Open Source: Why Military Forces Should Use Linux

Why? Because the level of skill required to crack a Unix-like OS is much higher than that needed for a Microsoft OS. Further, properly configured Unix-like systems are much more robust than Microsoft systems. Were Military forces using properly configured and properly secured Unix or Linux systems we would not see items like these below being reported.

I just had a, “What were they thinking?!”, moment while reading this article at ars technica: Computer virus hits US Predator and Reaper drone fleet. First, it is not a “computer virus”, it is a Microsoft operating system virus. Second, using Microsoft operating systems for any critical Military computer systems is just wrong. I know the US Military has specifications for rugged computer systems that must be made in the USA. That makes sense. What does not make sense is the fact that the US Military will accept Microsoft operating systems on its critical, sensitive hardware at this date in time. That is like specifying a bank vault that can withstand a nearby nuclear blast, but allowing the builder to install a screen door for access to the vault. It is just a Bad Idea!

This was a deja vu moment as well. I was following news about Military systems back in the 1990’s and had a similar experience when I read about the US Navy “smart ship” running Microsoft Windows NT … and having a ship killing system failure: Software glitches leave Navy Smart Ship dead in the water. I completely agreed with Ron Redman, deputy technical director of the Fleet Introduction Division of the Aegis Program Executive Office, at the time when he stated:

“Unix is a better system for control of equipment and machinery, whereas NT is a better system for the transfer of information and data. NT has never been fully refined and there are times when we have had shutdowns that resulted from NT.” … and … “Because of politics, some things are being forced on us that without political pressure we might not do, like Windows NT,” Redman said. “If it were up to me I probably would not have used Windows NT in this particular application. If we used Unix, we would have a system that has less of a tendency to go down.”

Actually, after re-reading that, I disagree that NT, or any Microsoft OS, was or is “a better system for the transfer of information and data” when compared to a Unix-like OS. I would use Linux for that too. Especially in a critical Military system like a “smart ship” or a drone control center. Frankly I do use Linux for operational security and the secure transfer of information and data in my own small business. I thank God that I do not have to succumb to political pressure forcing me to use a Microsoft OS for my business. It seems to me, if I can figure out how to implement Linux for my personal and business use, surely the US Military can do the same for its critical systems infrastructure. Obviously some people in the Military “get it” when it comes down to what system is best for critical control systems. Now if only the Microsoft lobbyists can be shut down from affecting the decisions as to what systems are best for the US Military.

Microsoft still makes a decent gaming operating system. But that is about the sum total for which I would agree a Microsoft system should be used. Even there I am agreeing reluctantly only because the majority of current PC game development targets the Microsoft OS.

Hey, US Military folk and US Senators with military oversight, if it has to be from the USA, ever hear of Red Hat Linux? How about the US NSA’s own Security-Enhanced Linux? Perhaps it is time for you folk to rethink the requirements for Military computing systems and make one of these Linux operating systems part of the requirement. Or take the Linux kernel source code and use your own internal Military IT staff and programmers to collaborate and build a custom system just for Military use. Any of these would be a better option than relying on a “known to be owned” OS like any of those from Microsoft. I will be glad to introduce you to Linux if you want to pay me for a Linux consultation. Just sayin’ …

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Edit Sat Oct  8 20:57:30 CDT 2011: Due to a salient observation elsewhere, change “pwn” to crack in the first paragraph.

Open Source: Niche Markets, Linux and Microsoft

If you are a Linux protagonist who has been around as long as, or longer than, I have, you have seen responses like these over and over as to why Linux distributions will never go mainstream on the PC desktop:

  • “Linux will always remain a niche platform because it does not have a native release of Adobe (Photoshop / Creative Suite / etcetera)!”
  • “Linux does not have Microsoft Office and Microsoft Office power users require Microsoft Office!”
  • “The web portal at (insert portal here) needs Internet Explorer. There is no native release of Internet Explorer for Linux, so no one will want to use Linux!”
  • Program X does not have a Linux version or equivalent!”
  • Or other claims along the same lines …

Yes, these comments usually do have exclamation points to show how emphatic the claimant feels about the statement. I think these claimants have the equation backwards. All of these cases are what is known as a “niche market”. How many people using PC systems need to use Adobe Photoshop? How many Microsoft Office users are a “Microsoft Office power user”? How many end-users of a PC system need to go to a web portal that requires Microsoft Internet Explorer? (I will ignore the fact that many of these “IE only” web portals usually work just fine if one fakes the browser string with Firefox or Opera.) How many people need to use Program X on their PC?  I am thinking, “Not that many.”, for all the above.

