mtr: A Better traceroute and ping, combined! (Linux, BSD)

mtr is an small utility which combines both the functionality of traceroute and ping, for Linux and BSD.

There are always occasions where you’ve wanted to traceroute to a host, possibly due to connectivity issues, and you need to diagnose where the problem lies.  Most operating systems offer basic traceroute and ping utilities, but what if you need something a little bit better?  mtr is the answer..

mtr allows you to start a ping/traceroute to a host, and it constantly updates on screen with the latest ping times to every hop along the way, giving you a great view to exactly what’s going on.

Traditional traceroute, for example, only runs once through the route, and gives a view of that moment in time – with the constant updates in mtr, you don’t have this limitation.  And, with mtr‘s ping functionality inbuilt to the main view, no longer do you need to run multiple command prompts/terminals to see what’s going on.

So if you use Linux or BSD, and you find yourself regularly testing various routing issues, ping times, or just general network diagnosis, give mtr a try.

For packages/installation, please refer to the inbuilt packaging system of your operating system (Debian/Ubuntu users, mtr is available from the standard repositories).  If mtr is not available as a package, you can download the source (GPL) from here:

mtr - a traceroute/ping utility
mtr - a traceroute/ping utility

SSH Access Whilst on the Move (iPhone, iPod Touch)

If  like me you maintain servers and use Secure Shell (SSH) as the primary method of connecting to them, you’ll know the importance of being able to connect to those servers, no matter where you are, to either make changes, monitor them, or fix any problems.

If you have an iPhone, you can connect to those servers whilst on the move, using a great application called TouchTerm SSH (available in the AppStore).  The application works over the data connection (Edge/3G) or WiFi. TouchTerm also works with the iPod Touch, so if you have WiFi access, you can also connect to remote SSH servers using this application.

There are two versions of TouchTerm SSH – a standard version and a pro version.  I personally have the standard version as it does everything I need it to do, but you may find the Pro version more suited to what you need (Gestures and Text Completion are just two features of many only found in the Pro version.)

TouchTerm has some clever and well thought out features, such as the transparent keyboard which maximises the small screen usage – there’s not much space on the iPhone screen for a full console and keyboard, but with the keyboard being transparent, it’s pretty easy to use and still see what’s going on behind it. There’s also a very useful toolbar, which allows you to send important modifer keys allowing access to features such as “Ctrl-A (then c)” to detach a screen session.  The keys on the toolbar are: Ctrl, Alt, Tab, Esc, Ret, ^C (for quick Ctrl-C access!).

I’ve tested it with my servers, and it’s certainly very usable for quick admin tasks, when I’m not at a computer.  I’ve even found myself having a quick tail -f of apache logs whilst walking around the house to see if any traffic is hitting a site!

So, if you look after a box (or many boxen) with SSH access, and have an iPhone/iPod Touch, give TouchTerm a go – I think you’ll be suprised at how useful the application is.

Visit the TouchTerm SSH site for more information:

How to Lookup the MX record(s) for a Domain

It’s important to know where mail goes for a domain, especially if you’re a system administrator looking after mail servers.
There are a whole host of web sites you can use to find MX records now – MX Records are the DNS entry so servers know where to send e-mail, destined to that domain. The way I show below is how to do it on your local machine, which returns the result from your DNS server(s). If you do this from your mail server, you’ll also be able to see, where at this moment in time, that server will send any outgoing e-mail to a domain, which can be quite useful.

Windows (nslookup

You can use nslookup in Windows to query DNS zones.  To lookup the MX records for a domain, open a command prompt:

C:\> nslookup
Default Server:  xxxxxxxxxx
> set type=mx
Non-authoritive answer:      MX   preference = 10, mail exchanger =      MX   preference = 20, mail exchanger =

OSX / Linux / BSD (host):

I’ll explain how to use host in OSX and on Linux/BSD. Anyway, host is installed by default on OSX, but probably not on Linux or BSD – you may have to install it manually. (On Ubuntu and Debian, you can install it by using ‘apt-get install host‘ if it’s not already installed).

