Hack Linux

Linux & OS X-only Trojan Spotted

I have always been a Linux apologist – apologies to no one. My migration to the Linux platform a few years back was largely influenced by the bitter experiences i had with malwares and viruses on Windows. Rumours were rife then of the near impregnability of Linux, that Linux is virus (trojan horse) free. It was said that the old-fashioned multi-user heritage of Linux prevents malware, since users are not normally running their programs in admin mode (as root user).

But lately, i have been worried – very worried. The near invincibility image of Linux platform is fast being compromised. Now you hear of Linux trojans and hacks all around you. So much that i am now convinced that the only reason the statistics is still relatively low compared to Microsoft Windows is because of the low rate of adoption of Linux on desktops. And only if end users can adhere to best practices on the use of Microsoft Windows PCs as highlighted here, chances are that virus infiltration of the Windows platform will not be as widespread.

Below is an excerpt from, on the latest threat to the Linux (and its cousin, Apple OSX) platforms;

Security researchers have discovered a potential dangerous Linux and Mac OS X cross-platform trojan.

Once installed on a compromised machine, Wirenet -1 opens a backdoor to a remote command server, and logs key presses to capture passwords and sensitive information typed by victims. The program also grabs passwords submitted to Opera, Firefox, Chrome and Chromium web browsers, and credentials stored by applications including email client Thunderbird, web suite SeaMonkey, and chat app Pidgin. The malware then attempts to upload the gathered data to a server hosted in the Netherlands.

The software nastie was intercepted by Russian antivirus firm Dr Web [which] describes Wirenet-1 as the first Linux/OSX cross-platform password-stealing trojan.

Multi-platform virus strains that infect Windows, Mac OS X and Linux machines are extremely rare but not unprecedented. One example include the recent Crisis super-worm. Creating a strain of malware that infects Mac OS X and Linux machines but not Windows boxes seems, frankly, weird given the sizes of each operating system’s userbase – unless the virus has been designed for some kind of closely targeted attack on an organisation that uses a mix of the two Unix flavours.

Analysis work on the Wirenet-1 is ongoing and for now it’s unclear how the trojan is designed to spread. Once executed, it copies itself to the user’s home directory, and uses AES to encrypt its communications with a server over the internet.


A Murder Is Announced, but No Corpse Can Be Found

Well, it looks like the “Death of Desktop Linux” story is back for another round.

Yes, after countless debates and discussions of the topic ad nauseum over the years — the most recent being just a few short months ago, in fact — it recently reared its ugly head again, like a zombie that just won’t quit.

The claimant this time? None other than Miguel de Icaza, of GNOME and Mono fame.

The claim? Essentially, that Apple killed the Linux desktop.

Only problem is, FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software) fans can’t seem to find any evidence that the crime ever happened.

‘Then OS X Is on Life Support’

“Another one of these? Please,” exclaimed Google+ blogger Linux Rants. “Now Apple killed the Linux desktop? No. I’m afraid not.”

In fact, “the Mac OS in one form or another has been around since 1984, and in that time has managed to gain 6 to 7 percent market share,” Linux Rants pointed out. “Linux has been around since 1991, and has managed to gain at least 1 to 2 percent market share. Probably more. Possibly much more, depending on who you ask.

“If desktop Linux is dead — which I feel wholeheartedly that it is not — then OSX is on Life Support and it’s not looking good,” he asserted.

The reality is that “this is a very exciting time for desktop Linux, with Windows 8 threatening to popularize it like we’ve never seen before, and gaming companies committing to supporting it unprecedented numbers,” Linux Rants noted.

So “no, desktop Linux is not dead,” he concluded. “It’s had some difficulty gaining traction because it was a decade late to the Operating System market. Despite that, once it gets going it will be impossible to stop.”

‘It Seems to Be Working for Me’

Indeed, “if the Linux desktop is dead, why am I using it now?” asked Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien. “It seems to be working for me as well as anything.”

The real question, O’Brien suggested, “is what you want to accomplish. If it is total domination, with Linux having 100 percent of the desktop market, not only will that not happen, I wouldn’t want it to happen.

“Monoculture never works well,” he added. “So, I think de Icaza identifies some problems with development in Linux, but there’s problems in everything.”
‘Killed? No Way.’

Blogger Robert Pogson took a similar view.

“Apple killed nothing,” Pogson said

Rather, “Apple’s fanbois just wish they had 1K+ retail stores pushing product in China and India like Canonical has Dell doing,” he explained. “They wish they were shipping more than 20 million PCs — GNU/Linux will ship on that many PCs with Ubuntu next year. That leaves hundreds of other distros being installed by individuals and organizations on a global scale.

“Walmart Brazil barely sells any Apple products,” Pogson added. “GNU/Linux and that other OS top them in popularity.”

In short, “killed? No way,” he concluded.

‘We Have an Opportunity’

“I don’t think Apple killed anything,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed. “‘Killed’ implies a permanent state, and I don’t think it’s actually permanent — I’m seeing more interest from my non-techie friends, and announcements such as the porting of Steam to Linux give me hope for the future.”

De Icaza “is correct that the constant breakage caused by people completely rearranging interfaces and breaking apps on a constant basis set the Linux desktop back by years,” Mack conceded. However, “he is completely out of line for blaming Linus for it.”

Looking ahead, meanwhile, “the sad thing is that we have an opportunity to take market share, since Microsoft seems to be going out of their way to get rid of their entire userbase with Windows 8, but I don’t think we will have a non Gnome 3/Unity distro ready in time to take advantage,” he concluded.

‘It’s the Devs’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took an even stronger view.

“It’s the devs,” hairyfeet charged. “The devs can’t stand bug fixing and instead would rather write something ‘New!’ even if it breaks compatibility, makes third party support impossible, and makes Linux drivers practically impossible to keep 100 percent functional past a single update.”

Meanwhile, “you have Apple giving you 5 years of support, making sure their ABI doesn’t break software so companies like AutoCAD and Photoshop can actually support them, in short they make it NICE for the user, what a concept!” he asserted. “And you still have the BSD underpinnings, so the old-school Unix heads can have their CLI and have a functional system too!”

