Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Windows Vista

Windows Vista (or whatever it will change name to seven times before they ever release the thing) is approaching and a lot of people are focusing on what it can do and what it can't do. What they don't seem to take account of is the history. People who complain that MS has given them a bad run in the past are told they are pessimists and that this is the time when everything will be perfect. I've heard that at least five times now, so will I be upgrading to Vista?

Would you buy again from a butcher that, five times, has sold you a bit of what he assures you is "the best beef in the world" only to discover that when you get home it tastes like old boots?

Not a chance.

DOS I adored. It worked. It was powerful. It was simple. It was fast. It did the job.

Windows 3.1 I gladly bought into and began to love. It was small, simple, worked and worked well. It was easy to use and just pretty enough without needing too much from the hardware (386 with 2Mb RAM).

Windows '95 was then thrust onto me by peer pressure; it was okay but nothing special. There was a lot of frills on an OS that was basically a 32-bit version of Windows 3.1. It was also very buggy. '95 OSR2 didn't help matters at all.

Windows '98 was pushed into my hands because '95 was such a disastrous attempt at trying to push a '98-style OS out too early. It improved next-to-nothing. '98SE came out and you were asked to pay again for it. Yeah. That's going to happen. It fixed a few of the problems and introduced a few new features, but nothing that anybody actually NEEDED at the time.

Windows ME I looked at and quickly became a disaster (things like major components of Windows supporting '98, 2000, XP but not ME... .Net anyone?). It was '98SE-with-knobs-on and didn't manage to do anything particularly exciting.

So from '95 to ME, there were very few, very small improvments in an OS that incorporated at least three major paid-for upgrades (as in major release versions, not just updates) over and above the base price. It was then that I told myself that I would not upgrade any further without good reason. My computers worked, it had cost an awful lot of money to get that far and I hadn't seen much improvement in my actual productivity over previous versions. They all ran the same software, at the same speed, with the same features, with little or no improvements in the areas that mattered - stability, compatibility with older software and hardware support.

Okay, '98SE+ incorporated USB mass storage properly and a nicer driver model but in essence it also killed ISA cards stone dead without giving people a say in the matter... is it really that hard to support a standard that was still in use at the time, had stabilised and standardised itself on things like hardware autodetection, and still works to this day in the Linux kernel which has a much stricter requirement on what stays in the kernel? To be in Linux, the hardware has to be stuff that's used, has support from several programmers willing to change their code constantly, work in the kernel at all times and get updated in line with everything else, from people who are not getting paid to do that job. Anyway...

I stuck to '98SE and I spent most of those years chasing Windows Updates, free antivirus, utilities to manage the computers, anti-spyware, etc.etc.etc. Windows 2000 I skipped entirely - it removed support for a lot of my then-current hardware and only provided a small stability bonus. XP was a "necessity" to run one single game that I wanted on one single machine and has also turned into more hassle than it's worth. XP I see as basically a games console - a bloody complicated and annoying one at that.

I didn't pay for XP, it came with a second-hand computer I was given, one thing I was glad of. XP offered me nothing over 98 except more restrictions, more problems, and much less system transparency - even the filesystem was relatively unreadable outside of XP without expensive utilities (though that's not so much of a problem now but still it's hard to correctly write to NTFS without buggering something up).

Despite several methods of recovery in case of system problems (Recovery Console, Safe Mode, System Restore), it was still perfectly possible to total a machine by installing an official update that would take more hours to fix than the computer was worth. Suddenly, I needed Ghost around constantly whereas before I'd only ever re-installed Windows '98SE from scratch once (and I later found out how I could have fixed that too). It wasn't something the average Windows '98SE user could do but I brought that OS back from numerous permanent blue-screens, booting problems etc. without having to worry that I wouldn't get the system back up and running.

There isn't going to be another chance for MS. This isn't blind MS-bashing, I've just had enough. There's posts on this blog telling you how I kept my own personal '98SE machine in tip-top condition from it's release to mid-2005 and even recommending that people stay with it.

I've always noticed it and never give it a second thought but now I can see the trend in MS OS's:

- More new features that I won't ever use and just get in my way. I end up turning half of them off within the first few days, the rest as time goes by and discover they are causing me problems. I end up setting half the settings to Classic or some other sort of compatibility or failsafe mode because that's how I liked it. Control Panel was prime candidate in XP, along with Autorun. Also disabling of things like power-save settings and screen blanking.