From a terminal:

$ host -t MX mail is handled by 10 mail is handled by 20

MX records are always an FQDN (Fully Qualified Domain Name, if setup properly) and have priority levels which are the 10 and 20 you see.  Priorities are important; if a mail server tries to send an e-mail to anything@thedomain, then it’ll use the LOWEST priority mail server first. If this accepts the mail, then job complete.. if it times out or the lookup of the IP address doesn’t complete, then it’ll try the next lowest priority mail server. You can also use two mail servers with the same priority level, and mail servers will just choose one when sending – useful for a bit of simple load balancing.

Google Chrome OS, in plain English

You’ve probably read the thousands of articles around the web about Google Chrome OS – OpenSource, Web2.0, and Linux.  You probably don’t care about these three words – you may not even know what it means, so I’m going try and sum up what Google Chrome OS is about in non-tech terms and what it can mean to you, if anything.

Firstly Chrome OS is a replacement for Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, and even the many Linux distributions you may be already using.  It’s designed from the ground up to run differently than those though, in that it’ll be primarily aimed at providing web applications to the user.  Of course, you will  need an internet connection to benefit from this operating system. Modern web applications, though, can continue to work when disconnected, for those times you can’t get an internet connection.

It’s going to be OpenSource, which means people from all around the world, not just Google employees, can work on the operating system by making it better/increasing functionality.  It also means that you can use the operating system with no cost – you won’t need to pop down to the shops to buy this one!

Chrome OS is going to fully utilise the web – you won’t need applications on your local PC at all – no more Microsoft Office, no more lengthy installation procedures.  What you will have is a “view to the web” – like a web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, etc), you’ll visit web sites and use applications on them.  You may be familiar with Google Apps (Hotmail is an example of a web-based e-mail service, so this is also a good example of a web application) – these sort of applications are where Google want us to be (of course, that’s their core business apart from search), and they want people to embrace these new web technologies, and part of that plan is to release an operating system which can do nothing else, but use them!

Google are focusing on netbook’s to start with – but what is a netbook?  A netbook is an ultraportable notebook computer, around the 9-10″ LCD screen size, lowish specification and very portable.  A large amount of companies such as Carphonewarehouse, in the United Kingdon at least, are starting to bundle these small netbooks with mobile broadband contracts. They’re primarily aimed at basic web browsing and computer use on the move – Google Chrome OS will certainly strengthen their “web usage” aspect.

Will you be able to run all of your games?  Probably not.. there is scope to do so, but on the specification we have up to now, it’s not looking likely.  Similarly with people who use specialist packages, such as Adobe Photoshop – I don’t think Chrome OS will be for you at this point.

And that’s it really, a new operating system, which instead of running applications locally, will fully embrace web sites and new web applications running on them.

Please subscribe to our mailing list or RSS feed on the righthand side of this page, to be kept up to date with new developments about Google Chrome OS.

Web Applications: How will they affect the server market?

There’s an ever increasing drive towards the use of web applications, as opposed to running various services locally and in-house.  But what does that mean for the corporate world?

Not that long ago, for corporate e-mail as an example, the only feasible option was to host your own local mail services, on single or multiple servers depending on scale.  This is where services such as Microsoft Exchange became popular – business e-mail, contacts, calendars and collaboration within the organisation for all employees.
Nowadays, there are multiple online services which offer similar hosted services, but for a monthly cost – no local servers, no initial outlay, no costly upgrades, and no costly administration time required.

Google Apps is one such example of how things are changing not only for the individual, but also for businesses around the world – the case is simple – why spend time implementing a costly system, on your own hardware, when you can use a service, often better (although that is subjective), for an ongoing monthly or yearly cost.

With the announcement of Google Chrome OS, the case to use web applications is greater than ever – Chrome OS’ primary focus is on web applications, so it is clear on which direction Google would like to see people going.

But what about manufacturers such as Dell, HP, IBM, and the many other server suppliers?  Undoubtably, this trend will effect their corporate sales, but to what extent?  It seems to me that these companies may have to reassess their markets at some point soon for certain sectors.

