Powering down an old friend

I made bunch of purchases on Prime Day this year.  Among them was a replacement for my old home server, dubbed "Tallgeese".  Yes, I still use the same Gundam Wing naming theme I've had for like 20 years (if it ain't broke, don't fix it).  In fact, I've been using the name "Tallgeese" specifically to refer to my current non-laptop PC, whatever that happens to be, for a very long time.

Front view of the old TallgeeseBack view of the old Tallgeese

This box has served me well for over a decade.  It holds a special place in my heart because I built it myself from parts and upgraded it over many years.  The oldest part, by far, is the case.  I'm not 100% sure when I got that, but I think it might be the replacement for the broken one I referred to in this post from April 2005.  After that, the motherboard and CPU are quite old - I got those in September 2010.  The rest of the pieces are probably newer, but I don't really remember when they were replaced.

Now that I look at it, the specs on this box aren't actually that bad, even by modern standards.  Granted, they're still sub-par for anything made in the last five years, but it's still got enough horse-power to do useful work.  It's got a 4-core processor, the motherboard is maxed out at 8GB of RAM, and it has just over 4TB of storage.  As a media server, it actually works just fine.

The old Tallgeese CPU and motherboard.  It hasn't been cleaned in a while.

But on the other hand, you can also tell its age just by looking at the hardware.  For instance, that PCI card near the bottom is a sound board - a relic from the bad-old-days when Linux users needed to actually care about what kind of sound cards they bought if they wanted audio to work properly.  You can also see an internal media card reader in front with a crap-ton of slots - another relic from before everybody had settled on SD and microSD.  And you can't miss the two DVD drives - a DVD-ROM drive and a DVD+RW drive.  One of them is broken, but they're so irrelevant by this point that I no longer remember which one.  And we can't forget the serial, parallel, and PS/2 ports.  I don't even remember how long it's been since I used a PS/2 mouse or keyboard.  (For those too young to remember: "PS/2" is for the IBM Personal System/2, not PlayStation 2 - though that's old now, too.  And while I still have a PlayStation 2, I never has an IBM PS/2 - we had a PS/1 instead!)  The pictures also don't show the VGA-to-HDMI dongle I had to use for video to get it to connect to my main monitor, which never really worked well anyway.  When everything was plugged in, the back panel was actually kind of a disaster area.

Of course, just "being old" isn't really enough reason to get rid of a perfectly good box.  Like I said, it still works.  At least for now.  But it's been plagued by occasional stability issues, particularly when I tried to do anything that involved graphics (e.g. playing Battle for Wesnoth, which isn't exactly the most graphically demanding game in the world).  It would occasionally just lock up for no obvious reason.  It's also a big, clunky box that's kinda loud and generates a lot of heat.  And most of the components are old enough that it doesn't even make sense to try and mitigate these short-comings.  It's cheaper and easier to just buy a new box and slap my preferred software on it.

The new TallgeeseMkII, with data drive enclosure and some size context.

So I ended up buying this little guy, which I'm dubbing "TallgeeseMkII" - that was the version with the blue trim in the cartoon.  Since it was Prime Day, I actually ended up getting the model with 16GB of RAM and the 512GB disk for about the same price.  It's got considerably more horse-power than the old box and the case is actually smaller than the external 3.5" drive enclosure I'm using to house the 4TB data drive from the old Tallgeese.  The entire setup will fit comfortably under one shelf of my new desk (which is another post).  For context, I included my Huey Games Droid Assault "cassette" (actually a USB drive, but shaped like an old-school cassette tape) and the wood-block panda painting my brother did for me.  For context, he originally started doing them that size because they were being sold out of repurposed vintage cigarette machines.  So yeah, significant space savings here.

But as I said, the old Tallgeese lives on, at least in the form of its data drive, which was relatively new and still perfectly good.  I also pulled out the OS drive, since that was still good and it's easier to just stick that in a USB enclosure to grab any config or files that I need than it is to get them from backups.  I doubt I'll be using it for much else, though - while it is an SSD, it's only 120GB.  But some of the files from it will live on, so I guess that counts for something.

