This just in... or at least into my inbox: "Google Closes the Blinds on Windows"
It looks like the company, which successfully became a verb, and has built a love/hate relationship for many in the technology world has made a choice. Apparently they are in the process of removing Windows from the organization and offering Linux or Mac for all of their users. In this report, Andrew Storms, the director of security operations at nCircle Security, comments that the move smells more like cost-cutting than security. "[But it's] been cleverly spun into a PR effort to strike at Microsoft," he said.
Even if it is a cost-cutting move, so what? If removing Windows from your organization saves money, money that one might want for other things, like paying employees, marketing, development of new business, things that go way beyond providing a platform on which to run your applications, what's wrong with that? If you could buy fuel for your car more cheaply and still get where you want to go, wouldn't you do it? If you could refinance your mortgage and get a better deal, wouldn't you do it?
As the open-source movement continues to provide multi-platform tools and as more and more functionality moves into the browser, the platform running your applications becomes less and less relevant. For many, the only thing really holding them from making such a move is the will to move. If this all really goes through as rumored, perhaps that example will provide will for other companies and individuals to officially make the change that they've been hinting at for years. If that happens, it will make some interesting changes in the software and hardware industries. Developers who have kept their development Windows-centric, claiming that there was no point in supporting anything else but Windows may suddenly discover that they have multi-platform approaches after all.
I think that finally breaking that ice will help computing to integrate in areas that have been held up. I remember several years ago seeing some of the technology concepts which had your house working together. IBM had this ad about how little bits of technology planted around could make life easier. Frankly, I think centering our computing around Windows has made it very difficult to do this sort of ubiquitous technology. It wasn't that it wasn't possible to have more integration between Windows and things that couldn't run Windows. It just didn't appear to be easy for some reason. As a Linux user, I became frustrated with the ways that gadgets I would get came packaged with all of this Windows software with no information about how to interact with the device in any other way. Generally this was not a problem, because in many cases Linux would recognize the device as a file system or something and I stumbled across an open-source tool to help me out. A good example is the calibre program which I use to manage my Sony book reader. It makes book management very easy to deal with and even helps me convert between formats to make for a better experience. I can group ebooks together in a series to help me find them and read them in order. It's nice. (It's also multi-platform!) A bad example is my TomTom navigator, which, despite the fact that it uses Linux as it's operating system, has it's interface software only available in Windows (and more recently Mac OS X). It's begun to be supplanted by my Droid phone for navigation... which is a shame because I think the TomTom does a better job in many ways.
It's all about standards. Not "this is the only platform that people should use so you should only bother programming with our tools in our way" sort of standards, but true open standards that are independent of tools and platforms. The more we adopt predictable ways for technology to communicate the easier it will be for people to create devices and software that can do it. Perhaps this sort of quaking in the desktop world will cause people to wonder what they'll do if the market changes, and they'll start reaching for those standards. Whatever happens next, I think it's going to be interesting.
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 4,253 Views
All the information contained in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or strategies of the IBM Corporation. Also, my recommendations are not based on an exhaustive study, but my own experiences. There might well be other open source solutions that I should look at, but when tasks fell upon me I made a choice on a tool and used it. I'm absolutely open to looking at other possibilities.
One other note: In my non-technical life I've been involved in the world of illusion and conjouring. Because of my technical and creative skills I've been called on more than one ocaission to help create publications for magician's organizations. Therefore, the examples that I use are from that work. They are presented simply as living examples of what the tools can do.
Here is the note that started the whole thing:
I've been tasked with creating a newsletter for our advisory council members which will keep them informed on what our office is doing around the state in conservation transactions.
Why I'm bothering you is I am determined to learn this and create my newsletter in opensource formats. I refuse to get locked into MS templates. That doesn't mean I won't peruse available templates and use some in the beginning as I'm learning... I just want to LEARN this and not be locked into someone else's fomat.
And here is my response:
Congratulations on casting off the proprietary yoke! There are a number of options that I would recommend to you. All of them will help you generate a nice PDF end-product. They are also freely available to anyone who is willing to take a little time to learn them. The choices you will make will depend on the style of the publication and how you prefer to work.
