the way I also became acquainted with one of the other systems engineers – Rayna, initial last name unimportant because she ended up becoming the bride of Dane (that lucky bastard!)

For a long time everything was comfortable. Problems got solved, and I was tolerated. I tested my limits, sure, but I was bound by the knowledge that if anyone ever uncovered traces of serious network abuse, I was guilty until proven innocent. I probably knew enough to get into places or do things that I wasn’t supposed go to or do, but I wasn’t confident in my ability to hide all the traces of where I had been or what I had done. I remember well the time I came into my office and found the visiting Dane and Rayna sitting at my machine and just shaking their heads with mixed dismay and interest. I got the impression that if the machine had belonged to anyone else, it would have been immediately boxed up and sent in for an OS reinstall. One thing I established well – they were both totally opposed to anything Linux.

But about a year ago, in the midst of some serious corporate overhead slashing, Dane and Rayna quit and moved on, and corporate decided to outsource. I immediately researched the new IT company, and in particular the names of the few who showed up in our address book as belonging to IT – we not only got an offsite Help Desk, we got a few new employees working at corporate headquarters. I was particularly disturbed that I couldn’t find any poop on our new network engineer – no personal website, and no postings on technical message boards using her real name. She was either really, really tech-savvy, or she was a just a tool that I could dance around. I had to err on the side of caution (and a damned good thing I did, too.)

I tried to establish a rapport, sort of like the way two modems handshake. I included her in my now routine submissions – security advisories, workarounds and fixes I had discovered (like how to get VPN working in NT), and I knew she was party to the reviews and suggestions I occasionally sent to the IT Steering Committee. But not a peep out of her. So she remained The Big Unknown. I’m sure she has been busy trying to understand and fix the personal handiwork of Dane, who, although he was good, had his own personal quirks, and was pretty much obliged to patch things instead of going back and redoing the hasty network setup that had been thrown together.

Apparently, things are so nonstandard in our network that other outsourced employees have been deployed to headquarters. I found this out this week in the course of pursuing a fix for my now outdated and overloaded computer.

My machine (yes, it’s still the same one I got those years ago, although I am next on the list for upgrade) has repeatedly butted up against the limits of its configuration. NT was installed on a front-end 2 GB partition of a 10GB hard drive. Long ago I decided to install any new applications on the second partition, but the first has gotten pretty full with security fixes (which I installed religiously while NT was still being supported), user profiles, Exchange folders, network monitoring software (now that’s a story in itself!), browser plugins, default-to-C-drive software, and the like. I’ve dealt with it on a patchwork basis myself, but finally it got to the point that Something More had to be done. I called the Help Desk, described my problems, and was astounded at their suggestion – use Partition Magic.

That’s funny – last year I saw PM on sale, $0 with rebate – and purchased it because I had heard such great things about it, and although I have addressed the same problem at home by reinstalling (I now have nine partitions on my main home computer), I had an eye on using it at work. I never tried it because I didn’t want to run software, especially privately-owned software, that performs such an elemental task without testing it first on something less significant than my primary work tool. The last thing I expected was a recommendation to use it from my own IT department. I eagerly set about doing so. I faithfully backed up my entire hard drive, loaded PM, and ran into a wall.

I’ve provided plenty of support for our network deployment of Norton (or Symantec) AntiVirus, so I was pleased and confounded to find that my client was now configured so that the user couldn’t turn it off. Someone’s been diligent – bringing our network machines under better management – but it didn’t help me, the somewhat talented maverick, when I needed to shut off all processes (I used to call them TSRs) that run in the background. So I called the Help Desk again. I re-enabled the corporate trojan (DameWare) to allow it to run, and reset the configuration to make it more interloper-friendly, and invited IT in to shut the antivirus client off. Our offsite office couldn’t do it, so I got referred to corporate, but the first person I talked to also couldn’t do it. (Did I undo everything I had done before to cripple it? Oops, better re-enable it in the hardware profile!) I was again referred, and soon got a message from The New Guy.

