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October 30, 2009

» Blogrotate #4: The Weekly Roundup of News for System Administrators

Welcome to the all hallowed eve eve edition of Blogrotate. It was a relatively quiet week this week but the 2 standouts are from the OS department with more reviews of the just released Windows 7 and the release of Ubuntu 9.10. Here’s some of the stories that we took note of this week.

Operating Systems

Ubuntu 9.10 is released. Anyone who reads my blogs knows by now that I am a Kubuntu user and I think that it’s the best desktop Linux available right now. They’ve put a lot of work into this one and it’s the best version of Ubuntu yet, easy to install and use with all the features you could ask for. Ryan Paul at Ars Technica has his own review called Ubuntu 9.10 brings web sync, faster bootup, GNOME 2.28, check it out.

Here’s a short list of some types of Ubuntu you can get, and their niche.

  • Ubuntu – The standard desktop featuring Gnome.
  • Ubuntu Server Edition – Just how it sounds.
  • Ubuntu Netbook Remix – A version of Ubuntu designed to work on your netbook.
  • Kubuntu – The KDE desktop version of Ubuntu. With KDE it’s an easier conversion for Windows users in my opinion.
  • Edubuntu – Edubuntu is an educational operating system that is designed for kids, parents, teachers and schools. I have not tried this one yet, but my 3.5 year old is ready for it.
  • Mythbuntu – A replacement for Windows Media Center featuring MythTV. I use this for a PVR at home, easy install and great interface.
  • XUbuntu – A version of Ubuntu using the xfce desktop, and designed for older or less powerful machines that have trouble with the Gnome or KDE desktops.

Windows 7 is still fresh in the minds of many. If you want an exhaustive review of all the pros and cons of Windows 7, how about trying to get through a 15 page review by Peter Bright. For the impatient, he sums it up at the end saying “…Windows 7 is, overall, a fantastic OS. It builds on a solid platform, and just makes it even better”. Read the full review in Hasta la Vista, baby: Ars reviews Windows 7.

PC Pro has an interesting article up called The Crapware Con. This article has some interesting information on what sort of extra software each of the major manufacturers are adding to your laptop, and what sort of effect this has on your performance. If you have an Acer, Sony or HP laptop they are apparently the worst offenders.


Dan Goodin has an interesting article about a free Microsoft product that can identify and harden applications against common avenues of attack without even needing access to the source code itself. Read the scoop in Free Microsoft security tool locks down buggy apps.

Dan Goodin reports on a new Mozilla site that will check the plugins in your FireFox for old versions which may have security issues and allow you to update them easily. Mozilla service detects insecure Firefox plugins has the full story, and the plugin check page is here.


Paul Lorimer, Group Manager for Microsoft Office Interoperability, writes in his blog that “In order to facilitate interoperability and enable customers and vendors to access the data in .pst files on a variety of platforms, we will be releasing documentation for the .pst file format”. This will open up the specifications for the pst file, used by MS Outlook to store email, making it easier for other software vendors to tap into the file format. See more in Roadmap for Outlook Personal Folders (.pst) Documentation.


The Internet celebrated its second 40th birthday on Thursday marking the date that the first word, “Lo”, was sent between 2 machines at UCLA on October 29, 1969. Get more of the story in Internet pops champagne on (second) 40th birthday. On an unrelated note, this happened 40 years after the 1929 stock market crash.


Neil Mcallister at InfoWorld has an interesting article on the rise of the ARM processor as a competitor to the Intel’s Atom for mobile devices. Read on in ARM vs. Atom: The battle for the next digital frontier.

Computerworld has an article about the recent Intel release and recall of it’s SSD firmware update due to issues with data corruption. Intel pulls firmware for SSDs just a day after release has more details. Ars Technica also covered the story in Intel’s SSD firmware brings speed boost, mass death (again).

That’s all we have time for this week folks. Be sure to tune in again next week. Same bat time. Same bat channel.

October 8, 2009

» Testing Thunderbird 3: What to do if it ’shreds’ your threads

I use Mozilla Thunderbird at work for reading my email and, since Mozilla Messaging is approaching the release of Thunderbird 3, I decided to give the latest beta a try. I’m an Ubuntu user (8.04 “Hardy Heron” on my workstation) so I sought out a PPA for development versions of Thunderbird, and came across ubuntu-mozilla-daily. I added the repository to my apt config and you can too, here’s how:

Add the following lines to /etc/apt/sources.list using your favourite editor.

# Thunderbird 3.0 beta builds from ubuntu-mozilla-daily
# sudo apt-key adv --recv-keys --keyserver 247510BE
deb jaunty main
deb-src jaunty main

Note: Pardon any wrapping that may occur. It’s really four lines, two of which start with a comment ('#'), one with deb and one with deb-src. Also, be sure to replace the text jaunty with the version of Ubuntu you are using. The ubuntu-mozilla-daily PPA linked above can produce these lines for you if you are unsure. Just click the link that says ‘Not using Ubuntu 9.10 (karmic)?’

When you have added the repository to apt, you will need to run the apt-key command listed in the comment above in order to add the signing key to the apt keyring. If you don’t, you’ll receive warnings that the package cannot be verified. Also note that adding the repository this way may cause apt to report that there are updates available for other installed packages. I haven’t tested that particular detail as I was doing this within the confines of a virtual machine.

Once this is done you can install Thunderbird 3 using the following commands:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install thunderbird-3.0

There will now be an entry in Applications -> Internet named Shredder 3 Mail/News. Upon running it and going through setup of my account, one of the first things I discovered is that Thunderbird 3 was not threading by subject as I had been used to. I spent some time researching why this had changed and if the behaviour was configurable. Eventually I came across a page on the Mozilla wiki that explained Thunderbird’s threading implementation in detail.

It turns out that the default value for two of the settings controlling thread behaviour changed between versions. By default, Thunderbird 3 uses strict threading which means that threading by subject is disabled. There are two settings that control this behaviour though: mail.strict_threading and mail.thread_without_re. The first setting enables/disables threading by subject while the second allows subject-threading even if “Re:” isn’t present. According to the wiki page there is also a setting new to the 3.x branch called mail.correct_threading which threads correctly regardless of the order messages are added to a folder.

These settings are important to me, as the ticketing system Pythian uses sends email notifications when requests are updated/modified, and it cannot use the References and In-Reply-To message headers. Also, the subject of these messages does not include the text “Re:”.

All of this means I needed to toggle the three thread-related settings from their default value in order to get the behaviour I expect. To do so I went into Edit -> Preferences -> Advanced and clicked Config Editor. After promising to be careful I filtered for “thread” and observed the following settings and their values:

Preference Name Value
mail.correct_threading true
mail.strict_threading true
mail.thread_without_re false

I double-clicked each of these to change their value and closed the dialog. I refreshed the view of my inbox and . .  .  still no threading! It occurred to me that I would need to rebuild the index, so I went into Edit -> Folder Properties and clicked the Rebuild Index button. I have a rather large inbox, so after going to get a coffee and checking in a while later I found that Thunderbird 3 was now displaying messages in my inbox in exactly the same way as had the previous version.

Now that was out of the way, I could continue with exploring the rest of the features the new version Thunderbird has to offer, including new search functionality with advanced filtering, and user interface improvements such as a tabbed interface and redesigned toolbar.