17 November 2006

Linux is more secure... isn't it?

Something the advocates of linux are always telling me. Linux has far fewer holes than Windows. Well I'm not so sure.

The true test is when you go back to a machine you haven't used for some months (or years) and discover you can't remember your admin password. Yesterday was the first time this has happened to me with a linux machine and I was a little shocked at how easy it was to remove the root password.

To reset the root user password in slackware you just need to boot the machine using ANY linux live cd, mount your slack installation drive and edit the \etc\passwd file with a text editor. Remove any characters between the root: and the following : and save the file. Viola, now when you reboot the machine you can login as root without a password.

Of course you can reset the administrator password in a windows installation using one of the linux-based password hacker floppy disks, or make yourself a UBCD4win disk which is the windows equivalent of a live cd. The thing about these tools though is that you need to know what you are doing when using them. Any monkey can edit a text file so I have to conclude that if you have physical access to the machine then Linux (or at least Slackware) is less secure than windows.

10 November 2006

Gmail - Gone mail?

Ever remember seeing something online or in the shops, taken a small interest in it but then when you decide you want one you discover they're all sold out and nobody stocks them anymore?

Such is my current situation. I'm looking for an email solution which is always online, can forward selective messages to different email accounts based on words found in the content.

The easy solution is to leave a machine running with outlook or outlook express. By building junk mail rules, certain messages can be sent on to other accounts. The problem with that is inefficiency since it means leaving a computer switched on all the time (at extra cost both to me and also the planet).

I was quite happy to learn that Gmail supposedly has this ability built-in. The only problem is that it doesn't seem to be possible to sign-up for a Gmail account. Come back Gmail!!!! we don't mind the privacy invasion if it does the job (at least I don't, but then I have nothing to hide).

29 September 2006

Open Source CMS systems

Just recently I've been looking into a few open source CMS systems. For anyone who doesn't know what they are, it's probably best described as a framework for a web-site. You install the framework system and then add modules for content (forums, blogs, chat-rooms etc). The CMS takes care of all the formatting and user registrations leaving you to concentrate on the content.

A lot of these systems are built using PHP/MySQL so once you have your server configured, you can just unzip the package onto your server and run the admin page. You are then (in theory) able to concentrate on content.

It wasn't until after I installed the Xoops system that I came across a web-site which mentioned one or two more of these systems (OpenSourceCMS). It looks like I'm going to be quite busy trying out a few others as our Cisco classes here use four servers which our students were supposed to add content to last year. Well, one down, three to go.

15 September 2006

PHP, MySQL and IIS 6 - what have they done?

Talk about making life difficult. It's been a while since I've had to set up a WIMP (Win/Mysql/PHP) and this is the first time I've put it together on Win server 2003 using IIS6. All I can say is sysadmins are REALLY undervalued.

To start with, Win server 2003 is configured by default to serve static web-pages (pure HTML, no ASP/PHP/CGI dynamic content). This was a pain as the current PHP installer does not reconfigure IIS automatically (yes there is an option to install on an IIS 6 machine however on server 2003 you will find it still doesn't want to serve anything but static pages after the install). Luckily I found a good article at iis-resources.com to fix this.

So next I installed PHP 5.04 which seemed to go on ok (little did I know what was coming). After PHP, I started looking into Xoops - a free CMS based on PHP and MySQL. Well I've not used it before and it sounds like it might be useful for the project I'm working on so I decide to give it a try. The FAQ says it requires MySQL 3.23 so that got installed next (and it took much longer than it did to type it since MySQL is now up to version 5 and you have to root around their site for the older versions).

So everything appears to be going well. I fire up Xoops and begin the configuration and get so far before I reach an error about the MySQL module not being loaded. This is because PHP 5 no longer installs with MySQL supported. Now I DO remember being asked which web-server I was using at install even though it didn't auto install. Would it really be difficult to add a simple question on that installer - would you like MySQL (or drop-down list) database support?

It prooved to be quite a hassle as the php.ini file has to be modified. The extensions_dir setting has to be set to C:\PHP\ext (like that couldn't have been the default setting?). Then you have to remove a single semi-colon in front of the line which reads extension=php_mysql.dll. It still didn't work. Eventually I came across an article about adding c:\php to the path environment variable. To avoid any further delays I just copied the libmysql.dll to windows\system32 directory. Yes I know they advise you not to do that to avoid forgetting about repeating that step when you upgrade to a newer version but this is for a test system on a closed LAN and at this stage I just want to find out if Xoops is worth using.

Now I know these aren't difficult jobs for an experienced admin but COME ON developers. I've set up Wimps before using Xp Pro/PHP5 and various versions of MySQL and they were all much quicker to set up than this. Whoever at Microsoft thinks someone is going to buy Win server 2003 to serve static pages needs a good slap with a reality stick. If it wasn't for the fact that the 2k3 boxes are needed for training people how to use 2k3 I would have used slackware instead and had the server up and running in half the time. Adding the isapi by hand... better use the BIG reality stick.

As for PHP, well if you want people to use it's nice new XML features it might be a good idea to sort out a new installer. I can imagine so many people reverting to a previous version just to avoid these set-up issues.

30 March 2006

Still Blogging

Well it's been a while since I've had any time to Blog but it's for a good reason. I'm on the final stretch of my part-time degree and there's under a month left for my final project. I have all sorts of tech tips both from work and my project lined up. Once submitted I intend to post a few of them on here as there are details of how to transfer a MySQL version 5 database onto a version 4 server.