Getting the PalmPilot to (not) work in OpenSUSE 11.3

A while ago, I wrote about my challenges in getting my Palm to work in Ubuntu Jaunty. The challenges in OpenSUSE are different and more intractable.

A chief cause appears to be the fact that with the udev file system, the serial port attached to the Palm only shows up when the serial port is actually activated on the Palm itself – such as when the HotSync button is pushed. Until then, the device file does not exist.

What’s more, after the process is complete, the device file disappears completely. Beyond that, in this case, there are not one but two serial ports created for the Palm Pilot. It turns out that the second of these is the appropriate one to use – but I’ve not been able to confirm this.

All of the documentation on using udev and creating udev rules appears to be obsolete in one form or another:

  • The BUS parameter is obsolete; use SUBSYSTEM instead.
  • The SYSFS parameter is obsolete; use ATTR instead.
  • Comparisons now use a double equals (‘==’) instead of a single (‘=’).
  • The NAME="%k" parameter is now flagged as invalid.
  • The commands udevtest and udevinfo do not exist; use udevadm instead.

There also does not seem to be any descriptions on how to debug the rules. There is no way to test a specific rule and see what was matched (or not matched) and why. Logging can be increased but it will not tell you why a rule did not match.

In all, writing a udev rule (added to /etc/udev/rules.d) is not for the faint of heart, and you could very well be writing your own documentation as you go, as the documentation on the web and in the kernel tree will be insufficient.

The best (but woefully out of date) source is a document by Daniel Drake in 2006 – five years ago now. Linux Magazine had a nice introduction (PDF) back in October of 2006 – although udev has changed, the introduction is just as valid now as it was then.

Way back in November 2004, Craig Clasohm wrote an article on getting a Palm device to work with Fedora Core 3. Fedora is now at version 14, seven years later, and people are still leaving comments and questions on Craig’s article.

There are many different descriptions on how to make Palms work with Linux – including almost every release and version you can think of all the way up to the current day. One of the most in depth for Ubuntu is this one in the Ubuntu community documentation; for OpenSUSE there is this thread in the technical forums.

What does it take to make Palms work with Linux straight out of the box? It should not be this hard!

Attachmate Snaps Up Novell (and SUSE)

Attachemate announced that they would purchase Novell for US$2.2 billion. This is good news – or seems to be, at least.

Attachmate merged with WRQ in 2005. WRQ was the company behind the Reflection for X product, which is an X server for Windows. Despite all the free and commercial competition, I always thought Reflection for X was one of the best available servers for Windows – and full-featured too.

Reflection for X has continued on since the Attachmate/WRQ merger, and the product seems to be healthy and vibrant.

I would expect – and hope – that SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) would continue and be invigorated with new life in the new corporation. We’ll see how this goes.

GNOME and Mono are also part of the transition, as I think I’ve said before. Being open source, they will likely continue if the original projects are hamstrung or crippled or shut down; however, my experiences with Attachmate suggest that there is a decent chance things will go well for the new SUSE and the new Novell.

Let’s hope so.

Update: GrokLaw has a fantastic article detailing all the legal maneuvers as well as a list of articles from elsewhere on the web. Turns out there is also two different shareholder lawsuits in progress: one from Kendall Law Group, and one from Brodsky & Smith. It also happens that the previously rejected Novell buyer, Elliot Management, will now be a shareholder in Attachmate as part of the deal.

This is interesting…

VMware to Buy Novell’s Linux Business?

This is very interesting indeed. VMware and Novell just announced that VMware would sell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server on VMware’s vSphere product (with full support by VMware) – and now there is a report by the Wall Street Journal that Novell’s Linux business could be bought by VMware. Talks are continuing, but this is intriguing to say the least.

The focus is on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, but Novell’s Linux “businesses” also include GNOME and Mono; it should be interesting to see what happens next.

Novell has been through some very rough times – first WordPerfect, then Netware, then UNIXware, and now SUSE. When SCO (not The SCO Group!) was split up, what was left was a shell of its former self; I hope that does not happen to Novell.

If VMware buys Novell’s Linux business, then SUSE would join Zimbra and SpringSource in the fold.

Let’s not forget, too, that VMware is owned by the storage company EMC. This could make itself felt in superior support for EMC products in SUSE Linux.

Personally, I feel better about SUSE being in the hands of VMware than I ever did thinking about Sun (and Solaris) in the hands of Oracle. I would also be surprised if some other company got SUSE instead; with the recent cooperation between the two companies VMware is the natural choice.

There was also the rumor that Attachmate would take on some of Novell’s other businesses. Attachmate has been good to the Reflection Suite for X that I like and recommend; perhaps Attachmate could be a good match as well.