‘Dead on Arrival’

In fact, “the desktop distribution Linux community really has no concern as to whether it gets widespread adoption,” opined Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor.

“In the past few months, maybe out of frustration, I have gone the same route,” Lim explained. “I love my Linux distro, I use it, I benefit from it, but I do not bother to promote it with anyone anymore. This was some time after I got into a ‘discussion’ in a Linux forum about the issue of the need for change for widespread adoption — the overwhelming response was, ‘who cares?'”

So, “how can it win, when it is not even trying to fight?” Lim concluded. “Excellent article by Mr. Miguel de Icaza. But he is wrong about his conclusion: Mac OS did not kill Linux; Linux on the desktop was dead on arrival. His own article explains why.”
‘They Just Want Their Problems Solved’

Linux on the desktop has had “a number of important successes, but these are still very much niche cases,” noted Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

Breaking into the mainstream, however, “has not happened and it isn’t about to happen,” Travers opined. “Linux makes a great desktop tailored at each and every user, but nobody has really figured out how to make users see why they should consider a switch.”

De Icaza’s article focuses primarily on technical problems with the attempts thus far to bring Linux to the desktop, but “in the end this doesn’t matter if you can’t convince users to switch, and you can’t do this by merely building a great desktop environment,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how great your desktop is, you have to find some way to sell the move to users, because moving operating systems is always a certain amount of trouble.

“If you don’t market it,” in other words, “you won’t sell it,” he added.

“People don’t care what is technically best,” Travers concluded. “They just want their problems solved.”


Articles Linux

Zorin OS, The New Sheriff In Town

Many people coming from Windows try Ubuntu Linux as their first Linux distribution. But Ubuntu itself, while very good, may not always be the best choice. There are many Ubuntu derivatives and it is possible that one of those can sometimes be a better bet for those seeking to ease their way into a comfortable Linux niche. Zorin OS is an Ubuntu derivative designed to help make the transition from Windows to Linux as easy as possible.

Tagged as “The gateway to Linux for Windows Users”, Zorin OS is a multi-functional operating system designed specifically for Windows users who want to have easy and smooth access to Linux.

Zorin OS features a unique Look Changer program that allows users to change the user interface at the touch of a button.The Look Changer lets you change your desktop to look and act like either Windows 7, XP, Vista, 2000, Mac OS X or Linux (GNOME) for ultimate ease of use.

Now in its version 6, the following  were given as some of the advantages of Zorin OS:

  •     No risk of getting viruses
  •     Much faster than Windows 7
  •     An easy to use and familiar desktop
  •     Customizable user interface thanks to our Look Changer
  •     Stable as it is based on the robust Linux operating system
  •     All the software you’ll ever need out of the box
  •     Extremely versatile and customizable Open Source software
  •     Available in over 55 languages

While these advantages may not be unique to Zorin,however, i feel it is its ease of usage and familiar desktop that gives it an edge over its more popular cousin, Linux Mint.

Packed with a suite of software out of the box, and with a lot more available in the Ubuntu repository, you never have to shell out your hard earned cash to pay for any software again.

Some of the unique softwares included are:

  • Zorin Look Changer
  • Zorin Internet Browser Manager : The default web browser in Zorin OS is Google Chrome. However, this software makes installing and uninstalling other web browsers simple and quick.
  • Zorin Background Plus : You can set a video, audio file or screensaver as your background
  • Zorin Splash Screen Manager : Makes it easy to change, install and remove Plymouth splash screen themes in Zorin OS
  • LibreOffice : The LibreOffice suite includes a word processor, spreadsheet software, a presentation program and a drawing application for all your document production and data processing needs. It is compatible with Microsoft Office.

Others include Google Chrome, Evolution Mail, Banshee Media Player, Gimp Image Editor, OpenShot Video Editor and a number of Games.

Additionally you’ll find a Premium page on Zorin website where they offer you Ultimate, Business, Multimedia, and Gaming editions, which is mostly just the Core software with many additional applications for that type of system. The effort it takes to put all those extra programs into the ISO is why they charge for those editions.

Zorin comes in several versions and either 32 bit or 64 bit architectures:

  •     There are two versions specifically designed for schools — the Educational and Educational lite.
  •     Zorin Core is one of the free versions and is a baseline Ubuntu 11.04 distribution.
  •     The Gaming version includes a selection of games.
  •     The Multimedia version includes tools for creation and working with various media applications.
  •     The Business edition is oriented toward small- and medium-size startup companies.
  •     The Ultimate edition includes all of the previously noted software.

All premium versions are priced at 10 Euros (~13USD) except Ultimate which is 15 (~20USD). Shipping costs of physical media is 3 Euros so it is cheaper to download in most cases. A live CD version of Core is available for those who wish to try it out.

This Linux distribution comes highly recommended. It effectively lends credence to the fact that you can replace your Windows PC, like i have, with Linux.


The Linux desktop is dead

Linux is never going to catch up with Windows or Mac OS X in user popularity. It’s never going to show up as a common option from mainstream vendors.

Why? Well there are a lot of reasons; but none of them have anything to do with its quality. I use desktop Linux distributions not because of some romantic attachment to free software or because I hate Windows, but because they work better and they’re far more secure than Windows or Mac OS X.

Historically, desktop Linux never got a fair shot because of Microsoft’s Windows monopoly and strong-arm tactics. For example, when Linux-powered netbook started eating Microsoft’s lunch on low-end laptops, Microsoft brought XP Home back from the dead and almost gave it away to vendors to stop the Linux bleeding.

It also didn’t help any that Microsoft finally realized what a total flop Vista was and brought back XP for all users. Indeed, Vista’s failure hurt Linux. If Microsoft had actually stuck with that dog of an operating system, desktop Linux would have gained more fans.

That was then. This is now. Those factors have always been around. They still are today. Several other things have arisen that makes me doubt that the traditional Linux is going to go anywhere.

