A Linux laptop for the short attention span.

The Scenario
I’ve got a client whose home office is around 1300 miles (2080 KM) away, according to Google Maps, and I had a dilemma; This past week, we deployed a constituent management package at this clients office. I needed a computer for the work to be done in Montana, with the additional obvious abilities to check email and handle some light coding. Most importantly, I would need to be able to receive and access documents, mostly created in Microsoft Word, or other proprietary formats without having to jump through hoops. My wife needed me to leave the laptop for her so she can work. One can’t be in front of a desk and keyboard all day when little ones are afoot, so I agreed that the laptop had to stay. Now, the shop area in our office is somewhat ominous and cramped – a veritable computer cemetery, if you will – with carcases and parts from dozens of pc’s. One of the laptop carcasses would be perfect for the experiment.

The Experiment
We always here stories about an old computer given new life by Linux – it’s cliche’. In fact Linux on a new machine is a beautiful thing to see, easily surpassing the expectations of even the most fickle user. But, alas. This experiment did not use a hot, new setup. Limited by budget and time, I merely dusted off an older laptop from the shop, once again propagating the cliche’. Here’s the specs:

  • Toshiba Portege 7200
    • Pentium III 600 MHz processor
    • 128MB RAM
    • 3GB hard disk
    • 3COM PCMCIA Wireless card

I needed an operating system that would meet my use needs and still perform well enough to allow me to be productive. I knew that there were several Linux Distributions running XFCE, the feature-rich window manager for Linux that doesn’t use a ton of system resources. First, I tried xubuntu – it had too many hardware issues because of the age of the machine. The Thinkpad style mouse wasn’t auto-detected and the live cd environment was quite sluggish. I’ve had good luck in the past with Slackware linux and old hardware so I looked for a Slackware based distribution – xubuntu is an XFCE-centric ubuntu distro. Ubuntu, as you know is Debian based. I found the perfect meld between Slackware and XFCE – that meld is Zenwalk Linux. An easy to install, stable Slackware-based XCFE-centric operating system that would handle my requirements and the old hardware just fine.
The re-birth of a doorstop
Zenwalk Installed without a hitch on the old Toshiba. From first boot to first logon, letting the auto-configure scripts work their magic, we were up and running in 27 minutes, and 53 seconds. By default, Bluefish is installed so my light coding needs were met. All other functionality that I required – even the need to access proprietary file formats like Microsoft Word and Excel, without doing anything special through AbiWord and the Gnumeric Spreadsheet respectively, were available out of the box with Zenwalk. Full of nice default installation features, I was left with valuable download and installation time for programs like etherape and emacs, as well as a few other packages that I’d been wanting to check out.

Out in the Field
I left Sheboygan, Wisconsin for what was to be a three hour trip that would bring me through 3 airports to Great Falls, Montana. This trip quickly turned into 14 hours and 4 airports with nice 4 hour layovers, mainly due to an hour delay that caused me to miss my connecting flight by 10 minutes. These unplanned hours in the nations airports were a bit tedious – fortunately, I had the Toshiba in carry-on and could work on stuff all the while. I was even able to wget the civicrm documentation so I had something to read on the airplane beside pseudo travel magazines and merchandise catalogs. The best part of the trip was the leg from Seattle, WA into Great Falls on a Q400 twin engine turbo-prop. Lots of that “bottom of the roller coaster” feel – a real treat!

Once on the ground in Montana, it was time to put the machine to the test. Could I work in a “Windows World” on a Linux box that was pieced together on short notice? The time in the airport on wi-fi allowed me seamless access to email, calendar, etc. Our domain email is handled by Google, so, no mystery there that the web based gmail client would work just fine. Once on the job site, I would be interacting with other people who would want to send Word and Excel attachments for my viewing enjoyment. As mentioned earlier, AbiWord and the Gnumeric Spreadsheet performed their duties in this capacity flawlessly. I received the attachment in my email, downloaded and opened said attachments and they opened – by default – in the proper program – and displayed properly. I even had an Office 2003 version of a document that wouldn’t open on someone’s Office 2007 because of some security settings. Instead of editing the Windows registry, per the MS website to “fix” this issue, I opened the document in AbiWord, saved it as an rtf and off it went to the Office 2007 user with no further problems. It’s a good thing that I was there with my Linux box to intervene – otherwise, these users of such disparate software versions would never have been able to work together. It must be rough to dominate the market to the point that backwards compatibility becomes a major security risk. “Upgrade, or risk the compromise of your system!”, they say. I couldn’t agree more; upgrade your software to avoid security risks – might I suggest OpenOffice, or even, and entirely new operating system, oh troubled Windows user?