Said TNG send an email expressing his reservations for the whole scheme and making a few specific points. I answered him, addressing his concerns with great restraint, in a way that I hoped revealed my less-than-bumbling-idiot appreciation for the points he had raised. Apparently I was successful, and not totally offensive, because we ended up engaging in a dialog that lasted several days, whereby I found him accepting of me and my views. He expressed appreciation for my “going through the right channels regarding this issue.” (Hmmm… so my restraint was noted and encouraged – this is an adroit administrator.) He had also had read my IT Steering Committee comments, and echoed sympathy for my subtle push to rid ourselves of Microsoft hegemony. This was great – I was finally being treated with some respect and empathy from the new Powers-That-Be at corporate IT, but I was probably pushing it when, after my initial PM run, I noted ruefully that there was sufficient disk space left to install another OS, and spat off another email saying so, and included a mechanical (read: hopeless) justification for why testing a Linux workstation on a Windows network was a good idea:

I’ve often wondered, support issues aside, whether it was even possible to get a Linux desktop workstation to work with the Corrpro network – to interact with the Exchange Server, network partitions, centrally managed antivirus, etc. I was wondering if, just to answer such theoretical questions, I could be permitted to give it a try on my own time? Just think of it as a test bed. I could report on the difficulties I encountered, and then IT would know how practical the concept of running some clients would be. Think of the pace of software development right now – there are already applications that have been developed that are only available for Linux. In the future, or maybe even now, there could be specialized technical applications that we, as an engineering company with at least some R&D capacity, might want to be able to use. If anybody put in a request to try it to IT, right now all you guys can say is no, because you don’t know whether it’s even possible.

And think of the line you guys could put in your resumes:

“integrated Linux workstations into a native MS server environment”

Of course, my project would be entire self supported. If it doesn’t work, you’ve learned something right there.

To my surprise and delight, I got the following response:

I am ok with you trying this … My caveat being that your manager there is ok with this too. I don’t want to get put in an awkward situation where down the road someone gets pissed at IT cause they told you to load Linux and now you can’t get any work done. ;) From what you said before though, you have another machine you can use if need be so it should be ok.

As a longtime (4+ years) Linux user in a corporate environment, I can tell you where the big problems will lie:

* Getting your Linux box to use active directory for authentication is not easy, and doesn’t seem to always work well.

* Evolution isn’t Outlook, and you have to pay extra for the Exchange connector anyway so that is a net loss of $50.

* Network drives aren’t quite as easy to use as they are in Windows.

* Network printing can be a bitch, or can be simple … depends on the printer really.

* Won’t be able to integrate any Anti-Virus, which in the short term I’m not that worried about, but long term I’m not sure what the solution would be.

Now that said, things are probably much better since they were 2 years ago when I had this setup at my previous job. I basically ended up requiring VMWare and to always be running an XP box inside my Linux environment. Of course a lot of that was because I had to be able to support the Windows network.

So give it a try, but lets keep this between us and your manager for now since I am out and haven’t spoken to anyone else on the team about this yet. :)

Assuming we ever get the backlog of tasks needing to be complete in IT to a much smaller number, I will be doing something similar. There is just so much going on right now and in the foreseeable short term future that I just can’t afford to do it yet. So I’ll be curious to hear your results!

What distro are you thinking of starting with?

Longtime Linux user? Pointers? Doing something similar? What distro??? I’m in heaven! I’ve found a kindred soul!

My PM repartitioning, run in DOS mode straight from the CD, seemed to work fine – I now have some room to breathe, and 4 GB of unformatted space on the tail end of my hard drive. A backup machine spent most of today downloading the FC4 iso’s, which should by now be stored on the network drives. Unfortunately, I can’t just bring in my copy – it’s on DVD, which my machine can’t handle.

You know, looking back at my past posts about Corrpro, there’s no way of evaluating just how much my feeling of disassociation that I had with the new IT guys colored my disaffection. I never mentioned it during that chaotic period between my finding out that my boss was leaving and the formalizing of our new organizational structure, but now that I’ve seen the light, it must have had a big impact. Just watch how I knock down the obstacles in my way, and see my morale improve!

Oh – hope posting all this doesn’t sour me.

