Saturday, January 28, 2012

Good Stewardship, or Testing, Testing!

I've spent the day playing around with my Sun Ultra 5 workstation.

A month ago, I downloaded the latest version of Solaris 10 from Oracle, patched it, and have been tweaking and upgrading it (off and on) for the last couple of weeks.  Solaris isn't what I'd call a "desktop" operating system, ie meant for your average home end-user, and as such is lacking many of the amenities normally found in your average Linux distro.  Things like a blogging client, for example, and decent IM client.

But then, people who use Solaris (and other Unixes) generally know what they are doing when it comes to building apps from source code.  Myself, I know a fair bit, but there are gaps in my knowledge big enough to drive a bus through.  But I'm learning... slowly.

Such was my conundrum this past week.  After tweaking Solaris 10 to the point where it was usable to me,  I started exploring its capabilities and put it under a bit of pressure.  The built-in IM clients sucked (MSN and ICQ won't authenticate), and trying to blog using Firefox was a painful experience.  I found a couple of blogging clients that would supposedly work under Solaris 10, but had absolutely no luck getting them to compile.  Fought for a few days, and finally gave up.

Yesterday, during a slow work day, I had a look at the VNC client installed on my office PC.  I forgot I'd installed a VNC server on a fellow employee's computer in order to help him out when he got stuck (he's not very computer-savvy).  After spending a few minutes messing with the guy's mind, I decided to research the VNC server that was bundled with Solaris 10.  I printed off a few instructions and helpful hints, and brought them with me when I left for home.

Setting the VNC server up on my Ultra 5 was dirt simple.  Run the server once, kill it, then edit the configuration files it creates on its initial run.  Done!

I took note of my IP address, set the vnc server running, and fired up my Linux box.  Added the Ultra 5's info into the Linux box's VNC client, and managed to connect!  Unfortunately, the client displayed nothing but the generic X-windows checkerboard pattern and hourglass mouse pointer.  Crap.  So much for that.

I did a bit of tweaking on the Ultra 5, but nothing happened.

It wasn't until this morning that it hit me... the client won't display the Ultra 5's desktop in a VNC client IF I'M ALREADY LOGGED INTO THE ULTRA 5 AND USING A GRAPHICAL ENVIRONMENT.  Duh.

So, I logged out of the Java Desktop Environment (aka Gnome) on the Ultra 5, and logged back in using a console log-in.  I made sure the VNC server was running, ran back to the Linux box, fired up the VNC client, aaaaannnnd.... success!


I can now access my Ultra 5 remotely if need be.  Of course, I usually turn the machine off when it's not in use, as I'm rather paranoid that way, but it's nice to know the capability is there should I need it.  It also lends itself to experimentation, as I have VNC clients for a number of my other machines, including my old 68K Macs.  Might have to give that a go in the future.

After I'd done that, the sheer pointlessness of it all hit me.  I mean, sure, I can access my Ultra 5 from my Linux box, but why?  My Linux box can already do everything the Ultra 5 can do and more... not to mention do it faster (3.2GHz Linux box vs 440MHz Ultra 5).  So this afternoon, I set about to level the playing field somewhat.

I found a great blogging client called ScribeFire, which is an add-on for Firefox.  This post was written largely as a test run, and I'm happy to say it works quite nicely.  Found a couple of Twitter add-ons for Firefox, but they were largely underwhelming (except for Power Twitter, which I love).  Added in an ad-blocker, and I find web pages load that much faster.

Now, my Ultra 5 will never come close to catching my Linux box in terms of speed and functionality, but it's great to be able to keep the ol' boy functional and useful instead of throwing it out...