- More restrictions, barriers and brick walls, each of which stops me doing something I WANT to do and can CURRENTLY do. Connection limits, raw sockets, driver signing, not having to activate, the list goes on.

- More time and money, not just on the OS but its supporting programs to get it into a vaguely useable state. Anti-spyware, anti-virus, firewall (because the MS ones I won't trust to be any good from experience and may well be the next anti-competition case against MS), startup controls, Ghost (because, again from experience, the chances of any type of system restore working as it should are extremely minimal). Again, the list could be endless.

- More integration with stuff I don't want (starting with IE and WMP). I don't want stuff connecting to the net unless I SAY so and unless it's ABSOLUTELY necessary (i.e. it's a web browser which has been asked to connect to a website by me personally, or an autoupdate that I'VE scheduled to autoupdate). I don't even LISTEN to music, and I certainly don't want rubbish trying to get album covers and other nonsense from the internet just because I'm testing a drive with an Audio CD. I don't want my browser to even be ABLE to execute code directly in the webpage, or choose a search engine without asking me what one I want to use.

- Nothing that I absolutely *need* when it comes to upgrade time. My computer does lots of stuff already. What can I do in Vista that's totally 100% impossible in 98SE, XP or Linux? If you discount hard-coded restrictions and programming laziness, nothing. Vista is not a quantum computer conversion - it still does the same old stuff the same old way.

- Missing or just starting to introduce a lot of obvious stuff that SHOULD already be in the OS (**why** do I need a completely seperate, non-MS utility to tell me everything that's loading at Windows startup? Why have I gone from Windows 3.1 to Windows XP without MS incorporating such a simple, useful utility? Why can I not also click a button that LOCKS anything else from inserting itself into startup and kill half the spyware/viruses in one fell swoop? And yet they are bundling rubbish like media players and internet browsers that I DON'T want at all and have never even used)

- Still playing catchup to other systems. A database of your files that updates in the background and you can use to locate your files quickly? Got it, except my one doesn't slow the system down when I'm using it like Find Fast and the other MS "inventions" do. Admittedly MS may well be ahead in terms of hardware driver support but considering my Linux machine doesn't NEED half that new hardware and won't do until it's properly supported under Linux anyway... where's the incentive?

I quit Windows about a year ago hopefully forever. I was tired of my computer not doing what I tell it to. This is my biggest, absolute killer for not running Windows... if I say shutdown, you will shutdown, if I say delete that file, just delete the damn thing... I'm not an idiot, I know what I'm doing. The chances are that if I force a shutdown, there's a reason for it. It may not be an important one - I may be rushing to go out for the evening and want to make sure it's off - but that's not for you to decide. Unless I'm going to do permanent, irreparable damage just do what I say, and even then just make sure I'm AWARE of that. My OS of choice will *not* argue or crash or wait for every program on earth to voluntarily allow me to shutdown unless I ask it to.

I'm tired of having to be at the forefront of technology just to browse a simple web-page at a decent speed. I'm tired of "limitations" like XP Home's connection limits, raw socket limitations etc. when there is no technical or practical reason why they have to exist. If my OS is capable of it, it should offer it. It should not say "I COULD but... I'm not going to let you until you pay me money". It's like running a shareware operating system, except I've already paid for it.

I've worked as the only support for many years for a few hundred XP, 2000, 2003 and older machines and yet have only ever used XP on one laptop personally (my "games" machine) and on my girlfriend's computer (it came supplied with the computer and it was easier just to leave it on there for her... she had to "learn" Windows 2 years ago so learning a Linux desktop isn't a big problem at all... it's just easier for when she wants to play The Sims and other rubbish). Windows is "easy" until you need to maintain the thing and then it becomes a nightmare. My choice of OS at home reflects just how good Windows is - I work with Windows all day long, even recommend Windows systems and yet I won't touch it with a bargepole at home any more. On another note, the more broken Windows is, the more money I make because I have to then be paid by numerous schools to fix it for them. And I get paid by the hour. ;-)

I've lost count of the number of computers I've brought "back from the dead" by removing viruses, spyware, too many startups running, etc. When a user can sit at a new, fully-patched, antivirus-ed, antispyware-d machine and, without intent and within a matter of minutes, infect the machine so that it barely loads up in half-an-hour, taking hours to fix, is when I give up on that machine. What a user does SHOULD NOT affect the machine as a whole, only that user... even as a "limited" account on Windows you can wreak havoc.