Posted by Greg as Networking, OS, Posts About Me at 16:05 PST

6 Comments »

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

Malware/Virus Removal

It’s been a long time since I really went all out to clean up a Windows machine to remove malware and viruses. I forget my first virus (I’ve been downloading free software since 1983), but I remember my first spyware well – it was early 2001 when I noticed a new entry in my HKLM\​Software\​Microsoft\​Windows\​CurrentVersion\​Run, which turned out to be TimeSink. While researching how to get it cleaned out (which I finally did) I stumbled across the whole spyware problem. Shortly thereafter I encountered a similar problem with WebHancer, and fired off an email to my network administrator, who responded that he didn’t think it was a problem worth dealing with, because the outgoing traffic would be stopped at our firewalls. A little more than two years later, the same net admin wrote me to ask my opinion on spyware removal tools. In the interim I had discovered various applications on several machines in my office and had gotten some practice at removal, and would get more, until it got to the point that if I couldn’t clean up a machine in an hour I boxed it up and sent it back to corporate for an OS reinstall. My boss couldn’t condone the lost billable time I was spending – any IT functions I perform around the office are purely for our convenience – I’m supposed to be just an engineer.

But last week my wife complained that her favorite online game, Planet 8 Ball at Uproar.com, was running very slowly, and finally on Friday it quit running at all. Now, I haven’t been too pleased with my wife and her friends downloading and installing both offline games and online ones that require installing ActiveX objects – they are big potential sources of both spyware and viruses, but I figured that I had everything set up on my home machine pretty well to keep it clean. I just can’t train them to install stuff where I want it to go – there’s enough stuff in C:\Program Files and I would prefer to see games installed in their own directory – C:\Games. I’m lucky when these installers don’t place themselves in the root directory, which I like to keep very clean. However, I am pleased to see my wife doing stuff online – I figure it makes her more tolerant of the time I spend online myself. Every now and again I run Spybot and AdAware; I use AVG Free for antivirus with realtime protection and daily full scans (a little annoying in that the free version can not be set to ignore my archive of potentially useful trojans!); and I routinely check my HKLM\​Software\​Microsoft\​Windows\​CurrentVersion\​Run key either through MSConfig or RegEdit. This is all out of habit – when I sit down at the computer I usually reboot into Fedora Core 4, and I’m starting to regard the Windows partition as a necessary kludge that I only maintain for my family.

So Friday I was tasked with getting her game running again, and I’ve spent every free moment this weekend trying to achieve that goal. I’m almost ready to concede defeat. I’ve pulled out virtually every trick in my arsenal – multiple scans with the aforementioned tools, plus Hijack This and Startup List from Merijn, CWShredder, and even RootKitRevealer. My hosts file is clean, and I’ve checked my traffic flows with Ethereal and been shocked – I mean blown away – with the traffic I saw even after Internet Explorer had been closed – and that was after I had cleaned the system! I looked up the ip addresses my machine was talking to at DNSStuff and used registration records to identify which applications were to blame. I removed multiple toolbars, browser help objects and ActiveX objects. And through all this, somehow I got something new in my CurrentVersion\Run key!

Of course, it might not be malware that’s stopping the game from playing, and it’s possible that my anti-malware defenses are the cause, but I have to clean the system first. Besides, it ran fine before. I’ve tried reinstalling Shockwave and I’m considering doing the same with Java.

Now, one of the things I found, or at least found traces of, is VX2 – a notoriously difficult infection to remove. Considering that I keep finding stuff after cleaning, this might be my problem. Hmmm – just found a VX2 plugin for AdAware – I didn’t realize that there were addons that I needed. I’ve also noticed that I have five svchost processes running, which is suspicious to me. I’ll have to check those out as per the Microsoft guidance. I downloaded and installed the augmented IE Add-On Manager, which is actually very nice – I could use something this clear for Mozilla.

*Sigh* All this work, and I’m not even sure that it’s malware that’s keeping the game from running. It just seems to be the most likely cause, though.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, OS, Software at 22:52 PST

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Tuesday, January 3rd, 2006

Yet Another Windows Vulnerability

It’s this sort of stuff that makes me so interested in Linux. Microsoft has revealed that viewing WMF graphics on the Internet can allow sites to remotely execute code. CERT – the US Government’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team, has issued an alert. In other words, just by going to a site you can get infected with a trojan or worm. No clicking or agreeing to software installation required. In Internet Explorer there’s no indication that anything happened; in Firefox or Mozilla it will at least ask you if you want to execute the code.

