CQuirke’s Long View

Long lead times need long forward planning

Archive for October, 2007

Linux File Attributes

Posted by cquirke on 5 October 2007

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The chmod command operates on the Linux equivalent to “attributes” in DOS, but the syntax differs from the DOS attrib command.

These attributes (or “modes”?) are conceptually similar, being a bitmapped value with each bit specifying an attribute of the file.  When you do an ls -g to see more details for a directory listing, they are displayed something like this:


Each group of “rwx” corresponds to a single octal digit, i.e. values 4 + 2 + 1.  If the bit is set, the flag is shown; if it is zero, then – is shown instead.  So rwx = 7 and means reading, writing and execution permissions are allowed, whereas r– mean only reading is allowed. 

These permission bits are then repeated for different contexts; from left to right, these are for owner, group and user, according to this syntax reference.

I see there is support for syntax closer to the “Attrib -r -s -h” familiar to DOS users, but I used octal values when I needed to chmod something, e.g…

chmod 0777 menu.lst

chmod 0644 menu.lst

…that result in…




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Ubuntu: Editing grub’s menu.lst

Posted by cquirke on 5 October 2007

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If you’ve just set up a dual-boot between Windows and Ubuntu (in this case, 7.04) to try out the latter, then you will probably want to edit the settings file that controls the grub system-level boot manager.  You may want Windows to boot by default, and more menu time to override that default.

As seen from Ubuntu, the file you are after is in the /boot/grub directory, and is called menu.lst (where “l” is lower-case L, not the digit 1).  But because this is outside your home subtree, you will need root privileges to edit it. 

I didn’t find a way to do this in the GUI (e.g. an equivalent to Vista’s right-click, “Run as administrator”) so I pressed Ctl+Alt+F1 to get to a bash shell (a Linux equivalent to Command.com or Cmd.exe).  From here it is easy; precede any command needing root access with the sudo command, and after passing a root password prompt, that works.

After logging in to my user account, I entered the following commands to get to where the file was, list it to see what permissions were in effect, then change these to facilitate my changes:

cd /boot/grub

ls -g

sudo chmod 0777 menu.lst

ls -g

This took the safety catch off menu.lst so I could save changes to it.  Then I used vi to edit the file, changing the order of boot entries so that Windows came first (I could have left it where it was and specified it by number as the new default), and then changing the timeout statement to “timeout sec    20” for 20 seconds (the word “sec” is required). 

I’ll leave the gory details of editing in vi as an exercise for the reader, but basically it’s a to add text, Esc to go back to command mode, and :wq to save and exit.

Thereafter I restored safer attribute flags via this command…

sudo chmod 0644 menu.lst

…pressed Ctl+Alt+F7 to switch back to the GUI, and was done.  Whew!

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Ubuntu 7, XP and Intel G33

Posted by cquirke on 5 October 2007

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I’ve just done a dual-boot build with XP Home SP2 and Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn on a PC based on Intel’s Frostburg motherboard.  This is an ATX PCI Express DDR2 motherboard, based on the G33 chipset, which in turn includes the ICH9 IO controller. 

Intel G33 and ICH9

The ICH9 is significant, because XP’s \i386 has no native support for it – so a Bart mOS CDR based on the XP SP2 code set cannot see S-ATA hard drives connected to it, and the XP SP2 installation process requires the “press F6 and provide drivers on diskette” step else it too will find no S-ATA hard drives on which it can install (it does however see external hard drives attached via USB!).

This creates a maintenance quandary for Windows installations on this chipset, especially as this has been the motherboard I have used for all new PCs since it became available here a few months ago.  Bart will work if I drop the hard drive in an older and compatible motherboard.  WinPE 2.0 works, but lacks RunScanner functionality.  New Linuxen can write NTFS, which makes it close enough to WinPE 2.0 to use as a mOS; the downside is no registry support at all, but the upside is that it may be easier to set up as a software platform than WinPE, and what I learn is directly applicable to its use as a production OS.

When I started looking at Linux again a few months ago, I threw a motley pile of distros of various vintages at the G33, and none of them stuck (none booted “live”, none could install), presumably because they were made before the G33.  The exception was Ubuntu 7.04, which booted and installed, but the hard drive installation wouldn’t boot.


I build Vista using the WAIK tool set; I built a reference installation, avoid activating it, initialize via Sysprep, then harvest that via ImageX from WinPE.  New PCs are then built by applying the image via ImageX from WinPE, after partitioning via BING (which I don’t install) and formatting C: to NTFS from WinPE (the Convert tool appears not to work).

Originally I built this as a Vista PC to replace an aging Win98SE PC that was used to run an old version of Flexisign.  The client is a small mom-and-pop signwriting shop that is built around a pair of Summa vinyl cutters that were bought second-hand, along with the Flexisign software that they use.  They can’t afford to buy this software anew; even the upgrade is too costly.

The old version needs a parallel port dongle and works only on the old Win98SE PC and within a Win98SE VM on an XP PC, but the new Frostburg motherboard has no parallel port hardware. The newer version runs fine in XP and Win98SE, but not in Vista, so the initial solution was another Win98SE VM within Vista to run it that way.

After some time on site, I had peer-to-peer networking in effect for both VMs and physical PCs (the trick being how one applies sharing permissions in Vista).  I went home happy, only to find a bunch of increasingly desperate email messages saying this and that doesn’t work, the network file sharing wasn’t working, and “please can we go back to XP”.  Bye-bye Vista; it doesn’t matter how pretty you are, if you can’t host applications and do the basic bread-and-butter stuff, you aren’t a solution here.

