Reiserfs and ext3

Free Software 2 Comments »

It’s all over the place, Hans Reiser has been found guilty for murder. Whether he did it or not, the situation is really quite awful. I’ve been a long-time reiserfs user and fan. Mostly for performance, but also because it is so tolerant to power failures. I leave most of my computers on all the time, or work from laptops. This means that when there’s power failure, my machines usually don’t have a clean shut down. Sometimes I set laptops to hibernate when they are low on power, but usually I just let them run flat. ReiserFS has been great for this the last 4 years or so I’ve been using it. It’s also great when deleting lots of big files, or even copying large amount of small files and accessing big directories.

I’ve been giving ext3 a shot again, and found that it can run pretty much just as good as reiserfs, by enabling writeback mode. From the mount manual page:


Data ordering is not preserved – data may be written into the main file system after its metadata has been committed to the journal. This is rumoured to be the highest-throughput option. It guarantees internal file system integrity, however it can allow old data to appear in files after a crash and journal recovery.

I’ve found this to be true, perfomance is good, and I’ve had a few bad shut downs with no ill effect. The man page does warn that you can lose any recent changes to files when a bad shutdown occurs. ReiserFS has the same symptoms with bad shut downs, I guess it probably does writeback data as well. You can enable this by adding the data=writeback option in your fstab, or by adding an appropriate kernal parameter if you’d like to test. I suggest you peak at the man pages for fstab and mount before making any changes. For me, this has at least brought ext3 to the level that I don’t care too much about reiserfs anymore. I would enjoy the built-in compression in ReiserFS4, but hopefully we will see that in future extfs implementations.

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I love my Mac!

Free Software 16 Comments »

And why not!? It runs Ubuntu beautifully!

PS: I bought this machine so that I can edit video, nothing I could find for Windows or Linux really did it for me. However, OSX is really terrible for me. It’s really way too oversimplified (and then some people complain about Gnome being too simple, really!). It’s default terminal font also hurt my eyes. When I have some spare time, I’ll run some things in Ubuntu and some in OSX and sees which performs better. Ubuntu certainly flies on this machine. Pity you can’t buy them without OSX tax. That would be awesome.

PPS: Any idea of platform independent benchmarks I could try?

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OLPC Sadness

Free Software 8 Comments »

I like the OLPC XO-1. It’s a quite little machine, it doesn’t have venting holes, and is quite resistant to dust and water. It’s also strong, and handles small falls (like falling from a desk to a floor) very well. I also like the amount of effort they have put into creating the custom Sugar interface, and all the other things around it like the mesh networking support and the way that a user can find other users close to them.

I think the project has taken a turn for the worse though. Nicolas Negreponte, founder of the OLPC project, is pushing the project for the XO-1 to use Microsoft Windows, and they have lost top staff like Walter Bender, who was also one of the top open source guys in the company. Negreponte claims that his interest is to get the machines in as many children’s hands as possible, this article also says:

He lamented that an overriding insistence on open-source had hampered the XOs, saying Sugar “grew amorphously” and “didn’t have a software architect who did it in a crisp way.” For instance, the laptops do not support Flash animation, widely used on the Web.

“There are several examples like that, that we have to address without worrying about the fundamentalism in some of the open-source community,” he said. “One can be an open-source advocate without being an open-source fundamentalist.”

Personally, I think that getting the laptops in the hands of kids in an irresponsable manner can do more harm than good. I previously blogged about Microsoft trying to force their old software on users, and this isn’t too much different. Microsoft is already reportedly releasing the next version of Windows next year. This means that by the time many of these XO laptops running Windows get to their target users, it would be an 8 year old operating system that’s already two releases behind the newest. I think this is terribly cruel, and shouldn’t be allowed. If I was a project donor, I would rather pay a bit more for decent hardware like the ASUS Eee or Intel Classmate PC (or even a Classmate 2) and run a modern, supported, localised operating system that truly benefits the users, instead of providing a legacy operating system on slow hardware.

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Party Hardy – Jo’burg

Free Software No Comments »

The Ubuntu-ZA Hardy Heron release party went very well. It was quite peaceful, and it was the first time that many Ubuntu-ZA members from Jo’burg met in “real life“.

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We talked about marketing, and how we should make sure that more local newspapers feature Ubuntu’s release when the Intrepid Ibex lands. Supporters and staff from were present, and there were plenty of discussions around translation. We checked out the tuXlab, some people there haven’t seen Ubuntu being used in a school environment yet, and the lab teacher there, Simone, explained how lessons are integrated into the compu ter room. It was nice having a release party somewhere where Ubuntu is actually used, and people also brang their laptops along, helping each other solve some problems and installing Ubuntu 8.04.

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I think our loco team in Johannesburg is definitely stronger now that more of the local Ubuntu people know each other. Thank you to Simone and Saxonwold Primary for having us there!

