Linux Fanboy Admits to Having Windows on His PC

After boasting to friends, family, and customers that I have not used a Microsoft Windows operating system for several years, I feel the need to come clean: I have a copy of Windows XP Home on my PC – it makes an excellent coaster and works quite well to keep the coffee rings off of my 100% Kubuntu Linux box… I feel as though an enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders having finally revealed this blemish on my geekiness… thanks for letting me get this off my chest.

Windows XP Home on a Linux Box

The best way to put Windows XP Home on a Linux box.

Gmail, Talk, IMAP and your business: Transparent communication done right.

Having secure and universal access to seamless and synchronized data like email, contact lists, and calendars is one of the dilemmas of the small business, or anyone else who needs to stay connected. Google now hosts domain email under it’s Google Apps brand. In addition to secure pop3 access, I can also use the IMAP service so no matter if I get my mail on my Linux box, online, or on my Windows box, all 6 GB of email storage is at my finger tips. As a bonus, I have access to chat and chat logs and VoIP through Google Talk, a Jabber based IM network. I can even upload and access files on gmail through programs like GmailFS. There are packages for the GmailFS available in many different Linux distros including Debian (ubuntu), I’m not sure about Windows tools that do the same thing but there are web-based and therefore, cross-platform applications like php Gmail Drive that work fine. While they may have some minor issues as far as account/feature integration, and a seamless online experience are concerned, Google has always done search and email right, so it’s very easy to find one email or thread from thousands, and thousands of messages. Eventually, their GrandCentral acquisition should be integrated into the whole thing, providing SMS and Voice Messaging on top of it all. For now though, you can access your email from any mobile phone with internet.

I used to manage the mail server for gartnerwebdev.com, luckeycat.com, oneofakindwis.com, and a few others in-house using postfix, spamassassin, clamav and amavisd. With all of that control, I was reluctant, to say the least, to make the switch. We were quickly outgrowing our resources though, so I made the leap. The 8 or so email accounts and 40 odd aliases migrated with out too much hassle. The free version comes with more users and multiple domains than we will likely ever use. Google also has an Apps product aimed at the enterprise in case the standard edition just doesn’t cut it for you.

The Google Manifesto and Consumer Choice

In 1996, Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and GNU/GPL, defined “The Four Freedoms” by which “free” software must conform too:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1).
    Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3).
    Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

This concept of freedom has since been slowly revolutionizing the software industry. Version 3 of the GPL was released on June 29th of this year (2007), causing quite a disturbance in Redmond. The fuss Microsoft has been raising over the GPL3 is a testament to the power of this freedom. It’s all about keeping control and having the biggest market share. Section 10 of the GPL3 in particular is what is causing the problem:

10. Automatic Licensing of Downstream Recipients.

Each time you convey a covered work, the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensors, to run, modify and propagate that work, subject to this License. You are not responsible for enforcing compliance by third parties with this License.

An “entity transaction” is a transaction transferring control of an organization, or substantially all assets of one, or subdividing an organization, or merging organizations. If propagation of a covered work results from an entity transaction, each party to that transaction who receives a copy of the work also receives whatever licenses to the work the party’s predecessor in interest had or could give under the previous paragraph, plus a right to possession of the Corresponding Source of the work from the predecessor in interest, if the predecessor has it or can get it with reasonable efforts.

You may not impose any further restrictions on the exercise of the rights granted or affirmed under this License. For example, you may not impose a license fee, royalty, or other charge for exercise of rights granted under this License, and you may not initiate litigation (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit) alleging that any patent claim is infringed by making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the Program or any portion of it.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the GPL3, have a look at it through the link above. It’s remarkably brief and is written in plain English – not in the typical EULA jargon that we have all come to know and love.

On July 20, 2007 Google issued a statement on their blog indicating a …”commitment to open broadband platforms”. In a nutshell, Google wants the FCC to mandate an open and non-proprietary system on the 700MHz band that will soon be auctioned. As an incentive, Google has promised to participate in the auction with $4.6 billion (USD) to spend if the FCC agrees to the terms of this initiative. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin agrees that this concept will spur competition and innovation like we see on the internet. Like other big companies who stand to loose billions of dollars in potential income though, AT&T is slamming Google in the press. Google makes four assertions in this initiative that have far reaching consequences and will certainly give a lot of momentum to the Open Source movement.

  • Open applications: consumers should be able to download and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
  • Open devices: consumers should be able to utilize their handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer;
  • Open services: third parties (resellers) should be able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
  • Open networks: third parties (like Internet service providers) should be able to interconnect at any technically feasible point in a 700 MHz licensee’s wireless network.

In essence, Google would like to see old rules that favor proprietary formats driven by profit be changed to benefit a consumer driven technology boom that will get the US up to par with the rest of the developed world in terms of broadband and mobile communication technologies. The type of competition that Google is seeking to stimulate from FCC mandates serves the greater good through innovation and not the kind of competition that pads the pockets of corporations who drive the market with only their interests in mind. It’s exciting to see the beginning of The Golden Age of Open Source.

Cybersquatting and the typo pirates

Domain parking, speculation, and other methods that attempt to monetize the traffic generated by popular phenomena and typographic errors weren’t necessarily the types of issues U.S. lawmakers had in mind when they drafted the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act in 1999, but they managed to hit the nail right on the head. Basically, the issue was seen solely as trademark infringement, or dilution of same. [15 U.S.C. 1125(d)] This cyberpiracy prevention amendment allows for civil recourse if it is proven that a domain name was registered or used with the “bad faith intent” of capitalizing on or hurting the reputation of a company’s trademark. Without getting into trademark law, superficially, one can gain preliminary trademark protection just by adding the ® the ™ symbol to that for which protection is wanted, provided it is not already registered. Obviously, formal registration with The US Patent and Trademark Office, establishes precedence.

