Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dumbest things I was told in 2008

Some of these are computer related, but some aren't.
  1. That changing incorrect instructions couldn't be done because it would break translations (which were also, obviously, incorrect and already broken). -- Debian and Ubuntu developer.
  2. That a virus destroyed someone's hard drive. -- A friend
  3. That this same hard drive had to be replaced for 110K won (~$100) when it was still only a month old and under warranty. -- same friend (Sorry, dude -- you're on the list twice.)
  4. That employees "worry too much about what's in their contract." -- Superintendant of the shool district when she tried to make everyone work unpaid overtime.
  5. "Do you want to hamburger?" -- An English teacher for the district teaching a unit on want.
  6. "How do I install a .tar.gz? When I type 'dpkg -i file.tar.gz'' it fails." -- System administrator.
  7. "Your an idiot." -- Sogoodsofarsowhat
  8. "I made the front page of Digg." -- Me (Like ... who cares?)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Microsoft's ODF Plans -- Business as Usual.

It what is probably the least shocking development of the holidays, Microsoft's announced support of ODF in MS Office 2007 SP2 will not be interoperable with other implementations of the standard.

Microsoft has announced that ODF will be implemented in Office 2007 SP2, due out between February and March of 2009. Under MS's Document Interoperability Initiative (DII), a preview of the implementation strategy has been released, but it varies significantly from other suite's current implementation of the standard, ODF Alliance Managing Director Marino Marcich said in an interview with PCWorld. He claims that MS's course will break interoperability.

I feel like I should be writing for BoycottNovell now, but I can honestly say that very few people I've talked to over the last year expected MS to do anything different than the announced plan. Most of us expected MS's ODF to behave in strange ways that would break any chance for other office suites to get a fair shake.

MS's OOXML doesn't meet the specs and is thus a lock-in. MS's ODF is intentionally breaking interoperability, giving people the impression that either the standard or the other office suites are sub-standard. It appears not as much has changed in Redmond as what many tech writers would have you believe.

Business as usual at MS.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thirty Years of Computing and Eleven Using Linux

I got my first computer for Christmas in 1978 -- a Tandy Model I with 4KB of RAM (the one shown in the picture has the 48KB + disk drive expansion which I got a couple years later). I used that system for much longer than I should have, did a little Unix in university, and switched to Linux full time some time in December 1997, though I didn't mark it on my calendar.

I realized, though, that I've spect very little of my life using MS Windows -- probably under five years. That still doesn't get me out of tech support for my friends.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A PDC the Easy Way

My friend Tommy from Burma has been trying to set up Ubuntu 8.04 as a PDC. He's following an e-book he got, and the thing is killing him (and by proxy, me). I want him to follow this advice: download eBox 0.12.1, install it, log into the web admin page, and turn on file sharing with PDC (and roaming profiles if you want that). Add the users, and you'll be done. That was easy, wasn't it?

The eBox install disk weighs in a 560MB and is based on Ubuntu 8.04. In fact, The install is in two parts. The base Ubuntu system is installed, the system reboots, and the rest of the eBox system is installed. This kind of reminds me of the old, two-stage Debian install. Everything is on the disk so you don't need network access if you can't get hooked up.

In addition to Samba, eBox has an LDAP server. That means that eBox can serve as a bridge while you start a migration from Windows to another oprating system. Since I've never seen an easy LDAP installation, eBox seems the way to do that.

If you want a cut-down version of eBox, it can operate as a firewall and VPN system, too. Each of the modules can be deactivated or removed to trim the system down.

Still not convinced? There's a web server with user shares, a mail server with quotas, a Jabber server, a DHCP server, a print server, and a proxy server with Dansguardian.

If you are one of the few small businesses which doesn't have an actual server yet, consider using eBox.

Is it brain-dead easy? No. You'll need just as much know-how to set this up as you would getting a Windows Server PDC going and secure. Once eBox is going, you should be good for the next four years. There are no client licenses to buy or limitations on number of connections, either.

Consider it, eh, Tommy? Save me some headaches.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Would you lease a computer?

UK providers are increasingly offering . This brings up a questions about whether you would lease a notebook or not.