First, the main Linux desktop interfaces are at best, OK, and one of them GNOME 3.0, is awful. I think Linus Torvalds had it right when he called for a GNOME fork. KDE 4.x is fine, but I’ve never found it that compelling and while I like Ubuntu’s GNOME-based Unity desktop for beginners, it’s not for me or, I suspect, other expert users.

On top of that, Red Hat, the leading Linux company, has made it clear that it has no real interest in a fat-client desktop. Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst sees the traditional desktop becoming a legacy application. That leaves the leadership of the Linux desktop to Canonical, Ubuntu’s parent company, and SUSE.

Sure, Ubuntu is the most popular Linux desktop, but to paraphrase Robin Williams, that’s like being the best-dressed woman on radio. As for SUSE, we know they’re going to keep supporting SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) and that openSUSE is likely to remain an outstanding desktop, but its long-term plans for the desktop? I don’t know, and I rather doubt that they know either based on my conversations with their people.

So, while the fat-client Linux desktop isn’t going to go away, and I’m certainly going to keep using it, I don’t see it growing out of its niche. Even if Windows 8 craters and makes a Metro-sized hole on the desktop, Linux won’t have a chance to grow at its expense because Microsoft will just keep pushing Windows 7 instead.

Where the Linux “desktop” is growing is on tablets and smartphones. As Jason Perlow pointed out, we’re already living in a post-PC world. Android keeps growing like a weed on smartphones, and would Apple be flailing about with its idiotic tablet iPad design lawsuits if it wasn’t frightened of Android tablets eating into its market share? I think not.

In addition to Android, Google’s Chrome operating system, which relies on a local Linux kernel and the Web and the cloud for applications, continues to look promising.

I’ve also noticed that Google is making both Chrome OS and the Chrome Web browser ever more independent of being online. Besides local storage for applications, Google has just added local C and C++ applications–you know, conventional desktop programs–with Native Client to Chrome 14. I think a lot of users would be happy with an operating system with a Web-browser interface that would work just fine off or online, and wouldn’t require them to learn a new interface, ala Metro.

So it is that while I no longer hope for the old-style Linux desktop to gain popularity, I have no doubt at all that the new, light-weight, Internet-oriented Linux desktops are going to do just fine. After all, they already are, and here it’s Windows, not Linux, that’s been the non-starter.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

– Posted using BlogPress


Is Linux Still The Safest Operating System?

When you first started to see personal computers come on the scene back in the late 70’s and early 80’s there was not that much thought about the security of the devices. The people who created them did not envision that soon they would be used to talk to people all around the world. When you finally did get some of the signs that the personal computer would be used for networking, most of the time it was between people who already knew each other or professionals who were using it for work. But as more people started to purchase home computers and the more the networks started spreading, computer security became an issue.

Hackers both on the good side of the law and the bad started to figure out that they could use their computer and access another person’s computer over the network without anyone noticing. This especially became a problem when teenagers with nothing else better to do started figuring out that they could do this as well. What started out as little pranks started to become a real problem because they were started to access sensitive information on these computers. The companies that made personal computers and operating systems knew that there had to be a change.

But the change did not come quick enough. While the security changes in the popular operating systems at the time were incremental at best, the hackers got better in wide leaps and bounds. They found that they were able to access systems through a numerous amount of holes in the machine. And through all of this time both the personal computer and the internet started to become more and more popular. There were targets everywhere for a hacker to do damage.

At the time, Microsoft Windows was the biggest operating system in the world. It was both popular in the work place and at home. Since this was the case, most of the attacks on networks were aimed at Microsoft systems. And Microsoft did not handle this very well. They waited and waited until their reputation was pretty much slandered before they got serious when it came to securing your computer. And so even in this time, while Windows 7 is one of the safest operating systems on the market, it still has the reputation of having the most holes. But does it really? What about the other operating systems out there such as Mac OS X and Linux? While OS X has made some improvements lately it is Linux that has always been known as one of the safest operating systems to use. Is it still that way?

What is Linux?

While most people who are reading this article should already know what Linux is, there are some people who do not. Linux is an operating system just like Windows or Mac OS X. The difference being is that it is a completely open sourced operating system that allows anyone to work on the code. This means that if there are any problems with the operating system people can examine the code and figure out a fix for it. Once the fix is made, then it can be shared with the other installations of Linux.

And this is what makes the system so secure. You are able to get fixes all of the time and they come in more regularly than the other operating systems do. Also what makes Linux more secure is that it is based on the UNIX operating systems which when it was built, was built for security. Several people at the same time used UNIX computers so there was always a concern that it needed to be built with protection.

But recently there have been more and more holes found in Linux that have let the bad guys cause more serious damage. The problem with Linux is that it is the most popular server in the world. So while the bad guys are not able to find that many people using Linux at home, they will find Linux on a bunch of servers that are out there. That makes Linux a real tempting target when it comes to exploitation.

While Linux has had more problems than it used to, it is probably just as safe as the other operating systems that are on the market. Where once it had a wide lead when it came to security, that gap has narrowed a lot and there is very little difference between it and the other operating systems. But when it comes to using it as a server, it is still one of the safest operating systems out there. You can make a Linux server very hard to crack into. You just have to be willing to learn about it and make sure that you know what you are doing.

– Posted using BlogPress

Gadgets Linux Mobile

The iPad Supremacy

The Apple iPad is the ultimate tablet in the market using the measuring indices that matter most, and this has been the case since the device was introduced. However, there still exist some staunch iPad haters out there who are still in denial of this fact and i find this very unfortunate. What more do they need to let this fact sink in? The HP Touchpad’s unexpected and very surprising flop in the face of iPad’s opposition is still causing quite a ripple. Also, the manufacturers of the Samsung Galaxy 10.1, hoping to ride on the success of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, are having a reality check. One of the problems that HP and other tablet rivals have is that they think its enough to beat the iPad on paper with hardware specs, then match Apple’s pricing, but the reality is that the iPad is a much better experience with a second-to-none marketing strategy.