It’s True, It’s True!
After a week of working on the road with an unfamiliar operating system on an older laptop system, I’ve concluded that: yes, one can work in the real world with multiple cross-platform users from a Linux box with no issues what-ever. During this week, I never once had to make an excuse for my Linux laptop – everything worked just fine – which is more than I can say for the Windows Vista laptop I brought to a conference with the same client earlier in the year – but that’s another story.

Microsoft Reference License (Ms-RL)

Microsoft Reference License (Ms-RL)
Published: March 8, 2007
This license governs use of the accompanying software. If you use the software, you accept this license. If you do not accept the license, do not use the software.
1. Definitions
The terms “reproduce,” “reproduction” and “distribution” have the same meaning here as under U.S. copyright law.
“You” means the licensee of the software.
“Your company” means the company you worked for when you downloaded the software.
“Reference use” means use of the software within your company as a reference, in read only form, for the sole purposes of debugging your products, maintaining your products, or enhancing the interoperability of your products with the software, and specifically excludes the right to distribute the software outside of your company.
“Licensed patents” means any Licensor patent claims which read directly on the software as distributed by the Licensor under this license.
2. Grant of Rights
(A) Copyright Grant- Subject to the terms of this license, the Licensor grants you a non-transferable, non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free copyright license to reproduce the software for reference use.
(B) Patent Grant- Subject to the terms of this license, the Licensor grants you a non-transferable, non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free patent license under licensed patents for reference use.
3. Limitations
(A) No Trademark License- This license does not grant you any rights to use the Licensor’s name, logo, or trademarks.
(B) If you begin patent litigation against the Licensor over patents that you think may apply to the software (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit), your license to the software ends automatically.
(C) The software is licensed “as-is.” You bear the risk of using it. The Licensor gives no express warranties, guarantees or conditions. You may have additional consumer rights under your local laws which this license cannot change. To the extent permitted under your local laws, the Licensor excludes the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose and non-infringement.

Sweet Irony

The BBC has an article today entitled Facebook ‘costs businesses dear’, about social network sites and how they effect worker productivity. “According to employment law firm Peninsula, 233 million hours are lost every month as a result of employees “wasting time” on social networking.” Resulting in £ 130m ($180m USD) a day in wasted pay. The irony? At the bottom of the article are links all of your favorite social bookmark sites – including Facebook. An article at gartnerwebdev.com from June of this year covers some of the other issues associated with inappropriate internet use in the workplace, and offers some easy suggestions as to what can be done about it. OpenDNS is a great place to start, for those wishing to block specific sites as well as content categories like porn and phishing. Unless your the IT guy, have a look at these articles and sites on your break.

Captain Tangent’s Friday link post for 08/24/07 – with sneak peek bonus

The links that bind.Once again, we arrive at the Friday link love – or lack thereof, post. In addition to some links for sites that I found interesting or just plain found again in my vast hierarchically structured collection of bookmarks, I wanted to give a sneak peek into what is coming up on rackIT. Next week, we’ll be interviewing the good folks at KDE to see what’s new and nifty about KDE 4.0. We also introduce our series from the FLOSS Front Lines where we’ll meet the people that are in the trenches of the Free Software movement and what they are doing to propagate the benefits of Free Software and Open Source development. The series includes a brand new interview (exclusively on rackIT) with Free Software Foundation/GNU founder Richard M. Stallman. There’s your peek, now on with the links!

  1. Still using that clunky GUI text editor? Real men (and women) use the CLI and a good editor like VI. Have a look at Mastering the VI editor for tips on VI – it’s my editor of choice from the CLI.
  2. Did you know (I really hope you do) that you can edit text files in Emacs? Well, yeah- it is a text editor – with syntax highlighting – but it also doubles as an email/news/rss client, a file comparator (you know, like diff), a file manager, a complete integrated development environment, and, the icing on the cake, you can play tetris and several other games in Emacs. Have a look at the guided tour of Emacs for the scoop. BTW the aforementioned founder of the Free Software Foundation and GNU also happens to be the hack behind Emacs. It’s been in continuous development by the very same for over 30 years now – yes, 30 years. It’s probably pretty solid code by now! Richard Stallman also wrote the GNU C compiler, and quite a few other widely used programs.
  3. If you need high quality, royalty free stock photography, look no further than the morguefile. I’m not sure how many pictures are there, but I rarely can’t find what I’m looking for. The vast majority of it is high quality and professional. Most of the pics you see around rackIT come from the site – we’ve even done some print pieces of which the high res versions – available gratis, zipped and ready for download – reproduce quite nicely. You don’t even need an account to view or download the entire site.
  4. While most of try to avoid getting an STD, heres one you won’t mind catching. This STD is a Live Linux Distro loaded with security tools for your enjoyment and security auditing pleasure – in fact, that’s the st in STD – security tools distribution. It’s chock full of forensics applications, encryption tools, packet sniffers, firewalls, honeypots, Intrusion Detection Systems, wireless tools, password tools, etcetera and so on – many, many (many) tools – it’s even has virus removal stuff – that makes this one STD that you won’t have to go to the clinic to kill!
  5. Speaking of killing stuff, if you run your own apache web server, you can stop bad bots in their tracks. evolt has a good article about how you can do just that. Speaking of apache admin, if you are sick of folks stealing your measly bandwidth by linking to your graphics, not only can you stop external image linking, you can let people know that the images are coming from your site. Tom Sherman’s article at jotsheet explains the technique as implemented through .htaccess, but you can add the same code (more-or-less) to your httpd.conf file and get server-wide results. If you don’t like either howto, go straight to the source and read about both of these techniques from the mod_rewrite docs on the apache website (the link is for apache22). Go GUI-less and edit that httpd.conf in VI – it’ll really makes you feel like you know what your doing – well, unless you don’t use VI, then you’ll just feel stupid and frustrated.