If the provider offered free use of a netbook or notebook (your choice) with basic needed software for a two-year data contract, would you go for it? The machine would, of course, be under warranty for that entire time, and after two years, you would turn it in and receive a newer model if you signed up for another two years.

Would it work for you? Do you need to own your machine? What kinds of ToS clauses would turn you off from such a deal?

See the sidebar for a poll.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Linux, The Perfect Gift, on Sale Now at

Amazon has three Linux-based netbooks on sale for the holidays, at up to 24% off.

-- $417

This one is the one I'd get if I were in the U.S. At 24% off retail, it's a steal.
It comes with:
  • 1 GB RAM, 
  • 20 GB Solid State Drive, 
  • Xandros Linux, 
  • and a 4 Cell Battery

-- $481

It's only 3% off, but has a larger drive and better battery:
  • 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 Processor, 
  • 1 GB RAM, 40 GB Solid State Drive, 
  • Xandros Linux, 
  • 6 Cell Battery

-- $533

This one is more expensive, an older base model (with Via chip), and only 8% off, but it has had wonderful reviews, especially for the keyboard. I wouldn't want the hard disk, though.
  • C7-M 1.2 GHz Processor, 
  • 1 GB RAM, 
  • 120 GB Hard Drive, 
  • Suse Linux

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Want Your Friend to Switch?

Do a friend a favor. Don't sell him Linux. Don't try to "convert" him, please. If he is actually interested, give him something as simple and Windows-like as you can. I generally go for Linux Mint. It's got the stuff in the right place. Thoroughly check hardware support, make sure your friend can play all his media, and check that he can use all his peripherals BEFORE you convert anything over. Don't even start if there's any question. Back up ALL his data for him.

Set the thing up for unattended upgrades. Install SSH and get a dyndns account so that you can admin his box from wherever you are. Then be prepared to spend some serious time helping him get used to those little things that are different. He's going to need it.

Make converting to Linux the best experience of his life. Please. I don't need to read any more "My friend wanted me to try Linux but now I'm stuck at a text prompt and this sucks" blog posts.

RE: Why OS X Shrugs Off Viruses Off Better Than Windows


No third-party exploits allowed, OS X hacked: "Charlie Miller, principal analyst with Independent Security Evaluators and the researcher who found some significant flaws in Apple's iPhone last summer, compromised the Apple MacBook Air in less than a minute." --

Third-party exploits allowed: "With brand new boxes running both Ubuntu and Vista remaining, Macaulay spent day three switching back and forth between the two machines, trying to get his Flash exploit to execute properly. He was assisted by Alex Sotirov, a security researcher at VMware."

Vista hacked: "They had done some stuff in Vista to prohibit this form of attack from being successful on third party software," Macaulay said minutes after he finally commandeered the Fujitsu U810 laptop. "We had to do some porting to get around that issue.

Macaulay and Sotirov fashioned some javascript to circumvent the new measure, a feat that effectively allows them "to render that protection ineffective," Macaulay said." -- ...

Ubuntu remained unhacked, despite "Macaulay ... switching back and forth between the two machines" People need to deal with reality. For security:
Ubuntu > Vista > OS X

Not that Ubuntu is the pinnacle of security or anything ....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

gOS Cloud to Take On Splashtop

Earlier this year, Splashtop came on the scene promising virtually instant boots to a limited OS for web browsing and media playback. Now, gOS Cloud is getting into the mix with a custom OS that fits in 35MB of disk space and works in 128MB RAM.
There is no desktop, only a browser (Chrome?) with a "dock" in the home page. The dock keeps with the standard look of gOS.

Feature List
  • Web browser with Icon Dock Inside
  • Network Manager
  • Power Button
  • Boot to Window XP/Vista or Linux OS
  • Battery Life Indicator
  • Volume Controls
  • My Files & Viewers
For comparison, take a look at Splashtop:

Fixing Linux: What's (Not Really) Broken And What To Do About It

This article made Slashdot, so I'm going to beat it apart section by section here. It's not that I think the system we've got is perfect -- see my rants on my specific printer, TV-out on a Radeon, and a crap=load of complaints about Ubuntu in particular, but these are not systemic problems. They are simply QC. They are details that slipped under the radar (or, in the worst cases, simply ignored). On with it, then.
or InformationWeak?