The HP Touchpad is indeed a very sad case, at least, to the promoters of the device. But for a lot of people,especially in Nigeria, this is probably our only chance of owning a tablet from a reputable manufacturer and at a cheap price. Already, ecommerce sites like hayzees are preparing to flood the Nigerian Market with this device and are already accepting orders.

In death, the HP Touchpad has experienced a tremendous surge in demands, thanks to the cheap pricing. And with the possibility of installing Ubuntu Linux or Android on this device, it is a very good buy for even existing iPad owners.


Well, Now, My Pretty …

Since its release in April 2011, I have not had the opportunity to review the latest Ubuntu iteration, Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal -Narwhal is the name of a medium sized toothed whale). However, lately,most of my computing needs has been largely web based with minimal reliance on any particular software for an OS platform. I decided that this may be the best time to give the new Ubuntu 11.04 a test drive to see how well it can be used to substitute for my more regular use of the Windows OS.

One word that can describe the graphics of the new Unity desktop of this latest Ubuntu is “Pretty”, with its blend of purple and its unique layout. The installation process is quite simple, especially if you are installing on the whole hard drive. For me, i made use of a partition boot manager, so i can still keep my windows installation. The use of a partition boot manager makes the process of dual booting different OSes much easier, giving one the oppurtunity to install as many as 256 diferent OSes on a single laptop, a must-have for those that like testing out new OS releases, especially Linux distributions.

After installing Ubuntu, the first thing i did was to hook up my Starcomms to my laptop. I must confess that this would be the make or break step in my using Ubuntu 11.04 as a regular OS. I really am not keen about having to type some code for the system to recognize this device. On a Windows PC, it was to a large extent, plug and play as the drivers needed to to install the device in Windows is loaded immediately the modem is inserted. So i connected the modem to my Ubuntu installation, NO RESPONSE. No sound of recognition of an inserted device at all. So i waited…and waited…nothing! Out of curiosity, i clicked on the network icon on the task bar (The task bar is on top of the screen) and surprisingly, i saw a modem device listed as “Verizon CDMA”. It was obvious that this is my Nigerian Starcomms CDMA modem and i was particularly surprised that Ubuntu has added the drivers for USB modem straight out of the box. However, before i could start browsing, i had to fill in my login details and this was quite easy to do. The sequence is as follows;

– Click the network icon on the taskbar
– Click on the last entry on the drop down menu, “Edit Connection”
– Click on the “Mobile Broadband” tab
– Input the admin password you used in installing your Ubuntu
– Click on the “Mobile Broadband” tab again
– Type in #777 in the space for number
– Under Username, type in, where xxxxxxxx is your starcomms number. Do not input the leading “0”.
– Under password, type in your starcomms number, again without the leading “0”
– Close all tabs.

Launch Firefox and you are browsing. That was quite easy.

The next step was, however, not as easy. Synching my iPad.

To make the download of the Ubuntu OS easy, quite a number of softwares or drivers were stripped from it. What that means is that, for you to use Ubuntu at all, you need to have access to the internet as you would need to download a lot of important softwares.

For those who have had to jailbreak their ipad, you may have come across the words “repositories” and “source”. Basically, a repository is just a web space where softwares needed for your device are stored. There are quite a number of different repositories for Ubuntu, however one needs to know the address of some of these repositories so you can add it to the “source”, which is the default locations your OS would search for softwares. Think of this in relation to “Windows Update”.

The repository address that contains the driver needed to sync my ipad to Ubuntu is ppa:pmcenery/ppa. To add this source to your Ubuntu 11.04 installation, take the following steps;

– On your desktop, hover your mouse over the icons on the left sidebar.
– Identify and click on “Ubuntu Software Center”
– Click “Edit” and select “Software Sources”
– Click on “Other Software” tab
– Click “Add”
– Input ppa:pmcenery/ppa into the textbox labelled “APT Line”
– Click on “Add Source”
– Close the window and click “reload” on the top menu bar.
– Use the “Quick Filter” text box to search for the driver “libimobiledevice”

I downloaded all the drivers I saw with that name, about four of them. Not sure If all were necessary.

With this, I was able to sync the audio, video and picture files on my iPad using media players like Banshee and Rhythm Box. Decided to play one of the MP3 tracks that I just synced to Ubuntu in Banshee media player but, alas, Ubuntu does not come, by default, with drivers to play MP3 files. Luckily, a window popped up and asked to search for the necessary plugins over the internet. Yes, of course! Four “gstreamer” plugins with a combined size of 54.8MB were installed and I have been blasting my MP3s ever since.

However, I believe you would still need a windows installation with iTunes to install and synchronize your apps. For this purpose, and to save myself the stress of having to boot into windows, I decided to install Windows 7 OS within my Ubuntu Installation, using the process called Virtualization. One virtualization software that readily comes to mind is VirtualBox. Following the same sequence above, add the following address to your source to install this software;

deb natty contrib

(To Be Continued)

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Articles Linux

Build Better Passwords and Stay Sane

IT’S TEMPTING TO use the same password for all of your online accounts, but doing so puts every account in jeopardy if one of them gets hacked. In view of some recent massive security breaches, now’s a good time to update your passwords and make sure that each is unique.

A few great password management programs like KeePass will store all of your passwords in one encrypted database and let you access them with one master password, so you can carry every password you’ll ever need on one thumb drive. A multiplatform password manager with browser support, like LastPass is even simpler because it automatically syncs between different PCs and browsers, giving you access to your encrypted database from any device, though you do sacrifice the security of keeping your password list confined to a single hard drive.

One Password to Rule Them All

IT’S EASY TO create strong, unique passwords by following a few simple rules. First, create a password “base” with a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and maybe a symbol or two. Just choose a phrase that’s easy to remember. I’m going to use one of my favorite dishes, chicken adobo, as our example.

Make sure your passphrase is at least eight characters and avoid obviously memorable topics like proper names, birthdays, and hometowns. Avoid picking a single word and changing some of its characters to symbols; hacker tools can overcome that trick. Go for a passphrase—multiple words strung together—rather than a password, to defeat hackers working to crack your password by trying every word in the dictionary.

