Monthly Archives: February 2011

I’m giving back to open source communities – are you?

Open source has brought a lot of happiness into my life – exposure to cutting edge technology (thanks Sun Microsystems), an awesome no-cost operating system (running rings around the proprietary alternatives) for me, my friends and family, and thousands upon thousands of applications which allow me to perform practically any computing task imaginable, from the creative to the commonplace.

I’ve often thought about the ways I could contribute back – but given my limited funds and lack of coding chops, what could I possibly do to help out in the communities from which the products I use and enjoy originate?

Well, I’m proud to say I’ve found a way – and I now invest a sizeable amount of time in private to assist with the documentation efforts for Open Wonderland and Ekiga. In the case of Open Wonderland, large amounts of legacy documentation on Java.net (following Oracle’s abandonment of the project) need to be migrated to a community-run instance of JSPWiki (itself an open source wiki engine which comes highly recommended, by the way). For Ekiga, there is already a wealth of excellent documentation, but it’s spread out over a number of different locations, and needs updating and tidying up.

Either way, it’s a great feeling to be giving something worthwhile back, and knowing that other people out there really can benefit from the work of a non-developer. 🙂

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Cisco WRVS4400N – first impressions and Mac OS VPN support

As I mentioned here, I’m spending some time evaluating this wireless security router for use in a small office environment.

So far, I’ve had no complaints about the basic operation and build quality of the device. It’s stable, and has a well-built (albeit all-plastic) feel to it. Its web admin BUI is also very nice – a definite cut above what you’d otherwise expect at the price point:

WRVS4400N Admin BUI

Amongst all the other goodies it’s loaded with (gigabit Ethernet networking, intrusion protection, selective site blocking), it also features built-in VPN, a potentially very useful feature for easy remote connectivity back to the office. This works in conjunction with Cisco’s QuickVPN software (freely downloadable from their website).

Setup of this was super-easy. One simply adds a VPN client account in the router BUI, and exports the router certificate for client use. That’s it as far as router setup goes – everything else is handled by the router firmware. Getting up and running with VPN really only takes about thirty seconds.

Installing and configuring QuickVPN on a laptop running Windows 7 Enterprise 64bit was equally straightforward. After saving the exported router client certificate into the QuickVPN installation directory (you will not be able to establish a connection otherwise), I was able to securely connect to and browse the remote network.

QuickVPN running on Windows 7

 

The WRVS4400N, QuickVPN, and Mac OS X

So far, so great – so what’s the catch? Well, here it is, and it’s completely stupid: QuickVPN is only available on Windows platforms. Seriously Cisco, what the hell? I can understand this attitude circa 2001, but in 2011 this just doesn’t make any sense. I don’t use Mac OS as my primary platform and the products, while beautifully designed, are a control freak’s wet dream…but last time I looked Mac OS was a very, very popular platform especially in the creative industries where I’m sure a lot of small businesses operate. So, for Cisco to release a small business router where a substantial group of customers are cut out of (easily) using one of the router’s key selling features is just daft.

The silver lining to this is that there is a way to connect to the WRVS4400N’s VPN facility, and although it is not as convenient as using QuickVPN, at least it works. For this, I’ll refer you to the following document on Cisco’s support forums, posted by a very helpful community member. It uses the freely available IPSecuritas application, and I can confirm that once an IPSec VPN tunnel has been configured in the router, the procedure documented below does indeed work (as tested on a Mac OS Snow Leopard system):

https://supportforums.cisco.com/docs/DOC-10266

Fortunately, this somewhat salvages what would otherwise be a poor choice for a Mac OS or mixed platform small business, but really Cisco, just release a version of QuickVPN for Mac OS!

 

Otherwise, on both Windows and Mac OS platforms VPN worked great, but with one slight oddity: attempting to use the router’s admin BUI over VPN would result in the connection hanging, requiring a manual disconnection and relaunch of the VPN client software. Browsing the router’s admin pages was fine, but if a setting required saving, the connection would stall indefinitely.

PPPoA to PPPoE bridging using the Draytek Vigor120

I recently acquired a Cisco WRVS4400N wireless small business security router for evaluation. It’s a full-featured device with a number of attractive features for an attractive price, but it supports an Ethernet WAN connection only. ISPs in New Zealand generally only support PPPoA ADSL connections – so using the WRVS4400N with a SOHO broadband connection would not be possible.

After looking around online, turns out there’s a really great little solution in the form of the Draytek Vigor120 ADSL2+ modem.

Draytek Vigor120

It supports PPPoA to PPPoE bridging, which in the words of the product’s own marketing material allows you to “connect a PPPoE client to the Vigor120 (firewall, Ethernet-WAN router, Apple Airport or PC) even if the connection to your ISP is still PPPoA”.

Setup was a doddle, and soon I had the WRVS4400N connecting to my ISP via PPPoE just fine. The price for the Draytek is right too – so all in all, a highly recommended device.

I’ll be posing my impressions of the WRVS4400N over the next few days.

Firefox 4 beta 10 on OpenIndiana x86

Snappy new levels of performance, slick window animations and transitions, built-in bookmark sync, video playback without having to piss around with plugins – along with all the usual Firefox customisation goodies and true cross-platform interoperability (sorry Safari!) – what’s not to like?

Firefox 4 beta 10 on OpenIndiana

Grab it from here (for OpenIndiana/OpenSolaris): http://hub.opensolaris.org/bin/view/Community+Group+desktop/development

Secure remote desktop using SSH and VNC

University of Pennsylvania Biology Department have a great how-to for using SSH with port forwarding and VNC to create a no-cost secure remote desktop application. Although it’s a Mac OS-specific article, the basics work great on other OSs too, and I use this to remotely administer both Mac OS and OpenIndiana machines.

The article is here: http://www.bio.upenn.edu/computing/network/remote.vnc.osx.php

Can’t be beat for remote assistance on the cheap.