Package management

It works. Well. You use Yum if you are on an RH-style system, YaST if you are on a Suse-style system, and Apt for Debians. You don't need to know that, though. You just fire up your graphical package system (Add/REmove or Synaptic or whatever) and choose. It's downloaded and installed. You stay with your repositories. You don't add a bunch of stupid crap not made for your system. You definitely don't try to shoehorn stuff into the system if you want it to be stable.

Ubuntu was talking about a single-click repo add a while back. Really bad idea. Easy, yes -- dangerous, moreso.

Would it be nice if everyone just gave up years of work and standardized on RPM or Deb? No, not really. Heh heh. The truth is that it doesn't matter. Windows users that want to download a program need to look up in a table to find the one they need. If you want to download Skype as a Linux user, you do the same thing. No biggie.

But, really, we don't want individually downloadable applications. If anything, I want the $DISTRO store to handle that for me. I give my CC number to one group. I trust them. They check the binaries for nasties. I download from the store, and it has a nice built-in tool.

Configuration Files

I don't want the Windows registry on my system. He does. I wrote about someone on the FD.o list trying to make something like this. See where it went? People don't want it. Period.

Sure. Some files are Bash-style. Some are PHP-like. Some are XML. Who cares? I never need to edit them. I use a GUI. The guy wants "self-documenting config files." We have them. The files are well documented. Did he ever read one of them? It takes a lot of work and stupidity to fuck up a Samba file.

Kernel ABI

We don't want a stable ABI. Linus wants to "innovate." A stable ABI means that you can't go in some new direction. The unstable ABI means that it's really difficult for automated worms to propogate. Win-win. If you are a develpper and want to support multiple systems, recompile. Use a compile farm. There are several to choose from. If you are a minor distro with no chance of developer interest, use a kernel compatible with some major distro.

There. I fixed the problem for you.

Native File Versioning

File versioning is disk expensive. Very few people need or want it. Yeah, btrfs is going to have this. I'm pretty sure that it won't be used for most parts of the system. Who wants recoverable temp files? If you want to do this right now, use SVN for /etc and /home. You're done. I agree, though, that nothing exists like Time Machine (no, not the graphics). It would be nice to undelete one contact.

Audio on Linux

I think he cribbed LHB on this one. Yes, PulseAudio sucks right now. I have no idea why it went mainstream when it did. ESD, though, worked well for desktop use for years. There was no locking problem. espdsp solved any legacy problems. Very few people needed the kind of performance JACK offers. Plenty of people just used ALSA straight.

Pulse is now getting mature, though, and all this difficulty during change is going bye-bye.

Graphical User Interface

To that end, what's needed is a single steering committee for all GUIs that work on Linux, so that whatever GUIs are created -- be they GNOME, KDE, or not-yet-invented -- will have a consistency of implementation on the backend, and make it possible to have tight integration of features with the kernel, a la BeOS. 
We have it. At the desktop level, it's called The desktops you want are called "FD.o-compliant." Do your research before flaming.

Integration Of X11 With Apps

X shouldn't die. Let's not work around the problem by saying "When it dies, I want to recover nicely." Let's fix the problem with dying. Removing your NVidia or ATI binary driverwill probably go a long way toward that.

X is a networking system. I've done lots of forwarding (including early LTSP), but I'm not an expert. I'm going to guess, though, that what he wants completely destroys the networking aspect and one of the great features of X.

Commercially Hosted Backup And Restore

We have for Dell and for GOS. We have DropBox for others. Pretty much any distro can create a partnership with some of these folks. Some of the distros do it now. Some don't. Choose one that does to get the functionality you want. There. Easy.


Most of what's wrong with Linux is in the eye of people who want it to be something else. It's Free Software. Make it that something else, eh? If people want it, they'll come flocking. It worked for Ubuntu. It worked for Gentoo before that. It'll work for you.

Yeah, I said it: "if you want it, write it yourself." I broke the taboo. So sue me.
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