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A challenge to the Linux Users of the World

By Xwindowsjunkie ·
A recent posting by George Ou about Windows Home Server brought out a lot of responses from the Linux community. I think that Microsoft deserves to get some competition.

Here's the challenge:

There are a lot of Linux experts on this site. I challenge them to come up with a list of applications that work the best for each of the given functions found in Windows Home Server. Show me a list of something that you guys think will beat or meet Windows Home Server, that will work for a lot of people and that you think can be easily reproduced. I will build it and give you an honest appraisal of my experiences while doing it. I will document it well enough that others less skilled will be able to do it. I'd like to be able to release it as a DIY compilation distro if possible.

Now the kicker, on the EXACT same hardware I will install the WHS Beta or release RC1, assuming I can get it, and test it in comparison on the basis of a USER, not a technician or a systems engineer.

There are a few restrictions I place on this challenge:
1) Do not expect me to compile Gentoo or Debian. I want to get this all done within a few weeks, OK?
2) The install packages must be applications that can be downloaded from the distro's website or mirror. I will not start with somebody's forked code.
3) The applications need to be compatible with the Linux distro and the desktop. I am partial to Gnome but I'm willing to use KDE.
4) If you expect me to script something or run a script, show me an example or give me the script. (This runs counter to item 2 above but I realize Linux runs on scripts). It would be nice if the script has enough commentary to let me know what was going on in it. I reserve the right to dump something I'm suspicious of.
5) If the application mix doesn't work, be prepared to get bad Linux PR from the blog. I will not attack or flame anybody personally as a part of this challenge but the distributions and/or applications are fair game. If they're bad they need to be flamed.

I will take a complete list of Linux applications from an individual or a committee of no more than 3 people and a suggested Linux distro to put it on. I will build it on a 2.6 Ghz Celeron system with 512 MB Ram on a stock DELL with a CDRW or a DVD +/- RW drive. Since this system will NOT be playing the DVD or video, we'll live with the on-board SVGA chip and the optical drive is there for software install only. (Its a server remember?) I have my choice of hard drives.

Then I will report back blog style what it took me to do it. I'll keep track of the hours and what and where I had to find my manuals/documentation to make it work. The idea is to develop a "distro" that can duplicate the published capabilities of the WHS minus the bare metal recovery. I can use Ghost as well as anybody.

My credentials:
I'm not a Linux expert but I have messed with it a little. I have 2 SUSE 10.1 Linux boxes and 2 XP Pro boxes running at home. One of the SUSE boxes will be used for the challenge with a blank drive. (I'll save my current drive for later.) I have Ubuntu 6.1 and 6 or 7 Windows CPU's in my cubicle at work. I have run various Linux distros on desktops since Red Hat 6.4. I've tried Mandrake, Knoppix, Storm, Yellow Dog, Red Flag and others I've forgotten about.

I design Windows XP Embedded systems for a living. I've been doing that for over 6 years. I started with Windows NT 4.0 Embedded for 2 years before that. My system designs run in mission critical environments in the oilfield every day all around the world on over 300 systems. My first programming language was Fortran on punch cards. My first personal computer had a S100 bus. I've run C/PM, VMX, LDOS, MSDOS, Windows 3.0 through Windows XP. I've programmed in Z80 and x86 assembler, Forth, about 15 Basic variations, Algol, C, VB Script and lately I'm learning some of the Visual Studio 2005 languages.

Do I like Linux? I like the idea of Linux. I like the idea that there is some competition for Microsoft. I haven't found a distro I like enough to hunker down and spend a lot of quality time with it. I do plan to have a full suite of auxiliary servers running on the SUSE box that's not involved with the test for DNS and DHCP. I also will be running network sniffers to track what traffic is traveling on the subnet to and from the client and the server. Microsoft is notorious for using a lot of ?silent? traffic to and from un-documented ports.

Remember we're looking at a Home Server as an appliance not a high performance server. Installing it on the exact same hardware mostly removes the hardware performance issues from the comparison. Obviously how well device drivers were written for the two operating systems is not removed from the test but at the level I'll be testing, device drivers will just be lumped in with the OS issues.
So the test criteria, in no particular priority, are:
1) Does the software adequately support the feature set?
2) Does it work well and reliably enough that home users can operate it successfully?
3) Can repetitive maintenance functions be automated?
4) After running it for awhile, are there obvious gaping holes in the features offered that need to be filled?
5) How easy is it to install? Can it be customized as it is installed?
6) Can you add features to it after installation? How easy is it?
7) The question of updates, ease and availability.
Discern the need for additional services that aren't a part of the system.