To me this suggests that the Microsoft platform is the niche platform:

  • Do you “need” Adobe (Photoshop / Creative Suite / etcetera) for your job? Then you are a niche user.
  • Do you “need” Microsoft Office because you are a “power user”? Then you are a niche user.
  • Do you “need” access to an IE only web portal? Then you are a niche user.
  • Do you “need” to run Program X on your PC? Then you are a niche user.

The vast majority of PC users do not need, or want, any of the programs that are often claimed to be the problem holding back adoption of Linux on the PC desktop in the mainstream. In my experience with the few end-users I have switched from Microsoft to Linux, some of them did have special needs that precluded using Linux on their desktop PC at this time. The others have zero problems using a Linux desktop PC.

These latter are people that do not try to solve PC problems themselves. They call a “computer guy” when they have problems. They would call a “computer guy” even if they ran Microsoft systems and had a problem. They have no “need” for any of the niche usage scenarios above. They are perfectly content that they can send and receive e-mail, access FaceBook, play Flash games, browse web sites, use personal finance software and make a simple spreadsheet with LibreOffice. All from their Linux based desktop PC.

One of these Linux desktop users is also a Skype user and there are “millions” of Skype users “out there”. Skype usage is less of a niche market than it used to be. That is going to be problematic once Microsoft kills Skype development for other platforms in favor of its own software now that Microsoft owns Skype. The “embrace, extend and extinguish” paradigm is still Microsoft’s bread and butter. But if Microsoft does what I suspect, Skype will end up being merged into some Microsoft based software. At that point our smart FOSS developers will likely figure out a way to inter-operate with the Microsoft software from FOSS programs. However, this “problem” would be non-existent if end-users were aware of and used FOSS communication projects like Ekiga.

So, that said, how do we get from where we are to the mainstream desktop?

The “problem” with adoption of Linux on the end-user desktop is not these niche usage scenarios. As I see it Linux adoption is a fourfold problem, apathy, education, marketing and pre-loading agreements.

  • Apathy – Okay, there is not much we can do about this one. If an end-user is apathetic about what operating system is on his or her PC just let it go.
  • Education – There are still many people who have no idea what Linux is or can do for them. I still meet people who have not even heard the term Linux. When I can, I give them a brief overview of what Linux is and then give them a Live CD distribution to play with. Those of us who are Linux professionals can take the opportunity to present Linux systems at local Chamber of Commerce gatherings and local technology shows.
  • Marketing – There is no one company marketing Linux to the masses on a large scale. We will see no advertisement on television or in print from an “Apple” that offers an alternative to Microsoft. Most of the “Linux Big Boys” are only marketing to businesses. Actually I think this should be one of the jobs of The Linux Foundation. But until that organization takes on major advertising, we can use local media and continue to use positive “word of mouth advertising” to “market” Linux.
  • Pre-loading Agreements – Microsoft has pretty much sewn up the pre-load venue with major PC manufacturers. Sure, some of these manufacturers give a slight nod to Linux and offer a few systems with Linux pre-loaded. But I am not content with the puny offerings from these major manufacturers. (Of course since my company builds custom systems with Linux pre-loaded this should come as no surprise to our regular readers.) I do not expect this to change any time soon. So, no consumers are likely to see a Linux based PC from HP, Dell, etcetera on the shelves at Best Buy. The only way I see to overcome this at this point is with education and marketing. If we can create a demand for Linux systems like Apple has done for Apple systems, the end result will be Linux systems on the shelves at major retail outlets.

There are people who should stick with Microsoft or Apple systems for their niche usage. For the rest of the PC user base, Linux on the desktop is ready to go.

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Linux Hardware Support Better Than Windows 7

Are you in the market for a new laptop, desktop or server PC with Linux installed? Please give us the opportunity to quote a preloaded Linux laptop, desktop or server system for you.

