20 June 2010

Switch

By the way, the suggestion to switch Linux distrubutions in order to get a single app to work might sound absurd at first. And that's because it is. But I've been saturated with Unix-peanut-gallery effluvia for so long that it no longer even surprises me when every question -- no matter how simple -- results in someone suggesting that you either A) patch your kernel or B) change distros. It's inevitable and inescapable, like Hitler. --JWZ

I've been a Debian user since 2002. To get a single app to work, I just switched to Ubuntu.

The app was openssl. I'm building VMs using Ubuntu's vmbuilder, because there's no obvious equivalent for Debian. Unfortunately, the openssl/libssl0.9.8 that ships with Ubuntu (0.9.8k) has some bizarre, inexplicable incompatibility with the openssl/libssl0.9.8/mod_ssl that ships with Apache on Debian (0.9.8n). I was trying to do a SSL client-certificate authentication from the Ubuntu VM to a Debian server. Using a Debian client (openssl s_client or just Python's HTTPS support) and a Debian Apache2 server worked fine. Using an Ubuntu client and an Ubuntu Apache2 worked fine. But the Ubuntu client and the Debian Apache2 failed.

The Right Thing to do would be to come up with a minimal case demonstrating the bug and post it in the appropriate bug tracker, but since I wasn't even sure if the bug was in Apache2 or in openssl, it would have taken some time to find the right place to report it. I was pressed for time and decided to punt by switching everything to Ubuntu.

I backed up my laptop's /var, /etc, and /home to a second computer via rsync. I burned the Ubuntu installer, which turned out to be a coaster: I wanted to encrypt my disk, and only the "alternate" installer supports that. I burned and booted the alternate .iso, erased my original Linux and swap partitions, created an encrypted partition, layered LVM on top of that, created new linux and swap partitions inside the LVM, and started the installation. The install took what seemed like hours longer than a Debian install -- I'm not sure if that's simply because Ubuntu Desktop is much bigger than a minimal Debian install or or because the crypto slowed down disk I/O. Possibly both. But the installer worked perfectly---it even recognized my Vista partitions and added them to the grub menu.

Ubuntu's wireless support is thousands of times more wonderful than Debian's: instead of writing shell scripts to connect to open and WEP networks and having to run them from the command line every time I woke the computer from sleep and being completely unable to connect to WPA networks (the wpa_supplicant manual could double as creepypasta), Ubuntu has NetworkManager and a lovely GUI widget to control wireless connectivity. I don't particularly like always-on GUI widgets, but you can easily hide the Ubuntu widget/menu bar by right-clicking it, choosing 'Properties', and ticking "Auto-hide". I installed enlightenment (packaged as e16) and chose E16-Gnome at the login screen. I switched off all the iconboxes, virtual desktops (I want _multiple_ desktops, not virtual ones), tooltips, and pagers. I made one small change to e16's configuration, editing /etc/e16/bindings.cfg to open gnome-terminal rather than Eterm when I hit Ctrl-Alt-Insert (change "KeyDown CA Insert exec Eterm" to "KeyDown CA Insert exec gnome-terminal"). The result: wonderful.

Oh, and SSL client-auth now works.

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