Showing posts with label open source. Show all posts
Showing posts with label open source. Show all posts

30+ Resources for Linux Beginners

I'm a relative newcomer to Linux, having installed my first distribution on an old desktop computer just over a year ago to see if I could give it some new life.  It was an eye-opening experience coming from Windows/Mac environments where so much is hidden or locked away from the system's ostensible owner.  Perhaps it may sound absurd to some ears, but without exaggeration I can say this was the first time I experienced something like freedom while working at a computer. And that is no coincidence.  From the Free Software Foundation:
“Free software” means software that respects users' freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”.
When I think about why I hadn't begun exploring the GNU/Linux space five, ten or even twenty years ago (yes, I'm old), I'm often reminded of a classic work by philosopher Eric Fromm from 1941: The Fear of Freedom. Fromm argues that individuals seek out authoritarian systems precisely in order to avoid the disorienting and potentially traumatic experience of actual freedom and the responsibilities that come along with it.  It is much easier to let others tell you what to think and how to act than it is to think and act for oneself.  Anyway, philosophical digressions aside, I've collected a fair number of resources on GNU/Linux since that first install, and thought I'd share some of them here to help orient others who are interested in exploring alternatives to the Microsoft/Apple digital duopoly.  Below, you'll find resources on Linux distributions, installation, the command line, as well as how to set up a file server, a development server and conduct remote management. Feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments!

There is a wide variety of GNU/Linux distributions to choose from in the wild. Wikipedia's list of Linux distributions reaches into the hundreds. DistroWatch lists even  more.  How-to Geek has a helpful article on what a distribution is and how they are different from one another.  For beginners, it likely makes the most sense to choose from among those that are the most popular, since it will be easier to find answers to everyday questions. 

Once you've decided to check out a distribution or three, the next step is to install it.  There are many options here too: 1) a full install to a specific machine (overwriting the current operating system), 2) a dual boot install that allows you to run a second operating system alongside your primary one on a given machine, 3) a virtual install that allows you to run a second, third, fourth, or fifth operating system on top of your primary one, 4) or even so-called live versions that boot from a CD or USB drive and which you don't install on your machine at all! All the necessary information should be available from the official website and related forums of the distribution(s) you've chosen to explore. For the present post, we'll take Ubuntu as an example:

Perhaps the simplest way to test out and experiment with a new distribution is to create a virtual instance of the system on your current machine.  For example, I currently have twelve virtual instances of nine different distributions on my main laptop using the VirtualBox free software package. VirtualBox is an application that allows you to create a virtual environment on your host computer in which you can install a so-called guest operating system that runs on top of your host's system the same way any other software application would.
Note: unless you're running a server without a graphical interface, once you've installed a guest operating system on your machine, you'll very likely also want to install the so-called VirtualBox Guest Additions, which provide a full screen "seamless" mode, file sharing between host and guest systems and other amenities. I have found this process to be a bit tricky in the past, but recently I came across this post on a CrunchBang forum which provided instructions that have worked flawlessly on every single Debian-based distribution I've installed on VirtualBox since (specifically: Crunchbang, Ubuntu Desktop, Ubuntu Server, Kali and Backbox).

Command Line
Despite it's name, the command line terminal is the beginning, not the end! Finding your way around the command line can be intimidating at first, especially for those of us who have only ever used Windows Explorer or Mac Finder to navigate a computer's file system. But I guarantee that after a bit of experience you'll soon be asking yourself how you ever went without it! Would you rather copy and rename 300 pictures from your camera onto your computer one by one in a graphical interface, or with one relatively simple command from the terminal?

File Server
Linux distributions are great for re-purposing old computers. Lots of people have old laptops or desktop machines gathering dust in the closet. These can easily be transformed into file and media servers for your home network.

LAMP Stack Development Server
A LAMP stack is a software bundle used for running services like web sites, databases and the like. LAMP stands for: Linux (operating system), Apache (web server), MYSQL (database server), and PHP (server side scripting language).  Setting up a full fledged LAMP stack is actually ridiculously easy once you get the hang of it.

Open SSH Server
Once you've set up a dedicated home server of some kind, you don't really want to have to keep it hooked up to a monitor, keyboard and mouse. You want to put it in a closet and forget about it, but you still need to be able to dial into it for updates or maintenance. And that's what the Open SSH Server is for.  Basically, Open SSH allows for secure login to a remote machine over a given network. 