Posted by Greg as OS at 07:58 PST

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Sunday, December 25th, 2005

Credit Where It’s Due

In a couple of my posts about getting my wireless card to work in Fedora, I mentioned and linked to Mauriat Miranda’s Fedora Core 4 Installation Guide, but I didn’t specifically credit him for his work. I’ve gone back and edited my posts to do that.

I didn’t notice the oversight until I saw a comment on one of these posts saying, basically, “you’re welcome.” He must have seen inbound traffic from here and checked it out. I left the following message for him:

Thanks for the feedback, although it was a little embarrassing. I’ve amended my posts that reference your guide to credit you by name. I get at least 30 hits a day on the subject, so hopefully I’m steering a little traffic your way.

I found that documenting just the wireless card installation to be a tedious and relatively thankless task, so I have great respect for you and the amount of effort that must have gone into your document. I’m going to post this message on my site and hopefully send some more over to you. I know I found your advice to be invaluable.

Regards,

Greg R. Perry

If you had read between the lines in some of my posts, you would have seen the message “I’m a huge dummy for not reading this through completely and following its advice from the very beginning.” I installed Fedora at least four times while trying to get the card working, and a lot of the mysterious errors that I saw along the way – things that had nothing to do with the wireless card itself – could have been avoided, so I would highly recommend going over there and checking it out. I can’t imagine how much time Mauriat spent fiddling around with his system, making mistakes and having to reinstall again, and pausing after every tweak to take notes on what he did and what the results were, in order to obtain the knowledge that he presents. It’s a way more complete and practical guide than what RedHat hands you.

Myself, I feel like I’ve carved out a little niche for myself with my own work and writing about it, but it only makes me marvel more at the hardcore howto-writers like Mauriat. In a way, it’s an even tougher job than the dedicated people who write the open source software. Maybe I actually could code my way out of a wet paper bag, but one thing I’ve always hated is documenting how I did it, and figuring out how somebody else did it is even worse. My contribution to making Linux more accessible to the world is pretty puny, but every little acknowledgment is such a huge thrill to me – the comments on my own posts, the links from other sources, and the Google ranking – these things may seem small, but they so make up for those hours of frustration, the noticing that it’s 3:00 am and having to get up for work in just a couple of hours, and the time lost writing when I could have been playing with the fruits of my labor.

So do us all a favor and drop a note every now and again when you find useful information on someone’s website. Even more importantly, let us know when we steer you wrong – I know I go back and fix any error that I’m aware of. I take pride in what I do, and pride is the only payment I get. But this post isn’t supposed to be about me – it’s about Mauriat. Go there, use it, and drop him a note.

Posted by Greg as Hardware & Drivers, OS at 21:23 PST

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Saturday, December 24th, 2005

The HWP54G/FC4 Saga – One Last Thing

I wrote that I had additional problems installing the Hawking HWP54G Wireless-G PCI card after a clean Fedora Core 4 install that were not covered in my detailed description of how I got the wireless card working. I promised a write-up, and it’s time to wrap things up.

If you’re an experienced Linux user, what I found and how I fixed it is going to seem elementary, but I’ve focused on explaining this stuff to new users like me. Basically, even though I followed the first part of Mauriat Miranda’s guide to FC4 installation and package selection, I didn’t read the entire document, and therefore didn’t get down to the end where it says “Fedora no longer ships with the kernel-source RPM. You must install it separately.” So when I tried to make the driver, I got this:

[greg@localhost module]$ make
make: *** /lib/modules/2.6.11-1.1369_FC4/build: No such file or directory. Stop .
rt2500.ko failed to build!
make: *** [module] Error 1
[greg@localhost module]$

I was scratching my head, trying to figure out how I could have possibly installed FC4 without the capability of running the make command, but as it turns out,

If you need to install a driver (Nvidia, ndiswrapper, Cisco VPN, etc.) that requires kernel sources [emphasis mine], it may be sufficient to install just the kernel headers package (kernel-devel RPM). This can be found on CD4, the DVD or online. If you have updated your kernel (using yum or up2date), then use yum to install the package (‘yum install kernel-devel’). Make sure to match your current kernel version (read below for the ‘uname’ command).