So, there’s your tangentinated links and a few made up words to boot. We’ll see what’s in the link bag again next week. Don’t forget to stop by this coming week for our interview with Wade Olson of KDE who tells us about all the nifty new features we can look forward to in KDE 4.0 – Cheers!

GNU General Public License v. 3

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Version 3, 29 June 2007

Copyright (C) 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc. http://fsf.org/

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    In the following three paragraphs, a “patent license” is any express agreement or commitment, however denominated, not to enforce a patent (such as an express permission to practice a patent or covenant not to sue for patent infringement). To “grant” such a patent license to a party means to make such an agreement or commitment not to enforce a patent against the party.

    If you convey a covered work, knowingly relying on a patent license, and the Corresponding Source of the work is not available for anyone to copy, free of charge and under the terms of this License, through a publicly available network server or other readily accessible means, then you must either (1) cause the Corresponding Source to be so available, or (2) arrange to deprive yourself of the benefit of the patent license for this particular work, or (3) arrange, in a manner consistent with the requirements of this License, to extend the patent license to downstream recipients. “Knowingly relying” means you have actual knowledge that, but for the patent license, your conveying the covered work in a country, or your recipient’s use of the covered work in a country, would infringe one or more identifiable patents in that country that you have reason to believe are valid.

    If, pursuant to or in connection with a single transaction or arrangement, you convey, or propagate by procuring conveyance of, a covered work, and grant a patent license to some of the parties receiving the covered work authorizing them to use, propagate, modify or convey a specific copy of the covered work, then the patent license you grant is automatically extended to all recipients of the covered work and works based on it.

    A patent license is “discriminatory” if it does not include within the scope of its coverage, prohibits the exercise of, or is conditioned on the non-exercise of one or more of the rights that are specifically granted under this License. You may not convey a covered work if you are a party to an arrangement with a third party that is in the business of distributing software, under which you make payment to the third party based on the extent of your activity of conveying the work, and under which the third party grants, to any of the parties who would receive the covered work from you, a discriminatory patent license (a) in connection with copies of the covered work conveyed by you (or copies made from those copies), or (b) primarily for and in connection with specific products or compilations that contain the covered work, unless you entered into that arrangement, or that patent license was granted, prior to 28 March 2007.

    Nothing in this License shall be construed as excluding or limiting any implied license or other defenses to infringement that may otherwise be available to you under applicable patent law.

    12. No Surrender of Others’ Freedom.

    If conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot convey a covered work so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not convey it at all. For example, if you agree to terms that obligate you to collect a royalty for further conveying from those to whom you convey the Program, the only way you could satisfy both those terms and this License would be to refrain entirely from conveying the Program.

    13. Use with the GNU Affero General Public License.

    Notwithstanding any other provision of this License, you have permission to link or combine any covered work with a work licensed under version 3 of the GNU Affero General Public License into a single combined work, and to convey the resulting work. The terms of this License will continue to apply to the part which is the covered work, but the special requirements of the GNU Affero General Public License, section 13, concerning interaction through a network will apply to the combination as such.

    14. Revised Versions of this License.

    The Free Software Foundation may publish revised and/or new versions of the GNU General Public License from time to time. Such new versions will be similar in spirit to the present version, but may differ in detail to address new problems or concerns.

    Each version is given a distinguishing version number. If the Program specifies that a certain numbered version of the GNU General Public License “or any later version” applies to it, you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that numbered version or of any later version published by the Free Software Foundation. If the Program does not specify a version number of the GNU General Public License, you may choose any version ever published by the Free Software Foundation.

