Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Monthly Archives / February 2012

  • Feb 29 / 2012
  • 8

Linus Swats Security on SUSE

Linus is more than a bit outspoken and is not shy to use strong language. He is in the news lately because SUSE asks for the root password for:

  • setting up wireless,
  • setting up a new printer, and
  • setting date/time, timezone…

He has a point. There are systems where these settings are crucial for security but a kid’s notebook at school is proabably not one of them. In a business you may well not want 1000 nude photos to be printed in the boss’ office ( I have seen that. A student caught the principal’s password…) but in a school with the local system admin protecting what he wants to protect, not so much.

Fortunately GNU/Linux is flexible and the guy who controls the “root” account can set it up so that a mortal user can do these things. Even if the root user doesn’t want to bother with security settings for some reason, root can set up a cron job to copy settings from a user’s directory to the system. One way or another it can be done.

The machine I am using is not wireless but I can deal with the other two:

  • printer settings – CUPS (Common UNIX Printing System) has settings that allow root to give any or all mortal users the ability to control printing completely. On my Debian GNU/Linux system there is a group for that, “lpadmin”.
    usermod -a -G lpadmin pogson does the trick and pogson is in the group as soon as he logs in and can tweak CUPS/printer settings and add printers. Of course there is a risk of messing it up so a system administrator should backup the settings before doing this so they can be put back if necessary. An ordinary user can use a CUPS client application or the web interface on http://localhost:631 to control CUPS. The web interface needs to be opened up to allow both access from localhost and local clients. You can also give a particular user control over settings of a particular printer and allow them to change settings for that printer only. So, define a printer, “joe” and allow the mobile user to define it to be whatever he needs wherever he needs it.
  • timezone – There is no need to have a travelling normal user change the timezone settings of a PC. They can simply use a client application with a variable set as needed:
    Wed Feb 29 15:55:51 CST 2012
    pogson@beast:~$ TZ='America/Vancouver' date
    Wed Feb 29 13:56:31 PST 2012
    One can easily tweak these things in Debian GNU/Linux. My current desktop uses an XFCE4 date/time plug-in which does have a timezone setting but I could replace it with a cron job to display the string above every minute as needed as a normal user. On my system, I can also redefine the “date” command in .bashrc as alias date="TZ='America/Toronto' date"

So, Linus may be right that SUSE is too inflexible for his daughter but Debian GNU/Linux is not. The system administrator can easily set it up so that a normal user can do what he needs.

  • Feb 29 / 2012
  • 0

Canadian Senator Daniel Lang Starts Debate on Ridding Us of the Long Firearm Registry

Yesterday, in Canada’s Senate Daniel Lang began the debate for second reading. I could not say it any better. There were several fine speeches following. He and others spoke from wisdom on the problems the present bill will cure but nothing will undo the harm done so far by misguided attempts to fix illusionary problems and pitch one group of Canadians against another. Debate was adjourned and may resume today.


Criminal Code
Firearms Act

Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Adjourned
Hon. Daniel Lang moved second reading of Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act.

He said: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-19, entitled, Ending the Long-gun Registry Act.

I would like to begin with a quote from the poet George Santayana. He said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Allow me to explain.

Ninety-three years ago, the Canadian Parliament enacted gun control legislation requiring gun owners to obtain a permit for all firearms, including small arms, rifles and shotguns. A year later, this requirement was repealed. I refer to the debates of May 6, 1921, when then Minister of Justice Charles Doherty stated:

There has been very general representation that the existing law operated too rigorously, lent itself to abuses and subjected citizens to unnecessary annoyance. Continue Reading

  • Feb 29 / 2012
  • 2

Proof of the Usability of GNU/Linux

For years, I have been told by various people from the world of IT that GNU/Linux will never make it on the desktop because of [insert list of complaints/claims/exaggerations/irrelevancies] even while many millions of individuals, schools, organizations, businesses large and small and governments installed and used GNU/Linux as their main OS. A lot of these comments came from the USA where, we are told, real businesses depend so much on particular applications and ways of doing IT that M$ is essential and will never be displaced.

If this were mathematics, such assertions would only need one counter-example to be disproved. I will try again with this, NetApplications counts for Mountain View, California, USA.How can any of the FUD be true when a whole community of 74K people can do 88% of its IT with GNU/Linux?

Only a couple of years ago, they were able to do their IT with that other OS but chose to change quickly.

According to NetApplications, virtually all IT can be done by GNU/Linux in a small city in USA. That should be a sufficient counter-example unless the FUDsters claim Mountain View limits its use of IT to trivial stuff, or that everyone in that city is a GNU/Linux geek or that it’s somehow irrelevant. No, the FUD will go on. Denial is too strong an instinct.

UPDATE This just goes to show us that we must not depend on “partners” of M$ for our data. When I wrote this post, the percentage for GNU/Linux was ~90%. Now that show a few percent… see Mountain View, California, Penguin Heaven

  • Feb 29 / 2012
  • 10

M$ Still Confused by Leap Year

Should people who don’t understand Leap Year be in charge of your IT? I don’t think so. I recommend Debian GNU/Linux who seem to have it done right.

M$ lost its cloud today with the February 29 thing. It seems a certificate expired, or something…

M$ has had problems with dates before, sometimes due to making backwards-compatible bugs:

They are brave or foolhardy to be launching a demo today.

see Microsoft’s Azure cloud down and out for 8 hours

  • Feb 28 / 2012
  • 6

GNU/Linux for the Masses

So far there have been lots of smartphones and tablets running FLOSS but this year a new kind of gadget is becoming mainstream, the computer on a stick. The best one I have seen comes with Ubuntu GNU/Linux or Android/Linux and you can connect USB keyboard/mouse and HDMI monitor/TV. That should work for everyone.