1. OpenOffice.org - If you are doing a basic newsletter, the OpenOffice.org suite is still a pretty darn good way to put a document together. It has good placement tools for frames and graphics and a lot of cross-referencing functions that are handy for doing a newsletter. I did a small newsletter for years and use OpenOffice.org successfully. I even stretched it to it's limits for a special April Fools edition which was set up to look like the Weekly World News (may it rest in peace). This one, my last, was more typical. I set everything up through a template that I used to start it off. The index was automatically generated from the article titles. I had the components that I knew would be in every issue already laid out and just added on the monthly items. The advantage to using a word-processor is that most people are already familiar with this tool. The disadvantage is that, depending on what you want from a layout, you may be doing things the hard-- or very hard-- way to make it work in that tool.
NOTE: I should mention that the key value here is the Open Document Format, which is an open standard for documents that is largely independent of the tool used to create it. (There is some variation because the format allows for some tool-specific information to be embedded in a document, which some tools might ignore.) OpenOffice.org is probably the best known tool to use ODF, but there are other tools, including IBM Lotus Symphony product (also free). That tool did not exist when I did this work, so I didn't use it. I always encourage people to look at different tools and Symphony should probably be on the list. However, Symphony, while free, is not open source. There is a subtle difference between open formats for information (for which one should always strive) and open-source tools, which one should use if they make sense.
2. Scribus - If you are doing something that requires a more sophisticated layout, then you may want to separate the layout from the content creation. Scribus works much like Adobe PageMaker, treating elements such as pictures and text like pieces of paper that are to be shaped and pasted onto a raw page. I used this to do a more complex magazine preview called the Austin Magic Magazine. (The one I found was an in-production version and not the final edit, as I see some mistakes that were later corrected.) For this project, I was dealing with a lot of content that I didn't create as well as photos, ads, etc. The final look was very key to the project, so I needed to have maximum control over where each element was and how it looked. Working with a layout program is a very different discipline from working with a word processor. For example, you will do very little, if any editing of text within the layout program. All of that should be done ahead of time. (It works well with open document format files so it's a nice companion to OpenOffice.org.) In Scribus, you come up with your basic page designs and lay out areas where the stories and pictures will reside. Then, you fill those areas with the information by linking them to the files. You can take a frame with a story and split it up into frames that are attached, so that when you move and resize them the text automatically flows. I would use this for something that had a lot of complexity and separate elements, like a magazine or a newspaper.
However, the text layout is not the only thing that you'll need to deal with. Modern publications demand graphics of various kinds. While you may not be an artist, you will want to work with clip art and may need to make some minor alterations (such as resizing, cropping, etc.). You may also want to create your own title graphics or other things like that. Little bursts that say "New" or something like that can make a lot of difference. Here are two applications that I use regularly for this:
1. GIMP - This unfortunate name stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. (It always makes me think of the file "Pulp Fiction.") It is a great tool for manipulating photos and graphics. I've done basic resizing and red-eye removal and moderately advanced things like removing reflections of the photographer in the window and opening my eyes in a photo where I had blinked. If you know anything about Adobe Photoshop, then you know a lot about GIMP. There are also a number of great plugins and tutorials to take you far beyond basic pixel-editing.
2. Inkscape - Photo editing can be good, but sometimes you need something with more scalability and flexibility. Inkscape does what are called "vector graphics." This means that the drawings are defined as mathematical equations rather than as dots on a screen. (Don't worry, you just draw. It does the math.) The advantage to this is that anything created in this way can be scaled from very small to very large with no "jaggies" or loss of resolution. I use Inkscape to make little icons. It's especially good for doing signs and ads because you can scale the text to fit an area my just dragging the size handle. Again, there are several tutorials available.
In my projects I have combined all four of these programs. For a basic newsletter I would start with OpenOffice (which also has some drawing programs for basic graphics). You will probably want GIMP to help you with clip art and such. For more sophisticated, scalable graphics pull in Inkscape. If the project gets extremely complex and demands a high-quality, final layout then you want Scribus.
Like I said, this was my own experience with my own projects. Your mileage may vary and you may be able to introduce me to other open-source tools that I've overlooked. That's the fun of open source! There is always something to discover!
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 6,093 Views
In my last blog entry I got to wondering about Disney's relationship with open-source software. So, I did a little casual Googling (is that a word?) and found some truly amazing information. Disney not only uses open-source software, they contribute!
My first discovery was the technology site for Disney Animation: http://www.disneyanimation.com/technology/
The site has two sections. Publications deals with techniques applicable to 3D animation. It's pretty in-depth stuff which I should think would be of use to anyone who is working with these technologies. The Technology section has two projects: Ptex, which is a texture mapping system that requires no UV assignment. Pythoscope is a unit test generator for programs written in Python. These are substantial contributions which probably could have been sold commercially. The choice to open them up is tremendous.
