All entries for March 2008

March 26, 2008

openSUSE IRC – call for participation

The #suse channel on the freenode IRC (Internet Relay Chat) network is one of the places users can go to get support with openSUSE. The channel has suffered a little over recent months from the loss of some regular participants. Since the opening of the openSUSE project many of the channel regulars have become involved in other areas of the openSUSE project, leaving less time for user support on IRC.

While the regular participants may have decreased, the throughput of users seeking help shows no sign of abating. There is a danger that with fewer people helping in the channel, users will either not get help or be put off by the attitude of a few in the channel.

There are regular complaints from a few about the state of the #suse IRC channel, often as an excuse for not participating. This does somewhat irritate me as it is one of the easiest things to fix yourself. Simply join the channel and participate, even a single person does make a big difference to the whole channel. Complaining helps nobody, and only serves to discourage those who are helping

So please join us in #suse. Help, be helped, and have a lot of fun! If you are using openSUSE You can probably just click here to join the channel .

Reasons for being in #suse

  • Improve end user support

#suse is one of the places users may look for help. It is linked on http://help.opensuse.org, from the desktop, and the openSUSE IRC clients default to joining the channel. IRC, being interactive, gives the opportunity to arrive at a problem diagnosis much more quickly than possible with a mailing list. It also has the disadvantage that no-one may be available or able to answer your question. It supplements the other support fora such as mailing lists & web forums.

  • Improve channel atmosphere

#suse, along with the mailing lists and forums, is one of the parts of the community that new users will come into contact with. Their experience here may dictate whether they continue using the distribution or not, or whether they participate in the project or not. If users do not get their problems solved they may be forced to look elsewhere. If users have a bad experience in the channel, they may be discouraged and look for another community. It is therefore critical that we provide the best possible experience for users in the channel. This is not a policy problem (we have rules and guidelines), but a people problem. The people in the channel define its atmosphere and quality.

  • Learn new things about openSUSE

Even if you think you are a suse expert, you will likely be surprised at the things you will learn by simply watching other people helping in the channel. This will then help you to help others in the future.

  • Get your questions answered

Nobody is an expert in all areas, in addition to helping others you can have your own questions answered as well.

  • Get to know other openSUSE users.

IRC provides interactive chat. With IRC it is possible to socialise and live the suse motto “Have a lot of fun” much more than is possible with other media such as mailing lists.

  • Learn what the user painpoints are.

If you are involved in the openSUSE project, being in #suse gives a special insight into the most common problems users experience. It helps make the problems that need to be addressed in the future clear.

Possible reasons for not joining #suse

  • I don’t like the channel atmosphere / I’ve heard it’s unfriendly

An IRC channel is simply a venue. The atmosphere of the channel is defined by those who are in it and active at any given time. Since there is rarely more than a handful of people active at any time, if you are speaking in the channel then you are pretty much defining the atmosphere. Improving the channel friendliness is simply a matter of joining and occasionally talking. If you encounter someone in the channel being antisocial or in violation of one of the channel rules, then contact one of the ops [/msg susehelp ops], who can then take appropriate action.

  • The channel is too busy. I don’t have time to spend in #suse

Just being in the channel does not obligate you to talk, help, or even read it. Most of those in the channel will be doing other things, occasionally glancing at the channel. If they happen to see something they can help with they will. If there are enough people doing this then it translates into quite good support coverage, and not much of a timesink.

  • I don’t know enough to help others

This is rarely true. Not all questions are of equal difficulty. At least half of user questions are frequently asked questions which can usually be resolved by supplying a bot factoid or URL. As they are frequently asked you will see others answering these questions after spending a little time in the channel, you can then immediately start helping answer these questions in the future by repeating the solution. Of the more difficult questions, there is a scale of difficulty. If you have used openSUSE for any length of time you will probably be surprised how many questions you will be able to answer.


March 24, 2008

Interactive Firewalls?

openSUSE comes with a firewall (SuSEfirewall2) which is enabled by default on desktop installation and drops all incoming traffic. There are often discussions as to whether this is a good thing or not, with strong opinions on either side. I won’t get into those.

The problem for users is that some things such as

  • Samba share browsing
  • File sharing
  • Remote access
  • Avahi

will fail to work, often silently. Some people just assume that the function is broken. A fewer think to disable the firewall and try again. Still fewer are able to open just the ports they require open in the firewall. One of the most frequently asked questions on IRC is why samba browsing does not work.

Obviously simply having the firewall disabled by default for internal networks would solve the problem. However, this is an unpopular option amongst some, and if the firewall is enabled it should still be possible to help the user know what to do.

I knocked up a little proof of concept application which

  • Watches events in the firewall log
  • Matches those events against predefined suggestions
  • Proposes relevant suggestions to the user.
  • If user approves, will open ports automatically using YaST

So, for example, if the user is trying to set up a webserver and the firewall is blocking access to it, it will suggest opening port 80.

Or if the user tries to browse samba shares and the firewall blocks the responses it will suggest opening high ports to allow these responses to get back.

More screenshots here

What do people think about this idea? Does anyone know of any other similar projects for interactive firewalls on linux? Mandriva has “mandi” but this seems more geared towards being an interactive fail2ban than offering suggestions.

My little demo source code is available if anyone is interested.


One–Click–Install improvements

I fixed a few bugs/wishes in the openSUSE “one click install” handler last week.

Amongst potentially interesting changes are

  • Tidied up the UI a little removed the somewhat cryptic “advanced mode” checkbox in favour of an editable proposal, as used elsewhere in YaST.

  • Don’t show this again support for nag warning

Clicking customise gives the equivalent of the old advanced mode

Click here to install on 10.3


March 2008

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