Companies in the small/medium business area are morely likely to be looking at the new web applications, and certainly be interested in whether or not it would work for their business.  The companies who would be purchasing a single server to host their mail – would they do that, and incur the costs of the setup, maintenance, and upgrade costs if they could use a perfectly functioning, fully featured web application? Web applications are always getting better, and there will come a point when the benefits are too difficult to ignore.

The majority of articles around the internet are focusing on how Chrome OS and the trend to use web applications will affect Microsoft and Apple – both who have their own, successful, server operating systems and applications.  In the case of Microsoft, their Office package is used worldwide, by millions of people, and it’s a similar story with Microsoft Exchange for e-mail.  Both, however, are replaceable, and as mentioned above, Google Apps has made big steps in doing that.

Very few articles are focusing on the impact of the manufacturers of the hardware they run on and there seems to be some big questions which we will see work out over the coming months and years.  But how can they minimise the impact of web applications to their business?

  • They may need to start focussing their core sales at larger corporations, who may not be able to benefit straight away from these new web applications, and still require in house services, maybe for regulatory purposes.  I’m not sure migrating 50,000 employees to a hosted e-mail service is a great proposition right now.
  • The providers of the applications themselves – end user companies may not be buying servers, but the companies developing these web applications most definetely will require hardware to serve their new application to the world, and for the successful ones, serious infrastructure will be required – large storage arrays for the data, many servers to ensure redundancy and high performance, and a solid network infrastructure.

However, there does seem to be an increase of  development towards higher end solutions – new virtualisation techniques aimed at data centre usage, new storage hardware including more affordable SANs, and new ways to save energy usage for large server farms (again, very useful in a data centre environment where power is a significant cost to consider), so maybe they’ve started to anticipate this trend already.

What do you think?  Maybe you work in a company as a system administrator – would you outsource some core services and demote those local servers? I’d really like to hear your thoughts, so please leave comments on this post or tweet about it on Twitter @dazuk.

Best and Worst for Week 28, 2009

I saw over at Problogger a post featuring the “Best and Worst” experiences for the week, and it gave me an idea for a new weekly post here at, featuring the best and worst “tech things” from the week.

So, starting now, week 28 in 2009, this will be a weekly feature here at droptips!


The announcement of Google Chrome OS, of course.  Could I have possibly chosen anything else?
There’s no denying that this is a pretty big announcement, and I posted about it quite a bit!

Google Chrome OS – The Next Big Thing?
Google Chrome OS – What we know so far..
Google Chrome OS – What could it mean for netbooks?


And, yes, Google Chrome OS again –  it’s made the worst section this week – why?  Well.. it’s more Google really, and them not giving us more details!
We know some basic ideas behind the OS, and that it’ll be OpenSource, but it looks like we’re going to have to wait until “later this year” when the source is released, before we really know what’s going on!

So that’s it for Week 28 – predictable?  Probably.. but it had to be dominated by this news.  Tune in next week, for the best and worst of next week, whatever they may be!

Google Chrome OS – What could it mean for netbooks?

The announcement of Google Chrome OS is certainly causing a stir around the internet.  Questions questions questions – everyone has them, and very few have answers up to now.

Initially, Google Chrome OS is going to be aimed at netbooks – you know, those small, ultra portable, cheap machines which aren’t quite powerful enough to be a proper laptop for most people, but are great to carry with you for basic computing.

So what could Google Chrome OS mean for these devices?  Well.. I think you’ll agree, they could open that whole market up even more, and in a big way.

Specification – Speed, Storage, and Graphics

Netbooks generally come with a low power processor (Intel Atom for example), around 1GB RAM and a low end graphics card to power the small LCD.  This not only keeps the cost down, but also improves battery life and of course produces a lighter device, which, is one of the primary focuses of the machine.

The fact is, Google Chrome OS, in theory, should be pretty light on resources – no applications to install to take up hard drive space, no applications to take up large amounts of RAM when running, and no heavy processing duties to carry out number crunching.

Everything should/will (?) be carried out server side – the device is only there to display the information being fed to it.  I guess one aspect which wouldn’t be web driven is playing a DVD for example, but DVD playing can be completed quite easily on standard netbook hardware.