Of course, it turns out that this is not a new thing for Disney. I found that as far back as ten years ago Disney donated the Tea Template Language into the open source. It has now been joined by a collection of other technologies which reside at the Tea Trove.
While I don't have any specific information or statistics, I have heard that Disney uses Linux in various places throughout their organization, both on the backend and in a workstation capacity. I'd love to get more details, because I have always been impressed with Disney's ability to innovate. What intrigues me about Disney and open source is that they don't have to use it for cost reasons. They can afford to buy plenty of software. If they are doing open source it means that it has intrinsic value.
I don't have a killer thought to take you home here. If any of you are more connected with what Disney is doing with open source, please tell more.
There may not be a whole lot of open-source involved in this... though there might be. Who knows? But it's just cool. I've always been impressed with Walt Disney's approach to embracing technology to give us extraordinary experiences. This demo shows a new direction that they are headed to add more life to their costume characters. It's really quite amazing and shows the future of where technology and entertainment will continue to work to blur the lines between fantasy and reality.
My new Twitter follower Robin Mulkers (mulkers) pointed me to a great article written by Jeremy Allison, a major contributor to Samba, about the demise of Sun and how their decisions about how to handle their open-source contributions may have been part what killed them.
He brings up a lot of really interesting points that I have also observed about how some people approach open source, and why it may be unwise to believe that you can really win a siege against it. There is great power in openness and we are only beginning to scratch the surface.
I got a fun bit of patent news today. In a widely-reported news story, Novell and Red Hat have prevailed in a patent case, alleging patent infringement brought by IP Innovation LLC, a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corporation and Technology Licensing Corporation. Groklaw has analysis.
As I've said before, I'm not opposed to protecting intellectual property. People should be able to profit by their own ideas. However, technical patents, especially software patents, have developed a great deal of complexity. I think it's easily arguable that the current system for awarding patents has a number of weaknesses and that patents are awarded that don't necessarily have merit. Unfortunately, it seems the only way to challenge a patent is in court, which is an expensive course of action that only the biggest players can afford to do well.
This situation is a real challenge for the open-source world, where ideas are freely contributed and distributed. It's made more complex by the fact that there are people working on projects that have to deal with just about every technology in existence. I really don't have an answer, or even a solid question about this. I can see little experimental attack on the Open Source keep. Only time will tell if someone is gearing up for a genuine siege. Even if there is a massive commercial and legal battle against the open source world, will that kill it? How many Linux users quit using Linux until these various court cases were settled? How easy is it going to be to stuff this genie back into the bottle?
In the mean time, it looks like a time to celebrate. As more people have more exposure to open-source software maybe it will become less of an issue.
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 Tags:  development microsoft open_standards fat open_source open linux 5,328 Views
In the continuing action on the patent battlefield, a recent announcement declares that "German appeals court upholds Microsoft Long File Name patent."
This is the sort of thing that caused problems for TomTom and is
likely to cause problems for other device manufacturers as Microsoft
begins to explore ways to augment their revenue stream. Please don't
get me wrong. If Microsoft is legally entitled to receive royalties
for this technology then it is appropriate that they pursue those
royalties in whatever manner they see fit. It would be nice if they
could take the more magnanimous route of allowing it to be freely used
by anyone, but that does not appear to be what they want to do.
So, why do we still want to use the FAT file system on devices?
There are other, unencumbered file systems that are available which
would do the job -- arguably a better job -- that FAT does today. The initial argument is that everybody
uses Windows and so we have to follow that protocol. While it may be
true that many people use Windows, FAT is no longer the de facto
standard in a Windows environment. FAT is just a legacy carry-over
which could be allowed to go to pasture.
I would like to propose that manufacturers consider using the open ext2 file system. There are Windows
drivers for ext2 available. The openness of ext2 breaks down the
barriers of drivers for any operating system. When someone buys a
device, they are accustomed to having some sort of driver disk that
goes with it. The device could simply install the ext2 driver along
with whatever other helper software was provided. If this became more
common, OS manufacturers might simply start providing a driver as part
of the standard software stack.
The open-source world provides viable alternatives for many problems. Rather than fighting this further, let FAT go and start working with a truly freely-available alternative.
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 Tags:  open_source software student projects open beginner student_portal openness 1 Comment 6,424 Views
This question was asked in a developerWorks forum... but it looked like it was going to turn into more than a simple answer... so I moved it here to share with more people.