Novell and VMware Team Up

VMware announced in June that Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) will be shipped with every copy of VMware’s vSphere product. In addition, VMware sales staff will have incentives to sell SLES. During the recent sales call by Novell, they expanded on the details of the enhanced partnership.

According to VMware’s page for SLES on VMware, it also sounds as if current vSphere customers would be eligible for a supported copy of SLES as well.

This is incredible news – it means that SUSE may be able to gain some traction in the data center. I’ve been partial to SUSE in some ways ever since I found that XFS (and JFS!) had been supported in SUSE Linux for years before Red Hat did – SUSE has always supported technologies first, providing more value than Red Hat did.

I also supported SUSE Linux in the data center in the past; it has been rock solid (as is Red Hat). SUSE Linux has a lot to offer – as does OpenSUSE (which just recently introduced 11.3).

Red Hat has always done well – as it should – but SUSE has been in the shadows for too long.

It has also been noted that VMware could be a company that buys SUSE and Novell’s Linux business. VMware was bought by EMC not that long ago. Cisco also has a joint venture with EMC that includes VMware products. Is it possible that Cisco will be shipping products with SLES on them?

SUSE Studio: Build Your Own Distro

Novell created and put up something called SUSE Studio, a web site dedicated to helping you create your own Novell SUSE-based Linux distribution. SUSE Studio is extensively documented over at the OpenSUSE wiki.

SUSE studio takes you through all the possibilities, and allows you to extensively customize the resulting distribution, including wallpaper, scripts, software, and more.

You can choose what form (or forms) the ending result takes: a VMware image, a Xen virtual image, a Live CD/DVD, and others. You can even run the image live over the web using a Flash-based console or VNC.

Over at ComputerWorld, they reviewed the updated SUSE Studio extensively; I plan to give it a try in the upcoming weeks. Should be interesting.

Elliott Associates to Buy Novell?

Elliott Associates made an offer for Novell today at almost US$2 billion ($5.75 per share). GigaOM reported on this, as did the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal.

There is as yet no response from Novell; company officials are expected to announce their response on Wednesday, 3 March 2010.

Any takeover would affect a large number of things, including open source projects and current Linux offerings. Some of these include:

  • Novell v. SCO. This court case is over the copyrights to the UNIX name and code; it remains open and active, in spite of SCO’s bankruptcy filing.
  • SUSE. Novell’s acquisition of SUSE brought SUSE under the Novell umbrella, and there are several products available, including the open source OpenSUSE.
  • Ximian. Ximian was acquired by Novell years ago, which brought Linux GNOME expertise in-house and led to the development of Mono for Linux.
  • Groupwise. Groupwise is Novell’s competition to Microsoft’s Exchange.

This should be interesting; let’s see what Novell says tomorrow.

Upgrading OpenSUSE to New Release

A live upgrade of OpenSUSE was not officially supported until OpenSUSE 11.2 (the most recent release). However, a live upgrade can be done.

The steps are presented with clarity in this article on the OpenSUSE wiki. The steps quite concisely are these:

  • Change from the old repositories to the new open-source distribution repositories (and refresh).
  • Update zypper – the update tool that takes the place of apt or rpm or yum.
  • Add non-open source repositories (and refresh).
  • Reboot.
  • Add the updates repository (and refresh).

I would add one more step: update the system with the most current RPMs using zypper up – although this may already be done. It can’t hurt to do it.

Upgrading from OpenSUSE 10.3 to 11.0 requires some special steps; so could upgrading 11.0 to 11.1 if you are running KDE. See the article for details.

A live upgrade from OpenSUSE 11.1 to 11.2 is supported.

If you want to get started with OpenSUSE (an excellent distribution!), go to and try it.

UNIX and OpenVMS Online Resources

It is possible to get free online access to UNIX or to OpenVMS; these can be useful in building up your experience on a platform when starting from scratch – or when a review is required.

One of the oldest public access systems in the country is the Super Dimension Fortress (or SDF as it is usually called). SDF offers free accounts, but does ask for US$1 to gain standard access. This isn’t because access is expensive, but because too many people have used the facilities for nefarious purposes (the process suggests that the new user is not a person who will strike and leave).

SDF runs NetBSD on DEC Alphas; this was driven mainly by security and stability. Previously, Stephen Jones, the proprietor, ran SDF using Linux on Intel for several years (which he describes as “the dark years”). BSDTalk had an interview with him back in 2006.