After mashing our passphrase into a single string (chickenadobo), we sprinkle in a few obvious capital letters (ChickenAdobo). Next, let’s pepper our password base with a few random characters (Ch!cken@dob0).

Now that we have a base password, we can use variants to unlock our accounts on any Website. To create the strongest password possible, we’ll establish a simple naming pattern for generating a unique password at every Website we visit.

For example, I could use the first and fourth letter of the Website’s domain name in the middle of my passphrase, capitalizing the former while leaving the latter lowercase. Then my account’s password would be Ch!ckenFe@dob0, and my account’s password would be Ch!ckenAu@dob0.

Make up a similar pattern, and you’ll have a unique password for every Website you visit—one that’s easy to remember but nearly impossible to crack.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


The Sins Of Ubuntu

Canonical Ltd., the company behind Ubuntu Linux, estimates that the product has over 12 million users worldwide. And why not? Ubuntu is free and it runs more than ten thousand applications. It has a vibrant user community, websites covering everything you might ever need to know, good tutorials, a paid support option, and more. Yet I often hear friends and co-workers casually criticize Ubuntu. Perhaps this the price of success. Or is it? In this article I’ll analyze common criticisms and try to sort fact from fiction.

I should mention that I’m a big Ubuntu fan and have used it for five years. Even so, it pains me to see the obvious ways it could improve. As I’ll explain, I believe Canonical’s business model holds Ubuntu back from fulfilling its potential.

Why It Matters

One obvious response to anyone who criticizes Ubuntu is to say to them: why don’t you just run another operating system? There are so many competing Linux and BSD distros out there.

True. But there is a larger issue here. Ubuntu’s great popularity means that it represents Linux to many people. It’s the distro vendors pre-install. It’s the distro the mainstream media always review. It’s the one distro everybody’s tried. It’s been ranked #1 in DistroWatch‘s yearly popularity ratings for the past six years (1).

Fair or not, Ubuntu reflects on the Linux community as a whole. How well Ubuntu meets criticisms matters even to Linux users who don’t use it.

So what are common Ubuntu criticisms? Here are those I often hear…

It’s Bloated

To say that Ubuntu is bloated only makes sense if comparing it to some alternative.  So let’s do that.

Is Ubuntu bloated compared to Windows?

This chart compares Ubuntu’s system requirements to the last three Windows releases:

Resources: Windows XP: Vista: Windows 7: Ubuntu 10 and 11:
Processor: P-III P-IV P-IV P-III
Memory: 128 / 512 m 1 / 2 g 1 / 4 g 512 m / 1 g
Disk: 5 g 40 g 20 g 5 g
Cost: $ 199 – 299 $ 239 – 399 $ 199 – 319 $ 0
Locks to Hardware: Yes Yes Yes No

Sources: websites for Microsoft and Ubuntu, plus web articles and personal experience. Chart is simplified and details have been omitted for clarity. Microsoft offers many Windows editions, this chart addresses the most common. Microsoft prices are for full versions. In the Memory column, the first number for each system is generally considered the minimal realistic memory, while the second is the memory recommended for best performance.

By any measure Ubuntu is not bloated compared to Windows. I’m writing this article with Ubuntu 10.10 running on a seven-year-old Pentium IV with a single core 2.4 ghz processor and 768 M of DDR-1 memory. This computer wouldn’t even boot Vista or Windows 7. It runs Windows XP great, but that’s not current software. XP is two Windows releases back.

Is Ubuntu bloated compared to prior releases?

Ubuntu’s system requirements indicate the product’s resource requirements have crept upwards over the years. Here are its memory requirements:

Ubuntu Desktop Version: 6.06 7.04 8.04 9.04 10.04 / 10.10 11.04
Memory (M): 256 256 256 384 512 / 1 G 512 / 1 G

Sources: Ubuntu offical system requirements and various websites on efficient product use. Note that some sites do report slightly different memory requirements. 1 G is the recommended RAM for 10.04 and above.

These RAM requirements and the recommended minimum 1 ghz processor mean that nearly any computer sold in the past seven to ten years can run Ubuntu. I’ve run 10.x on P-IV’s and even P-III’s. By this measure, one could hardly label Ubuntu “bloated.”

Is Ubuntu bloated compared to other Linux distributions?

Linux distros divide into full-size, mid-size, and lightweight. Ubuntu is full-size.

Most full-size distros come in multiple versions. Their standard product usually requires at a P-IV or better with at least 512 M to 1 G memory. You may be able to get by with lesser hardware but it’s not recommended.

Mid-size distributions like the standard editions of Zenwalk and VectorLinux go a bit lower than the full-size distros. They’ll run fine on a P-III with 256 M. Lightweight distros like Puppy or VectorLinux Light Edition will run down to 128 M or less if properly configured.

To compete with this, full-size distros usually offer pared-down versions for those with lesser hardware. For example, Ubuntu offers Lubuntu; PCLinuxOS has PCLinuxOS LXDE and other variants; Mint can run with lightweight GUIs like LXDE, XFCE, Fluxbox; and so on.

Compared to other full-size Linux distros Ubuntu is not bloated. For something lighter, try Lubuntu. Lubuntu requires half Ubuntu’s memory and only 1/3 to 1/2 of its disk footprint. It’s also lighter on the processor. Read my detailed review of Lubuntu here.

It Lacks Enterprise Integration

This complaint is that Ubuntu lacks the enterprise-wide integration and manageability critical to large organizations.

System administrators require a single control point for automated administration and monitoring of remote Ubuntu desktops. Landscape, Canonical’s product for enterprise-wide management, fulfills this need. But it is too narrow to address the larger integration issue. What about a single sign-on for login, email, and web access? What about directory services? How about Kerberos network authentication and LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) support? How about coordinated information management across client and server products?

Microsoft is the competitor in this space. Its full range of client and server products seamlessly integrate. The server products include Active Directory, Exchange Server, and SharePoint Server. Client products like Windows desktop, the Outlook email client, and the Office suite seamlessly integrate with the server software.

