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Recent activities - Linux Ubuntu 7.10, Virgin Media cabling, Ethernet over Powerline, Windows Vista Notworking (or do I mean networking?)

I've not been blogging much recently. Mainly because my life is so busy.

It's been about a month since we moved house, but we are still unpacking. This is partly because we have been redecorating and buying and assembling lots of new furniture (long live Ikea!). So here is a quick rundown of what I've been doing.

Virgin Media Cable Installation

My broadband was installed by Virgin Media just over a week after moving in. The previous owner had been a Virgin Media customer (previously Telewest, whereas I was previously NTL), so there was a connection into the house that needed patching in.

One of the things was that the broadband was only delivered to the lounge whereas I wanted it to the study at the back upstairs of the house. I also wanted this with as little visible wiring in the house as possible. The original installer took a look at the location and due to the old structure of the building (which has been extended from the original building), said that the best way of installing this would be for a team to install a cable over the roof. There was another route that I wouldn't mind which was to go around the ceiling in the upstairs which could be hidden by coving. The initial installer was not equipped with ladders and said he would ring in a job for a specialist installer team to come around.

I heard nothing back about the specialist team so I called to make an appointment. They sent around someone with a small van who was even less equipped to run any cabling. I therefore gave in on that route and looked at alternatives.

Going wireless - well sort of Ethernet over Powerline

As Virgin Media hadn't been able to run a cable it was time to rethink my plans. Obviously one choice was wireless, which is what the Virgin Media installer suggested. Now I have nothing against wireless and in fact have a wireless access point setup in my house, I didn't want to go straight from the cable modem to wireless. I wanted to first run my Internet connection through my Linux Firewall / Web / Mail Server and then onto wireless (more about this server later).

I therefore looked at Ethernet over powerline. Essentially this takes my incoming broadband connection from Virgin Media and superimposes this over the mains electricity wiring. This travels around the house were it can be converted back to an Ethernet signal (and vice-versa). This is quite old technology and I'd heard of it some time ago, but it was a niche market at the time. I was surprised to find that there are a range of products available.

First I tried the Advent 85mbps solution - but returned that one due to a hardware problem. Due to it's lack of proper Linux support (despite saying it supported linux - kind of) I tried a different one. The one I have now is a Devolo 14mbps which is much better and has proper linux support.

Devolo dLAN duo Starter Kit (Ethernet & USB)

Although many will turn there nose up at 14mbps (the fastest powerline products work at 200mbps) this is still far more than the 2mb broadband which I'm running over it. [More about these in a future post].

Ubuntu 7.10 - Gutsy Gibbon

Now with a broadband connection to the study I was able to start on getting my PC / server up and running. This is running on slightly newer hardware than my previous server (still a few years old). I decided to continue with Ubuntu as my primary OS and installed the latest version. I'm pretty impressed so far, it has everything I've come to expect from Ubuntu and has fixed some of the problems I've had before on this computer (ie. Installing Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake) with Nvidia Graphics Card - blank screen during install / Live CD).

Installing VMWare and Windows XP

More out of a challenge / curiosity than I real need I've setup my machine with visualization technology. Using vmware VMserver I can run Windows XP as a client within Ubuntu. I still have some work to do getting networking working on XP, but I can now run Windows XP applications alongside Linux.

Linux Firewall and Wireless LAN

After my play with VMware I started onto the more functional requirement in getting my Wireless network reestablished through my Linux Firewall. In the past I used some IPtables rules which were created by hand. I could have just reinstated these, but they are very ugly to read and it's a bit of a nightmare trying to relearn IP tables every time I wanted to make a change. After a quick dabble with FW Builder, I instead decided to use shorewall. This is easy to install and configure by using their built-in samples which cover a number of common setups.

Apache Webserver

So with the firewall up and running and my Wireless network up and running (at least to one laptop - more later) I installed Apache and setup a web server. For the St John Ambulance members that access my SJA Forum archives these are now back up and running again.

Windows Vista Notworking - HP laptop broadcom wireless card is not detected

At this point I should have been pretty much back to the point I was before the move, with wireless Internet access around the house for my laptop(s). This was not to be the case and despite everything I had just done with Linux - this turned out to be the most frustrating. In fact at the time of writing this I am still trying to fix it, although I've had wireless working during this post it's still not resolved.

I'd been almost a month without using my wireless capability on my HP laptop with Windows Vista. This should have been a pretty insignificant, especially as I haven't really installed any new software onto the laptop. However during that time there have been a number of automatic updates applied whilst on broadband using the Ethernet cable and as a result the built-in wireless networking had become wireless notworking.

The symptom was that the wireless functionality just stopped. There is a manual on/off switch which despite being in the on position showed the off LED and it failed to show in the OS including in the device manager through control panel.

So faced with a potential driver problem I set about trying reinstall / upgrade the drivers and various other things. I tried the drivers from HP and those available from Broadcom itself. I even flashed the bios because there was a more up to date version which fixed some (almost related) wireless type problems. I also tried to follow HPs advice of going into the bios setup, which had absolutely no mention of any devices wireless or otherwise and appeared to be one of the least configurable setups I've ever seen.

After trying just about everything I could find to actively fix the problem I figured it had to be due to a conflict with something that had been installed / upgraded and so I went for the system restore point. Not knowing when this last worked I tried the oldest restore point on the system which thankfully re-enabled the wireless network device. I then entered System Restore hell where I allowed updates to run, which then broke the wireless, so then I system restored, and then installed updates - etc. etc. etc.

I believe I have finally tracked this down to a Microsoft published Windows Update. My concern is not so much that it happened, but that it was so difficult to find any information about the problem or how to fix it. Device manager didn't show any device to try updating the driver, or highlight any conflicts, and it just appeared as though there weren't any wireless devices physically installed.

If you run Windows as a Server it gives much greater cause for concern especially if it did that to the main wired network drivers, although i still don't know why anyone would want to run Windows as a server when it is so dependent on having a GUI to do any configuration / fixes).

If that wasn't a problem enough it's still not fixed as trying to apply certain updates (including Microsoft Critical Security Fixes) causes the problem again, I've lost some of the restore points I've been using and even going back to a known good state it seams to be hit and miss whether it works or not.

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