Windows has an after-the-event method of fixing problems - once the virus is on there, and lots of people have also got it, some company might send out an update that may or may not catch all variants and won't help control the damage the virus has caused. Vista even includes special integration for antivirus apps. Do people not realise how ironic it is that the OS that "invented" the problems with modern-day viruses and spyware even has a special place that you can install anti-virus into so that it will integrate nicely? It's like having a car that comes with an easily accesible tool specially designed with the sole purpose of putting the wheels back on should they fall off on the motorway. So reassuring.

(Yes, DOS had viruses. DOS was back in the era of one-user full-admin home computers without sharing of disks or internet access and was a design disaster from the start... at least it bloody worked though. Sensible people had worked out in the 70's that that was just a stupid idea for multiple-users or internet-facing machines. Windows caught up with them in Windows XP/2003.)

There is actually a page on a website belonging to a Linux security enchancement package called SysMask that actually allows you to upload ANY bash, C or perl script. When you do, it compiles it, runs it and shows you the output! It will voluntarily and automatically run ANY code that ANYONE asks of it as an ordinary user because it's so sure of it's security, just to prove how good it is. This is on the same bloody server that runs their own website where you can download this code for free. It's never been taken down.

Like this site, I want before-the-event fixing - even IF someone runs some dangerous software deliberately, researching the latest holes, it can't affect the machine as a whole, can't destroy other people's files, can't put me in a state where I have to hope I have a recent image/backup. I don't trust Vista to do this... Windows 2000 was supposed to stop this. As was XP. As was 2003. Backups are for restoring files after unavoidable hardware damage - nothing else.

Now, on Linux, the damn computer actually bloody does what I ask of it. I don't have to be too careful about checking licensing for the software I install because it's *all* GPL or free (yes, I still check that it's GPL or otherwise free, though)... I'm not distributing my changes so it's all free for however many computers I want. No more license-counting, no more fighting activation systems that think they know better, no more serial codes, no more.

I used to spend HOURS on Windows hunting down decent freeware to get stuff done without having to shell out even more money but now I don't have to fill every system I own to the hilt with third-party freeware just to get the damn thing into a usable, secure state. It actually comes with everything I need, by default, installed securely.

At aboslute worst, an automated update command (one that WORKS, does it when it's convenient FOR ME, doesn't force updates that are dangerous and doesn't kill one machine or another on a regular basis) keeps me up to date. Rollback? How about a complete uninstallable plain TAR archive of every update I've ever installed, along with a copy of every single package ever installed on the machine? Any package I want, I install. I don't have to con the software into thinking it's NOT installing over a later version, not already been uninstalled, requiring the original setup disk etc.

It's also quite difficult (without doing something incredibly stupid and deliberate while logged in as root) to ruin the actual software on the machine. Windows relies on so much being intact to even boot, Linux just wants any half-recent kernel boot disk to get to a fully functioning command line and repair system (including uninstalling/reinstalling/upgrading/downgrading any single software package individually on the entire machine).

I get to choose what software runs without some arcane registry entry loading up something I'm not aware of, and am not even sure if I need it at all. Same for "services". Additionally, if I want a ten-second boot, I can have one. If I want flashy graphics, I can have them. If I WANT to boot into a command-line only environment, I can. I have that choice available. And you know what? From that environment I can control every single setting that I could control within the GUI if I wanted to. For every user. Without learning hexadecimal or what arcane GUID in the registry it's stored it under.

I can actually TRUST linux, from it's filesystems to it's hardware support to the individual software components to the firewall. I know that someone isn't going to say "well... we COULD let you have five users connected to your shares BUT we're not going to LET you". If something said that, the source code wouldn't know what had hit it after I'd put it back the way **I** want it. You're *my* computer, you can only do what you are told to do and **I** am the one in ultimate control of every single piece of software on my machine. If that means editing source, so be it. If that means I want to voluntarily install some binary (and therefore risk incompatibility, forced upgrades and undiagnosable problems) to get my job done, that's fine.

I don't have to feel like a criminal because I want to use one OS on two computers. I don't have to check in with mothership every time my motherboard changes (which is quite often because the only thing that's constant about my machine is it's data - the drives change, the hardware changes all the time; I've still got data from my DOS days on my current hard drives).

