Of Firefox, Java, Linux Mint 11, Webmin, and SyncPlaces (and of Innovation)

It’s amazing how one thing leads to another. Yesterday I was finally annoyed enough not having a Firefox bookmark on the laptop I was currently using (I have 2 Unix Mint laptops, a Windows 7 laptop, and a WinXP laptop at the day job) to do something about it. I had been periodically manually synchronising, but I needed something realtime and painless. I had heard about Firefox Sync, and googling turned up the SyncPlaces Firefox plugin (it wasn’t until later I realised that Sync was something different, but I’m happy with how SyncPlaces works, and also that it uses my own server for sync data instead of someone else’s).

First, I configured SyncPlaces to use ftp for uploading bookmark data to my server (which is good, because my day job’s network firewall only allows http and ftp). I happened to be enjoying a coffee at McDonald’s at the time, so I used my server’s Webmin interface to enable the ftp daemon with a quick “/etc/rc.d/ftpd onestart” in Webmin’s Command Shell (McDonald’s free WiFi is great, but ssh is verboten). I cleaned up the bookmarks on my Linux Mint T61 ThinkPad and uploaded them, then later synchronised my Win7 HP dv9000. So far so good. Now, why didn’t I do this sooner?

Then this morning, coincidently again enjoying a coffee in McDonald’s, I thought I should enable ftpd in rc.conf before sometime in the future I spend way too much time diagnosing SyncPlaces errors – coincidently after rebooting the server ;-)

I again access the server’s Webmin interface, but this time using the File Manager module to edit rc.conf. But, instead of the server’s file system, I see “This module requires Java to function, but your browser does not support Java”).  What?!?

After a half-hour of research, I learned Ubuntu (on which Linux Mint is based), has removed Java and the Java Firefox plugin from its repositories, now using instead OpenJDK and the IcedTea browser plugin. But the out-of-the box Linux Mint 11 install doesn’t include IcedTea! After installing “IcedTea-Web Plugin” using Linux Mint’s Software Manager (searching for IcedTea add-ons from within Firefox didn’t find anything), Webmin’s File Manger module worked and rc.conf was edited. Whew!

Why do I put myself through this? Because it provided a learning experience in networking and systems administration, and a little bit in application development. There are wonderful “user experience” improvements being made to make back-office systems easier to use and administer, but I fear they are also turning system administration into a Wizard-following and Next-clicking clerical function. While simplification may further technology adoption, it’s not innovation – and innovation is where opportunities for adding truly significant value lie.

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