You could also try PolarHome – this shell provider provides access to hosts running Linux (Red Hat, Debian, SUSE, Ubuntu, or Mandriva), OpenVMS (Alpha or VAX), OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD, HPUX, IRIX, QNX, Solaris, Ultrix, AIX, Tru64, and OpenStep. Unfortunately it requires payment for shell accounts – again because of abuse. The payment is 10 units of your local currency or US$2, whichever is more – and this is per host as well. No other site provides this diverse of a selection.

For truly free UNIX shell accounts, one can try Grex, which is a more professionally-run system (Polarhome and SDF are sole proprietorships). Grex offers totally free shell accounts, but also has memberships (for people to help support the site). It is possible that Grex has the most users as well. Like the others, paid membership does have its privileges – but unlike the others, membership is mainly to provide support for Grex, rather as a security feature.

For OpenVMS, there is a very unique online shell provider: Deathrow Cluster. This is a cluster of three machines running OpenVMS 7.3 – one VAX, one Alpha, and one emulated VAX (SIMH) on a dual Xeon machine. This last is a perfect example of what can be done with an emulator, especially with SIMH which can emulate all manner of old Digital and IBM hardware. However, SIMH does not emulate the Digital Alpha, unfortunately. Like Grex, Deathrow provides completely free shell accounts; like SDF and Polarhome, it is (or appears to be) mainly one person’s purpose to keep it running with a lot of volunteer help.

Any of these will be good sources to keep your shell skills sharp – and in some cases, programming as well. They’re also good people to support; why not offer them some donations if you can?

Installing OpenSUSE 10.3 onto a HP nc4010

I installed OpenSUSE 10.3 onto a HP nc4010, and it went smooth. I am still working out the problems (here and there) as well as creating a number of new problems as I keep piling on the software (I always do that….)

This time I downloaded Billix and expanded it to cover installs of OpenSUSE 10.3, OpenSUSE 11.0, and Fedora 9. Billix is not actually a Linux distribution; it is a collection of distributions that are installable from the USB stick or CDROM (as well as utilities such as chntpw, memtest+, and Darik’s Boot and Nuke).

The biggest problem with installation so far seems to be that the grub installers I’ve seen so far cannot cope with the situation that Billix presents:

  • The boot disk (install disk) is the first in the chain (i.e., hd0).
  • The operating system is being installed on the second disk (i.e., hd1).
  • The startup disk (after installation) will be what is hd1 during installation, but will become hd0 on startup.

The end result is that the operating system install does almost everything just right but then installs grub onto the USB stick, and configures it to boot the hard disk. Thus, if you boot normally, the process halts mysteriously with no message; if you boot with the USB stick in place (booting from USB), then the USB stick will boot the operating system located on the hard drive.

Recovering both Billix and the native operating system are easy enough. To recover Billix, just redo the master boot record initialization process:

  • Install the MBR: install-mbr -p1 /dev/usbstick
  • Reactivate and reinstall syslinux: syslinux -s /dev/usbstick1

Note that install-mbr requires the disk device (such as /dev/sdb) whereas syslinux requires the relevant partition (such as /dev/sdb1).

Once the disk is properly configured, it is just a matter of finishing the install process. The install process reboots to finish, and it is all quite straightforward. Installing OpenSUSE is a breeze, and the amount of work that has gone into making a very easy-to-use desktop Linux is obvious from start to finish.

Even the bluetooth daemon, which caused problems after hibernation under Kubuntu, had absolutely no problems in OpenSUSE. Even turning the device on and off using the button on the laptop worked beautifully.

One thing that stood out was that there is no way to pair a bluetooth device. Nope. But let me explain…. If you try to pair a device, there is no way to do it. If you try to use your bluetooth device (copy files to it, etc.) then the system will ask you to pair the device at that time. I would have prefered both options, but oh well.

The experience in using OpenSUSE has been a delight; everything has been designed to present you with the best possible Linux experience possible. The choice of task bar applications on startup, the configuration of the desktop, the entire experience shows an attention to detail that many distributions do not have.

As a system administrator, you should try Billix. As a user, you should try OpenSUSE. Simple, eh?

Spacewalk (or Red Hat Satellite)

The code base for Red Hat Satellite was released as open source some time ago as Spacewalk, and the future looks quite bright. I am excited to see this, and am interested in the possibilities that it presents for Linux management.

There are two nasty drawbacks that aren’t mentioned up front (though are mentioned in the technical FAQ): first, it relies on an Oracle database rather than PostgreSQL or mySQL or other open source database; secondly, it will support Fedora clients or CentOS clients or Red Hat clients – only one of the three at a time. This also suggests that it will not support other RPM-based distributions such as Yellow Dog or OpenSuSE.

Presumably, it also will not work with APT – and not because APT doesn”t support RPM because it does (in the form of APT-RPM).