There are two ways Canonical can challenge Microsoft’s client-server headlock on the enterprise. It can either:

  • Directly compete with a full range of directory, mail, and information management services


  • Better integrate Ubuntu desktop into the Microsoft ecosystem already in place at most companies

The second option is in progress at Edubuntu but not complete. It leverages standards like Kerberos and LDAP to facilitate integration.

One system administrator summarizes the situation this way, “… Microsoft continues to win on the desktop. Not because an individual PC running Windows is easier for most people to use, but because its easier to set up Active Directory to work with Outlook and Exchange than it is to roll your own directory service with the tools available out of the box on Ubuntu.”

Here’s a management consultant whose clients manage between 50 and 150,000 desktops: “Until there is a true competitor to Active Directory, Exchange, Outlook, and the MANAGEMENT of the machines, Ubuntu will not succeed in the Enterprise.”

Too bad Canonical let Attachmate Corp. buy Novell when the company was up for grabs late last year. Novell products like eDirectory and GroupWise could synergize with Ubuntu. Canonical’s Linux dominance plus Novell’s directory services and deep experience integrating into the Microsoft ecosystem might have been very competitive.

Perhaps cloud computing will ameliorate the integration issue. Organizations may shift their integration focus from internal servers to cloud services. This is the premise underlying Google’s Chromebook.

In any case, Canonical needs to recognize this key source of corporate resistance to Ubuntu and make explicit their plan to overcome it. Then they need to promote the plan in the IT community. Thus far they have failed on both counts.

It Doesn’t Install Complete

Here’s a complaint with which we’re all familiar. Ubuntu bundles a ton of great software but leaves out some essentials. Codecs, Adobe Flash Player, multimedia players, and proprietary hardware drivers are examples. You can easily install the missing programs, but you have to:

  1. Know what is missing
  2. Know how to install it
  3. Make the effort to install it

The underlying cause of this problem is the distinction between free and non-free software. Linux partisans have strong beliefs about how to handle this conundrum. Canonical is caught in the middle. They try to provide a complete user experience while also respecting intellectual property rights. This task is complicated by the fact that IP rights are interpreted differently in the many countries in which Ubuntu is used.

Canonical addresses this criticism in several ways. They segregate non-free software into its own Multiverse Repository, so that it can easily be identified and installed. Medibuntu (Multimedia, Entertainment & Distractions In Ubuntu) is “a repository of packages that cannot be included into the Ubuntu distribution for legal reasons (copyright, license, patent, etc).” Users can check for proprietary hardware drivers through the Startup Applications panel or the Administration -> Hardware Drivers option.

Good documentation and How To’s help Ubuntu users. But navigating these can be difficult for the inexperienced. Not all docs are dated or identify the release(s) to which they refer. In the worst case, the user googles and retrieves conflicting instructions for a simple task they want to perform.

Some distros build on top of Ubuntu to give a more complete user experience. Linux Mint, for example, states its first goal as: “It works out of the box, with full multimedia support and is extremely easy to use.” PCLinuxOS is another competitor that emphasizes it is “a full multimedia operating system.”

I feel the “completeness criticism” is but a nit for experienced users. They can easily install the few apps or plugins Ubuntu doesn’t initially provide. For newbies, though, this is a hurdle. End users don’t know and don’t care about the debate in the Linux community over “free versus non-free.” They just want software that does everything they want with as little effort as possible.

Here’s how Canonical could address this problem. Add an install panel allowing the user to select what goes into his installation. Give him a checklist of installable products — with each denoted as free or proprietary. Users could choose software conforming to the IP laws of their country. With the customer checking acceptance of licensing conditions, Canonical would be absolved of legal responsibility. Users would get the most complete system permitted in their jurisdiction by a simple install panel checklist.

It Doesn’t Install Secured

Comparative studies and vendors alike confirm that Linux has a superior track record as a secure operating system. Ubuntu upholds this great tradition. You’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of malware infections in the Ubuntu community.

But does Ubuntu install as secure as it could, right out of the box? Surprisingly, no.

Take the default firewall as an example. In version 10.x, the Uncomplicated Firewall, or UFW, installs as Disabled. You’d think such a fundamental security tool as a firewall would default to Enabled. Or failing that, that the installation panels would give you a checkbox for enabling it.

UFW’s front-end management interface, Gufw, doesn’t install by default. You get the firewall without the GUI to manage it! The user must know about Gufw and install it separately.

How about configuring the firewall? Windows products like ZoneAlarm help you “train” them. They intercept each program the first time it communicates through the internet, and ask you to Allow or Deny the communication. Then they automatically generate the proper firewall rule for your decision. They also provide a checklist of installed programs. You simply check Yes or No for each program, indicating whether it has Incoming and/or Outgoing Internet communication privileges.

In contrast, UFW expects the user to write its rules with its barren, minimalist GUI. This is neither state-of-the-art nor competitive. It’s certainly not user-friendly. As a friend complained to me: “I don’t want to manage ports, I want to manage programs!”

To anyone who claims that Ubuntu “doesn’t install secured,” I’d say the product’s outstanding track record argues otherwise. This is a highly secure system. Yet ease of configuration is missing. This isn’t the only area where Ubuntu’s ease of use falls short…

Its File Manager Isn’t User Friendly

Ever taught a class of new Ubuntu users when they run into Nautilus? They always ask how to create a sub-folder instead of a top level folder in a filesystem. They ask how to copy folders to their USB drive or backup disk.

Nautilus doesn’t always show that a copy worked as expected, and if you’re overwriting an existing file, it doesn’t display timestamps so that you know which copy is the more recent. It doesn’t always display error messages. For example, try to delete a directory for which you don’t have valid permission. Or copy into that directory. You won’t get an error message! Users need feedback. The old Unix dictum “no news is good news” is completely inappropriate for products that target end users.