The following added 6-03-2007

These are the specific features I was able to discern from the advertising on the URL citation listed above. There is also a mechanism that allows 3rd party applications to operate within the server framework, I'm going to assume plug-ins.

Digital Media Shares
media and other files served throughout your home and through a website IP
Remote Access to Your PCs
WHS lets you access your PCs and media from a Web-connected PC
Protect Your Data
automatic backups and full system restore. Smaller restores of individual files and folders (incremental daily backup) of accidentally deleted material.
PC Health Monitoring
Manage a family of PCs with WHS monitoring. Make sure virus definitions are up-to-date and each PC is running the latest updates.
Users rights and access management
Users can be grouped and allowed specific access to shares and PC access
Firewall (assumed)
Microsoft can be so stupid as to not to build in a stout 2 way, state-full watching firewall. I will not be that stupid in any case with the Linux contender I build.
Web-Browser management and access
This is also an implied feature.

I've decided to run Ubuntu desktop 7.04 to do further testing of Linux applications, because its currently loaded on my test machine. I'm not convinced it makes a hill of beans difference what I run at this point. I plan to at least attempt to pick matching applications for use on a Linux Server based on what services have been publicized as on the Windows Home Server. I don't have a Beta of the WHServer to test unfortunately so I am going to have to go by what Microsoft decides to release. Actually the feature set is amazingly sparse once you get past the fact that they touted the same damn things 2 or 3 different ways. An excellent example of advertising fluff, say a lot about practically nothing at all.

Once I've gotten my feature set Linux replacement applications chosen, I'm planning on using a mostly non-scientific method by selecting particular applications for each feature item purely by the unique number of positive hits they get when typed into a Google search window for 100 responses on one page.

Another un-scientific decision point, if I find too many negative issues based on the hit count, that application, or at the very least, that version of it gets dumped. Once all the feature points are covered, a test of the applications one by one will be made.

Once I learn how to manage them properly, a set of feature covering applications will then be installed on the no-head version of Ubuntu Server 7.04. The entire set of applications and the operating system will be configured and tested.

The step after that will be to add what applications and services that should be added to make the Linux Server a much more attractive system based solely on the feature set and we're now quickly beyond Windows Home Server. In the mean time I'll be updating in a random event basis on the blogs but certainly on average once a day. After I feel like there is a reasonable coherency to the ?mashup?, I'll put it together in a secondary distro and probably hand it off to the Ubuntu group assuming its still running on Ubuntu at that point.

As far as programming, I hope to do as little as possible. I will however write/build/test scripts to automatic the entire installation process to the maximum point I can. Until I can talk to the box and make it do what I want it to in a human language, its something I have to do but I'd really rather not!

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Can I make a suggestion

by DanLM In reply to Not Dumb questions at all

In that this is a home server that you are thinking of building. Don't install ftp. Use ssh only. If you are transferring files from windows to the server, use Winscp. Here is a link to an open source windows client that will connect and transfer files for you.
Real nice gui, drag and drop type of deal.

I hate ftp. Everyone talks about how insecure talent is, well. FTP is just as insecure. Your bloody password is still open text just like telnet. ugggg

On my home server, I have specific groups set up for the people that don't listen to me. They are ftp only accounts, meaning that you can not ssh into those accounts. If I'm going to have a password sniffed, then that bloody account is not going to have the ability to run any type of commands from if I can control it.

While I'm at it, lol. Use public/private key for all ssh log ins. My home server is open to the Internet, and I am constantly pounded by brute force kiddies. I have turned off the ability to ssh into that machine via passwords and only allow public/private key log ins. Idiots, ticks me right the heck off. Both putty and wisnscp have the ability to use public/private key authentication . So, that's not even an issue. ****, if you go to the putty download site, they have a gui that will generate the keys for you. And all you do is place them in the correct files.

This is from someone that has been burned before, that blocks full nations via cidr lists that are downloaded every night and loaded to the firewall. I personally think there is no reason to use an insecure sign on method. Either for ftp(don't need it) or ssh. The gui's are out there via open source. They are well known and respected names, so you will not be using something that was hacked together.

Just a couple suggestions.

Here is the putty download page.


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I love it! Group policy set by User Attitudes!

by Xwindowsjunkie In reply to Can I make a suggestion

That's why I use 2 firewalls, one inside the other. Even a sniffer application that has managed to get inside can't report out except of course through an email vector, so forth and so on.

You did remind me of one thing I will have to eventually do, pick client applications for Win32 as well as the Linux clients & servers.

