Monday, March 28, 2011

The problem with Excito’s Bubba 3 server? It’s nearly $400. So where do I go from here?

I really like the idea of an ARM-based, Debian-running home server, and I really like Excito’s Bubba 3.

The only problem? The Bubba is $393.75 U.S. (€279.20, exchange rate calculated by Google).

What can I do between those less-than-hardy plug servers for $100 and this $393 item?

Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • Small form factor
  • Low power consumption
  • Linux or BSD OS
  • Uses standard SATA laptop hard drives
  • Fanless motherboard and power supply

ARM is very attractive because of its low power use, but Intel’s Atom chips are getting better and better. While the Bubba does a lot, I would be more than OK setting up the server myself in Linux or BSD, or using something like FreeNAS.

In the realm of things that are actually available, there’s always Soekris, although price-wise the Bubba looks better. Alix is cheaper, but in the case of both Soekris and Alix, performance won’t be what I can get out of an Intel Atom board.

Factoring into this are the power-consumption numbers for Intel Atom:

I don’t see much out there in the way of ARM hardware for this particular purpose (and available for user builds).

But if I do decide to dip into the plug-computer space, Tonido Plug is there.

Debian Squeeze review from LinuxTweaking blog

Here’s a review of Squeeze from the LinuxTweaking blog.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Server over desktop

I’ve been planning to build a computer for at least a year.

I started with the idea of a mini-ITX motherboard and case to produce a small, low-power desktop, to which I’d hook up a keyboard, mouse and monitor and use as a traditional desktop computer.

Since that time I’ve shed quite a bit of old hardware. And if you want my Sun Sparcstation 20 or Alix Sparcstation 10 clone, come and get them. All the rest of the desktops are gone.

I’m no believer in laptops. Desktops are tougher, easier to fix, better performing. But they stay on a desk.

And while I’m often at a desk myself, it’s generally not the same desk all the time. I’ve begun using Dropbox so my “critical” files are available on more than one computer and are always in sync. Thus far I’m a believer.

But with a good, working laptop, always backed up in case of trouble, that I can use for my day job, at home, or anywhere I care to haul it, do I really need a traditional desktop computer at home on a desk that for the time being I’m not in front of all that often.

It’s so much easier to pull out the laptop in the house than to go into our detached home office. There might be a time when I’m out there more. But that time is not now.

So I really don’t need a traditional desktop computer.

What I do need (and/or want) is a server. I’m thinking principally of a file server-slash-backup server. Maybe a light-duty web server.

I want something that uses as little electricity as possible because I want to keep it on all the time and not feel like I’m killing the planet by millimeters with a light bulb or three’s worth of power dissipating 24/7/365.

Plug servers are too prone to failure. And while I want it to be small, I also want it to have a traditional hard drive, probably 2.5-inch laptop size. I’d like a 1 TB drive but know that most laptop drives are 500 GB in size. I imagine that 1 TB laptop drives will be available at some point in the near future.

I will consider low-power, small servers that are pre-made — and I’m talking about Excito, but I’m looking again at mini-ITX with a fanless motherboard and fanless power supply; like the kind of thing Logic Supply sells.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I’m not jumping on Firefox 4 or GNOME 3 just yet

Even though I wrote about where and how to get Firefox/Iceweasel 4 for Debian, I’m sticking with 3.5.6 for now.

I won’t rule out a move to 3.6.x, but I’m going to wait until FF 4 is out in the wild long enough to get a few major bug-fix and security updates.

I’ve been using Chromium more and more, but I still spend a lot of time in Iceweasel/Firefox, and I continue to see a lot of value in a conservative approach to updating software.

The same goes for GNOME 3. It’s going to be in Fedora 16 and Ubuntu 11.04. But from everything I’ve seen/heard, GNOME 3 and GNOME Shell is far from stable, not entirely functional and just … too new for what I consider “production.”

I returned to GNOME with Debian Squeeze after extended use of Xfce in Fedora 13, Xubuntu 8.04 and before that OpenBSD 4.4. I’m a big fan of Xfce, and it’s my “stopgap” desktop environment if things with GNOME 3 don’t work out (and I’m very happy that there have been so many improvements in Xfce 4.8, especially with networked protocols such as FTP/SFTP in the file manager).

But especially under Debian, GNOME 2.x is so quick and useful, I’m reluctant to give it up for the shiny — at least until that shiny has gotten some considerable polish.

How about a Ubuntu LTS Backports repository?

In the comments to my article on Debian’s Mozilla team offering newer Iceweasel builds, I eventually wound around to an idea that I believe would provide an enormous benefit to Ubuntu users:

There should be an official Ubuntu LTS Backports repository.

I see a lot of value in the Ubuntu long-term-support releases, but they’re pretty much treated by the project as regular six-month releases with a longer support life.

Just as in Debian, after the release only security and major bug fixes are allowed as updates. The message from Ubuntu is that if you want any newer applications, you should follow the six-month release cycle and get off the LTS.

But Debian does this differently. Debian supports a Backports repository with the following stated policy:

You are running Debian stable, because you prefer the Debian stable tree. It runs great, there is just one problem: the software is a little bit outdated compared to other distributions. This is where backports come in.

Backports are recompiled packages from testing (mostly) and unstable (in a few cases only, e.g. security updates) in a stable environment so that they will run without new libraries (whenever it is possible) on a Debian stable distribution. It is recommended to select single backports which fit your needs, and not to use all available backports.

Now I know there are PPAs in Ubuntu that allow users to install newer versions of packages, but the quality of these PPA packages is not terribly consistent, or so I’ve been led to believe.

Having an official Ubuntu LTS Backports repository would go a long way toward allowing those users who wish to stick with the LTS the option of adding select newer applications to their system while maintaining the same stable (or at least “same”) core.

Ubuntu users, what do you think?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Iceweasel update today in Debian

Speaking of Iceweasel, there’s an update to version 3.5.16 today for Debian. Mine just rolled in for Squeeze.

Details are in the Debian Security Advisory, which references Jacob Appelbaum’s blog post for the Tor project for further details.

The short explanation: “This update for Iceweasel, a web browser based on Firefox, updates the certificate blacklist for several fraudulent HTTPS certificates.”

There are updates for Debian Lenny, Squeeze, Sid and Experimental. Time to run an update.