Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Goodness of Men and Machinery

If you keep them to their promises, what will corporations and individuals do? Plus, the general goodness of OpenBSD and its installer.

Happy new year, everyone!

As I write this, 2010 is still quite new, and I'm writing this on a new laptop, running, of course, OpenBSD. I've been mostly quite happy with the ThinkPad R60 that has served me since late 2006, but a while back the fan started giving off ugly noises and the organization nominally in charge of doing Lenovo repairs in my area seemed quite uninterested in actually doing repairs on the unit.

So after the usual browsing of web shops I ended up going for a simpler ThinkPad, the SL500 model. From the looks of it, the machine would be a tad faster and support more physical memory than the one I had already, and most likely the newer Intel processor would support running in true 64-bit (amd64) mode.

Click the buttons, whip out the credit card and away we go. Of course, the next day the repair shop turned called in to say that they could in fact get that fan repair done after all. So now I had a once-more-silent and oldish but working machine and a new one on the way.

The new one would come with Microsoft Windows XP preinstalled, Vista Business recovery media and an option to upgrade to Windows 7. I certainly did not want any of those. I make my living in free software consulting, with a bit of promoting and training thrown in and could credibly be denoted part of the competition. Microsoft's End User License Agreement in most of its incarnations (there are several) promises a full refund if you find their licensing terms unacceptable.

So with a minimal delay I fired off an email (sorry, Norwegian only) to what I thought was the right addresses at the retailer, saying essentially that I would want to arrange for the return of the software, in accordance with Microsoft's standard contract terms.

After all, we had heard of successes such as MacSlow in Germany and Poul-Henning Kamp's (of FreeBSD fame) slow but steady progress, also involving Lenovo hardware.

I expected that the response would be either that they have a process set up to make a symbolic refund, or they would refuse, saying that the software and the hardware are inseparable parts of the product, no matter what the clickwrap screen says.

Their actual response was mostly the latter, but with the twist that 'we do not get refunds for this from the manufacturer'. Distinctly odd, if you ask me, but I suppose we will find out more once people with actual decision making power are back after the holidays.

So no other alternative than start establishing the facts of the matter, that is, wait for the package to turn up and see what the clickwrap screen actually says.

Windows Refund Norway: The Fact Finding Mission
The package arrived this Saturday, and after the outer wrapping came off, sure enough there was a warning on the outside of the box:

That was pretty much as expected, so I continued unpacking.

Plugging in and turning on gave me this screen:

That eventually segued into

('please wait while Windows is preparing for startup') and proceeded through a few more largely information-free screenfuls up to the the point where you choose your location.

That choice likely serves several purposes. It's useful for choosing user interface languages as well as the legal terms for using the software or not, so I proceeded.

Finally, the Microsoft End User Agreement, Norwegian version, started to appear, in a miniature text box that needed several scrolling motions to reveal much of anything:

It would take only a minimal dose of negativity to suspect that these screens were in fact designed to make the user just click agreement without ever reading the full text. But taken together, these screenfuls gave me all the information I needed.

Microsoft promises a refund if you find their license terms unacceptable, but farms out the responsibility for the refund to the manufacturer, not the retailer.

So I had been barking up the wrong tree after all. Fortunately, in the meantime my friends at NUUG offered some good advice on how to proceed, and I will likely be offering updates on "Windows Refund, Norwegian version" as the tale progresses.

The promise of a refund has clearly been made. I suspect that with a sufficiently staffed legal team, playing a symbolic blame game over who should honor that promise is enough of a deterrent to the average end user, if they do not just go away after the initial rejection.

The fact-finding mission complete, it was time to try installing OpenBSD. If you are not at all interested in OpenBSD, you can scroll to the end of the article for more on the Windows refund and legalities part.

The Further Adventures of the OpenBSD Installer
The OpenBSD installer has a somewhat ugly reputation, as witnessed by this recent article over at TechRepublic. In all fairness, some years back one of the developers was quoted as saying about the installer, "it was never released, it just kind of escaped".

But things have change since then, to the point that I was wondering just which version of OpenBSD Mr. Wallen had tried to get running on his hardware, nevermind that he seems totally unaware of the automatization features you can exploit by simply adding hostnameVv.tgz or siteVv.tgz (Vv being Major.minor version numbers) file sets to your install media.

The following sequence shows you what it really looks like, with my most sincere apologies for my near-total lack of photography skills.

Booting from the CD image from the latest amd64 snapshot, my first screenful was

This proceeds through what we 'greybacks' recognize as kernel messages that scroll of the screen rather rapidly (dmesg output of the installed system is available here), ending with a menu of possible actions:

Choosing (I)nstall produces an encouraging message and a prompt to choose your preferred keyboard layout:

Next up, you get to choose a hostname

followed by a prompt which network interfaces you want to configure.

This is where I hit my first and only snag. I had tried to do the install with only wireless networking available, and for reasons known only to Intel, they have not allowed the OpenBSD project redistribution rights to the firmware files that turn the Intel WiFi Link 5100 circuitry into a working wireless networking component.