At this point Winscp gets bookmarked.

Secure ftp and SSH will be an absolute necessity. I suspect that Kerberos and LDAP will become the standard I will install since its really the only authentication technique that is secure on both Linux and Windows. That in turn dictates a SMB(Samba) domain with users, groups etc.

Log on to the domain takes care of the security issues and simplifies user group policy. Kerberos takes care of the sniffing issue.

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Extensions to the idea of the "Home Server"

by Xwindowsjunkie In reply to A challenge to the Linux ...

One of the applications I do want to add to the basic media server is Myth TV with a couple of tuner boards. The idea is that time-shifting broadcast and satellite TV will let all 4 members of the family share 2 satellite set-top boxes and access the local Broadcast HD channels in some fashion so that everybody gets most of what they want.

My son is also "main-lining" streaming audio from some Internet sites. I'm sure when he hears about being able to tune-in 4 channels of TV at once, multi-channel radio will seem to be even easier.

Obviously the Celeron will get maxed out pretty quick! But at least for testing it will give me an idea of what can be done with a little more CPU cycles than can be made with a Geode!

Obviously this is outside the boundaries of the test for the Home Server functions.

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That may work better as a standalone

by Neon Samurai In reply to Extensions to the idea of ...

You could put your big box server in the basement or closet (ventelated of course) and have your MythTV media server beside the TV.

The Myth rig could do all your tv tuning and media management (I hear it's good stuff, a MythTV Knoppix liveCD was recommended to me). This also limits the hardware in your Myth box and minimize the installed software since it's a specialty box.

The Big Box rig then goes in the basement or wherever convenient and cool with it's specialty hardware and software stack minimized for what it's going to do. Once media is recorded on the Myth box, it's moved to the this machine for general storage. For viewing, the Myth box pulls your music or video from the Big Box Samba or NFS shares (I like Samba more than NFS due to mixed OS networking).

I'm not sure if that setup would be of benifit but it would be worth considering. The one hickup I've had with storing media on one machine then feeding it to the TV through another is choppy video. I've had to copy the video file to the local machine then run it directly into the tv rather than pull from the network share directly. This is due to using an older notebook on slow wifi as the TV's feed bag though so it's not likely to effect you but something to keep in mind.

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Basic System First

by j-mart In reply to That may work better as a ...

What I would like to see is to set up a basic system first that will handle basic tasks as proposed WHS with step by step instructions to get a solid secure system up and running. After that go for all the bells and whistles that can be had only using FOSS, which may or may not be posible with WHS

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First things first

by Xwindowsjunkie In reply to Basic System First

Yes you're right but I letting my growing enthusiasm get a-hold of me!
The basic system will be the root of the whole project and it does need to be a solid installation.

One of the criteria I use at work is if I can't document it well enough that somebody can't do it again, somethings wrong with the project. So don't worry about it, it will be documented!

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Good Idea

by Xwindowsjunkie In reply to That may work better as a ...

Splitting the TV-Computer from the Server computer makes sense. If I can do it I might add a direct connection (cross-over cable) using a second NIC in the 2 machines to keep the TV video traffic off the main network.

I use that trick a t work between the SQL Server and my design computer to prevent traffic from interfering with the other computers.

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Start with

by Dumphrey In reply to Extensions to the idea of ...

KnoppMyth, modify your partitions manualy, then add the standard Debian repos, and go from there. You may have to disable Myth frontend form loading by default on boot, but thats a matter of moving one tiny script. But, Myth has a nice feature that plays in to this whole home server buisness. A mythtv box is by default a backend server, and can stream any of its content, including live tv, across the network to any myth tv frontend.

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This May Be of Assistance

by j-mart In reply to A challenge to the Linux ...

Today when I was looking for something else I came upon a Linux Distro "Clark Connect" which is for a Linux server / gateway from which is a company in New Zealand who seem to be at the sharp end of Linux developement. You can purchase a copy for NZ $5.50. I have ordered a copy so I will give it a try when it arrives. Go to their site and check it out.

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X-proxy, hmmmmm

by Xwindowsjunkie In reply to This May Be of Assistance

I looked at their website and many of the pages did not come up. Additionally it would have been nice if the descriptions thy had for all of their distros was not identical. No search options either, not attractive, makes it look like a garage operation.

I do not know if NZ $5.50 is what you should expect to pay for the "price of copying and shipping" or whatever the GPL language says or not. I do know that if you charge more than $2.50 US for a single CD to copy and mail it, you're ripping somebody off.

I wish them luck but they really need to work on the website. I never could find the Clark Connect distro.

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