There's very little hardware I own that Linux doesn't support, and all of that is non-essential and easily replaceable (one USB IrDA adaptor, one 56k Winmodem out of eight). I don't need to have drivers on hand for each and every part of it, or a checklist of which manufacturers bothered to pay MS to get their drivers certified and which didn't. I don't need to worry about the drivers interfering or only being able to run them with the most horribly annoying pieces of GUI software known to man (HP printer drivers, some of the arcane school-specific hardware I have etc).

If I get a crash, there is something real, something productive that **I** can do about it. Someone, somewhere will be vaguely interested in finding out why my machine crashed and, hopefully, fixing it. There are constantly new free upgrades to try out, there are config files to play with, there is source to look through, there's one of the most complex debugging systems known to man sitting on my computer already waiting to find the exact spot that something crashed and why, there are many unique, discrete components that can be eliminated one at a time to diagnose and I can even single step individual changes to the kernel to find out which one caused my problem (git bisect's etc.).

I don't get (and could easily discover anyway) obscure problems like a certificate in a JAR file associated with a famous piece of UPS monitoring software expiring and thus killing the entire system without warning or a single error message, taking 100% CPU and stopping approximately 50% of programs from running at all.

Who knows, I may even be able to code a fix myself without having to wait a year for the manufacturer to even acknowledge my problem.

And at the end of the day, there's nothing I can't do on my machine that I ever wanted do on Windows. In fact, most of the tools I use now are so much more powerful it's saddening to think of the time that I've wasted trying to find Windows programs that could perform the same tasks. I **liked** batch files, I **wanted** to tweak every entry in my AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS to get the most out of my very expensive hardware. I want to be able to choose and change between using my RAM for virtual storage, caching my drives when I organise all 500Gb of data on them, displaying a GUI so that I can get work done etc.

My hardware is, to put it bluntly, crap yet expensive (to me). A 1GHz serves all my needs but may well have cost me two years-worth of donated/disposed of hardware (which means several "free" jobs fixing other people's computers and a lot of effort and petrol), plus several hundred pounds of my hard-earned money plus the time and effort to get it working how I want it.

When £1000's of hardware is sitting there and telling ME that it won't do something because I haven't phoned Microsoft or haven't bought the right version, I find it diabolical that my most expensive appliance in the house is not controlled by me.

Windows 3.1 I bought into, 95/98 I used and tolerated for a LONG time, getting many useful hours out of it. By the time '98 was obsolete I'd fallen for MS's spiel far too many times and was getting tired of computers. An OS actually nearly put me, a computer fanatic, off of computers. I didn't believe in or buy 2000, or XP, or 2003 and I won't be doing the same for Vista.

I'll still have to use it, in work if nowhere else, but I'm hoping that I'm going to have made the right move here by moving away from cash-driven OS's to ones that are driven by a yearning for freedom, control, pride in their work and technical prowess. Not that it's got a new glass interface that looks cool.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Linux desktop update

First off, the computer is still running fine. Problems encountered since last post - umm... none? I updated a load of software (in keeping with my usual habits), everything from K3B to PHP even though I hardly use some of them. K3B is my primary CD writing app so that obviously had to be updated, the rest were just for my peace of mind. I very nearly downgraded K3B by several revisions after Swaret found a "new" version on a Slackware mirror but I already had installed a much higher revision from LinuxPackages that Swaret didn't seem to pick up on. Fortunately, I was watching out though and have confirmation turned on for every package upgrade Swaret tries.

Even if I had gone wrong, a simple upgradepkg command would solve the problem. I keep a directory full of packages that are installed on the machine (from LinuxPackages, my own, elsewhere etc.) seperate from the official Slackware packages so that I can upgrade, revert or remove such software. This is again kept seperate from software which I've had to manually compile to install on the machine so that I can always find either original source code or a package for anything I find on the machine.

If you remember, I did a full Slackware installation and that's EVERYTHING. I've got things like LaTeX installed which I haven't used since my university days but seeing that even with everything installed Slackware is still smaller than an equivalent Windows partition, I haven't bothered to remove anything (it's not like they are running as a background service or anything and I keep them up to date anyway so it's not a security risk).

I've been doing a lot of converting/copying/writing Video DVD's just lately which means that I've had to hunt down a suitable program. In the end a few choice command-lines did pretty much everything I needed them to.