Once again, stymied because I hadn’t read the instructions in their entirety. Actually, I didn’t solve my problem by reading this document – I’m just finding it now as I check my sources for the write-up. I solved the problem by popping in the FC4 DVD, logging in as root, and typing:

[root@localhost /]# rpm kernel-devel-2.6.11-1.1369_FC4.i686.rpm

After I installed this package, I logged back in as me, went to the /Module directory, and tried make again. Here’s my output:

[greg@localhost ~]$ cd /etc/rt2500/module
[greg@localhost module]$ make
make[1]: Entering directory `/usr/src/kernels/2.6.11-1.1369_FC4-i686'
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/rtmp_main.o
/etc/rt2500/module/rtmp_main.c: In function ‘rt2500_resume’:
/etc/rt2500/module/rtmp_main.c:844: warning: ignoring return value of ‘pci_enabl e_device’, declared with attribute warn_unused_result
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/mlme.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/connect.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/sync.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/assoc.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/auth.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/auth_rsp.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/rtmp_data.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/rtmp_init.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/sanity.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/rtmp_wep.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/wpa.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/md5.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/rtmp_tkip.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/rtmp_info.o
CC [M] /etc/rt2500/module/eeprom.o
LD [M] /etc/rt2500/module/rt2500.o
Building modules, stage 2.
MODPOST
CC /etc/rt2500/module/rt2500.mod.o
LD [M] /etc/rt2500/module/rt2500.ko
make[1]: Leaving directory `/usr/src/kernels/2.6.11-1.1369_FC4-i686'
[greg@localhost module]$

You might notice that I changed the directory name from “Module” to “module” – I hate hitting the SHIFT key in the command line! May as well show you what happened next, when I make install-fedora:

[greg@localhost module]$ su -
Password:
[root@localhost ~]# cd /etc/rt2500/module
[root@localhost module]# make install-fedora
if ! [ -f rt2500.ko ]; then \
module; \
fi
install 'rt2500.ko' to /lib/modules/2.6.11-1.1369_FC4/extra
install -m 755 -o 0 -g 0 -d /lib/modules/2.6.11-1.1369_FC4/extra
install -m 644 -o 0 -g 0 rt2500.ko /lib/modules/2.6.11-1.1369_FC4/extra
/sbin/depmod -a
append 'alias wlan0 rt2500' to /etc/modprobe.conf
[root@localhost module]#

And that’s it! You can go back to my detailed description for my tips on using the system-config-network utility. Note that if you’re not using Fedora, you may also need to build the configuration utility that comes with the drivers. Also, if you upgrade your kernel later on, you will have to make and make install-fedora again, so make sure you include the new kernel-devel package.

Well, I feel like I’ve described in explicit detail how I got my wireless card working in Fedora Core 4. I really need to go and finish the job in SuSE 10 as well, but tweaking my FC4 is keeping me pretty busy, and the closer I get everything to the way I want it, the less incentive I have to do it all over again in SuSE. But if I want to write a real howto, I need the experience. Still, right now there’s lots of other things to do that I found in the installation guide, so I’m off to do those!

Posted by Greg as Hardware & Drivers, Networking, OS at 03:49 PST

3 Comments »

Friday, December 23rd, 2005

Reset root Password in Linux

Did you realize it could be done? I didn’t. When I just now tried to log in as root, I was confronted with my stupidity when I found that I must have changed it and couldn’t, for the life of me, remember doing it, let alone what it was. I had visions of having to reinstall Fedora Core 4 and starting all over again. So I Googled reset root password and got the answer with the first hit.

My FC4 grub entry reads like this:

root (hd0,1)
kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.14-1.1644_FC4 ro root=LABEL=/ rhgb quiet
initrd /initrd-2.6.14-1.1644_FC4.img

Which is pretty standard. My FC4 root partition is the second one in my hard drive, and I’m using the latest kernel. Then I used the command line and entered the following (showing the prompts):

grub> root (hd0,1)
grub> kernel /vmlinuz-2.6.14-1.1644_FC4 root=LABEL=/ single
grub> initrd /initrd-2.6.14-1.1644_FC4.img
grub> boot

I had problems with “File not found” showing after typing in the kernel name, so I actually used Tab to get the filenames available.

