Using a Western Digital My Passport Ultra on Linux

I’ve been trying to build a home file server, mostly to store backups, using a Raspberry Pi and a Western Digital My Passport Ultra as the main storage unit. For years, I used an old Compaq desktop tower as my backup computer, but the fact that it won’t turn on and the fact that it would cost more to fix it than to just buy a Raspberry Pi has lead me down this new road.

But after I bought the My Passport Ultra, I tried to plug it into my laptop, running Debian Sid. It would mount, but I could not access it through the file manager or on the command line. At first, I did what any good Linux user (or librarian) would do: I googled around for an answer. According to everything I read, the encryption on the My Passport Ultra required a Mac or Windows computer to decrypt, and even then you would still have a vestigial piece of their encryption on the drive.

I first tried to use their decryption software using Wine; that didn’t work because it couldn’t find the drive, even though it was plugged in and I had used winecfg to make sure the drive was discoverable. I then tried to use my wife’s old Mac, but quickly remembered why she doesn’t use it anymore and why I got her an Android tablet for Christmas last year: every 20-60 seconds, it would shutdown and reboot, so I didn’t ever have time to try and even download the decryption software.

However, being a Linux user, I decided to just try stuff. So I plugged the drive back into my computer. GParted would not run and would not recognize the drive, so I couldn’t format it that way. However, I finally found a solution, and a simple one at that: I unmounted it and then just ran the most basic formatting command out there.

sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdb1

Completely blew threw all of the My Passport Ultra’s supposed encryption (which I think was just software encryption, and nothing on the drive itself was actually encrypted) and made the whole thing completely usable by me. I later formatted it into btrfs for use on my file server, and it is now receiving an rsync of all of the pictures, music, and files from my laptop. Since there is so many threads out there about how it isn’t possible to use this drive on Linux without freeing it on a Windows or Mac computer, I figured I’d write this up so people know that yes, you can do it just on Linux.

Debian releases Squeeze!

For those of you who don’t know, I have run some distribution of Linux on my laptop since 2006 (Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu, Fedora, and currently Debian(in that order)) and I currently run Debian GNU/Linux on the server that runs this blog. Most Linux distributions release every six months to get the latest and greatest software out there to the masses, whereas Debian releases every 18-24 months and is meant to be a rock solid platform for you to build upon. Debian is also completely run by volunteers and has been for 17 years, proving itself to be a rock of the Linux community. I may experiment with other Linux distributions, but I always seem to come back to Debian. On Sunday, Debian released their 6.0 release, nicknamed Squeeze. It shows that a group of dedicated volunteers, now numbering around 1000, can really accomplish something remarkable.

Not only do I use Debian personally, but I know that my library’s IT staff uses a Debian derivative (Ubuntu) to run its servers. That means that all of the great services that the SCRC offers, such as our collections database, our digital archive, our public wiki, and our soon to be released Omeka site all run on free software created by volunteers. That’s not to mention that our new library website is going to be built on Drupal 7 and our new OPAC will have VuFind on top of it. Commercial vendors that provide library services, such as OCLC, Sirsi, and others can provide good services but their prices start to add up. Without free software, libraries and archives wouldn’t be able to provide nearly as many great services that we give to our patrons. With one of the rocks of the free software world coming out with a new release, its a good time to remember how much special collections and archives rely on our IT staff and the solutions they can provide to do remarkable things.

Sorry if I spammed your RSS feed

Hey everybody who’s on my RSS feed (all 4 of you), I’m sorry If I spammed your feed with all of my posts being reposted. I just moved my WordPress to a new server, which should be faster and better. This will also let me get updates from WordPress faster, since I’m now running Debian Testing instead of Ubuntu for my server.

All in all, it should be a better experience for all of us. Thanks!