Well, it’s finally happened. The last native Microsoft Windows machine at Chaos Central went down in flames this morning, to be reborn this evening as a Xubuntu machine. Now, the demise of the system was not directly due to some minor mistake on behalf of Microsoft, but more to the general architecture that makes it necessary to constantly run virus and spyware checks on their systems.
The ultimate culprit here was the venerable ClamWin anti-virus software. A recent virus signature update had an ambiguity in it that resulted in a number of false positives. 5640 of them on this particular system, to be exact, including, unfortunately, the ClamWin.EXE file itself, all of which got whisked away to the quarantine folder without any way to restore them and fix the links.
I had been using this system of late as the XenCenter control station for our Citrix XenServer, and–since it was there–as a VNC client for all of the virtual machines running on the XenServer. And, of course, to run Firefox and other multi-media apps to get the audio on multimedia files, since the virtual machines have no audio connections. I had Ubuntu 10.04 installed as Wubi on the machine, but Ubuntu’s X11 drivers were having some stability issues with the wide-screen monitor, so it seemed convenient to just boot to Windows.
Now that it is dead and gone, we still have the issue of running the few native Windows applications we have that won’t run under Wine: XenCenter, Quicken 2010, TurboTax, and the Machine Quilters Business Manager immediately come to mind, but I’m sure there are a few others. Oh, yes, I do need to run Internet Explorer to test new Cascading Style Sheet designs for my web clients. So, we have properly-licensed copies of Windows XP OEM running under Oracle’s VirtualBox at Realizations Fabric Arts downstairs, and, fortunately, I had cloned the XenCenter desktop as a virtual instance itself, so the data and programs on it were not lost nor do they need restored. From this exercise, I found it is necessary to have a separate XenCenter installation, which can be on another virtual machine, just not one on the same server you are trying to control. Using the free version of Citrix XenServer, there are a few tools that are disabled, one of which is the ability to detach the console on a Windows machine. Fortunately, one can share the Windows desktop remotely to a specific VNC client, so it is possible, by jumping through a few hoops, to get at the Windows desktop on a Citrix virtual machine. Fortunately, we got to the virtual machines and upgraded the ClamWinAV packages to eliminate the problem before the bug trashed those systems, too.
So, why Xubuntu, other than just to try something different? I first tried Fedora13, but it had some installation issues with the old Windows XP box (an IBM NetVista box we got as an off-lease refurb machine about five years ago). It has lots of RAM, but still an old Celeron CPU. Linux used to be very backward-compatible with older hardware, but some of the bleeding-edge distros, especially Fedora, have dumped drivers used on only a few “name brand” systems that are mostly in landfills by now. The install failure mode was a bit odd, but it wasn’t worth looking into, as there are lots of distros to choose from, and one or more of them usually works in these cases. Xubuntu is a bit more light-weight than the regular Ubuntu edition, but has the multi-media support we need as the only audio-capable machine in-house. The machine also has only a CD reader and a primitive BIOS, so installing from a DVD or DVD image writ to memory stick was not an option, which eliminated most of the other Linux distros. I like FreeBSD, and have used it for servers and routers, but it is a bit too labor-intensive to bring up as a graphical workstation to meet my timeframe on getting a desktop workstation back up quickly.
Concurrently with the Windows fatal meltdown, our Ubuntu laptop that is my main road warrior machine had a minor meltdown. I had dismantled the compviz environment recently to work around some issues with VNC password windows not getting the focus, and one of the current updates shuffled dependencies around, such that the system went into a sort of zombie mode, with the windows jammed up under the top of the screen, minus their frames (no way to minimize or move the windows) and very sluggish behavior, due to one of the compviz components chewing up most of the CPU cycles in vain waiting for the missing pieces to answer back. Restoring the deleted packages fixed that, but may have brought back the VNC login problem. No doubt Vinagre does not have this problem, but we’re dealing with remote machines running VNC sessions on CentOS and SuSE piped through X11 tunneling under SSH, so we’ll just have to deal with it. At least, with Linux, you can usually troubleshoot and fix things, where Windows woes turn into a reinstallation and rebuild from scratch situation.
And that’s just a typical day at Chaos Central. Most of the day, we were off to Olympia, where we got in a bit of ‘Net time on the Ubuntu Netbook while getting an oil change on the vehicle we’re taking on road trip next week.