Congratulations on discovering the importance and opportunity in Open Source software. The first step, in my opinion, is to start using Open Source yourself, wherever possible. You have probably already started on this path. The easy steps are using Firefox for browsing, and programs like OpenOffice.org and Thunderbird for productivity. (If you're nervous about the whole Oracle thing with OpenOffice.org, fear not, there are forks that have occurred which will keep it open.) For development, you should look at the Eclipse project as well as the many other interesting development tools that are out there. There is a vast (and incomplete) list of interesting Open Source applications available in Wikipedia. You can also find a rather complete repository of Open Source projects (including the good, the bad and the really ugly) at the grand-daddy of all Open Source sites, sourceforge.net, a free repository for project owners to organize and share their project.
Like I said, you are probably already using Open Source software to some degree, but the more you use the more you become aware of how the Open Source world works, how the community drives development and support and what you think is missing from the equation that you can contribute.
To get involved on the development end, you have a few options. One is to take a project that you use and identify something within your skill set that needs help. You don't really have to ask permission to offer a solution, but you should follow the protocol for the project. Every project will have information about how to contribute. If they don't, then write to the key players of the project and let them know that you have something to contribute. They will likely be very pleased. If they're not, then go find someone else to help!
Another interesting thing to do is to look at the list of projects at sourceforge.net. They actually have a list of "help wanted" projects that you can dive into. If you dig around, you may even find projects that have lost their maintainer (which happens for a variety of reasons). Picking up that work could be a great project and a valuable service to the community.
Don't forget that there are open projects that need more than just coding. There are needs for testing, documentation, translation and just about anything that you can imagine in the business of software development. Simply writing excellent tutorials with good manuals and video demos could turn a project around... and this is typically the sort of work that the deep developers don't find very interesting. There are even other opportunities, like the proofreading help needed by Project Gutenberg. Unusual projects like the Open Prosthetics Project, which try to accomplish goals for the general good.
It's not hard to get involved in projects. It takes time and a little discipline to stick with it, even though you don't have a manager demanding that you produce. However, I think that you gain the same satisfaction from this work as you do from any sort of good volunteer work that you might do, and you actually get to benefit from the work yourself by having greater functionality and improved skills.
Comments and pointers to opportunities are certainly welcome!
Does open source software really provide a benefit to the community,
or is it just a drain on commercial resources, like people stealing
office supplies? Look at this and judge for yourself:
It's honestly not difficult to contribute to open projects. I just
found a simple way that I can contribute to a project that I use
regularly. Project Gutenberg is
a project to provide electronic versions of every possible book, free
for digital rights management, publicly available. Most of the works
are ones that have fallen into the public domain, but others are works that the author has made available through the Creative Commons or some other open license. Books are scanned and then transformed into text and other formats.
Recently, I discovered that they have a practice, called "distributed proofreading,"
whereby volunteers can spend a little time here and there helping to
keep a project moving. To volunteer, you simply sign up through the website.
You act as an editor, proofing documents that have come in and helping
them to meet the project standards. Beginners simply help identify
scanning (OCR) mistakes, by comparing the output to the original
picture in the document. More advanced and experienced editors move
the document forward through other issues ending in a newly published
text. It only takes a few minutes to do several pages. You receive
advice and recommendations along the way.
Most projects do not have so elegant a system of getting involved.
But most of them would gladly accept help. All you have to do is
offer... and then follow up by actually doing the work.
Will this affect commercial work?
Undoubtedly commercial work in these areas will be affected as some
of them become obsolete. The village blacksmith and the office
stenographer are both rare today. As technology grows to allow people
to record, analyze and share data it will become less necessary to have
that done by an expert. Yet expertise will always be needed (and paid
for) to get things to the next step. I rather like to think that open
methodologies step in to do the things that the commercial people say
are a hardship by applying a cloud-like entity of human resources.
Often the work is slower and more precise for each individual step, but
since there are more people potentially available tocheck and recheck things, something accomplished in three steps rather than one is still done more efficiently.
Next week the Open Source zone will have an article on the harmonious blend
of open source and commercial software. Keep an eye out for it. As
you read it, consider how it applies not only to software, but to data
and other projects. There is a lot of value and potential in
technological volunteer-work. We'll get the most benefit as people cease to fear or distrust it and everyone participates to improve it.
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 3,344 Views
I needed a pick-me-up today, and I got one from, of all places, groklaw.net. (Actually the initial notice came from my colleague Ian Shields.) Groklaw just posted a story: Novell Wins Again - Jury Rules Copyrights Didn't Go to SCO!
