Using Whaleback Crystal Blue VoIP in Linux

The company that I work for recently ditched its traditional PBX system in favor of a new VoIP service. Our VoIP system is provided and managed by Whaleback Systems. They provide a unique approach to VoIP in the sense that it isn’t an on-premise system or a standard hosted system. Their system is a hybrid of an on-premise and hosted solution, which they state is superior to other VoIP systems because they are able to get the best of both worlds. Either way, this isn’t a Whaleback review, the information provided above is merely a quick attempt to describe the type of system used.

Whaleback offers two types of endpoints to make calls with, a physical phone and a softphone. The current Whaleback softphone is provided by Counter Path. They provide a Windows and Mac OS X versions of their application. That seems decent enough of them. but what if you want to make calls from your Linux box?

Although there are probably countless softphones available for Linux, the default one in the distributions that I prefer include Ekiga. I have used Ekiga for PC to PC calls and found it rather useful. However, I need to make calls to business clients and they need to think that I am calling from my office. Regardless of OS or softphone used, calls placed from a softphone registered with a Whaleback voice server always originate from the physical location or number of the site that the server is located at.

Important Note: Although they are a great group of people, and a few of them use Linux, they do not officially support any softphone other than the ones that they provide. That being said, Whaleback is somewhat unique in that they do not offer a generic softphone download that you can install and configure. All of their softphones come to the user pre-configured with that user’s password, extension, and other information. This is the tricky bit, where do you get the information needed to plug into Ekiga? Answer: You call them and let them know that you are configuring a Linux softphone. Be sure to let them know that you aren’t expecting formal support of any kind. As with most things in life, if you are a polite human, they may help you out. You will need the following information, or at least the parts that you don’t know already: The external IP address that other softphones use to connect to your voice server, the internal IP of your voice server, your extension, and your password. They may be hesitant to give up your password or they may not give it to you at all. This depends on your demeanor and how their day is going.

Now that you have that information, make sure you have Ekiga installed and that you have gone through the configuration wizard. Generally, I accept all of the defaults that are presented to me, although I opt out of the free Ekiga service. Once that is complete, go to Edit -> Accounts. Click on add and enter a friendly name like Whaleback or WB. Your protocol must be set to SIP, not H323. Enter the internal IP address of your voice server into the Registrar field. Enter your extension into the User field and your password into the Password field. Review your settings and then click OK. Close the Accounts windows and go to Edit -> Preferences. Under Protocols -> SIP Settings, enter the external IP address of your voice server in the Outbound Proxy field. Assuming that you have followed these steps and have the right information, you should now be able to make calls.

Important Note: Although this might seem obvious, you must dial calls the same way that you do from a physical phone. In other words, if you have to dial 9 to get an outside line from your desk phone, you must do the same thing on the softphone.

I use this setup frequently from my Dell Mini 9 and my Dell Latitude D630 and love it. Because I am always on the move, my connectivity is typically the nearest open or recently opened ( XD ) WiFi hotspot around. For obvious reasons, WiFi is not ideal for voice as most access points use best effort for packet management. At home I have QoS on my wireless access points so this is much less of an issue. Regardless of the internet connectivity that you have available, you can improve or decrease quality as needed. To do this you simply go to Edit -> Preferences and go to Codecs -> Audio Codecs. You can select and deselect codecs as your needs require. Also note that you can move the codecs up and down in priority. Although all codecs may not be supported by your Whaleback voice server, Ekiga will negotiate the best available codec upon connection/registration.

This setup is so much more convenient than my last one. Happy dialing…


Dell Inspiron Mini 9 running Ubuntu has arrived.

The Mini 9 shipped yesterday morning at 12:00am and arrived today around 10:00am, much faster than the delayed order status page. =

First impressions often count, and the Mini 9 delivers. As stated by many reviewers, the system feels like it costs much more than it actually does. The build quality appears and feels top notch, just like the 4 other Dell portables that I use. The package and its contents arrived neat and tight.