I will start this off by adding, “… with the exception of some wireless chip sets and high end graphics cards.” to appease those of you who will act like Arnold Horshack (1, 2) if that is not mentioned. If there are other unsupported devices on Linux that are supported in Windows 7 feel free to scratch your itch and tell me in a comment.

The concept of better is a subjective idea. What is better to me is possibly, even probably, not better to someone else. In my case, and in the case of some of my clients, Linux hardware support is “better”. I do not buy cutting edge hardware and tend to keep systems and peripherals until they stop working and can no longer be repaired at a reasonable cost. When a new release of my favorite Linux distribution comes out I can be 100% certain that my hardware that works with my current release will still work with the new release. That is something I just take for granted. This is not so in the Microsoft camp.

For those people who hold on to working hardware through new Microsoft versions, their hardware may or may not be supported in a new release of a Microsoft OS. Take the example of a recent conversation I had with the manager at one of my client offices. I will call her “Mrs. B” here. Mrs. B is a Microsoft fanatic and will not even consider switching to Apple, much less Linux. When I mentioned switching to Linux for her office desktop during our conversation she laughingly said, “Gene, you know better than that.”, because we have had that discussion before. This came up in our recent conversation about her HP Photosmart 1115 printer.

Mrs B recently had to purchase a new PC for her office use because her old Microsoft XP Professional based PC died. She bought a cheap, commodity PC with Windows 7 Home Premium installed from an on-line discount store. She did not check whether or not her existing peripherals were supported. Why should she? They worked before, so they should still work. Correct? Not so correct. You see, HP has, for whatever reason, decided to not make drivers for the Photosmart 1115 for Vista, much less Windows 7.

Mrs. B had asked me to see if I could help her get her printer working on Windows 7 because she could not find the driver CD. So, I went to www.hp.com and did a search for drivers for her. I already suspected that HP had not created drivers for that model, and I was correct. I informed Mrs. B and mentioned that the printer does have support under Apple OS X and Linux. So maybe we could switch her to Linux so she would not have to get rid of her still working printer just to buy one that has Windows 7 drivers. That is when I got her response above. So, Mrs. B will be buying a new printer and either throwing away or giving away the still functional Photosmart 1115 printer.

While at HP’s web site, just for curiosity’s sake, I looked at the list of unsupported products in Windows 7. That is quite a list. Then I took items from the list at random and checked to see if HP reports they are supported under Linux. Oddly, some of the items in that list do have Windows 7 drivers. It seems even HP is not sure which of their products are not supported. Some of the products are not supported under Linux according to the HP driver search for them. Those also only have drivers for Microsoft Windows 3.1, Microsoft Windows 95 and Microsoft Windows 2000. It is possible these very old models are “win-printer” types that are gutted of any stand-alone capability and require a driver to function at all. But the other models I looked up all had support under Linux listed, but no support under Windows Vista or Windows 7.

One problem here is that Microsoft drivers are so closely tied to the system kernel that a new release of the operating system breaks old drivers. Under Apple OS X and Linux this is not a problem because most drivers, including those for printing, are separate from and not tied to the kernel. On Linux any driver that does require a specific kernel can be, and usually will be, easily recompiled by a distribution’s maintainers and released along with the new kernel. If the driver works with DKMS, even better. Printing runs as a separate subsystem, usually using CUPS. So, if one’s printer worked with Fedora 9 it still works with Fedora 15 and will probably still be able to work with Fedora 25 or whatever Fedora releases may be called later. So, one’s beloved Photosmart 1115 printer can still be used under Linux while it cannot be used with Windows 7. In my book, that is better hardware support with Linux.

These days I will only purchase new peripherals for my SOHO that specifically state they have Linux support or are shown to be supported by open source drivers. If the package says “Linux” on it, I also try to take the time to send an e-mail to the manufacturer letting them know I chose their product because they took the effort to put on the packaging the fact they support my preferred OS. This is my small effort to keep these manufacturers interested in supporting Linux. Perhaps you can do the same.

Do you have your own “peripheral horror story” with a Microsoft OS? Feel free to post a comment about it.

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Are You Smart? Then You Probably Do Not Use IE!