The SCO war against Linux has quietly been waged in the legal system while the rest of us have been getting on with our lives. Finally, something that we can be pleased with. The owner of the relevant UNIX copyrights appears to be Novell, and since they are the owners of Suse Linux the aren't likely to be doing anything to take it down. In general, to my understanding, the entire anti-Linux lawsuit asserted that Linux infringed on the copyrights of SCO because of SCO UNIX, which was derived from previous editions of UNIX. The ultimate decisions says that SCO didn't own the copyrights of these items anyway, Novell did. Barring something strange in an appeal that should bring everything else toppling down like a house of cards.
I'm sure that some lawyers will do something unpleasant to make it complicated again. Lawyers seem to be amused by that sort of thing. (I am, of course, not talking to the kind and good lawyers that help me with the things that I need.) However, today, it looks like Linux can enjoy the light and all of us who felt that this whole thing was just a mess can take a breath and feel that the world makes a little more sense.
Hooray! Of course, I'm sure the games aren't over. I talk to people regularly who feel that Linux and open-source software are threats. They don't like the changes that are occurring to the technological landscape and they want to just make it all go away. There is a lot of anger and resentment there. I don't get it.
To celebrate, grab a copy of Linux and play with it today. Heck! I'm more of an Ubuntu guy, but I just may buy a copy of Suse for the heck of it to say thanks!
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 Tags:  open_source planning vnc procrastination process orginization remote linux security webcam open_ssh 1 Comment 6,065 Views
I'm sure that all of you are focused individuals. I'm sure that all of you see tasks clearly laid before you and that you systematically work your way through them with the persistence of a census-taker... each one in turn until all the jobs are done. How wonderful that must be.
I've always been full of curiosity. I seek knowledge and experiences of all kinds, which has led me in many interesting directions. It's probably also the reason that I'm so drawn to open-source, because there is always something new to discover. Recently, I came across this article: Work Smart: How to Make Procrastination Productive
I like the way this person thinks. Procrastination isn't so much laziness, or fear of action. It's a sort of intuitive prioritization where things get done, just not in the way that some would consider logical. Are there out there who suffer from my fascination with the next shiny thing moving at the corner of vision? Does this broaden your reach or weaken your grasp?
One of the things that I've been exploring in my distraction is what one can do with a Web Cam. (Great! Some of you are already writing your own jokes. Fine! Laugh it up.) I hadn't looked to seriously at webcams because I just didn't have a specific need for one. Additionally, most equipment like that tends to be pretty Windows-centric and, while I can usually find the right piece and get it to run OK under Linux, I just wasn't motivated. Then, I'm in a big-box technology store beginning with an F where I normally don't shop because I don't find that the cheap prices are worth all of their other hassles. (I might as well order on-line!) Yet, there I am, looking for an adapter for my Droid, that I thought I need to have that day. I happen by the webcam section and start looking at the different models. I find a Creative Live! Cam Socialize HD, which actually lists Linux as an option under it's system requirements! I'm so pleased and surprised that I find myself taking it home.
I connect the camera and it works right out of the box! Yay. I talk to my dad and convince him to get a web cam as well. The next night we experiment a little and decide that for bed time we'll let Grandma and Grandpa join us for story time. It's pretty cool. My daughter read her story (she always reads one to us too) and she would read the text and show the pictures to the camera. Another night we did it again and Grandma and Grandpa had a story for us. What a wonderful way to reach out and touch bases with each other. As someone with a home-office I appreciated the value of being able to have some virtual presence and sharing seemingly insignificant things.
Now something weird has started. Skype, which is what we were using, has suddenly decided to only use my camera at 15 FPS, rather than the 30 that it will do, and all of the settings and adjustments are shielded from me in Skype. I can make it work fine with the other, open applications that talk to the camera. I did some digging and found that this was not unusual for the Linux version of Skype. I don't know if they are behind on the video technology that's available through the Linux kernel, or what. Perhaps they are doing some of that intuitive prioritizing. In the mean time I'm looking for other options that are more open that will also be easy for my dad to use. I've even toyed with setting up my own SIP server using Kamailio, but I haven't had a chance to learn the in and outs of how it works. Too many shiny things... like getting articles done, drawing a paycheck and other things that.
