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Archive for September, 2009

A win at work

September 16, 2009 1 comment

When I started my new job, part of my brief was to come up with a migration proposal for the school network. The old Novell Netware system was (and still is) failing to meet the needs of the school. My colleague was also asked to do the same thing when he started a week after me.

Being a Windows admin, my natural plan was to run Windows Server on the network. My colleague however is a Linux fan, and his vision was based around Linux. We’ve argued to a standstill over this, with both of us realising we are not going to change our minds. So we set out to craft our proposals. Most people would have suggested that we work together on it to craft a better vision together than alone, but due to our ideological differences, this wasn’t possible.

Since February, we’ve been chipping away, frequently stopping, restarting and even starting over. However, about a month ago things went into high gear as we neared our deadline. My colleague had a stunning change of view close to the deadline, where he changed to using Google Apps for parts of his proposal. We argued over this as well. I am impressed with the idea behind it, but not so much that I’d make my network dependant on it yet.

The due date came and we duly handed in the proposals. After that, it was up to management. So the infamous waiting period began, where we waited to hear the outcome. We didn’t enjoy the fact that it took quite a while. Apparently management were doing research of their own, but this turned out to be only half true.

This past Friday (11 September), the decision finally came. After having a long discussion with the owner of a support company that has been involved with the school for years, the choices were made. My Windows solution for Server and Exchange were accepted, while my colleagues Linux firewall, Squid cache and Dansguardian filtering was chosen above my ISA Server.

Apparently we not rolling out Vista and waiting for Windows 7, but since we may not get 7 under a special South African School’s license, I think Vista will creep in on the network. XP is aging rather badly, and only our wildly mixed hardware stops a quick roll out of Vista. Office 2007 is being rolled out though, which was a mutual decision and choice by everyone. There will be pain for people, but it will pass. One can’t ignore new software forever…

While I’m happy I won the core of the migration, I hope I get the chance to sneak in more Microsoft products at some stage. I have a feeling that content filtering is going to be a problem, and I’m hoping that I can bring in ISA to save the day.

Now the real fun and hard work begins in December, when the migration happens. That should prove highly interesting to say the least…

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Categories: Personal, Software

Using multiple web browsers

September 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Using 2 internet browsers is an increasing trend for many people these days, as they switch between browsers for speed, security or features. The most popular browsers are Internet Explorer and Firefox, and between those 2, most people have all they need.

However for some users, more browsers are needed, whether for web design work or a craving to experiment with different browsers. Here is a snip of my Quick Launch Toolbar:

BrowsersFrom left to right: Internet Explorer 8, Maxthon 2.5, Firefox 3.51, Opera 10, Chrome 2, Safari 4

That is a total of 6 browsers. The reason I have so many is because of the work I do in Joomla for my job’s website. I like to test the pages in multiple browsers to get a feel for speed, font and layout issues as well as general usability.

I find that each of my browsers has pros and cons. Some have more features that are useful, some are faster, some have the right balance. Chrome is useful for raw speed on sites, Opera for layout issues due to its strict method of handling web standards, IE for certain sites, especially some useful Microsoft websites. My default browser however is Maxthon. It has the perfect blend of features I need to make my life easier. While not the fastest, I am more than happy with it.

For all the hype around it, I’ve never been all that huge a fan of Firefox, and as such I rarely use it. Safari rarely gets used as well, as the layout and controls feel strange to me.

Thanks to competition, IE has been forced to grow and improve, which is a good thing for those who just want to get on with the job. In turn, other browsers have been forced to be innovative to stand out, and this has lead to a win win situation for the customer really. There’s certainly never been a better time to be a web surfer.

Decline of the tuxLab

September 1, 2009 Leave a comment

A few years ago, the Shuttleworth Foundation started a project called tuxLabs. In a nutshell, they were taking old unused and donated computers, refurbishing them and then setting up computer labs in very poor schools. By using the old and donated hardware and using a customised version of Linux, they were able to establish a lab for a fraction of the cost of what it would normally cost a school. The other idea was to cluster the schools, so that they could help each other out when technical issues arose.

When it started, it went well and it soon expanded. So long as the old hardware didn’t break, most labs ran pretty well, and brought computer education to children who had never seen one before. The labs were mostly set up in primary schools in the poorest suburbs of the Western Cape, and it proved to be a hit. Later it expanded to other provinces and some high schools.

However, as time went on, the Shuttleworth Foundation decided that the project was a success, and as such was viable enough to stand on its own. Some members formed a new company to put support behind it, and that’s more or less when the decline started. It wasn’t due to the people of the new company not working hard enough, but rather due to the fact that there were so many schools, and few trained staff members at those schools to work in the labs.

Technical requests mounted as the hardware gave issues, as well as lack of training on the school staff side. Some schools just gave up entirely on using the lab, since so many computers were broken, or they had no one who could manage the lab. At other schools, despite some heavy anti theft measures in place, equipment still got stolen. The volunteers who had helped before lost interest, as the company behind the labs wanted to charge support fees, and this went against what they originally signed up for. This led to even more pressure on the company to settle issues. The backlog started reaching 3-4 weeks at times.

It’s actually sad to see this decline, because in theory the idea behind these tuxLabs was fantastic. Never mind Linux vs. Windows, this was simply about bringing computers to the poorest of the poor. The system wasn’t perfect, but kids learnt how to move a mouse, type and do research. Some played games and just had simple fun they wouldn’t have had otherwise. In some areas the lab was/is used by members of the surrounding communities, and again it was bringing something new and fantastic to people who never had that resource before.

So while the tuxLabs have been on a steady decline, they did create a path for others to follow and help bridge the digital divide in South Africa. For that they deserve a huge round of applause and a lot of respect.

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