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Hardy is here

Free Software 1 Comment »

Today sees the release of the awesome Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, Hardy Heron. In South Africa, our loco-team (Ubuntu-ZA) will be celebrating its release this coming Saturday. Johannesburg is finally catching up to Cape Town, and is also having a release party this time. :)

(Image from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Cape Town:


If you’re an Ubuntite in South Africa, don’t forget to subscribe to the Ubuntu-ZA mailinst list!

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It’s just firmware

Free Software 10 Comments »

Many GNU/Linux distributions distribute firmware required to use a variety of hardware, most typically, wireless cards, modems and certain high-end disk controllers. While I’m certainly not fond of these non-freebinary blobs“, I think it’s fine that distributions ship them. Users need their hardware to work, and it shouldn’t be complex to make it work either. Consider how incredibly easy it is to install Ubuntu, and then consider the jump of complexity when a user has to install or compile a driver manually- it can cause a significant decrease in free software adoption, and at the moment, I believe it’s a necessary evil we’ll have to live with for now.

However, I get agitated when people say “It’s just firmware” or “It’s technically part of the hardware”. Free firmware is important. One of the most notable free software stories that are often told even refers to Stallman’s earliest experiences with non-free code, which happened to be printer firmware.

Before you say something like “It’s just firmware” again. Please consider asking the following questions first:

  • Can the amount of bugs in a system be decreased if the firmware is free software as apposed to non-free?
  • Could performance possibly be increased if the firmware is free software?
  • Could it benefit hardware hackers and developers by having free firmware available?

And what about security? Firmware usually does not run on your main CPU. It runs on a specific part of hardware on your system that can possibly have direct access to other parts of your system. How would a user, for a fact, know that the proprietary firmware in use does not have some kind of rootkit or other hazardous code installed?

In my opinion, it is clear that free firmware has several benefits to the computing world, and that proprietary firmware has very real hazards. I think it’s wonderful that the Free Software Foundation is working on a free BIOS, but I also believe that with most hardware, that we are dependent on the hardware manufacturers to release specifications and code. Hopefully, as time passes, the free software movement would have more funding to take the kind of action required to fix this. If there is enough funding to re-design hardware from scratch, based on open technologies, standards and software, then this problem can be eliminated. Some projects have proved that open hardware is both viable and profitable. A good example is Digium, who produces open hardware for PBX systems (most likely to be used with Asterisk, the free PBX software suite). There is also the OpenMoko project, which has done awesome work writing free implementations of the firmware and software required to operate the hardware on a cellular phone. This has already had positive spin-off results, such as the Dash Express GPS system, which is based on the hardware design of the Neo1973.

Many top programmers have objected to binary only modules, quoting Linus Torvalds:

Basically, I want people to know that when they use binary-only modules,
it's THEIR problem.  I want people to know that in their bones, and I
want it shouted out from the rooftops.  I want people to wake up in a
cold sweat every once in a while if they use binary-only modules.

So, please think carefully before dismissing non-free firmware as just an innocent part of hardware. Many people who do things like that often have alterior motives, and quite honestly, I don’t trust them.

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My name is…

Free Software, Jonathan, Music 4 Comments »

There’s been a discussion in the local blogosphere about nicknames versus given/birth names, and how it should be used. Here’s some links to recent entries from Bubulle, Martin, and Daniel. I’ve called people from my LUG by their IRC names before, with mixed reactions. For me, it’s completely natural to call people by their IRC nicks in meatspace, since that’s usually how I got to know them. I’m probably different to many people since I spend a huge amount of time on IRC, and it’s been my main medium of communication for a while now.

Last year in Spain, I had a discussion with a Debian/Ubuntu/LTSP developer who works exclusively by an alias, and nearly no one knows his real name. We had a long discussion about it one evening. The discussion turned into a discussion about how “real” the name is, and of course, turned into a conversation about what “real” means. In the end, the conclusion was that his alias is pretty much as real as any other name he has ever had.

I’m fine with people calling me highvoltage (my IRC nick), especially in places like my LUG where we have 5 Jonathans, and I get a bit annoyed with namespace clashes. Some of my friends and colleges at work also call me Jono, which I’m ok with. “Jon” annoys me, don’t call me that :)

I also feel that ‘highvoltage’ is as real as any other name I have. Many people who I communicate with on a daily basis calls me that where we communicate. What I’ve also found is that people have a real high resistance to nick change. I’ve tried to change my nick to something more mature (like jcc, my initials (which could also refer to a future Jonathanian C compiler (hey, we have our own verson of emacs))), but people didn’t like any of the new nick names I tried. ‘highvoltage’ comes from a song I used to listen to a lot from the Linkin Park Reanimation album shortly after it was released. I quickly had to choose a username when signing up with an ISP at that stage and used highvoltage, and it kind of stuck.

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