Well, that's all folks! I hope you've found some of these resources helpful.  As always, recommendations of your own favorite resources are welcome in the comments, as are suggestions, criticism and angry tirades! 

"'The Truth At Any Cost' Lowers All Other Costs": Former US Spy Robert Steele's Admirable Advocacy For "Open Source Everything"

After organizing a major CIA intelligence conference, the highly-respected Marine intelligence officer and CIA agent Robert Steele tried to explain that open-source information (the idea of using freely-accessible knowledge to implement policy, rather than secretly-obtained information) is the means to true freedom. The CIA promptly banned him from organizing further conferences. Now, he's taking his wisdom to the masses.

"Sharing, not secrecy, is the means by which we realize such a lofty destiny as well as create infinite wealth. The wealth of networks, the wealth of knowledge, revolutionary wealth - all can create a nonzero win-win Earth that works for one hundred percent of humanity. This is the 'utopia' that Buckminster Fuller foresaw, now within our reach," states Steele.

With this attitude firmly in mind, Steele writes, lectures, and advocates for the concept of "Open Source Everything": taking the power of knowledge from an elite few and making sure it is disseminated throughout all the world, with a focus on long-term goals that benefit all of humanity. Steele advocates truth as currency over violence, using international stewardship councils of experts in varieties of topics to check, balance, and spread information, looking far down the road on the effects that humanity's decisions of all sorts will have. An Open Source Agency, he claims, would collaborate to share this wisdom, with information coming and going from many elements, particularly including the expanse of information-sharing options available to the average computer user.

As Steele told, "We have over 5 billion human brains that are the one infinite resource available to us going forward. Crowd-sourcing and cognitive surplus are two terms of art for the changing power dynamic between those at the top that are ignorant and corrupt, and those across the bottom that are attentive and ethical. The open source ecology is made up of a wide range of opens – open farm technology, open source software, open hardware, open networks, open money, open small business technology, open patents – to name just a few. The key point is that they must all develop together, otherwise the existing system will isolate them into ineffectiveness. Open data is largely worthless unless you have open hardware and open software. Open government demands open cloud and open spectrum, or money will dominate feeds and speeds."

On the homefront, Steele maintains that the massive national "security" infrastructure we currently have in place is too big, too expensive, too unaccountable, too nonproductive concerning "terrorism" (which he claims has never been thwarted by the NSA), and ultimately bound to fail (though he admits properly-maintained surveillance should certainly remain in place for issues like corruption, pedophilia, and other crimes.) With intelligence out of the pocket of banks and politicians, citizens can better decide what will truly be of help for themselves and others. If a professional spy is willing to show how this is currently all going wrong, surely America and maybe the world can eventually learn to realize and remedy this?

Steele's revolution pre-conditions checklist.  We qualify, now how do we quell it?

Pirate Box: A Simple LAMP Stack Live Server Build

I first came across the PirateBox DIY project late last year, and thought it would be fun to set one up, but I didn’t really have an idea of where it could be put to good use. And then one day it hit me. I'm in a band and we play shows fairly regularly here in NYC. After shows people often ask if they can download any of our songs online (which, of course, they can), or they want to share pics they took during the set, or they want to get in touch with us and need our contact info, and so on. So I thought, hey, I’ll set up a Pirate Box for the band and run it as a live server during shows, and then people could share pics with us and one another directly, download songs directly from us rather than through an online middleman, get general info about the band, upcoming shows and so on.

I began hunting on Craig’s List for an appropriate router to install the PirateBox ISO, but had no luck. Being the impatient type, I broadened my search criteria and found someone selling an old Mac Mini for $50. Perfect. That weekend, I went to a local flea market and picked up a cheap soho router and some cables for another $10, and set to work.

Because of some apparent incompatibilities between the PirateBox ISO and the Mac Mini hardware, I decided to scratch the idea of installing the PirateBox ISO and instead create my own build from scratch rather than spend endless amounts of time troubleshooting and tweaking to get the hardware and software to play nice with each other.

After a couple weeks of research and tinkering, I managed to put together a nice little LAMP stack running a main portal page, a band Wiki, a chat room, and a song downloads page (see below for full details). I keep the setup in an old laptop case with the Mac Mini and the router inside, plugged into a power cord. I’ve since brought it along to two shows and set it up somewhere inconspicuous on stage. When we’re doing sound check I just plug in the extension cord, turn on the router and the server, and it’s good to go!

