Smoothwall Firewall project

Sunday 30 May 2010

The Computer Tablet revolution?

Have you bought an iPad already, is it the best thing since sliced bread or the next fruit juicer destined for the back of the cupboard?

While taking the Paris Metro yesterday on my way home from Bruxelles, I noticed there were adverts for the just released Apple iPad everywhere, and I fully expect to see the same on Tuesday while taking the Tubes in London. 

This form of computer device has been tried and launched unsuccessfully before by several major companies, including Microsoft , who have never seemed to catch the public's attention, that has now apparently changed. The mood for this type of device seems to be right. I think this is due mainly to the success of the iPhone and and iTouch before it, and people can now see the benefit of this keyboard-less type of device. They are by no means perfect, but they are a lot lighter than the netbook's or notebooks must of us use while travelling so they will potentially have a place in our luggage.

There is great news for people who don't use or want to buy Apple technology, as Google have released a competing technology call Android, which is currently having a massive success in the smartphone market and now just starting into computer tablets.

The device that has really caught my eye in this mushrooming new genre is the French made Archos 7 home tablet, not least because of the cost. They start at a very reasonable £129, which means that if it does not quite meet up to what I think these devices will offer, I won't have wasted £600, like most of my friends who can't wait for the latest gadget.

The screen is smaller than the iPad - 7" as opposed to 9" -  and the technical specification is a lot lower, but for what I want it for I believe it should do nicely. It can play video upto 720p, the usual music formats MP3 etc, surf the web via WIFI (but not 3G), reading books via e-reader plus access to thousands of other applications from the Archos store - not the Android store currently - but that is on the way. The Archos 7 Home Tablet.

I think one the key elements of these devices will be the web applications that are coming down the pipe from all of the major software providers. If these can all be made to embrace the touch screen input method, then this is going to be a real winner. Things will have to change though, as trying to use old legacy programs on these devices is just not going to work. It will be really interesting to see how they cope with things like blog posting and writing in general. They will be fine for chatting on all the social media like Twitter, as that works fine on my smartphone, but writing real articles is another matter.

Having used my Android smartphone for a while now, the touch system works well and offers so much. Unfortunately for me the screen is just too small for reading books or watching films, so I think this new device will fit the bill, time as always in these matters will tell and testing these features will be part of the fun.

Sunday 23 May 2010

Experiences with my new Sony Xperia Google Android smartphone

I have been looking to upgrade from my old trusty Blackberry to one of the new Google Android phones for a while, so that I can completely integrate all of my information systems onto one platform. This includes email, instant messaging and e-books. The new Sony Xperia X10, comes very close to ticking all those boxes.

I have had a mobile contract with O2 since I started using mobile phones, and the first one I had resembled a small laptop rather than the tiny devices we use today, so I had to wait until they started offering some devices I felt would work. I'm glad I waited, as this unit is very easy to use and setup.

Within minutes of having it, I had sync'd my email and contacts from Gmail and had an IM chat with work, and I felt right at home. This really can't be over played, it really does just work and you are up and running in seconds. It's really not much of a surprise, as Google provide the operating system and the cloud applications, but it is very good.

The screen is clear and crisp, and offers a very good display to work with, which leads me onto the one minor problem I have with the unit. I was hoping to be able to use it for e-books, but the screen is just that little bit too small, which is as much my eyes fault as the smartphone, but I suspect others of a similar vintage will find the same.

The app store/marketplace is just overflowing with great free applications to do pretty much any task, and I have downloaded and installed everything from pdf readers to London Tube train updates.

The battery life, if you use the device smartly and don't run the 3G/Edge services all the time is very good, and very usable, and because of it's small size, makes the device light and easy to carry.

If you are looking for a good Smartphone then I would certainly put this unit on the list to have a good look at before you decide.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

VirtualBox 3.2 with OSX support is launched

Having just upgraded to the latest version and tested with my Windows 7 virtual image on an Ubuntu 10.04 host, I can confirm that this release has hit many of it's targets for speed improvements, and the network and disk I/O are noticeable faster.