The default interface is a custom one provided by Dell. I think that the toolbar / access bar would be beneficial for people that are new to Ubuntu, or to those that look at it more as a communication tool with a stripped down OS. Personally, it was the first thing that I turned off. To turn it off just go to the Ubuntu menu and click on Switch Desktop Mode.

One thing that was a bit of a surprise was Firefox. If you are the type that uses shortcuts and menus, you won’t find Firefox, by name that is. Go to Applications -> Internet -> Web Browser. So maybe that isn’t such a big deal, but what about bloat and excess? Let me make this clear, I am picky when it comes to preloaded software and apps that lack sane defaults. Firefox comes with Yahoo! set as the homepage, upon opening Firefox for the first time, you get prompted to set your homepage to Yahoo! or leave as is. After getting rid of that, the next thing that you notice is that Firefox has its default search provider set to Yahoo!, a Yahoo! toolbar, and a Yahoo! menu across the top along with the usual File menus. Luckily they did include a remove option at the bottom of the Yahoo! menu.

Initial thoughts complete, more to come.


Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex is a go!

As everyones knows, Ubuntu released the latest version of their operating system. I’m not here to tell you what the pros and cons are, I’m here to give you some upgrade results.

My main two machines are a Dell Latitude D630 and a home built MSI/AMD/Nvidia system. Prior to the upgrade to Intrepid Ibex, my laptop was running Hardy Heron (8.04 LTS) 32bit and my desktop machine was running Hardy Heron (8.04 LTS) 64bit. Most of my Ubuntu installations have been clean installs from scratch, so I decided to try upgrading this time around. I followed the instructions from Ubuntu on this page. I used the “Network Upgrade for Ubuntu Desktops” method which was listed as the recommend upgrade method. The laptop and desktop both required 1200+ packages to be downloaded. The download process did take quite a while, which I expected since today is the first day of the release. If you are performing a clean install or a CD-ROM based upgrade, I would recommend saving Ubuntu/mirrors bandwidth by downloading the ISO via Bit Torrent which can be found here.

I am happy to report that the upgrade completed on both systems without a single issue. Dell Latitude D630 users will be happy to know that everything just works. Reloading the laptop with the Dell provided Windows and drivers CD’s isn’t that simple.


Errors synching Tomboy notes using ssh-fs

Ran into this issue today on a couple of my machines. It started with my laptop losing its Tomboy ssh sync configuration. I went into Tomboy’s preferences and tried setting sync up again. Whenever I would click save I would get a generic message that contained “fuse: mountpoint is not empty”. I then attempted to sync using one of my desktop systems and I got an error indicating that the service is unreachable. After digging around in the logs and online, I discovered that running the following command from your home directory will resolve the issue.

rm -f ~/.tomboy/sync-sshfs/lock

It appears as though one of the recent syncs failed and orphaned the lock file on the clients. This has happened to me on the server as well and I have resolved it by running rm -rf lock on the servers lock folder/file. As always, YMMV but these steps resolved my problems.


Microsoft Security Bulletin MS08-067

In an attempt to keep this post short and sweet I will cover a few of the basics regarding this bulletin. Microsoft discovered a remote code execution flaw in the Server service on versions of Windows 2000 and up. Originally, this flaw was exploitable only if your system had ports 139 and 445 exposed to the net. Fast forward to today, and there are virus’ embedded in numerous files including keygens, cracks, and various forms of email attachments. In short, the patch is necessary on all systems in your organization even if the above mentioned ports are closed. Microsoft’s announcement is here.

Please be aware that out of 15 servers that I initially patched, 2 became unavailable after rebooting to apply the patch. The systems that had this problem had no obvious similarities that I could detect. After the reboot communications to and from the server being blocked/prevented. Pinging another host on the same LAN from the server was not even possible. Removing the patch and rebooting resolved the issue on both servers. After that, I reinstalled the patch, rebooted and everything is working properly.


Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Quick Review: Windows XP

I promised a review of the Mini’s once I received them and I just haven’t had time to get it done. So here is a quick review of the Mini that shipped with Windows XP preloaded. My Mini / Linux preload review will be posted once Dell decides to fullfil their orders.

The unit was shipped in a box that is roughly the same dimensions as an adult sized shoe box although it is about half the height. The box weighs in right around 4 lbs and includes the netbook, AC adapter, limited paper documentation, and the restore CD’s.

Manufacturer: Dell
Model: Inspiron Mini 9
Color: Obsidian Black Gloss Finish
CPU: Intel Atom N270 @ 1.6GHz
RAM: 1GB DDR2 @ 533Mhz
Screen: 8.9″ Wide Screen WSVGA TL
Video: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 950
Audio: Realtek HD onboard
Hard Drive: 16GB Solid State Drive (mini-card Module/PATA)
OS: Windows XP Home Edition
WiFi: Broadcom 802.11g Mini Card
LAN: Realtek 10/100 Mbps
Cam: Integrated 1.3M Pixel Webcam
Ports: 3 USB, VGA out, single slot multi-card reader, mic, & headphone
Battery: 32WHr 4-cell
Weight: 2 lbs 5 ounces

The unit shipped with a fair amount of bloatware from Dell including MS Works. I removed all of the excess crap that the unit shipped with. The only add-ons have been Firefox, Office 2007 Enterprise, and ClamWin AV. The unit is just about as silent as it gets courtesy of the internal solid state disk.

Time Tests
All tests were performed with the unit running off of battery power.

Cold boot from power button to fully loaded Windows XP desktop including WiFi link:
Result: 41 seconds

Resume from hibernation:
Result: 19 seconds

Full shutdown time from power down to LED turning off:
Result: 34 seconds

Time to open Microsoft Word 2007:
Result: 1 second*

* Please note that I ran this test multiple times using an accurate stop watch and the results were between 1.0 seconds and 1.2 seconds.

I wanted to provide these numbers for those out there that are considering purchasing the unit and are looking for some real world numbers and scenarios.

I will create a second review once the Linux based system arrives and compare the results afterwards.


Resize NTFS partitions using the GParted live CD

Working late tonight… I have a client that has a Dell PowerEdge 2800 server that is running out of disk space on the OS partition. The physical disk setup is a RAID 5 logical drive on 3 physical drives which is handled by the PERC 4 RAID controller. Dell shipped the unit with a 12GB / 120GB split with Windows 2003 Server loaded on the smaller C partition. Nowadays 12GB is certainly not enough room for the fully service packed 2003 operating system plus the usual array of management, AV, and backup utilities. Up to this point, everything that could be moved to the larger storage partition has been, including: Windows Server Update Services, Symantec Corporate Edition, and the systems page file. That was a time buying workaround, but the free space is ever decreasing with each wave of Microsoft updates. Now for the fun part.

I backed up the C and D partitions using the Acronis True Image Enterprise boot disk by creating a complete system image and storing it on an external USB drive. After that, I mounted the drive and its partitions on a Windows system and verified that the images contained the appropriate data in an uncorrupted state. I downloaded and burned a copy of Gparted live CD. You can download a copy for yourself here. After booting the server using the live CD, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it loaded the necessary drivers to see my logical drive from the PERC 4 card. Using the GUI provided by the live CD, I shrank the overly large storage partition down by about 15GB’s. Once that completed I went ahead and increased the size of the smaller operating system partition. It really is quite simple, you just choose the partition or drive that you want to resize and move the sliders left and right to shrink or grow the size. After applying my changes, I rebooted the server and watched the server boot into Windows 2003 Server. I ran a chkdsk just to verify that everything is in order as far as Windows is concerned. Result: Simple and flawless NTFS resizing done without the need to purchase any proprietary disk management software.

I highly recommend this live CD for anyone that needs to modify drives or partitions on a regular basis. You simply cannot beat the price and compatibility, the tool works on all modern file systems/drives.