Entries Tagged as 'open source'

GSM Hacked

Computer security researchers have reported that GSM phones (the cellular protocol used by most of the world — roughly 80% of all cell phones) can be cracked with a relatively small amount of hardware and free Open Source tools.

The weakness exploits the older 64-bit A5/1 algorithm not the newer 128-bit A5/3 algorithm.  However, it should be noted that most GSM providers have been slow to update their networks and do not currently employ the more secure 128-bit encryption standard.

The result is that conversations carried on GSM networks can be overheard and recorded.

No such weaknesses exist in the CDMA protocol; nor would this indicate a potential vulnerability in LTE.

Karsten Nohl, a German computer programmer, claims he demonstrated this weakness (and published the code) to encourage GSM carriers (and manufactures) to take serious the poor security that is currently in place.  ESTI (the standards organization behind GSM) claims that this hack (while legitimate) is too complex and would in fact not give hackers the ability to listen in on phone calls.

Originally posted 2009-12-29 02:00:50.

Microsoft Office 2010

The ides of June (that was Monday the 15th) Microsoft announced the newest version of their Office suite — Microsoft Office 2010… yawn.

As part of the announcement, Microsoft also unveiled Microsoft Office Live — that’s a “scaled down” version of the office products offered absolutely free as part of the Microsoft Live website.

The online version, like the desktop version, has been in beta for quite some time, so none of the features of capabilities (or limitations) should be a big surprise to anyone who’s shown enough interest to try the online version or download and install the desktop version.

While I totally understand Microsoft’s need to sustain (and expand) their cash flow through upgrades (after all, Apple has now overtaken Microsoft as the largest technology company based on stock market valuation) — but why most people would even consider an upgrade to something they only use a fraction of the capabilities of is totally beyond me.

Microsoft is meeting competition on the office front from both Open Office (a free desktop office suite) and Google Office (an online office suite) — and competition in the office arena isn’t something Microsoft has had to deal with since killing off Word Perfect a quarter century ago!

I want Microsoft stock to appreciate (trust me, my portfolio still depends on it); but perhaps Steve Balmer should consider making Microsoft a leader through innovation rather than just putting lipstick on a pig (after all, it didn’t work in the last presidential election — and I serious doubt it’ll work in the technology race).

In my view, the features most people really need and use in an office suite are perfectly generic in this day and age — and most people fumble around to do the things they need to do anyway (read that as they aren’t an expert with the software), so why not pick out something that works, works well, and is affordable (free)?

Personally I don’t trust Google, and I don’t want my documents (or any other information) on their servers… so I’ll stick with Open Office, and I’ve been using the Go OO version (it’s a re-packing of the open source Open Office with some refinements to make it look-and-feel a little more like other programs on the host environment).  Try it out — and see if it won’t do everything you need — it’s priced right, it’s free (as in “free beer”)!

Go OO Open Office

Originally posted 2010-06-17 02:00:43.

Free Software!

Let me start off by saying that there is a lot of free software available for just about every popular operating system that works well, is well written, and straight forward to use.

Let me also point out that a lot of free software is free because is simply couldn’t be sold — yes it’s that bad (of course there is a lot of commercial software that is on the market that shouldn’t be sold; but that’s another rant).

I have a favorite saying:

You rarely get what you pay for.

And with free software that could be taken to mean, it almost always ends up costing you…

I always recommend that you read up on software before you use it; and try to read comments written by someone with similar computer skills and goals as you have.  Then ask yourself the simple questions “do you need the software” and “do you have something that already does the same thing that works”.

If you just want to play with a piece of software, consider using a virtual machine to try it out and then discard the changes; and I always try out a piece of software in a virtual machine even if I’m fairly sure it’s something I want.

I maintain a list of products (free and for pay) on my web site that I consider worth using…

It’s rare that I have any problems with any of my computers — and that’s mainly because I don’t “junk” them up with lots of software I never will use and don’t need… and keep in mind — COMPUTER PROBLEMS are one of the costs of installing software.

Originally posted 2008-12-17 12:00:43.

GIMP

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.

It has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc.

GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted.

That’s what the GIMP site says; but what GIMP is is a free Open Source alternative to programs like Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paint Shop Pro that runs on Linux, OS-X, and Windows.

GIMP is reasonably easy to use, powerful, and rock solid.

If you understand the principles of image/photo editing you’ll be a pro at using GIMP in no time — far easier to use than Photoshop, far more functional than Paint Shop Pro.  And it’s free — totally free — just download it an install it.  There’s lots of plug-ins for it as well (so make sure you take a look at some of those add ins).  Be sure and review the online documentation, tutorials, and FAQ; plus there are a number of well written books on GIMP available for purchase.

GIMP.org

Originally posted 2010-03-08 02:00:45.