Price? $199 Today. I don’t know what more anyone could want except perhaps Debian GNU/Linux on the gadget. This kind of thing can be manufactured for much less and I expect in a year or so it will be affordable by even a larger segment of the market for personal computing.

If there’s one drawback to this it is that it is too portable and probably would need to be glued down in places like schools. Another is that you need at least a USB hub in addition but it is still the smallest working computer that functions more or less as one normally expects a PC to function.

  • Feb 28 / 2012
  • 2

Mountain View, California, Penguin Heaven

I used NetApplications‘ data to create this gem:

It clearly shows that there was a huge migration to GNU/Linux in 2010 in Mountain View, California. Besides showing that Google did migrate users of those other operating systems to GNU/Linux, it shows how NetApplications manages to show GNU/Linux having a minor share globally. The graph above shows some trials or people migrating at home followed by a huge shift at work and a continued upward trend as people did at home what they did at work. Since Google only has 10K employees in Mountain View, they alone could not have caused this shift, unless NetApplications is over-counting them by sampling/counting mostly during business hours.

Mountain View has 74K residents. Google had allowed employees free choice of OS until the summer of 2010. Since business is terribly locked-in to M$’s office suite, sampling during business hours globally may well under-count usage of GNU/Linux.

  • Feb 27 / 2012
  • 9

Android/Linux Numbers

I love numbers. They can be measured and specified with arbitrary precision. They can bore, dampen or exhilarate one’s feelings.

Android/Linux latest numbers really are great:

  • 850000 activations per day,
  • 300 million installed devices,
  • 450K apps in Android Market,
  • 1 billion app-downloads from Android Market per month,
  • more than 800 Android/Linux products have been manufactured so far, and
  • more than 100 are on display at MWC 2011.

See Android at Mobile World Congress

Those numbers are astounding. I read recently that there are 1500 million x86/amd64 PCs operating. With these numbers and this growth, Android/Linux will be in that ball-park in a few years. That FLOSS is now in the hands of so many who enjoy it is the foot-in-the-door for FLOSS. At some point, the tipping point, FLOSS just cannot be denied its place in IT. No FUD will hold FLOSS back. No lawsuit will hold FLOSS back. FLOSS has become the elephant in the room.

The tipping point was a few years ago for GNU/Linux and last year for Android/Linux. On the horizon is very widespread adoption and presence on retail shelves for both.

  • Feb 27 / 2012
  • 11

Israel v Iran

The BBC has an article considering Israel’s military options against Iran designed to stop Iran’s nuclear programme. The article concentrates on bombing and missile attacks but misses one important option that Israel has, nuclear weapons. Israel is believed to have nuclear weapons and the logical weapon to use against an adversary believed intent on going nuclear would be a nuclear weapon. A nuclear weapon would do a lot more damage than any “bunker-busting” high explosive bomb and would deal with the problem of the limited carrying capacity of Israel’s planes. A further option would be to use such a weapon against the government of Iran.

We could be about to see the first use of nuclear weapons since 1945, and Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) advancing past deterrence. It all depends on how serious Israel and Iran are in this game of “chicken”. I think either or both governments are crazy enough to do such things. Both have domestic and global problems and both have leaders not shy to use violence to achieve their ends. When these two eventually attack militarily nuclear is an option.

What Russia and China, both nuclear powers, would do in response to a nuclear attack against their Iranian ally, is anyone’s guess. I would expect equipping Iran with the latest weaponry at least. That would give Iran more options for their response. I expect Iran would consider an assault across Iraq and Jordan sooner or later bringing an end to any prospects for peace in the Middle-east.

  • Feb 27 / 2012
  • 1

Limux: Munich Has Reached 10000 PCs Migrated

As of 2012-2-23, the city of Munich has converted 10000 of its PCs to GNU/Linux and almost all of its 15000 PCs to 3.2.1, ODF standard and a Wiki distributing a complete set of templates for all their offices. They no longer have random applications scattered throughout the organization but have most applications centrally managed with many web applications amongst them. Where they used to have 900 macros they now have 100. By the end of 2012 they expect to have the migration finished.

see Limux IT Blog

  • Feb 26 / 2012
  • 0

GNU/Linux on the Desktop: Alive and Growing

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is repeating the same old stuff:
“Linux is dead in the water. Outside of the kernel forming the foundation for Android (that platform is going places) and server use, Linux is a fringe platform, and it’s hard for a company like Adobe to justify continuing to support the platform.”

He was writing about Adobe cutting its losses in Flash technology, now deprecated because of HTML 5. AK-H is wrong on so many facets:

  • The share he quotes is the lowest you will find anywhere. All other estimates are higher and many are ~10%
  • The share he quotes is growing 100% per annum.
  • GNU/Linux has been ahead of MacOS for years and Adobe supports MacOS. The stats he reports are heavily weighted to USA, merely 20% of PCs. He shows MacOS at 6% while Apple, itself shows only 16.7 million Macs shipped in FY2011, while the world shipped 360 million. Apple only claims 4.6%. Apple had 360 retail stores in the whole world while Dell, selling Ubuntu GNU/Linux had that many in China alone and 24K stores globally. Dell had 25% growth in the BRIC countries where GNU/Linux is very popular.
  • More businesses are supporting GNU/Linux all the time.

So, while Adobe and AK may believe GNU/Linux is dead in the water, the real reason for abandoning Flash on GNU/Linux lies elsewhere, likely the fact that Flash is a dead-end technology with HTML 5 ramping up. Killing Flash in 5 years is irrelevant for that reason.