Ubuntu 7.04

Given the long-term implications of using vital software that is already old and too costly to replace, we decided to build a dual-boot XP and Linux system.  The clients don’t really like Flexisign that much, and are happy to use something else if it is legally free; that’s more likely to happen on Linux than Windows.

I started by using BING to image the Vista 32G C: to logical volume E: so that I could undo if things got even worse.  Then I deleted the primary C: partition, created a new 20G primary for XP, slid that forward to reduce head travel to the extended partition, and left 12G free space for the Ubuntu installation.

Before installing Ubuntu, I copied off all files from logical volumes D:, E: and F: in case the Ubuntu installation process botched those for some reason.  The last time I installed Ubuntu back in version 5.xx, the installer was quite cavalier, defaulting to wiping the entire hard drive, and I’d recently done data recovery for another client who had botched additional 300G and 500G hard drives when installing Linux.  So I took care to maintain undoability!

The installation process was very easy and went flawlessly, with no additional drivers required.  This time there seemed no risk of botching existing hard drive contents, though I was careful to go “custom” and watch all settings and checkboxes along the way.  I created an 11G primary for Linux and 900M swap partition, which thus filled up the partition table.

If you read my 10 Linux Toe-Stubbers article, you’ll know I anticipated some hard work ahead, if I wanted to “see” the same logical volumes as used from the Windows installation.  But that was easy; Ubuntu shows all of these volumes, already mounted, as icons on the desktop!

I had to roll up my sleeves to edit the grub menu.lst file from Ubuntu, so that it would default to Windows XP (which I hadn’t installed yet) and pause long enough to select Ubuntu instead.  I could see the required file, but it wasn’t obvious how to access it with the required root privileges so that I could save my changes to it.

So I pressed Ctl+Alt+F1 for a bash shell, and from there I figured out how to log in as root and then use the vi text editor to edit the file.  With my Linux Bible on my knees opened at the relevant pages, I trudged through vi’s terminal-era keystrokes to make my changes, then saved and exited.  The menu now works and defaults correctly, but the timeout value of 15 does not seem to give 15 seconds of menu time – something I’ll fix later.

Everything works in Ubuntu except the integrated LAN adapter – so I’ll have to download possible vector graphics applications etc. from the XP side of the fence.  But for now, I’m happy enough to move on.

XP Home

In contrast, the installation of XP Home was a trickier affair.  Before I discovered WAIK, I used to build XP systems interactively; now I do so by applying a reference build via WAIK’s tools, much as described for Vista.  Normally I use a 7.9G FAT32 C: for XP, but they needed more C: space (thanks to Garmin and Google Earth bloat factors), so I formatted the 20G C: to NTFS in order to stay with paging-friendly 4k clusters.  Then I applied my XP installation image.

This resulted in an installation that booted into a BSoD STOP error, including from Safe Cmd; also, the Recovery Console and DOS Mode Boot.ini menu entries didn’t work.  None of this surprised me; after all, the motherboard chipset was different and beyond the native capabilities of the \i386 file set, and as I’d changed the partition size, any PBR images used to boot Recovery Console or DOS Mode would be doomed. 

DOS Mode won’t run from NTFS anyway, so the plan would be to delete that option from Boot.ini, and renew the Recovery Console by re-installing that from the generic OEM XP CD that I’d bought for the build.

But first, I had to do a Repair install to create a code driver code set that matched the newer motherboard.  That in turn failed, as the base code set could not see the S-ATA hard drive through ICH9.  So it was off to Intel’s web site to download the appropriate drivers, and make a 1.44M diskette to wave at the F6 opportunity.

With a diskette drive hooked up to host the diskette, I retried the repair install, and this time, all went well.  The F6 process appears to ignore the diskette at first, but later stops and lists the drivers found on it, at which point you need to know which option to choose after pressing S to add such things (I chose the first entry, i.e. ICH9R).

After that, all went as well as can be expected for an XP repair install; all patches and IE 7 lost, dialogs to carefully step through so as to re-assert regional settings and skip the creation of unwanted new user accounts, then fixing of lost settings such as “don’t automatically restart on errors”, “don’t do System Restore on logical volumes D:, E:, and F:”, etc.

A pleasant surprise was that the XP imaging and repair install had not botched the grub system-level partition manager!  Not only had that survived, but my re-use of the sample Windows boot entry settings actually matched the installation I created, so that worked as well.

The activation process was sticky, too; I could not log into XP without activating first, and activation over the Internet failed because the installation didn’t have drivers for the LAN adapter as yet – a classic “don’t kick away the ladder” kind of meta-bug.  If I didn’t know to select the “activate by telephone” option, I’d have been stuck at this point, but that process went smoothly.

Overall impressions

I was impressed with Ubuntu 7.04; it not only took to the new hardware with aplomb, but anticipated and catered for my desire to access to other hard drive volumes without me having to manually mount them, and then bang my head against automating this process on every Ubuntu boot.

It may seem unfair to expect XP SP2 Home to work as well with hardware that didn’t exist when the code base was created, but this CD appears to have been re-made since the original SP2 (the activation input key is longer, probably a recent change as Microsoft ran out of product key space for the product).  It would have been nice, though at the cost of testing etc., had core driver support for new chipsets been added – especially as sales of XP have been extended due to demand.

I don’t know how easy it will be to get Intel’s LAN adapter working in Ubuntu, or what other problems may have to be solved down the line, but it’s a good start!

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