Maybe soon my intuitive priorities will align and I'll be able to share with you the secret formula for doing this yourself. In the mean time I'll share a little hint with you: You don't need a fancy service to connect to your computer from anywhere. You can do it with SSH and a system that you leave connected to the Internet. I'll give the basics for the adventuresome and maybe write up a more substantial tutorial later:
Connecting Work PC to home:That's the sort of expert view. Maybe some of you can use it. Selecting a higher port like 35900 helps avoid firewall issues where lower ports are blocked.
Ooo! Something shiny! I'm just going to take a moment and--
cmw.osdude 120000QT77 3,565 Views
Not much time today, but I have several entries brewing. I just wanted to take a moment out of my day to appreciate Ada Lovelace. She was quite a mathematician and created notes for what might be considered the first computer program. Here's a Wikipedia entry that describes her life. Next time you're talking to a young lady who thinks that there aren't interesting women in technology, introduce her to Ada.
I read an interesting article today: Hackers aren't as sneaky as you think. Ah! The good old days. I grew up on the hacker culture. I remember the inspiration of the movie War Games and the almost romantic vision of young, smart people getting past the system and into the secret world of government and big business. Of course, the truth underneath was a little less glorious. Cracking computer security is now much more about vandalism and identity theft. Yet, that early curiosity gave me an awareness of computer security and steps that could be taken to protect one's self. Most computer crime is result of sloppiness on someone's part. It could be the system administrator who's not a big fan of browsing logs and running patches. There's not too much that you can do about that. However, you can do things about your own security.
I've thought about a few ways that I do to keep safe, and they're not too hard to do. Yes, you have to make some changes to your behavior, and you will have to learn a few things, but it's not any more difficult than the things that you have learned to keep yourself safe on the motorway. I'm sure that some will argue with a few of my conclusions, but at least they'll be thinking about it!
Start with a safe vehicle
I quit using Windows. I know that not everyone will do this, but I simply had repeated problems with viruses (should that be virii?) and other issues that I just could not keep a handle on. When I discovered Linux and started making it work for me all of those issues went away. I have had zero virus infections. I also got a lot more information through logs as to what people were trying to do to attack my system and came up with ways to complicate that. I think of it this way... when driving on a dangerous highway, which would you rather have between you and the idiots: a Pinto or a Volvo? If you decide that you must stay with Windows, then make sure that you have all of the safety features installed. You should have firewalls, virus scanners, spyware scanners and make sure that they are always up-to-date.
Maintain your vehicle
It's great to have a solid vehicle, but if you don't keep it running smoothly then it will cease to be reliable. The most critical thing is to keep your patches and software up-to-date. Elderly software tends to be behind the times on security issues. If cost is what is preventing you from staying current, then you really should consider finding a freely available solution. The Open Source World provides a good number of solutions that you should consider. If cost is not what is holding you back, then set up a regular procedure for making you are up-to-date. Many software packages have ways to automatically check for updates. Turn this on.
Pay attention to how your computer is running. A slow computer may mean that you're just overloading it with software and outgrowing the system. It may also mean that your computer may be doing a lot of work on behalf of a SPAM-bot or something else. If nothing has changed on your computer, no major software changes or changes to how you are using it, then it is not normal for your computer to suddenly start running more slowly. If you were driving on a straightaway and your car suddenly started losing acceleration you would be concerned. Computers are the same. When you see signs of problems, check them out.
Keep a look out
A while back I got SPAM from my sister's email address. I wrote to let her know that I had gotten it. Generally if SPAM comes from someone and it's a random mix of email addresses (usually alphabetical) then it's just someone spoofing that email address. The SPAM did not actually come from your friend's computer. However, if the SPAM was sent to people from their address book, then you are likely dealing with something that is more of an attack. The computer needs to be checked out. Don't ignore it when something suspicious happens. Tell the people who need to know. They can't do anything about it if they don't know.
Accept that security may require some inconvenience
Yes, it's nice to be able to turn on your computer and get to work. But that also means that anyone can turn on your computer and get to work. Are you sure that the kids aren't on there when you're not around doing things that they aren't supposed to? How about your spouse or your roommate. If you keep something on a computer that you would not leave laying around for people to read at a party then you should probably close the door on your computer with a password. It's not just your personal information, either. Maybe you have nothing to hide, but what if this other person goes poking around in places that they shouldn't. They see the warning that says "Are you sure that you want to activate this malicious program that will steal your identity?" and they click "OK" because they just want to get to the video.
