The submission by Microsoft of twenty thousand lines of code to the Kernel has, predictably, caused many an eyebrow to arch. The phrase "beware Greeks bearing gifts" comes swiftly to mind. I checked the press release. I also checked the calendar just to make sure I hadn't fallen into a wormhole and emerged back on April Fools Day. I hadn't. That reaction was probably replicated right across the free software community. Given Microsoft's track record it's hardly surprising. Perhaps what was more interesting was Linus Torvalds' reaction. After all, this is not an inconsequential flame war about using Gnome or KDE.
If you want to do more serious, integrated screenshot stuff then Shutter's the kiddie
A few months ago I stumbled across a screenshot utility called Shutter. I liked it. A lot. So I decided to give it some well deserved publicity. I wasn't the only one. It has been been getting rave reviews and it will be or should be in everyone's toolbox. Bog standard screenshot software has been available as bundled software in both Gnome and KDE desktops for ever. They're good at what they do but they are limited to relatively simple tasks. If you want to do more serious, integrated stuff then Shutter's the kiddie. The latest version of Shutter (0.80) takes the "serious stuff" to the next level by adding six new features to the Edit tool. Shutter's screenshot-taking features alone make it worth installing but the additions for editing make it the software of choice. This article describes the latest tools.
This is a story of hubris, nemesis and very bad language. Mine. We all like to have our egos flattered and I'm no exception, so when two old acquaintances told me their Windows laptops were infected with viruses I knew they were about to put the bite on me. They did. Could I fix them? Well, my vanity was flattered of course but it was to be a salutary experience that got me to thinking about whether it will ever be possible to wean users off Microsoft products.
Some time ago I wrote an article about Jim Kent, an American biologist who used free and open software to race Craig Ventnor to the finishing line, sequencing the human genome. That was very big, cutting edge science with a global audience and reach. We live in an age when big science is done, overwhelmingly, in big businesses, universities, research labs and government laboratories. In Eric Raymond's paradigm it is the culture of the Cathedral.
Fashion is fickle. One day thin clients and clusters are the fashion de jour, the next it's Web 2.0, Virtualisation or distributed computing and Grids. They who live by the sword of fashion will surely perish by it but a new model has been strutting its stuff along the catwalk of web fashion and she goes by the name of Cloud Computing. Like all fashions there is a deal of hype surrounding it but there is a consistent concern emerging from all that hype and is about the dangers of proprietary cloud computing. Richard Stallman has called it a "trap". He is right--but it is more than that. It is a well-baited, DRM-like honey trap for the unwary. That is not immediately obvious. Like all good traps it suckers you in before the wire noose tightens around your neck. You don't have any wire cutters in your rucksack but you do have the GPL and free software to effect an escape. Can it save us from vendor lock in and proprietary software?
Like anyone else who writes about software I subscribe to the maxim that a picture paints a thousand words. In short, I like to illustrate my text with timely and relevant screenshots; so I'm always on the lookout for good, free software to get the job done. Back in the mists of time I looked at a command-line utility called Scrot. It's immensely powerful and configurable but it does take some setting up.
You don't have to be an uber system administrator of a network to use Htop. It might have been designed with the masters of the universe in mind but just because you are a mere solitary desktop user in a Pizza-strewn study room staring at a single machine doesn't mean you can't get it and use it too. This article will show you how to configure and use htop to monitor system resources and how to use this dinky interactive application to manage running applications and processes on your desktop.
If you have ever read any of the articles I have written on Free Software Magazine you might just have noticed that my opinion of politicians is lower than a limbo dancer's pole. A brief brush with political activism many years ago left me with a deep and visceral distrust and dislike of everything political and a determination never to become entangled with politics ever again. So, I was not exactly impressed when I read that George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor of the British Conservative Party, had recently advocated the adoption of "open source" in government IT contracts to reduce costs. Sounds wonderful doesn't it? But it isn't and here's why.
Let me issue a disclaimer right off. Before I ever typed my first GNU/Linux command in a terminal the Free Software Foundation was fighting the good fight for free software and all the issues surrounding individual freedom and privacy both on and offline. All of us owe it a debt of gratitude for the work is has done and continues to do on behalf of the principles of a free society and free computing.
I was browsing around my local Carphone Warehouse shop last week. Unlike the last time I crossed their threshold (November) I noticed that their Ubuntu netbook display had vanished. There was only one netbook on display and it was advertised as running Windows XP. Their website also advertised the Asus EeePC with Windows XP too. I approached a sales person to ask about a GNU/Linux option on the Elonex and was informed that they no longer stocked them. What when wrong? I decided to investigate.