Specification is no longer an important factor then, if the device runs Google Chrome OS and embraces web applications.


A lot of netbooks come with a version of Microsoft Windows, although some do ship with a Linux installation. Google Chrome OS will be OpenSource, so therefore should have no cost associated with installing this to the laptop in terms of licensing.  In the case of the Windows’ netbooks, Google Chrome OS netbooks should be cheaper…… they can stay at a lower spec, with an OS which doesn’t “cost” a lot.


It will be interesting to see how applications are offered for use on Google Chrome OS.

Firstly, there’s the matter of cost/usage.  Would you pay to use each application?  Pay to remove ads?  Pay a monthly/yearly fee and gain access to a web app?  Purely advertisment supported?  Lots of possibilities.

The other thing to consider is software upgrade costs – there, in theory, shouldn’t be any.  If you are paying a monthly/yearly fee or using an ad-supported application, you would think that the web service offering that service would provide you with updates they make as they make them.  It doesn’t make sense to maintain multiple online versions, for different people – it’s a logistical and support nightmare – everyone on the newest and latest version, with all bug fixes is the way to go.
Everyone has bought an application and then within a year it’s out of date and you’re being e-mailed about all the great new features the new version has – wouldn’t it be great if you just opened that application up again and you had those features for no additional cost?  That’s what web can applications offer.

I’ll probably go into more detail about the apps in a future post, so keep checking back!


As mentioned above, portability is an important factor with netbooks – but we still have a sitation where if you have a file on your desktop machine, and you want to take it away with you to view/change whilst on the road, how do you do that?  You may use various methods including USB memory sticks, e-mailing them, etc – but then you get into the problem of having to “resync” the files when you return.  With Google Chrome OS, the emphasis is on online content – so, that document you have, if you create and edit it in Google Docs, it’ll be available from anywhere with an internet connection – your netbook, your PC, a laptop, a library PC, etc.

Then eventually, you’ll start using Google Chrome OS on your home PC (I guess that’s Google’s long term plan), and then data storage “in the cloud” really starts to make sense for you and your files – especially if you’re on the road a lot.

Collaboration with others

Collaboration is also a great feature of web-based applications – if you can access the files, this seems to suggest you can invite other people to view the files – you certainly can with Google Docs for example – if you share a file with another user, you can then view/edit it together – no complex file server configuration, just an internet connection and a browser for the parites involved.

Chrome OS Compatibility with Existing Hardware

Initially, Google are going to be working with OEMs to distribute Google Chrome OS on netbooks, but what about your existing netbook?  Will you need to buy a new machine?
Well, probably not – As Google Chrome OS is going to be an OpenSource offering based upon Linux, there is a large community already which work hard on creating a robust kernel with large hardware support.  That’s the great thing about OpenSource – with millions of people worldwide contributing towards a project, someone, somewhere, probably has that same hardware as you and is working on producing drivers/modules/code to support it.

So, in short, it’ll probably work with what you have at some point in the future, if not straight away.


It’s certainly a big announcement from Google, and there’s definetely justification for the large amount of press coverage you are seeing.

With netbooks certainly, the emphasis is on web content.. “a window to the web” if you like, and the current offerings seem to revolve around a web browser and some local applications – not really fully maximising what the device is/should be about.  With the release of Google Chrome OS, this could all change, and we could find ourselves maximising the use of new and existing online services a whole lot more.

Stay with droptips to be the latest to learn about the new OS, as and when details become available!  Subscribe to our RSS feed or E-mail notifications for any new posts made here on, so you’ll be the first to know, what we know, with regards to this exciting new operating system!

Please let me know your thoughts by using the comments on this post, or on Twitter @dazuk!

Taking a Screenshot of a Web Page (OSX)

There may be occasions where you want to take a full sized image of any web page – for historical reasons or just because you want to keep a snapshot of that page.  You may have, up to now, taken a screenshot of the browser window, but most web pages are larger than the window, so you only get part of the page.

Paparazzi! is an application for OSX, where you can give it the URL of any web page, it’ll go to that page, and create an image file of it – simple process but very effective, so give it a go!
You can download the application here:

I’ve taken a screenshot of a page on using Paparazzi, which you can see below. I’ve also included a screenshot of the application itself.


