New tools in Ubuntu land: build service, eBox and TimeVault

Tux
Ubuntu announced that they will feature their own build service soon. Also, the next Ubuntu version is supposed to have a default installed server management web interface, eBox. In the meantime, development is underway to create a user friendly snapshot manager: TimeVault.

While the Ubuntu people are meeting at the Ubuntu Live 2007 conference at the moment I recently noticed some very interesting projects driven or supported by Ubuntu.

Ubuntu Personal Package Archives – a build service made by Ubuntu

Launchpad PPA, short for Launchpad Personal Package Archives, is announced for August 22 this year. It is designed as not only a simple build service but will be capable of providing updates as well. Ubuntu hopes to attract more application developers to use this service so that developers and users come together more closely.

This does remind me of OpenSuse Build Service on the one hand and Fedora’s own build system on the other hand. I wonder if it will be possible in the future to merge these, or at least to import packages from one service into another (most likely from everywhere into OBS).

On the other hand I wonder how this fits together with the announcement that Linspire’s Click’N Run was supposed to be integrated with Ubuntu. Could it be that the LinspireMicrosoft deal made this unlikely to happen?

Thanks for German Golem for an article mentioning the new Ubuntu build service.

eBox

eBox is a web interface for sysadmins similar to for example Webmin or ClarkConnect. The development began 2004 and was initiated by some spanish companies. Today it is driven by Warp Networks and the community..
The web interface it provides is easy-to-use and is targeted at non-computer/linux people to manage and configure a server. And the feature list is pretty impressive: eBox can manage most services needed in daily tasks, including such things like a Jabber server, content filters and PDC.
However, I also miss three things: configuration plugins for an Asterisk server, for backup solutions like bacula – and statistics. Especially the last point is a bit odd for such a tool, but it is a planned feature.

Compared to Webmin it offers the advantage of a really polished and appealing interface – Webmin is ugly (it uses frames, for a start, and the general design should be re-created in favour of a usability wise developed one), and that is indeed a reason why I would not use it. Technically it also differs because eBox stores the configuration in its own xml file, and therefore overwrites any manual changes made in the meantime. This is somewhat two edged: it can make things more reliable because the service config files are generated out of the xml file and will have no wrong entries. But it also makes it quite difficult to change the config file by hand – you have to use eBox all the time.
Also, eBox is currently available to Debian distributions only. I think this is connected to the abstraction layer which I guess is pretty Debian specific. Webmin can be used on many different distributions.

In comparison to ClarkConnect the advantage of CC is that is has much more modules (and an even nicer web interface I think) including for example a bacula interface. On the other side CC is connected to its own distributions so you are somewhat forced in regards of your platform. eBox simply sits on top of a distribution you can modify as you want and work with as you are used to.

If eBox now really becomes the standard of server management in Ubuntu it is likely that it will include more features and more modules pretty soon. It is nice to see such a web interface as a default choice for managing servers. I would like to see something similar in Fedora or CentOS/RHEL for example, but I’m not aware of anything similar.

TimeVault

TimeVault is a project to create easy snapshots of user files to have a time-line like backup. At the current (Alpha) state the main development focus is to create a stable and fast base system and to integrate the functionality provided by the base system into Nautilus and a Gnome frontend.
Technically TimeVault monitors file changes with inotify and creates copies of the modified files as soon as a change occurs. A database keeps track of everything.

However, the main problem with such a solution is that the by far best solution would be to use a file system which is capable of creating and managing snapshots. Everything else means to implement techniques on a high level although they should be done on low level.
But that is not the fault of TimeVault: currently I only know of two file systems worth thinking about which could help here: ZFS, which can be used by FUSE only due to licencing reasons, and Oracle’s Btrfs, which is simply not ready yet (but which I’m really looking forward to).

But leaving the file system problem aside TaimeVault could become a quite handy tool for all kinds of users. And since it mainly communicates over DBus it should be easy to write a KDE applet for it (as a note to the TimeVault people: DBus is not Gnome – not at all! It is totally desktop agnostic, and if it has any roots, than in KDE’s dcop).

Closing thoughts

There is another project I did not mention explicitly: Landscape, Canonical’s tool for managing larger Ubuntu deployments. While this is indeed interesting for enterprise people it is a subscription only service and therefore not that interesting for normal users. But feel free to follow the link if you want to know more.

Anyway, its nice to see that Ubuntu starts pushing and developing ideas which address major points of Linux. Together with Upstart Ubuntu now has an entire set of new and exciting technologies in heavy development which will soon hit the Linux world. I’m looking forward to the development and the impact this will have.

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7 thoughts on “New tools in Ubuntu land: build service, eBox and TimeVault

  1. There is a CentOS based server distribution with a web based configuration interface called SME Server. Check it out at smeserver.org .

  2. dtech, yes, I at least knew about that one already, but never digged deeper into it because I find the homepage kind of strange, it is hard to find simple information there, but I might have a look at it sometime.

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