    If the Program specifies that a proxy can decide which future versions of the GNU General Public License can be used, that proxy’s public statement of acceptance of a version permanently authorizes you to choose that version for the Program.

    Later license versions may give you additional or different permissions. However, no additional obligations are imposed on any author or copyright holder as a result of your choosing to follow a later version.

    15. Disclaimer of Warranty.


    16. Limitation of Liability.


    17. Interpretation of Sections 15 and 16.

    If the disclaimer of warranty and limitation of liability provided above cannot be given local legal effect according to their terms, reviewing courts shall apply local law that most closely approximates an absolute waiver of all civil liability in connection with the Program, unless a warranty or assumption of liability accompanies a copy of the Program in return for a fee.


    How to Apply These Terms to Your New Programs

    If you develop a new program, and you want it to be of the greatest possible use to the public, the best way to achieve this is to make it free software which everyone can redistribute and change under these terms.

    To do so, attach the following notices to the program. It is safest to attach them to the start of each source file to most effectively state the exclusion of warranty; and each file should have at least the “copyright” line and a pointer to where the full notice is found.

    					<one line to give the program's name and a brief idea of what it does.>
    					Copyright (C) <year>  <name of author>
    					This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
    					it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
    					the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
    					(at your option) any later version.
    					This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
    					but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
    					GNU General Public License for more details.
    					You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
    					along with this program.  If not, see ##http://www.gnu.org/licenses/##.

    Also add information on how to contact you by electronic and paper mail.

    If the program does terminal interaction, make it output a short notice like this when it starts in an interactive mode:

    					<program>  Copyright (C) <year>  <name of author>
    					This program comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY; for details type `show w'.
    					This is free software, and you are welcome to redistribute it
    					under certain conditions; type `show c' for details.

    The hypothetical commands `show w’ and `show c’ should show the appropriate parts of the General Public License. Of course, your program’s commands might be different; for a GUI interface, you would use an “about box”.

    You should also get your employer (if you work as a programmer) or school, if any, to sign a “copyright disclaimer” for the program, if necessary. For more information on this, and how to apply and follow the GNU GPL, see http://www.gnu.org/licenses/.

    The GNU General Public License does not permit incorporating your program into proprietary programs. If your program is a subroutine library, you may consider it more useful to permit linking proprietary applications with the library. If this is what you want to do, use the GNU Lesser General Public License instead of this License. But first, please read http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/why-not-lgpl.html.

    Copyright notice above. 51 Franklin Street, Fifth Floor, Boston, MA 02110, USA

    Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Captain Tangent’s Friday link post for 08/17/07

The links that bind.In the tradition of great bloggers everywhere, I present the first installment of the Friday link love post, although, it doesn’t really qualify as “love” because many of the links are not to other blogs, unless I run across something that I particularly thought appropriate. So, on with it:

  1. Feed your inner sysadmin with The Unix Review. Shell Scripts, Forensics, Tool Reviews, and a particularly nerdy Regular Expression column. The content is a bit stale but still; loads of good information for noobs’ and not-so-noobs’ alike.
  2. You won’t find Muad’Dib and Gurney Hallack looking for worm sign, but you will see all kinds of honeynet, firewall, virus, and, yes, worm sign at ARAKIS, a site run by CERT Polska. BTW: I do know that the Arrakis of Paul Atreides is spelled differently, but who could resist such a reference?
  3. Since I’m on the subject, an excellent glossary for all things Dune is available for the clicking. The rest of Paul Baker’s dunemessiah.com site is pretty good as well. – Captain Tangent strikes again!
  4. RRDTool or the Round Robin Data Tool makes for some pretty interesting data graphing potential. Programs like smokeping and some of the graphs at ARAKIS are generated using this very flexible and highly customizable GPL package. If anything, check the gallery for all kinds of nifty ideas; from environmental monitoring to Season’s Greeting’s – Ho, Ho, Ho!
  5. We all like Free Software and Open Source because of the quality and principals behind the development. How about a free education? MIT – that’s the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – offers the MIT OpenCourseWare program that allows you to audit (that is take for no grade or credit), hundreds of courses from, well, MIT. Topics like; Prototyping Avionics, Technology, Law, and the Working Environment, Fourier Analysis – Theory and Applications, Statistical Thermodynamics of Complex Liquids, and less practical courses like Law for the Entrepreneur and Manager, and Competitive Decision-Making and Negotiation are there for the taking.
  6. Enough with the trivial topics: get fragged on *nix and Windows alike in OpenArena. An open source (GPL) Quake III Arena clone. You can play with yourself (the game), with AI, and with real people over LAN and WAN. Watch out for Vlad though – he’s a pretty tough character!

Check back next week as I continue to unearth forgotten treasures from my bookmarks. We will certainly discover the reason that some of them were forgotten!