I’ve been happily using pfSense for a few years now and have generally been quite happy with it’s performance and feature set, however I learned recently that the installation files that can be downloaded from the pfSense website is not the same code that is open sourced on Github. I try to stay away from the arguments about which software is ‘more’ open source friendly, but I do like to support the projects that are committed to a FOSS (Free and Open Source) model without up-selling additional features. I don’t have anything against up-selling additional features, but IMO up-selling additional features can lead to a neglected core product.
pfSense – Thank You
I am not leaving pfSense because I didn’t like the project, but because I wanted to try something new that is more committed to an Open Source future. pfSense is a great solution for any networking enthusiast, and I would not hesitate to recommend it. However, as you will see below, I would first recommend OPNsense for a few main reasons…
Full-featured email notifications (pfSense had some email notifications but they were severely limited)
I’ve always wondered about OPNsense and if it could offer some of the things I often wanted in pfSense but could not easily achieve, and so far I have been very pleasantly pleased with the installation & configuration.
Installation was straightforward (although I installed it in a Proxmox VM):
Finish the rest of the configuration in the OPNsense web GUI (Default user/password: root/opnsense)
Migrating from pfSense
The most daunting task that I was dreading was figuring out how to migrate to OPNsense from pfSense with minimal downtime. I had heard of a slight possibility that certain sections of pfSense configuration backups could be imported into OPNsense, but I decided to avoid that route in order to start with as clean of an OPNsense installation as possible. My migration path was:
Step through each menu in pfSense and update the corresponding setting in OPNsense
Some configuration items didn’t exist like the awesome pfBlocker (I will miss this)
When I came to the ‘Interfaces’ section, I setup each interface with a different (temporary) static IP
After all configuration items were finished, I began to shut down services on pfSense and enable them on OPNSense one at a time (i.e., disable dhcp on LAN, and enable LAN DHCP on OPNSense with same lease range)
Finally I disabled the interfaces on pfSense and re-configured the static IP addresses on the OPNSense interfaces to match how they were configured in pfSense.
The Features I’ve Always Wanted!
Full-featured Email Notifications, Reporting, Settings Search, Home Assistant Integration…
Zoneminder is a Free Open Source Software (FOSS) Network Video Recorder (NVR). It is claims to be one of the most advanced and scalable video surveillance systems available. It provides an API that can be used via a web interface, a mobile app, or third party software. Out of the box Zoneminder offers a simple camera viewer, motion detection, event notifications, and much more. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s what a ‘montage’ view on Zoneminder looks like (via the iOS app and the web view).
The Mobile App (ZmNinja) is also open source. It can be compiled or purchased on the AppStore for around $6. It offers a very elegant and full-featured interface to mange cameras, view events, and receive push notifications to mention a few.
This screenshot of the web view shows a list of connected cameras, their configurations, and events. A ‘montage’ camera stream view similar to the iOS view is also available.
Why use Zoneminder?
It’s Open Source! If you’ve read any of my other posts, I’m a huge proponent of Free & Open Source Software (FOSS). Open Source means the software can be trusted to not include nasty key loggers and other privacy invasive features (I’ll admit I rarely verify this myself).
It’s Free! Since Zoneminder is free (and always will be) it is worth trying!)
It’s feature rich! It lacks very little (if any) features that commercial NVR systems offer.
It’s relatively easy to install (See below for installation/configuration details)
It’s locally controlled! (No cloud needed – or wanted!
It has an optional Open Source mobile App (Approx. $6 if you buy it on the AppStore)
It’s hardware efficient (IMO – It seems to require less resources than alternatives).
If the above reasons aren’t enough to convince you to give Zoneminder a try, I can tell you from experience that I’ve tried most of the other alternatives to Zoneminder (MotionEye, BlueIris, AgentDVR) and have found Zoneminder to be superior in most respects (although a bit more advanced to setup – see below). I don’t mean to be critical, but below I will list my main complaints about the alternatives I’ve listed. If I’ve forgotten about other good alternatives, pleas let me know in the comments!
Seemed to be quite resource hungry
No mobile app (although web interface is quite reasonable)
Did not seem very scalable (more than 4 cameras seemed to be buggy for me)
Currently Windows Only as of 2021
Not Free ($65 as of 2021)
Not Open Source
Subscription required for advanced features and updated via web GUI
Requires a web account for some features
Requires webRTC (a technology I’m not a huge fan of)
No mobile App (although webGUI is quite reasonable)
I’ll admit that Zoneminder can seem daunting to setup for someone not very tech-savvy, and may not be the best choice for someone with no knowledge of linux or command line experience. For most people that are reading this they probably already have enough tech knowledge or are willing to learn how to setup Zoneminder. There are a variety of ways to setup Zoneminder, but since I already use Docker, it was definitely the easiest path for me and the one I will outline below:
Install Docker Engine
If you don’t already have the docker engine installed, you’ll need to install it via the terminal or via a Docker Desktop application. Once installed you will have access to the docker terminal command.
Although docker-compose isn’t technically required, it does make running docker containers much more manageable and repeatable (if the physical computer you have docker on crashes). Follow the official documentation to install docker-compose.
Create your docker-compose file.
Create a directory somewhere called docker-compose (mine is located at ~/docker-compose). Inside that directory create a file named docker-compose.yaml and in a text editor modify the file to look like the following (If you want to access Zoneminder on a port other than 80, modify the first ’80’ in the ports section, otherwise, leave it as is).
That’s about it, now we should be able to run Zoneminder! A few optional notes before we try it:
The configuration above will automatically start Zoneminder whenever the host machine (your computer, or the Proxmox Virtual Machine in my case – stay tuned for some Proxmox tutorials!) is started.