This time, Microsoft may have outdone themselves with a proposed patent of such breathtaking hubris that it makes their previous FUD pale by comparison. If it comes off it will either be a licence to print money (Redmond's version of Quantitative easing?) or the biggest Pyrrhic victory in the history of computing since Steve Jobs refused Bill Gates and hardware vendors a licence to use Apple's OS and software.
When you first read about Microsoft's proposed patent you are suffused with the glow of righteous anger but before you get carried away, stop. Stop and think. This patent might just be, to mix my metaphors, a Trojan Horse and the straw that breaks the Camels' back. Windows users seem to possess a high pain tolerance (I only lasted until Windows ME before I broke and confessed to anything and everything) but this just might tip some of them over the edge. As homeless refugees they could be receptive to seeking asylum in the Republic of Unixland. Let's find out why.
I was window shopping in a high street electronics store a few days ago. I was delighted to see a shelf display full of netbooks from vendors like Samsung, Acer, Dell, Advent and Asus (of course), to name a few. It looked like the Asus EeePC had launched an idea whose time had come and in the process possibly heralded the long withdrawing roar of the live CD. I now knew how General Adolf Galland felt during the Battle of Berlin when he recorded that when he saw Allied fighters escorting the bombers all the way to the target and back he knew the war was over.
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety (Benjamin Franklin)
All manner of campaigns have been tried to persuade Windows users to make the switch to GNU/Linux and every year is heralded as the year of GNU/Linux on the desktop. Whether these things come to pass or not only time will tell, but the latest electronic assault on the integrity of computers which emanates from the British Government via a European directive might just tilt the balance in favour of free and open software. I suspect however that the hard-core Redmondnites will blunder on as usual making the internet a gold mine for any individual, corporation or government maliciously inclined to steal or plant information your computer. So, what exactly is warrantless intrusion?
I discovered recently the truth of the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Yes, I finally did it. I bricked my beloved EeePc. I had just installed the Smart package manager and a subsequent reboot saw me stuck in, well, an eternal boot loop. Impulsive mixing of repositories always ends in tears--but not being able to boot? Argh! To rub salt into the wound I had mislaid the Xandros DVD to do a reinstall and I didn't even have an external CD/DVD drive anyway. Organised or what?
I've been using Fedora (Core and all) on and off for a few years now and its parsimonious attitudes to codecs notwithstanding, the thing that always reduces me to a whimpering, pleading wreck is watching Yum installing a piece of software. I can forgive its tendency to handhold and even to confabulate, but Yum moves with all the speed of a treacle flow at the North Pole. Apt-get has already done its stuff and gone home for tea but Yum is still setting the table and polishing the silver.
YouTube has a rather frivolous reputation, the sort of site you might visit to see a video of snowboarding hamsters or jetpacking gerbils. It wasn't until I started re-learning the guitar, learning to play the piano too and sight reading sheet music that I began to realize that YouTube was a great source of online tutorials. The quality varies from the execrable to the sublime, but I found sufficient quality material to start wondering how I might best use YouTube to organize my digital music lessons. As a committed GNU/Linux user I wondered how to make the most of my distro's ability to manage my viewing and download experience. Unixland is a free country full of choice and here are the choicest tips, tools, tricks and applications to get the best out of YouTube.
When it comes to browsers, the Unix community is positively spoiled for choice: Firefox, Konqueror, Flock, Opera, Epiphany, Galeon, Kazehakase, Links, Elinks, Lynx, W3m and Dillo. From the minimal to the relatively bloated all life is there. You might just be thinking that we need another browser like Medieval Europe needed the Bubonic plague, but I'm always a great fan of the different and new, of people doing their own thing. Even Firefox had to start somewhere. H3v is a relative newcomer to the browser pack and it definitely falls into the "lean, mean" category. I think it deserves a little more exposure.
I carry a small, laminated card indicating my subscription to the IUSP (International Union of the Super Paranoid, tin hat division). Well, you can't be too careful. After all, we live in a dangerous world and computers are just an extension of that. After you've installed the right operating system--GNU/Linux, of course--secure browsers, rootkit and virus scanners, you might just start to feel secure--and smug. Don't be. Until you have understood and mastered some of these GNU core utilities to securely delete, shred and wipe files, directories, partitions and whole disks you're not in the clear. Why not?
In the last year or so the British press has been full of stories about Government departments and individual employees who have lost laptops and flash sticks. Lost in the post, left on train seats, you name it. Not password protected, not encrypted. Nothing, and you can bet they were all running Windows. A wet dream for anyone trading in identity theft or blackmail. This cavalier approach to computer security should come as no surprise. Most people just want to switch computers them on and use them. Security is usually an afterthought--if at all.