If you'r going to have a password it should be a good one. When I was working as a system tech supporting a company I was called to do some work on a workstation in the security department. She had left, even though she knew that I was coming and her screen was locked-- which was good. She had a Corn Huskers football plush sitting on top of her monitor and a few other Huskers things laying around. I took a guess and typed "huskers" and I was in! I left her a note telling her that it was pretty easy to guess and she made it more secure. The best passwords are phrases with numbers and letters. Abbreviations that only you would know are good too. "H0w much is that doggie in the wind0w?" would be a pretty difficult password to guess. Names of family, birth dates, etc are terrible password. Take a line from your favorite song in High School. Many security requirements demand that you change your password regularly, but once you find a way to pick things you can remember you will find it easier to change and maintain.
There are many ways now to encrypt information. Encryption turns things into secret code so that no one else can read it. You can do this with emails (and most people should) so that email to you can only be read by you. You can also do it with file systems, so that you have a section of drive that requires a password to access what's in there. Encryption is a larger subject than I'm prepared to cover here, but you should take a look at what can be done with the Gnu Privacy Guard, which is free and powerful encryption software. You can hook this functionality automatically into your applications and make encryption easy to deal with.
Is that it?
There is a lot more ground to cover to keep yourself from being cracked, but these things right here will make a dramatic difference in your vulnerability. If there is more interest in this topic, especially about specific practices or solutions I'd love to write more about it. Shoot me a note and we'll try to cover more detail. If it's enough conversation it might be worth a group on My developerWorks to help everyone participate in the conversation.
I was poking around through some resources and came across this website called worrydream.com. You really need to take a look at it. I'll wait here.
Wasn't that awesome? What an interesting approach to dealing with information! ... extremely visual... extremely interactive...
What makes this especially cool is that this site is driven by OpenLaszlo, the open-source, Rich Internet Application platform. I'm running Firefox on Linux and it worked just fine for me. Of course, there are some issues with a site like this. OpenLaszlo uses the Flash player to operate, and so it is only available in environments where Adobe is supporting a Flash plugin. (For example, the site does not work on my Droid right now.) There are some open-source alternative flash players, but these are fairly fledgling projects and likely suffer from trying to recreate rather than to create. It would be interesting to see if standards around RIA evolve to the point that there are more solid choices in this arena.
Another issue with worrydream.com is accessibility. As a user, I am blessed to be able to ignore such issues. My eyesight is good enough and I can click around with no problem. However, as an editor I've become painfully aware of these issues and the potential impact that they can have for users. As a sort of eye-candy site, worrydream.com is not necessarily intended to be accessible, and someone with special needs may not really be missing out on anything that they would find valuable. However, if this was a commercial site the designer would have been leaving out a chunk of his audience who might provide business. He'd probably be in violation of some laws as well. It's a difficult problem where technology is both a savior and an obstacle.
Yet, I admit that I would really like some of my work to feel more like what I saw on that web site. I like the almost tactile nature of grabbing things. I know that it's probably not for the masses, but I would prefer an environment that wasn't all about shoving a little arrow around the screen all the time.
Is worrydream.com the future? Who knows. The designer has used his skills to help build other OpenLaszlo-based sites. Maybe there is a new world around the corner.
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I suppose I should begin this one by reminding everyone that, while I am an employee of IBM, what I write here are my own thoughts and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the position of IBM on these matters.
So, I'm trying to enjoy my morning cup of tea and I come across this article from Reuters and many others talking about a new and mysterious deal that Microsoft has signed, this time with Amazon, to protect them as users of Linux. A lot of speculation went up about similar deals done with TomTom and Novell. In the case of TomTom it seems pretty certain that the issues had something to do with their use of the FAT file system. The others are more mysterious.
My preferred solution for TomTom was for them to switch to an open file system, like ext3, and then load an ext3 driver onto Windows as part of their software installation. I understand that the Windows driver may need a little work, but it would be nice to pay that money to open development rather than into Microsoft's protection plan.
I'll admit that I'm someone who is primarily curious about technology and what I can make it do. I'm probably pretty naive when it comes to matters of big law and big business. Yet I just don't understand this game that is being played about the dark secret that Microsoft has about Linux.
I envision this scene in a conference room where a group of lawyers and business executives all sit around the table. Someone speaks:OK. That's probably a little melodramatic and reveals more than is necessary about my choices of fiction. Yet,based on the information that I've been able to determine about the so-called infringements of Linux and open source I can't throw it out completely. I followed the previous attacks on Linux and open source and they really seemed to lead nowhere.