Generally, I need to be able to convert anything (DivX, RealMedia, WMV, ASF, Quicktime, etc.) to MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 for putting onto a VideoCD or DVD-R for playing in ordinary DVD players. I also sometimes needed to copy a DVD when I didn't have any DVD-R's so that meant MPEG-2 DVD to MPEG-1 VCD conversion. We're talking home movies and web clips here, so there was no subtitles, chapters, multiple audio tracks or menus to worry about, just straight film clips. I'm sending them to Kuwait for my girlfriend's dad so they have to work in any region DVD player, his laptop, his school's machines, etc. without worrying about extra software, codec compatibility, regions or anything else.

In the process, I spent days looking for a program that could write correctly-formed MPEG's onto a CD in Video CD format (something which was never that easy in Windows anyway as you needed to have stuff not only in the right MPEG format but also a strict filesystem layout) until I found out that, if you don't want menus or anything, K3B can do it for you. I'd been using it for months without even knowing it did that!

K3B handles writing to DVD just the same once the data is in the correct VOB etc. formats and I've got QDVDAuthor to do that for me.

I solved a tiny minor problem to do with the clipboard contents transferring between TightVNC remote sessions and remote Windows computers (which I needed quite badly since I've logged into the machine via VNC every day since I installed x11vnc). Installing autocutsel solved that problem instantly. I like the idea of having seperate selection and clipboard buffers on Linux/Unix but if you haven't been brought up on them, they don't get used properly. Autocutsel synchronises the two and lets you just have a "normal" clipboard.

I also got NTP time synchronisation working after a "doh!" moment when I realised it needed UDP port 123 inbound to be open to the servers I wanted to use, not just outbound. A few good servers and it's ticking along nicely.

I've rewritten all of my firewall scripts so that now I can open ports on demand (for stuff like bittorrent to help it go faster), forward them to my girlfriend's machine, etc. In the process I "homogenised" all the scripts so that they are used on startup, from my rc.firewall, from my portknock daemon and from the command line. This means that I only have to maintain one script for all actions, so opening the SSH port to my work IP on bootup is using the same script as when I portknock from somewhere else or if I need to open a port to external access for remote VNC connections so that I can fix people's PC's. I can use a remote portknock to close a port that I opened from the command line locally without worrying about whether the rules will be implemented in the right order, whether the correct rules will be removed, unintentional doubling-up of iptables rules etc.

Because of the VNC setup, I am able to sit on a remote machine, securely access my network, take over my girlfriends computer to help do the bulk of things like MPEG conversions (her computer is 3 times faster than anything I use as I don't generally need CPU speed), that computer reads from and saves it's results to a Samba share on a journalled filesystem on the linux machine (which has the most disk space and which I can also control simultaneously to put that same files onto a DVD or VCD when they have finished converting).

I've also got UltraVNC running under Wine so that I can accept UltraVNC SC connections to my machine. So if a school has a problem they can login and double-click an icon that I've left on some of their servers, which will initiate an encrypted reverse connection to my machine which will then take over their machine and let me fix whatever the problem is. When I'm done, I close the connection and the software their end returns control. The beauty is that with UltraVNC SC, it's a single executable on the remote end that does not need configuration or installation and cleans up after itself when I'm done, so it's the sort of thing that I can tell people to download on the spur of a moment and, if they have a broadband connection, can easily fix their machines without leaving the sofa.

Because UltraVNC is Windows-only and uses non-standard VNC extensions, I had to use the Windows client for it under Wine. I've already got Crossover Office but I was hearing interesting things coming out of the main Wine releases so I decided to install Wine too. It ended up being easier than I thought and they didn't interfere at all after a bit of PATH-juggling, so now if I type wine, I get wine but my icons for Word etc. still use Crossover Office for which I can get support. Hence, the UltraVNC icon now uses Wine while the supported Office apps use Crossover. (I did try Word in Wine and it seemed fine but I'd rather stick with something that I know works, is a supported configuration and has someone I've paid money to on the other end so that I can shout at them if it goes wrong).

