Two more great Firefox extensions

Firefox just keeps getting better and better with the help of the community and some very well designed extensions. My two favourites currently is the excellent download manager DownloadThemAll! and the tab navigation tool Tab Catalog.

DownloadThemAll not only provides much needed download management functionality missing in Firefox but also does an excellent job of speeding the task up through simultaneous segmented downloads. This process maximises bandwidth usage and provides a hefty speed increase over traditional single stream downloads.

Tab Catalog is a very handy tool for Tab-power users by providing a quick thumbnail overview of the tabs that are open. Compared to similar tools it doesn't suffer the variable speed or resource hungriness of alternatives and is ideal in situations where there are too many tabs and not enough time.

How things are shaping up with the Novell/Microsoft deal

If you are part of the Linux/Novell community last week you would have no doubt heard of the Microsoft - Novell agreement. When it was first announced it looked materially very boring on the surface comprising of a couple of virtualisation developments and a promise by the two companies to work on OfficeXML and directory system interoperability. All this is fairly trivial but what made the deal controversial was the promise from Microsoft not to sue Novell customers for using Linux.

The two 'problem' technologies that fall under this legal cloud is Mono, an implementation of Microsoft's .Net runtime for Linux and Samba, a SMB compatible client/server capable of mimicking the network functionality within Microsoft products. Whether or not there is any real legal grounds for patent infringement is a matter for debate. Neither break copyright laws and the extent of patent infringement by either project has never been described by any party. Nonetheless Microsoft has successfully created and maintained a cloud of uncertainty over these products, a feat helped in no small part by their support of the long running SCO vs IBM/Novell lawsuit (which boils down to the copyright status of some Linux code).

Adventures in Samba with LDAP

Over the last week I have been experimenting with SMBLDAP-Tools and some of the new features available in the latest versions of Samba 3. Whilst I've written about setting up a Samba Primary Domain Controller with an LDAP-backend before SMBLDAP-Tools makes configuring this potentially troublesome (but very powerful) combination a lot easier.

For my testing I have been using the Factory build of Samba 3.0.23C for Suse 10. Suse 10 does not have a package for SMBLDAP-Tools but Suse 10.1+ does so I used the 10.1 source package and built it for Suse 10. After a bit of hassle I also applied a patch that fixed Computer creation account problems. If you are using Suse 10.0 the SMBLDAP-Tools package I built can be downloaded from here, otherwise compiling it from source is difficult as its just a collection of Perl scripts.

300 Web Service API's and growing

The ProgrammableWeb has a great rundown on all the available Web Service API's available for such services as Google Maps, Flickr and everything else under the sun. It makes good use of tagging to get at the API's and is a useful resource for determining what is available out on the big, bad Internet.

Add the SLED 10 menu to OpenSUSE 10.1

Vichar Bhatt has pointed out it is possible to install the Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop start menu on OpenSUSE 10.1. Because the codebase is the same installation is straightforward, all that needs to be done is install the relevant rpm for x86 or x64 and then enable the menu applet within Gnome.

The upshot of all this is you receive all the usability benefits of SLED without having to fork out any cash. It is a great tip and it really improves the OpenSUSE experience, especially now that they have released the remastered version of 10.1 which includes the working Zen update mechanism.

Automatic home directory creation when using LDAP

Centralised authentication in the form of LDAP (or similar) is very useful but Linux assumes a valid user has a directory in /home. By default Suse does not create a home directory for a user who has authenticated via an external source which is a real problem if they want to run many programs.

One way to get around this is to mount the home directory on an external server which contains the home directories but this can be difficult and a drain on network bandwidth. An easier way to solve the problem is to tell PAM (the Linux authentication manager) to create the directory on login. To do so on Suse edit the /etc/pam.d/common-session file and add the following:

Firefox 2.0 killer feature: spell checking

Get Firefox!

I have been using Firefox 2.0rc3 for the last couple of days and I am very impressed with it. Not too much has changed from version 1.5, it is just cleaner and better crafted. Whilst not revolutionary it is certainly a very worthwhile upgrade for anyone who uses Firefox (especially if you are still on version 1.0). And for those of you still slogging away with Internet Explorer forget the upcoming version 7 and just make the switch to Firefox, you will not regret it.

The best new feature is the inline spelling checker. It spell checks any text input you type into forms and provides spelling suggestions in a user-friendly manner. What is even better is that new dictionaries such as Australian English can be loaded as Firefox Extensions. That means no more silly spelling mistakes when using online forums (resorting to Web-based spell checkers is just painful). Fingers crossed that in version 3.0 we may see a Word-like grammar checker although that maybe a little tough for a Web-browser.

Jeremy Allison on FLOSS Weekly

Jeremy Allison finally made an appearance on FLOSS Weekly to talk about Samba. The delay was not through lack of trying (it was the third take of the show) and as usual he does not disappoint. My favourite bit when he was talking about a Sun conference he attended starring then CEO Scott McNealy:

"So he picks some like five rows back and she comes up to ask him a question. And it turns into a completely scripted song and dance routine. She was a ringer because he was scared to get an unfiltered question. He was scared to get an unfiltered question from one of his employees. I must admit Novell just isn't that organised...."

I guess that pretty much sums up the differences between Sun and Novell in a couple of sentences.

Changing the LDAP port Scalix uses

Scalix runs its own instance of OpenLDAP for authentication purposes and by default this operates on port 389 which is the standard port for LDAP. The only problem with this is that you cannot run a 'proper' LDAP service (OpenLDAP, FedoraDS, eDirectory) on the standard LDAP ports without there being a conflict with the Scalix service. Fortunately there is a simple workaround that lets you run the Scalix service on a non-standard port.

Edit the /var/opt/scalix/sys/slapd.conf file and change the setting portNum to a non-standard (preferably high-level) port. In this example I will use port 6389 but it can be any port that is not currently being used by another service.

portNum 6389

Now edit the /etc/opt/scalix/caa/scalix.res/config/ file and set the ubermanager.query.server.port to the same value:


Save the changes and restart Scalix for the new LDAP port settings to take effect.

A great short video about the 'Long Tail'

The "Long Tail" is a term thrown around a lot by Internet entrepreneurs and marketeer/philosophers like Doc Searls as a means to describe the rediscovered sales base across all industries.

During the early and mid-90's the notion of the blockbuster was everything. Films like Jurassic Park and Independence Day epitomised this concept of putting all your eggs in a couple of well defined markets and selling it to the public like there was no tomorrow. However the blockbuster ignores the common fact that for every exclusive, overpriced item (be it fashion label or computer) there is thousands of smaller, cheaper alternatives that don't sell as well individually but combined make up an overwhelming majority of industry sales.

The low cost, distributed nature of the Internet has allowed these smaller brands to sell their wares on an equal footing with more established name-brands. This exploding market has been termed the 'Long Tail' and is the target of 99% of Internet shopping sites and the subject of this very good short video.