I’ve been trying for months to figure out a way to be able to ssh into my desktop from home, working toward putting a machine in our school’s rack case, and bridging the firewall. That’s kind of spooky to do, but how else was I going to do it?
The I realized that I could VPN in. I’d never really grasped the reason for a VPN. If you want access to a remote box, just SSH there, right? Not in a windows world. It’s kind of handy though, it’s similar to sshfs, or nfs in practice.
In my school-provided windows partition, we have the official Cisco vpn client, and it Just Works. Quite nice. But I want to do it from Linux. Since I’m running Ubuntu, I checked to see what was offered.
What I found was vpnc and then kvpnc. vpnc is a command line client, and kvpnc is a very nice GUI for it, the only GUI I found worthwhile. I installed them with apt-get and fired up kvpnc. I quickly realized I needed info from the windows client, so I rebooted, saw there was an encrypted passwd in there, and went to boot back into Linux only to find that windows had chewed my MBR. That’s another story, so I’ll just say "I fixed it".
I noticed that kvpnc could import a pcf file, AND that Ubuntu had thoughtfully mounted my windows partition for me, so I did the import thing and kvpnc crashed HARD.
I went to the kvpnc site and noticed there wasn’t anything in the FAQ or Docs, but there was an IRC channel, so I jumped on there. There were only about 6 people there, and no-one was responding, so I joined the users email list and put out my question.
That got the attention of Christoph Thielecke, the lead developer of kvpnc, and he perked up on IRC and we started working through things. It turns out that Ubuntu Dapper ships with kvpnc 0.8.2.1 which had "issues". He quickly made a deb file of the latest version he ahd handy, which was 0.8.5.1. That let me load the pcf file, but wouldn’t connect. Christoph said it was a bug in vpnc, and spent some time making a deb of the latest version of kvpnc, 0.8.6.1. Once I had that, it Just Worked, and I was in!
Keep in mind that Christoph is in Germany, and it was 3 am. I had some serious issues with a piece of software I really needed, and I was able to get the lead developer to personally help me at 3am his time, and he was HAPPY to. Open Source just rules.