Enterprise Unix Roundup: Proof of Concept
Sun made two noteworthy bits of desktop Unix news this week when it released StarOffice 7 for Solaris x86, and announced a deal inked with an Indian insurance company to put the product on 10,000 Windows desktops. Sun is once again pushing Solaris for the desktop in the hopes of shattering Windows' hold. Even the most devout Unix admin should keep his schadenfreude in check and stay wary of MyDoom. HP patched BIND on HP-UX, Debian patched a bug in its Perl package, and Ethereal and gaim patches continue to roll in. For our tip of the week, we highlight locate and slocate, tools for further honing file search skills.
The first piece of news shouldn't be much of a surprise: Sun's obviously pushing Solaris x86 hard on all fronts, and making its own office suite run on the operating system is a no-brainer. Along with the release came word that the full Java Desktop System, heretofore limited to Linux, will also make the jump to Solaris x86. We're waiting with bated breath for the next round of "date Linux, marry Solaris" interviews from Sun higher-ups, this time aimed at de-legitamizing Linux on desktop systems.
The second piece of news is noteworthy not because it represents a major Unix desktop deal but rather because it is a major deal for a piece of software Unix and Windows have in common. And, like Sun's moves in China, it represents a major testbed to demonstrate that perhaps users can perform victory dances and "land the big account" without a reliance on PowerPoint.
It's not the first time we've worried about the alternate universe effect, i.e., when users are confronted with something similar to, but not exactly, what they're used to. With every StarOffice deployment, organizations without very specific, Office-satisfied needs will have reason to question why the steno pool isn't using Sun's less-expensive and compatible offering.
LinuxToday periodically tackles the desktop issue from a Linux perspective. Recently, it pondered what constitutes "the desktop." Although the site speaks to a broader audience than Enterprise Unix Roundup, we're sure of one thing: An enterprise desktop doesn't have to look like it was peddled out of the electronics section at Walmart. On the enterprise desktop, deals like Sun's with Star Office make Microsoft look distinctly vulnerable: If the Microsoft Office lock can be broken, why do enterprise users need the only operating system on which it can run? With StarOffice being pushed aggressively alongside an obvious interest in getting Solaris x86 onto enterprise desktops, Sun's clearly asking the same question.
In Other News
- It was "MyDoom Week" this week, as the Windows-based worm went after SCO's servers (the company side-stepped the issue by taking its machines out of the DNS records), and a variant tackled Microsoft with distributed denial of service attacks. We'll pause to note that the debate raging over whether a Linux enthusiast wrote the thing is pointless: Obnoxiousness, like noses and ears, is found in just about any arbitrary group you care to designate. Furthermore, instead of reaching for a German-English dictionary to make sure schadenfreude is what they're feeling, Unix admins should be reaching for buckets and mops. As surely as MyDoom and other bits of infectious code like it breed in the Windows wild and pick on politically correct victims, they traverse Unix servers and make life difficult for all of us. Roaring Penguin's MIMEDefang is one useful (and free) solution for disarming malicious e-mail payloads. RoaringPenguin notes that MIMEDefang is running in one organization with 230,000 mailboxes processing more than 1 million messages a day.
- SCO's woes also took the form of a less than friendly reception at Harvard, where CEO Darl McBride made a half-hearted attempt to justify his company's refusal to simply identify the code on which SCO is basing its lawsuit against IBM: It would make Linux "not nearly as attractive." Unlike threatening to sue any company that makes the mistake of running it without coughing up a grand or two. Got it.
- Oracle is cutting Unix and Linux customers a little slack with a $1,000 price cut in Oracle Database 10g. The new price is aimed at making Oracle more competitive with Microsoft's SQLServer and IBM's DB2 Express. The company also announced lower per-user licensing costs for the product.
- Unix data centers with a stable of Adobe After Effects users may find Adobe's adoption of GridIron's XLR8 software useful. The product brings clustering to After Effects movie rendering.
- Trolltech has released Qt version 3.3. The cross-platform toolkit, most noteworthy for its use in the KDE desktop project, now supports .NET, 64-bit processing, IPv6, and the GNU C++ compiler on Windows. The company also announced a Qt/Mac development contest, which will give Mac developers a crack at winning iPods and a Power Mac G5.
- Linux distributor Mandrake says it's changing the way it develops the product. Going forward, Mandrake will deliver a pair of pre-releases instead of its past approach of freezing and shrinkwrapping the rolling development version. Based on our experiences with previous versions, this change is long overdue and will, if reports are positive, go a long way toward legitimizing Mandrake as a potential corporate workstation. That's apparently the intent, as the company says it will also concentrate on including and integrating office apps and groupware.
- HP has announced several patches for the versions of BIND 4.9.7 and 8.1.2 on HP-UX. They fix potential denial of service and unauthorized access issues. The original advisory for this issue dates back to December of 2002. You may have lost your little yellow sticky note on that one by now.
- Debian has patched a bug in its Perl package that could, in the words of the advisory, allow a user to "abuse suidperl to discover information about files [...] that should not be accessible to unprivileged users."
- As reported in previous weeks: ethereal and gaim patches continue to roll in. SUSE, Red Hat, and Mandrake report the latest on these.
Tips of the Trade
Simply finding files on a Unix system can be a difficult quest for users. In past weeks, we've approached the problem from several angles, including considerations of how to better use find and du to narrow down a search for certain kinds of files, or files of a certain size. One minor irritant with find, of course, is that it recurses through a directory tree every time it's invoked. That's not good for those short on time or fast hard drives.
There's an alternative to find, though, in the form of locate, which takes an asynchronous approach to finding files: It allows you to build a database of files during off-hours by recursing through a filesystem and recording what turns up. It then makes the database available for searching any time. The immediate advantage of this approach is that running locate will net results in a few seconds as opposed to minutes, as is sometimes the case with find.
locate is already available on most Linux distributions as plain old locate or, the more secure version, slocate, which does a better job of keeping unauthorized users from learning the location of files they shouldn't be looking for.
The syntax for locate is simple enough:
locate foo will turn up every occurrence of the string "foo" in the filesystem.
locate -r foo will look for the regular expression "foo" in the filesystem, allowing for more fine-tuned searching.
The other useful thing to know about locate is that it's there at all. As we mentioned, locate comes installed on most Linux distributions and usually has a cron job set up to run in the early morning hours. This enables it to index when the system's resources are most free. That indexing job, much like a find search, tends to cause a great deal of hard drive thrashing, which will cause some monitoring utilities (like mrtg) to report heavy access during odd hours.
One final note: We know of one novice Linux admin who yanked a server's Ethernet cable out of the wall when he noticed a hard drive light go from the occasional flutter to an unblinking indication of heavy access. He thought a cracker was loose in his machine and sizing it up for weaknesses. Being up at 3 in the morning will do that to you, and so will not realizing that locate is just trying to help.