This booted me into a command line interface as root. I typed in “passwd” and was prompted to enter a new password, then retype it again for confirmation. I hit CTRL-ALT-DEL to reboot, selected FC4 in my grub, and I was able to log in as root using the new password. Amazing!

I guess this is why you get those strongly worded recommendations to use a bootloader password when you’re installing grub. That doesn’t work for me at home because the wife and older kid would whine about having to enter any passwords, and the baby has a habit of pushing buttons, so he often reboots the computer for us. (I got a case with a clear plastic front door, but I had to put little stick-on plastic feet on both sides of the power and reset buttons because you could push them through the plastic – I still need to find some sort of lock, though.) My grub is set to automatically boot to Windows XP after eight seconds, and I don’t think anybody understands the concept of multiple operating systems.

Posted by Greg as OS at 05:06 PST

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Friday, December 9th, 2005

Fixing SuSE

When I get a little free time at home to play with my toy (this computer), it’s sometimes very difficult to put off the instant gratification of installing, configuring or tweaking something, especially after I’ve got two freshly installed Linuxes. So when I sat down right now, my conscience told me to start writing up my FC4 / HWP54G installation notes, but instead I booted SuSE and took a look at why I wasn’t able to make the rt2500 driver.

My recollection was that the error message I had seen when I tried to make the driver (“make” is actually a GNU command that builds executables from source files according to specific rules) was that gcc wasn’t installed. I hadn’t customized the SuSE installation packages, but including the compiler package seemed like a pretty elementary thing to do, so I was surprised by that and started wondering what actually had been installed and what hadn’t – especially my kernel sources, which had turned out to be so important when installing the driver for my wireless card in FC4. So I went looking for a tool to tell me what was installed and what wasn’t. I found it in the YaST Control Center under “Software” – a listing of all the packages in the SuSE 10.0 distribution, with check marks against the installed ones. Sure enough, gcc wasn’t installed.

If you’ve never looked at a package listing in a Linux distribution, there are hundreds of files with obscure-looking names and version numbers, so you really have to have a handle on the whole thing, which I don’t yet. But I knew enough to look to also see whether the kernel sources were there and what version I was using, and I got another surprise.

YaST boasted that it would automatically look for and install the right packages for my system, and sure enough, it had detected my hyper-threading CPU and installed the smp kernel. All I really know about the smp version is that it’s for multiple processors, but I only recently found out that hyper-threading means that my single CPU can act like I’ve got two processors. So technically, YaST was correct, and the smp kernel would probably give me better performance. Unfortunately, thanks to my recent troubleshooting efforts, I had discovered that the rt2500 driver was not compatible with the smp kernel. So it never would have worked.

I clicked the box next to the regular kernel version – 2.6.13, I think – and unclicked the box next to the smp version. Man, what a lot of warnings! I was trying to tell YaST to uninstall the kernel that I was actually running, and it took pains to tell me that if I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, SuSE would not start again. I had to install a new kernel version before I rebooted, and I remembered reading a description of compiling a new kernel that was a lot more complex than the “make” and “make install” steps that used for the wireless card driver. I also noticed another unchecked package that promised to be able to create my initrd image, and after my recent fun with making up my own grub.conf files to accommodate two different Linux installs, I knew that at boot time, GRUB has know the partition to boot to, where to find the kernel, and something about an initrd. Of course, I didn’t have Internet up to check that, so in a show of calculated cowardice, I decided to cancel out and go back to Fedora. Hell, just now writing up this post, I found out for the first time that initrd stands for “initial ram disk”. I’m trying real hard here to finish my post and not get stuck reading the entire GRUB manual.

So I’m writing this post instead. Note that I not actually getting to the work of writing out my installation notes. If you were looking over my shoulder, you would also have noticed that I hesitated at the first possibly misspelled word I saw and broke to find and install Spellbound, but that didn’t seem to work, and I am getting so sick and tired of the differences between Firefox and Mozilla that I broke to try and install Mozilla as a replacement for Firefox. That didn’t work right away either, so I’m showing some sort of self discipline by coming back to finish this post. And since I spell checked this post in OpenOffice Writer, I showed even more by not customizing that.

