Archive for Linux

Happy Anniversary Windows 10

I finally grew tired of waiting for Microsoft to update my Windows 10 computer to the new Anniversary edition. What can I say, I’m impatient. Thankfully, Microsoft has made it possible for customers to initiate the update on their own. Installing the official Windows 10 Anniversary upgrade is easy. Your computer downloads a ton of software while you wait and then, when there is enough new software downloaded, it begins to install (and you wait). Your computer will reboot three or four times (while you wait) and then it’s done. Altogether, it took about 45 minutes to download, install, reboot, repeat, rinse, repeat, and wait. I said it was easy – I didn’t say it was quick.

After all that reboot, downloading, and waiting, the Anniversary edition was a bit disappointing. There didn’t seem to be any performance gains – in fact, it seemed that some operations were slower. Perhaps there were security upgrades but it’s not like that something a customer really notices. Overall, it was kind of a letdown. Even so, there were a few interesting new additions that were noteworthy:

  • The embedded Linux bash shell. Microsoft has done the unthinkable and built a Linux subsystem into windows. This was done with obvious help of Ubuntu. I say obvious since it’s actually called the BASH on Ubuntu on Windows shell. It’s not an emulator. Instead, it’s a fully functioning Linux kernel with a command line interface. I highly suspect that it is possible to install XWindows and the Unity GUI if one wanted to go through the effort. The Windows bash shell does have access to many important Windows resources such as the filesystem and is clearly not running in a sandbox. This makes it both intriguing and dangerous. It’s not like this is for novices anyway. First off, it’s Linux not OSX. Second, it doesn’t even come installed. You have to enable developer options, turn the feature on, download the Linux bash shell, and then run it to configure it with a couple more reboots thrown in before it can happen. I followed How-To Geeks instructions and they worked perfectly. Still, I can’t imagine the non-geeky even trying this, let alone finding it the least bit useful.
  • Cortana Upgrades. Cortana still can only speak in that cheeky female voice. Obviously, Microsoft didn’t get to all the upgrades for Cortana that was on the wish list. They did add a bunch of new integrations that makes Cortana respond in more useful ways and control more of the computer it lives on (or in? – It’s weird). The biggest change, bar none, is the ability to channel notifications from your smartphone Cortana to your desktop Cortana. The upshot is that you can get notices of calls and texts messages on your PC and vice versa. There are IFTTT scripts that allow the same thing but the Cortana implementation is much slicker, seamless, and two-way. You can also write contextual phrase such as the word tomorrow in some apps, which Cortana will underline and, if you click on it, will cause some actions. For example, I can write “Remind me to buy milk tomorrow” on a sticky note and Cortana will underline “tomorrow”. If I then click on the word “tomorrow” it will launch Cortana with a preconfigured reminder based on the note.
  • The Windows Ink Workspace. It’s a whole set of features that work with touchscreens. Whoopee! No, not whoopee. My desktop and laptop computers don’t have touchscreens and many features are only useful if you have type of pen device. This is clearly a tablet-oriented features and should be a separate download. Even Microsoft must think so since the Microsoft Ink Workspace was hidden by default. You have to left click on the taskbar to show it. Seems like a waste of disk space for a great many computers.
  • Dark Themes. This is only for the emo kids which I don’t even think is a thing anymore.
  • Improvements to Microsoft Edge browser. Edge now has plugins and the ability to sync bookmarks. The latest upgrade thus makes Edge almost as useful as Firefox and Chrome. Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Edge is a vast improvement on Internet Explorer but is still playing catch up to the other big browsers.
  • Changes to the Start Menu. Will Microsoft ever stop tinkering with the Start Menu? It was pretty much the same for nearly 20 years but since Windows 8, Microsoft can’t seem to stop messing with it. The version that came as part of the original Windows 10 was pretty good. The new version has some small changes that lend little value. For example, instead of clicking on Apps to see a list of installed applications, the list is just always there. Someone clearly thought this was handy but, sadly, they were wrong. It makes the interface look and feel crowded. In order to show you apps you will never scroll through (that’s what the tiles and desktop are for – launching apps you use a lot), Microsoft has shrunk to tiny icon size, all the other functions on the Start Menu such as file explorer, settings, and shut down. Please Microsoft, leave the start menu alone!

There’s more new stuff that is nice including some updates to the Action Center, the restoration of the Skype universal app, and changes to the little calendar in the task bar (because we all need five different places to look at our calendar details). Most of these are incremental improvements at best. Many of these tweaks only make sense if you are working on a Windows tablet such as the Connect App. Otherwise, unless you are a computer geek jonesing for more Linux everywhere or one of the tiny percentage of people who opted for a Microsoft tablet instead of an iPad or Android tablet, much of the Anniversary update will be of little or no use. Frankly, I was hoping for more.


I admit, I sometimes have weird vacations. I’ve had a few weeks off from work while awaiting the start of my new job. There was a trip to New Orleans (in the summer!) but also time spent watching the livestreams of two tech conferences. A little while back I watched and commented on Apple’s WWDC and, before heading off to NOLA, I tuned into DockerCon. I’m truly a geek. DockerCon is the conference for Docker users. In case you are unaware, Docker is arguably the most used (or at least well known) container technology. Containers are a type of virtualization. There’s plenty of places to look up containers so go do that now if you are ill informed about them.

DockerCon, unlike most conferences I have attended or viewed, is entirely oriented toward technology professionals. Even Microsoft Build and WWDC have more business influence than DockerCon. That’s not unexpected given that Docker’s whole business is centered around developers and sysadmins, It does, however, does add a certain flavor to the proceedings. For instance, the speakers seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about why one would use a container. I would have thought that anyone who was at DockerCon was there to understand the “how” and had already figured out the “why”. It was whipped cream on ice cream – generally unnecessary and in the way of the good stuff.

The most interesting part of DockerCon was seeing how far the technology has come in such a short period of time. It’s not just the growth numbers – though there has been phenomenal uptake in Docker container usage – but the rate of evolution of the product itself that is so startling. In two years, Docker has gone from having only the basic container engine to networking and security upgrades along with the addition of plugins and orchestration. The platform choices have also expanded, though much of it is still in BETA. Whereas Docker, like most containers, has been based on LXC and limited to 64-bit Linux, they are now expanding into Windows and MacOS as well as various cloud platforms such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure.

The upshot is that Docker is making itself more attractive for large scale production environments. Docker 1.12 adds features that are important to deploying containers in production, as opposed to developer, environments. For example, orchestration will be part of the 1.12 release. Called Swarm, this feature allows large numbers of containers to be instantiated easily and then managed effectively. Manual tools are fine for individual developers but not for production environments. Swarm, which is similar to Google Kubernates, does all this. The upgrades to security are also important to expanding the use of containers into more robust environments. The addition of key management, while mundane, is very important to maintaining secure environments and Docker 1.12 has it.

Docker is also introducing a new container format. Typically, containers have encapsulated one piece of processing. What the Distributed Application Bundle or (terribly nicknamed) DAB does is package many containers together so that a sysadmin can deploy the entire application at once. Not only does this make it easier to deploy a new application but makes it much easier to migrate or move whole applications. Coupled with Swarm, this is a big time saver for the OPS crowd. DAB is still experimental so it isn’t certain if it will become a feature but it shows that Docker is thinking the right way.

The big takeaway from DockerCon is that Docker containers are now ready for the big time. The ecosystem is growing and the product itself has evolved into something that is useful to production environments. Our little container tech has grown up and is ready to wear big boy pants.