Note: The article at “AptiQuant” referred to for this story is probably a hoax. See this article at BBC News. Then compare the AptiQuant “team” with the team at Central Test based in France. A look at the domain record for the AptiQuant site shows an address that does not appear to exist. In my opinion, this was a pretty good hoax. But it does mean my conclusions below are now just based on my own observations and suspicions since we have to toss out the hoax. One comment to my article here did point out a different site with IQ results: http://www.iqleague.com/group/smartest-browser-and-os Thanks for that!

This is priceless. A recent article at Fox News (Internet Explorer Users Are Dumber, Study Shows) points out that a study by AptiQuant shows users of the web browsers Camino, Chrome, Chrome Frame, Firefox, Opera and Safari scored higher on IQ testing than most users of versions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. A follow-up article at AptiQuant states that some Microsoft Internet Explorer users are threatening to sue AptiQuant. That latter fact just proved AptiQuant’s point I think.

I read the PDF from the AptiQuant site, you can get your own copy here, and noticed that the respondents to their study were self-selecting. People found the AptiQuant test while searching for IQ tests on the WWW and chose to take the test themselves. This of course leaves out the millions of people who were not looking for web sites to test their IQ. It is possible that those looking for an IQ test are on average more intellegent than those who are not. But that is just my personal suspicion. I have nothing I can use to back that suspicion. In any case a sample of 100,000+ people is a decent sample.

Part of the conclusion of this study states:

The study showed a substantial relationship between an individual’s cognitive ability and their choice of web browser. From the test results, it is a clear indication that individuals on the lower side of the IQ scale tend to resist a change/upgrade of their browsers. This hypothesis can be extended to any software in general, however more research is needed for that, which is a potential future work as an extension to this report.

This suggests to me that Microsoft users who refuse to move from a Microsoft operating system to something else may be in the less intelligent group. I think that is more than likely. My anecdotal evidence for this is I know several people who moved away from Microsoft to Linux in the past few years. As I know these people personally I can state with confidence that all of them are rather intelligent people. I did not test their IQ, but I have had extended conversations with these people on substantial subjects. Without exception each of these people I know personally have sharp minds and can “hold their own” in discussions on a number of subjects. Many of the people I know who refuse to leave Microsoft for something better tend to be those who also keep getting malware infections that my company is called upon to clean up. Does this scientifically prove that Microsoft users are statistically “dumber” than Linux users? Nope. But it does show to me that those people I know personally who have moved away from Microsoft to Linux are smarter in some respects than those I know who insist on using Microsoft systems and software.

That said, I do show three examples below where the users moved from Linux back to Microsoft. None of these people are “dumb”. Everyone else I know who switched to Linux as a user has been relatively content and, based on my anecdotal evidence, quite smart.

One of the people who moved from Linux back to Microsoft is a smart fellow who worked for NASA during the 1960’s and helped plan the first moon landing. He is not a “computer guy” and had long been a user of Microsoft based systems starting with IBM PC-DOS in the 1980’s. But he can do calculus in his head, which I cannot do, so he is not dumb by any stretch of the imagination. He just did not enjoy having to find and learn new software to do what he wanted on Linux. He does have a Linux VM running on top of his Microsoft OS so he still dabbles with Linux. But he is generally a Microsoft user again.

Another fellow that switched from Linux back to Microsoft has failing health and is on medication that impairs his ability to think and communicate. The change from Microsoft to Linux was therefore quite frustrating for him with the differences he encountered. He really needed familiarity to be able to do what he wanted with his PC, so he reverted back to Microsoft which was the right move for him.

The other people I know who moved from Linux to Microsoft did so because they run a small business that does much of its selling through eBay. We all know eBay is in the back pocket of Microsoft for some reason and has made it difficult to easily use some features of eBay with anything other than a Microsoft based system. Being on Linux made using these eBay features they needed either very difficult or impossible. So they moved back to Microsoft. However, these folk disliked having to use Microsoft so much they recently switched again and are now using Apple based systems for their business. I hope they are not similarly frustrated by eBay in their move to Apple. Time will tell.

In conclusion, I will be very interested to see a similar study done that takes into account the operating systems used. The quote above from the PDF document by AptiQuant states this may be done in the future. If that is done and released to the public, I suspect that we will find a similar pattern of IQ results based on the operating system used as well.