Here's what it looks like when a manufacturer chooses not to play nice with free software:

Fortunately, the OpenBSD man page for the iwn driver shows you just how to fetch and install the firware via the OpenBSD package tools. Other manufacturers have granted the OpenBSD project redistribution rights to similar firmware files needed by their products, with the result that you can perform a network install of OpenBSD directly from a typical bsd.rd over a Ralink wireless network card (using the ral driver), but not over most of the wireless network cards from Intel and some other manufacturers.

I was in fact prepared that this exact thing would happen, and it was time to move up to the attic where the wired Ethernets live. (Our house is an 18th century wooden building, and my sweetheart wanted no more holes drilled, certainly not to accommodate Ethernet cabling for her and others to trip over).

Restarting the install with a wired Ethernet got me through the entire sequence so far inside one screenful.

Once I told the installer I was done with network configuration, it naturally used all the configuration information my DHCP server had supplied:

You can go in with manual network configuration if you want, but in my case that was not needed.

Next up, your root account will need a password, you choose to run or not run some basic services such as sshd and ntpd, and you can choose to add a regular user too.

Notice the second part of the dialogue here, where the installer notices that I added a regular user and offers to disable root logins over ssh, adding the regular user to the wheel group so it's easier to add the regular user to sudoers.

The installer does not edit sudoers for you, but it's the little things like these that warms the hearts of greybacks like me.

And naturally, the installer correctly guesses my time zone but offers me a prompt to change it if the guess was not the correct one.

Network setup done, the installer presents the choice of disks available and asks you to specify which device will contain the root file system. In this case my new laptop had only one usable disk, so I proceeded directly to the dreaded partitioning part.

The first part here shows the disk partitioning before the OpenBSD installer touched it, with an option to either use the whole disk or edit the Master Boot Record (MBR). I did not plan to run several operating systems on this machine, at least not natively, so I opted for using the whole disk for OpenBSD instead.

That lead to the second part, where the installer suggests a disk partitioning scheme based on typical use, with the utterly sane choice of leaving the largest part (the k partition in this case) for user files as the /home partition.

You can edit the setup or choose your own entirely, the main point here is that the defaults are sane and unless you know a good reason to choose differently, the default choice is the safe and comfortable choice.

The installer goes on to create and mount file systems,

and the informed reader will recognize that the default mount options make a lot of sense, too.

With file systems mounted, the actual installation can proceed once you have indicated where you want to fetch the file sets from. Here I chose the http install method, and the installer made a reasonable guess at what was my closest mirror. I chose (based in Sweden) instead, and chose not to exclude any file sets.

The next part is when you can go fetch your cup of coffee, get some other refreshment or simply a breath of fresh air. Even on a very good link, the transfers will take a few minutes.

When you get back, the installer prompts for further install sets, and if you do not have any to offer, it will finish up the install, choose the right kernel for your hardware and offer some advice for how to proceed from here on.

That is, enter reboot, let the system boot, log in as your new user or root if you did not create a user as prompted, read the (almost) personalized message from Theo de Raadt, and go on using the system as you please. Actually, you can skip reading the message if you like, but the time is likely well spent with the tips (or reminders if you like) it contains.

Here is a photograph of the disk utilization of my newly installed OpenBSD laptop a few moments after I had started transferring my files over. Notice the /home file system is not quite empty, since I almost forgot to try to document the pristine state of the system, but I am reasonably sure this picture was taken before I added any packages.

So please, Mr. Lenovo, may I have that Windows money refunded?

As the numbers add up, there is no space for your precious proprietary software on my system, and I would gladly offer to send those restore CDs and the license label back.

It was indeed Microsoft that made that promise on your behalf, but then you must have been aware of these legal issues.

I am not about to abuse your trust or your software. However I do like the hardware that I have bought, am sure we will come to a reasonable agreement.

It's all about honesty in your business life.

Now back to the tech. After installing a few packages, my desktop looks roughly like this,

and disk utilization is

peter@deeperthought:~$ df -h
Filesystem Size Used Avail Capacity Mounted on
/dev/sd0a 1005M 49.8M 905M 5% /
/dev/sd0k 263G 44.5G 205G 18% /home
/dev/sd0d 3.9G 40.0K 3.7G 0% /tmp
/dev/sd0f 2.0G 1.3G 542M 72% /usr
/dev/sd0g 1005M 178M 776M 19% /usr/X11R6
/dev/sd0h 5.9G 2.1G 3.5G 38% /usr/local
/dev/sd0j 2.0G 2.0K 1.9G 0% /usr/obj
/dev/sd0i 2.0G 732M 1.2G 38% /usr/src
/dev/sd0e 9.8G 51.5M 9.2G 1% /var

Yes, there's probably a lot of old data there I don'really need. But then, the time it takes to identify and remove old cruft is hard to come by.

Good night and good luck.

Raw size versions of the illustrations are available here, other updates after the footer.

If you found this article useful, enjoyable or irritating, please drop me a line. Material related to this article is available free via links from my web space. Some additional material will be made available for reasonable research purposes. If you want more extensive assistance, please contact me (via email or other means) to make arrangements.

Other updates: The password guessing Hail Mary Cloud is still with us, and I occasionally update the data referenced in that article. As to the antics of the various spammers, they haven't changed much either. They're still fun to watch from time to time, though.

As should be fairly obvious from the above, this article was produced using only free software: OpenBSD and various software available through the OpenBSD packages system.