Posted by Greg as OS at 13:44 PST

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Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

Smells Like… Victory!

Indeed it does… I just have to post this – the output of my Users Online plugin:

1 Member Online Now

#1 – Greg (x.x.x.x) on 07.12.2005 @ 21:33
Useragent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.7.8) Gecko/20050524 Fedora/1.0.4-4 Firefox/1.0.4
Ramblings [url]

Posted by Greg as My Website, OS at 21:38 PST

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Setting Up Multiple Linux Installs

I got my wireless card working with Fedora Core 4, but, as I wrote in the last post about it, I thought I had made a mess of something during my failed attempts, and wanted to do a clean install. The FC4 install had also messed up the grub.conf file for SuSE 9.3, effectively keeping me out of that distro. It still amazes me that neither Fedora’s installer, anaconda, and SuSE’s installer, YaST, were able to detect and correctly configure their grub.conf files to accommodate the other Linux setup. How hard is it to locate the other system’s own grub.conf and copy their commands? I have learned a lot about accessing partitions and working with multiple operating systems, so it was time to clean things up. One of my overall priorities was being able to access files stored by other operating systems.

Since I use Fedora more than SuSE, I wanted to do that last, and installed SuSE first. When I had installed SuSE 9.3, I had used the default reiserfs file system. I had trouble with that because I was using ext2fsd to mount the Linux partitions in Windows, and ext2fsd doesn’t read reiserfs. So this time I formatted the partitions with ext3. YaST seemed to have trouble identifying and working with my LCD screen, so I had to use the text version, which wasn’t bad at all. Everything went smoothly with the install, and I accepted the default package selection. I made special note of the entries in the grub.conf file.

Next I installed Fedora. I could go on about how I got everything done, started customizing everything, installed the hwp54g wireless card (which went just according to my script), installed extensions in Firefox; but I was stopped dead in my tracks when I noticed my kernel package was for version 2.6.9 – what happened to 2.6.11? – and that it ended in FC3! Yep – I had installed the wrong version. I had to start all over again with FC4. This time, when I went to install the hwp54g, things didn’t go as smoothly. I’ll have more to write about that later, but right now I don’t have my notes with me. But I was able to get the network up, and upgrading the kernel to 2.6.14 went without a hitch.

So I’ve got two different distros up and running now. The FC4 is online and running quite smoothly. Installing the rt2500 drivers in SuSE didn’t work, but I think I saw right away what the problem was. I’m going to have to hurry up and write the FC4 hwp54g account, because I think the SuSE one will need to be written right after it.

I’ve been able to mount the Linux partitions in Windows, and I’ve modified the fstabs in both Linuxes to mount each other’s root partitions, the windows vfat partition, and thanks to the linux-ntfs project at SourceForge, the ntfs partitions as well. I originally created the vfat partition just so I had a “safe” storage location for downloads, accessible from any operating system, but now that reading ntfs seems to be going well, I might pull out Partition Magic and fold the contents into an ntfs one.

Posted by Greg as OS at 11:58 PST

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Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

HWP54G FC4 Linux Install Success!

How I got my Hawking HWP54G Wireless-G PCI card working with Fedora Core 4 Linux, and links to drivers, instructions, a chipset forum and a Fedora forum, so that you can do it too. The drivers and chipset forum should help even if you are using a different version of Linux.

Ok, so I just recently announced that I would be using the above blurb as an intro to any post covering this topic, but I might not be needing it much longer, because I got it working! I’m going to try and cover in this post the important points that I learned along the way.

First off, my Hawking HWP54G Wireless-G PCI network interface card uses the Ralink RT2500 chipset. (All the links in my opening blurb are for the RT2500.) The chipset, not the manufacturer or model of your card, is the important factor in finding and installing the right drivers for your NIC with Linux. I’ve seen reports that this model card may use the Prism54 or TI acx111 chipsets. If you don’t know your card’s chipset, try the following:

If it turns out you have the Prism54 chipset, go to the Prism54 Project for Linux drivers. For the acx111, I found an excellent howto at House of Craig, and drivers are at the ACX100 SourceForge Project.