I configured the network and server so that once someone has hopped onto the wifi, all they have to do is navigate to serverhostname.local to access the server, and I set the wifi broadcast name and the host name of the server to the name of the band.  Here are some screen caps from the initial setup.  Once someone connects to the wifi and navigates to the correct url (in the present case: utm.local), they are greeted with a success page. 

Clicking the portal link takes them to the site's main navigation page.

From there, users can navigate to the wiki:

Or to the chat room:

 Or to the download page:

Try not to laugh at the download page, this was what it looked like after initial setup, it's since been spiced up a bit.  If you want to see it now, you'll just have to come out to one of our shows!

All in all this was a fun little project.  It took about a month's worth of work (mostly on weekends) to get everything up and running, including preliminary research, installation, configuration and customization, as well as the time spent setting up an initial test on a VirtualBox VM on my laptop. 

There were, however, some frustrating hurdles along the way: finding an Ubuntu Server ISO that worked without problems on the Mac hardware, getting hostname resolution to operate correctly for both iOS and Android devices (avahi-daemon eventually did the trick, though a bug in older generations of the Android OS prevents those devices from being able to resolve the hostname.local URL to the IP address of the server), and, perhaps most ridiculously, uploading the band's logo into the MediaWiki (though drinking a bit less beer during configuration would have probably made that process go a bit more smoothly!).   

There's a lot more that one could go into here: installing Ubunutu Server onto the Mac Mini, installing and configuring the LAMP stack, comparisons of the various open source software packages I decided to include, as well as those that I decided against, potential security issues running an open wifi at bars and clubs in NYC, and so on.  But perhaps those are best left to their own individual posts. So for now, that's all folks!

UTM Live Server Build

• Mac Mini, $50 on Craig’s List
• Netgear router, $10 at a local flea market
• Cables, $5 at the same flea market
Total Hardware Cost: $65

• OS: Ubuntu Server
• LAMP Stack:
    • Apache2 Web Server
    • PHP5
    • MYSQL DB
    • PHPMyAdmin
    • OpenSSH
• Web Interface:
    • MediaWiki
    • Blueimp’s AJAX Chat
    • PHP login module for the downloads page (adapted from Harvard’s Building Dynamic Websites online course)
    • Noir HTML5 Template optimized for mobile devices
Total Software Cost: $0

Microsoft Sends DMCA Takedown Notices for Links to Open Source Competitors

From Torrent Freak:
Every week copyright holders send millions of DMCA takedown notices to Google in the hope of making pirated content harder to find.  Microsoft has been one of the most active senders and over the past month alone has asked Google to remove more than a million infringing URLs from its indexes. In addition the software giant also strips infringing links from its own search engine Bing.

While most of the submitted URLs do indeed link to infringing content, not all requests sent by Microsoft and other copyright holders are correct. Their often automated anti-piracy systems regularly trigger notices that include links to perfectly legitimate content, sometimes from direct competitors.

The latter happened with several recent DMCA takedown requests sent to Google on behalf of Microsoft. The notices, which contain references to unauthorized copies of Microsoft Office, also list many links to Apache’s open source office suite, OpenOffice . . .

Firefox Will Offer Better Internet Privacy and Anti-Tracking Tools

From the Washington Post:
The maker of the popular Firefox browser is moving ahead with plans to block the most common forms of Internet tracking, allowing hundreds of millions of users to eventually limit who watches their movements across the Web, company officials said Wednesday.

Firefox’s developers made the decision despite intense resistance from advertising groups, which have argued that tracking is essential to delivering well-targeted, lucrative ads that pay for many popular Internet services.

Widespread release of the blocking technology remains months away. But officials at Mozilla, the nonprofit group that makes Firefox, spoke confidently Wednesday about the growing sophistication of tools they are building to limit the placement of “cookies” in users’ browsers. . . .

Australian Govt Drops Microsoft Office Standard, Opts for ODF

The Delimiter reports:
In a move which appears to reverse its previous approach based on Microsoft’s file formats, the Australian Government’s central IT decision-making agency appears to have decided that it will standardise its office documents on the Open Document Format going forward. . . .

Sheridan added: “Support for ODF is available from a wide range of office productivity suites across a variety of operating system platforms, in both open-source and proprietary implementations, allowing agencies a great deal of flexibility in selecting a product which conforms to the COE Policy standard. Standardising on a format supported by a wide range of office suites provides for the greatest possible degree of interoperability without mandating the use of a specific product, as well as providing the best basis for reliable interchange of information between agencies deploying differing office productivity suites.”
ODF is an Open Document Format, originally developed by Sun Microsystems for the Open Office suite of programs.