Google Chrome OS: What we know so far..

There’s a lot of information and news floating around the internet about Google Chrome OS.  This post aims to do a quick roundup of the main information, so you don’t end up viewing the some 1500 news stories (at present) about it!

I’ve taken information from the original Google blog post (which, of course, we can take as fact), as well as other blogs around asking questions and dicussing the announcement!

What we know..

  • It’ll be OpenSource – You’ll be able to download the source code.   Google working close with the community is a great thing, and likely to have all of the benefits of OpenSource development with large corporate backing.  Source to be released later this year (2009).
  • Primarily aimed at netbooks to start with, and set for release in the second half of 2010 on netbooks.
  • Designed to be lightweight.
  • Seperate project to Google Android, which is focused on smaller devices such as phones and set-top boxes
  • Designed to work very closely with the web – existing operating systems were designed when everyone didn’t have internet access, and there wasn’t the large amount of online applications now available, such as Google Docs, Google Talk, etc.  Now with the possibilities of web sites, the OS should integrate more/completely.  (of course, this is what Google want…)
  • Speed, simplicity and security are the main aspects.
  • With regards to speed – why should you wait for large applications to load onto your computer just to be able to use them?  Use an online system!
  • Also, with regards to speed, the only thing which can slow it down is the internet connection (or remote server which should be unlikely).  No slowing down over time due to malware, large applications, etc.  PCs/Laptops will run the same as they do the day you bought it!
  • Will run on both x86 and ARM architectures.
  • Google are working with multiple netbook OEMs to get Chrome OS on to netbooks from next year.
  • Chrome OS is designed for people who spend most of their time on the web – who doesn’t nowadays?

Of course, there are still lots of questions..

  • Will it be ad-supported?  (unlikely being OpenSource, but the Online Applications may be – such as Google Mail)
  • What sort of applications are possible?  Does everything need coding from scratch as a web application?  It’s not likely to run  Adobe PhotoShop (in the current form, at least).. as Chrome OS is Linux and web based.  What about current Linux applications such as GIMP?
  • As it’s OpenSource, will Google allow large modifications by the community?  Will they allow forks of the code to different projects?
  • Will it have much of an interface on the local machine?
  • What sort of internet connection will someone need to be able to use it properly?
  • How extendable is it?  It should be very extendable being OpenSource – that’s the point, hopefully!
  • Will it work on my current PC/Laptop?  Can I run it at the same time as Windows?  Will it work on my Mac?  (Linux works on all, as a dualboot or even as a Live CD, so I don’t see why not?)
  • Can it take a serious market share away from Microsoft Windows?  No.. really.. can it?  And, of course, what about Mac OS X?   Where does it leave other Linux distributions such as Ubuntu?
  • A million and one other questions which will hopefully become clear pretty soon!

This is a roundup of what we do know and a few common questions I’m seeing floating around the internet on various blogs.

What do you think to Chrome OS?  Is it going to be a great success or a disaster?  Do you have any questions you’d like answering?  We might not have the answer now, but we will certainly look out for them in the future.

Use the comments on this post to let us know your thoughts.. or if you use Twitter, we’re on there @droptips!

Vim Text Editor: Use Spaces Instead of Tabs

By default, Vim uses tabs instead of spaces when you press the tab button.  There is an ongoing argument around the internet (which we won’t go into now, but may in the future!) on what you should use, but, either way, you may want/need to change your tabs to spaces.  These are often called “soft tabs” – every time you press the tab key, it inserts a certain amount of spaces.

You can do this quite easily in Vim, by editing your .vimrc file.  You simply add these two lines:

set expandtab
set tabstop=2

If you don’t want to edit your .vimrc file, or just want to make it a temporary change whilst you work on a certain file, you can also change the setting from within vim by prefixing the above commands with a colon:

:set expandtab
:set tabstop=2

This will set the space count to 2, on every tab, which is a common requirement (some guides recommend two spaces so lots of people use it).  Of course, it could easily be 4, 6, 8 etc.. so choose whichever you require.