On to my experience with the RT2500. Right away I should say that the rt2x00 drivers are NOT compatible with the smp kernel. Now, I’m a Linux noob, so I found the Unofficial Fedora FAQ a great place to get help on the basics. I also made a significant mistake when I installed Fedora Core 4 – I didn’t include the Kernel Sources and the Development Tools packages. I couldn’t even make the driver. There’s a forum string that covers this topic at the rt2x00 project, but take my word for it – it’s easier to reinstall Fedora than to try loading the missing rpm’s and building the symbolic links required. I found a good guide to FC4 installation and package selection by Mauriat Miranda that I’m going to use to start over myself (more later.)

All right. We’ve made sure we have all the packages installed with Fedora that we need, and we’ve downloaded and uncompressed the rt2500 driver. Go to the /Module directory and open up Readme with a text editor. If you’re working in command line, then “gedit readme“. Ignore everything and go down to the end where it says “INFORMATION FOR FEDORA CORE 3 USERS (USE AT YOUR OWN RISK !!!)”. It says FC3, but it works with FC4 as well. With Fedora, we’re not going to build the configuration utility (so you don’t need qt or qmake) and we’re most definitely not going to put in the configuration file RT2500STA.dat – doing so can mess everything up. There. I just saved you a bunch of time and headaches, so feel free to buy me a beer. As for other distros, you’re going to have to follow the readme. If you need qt, let me save you some time hunting around the Trolltech site and give you the link to the qt open source edition download, because they do their best to hide it.

To summarize my linked sources, in a terminal window:

I left out all the fancy $ and # prompt stuff that confused me before. If you get an error during the make or make install-fedora, well I’m sorry, but it’s off to the forums with you. I’ve already given instructions on how to avoid all the stuff that tripped me up, and avoiding is way better than troubleshooting.

Now we use the system-config-network utility, which you find by going to Desktop > System Settings > Network, or typing “system-config-network” as root. If your make and make install-fedora worked, you should see an entry for wlan0 that includes “Ralink rt2500” in the description on the Hardware tab. Double-click on the wlan0 line to open up the properties for that device.

Fedora system-config-network utility

Here is where you enter in all the details for connecting to your wireless network. You need to know your ESSID, the channel you use, whether you use DHCP or your ip address and your access point and dns server ip’s if you don’t; your WEP key if you use it (I do) and your WPA info (which I don’t know anything about because not all of my NICs are WPA capable yet- but I’m working on it.) If you don’t know this basic information about your wireless network, you need to learn all about it, because chances are you’re not taking the steps you need to secure your wireless network from interlopers and eavesdroppers. If you know what I’m talking about, just don’t have the details, then use Windows or your router configuration to get the information. And be sure – here’s what tripped me up until this morning – to put “0x” in front of your WEP key to identify the string as hexadecimal.

That last one had me really stumped. I was not only using the Fedora system-config-network tool, I went to the commandline and used iwconfig to manually enter the parameters and ifconfig to try to get the device “up” (both of which require you to be logged on as root to use.) I did notice than whenever I tried to activate the device using the GUI tool, iwconfig reported that the WEP key had been changed, and that the changed key was always the same, and it didn’t have any letters in it, but I didn’t put two and two together. I also noticed that iwconfig reported my access point’s MAC address correctly and a signal strength, so I figured I was talking to my WAP (I keep a cheat sheet next to my computer of all my network MACs, ip addresses and other goodies.) After I got it all straight, I activated the wlan0 device, opened Firefox, typed in the ip of my access point, and presto! I was in the configuration menu, and I was online!

At this point, I have to give a shout out to Mark Wallace (serialmonkey) and Ivo van Doorn (IvD) of the rt2x00 SourceForge project and to bitrain at fedoraforum.org for their most useful information, especially Mark, with whom I corresponded, and who gave me encouragement.

If you found this information useful, please add a comment to this post; and if you know something else – information or a good link that I can add, contact me. I’ll make up a more complete howto later.

P.S. I think I made such a mess of my FC4 installation that I’m going to reinstall it and start over. The thing that is pushing me to this is that I tried updating over the internet and it froze during the rpm install. At least it will give me an oppurtunity to follow my own advice, and possibly spot any errors!

Posted by Greg as Hardware & Drivers, Networking, OS at 05:47 PST

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