The configuration above can also be modified to also run a ZoneminderEventNotification, object detection server, and more. Basically you just need to change the 0’s to 1’s (note if you do this it could take hours on the first start of Zoneminder since it will need to compile dependencies).
To start Zoneminder we just need to tell docker to run our docker-compose file which will run any containers defined in it (currently only Zoneminder). To run the docker-compose file simply run:
# Remember this command - you'll need it to restart your docker containers
# if they don't start up automatically for some reason
docker-compose up -d
# If you get a permissions error, you may need to run the command as sudo
sudo docker-compose up -d
Give it a few minutes to configure itself and then try to navigate to http://<your-computer-ip-address>/zm/ or http://localhost/zm/ and you should see Zoneminder!
If you don’t see the Zoneminder web interface, give it some more time because it could still be starting up (it takes a while on the first start). For additional troubleshooting you can also visit the Zoneminder Forums.
Zoneminder System Configuration
I’ll leave all the advanced options up to you, but some Zoneminder options should probably be changed right away by clicking on the Options menu:
I would recommend adding authentication under Options > System > OPT_USE_AUTH
If using authentication, add some random text to Options > System > AUTH_HASH_SECRET
If you want to use Zoneminder with Home Assistant, make sure Options > System > OPT_USE_API is enabled (see below for Home Assistant configuration)
To add a camera, simply click on +Add in the Console view. You will be prompted with a camera configuration – don’t be overwhelmed with the options, you only need to change a few:
Name : the name of your camera
ffmpeg if you have access to an RTSP stream for your camera
Remote if you only have an ip address for your camera and no RTSP stream
If using ffmpeg, enter your RTSP stream in Source Path
If using Remote, enter your camera’s ip address in Host Name and choose the camera’s port and/or path of the camera image files
Choose your camera’s resolution
After saving the camera configuration you should see the camera on the Console view with a green indicator icon. If the indicator is red, you may need to play with the camera configuration some more or consult the Zoneminder documentation for more details about your type of camera.
Home Assistant Integration
If you haven’t heard of Home Assistant, read my post about it here. If you know about Home Assistant you’ll want the integration which is almost too easy to install. Simply navigate to Configuration > Integrations > + and search for Zoneminder. If you don’t find Zoneminder, you may need to set it up via configuration.yaml since the config-flow setup was removed after a bug was found. To set up the integration manually, add the following to your configuration.yaml:
# Be sure to add zoneminder_url, zoneminder_username, and zoneminder_password
# to your secrets.yaml file!
- host: !secret zoneminder_url
username: !secret zoneminder_username
password: !secret zoneminder_password
- platform: zoneminder
First off, I’d like to spend a minute appreciating the craftsmanship and the premium nature of the squeezebox line of products. Almost a decade before the current ‘smart’ speakers that are common today (Echo, HomePod, GoogleHome, etc), the Squeezebox sported much of the same functionality:
Premium Quality Sound
Remote Control (via a handheld remote & web interface)
Streaming radio, podcasts, music, etc
Apps for extensible functionality
Web Interface for local and remote access (most modern speakers don’t offer local control)
Local API for extensibility (I don’t know of any modern speakers that offer this!)
A community of users for great support (still exists today!)
An Orphaned Squeezebox
Recently at my workplace we upgraded the office speaker and had an orphaned Squeezebox Boom. We were ready to recycle the 12 year old speaker, but it still seemed to have so much potential. The speaker hardware worked flawlessly (although the online services have been neglected by Logitech). Naturally, since I knew the Squeezebox had a local API, my instinct was to check if Home Assistant had any support for such a device, and sure enough it has a Logitech Squeezebox integration! After browsing the integration documentation I figured it would be worth an effort to give the Squeezebox a new life.
Prerequisite for Integration: Logitech Media Server
The Home Assistant documentation indicated that I would need to have a Logitech Media Server in order to control the Squeezebox – A slight inconvenience, but a quick search on DockerHub revealed some pre-built docker containers that can provide me with a self-hosted alternative to the Internet reliant interface that Logitech could shut down at any time. Setting up the docker container was as simple as adding the following to my docker-compose file and running: docker-compose up -d. Stay tuned for future posts about Docker & docker-compose. They are great tools for quickly setting up various services!
Everyone likes home automation – if it works! We’ve all been excited about that smart switch or wireless light that we can control from anywhere in the world, but how great is it really? For a few ‘smart’ devices it may seem work well, but once you begin to accumulate more than a handful of devices you will quickly begin to realize that you have as many apps as you do smart devices and you will begin to start asking questions like:
Which app controls which device?
Do I have to download all these apps for each member of my family?
Wouldn’t it be nice if I could control all my smart devices with a single app?
Why can’t I connect my smart devices together?
All of these questions can be answered with a tool called Home Assistant. In the most basic of terms, Home Assistant is a tool that pulls all of your smart devices into a single app. I will save the details of Home Assistant future posts, but it aims to do the following and much more:
Improve your privacy by reducing the need for internet based cloud services
Control all the smart devices in your home from a central location
Connect smart devices in your home in order to trigger perform actions like: When there is motion in the hallway, turn on the light
Provide a single app (web or mobile) to control and manage all your smart devices
Home Assistant may not be the ‘silver bullet’ for every situation, but I am willing to say that it is unequivocally the best home automation solution available today (as of 2020). Anyone interested in taking the next step in home automation should consider Home Assistant. Stay tuned and in the near future we will be discussing how to get started using this great tool, and why it is (in my opinion) superior, but friendly with other alternatives like Hubitat, SmartThings, and HomeKit.
(Full disclosure: I was not paid or in any way incentivized to speak so highly of Home Assistant)