There’s an easy fix. The huge Ubuntu software repositories contain more than a dozen competing file managers. Ubuntu’s superior install tools — the Ubuntu Software Center and the Synaptic Package Manager — make it easy to download them. If you don’t like Nautilus, just click the mouse a couple times and install another product.

The mystery is why Ubuntu bundles Nautilus as its default. File managers are one of the most frequently used tools in any operating system. Consumers expect to use the default file manager without having to replace it. Fixing or replacing Nautilus should be a no-brainer.

It Won’t Run Windows Software

Those who make this accusation either aren’t familiar with Wine, or they haven’t used it lately. The Wine database lists over 16,000 Windows programs that it runs on Linux. I’m constantly surprised that even big, complex applications run under Ubuntu with Wine. Examples include web site generators like Adobe Dreamweaver and NetObjects Fusion, and office products like Microsoft Office and Adobe InDesign.

Wine works like you’d expect. After installing it, you run Windows programs in the exact same manner you would under Windows.

Another compatibility option is DOSBox, an emulator designed for old DOS software. I have a number of simple Windows 3.1 games, such as Ringo, Ludo, and Boule (free download here). The games run fine under either Wine or DOSBox. They don’t run natively under either Vista or Windows 7 — even with its new Program Compatibility panel. Compare Ubuntu with Wine and DOSBox to native Vista and Windows 7, and you’ll often find that Linux is more compatible with old Windows programs than Windows!

I’ve found an analogous relationship between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice. Microsoft releases new versions of Office every three years or so: Office 95, Office 97, Office 2000, Office 2003, Office 2007, Office 2010. (This excludes MacIntosh versions). As far as I can determine, the company only regression-tests back one version. The result in my experience is that OpenOffice is often more compatible with older versions of Microsoft Office than is Office itself.

When critics complain that Ubuntu is not compatible with Microsoft software, I sympathize. In spite of all that I’ve pointed out, gaps persist. But when one considers Microsoft’s own software — rooted in a business model of continuous releases based on planned obsolescence — it becomes apparent that compatibility is not an issue only for Ubuntu. Depending on your compatibility needs, you may get a better deal from Ubuntu than from Microsoft.

It’s Buggy

Several academic studies and papers conclude that Linux and open source software have fewer bugs than commercial products. Ubuntu has bug-tracking identification and resolution procedures equal to those of any large, well-run software project.

From years of participating in the Ubuntu forums, I’ve encountered consistent anecdotal evidence. I read very few posts where a user abandons the product due to a bug. This is a huge vote of confidence in Ubuntu. (You can’t say this about every Linux distro.)

However, it’s not unusual to see posts from first-timers who abandon Ubuntu due to install issues. Examples are things like Ubuntu not recognizing a sound card, or being unable to get wireless networking going, or a display problem of some sort. While these may not be bugs, they are cases where Ubuntu doesn’t work for the prospective user. If I were to recommend one area for the Ubuntu team to target for a better user experience, device recognition and configuration would be it.

A related issue is that Ubuntu actually removes hardware detection capabilities as new versions come out. So a machine that worked fine with an older release of the product suddenly fails when you move to a newer release!

I’ve maintained Ubuntu instances for five years, since release 6.06, and have repeatedly run into this problem. In several cases video worked fine on one release and then fails under a newer one. Right now I’m trying to fix wireless networking on a laptop that worked fine in 8.04 and fails under 10.04. It doesn’t work whether I do an upgrade or a fresh 10.04 install. (Wireless works fine for this laptop with Puppy Linux and Windows XP.)

Admittedly, device recognition and configuration is a sisyphean task. When you try any Linux distribution for the first time, you just hold your breath and hope that the product recognizes all your devices. This remains Linux’s biggest challenge.

From the user perspective, though, to have a product that works fine under one release break under a newer release… that really doesn’t look good. If there is a single issue that tarnishes Ubuntu’s reputation, comprehensive, consistent device recognition and configuration is it.

It Changes Quickly But Doesn’t Protect Its Users

Ubuntu improves rapidly. In the last two years, the product has moved from the GRUB boot loader to GRUB 2, to continually changing networking management tools, to eliminating the xorg.conf configuration file and moving to RandR for video, to switching the user interface from GNOME to Unity, to replacing OpenOffice with LibreOffice. I’ve read about replacing GDM with LightDM, moving to more regular updates, replacing with Wayland,  and more.

Ubuntu’s aggressive improvements are among its greatest strengths. But this benefit causes work for the existing user base.

The Ubuntu team could easily shield their customers from the impacts of these changes. Often they don’t.

Here’s an example. With GRUB 2 you no longer configure the boot menu of OS options by editing the menu.lst file. Instead, you edit bash scripts. That’s fine for me, but an unreasonable expectation for end users. How about a simple GUI front end for editing the boot-time menu?

Another example: new releases take away the xorg.conf video display file that generations of Linux support personnel are accustomed to editing. You can generate this file and then edit it if you look up the commands to create it. But why should you have to? Why doesn’t the System –> Administration menu have a button to generate a xorg.conf file for you? And automatically plop you into editing it?

A final example. Right now I’m researching how to install the Java browser plugin under Ubuntu 10.04. Websites are providing conflicting answers. This was trivial in earlier releases. But no longer. Apparently we switched from Sun’s Java packages to OpenJDK. Beyond inadequate details in the Release Notes, no one bothered to insulate the users from this change. Why is it put on the customer to manage this change?

The Ubuntu team does a superior job in adding new features. They need to protect their users from the disruption these changes cause. This should be a top priority because it deeply impacts the product’s ease of use.

To the average consumer little GUI “transitional aids” like those I’ve mentioned would help tremendously. They would be trivial to program. Why doesn’t Canonical include them? Is it simply a lack of focus on ease of use? Here’s my theory …

Fix the Business Model

Of the above criticisms, those I feel have the greatest merit focus on whether Ubuntu is as easy to use as it could be. You see this in:

  • Device recognition
  • Configuration
  • Upgrades
  • Default file manager
  • Security configuration

One underlying explanation ties all this together. Canonical embraces the same philosophy of product development as Microsoft. The emphasis is on introducing new features. New features trump massaging the product to improve its user-friendliness. They trump intra-release compatibility and disruption to the existing user base. They trump device recognition and easier configuration.