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Microsoft Windows – Promoting Mediocrity Since 1985

What do I mean “… Since 1985”? Go here for a timeline of Microsoft Windows: A history of Windows – Microsoft Windows

I am a Unix / Linux guy writing this article out of sheer frustration, so if one does not like pointed, accurate ranting about that Not A Unix OS to which one may be partial, stop here.

Our company web log, web site, shopping site and forum get hit by varying degrees with SPAM bots, or in some cases possibly paid SPAM shills, signing up for accounts, posting “comments” and sending “track-backs” that aren’t. Constant administration oversight is needed to keep these cleaned up, which is one reason why all comments and track-backs here at The ERACC Web Log are moderated. We see the SPAM so you don’t have to. I also see the occasional SPAM in my e-mail. Even though I have measures in place to mitigate the problem in all these locations, nothing completely stops these annoying SPAM-ing jerks. Invariably, when I trace back the IP addresses of these SPAM attempts with nmap and check the running OS I see something like this:

Running: Microsoft Windows 2003
OS details: Microsoft Windows Server 2003 SP2, Microsoft Windows XP SP2

It seems another technically ignorant Microsoft user, or dare I say “administrator”, has zero clue how to secure an internet facing operating system. (By the way, saying these folk are ignorant is not a slur on their character, because ignorance can be cured.) You see, when a company designs an operating system so mediocre and so “easy” an ignorant person can use it to connect a computer to the internet, you get ignorant people connecting computers to the internet. This in and of itself is not necessarily a Bad Thing™. Unless the operating system in question has flawed design decisions from its inception that leave the OS open to attack when connected to the internet by ignorant users. (Psst, meaning Microsoft Windows from 1985 to now.) Yes, all the Microsoft “guru” types out there are gnashing teeth and insisting Microsoft operating systems can be secured. Yup, I agree. But not by the technically clueless who are coddled by intellect smothering GUI love, which means the majority of Microsoft users.

Too many Microsoft users have been taught the attitude, “I don’t want to have to learn something ‘hard’, I just want this thing to work.” when talking about computer systems. This brings to mind one of my favorite paragraphs from a book I have read more than once:

“Would you fight so with a sword? No? I thought not! You would try to cut your enemy even as his blade split your heart. That is the Angrezi vice; you would rather die than go to the effort of thinking. You are not stupid, but you are lazy —” He touched the side of his head to show what he meant. “You will toil like bullocks with your bodies rather than make your brains sweat.”

David bar-Elias to Athelstane King after King “gives up” during a chess match with Elias in The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling.

Unfortunately, since Microsoft systems always use a brain atrophying GUI for Every Freaking Thing, the ignorant users are usually not taught how to think for themselves. So these people rarely know the hows and whys of network security or how to parse and solve network problems with their own brain. The GUI keeps these poor people ignorant. If “it” is not in a GUI, “it” is not possible or even knowable as far as many of these folks are concerned. Substitute some network security task for “it” in the previous sentence. (Hey, you. Yeah, you over there using that Microsoft OS. That is a multifunction tool called a computer, not a microwave oven or a toaster or a television set. Get an OS that can teach you that.)

Further, when basic design decisions are made that start off without any thought of security for this same operating system you get an operating system that is easy to suborn, regardless of the endless Microsoft Patch Tuesdays. Anti-malware is a bandage at best, because anti-malware is primarily retroactive. Anyone who is honest will admit that there are attacks that get through anti-malware on Microsoft systems all the time. Not every Microsoft system, because eventually the anti-malware vendors catch up. But if one is the first to get a new “infection”, one’s “heuristic” anti-malware has a fair chance of not catching a new malicious package introduced through that “Excellent FaceBook Page!!!11!!” one just visited with Internet Explorer. (For the record, it is not a “PC Virus”, sweetie, it is a “Microsoft Windows Virus”.)

Add to this heinous equation all the clueless Microsoft users and Microsoft “administrators” clicking their way to GUI Nirvana to realize a world-wide network nightmare called Microsoft Bot-nets, Microsoft SPAM relays and other Microsoft related malware spewing sewers. Here have some Microsoft based SPAM, or a Microsoft based DOS attack. Isn’t mediocrity just Totally Sweet?

When a company promotes ease of use mediocrity over security for its operating systems, perhaps its operating systems should not be allowed on the internet. I’m just saying …

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