I certainly don't think that this is the time to develop unfounded fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the future of open source. I think that many analysts and people who thrive on conflict for the sake of conflict will try to make you think that "the big one is coming." I think that many people selling something will try to convince you that you need to buy a little insurance. I would rather that you look at great examples like the Ernie Ball corporation who made the move to Linux and open source years ago and never looked back. There are other companies that have happily made the move. (Here's an incomplete list.)
Again, I'm not speaking for IBM. If you want to know the IBM position, watch for the press releases, if any. I speak to you as someone who has happily used open source software for years now. I know that it works. It gets better for me every day. It's not to be feared, but embraced and enjoyed because it really will change your use of technology forever.
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Here's a quick story I found called "openSUSE Brings New Li-F-E To Schools."
I really think that Open Source, and especially Linux, has a lot to offer the education environment. OpenSUSE seems to be providing some options here, though a quick look at my Ubuntu setup seems to have many of the packages that they list. I really wish I had this access to free tools when I was of school age. An educator who is motivated to expose students to technology has access to just about any concept imaginable, in an open-source form. Students who are motivated to go further than their curriculum demands can dig into anything with very few requirements other than access to a computer.
I started a Wiki called "Open Source Education" with the goal of building resources to help parents, educators and self-motivated students to use Open Source to increase the richness of technology education. I haven't been completely sure where to begin. Is there anyone reading this who is looking to solve a particular education problem and would like to include an Open Source solution? Is there anyone who is successfully using Open Source in an education environment? I think that motion in this area would empower more people to make good use of technology. The ripples from that could affect everything. You never know from where the next game-changing idea will come. It could be a major corporation dripping with commercial solutions. It might come from a creative individual in a remote place that is not known for technology. We should cast our net as far as possible and bring these things to everyone who has curiosity.
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There's a lot going on in 2010. It's a new year, a new decade, and, for me, a new look at my role in developerWorks.
Since 2008 I have been the editor of the Web Development zone, which I have found to be very rewarding. I love being exposed to all of the technologies and potential. I truly believe that what we now think of as the Web is the future of computing and we are only beginning to scratch the surface of what will ultimately be accomplished when the whole world is truly wired. However, if you've been following my blog at all you know that I have another passion which I think is changing the world, and that is Open Source.
I am so pleased to announce that 2010 marks my move as editor of the Web Development Zone to editor of the Open Source Zone on developerWorks. Barbara Wetmore, the previous Open Source editor is taking over my position under Web Development. We both just realized that we had something very positive to offer to the other zone and so we worked out a swap. I'm very excited to see what Barbara will to do in Web Development. I'm also completely thrilled to be at home in Open Source.
You see, Open Source is not something that I just write about. It's something that I really do every day. I've been a full time Linux user for 10 years. Every computer in my house is based on Linux and running open source software. I am what Stan Lee (of Marvel Comics fame) might call a "True Believer."
It's not just the free software side of Open Source that attracts me, thought I certainly appreciate the effects that has to my bottom line. I enjoy the freedom that open source software offers. I remember what it was like to be interested in technology as a young person in the 80s, and the obstacles that I faced in getting access to the tools to learn. Software was expensive. Equipment was expensive. Today, hardware is a lot cheaper and more readily available. There is also software freely available that I can use to learn about any technology under the sun and moon. I'm not just talking about word processing and browsers. Just take a look at this list, which I mentioned in a previous blog. This represents a tremendous amount of potential for anyone to learn the basics of what a technology can do. Many of these tools are sophisticated enough to do much more than learn. They are capable of doing serious work and they are available to everyone. This means young people who are building knowledge for their future careers. It means people in developing countries who want to take advantage of technology with very low budgets. It means independent developers and smaller companies who need to go up against wealthier competitors.
I think that many people are more aware and more... well... open to Open Source than they have been in the past. But I also find that many still don't know about, or misunderstand what Open Source has to offer. As editor of the Open Source Zone in developerWorks, my goal is to introduce people to more tool and techniques about how to apply open source software. Yet, with such a broad spectrum to choose from, I want to prioritize things according to the needs of my audience, which is you.
So, this is a formal request for you to give me feedback on your interest in Open Source. What sorts of problems are you trying to solve that you think might have and open solution? What tools and techniques do you need to learn more about? What obstacles do you need to overcome to take advantage of open source software in your situation? I want you to send that feedback directly to me, firstname.lastname@example.org. With any luck I will be overwhelmed with email, so please title your email "Feedback for Open Source Zone" so I make sure that I don't miss it. You'll be helping to shape the flow of the Open Source Zone using Open Source methodology... direct participation. I look forward to hearing from you.
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