Hari's Corner

Humour, comics, tech, law, software, reviews, essays, articles and HOWTOs intermingled with random philosophy now and then

Linux System Administration GUI: webmin

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Thu, May 12, 2005 at 08:32 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:08 IST)

Are you one of those people who believe that Linux equals the command-line? Do you believe that to effectively configure and control a Linux box, you need in-depth knowledge of the command line? If you are a typical newbie, your answers would be "yes" to both these questions. And this can be a troublesome conclusion to make, because getting to know the command-line effectively (apart from the basic commands like ls, dir, cat and such) can be time-consuming and, to most people coming from a Windows background, will involve a considerable learning curve. There will be some frustration and a resulting loss of productivity. While I cannot dispute the statement that the command-line gives a lot of power and flexibility if you are a power user, I must mention that there are alternatives to the command-line, which surprisingly do not get much attention in Linux-related debates and discussions.

And one of the more powerful administration tools for Linux (and a host of other operating systems: check here for a complete list) is webmin. Webmin is a web-based administration tool that can be used both remotely as well as locally and is platform independent, which is a great advantage. Merely by typing in https://<servername>:10000 as the URL in a web-browser (where <servername> is the IP address or the host name of the webmin server and 10000 is the default webmin port) you can administer almost every aspect of your system. Webmin comes with a variety of modules to cover most aspects of server and system administration and is a tool that can be used by novices and experts alike.

There are definitely other GUI tools for Linux System administration, but most of these are distro-dependent. Fedora and RedHat have their own native GUI administration tools as well and these serve the purpose equally well. But for a totally platform-independent solution, I would recommend webmin.

Linux need not be the exclusive domain for the "experts". Tools like webmin go a long way towards helping newbies gain control of their Linux box and administer every aspect of their system. Though, of course, nothing beats the command line and editing configuration files manually, as the Linux experts would point out to you, webmin serves the purpose quite adequately. Any aspiring Linux administrator should add this to his toolbox.
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phpBB: to BB or not to BB

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Wed, May 11, 2005 at 11:40 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:30 IST)

Of the current generation of online forum software, phpBB is one of the most popular scripts to power a bulletin board. Being Open Source, phpBB has gained a huge following among a wide audience who cannot afford the more powerful, secure and versatile vBulletin. vBulletin comes at a stiff price tag and those who can afford it will get their money's worth... which leaves phpBB for the rest of us.

Actually, one of the main problems of phpBB is that fact that it's not exactly rich in features. Sure, the basic feature set might be enough for most of us, but if you're like me, you won't be satisfied with it. Sooner or later, you'll end up "modding" it, that is enhancing its features by making changes to the code-base, incorporating more scripts and so on. And this is where the problem lies. By "modding" your board heavily to enhance its functionality, you will soon end up with a cluttered board: namely you will be unable to automatically install upgrades which are released not infrequently to address security issues. And phpBB, believe me, is notorious for its security issues, having recently been in the centre of media attention for the "highlight" exploits and the Santy worm which spread like wildfire using google to hack into phpBB powered boards. Another disadvantage of modding phpBB is that you're likely to introduce new security issues as well when poorly coded "mods" are installed. In short, you'll end up with a pretty cluttered board which would become a nightmare to maintain (read "upgrade").

The phpBB group has been working on phpBB 3.0 (codenamed Olympus) for quite a while now and to anxious people like me, it's taking far too long to come out of "beta". Till date, a "release" version has not been announced and is unavailable for download.

So where does that leave me? For one, I have been struggling to keep up with the ever frequent updates from phpBB.com. My board is heavily modded of course. And I have no choice but to make the code changes (updates) manually, editing each file painfully, one by one and then running the update script. Something that becomes more and more of a chore and cuts into my productivity.

Too bad I didn't do a bit of research before I implemented phpBB as a forum solution. Simple Machines Forum (SMF), which is a successor to the old YaBBSE, is a much more feature-rich forum solution with a lot more flexibility and a much more powerful administration control panel. To convert my existing board to SMF would leave me with a lot of data loss (thanks to the "mods") and yet, wisdom tells me that phpBB 2.0.x is not the ideal solution and sooner or later, a better solution will have to be found.

A catch-22 situation, but one that needs a solution. Allow me the liberty of advising you if you are planning to add a forum to your site. If you are thinking of phpBB, I suggest that you consider the pros and cons of phpBB very carefully before make a decision. With the existing feature set, phpBB won't satisfy a power-user. Unless you wait for phpBB 3.0 to come out (which can take some time to be released). On the other hand, SMF is a powerful and free solution and can easily be used "out of the box" with no mods. It's admin interface is somewhat complex, but with some learning, you can really configure almost every aspect of your forum with it. Definitely gets my vote on the "free" list.

Choose carefully and choose wisely. If you can afford a paid solution like vBulletin (and I've tested its admin interface in the free demo online: it's great!), go for it. It's worth the money if you're planning to build a serious community in the long run.
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Why this blog?

Filed under: Site management by Hari
Posted on Wed, May 11, 2005 at 08:37 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:36 IST)

For somebody who has spent a long time weighing the pros and cons of maintaining a blog, I decided that finally I needed a blog. There are a few reasons for this.

In the first place, I wanted a place to post the LiteraryForums.org community newsletters. Yes! I am planning to write community newsletters at regular intervals. Secondly, this will also serve as a place where I can write random technical and non-technical content without being too worried about structure. After all, a blog is meant to be informal. Finally I plan on posting Linux-related articles and editorials here: something I couldn't find a suitable place for in my main website.

What I will not use this blog for is to post personal, insignificant diary entries. After all, I had opposed the concept of a blog specifically with this in mind. Anything that is not of general interest will not find a place here.

That said, I highly encourage you to leave your comments here if you find any points of discussion and debate!

Thanks and regards.
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