The computer consistently achieves 40-50 days of uptime and would be permanently on barring hardware failure were it not for my insistence on playing about with scripts that load at login so that, when I do next have to reboot, I don't have to worry about whether I enabled x11vnc on startup or configured the firewall to let through SSH connections from my work IP. I also upgrade the kernel to the latest stable release whenever I can, which means LILO changes and reboots, so a reboot once a month or so is no big deal, especially seeing as it is ME deciding that it needs a reboot (I still can't believe the number of times a Windows machine has to reboot from initial purchase through to a working system with all your software).
[On a side note - I noted the other day that my print server achieved over 380 days uptime being used quite a lot EVERY SINGLE DAY by myself and my girlfriend. Considering the fact that the lights go dim and the UPS switches to battery about twice a year, that's quite impressive, and it's not even running through the UPS.]

I've configured stuff like SMART and motherboard sensor logging using lmsensors (a long time ago) and now have more peace of mind that I did with Windows as I can see the exact factors that affect the values - this is very useful for hard disk temperatures and fan speeds. I can actually see which components produce the heat, which are cooled if I open a side panel, which ones are more sensitive to CD-Writers spinning up etc. My case is crammed full of hardware and cables and this is quite vital as there is no room for proper airflow in the case and I can't personally afford to upgrade when this system already works well within safe parameters.

I already have a hardware temperature/fan monitor which is seperate from the motherboard ones so that it throws an absolute wobbler if a fan does not start when the CPU is turned on. This happens sometimes (the fan seems to have trouble on startup on occasion - about once every 20 or so boots) and the computer is actually quite happy without that fan spinning at all but it's much nicer for me to know that it's not and to power down again. The hardware monitor was cheap but works on a very simple system (thermistors and fan connectors connected to an external chip powered by a drive power cable) and doesn't rely on my ageing BIOS having to notice the problem (which it generally doesn't with fan speeds) to shutdown the machine.

That same hardware monitor will also beep like hell and shut the power off if the power supply goes over-temperature (I use a fanless power supply so this was just another piece of paranoia). Additionally I now have motherboard monitoring and SMART monitoring (including disk temperature) which gives me peace of mind, especially considering the age of most of my hardware.

If any major component of the computer overheats, goes overvoltage, stops working, I KNOW for sure that either Linux, the hardware monitors or the UPS will shut the computer down. This is very important to me given that this computer runs 24-7 in a household environment. I doubt that Windows would shut you down if your drives starting to fail or go over temperature unless you spent a lot of time and effort to get some software that did it for you.

SMART also runs self-tests on the drives overnight (when things like slocate also do their business and update the filesystem search indexes for me) and constantly updates me on every performance change that occurs (for some reason one drive flickers back and forth between two consecutive values for Seek Time Performance which I assume is just natural variation) so hopefully I would catch most serious drive problems early enough to replace and restore the drive.

My girlfriend (someone who didn't know what Windows was until she had to use it on her law course a few years ago) is quite capable of turning the machine on or logging into it, doing whatever she needs to in Opera (web, email, etc.) and logging off again. When her computer's down and she needs to enter results for work, the Linux computer is always there and just works for her.

I've got OpenOffice installed now too, as an office backup and also to use for the spreadsheet as I have a licensed copy of Word for the Linux machine but nothing else (yes, I actually have a hologrammed original MS copy of just Word 2000 on CD). Because I am now also using Portable OpenOffice.org on my USB key this is also for compatibility and to familiarise myself with it. Something that's quite funny is that OpenOffice.org spreadsheet program manages to handle the complex XLS spreadsheet I use for my invoicing with the same functionality and without any of the weird "out of resources" errors I get with Excel (despite following every advice known to man on combatting that error in Excel). It's not even THAT complex a spreadsheet, it's just got a lot of conditional formatting to highlight monies owed to me etc.

Wireless works, when I need it to, and I'm thinking of having it permanently on now that I'm sure of the firewalling. This would be primarily so that I can set up an old relic of a computer in our spare room to form SSH tunnels over the wireless to the main Linux machine so that guests can check email etc. without me having to run cables upstairs. The setup works, I've tested it, but I've just got to shrink the machine a bit as it's only a small spare room and a big chunky desktop case is over the top for a remote-access port. If I had unlimited funds, I'd get a mini-ITX computer up there and I'd also fit it with a WinTV card and a security camera so that it can feed the signal back to the other computer in the house that's running a security camera and motion detection software.

Still no show-stoppers. In fact, if anything, my lack of disk space is my greatest problem at the moment, mainly due to the fact that slackware only uses a single 10Gb partition so I've filled the rest up with junk just because it was convenient. Stuff like Gb's of DVD VOB's and source MPEG's that I've already converted and have elsewhere but just haven't got around to deleting yet.