Finally switching to NextCloud

It's the end of an era. (Cue overly dramatic music.)  I've been using ownCloud as my personal file/caldav/carddav server for years.  This week, I finally decided to switch to NextCloud.  This is my story.

The thing is, I actually remember when NextCloud split from ownCloud.  At the time, I was working on a (now-defunct) product that involved ownCloud.  Basically, my company's core business at the time was data backup, so we had a lot of servers with big disks and were looking for a way to monetize that extra space.  The idea at the time was to do that by integrating a "file sync and share" product into our offerings, and that product was a rebranded ownCloud Enterprise.  Of course, the "file sync and share" space was already pretty crowded, so that product never gained much traction, but it did help me get more into ownCloud and the company even paid to send me to their user conference in Berlin, where I got to meet their team (who, at the time, seemed not-very-impressed with the whole "NextCloud" thing) and see some sites.  So it was actually a great experience, even if the product didn't pan out.

Anyway, despite my affection for ownCloud, my motivation for this change was actually pretty simple and prosaic - I was upgrading my home server (that'll be another post), and I didn't want to downgrade shit.  See, I actually run two ownCloud instances - one on my local network for accessing various media files, and another in my web hosting, for caldav/carddav and files that I want to be highly available.  For my home instance, I was doing a fresh install of the latest Ubuntu MATE on  a brand-new box.  This shouldn't be an issue, except that MATE comes with PHP 8.1, but for some reason, ownCloud only supports PHP 7.4.

Yes, you heard that right - 7.4.  That's the newest version that's officially supported.  The last 7.x release.  The one that's no longer actively supported and has less than six months of security updates left.  That one.  That's what they still expect me to use.

For my previous home box, I believe I'd actually hacked up the source a bit to make it work (since I don't think I depended on anything that didn't work in 8.x), but week I was sick and I just didn't feel like it.  Depending on a version that's about to lose security fixes is crazy anyway.  So I figured I'd "upgrade" to NextCloud, since they actually recommend PHP 8.1.

For my home server, I just did a fresh install, which is fairly straight-forward.  The only annoying part was the Apache configuration, and that was only annoying because I was running NextCloud on a non-standard port and forgot to add a "Listen" directive. 🤦‍♂️ For this instance, there was no real need to do any migration, because the only data I had in there was the (very small) list of users - the rest was just files, which can be trivially re-indexed.

Upgrading the instance on my web hosting was another story.  Since that had my carddav and caldav data, I really did need to migrate that.  I was also already several versions behind on my updates - it was running ownCloud 10.3, whereas 10.8 was current.  However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

You see, NextCloud includes support for migrating from an ownCloud instance.  The thing is, they only support specific migrations.  In my case, the relevant case was that you can migrate from exactly ownCloud 10.5 to NextCloud 20.  Sadly, it took me a couple of tries to realize that the version migration matrix are exact, so there was no path to directly migrate from ownCloud 10.3 to NextCloud.  So I had to use the auto-updater to update ownCloud 10.3 to 10.4, and then manually update ownCloud 10.4 to 10.5 (because the auto-updater wanted to go all the way to 10.8).  Then I could follow the migration process and manually update to NextCloud 20.  From there, I was able to use the NextCloud auto-updater four times to upgrade to the current version.

So the upgrade process was...tedious.  Not really "hard", but definitely tedious.  The directions are pretty clear and simple, it's just a lot of steps to get to a current version of NextCloud.  But at least none of the steps were particularly complicated or prone to error.  As data migrations go, it could be much worse.  And the best part is that it maintained URLs and credentials, so I didn't even have to reconfigure my caldav/carddav clients.

As far as NextCloud itself goes, it seems...pretty much like ownCloud, but nicer.  They've made the UI prettier (both for the web interface and the client app), added a nice dashboard landing page, and made some other cosmetic improvements.  They also seem to have a wider range of installable apps, which is nice.  I haven't had all that long to play with it yet, but so far it seems like a distinct upgrade.