The ability to add CPU's on the fly to OSes - that support it - will also be useful to many users, as will the support of SAS disks. It worth noting that all traces of the Sun ownership is being removed and turned into Oracles branding, and I wonder how long this will remain free ;-).

It would appear that this is going to be a key component for them moving forward, which is not that surprising.

Unfortunately, the OSX support is only for Apple hardware officially,

Here are the release notes:


New Latest Intel hardware support – Harnessing the latest in chip-level support for virtualization, VirtualBox 3.2 supports new Intel Core i5 and i7 processor and Intel Xeon processor 5600 Series support for Unrestricted Guest Execution bringing faster boot times for everything from Windows to Solaris guests;

New Large Page support – Reducing the size and overhead of key system resources, Large Page support delivers increased performance by enabling faster lookups and shorter table creation times.

New In-hypervisor Networking – Significant optimization of the networking subsystem has reduced context switching between guests and host, increasing network throughput by up to 25%.

New New Storage I/O subsystem – VirtualBox 3.2 offers a completely re-worked virtual disk subsystem which utilizes asynchronous I/O to achieve high-performance whilst maintaining high data integrity;

New Remote Video Acceleration – The unique built-in VirtualBox Remote Display Protocol (VRDP), which is primarily used in virtual desktop infrastructure deployments, has been enhanced to deliver video acceleration. This delivers a rich user experience coupled with reduced computational expense, which is vital when servers are running hundreds of virtual machines;


New Page Fusion – Traditional Page Sharing techniques have suffered from long and expensive cache construction as pages are scrutinized as candidates for de-duplication. Taking a smarter approach, VirtualBox Page Fusion uses intelligence in the guest virtual machine to determine much more rapidly and accurately those pages which can be eliminated thereby increasing the capacity or vm density of the system;

New Memory Ballooning – Ballooning provides another method to increase vm density by allowing the memory of one guest to be recouped and made available to others;

New Multiple Virtual Monitors – VirtualBox 3.2 now supports multi-headed virtual machines with up to 8 virtual monitors attached to a guest. Each virtual monitor can be a host window, or be mapped to the hosts physical monitors;

New Hot-plug CPU's – Modern operating systems such Windows Server 2008 x64 Data Center Edition or the latest Linux server platforms allow CPUs to be dynamically inserted into a system to provide incremental computing power while the system is running. Version 3.2 introduces support for Hot-plug vCPUs, allowing VirtualBox virtual machines to be given more power, with zero-downtime of the guest;

New Virtual SAS Controller – VirtualBox 3.2 now offers a virtual Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) controller, enabling it to run the most demanding of high-end guests;

New Online Snapshot Merging – Snapshots are powerful but can eat up disk space and need to be pruned from time to time. Historically, machines have needed to be turned off to delete or merge snapshots but with VirtualBox 3.2 this operation can be done whilst the machines are running. This allows sophisticated system management with minimal interruption of operations;

New OVF Enhancements – VirtualBox has supported the OVF standard for virtual machine portability for some time. Now with 3.2, VirtualBox specific configuration data is also stored in the standard allowing richer virtual machine definitions without compromising portability;

New Guest Automation – The Guest Automation APIs allow host-based logic to drive operations in the guest;

New USB Keyboard and Mouse – Support more guests that require USB input devices;

New Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.5 – Support for the latest version of Oracle's flagship Linux platform;

New Ubuntu 10.04 (“Lucid Lynx”) – Support for both the desktop and server version of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution;

New Mac OS X – On Apple hardware only, support for creating virtual machines running Mac OS X.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Using Linux kernel KVM and Virtualbox virtualization on one machine with Ubuntu

As I like to use many forms of virtualization to check out new features and tricks, as they are all different, then you can hit problems with the different kernel modules that get loaded at boot time. To solve this problem I have written this simple script to unload the Linux KVM modules when I wish to use Virtualbox, and then allow me to simply load them when I want to use KVM instead.

It also allows me to check if the modules are loaded, and uses a nice graphic password prompt as you have to execute this as a root user.

During testing I have found that loading the KVM modules while you have Virtualbox running is not the best of ideas, not surprisingly ;-)

Here is the script - I have had to split it up into two screen shots, otherwise I lose the formatting, which makes it harder to read.