Vista Hacked… Intentionally

This morning, while sitting on the bed reading and listening to NPR’s “Morning Edition” streaming over the internet, I heard a story about Windows Vista being hacked – intentionally – by a Polish security expert [ZDNetVista]. Microsoft handed out pre-release copies to security experts, who then took a crack at breaking the system. It was broken by Joanna Rutkowska, who used the human factor to break the system. Some referred to it as “cheating” – without the fact that a person needs to use the computer, it would be secure. However, all she did was use a popup window, asking the user to click “OK”, to bypass system security and crack Vista. As one commentator on NPR said, if you want a secure OS it should be “entombed in concrete and dropped to the bottom of the sea.”

All of this got me thinking about Linux. Vista has been delayed over a year in order to “perfect” its security system, a pipe dream if ever I heard one. Linux, however, is released on a continual basis (“linux” exclusively refers to the kernel of the operating system). Linux, bundled with open-source software, is released several times annually by “distributions”, or configured and packaged collections of software. I run “Fedora Linux”:http://fedora.redhat.com, which is the community driven face of Redhat Linux. I use Fedora Core 5 – the 5th official release of Fedora Linux since 2004 – for all of our linux desktops at home, and an earlier, more mature release for our webserver.

This is pretty much officially the 8th anniversary of my switch to linux. I did so in the summer of 1997, back when the software was stable but much less polished than the modern flavors. Then, I went from Windows 95 (which crashed at least once a week, typically during critical paper-writing sessions) to Debian. I spent a few weeks that summer just getting Linux installed, and I had picked Debian because (according to a magazine article), “even a chicken can install it”. Linux has come a long, long way since then, with clean and aesthetically pleasing desktops, graphical boot loaders and distribution installers, GUI interfaces to kernel installation, self-organizing music players, and fast web browsers (no more Netscape!). One thing that it’s always had: long uptimes. I impressed college friends when I told them that my linux PC stayed up on the internet without interruption for three months, no crashes. They started lamenting their Windows machines on the spot. And, linux is FREE.

I prize linux for its stability. For instance, the Zope webserver I run as part of cooleysekula.net has been up for *20 days 18 hours 23 min 45 sec*. The only reason that number is so low is because of a series of blackouts and brown-outs in California – nothing to do with Linux – and even that blow was softened by the UPS I keep the server on (good for 20-30 minutes or buffer power). Typically, I keep cooleysekula.net up for months, taking it down for vacuuming or new kernel installation (need to reboot) or hardware maintainence. Speaking of hardware, linux’s fundamentally lightweight footprint makes even a throw-away 300 MHz desktop PC with 700 MB of memory a convenient webserver and distributed filesystem hub for the tech-saavy home.

I also love the flexibility of linux. One day I can make it look like nothing else in creation, the next I can mimic Windows (I do this for guests, so that they feel “at home”), and the next day Mac OSX or even the Apple IIE. Whatever. Choice isn’t always good – I don’t like to choose between lots of crap – but flexibility is good, and that’s the nice thing about Linux. Since the inception of the Linux desktop, its look and feel have been completely under the control of the user. Windows only managed that around the time of Windows XP SP2.

And now, while Linux is delivering security, stability, flexibility, upgradeability, and useability, Windows Vista is delayed until next year to perfect its security. The problem with the Microsoft release cycle is that it’s just not continuous enough to keep it up-to-date. Linux is always fresh – Windows was fresh a year before it was released. Windows is prepared to stop threats a year old, while linux is updated on-the-fly to address new threats and new technologies immediately. MMM. Smell that fresh OS.


.. [ZDNetVista] “http://news.zdnet.com/2100-1009_22-6102458.html”:http://news.zdnet.com/2100-1009_22-6102458.html

Gigabit for fun and profit…

Mmmm. Gigabit ethernet. GURGUGURGLE.

I’m bored. With Jodi out of town and being throughly mentally lashed form this past week at SLAC, I needed a project to take my mind off spin and quarks and 38 decay modes of the B meson. I needed gigabit ethernet.

With a lecture on how we define ourselves with material objects rather than inner qualities playing on NPR in the background, I disassembled my desktop and webserver machines and installed the two $20 gigabit ethernet NICs I purchased at Fry’s Electronics. Those guys got plugged into a gigabit network switch using two lengths of ethernet cable designed to attentuate appreciably only above about 500 MHz. Yummy.

Then the tests began. Linux can be fickle, and I had to rerun my network manager on the webserver to restore the network topology I use for routing my home intranet to the global internet. After an hour of mucking about with that, I was ready to go. My ultimate goal was to finally migrate my desktop home area to the webserver and export it via NFS to the rest of the machines in the house. This is so that I can consolidate my nightly backups to just one system, the webserver. If I lose the desktop, it’s no big deal – the home area is safe on the server (and backed up!). I can use the now very empty desktop hard drive for scratch space.

After tuning the NFS exporting system to adjust the blocksize used for reads and writes, I was ready to go. I logged into the desktop, with my home directory now served from the webserver via gigabit ethernet and NFS. It worked great! Response time was excellent, and simultanous actions that eat disk access time (like ripping a DVD and browsing the filesystem to look at photos) didn’t collide with one another.

A successful test! And a fun project! For $100, you too can have exported linux home areas centralized on a 5 year old throw-away PC.
I love linux!

Blechk — this week was too long…

**YAWN**. This was a loooooooooong week. When I was a graduate student it was “no big deal” [1] to have four 8-hour shifts, plus normal meetings and work.

Although I was expecting to sleep-in today, I was a little amazed that I slept until 1 pm. I can’t say I’ve done that for a very long time, probably since college. Despite needing the rest, sleeping that long never leaves me feeling very well. Thus, blechk…

I’ve got a nice restful weekend ahead, however. I have some cleaning to do (mostly done!), and a nice beer-centric social event to attend tomorrow (with physicists), but overall I have low expectations for my weekend!


.. [1] “No big deal” means in the short term – order 1 week. In the long term (several months) that kind of continued behavior led to exhaustion, depression, and hypertension. Blechk.

Lounging with the Appletosh…

My wife has recently been given a work laptop for her research on the “CDMS”:http://cdms.berkeley.edu experiment. This laptop happens to be a gorgeous Apple PowerBook G4. It’s a great machine for work – nice and light-weight, solid processor, lots of disk space – and the first time I’ve ever seen MacOSX up-close.

I have to say that “Apple”:http://www.apple.com has really outdone itself with these machines and this operating system. It’s a perfect blend of robust UNIX core and a functional graphical user interface. Tonight I’m trying to get the e-mail program, “Sylpheed-Claws”:http://sylpheed-claws.sf.net, installed. This program depends on some external software which works just fine on Linux and UNIX in general, so they should work here. Wish me luck!