Grabbing a “good” domain name and sitting on it until someone wants to buy doesn’t really fall into this bad faith intent, unless you get lucky enough to register a domain name related to a company that’s been around. Here’s where speculation comes in; Let us suppose that a reliable source has indicated that The X Company (a hypothetical company for the purpose of demonstration) is set to start marketing and selling “Super X Widgets” in the next year. You check for variations of superxwidgets.com, .net, etc. Fortunately for you, the marketing folks at The X Company only registered superxwidgets.com and you snap up all the rest. Assuming The X Company has a trademark for Super X Widgets, holding these additional domains with the intent of profiting when The X Company calls you is explicitly covered by this law. If they don’t hold trademarks on these widgets, The X Company should consider hiring different people.

While capitalizing on a popular brand names and trademarks are apparently violations of this law, what about typo-piracy? One of the most common mistakes when entering a URL is to mistype .com as .cm. If I want to go to www.coke.com, miss the “o” and end up typing www.coke.cm, I am redirected to the coca-cola worldwide website. This is often not the case though; For example, www.hotmail.cm loads a page with several paragraphs about consumer debt and three AdSense blocks surrounding the top of the page. Incidentally, Google is in the process of weeding out these ad farms. Their advertisers want to be in front of quality traffic that is more likely to click through, and not this transient numbers game. Is the registrant of hotmail.cm capitalizing on the trademark of Microsoft? They certainly are monetizing traffic – traffic that is fairly good according to a quick alexa search. The authorities in Cameroon, where the .cm domain is assigned to, have authorized a DNS wild-card to further monetize this typo traffic.

Is it right to capitalize on these errors? Is it okay to speculate about who or what will be a desired domain name in the future? These are some of the questions that need to be addressed when considering the purchase of domains for these uses. If you manage to get a domain name that could be related to or possibly construed as a trademarked name, product, or known company, don’t be surprised if you have to give it up for nothing. Tread cautiously as many may take the attitude that someone else will get this money if they don’t. Someone else will also get the lawsuit. Keep in mind too, someone may be willing to pay you for a good domain name.

SPAM & AV Stats

The mail server in the Gartner Web Development office receives a very low volume of over all incoming emails but our SPAM, or Unsolicited Commercial/Bulk Email is about the same, proportionally, to much higher volume servers. The Open Source software used in this particular configuration is scalable to volumes much greater than these.
Unsolicited Commercial/Bulk Email, or SPAM (representing 2.52% of incoming email as of May 1, 2007) is removed with 95.47% accuracy. (Based on 22,303 incoming emails with 8,652 SPAM and 189 viruses and phishing scams blocked by Spamassassin and ClamAV – Open Source SPAM filtering and Anti Virus software – with only 4 verifiable false positives over a 7 month period.) Undesirable email can then be held on the server or tagged as SPAM to be placed into your “Junk e-mail” box within your favorite e-mail client, (Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, Thunderbird, etc.). Viruses and phishing scams are safely quarantined on the server, never to reach a desktop within our organization.

I’ve got the Power!Worthless as a Microsoft NT 4 Domain Controller, this PowerEdge became a workhorse, thanks to the scalability and resource efficiency of FLOSS products.

Our configuration:

The Hardware:

Dell PowerEdge 4300

  • Pentium III Xeon 497.44 MHz processor
  • 511 MB RAM
  • 17 GB RAID 5 (hardware) Ultra2 Wide SCSI – hotswap
  • Triple redundant hotswap power supply(s)

The Software

  • Postfix – MTA – Postfix can be configured to bounce/discard email based on header checks and myriad other variables.
  • Dovecot – POP3/IMAP
  • ClamAV – Antivirus
  • Spamassassin – it really does assassinate spam – It plays nice with:
    • Vipul’s Razor – A distributed, collaborative, spam detection and filtering network.
    • DCC – Distributed Checksum Clearinghouse
  • amavisd-new – the middle man by which ClamAV, Spamassassin, and Postfix where integrated. Amavisd-new has many, many knobs, some of which allow further enhancement to email filtering.
  • Mailgraph to generate the nifty graphs. David Schweikert has some other interesting contributions to IT as well.

All of this was run alongside Apache 2.2, MySQL 5.0, PHP 5, and many other necessary packages and libraries on FreeBSD 6.2

Where did the nifty graphs go?

Because the high volume of traffic to our sites was saturating our puny internet pipes, all GWD Network sites have been transferred from our in-house servers to an external host. The hardware, as listed above, easily handled 100 plus hits per minute on the web server. Email for our domains are now being handled by Google Apps- incidentally, the amount of SPAM that reaches our desktop has not changed as Google does a decent job of filtering SPAM. Web hosting is now with 1 & 1. The rates are good, we get a ton of features, and we have CLI access for scheduling cron jobs and whatnot – Fedora Core 4 as of August 2007. No up-selling or “suggestive” sell when I buy or add new products or features and I’m not embarrassed to tell our more conservative customers where their site is hosted – one of several issues we had with our former client hosting at goDaddy.
You can see mailgraph in action at http://www.stat.ee.ethz.ch/mailgraph.cgi. It is an excellent lightweight tool for mail flow visualization.