Consider Microsoft’s business model. The company makes 27% of its total sales revenue from Windows and 27% from Office (2). That’s over half Microsoft’s revenue. Without it, the company as we know it would cease to exist. Microsoft can’t afford to stick with a product and polish it until it shines. Its business model forces it to constantly update, replace, and repackage existing code into new product.

No Windows version achieves its full potential because Microsoft must abandon it to introduce revenue-generating new product. New features are critical because they are used to justify the new version to the consumer public. The GUI is often the focus of “improvement” because it is the most visible to customers.

The history of Windows releases verifies this continual forced march to new product:

Windows Releases
Courtesy: Wikipedia article

Canonical implicitly accepts Microsoft’s disruptive business model as the terrain for their competition. Ubuntu directly challenges Windows in the new features competition. And it succeeds. But other design goals get pushed to lower priority.

Here’s an example. Canonical and Microsoft sell to both consumers and corporate customers. They drive product change from the consumer side. This conflicts with the expectations of their corporate customers. Corporate customers value stability, compatibility, minimal bugs, and ease of upgrades over the headlong rush to new features.

Canonical tries to bridge this gap through differentiated policy, support, and pricing. For example, they distinguish between Desktop and Server products, and between regular and Long Term Support (LTS) releases. They offer corporate customers comprehensive support options and contracts.

Readers with long memories might recall that Red Hat also got caught in the conflict between consumer and corporate expectations. The company flip-flopped several times over their support for desktops versus servers. Ultimately Red Hat solved the conflict by spinning off desktop Linux to the Fedora project in 2003, while it went forward with Red Hat Enterprise Linux for servers.

I believe Canonical would be better served by protecting those who find that rapid change causes them work — its user base. Polish existing code to improve ease of use. Concentrate on easy upgrades, great device recognition and intelligent automated configuration. Minimize bugs. Abandon the pell-mell rush to new features. Improve the product at a measured pace. Nurture and organically grow the base. New users will come naturally if the product provides solid long-term value. You needn’t hype an “all new” interface to attract them. That’s Microsoft’s game.

The best way to compete with Windows isn’t to mimic Microsoft’s business model. You win by presenting an alternative vision grounded in a unique competitive model.

And the Consensus Is?

Ubuntu’s popularity means that it represents Linux to many people. How well the product meets criticisms is important even to Linux users who don’t use it.

I’ve presented my views to stimulate your thinking. But here’s a better idea. Why don’t we see if we can come up with a community consensus?  Add your comments to this article to address:

  1. What is Ubuntu’s greatest strength?
  2. Are any of the criticisms listed here valid?
  3. If you could ask the Ubuntu team to fix one thing or improve one area, what would it be?

Thanks for participating.


Source – OSNews


The top 20 strongholds for desktop Linux

As a server OS, Linux has long been highly successful and a poster child for open source. For example, Linux currently powers a majority of the world’s web servers and supercomputers. As a desktop OS, however, Linux has yet to gain mainstream acceptance.

That said, there are some countries where people have embraced Linux on the desktop to a greater degree than most.

Since you probably wouldn’t be able to guess which these countries are no matter how hard you tried, we have highlighted them in this article. Read on to find out where desktop Linux is most popular, plus some nice bonus stats.

Top 20 countries by Linux market share

We looked at desktop OS market share, in this case defined as the share of computers used to access the Web. It’s basically the only metric out there that can give us an estimate of actual market share of actively used computers. The numbers are based on aggregated visitor stats for more than three million websites, courtesy of Statcounter.

110512 top 20 linux countries

This chart reflects the relative popularity of Linux as a desktop OS in each country. It doesn’t mean that these countries have the most Linux users overall (which is more difficult to estimate correctly).

A few general observations

As we collected the data for this article, we couldn’t help but make a few additional observations that you might find interesting.

  • Linux is most definitely a niche OS on the desktop: In most countries, Linux has less than 1% market share.
  • The Linux vs. Windows situation: In no country is Linux anywhere near replacing Windows on the desktop, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
  • The absence of the US and UK: The United States is far outside the top 20, with a 0.73% desktop OS market share for Linux. This by the way happens to be the exact same market share as Linux has in the United Kingdom.
  • The top countries in Europe are, in order: Macedonia, Finland, Spain, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Estonia and Germany.

Sweden, where we are based, sadly didn’t make this list. We just managed a measly 1.09% desktop OS market share for Linux, but at least that’s above average.

If you are wondering what Linux’s desktop OS market share is in the various world regions, here are the numbers:

  • Worldwide, 0.76%
  • Europe, 1.14%
  • South America, 0.88%
  • North America, 0.72%
  • Oceania, 0.72%
  • Africa, 0.45%
  • Asia, 0.34%

In other words, Europe comes out as the overall most Linux-friendly world region.

Why these “low” numbers are not bad at all

Linux may currently be a niche desktop OS, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. It’s often described as the “tinkerer’s OS,” and it’s hard to see how it could go mainstream and retain that quality. If you keep that in mind, it’s quite possible that Linux will never go mainstream on the desktop, but will continue to flourish in a similar way it is now, with a relatively small but very dedicated community of users.

And when we say “relatively small” we really mean relatively. The worldwide Linux desktop OS market share (0.76%) coupled with the number of Internet users (1.97 billion) indicates that there are at least 15 million active desktop Linux users out there.

We say “at least,” because that number is probably significantly higher since there is a lot of overlap in these stats with people who use more than one OS and more than one computer.

That’s not a small community by anyone’s standards (except maybe Facebook’s ;) ).

Notes about the data: The numbers are for the three-month period of February through April 2011 and are taken from StatCounter Global Stats. StatCounter bases those numbers on aggregated visitor stats for more than three million websites. To avoid statistical anomalies caused by small samples, we didn’t include any countries with fewer than 250,000 Internet users.