Linux BitTorrent Clients – Follow-Up

I’ve been using several Linux bit torrent clients fairly heavily for the past week or so, and I have a few new comments about each of the “contenders” — below I’ve ordered them as I would recommend using them.

KTorrent · KTorrent might be a little “fat”, but it works, and it works very well — particularly when dealing with a large number of torrents simultaneously.  This is my pick.

TorrentFlux · TorrentFlux is probably the best solution you’ll find for a torrent server.  Simply said, it works fine (though I don’t know that I’ll continue to use it, simply because it doesn’t seem to be being improved, and it’s far from perfection).

Transmission · Transmission is simple, and that simplicity seems to pay off — it works, it works well.

qBittorrent · qBittorrent works fairly well for a small number of simultaneous torrents; but if you want to download large numbers of torrents or seed large numbers of torrents stay away from this one — it actually crashes, and unless your goal is just to watch the integrity of your torrents be checked and over and over you can do much better.

Deluge · Deluge was what I really wanted to like; and it seemed to work, but it has two major problems — it doesn’t handle large numbers of torrents well, and it doesn’t properly handle port forwarding (either through UPnP / NAT-PMP or when you try and set the port forwarding manually).  We’ll just leave it at it has issues (that apparently are fairly well known) and the progress on it is glacial in it’s pace.

Moving torrents from one client to another isn’t all that hard to do, a little time consuming maybe… but once you figure out how to do it, and let your data files re-check, you’ll be on your way.

My experience over the past week reminds me that you can do your diligence by researching every fact and figure about a program all you like; but until you put it through the paces you just won’t know.

NOTES: My test included about 550 torrents totaling just under half a terabyte in total size.  I required that ports be forwarded through a firewall properly (either via UPnP, NAT-PMP, or by hand), and that I be able to control the total number of active torrents (preferably with control over uploads and downloads as well), and be able to restrict the bandwidth (a scheduler was a nice touch, but not a requirement).

Originally posted 2010-08-25 02:00:30.

OpenOffice

You need to find a suite of office applications?

The place to start is OpenOffice.

OpenOffice has a long heritage, and the software was designed and built to be a cohesive set of applications (not a collection of various applications that did different parts of a job).

OpenOffice is written in Java, and if you’re running Windows you can download and install a version of OpenOffice that includes the Java Run-time Environment (JRE); on most other operating system it will already be installed.

OpenOffice is able to import and export most document formats you’re used to, plus it can use it’s own format (which is an ISO standard), and creating PDFs of the output is a snap.

Writer — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “Word”.  It’s an excellent word processor, and it well suited for virtually any task you might have.  There are quirks (but hey, they are quirks in “Word” as well, and they randomly change from version to version), but overall it’s intuitive and easy to use.  Plus there’s good documentation available to answer most any question you might have.

Calc — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “Excel”.  I’m not a big spread sheet user, but I can tell you that all the fairly simple tasks that I used “Excel” for Calc did without a problem; and it imported the spread sheets, converted them it it’s format, and other than a very slight print alignment issue on one they were perfect (and much smaller and faster).  From my experience and what I’ve read you shouldn’t have any issue with Calc for all your spread sheet needs.

Impress — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “PowerPoint”.  It seems to work, has all the annoying slide ware capabilities a marketing person might want.

Draw — if you’re a Windows person you might think of this as “Visio” or perhaps “Illustrator”.  There’s not an exact equivalent for this tool.  But it’s useful to do diagrams, drawings, etc.  But don’t confuse it with “PhotoShop” — that’s not really an office tool now is it?

Base — if you’re a Windows person you’d probably think of this as “Access”.  Works well and works with most any database you might have.

There is no email / calendar / contact replacement in OpenOffice, nor is there a “OneNote” replacement.  I don’t know that I feel email / calendar / contacts really belong in an office suite, but I certainly have gotten accustom to being able to collect a bunch of data together in one place with automatic references from where it came — so I’d love to see something like “OneNote” added to OpenOffice.

If you’re a casual user, a home user, a student, or a small business user (without restrictive corporate policies) you’ll find that OpenOffice will solve most all your needs.  Try it… save a little cash.

OpenOffice.org

Originally posted 2010-01-19 01:00:42.

Free

I found this web page on GNU.org by the Free Software Foundation to be hilarious… it just reeks of doublespeak and I’m sure George Orwell would agree.

Now see, I thought the “free” in “free software” meant “free” — and it didn’t really need any qualifications.  Software that was free from encumbrances and cost… but now the Free Software Foundation is telling us that “free” might cost…

Maybe they’re looking for ways to pay their salaries?

I don’t know.

Maybe that other kind of software that wasn’t “free” might turn out to be less expensive in the long run.

Selling Free Software

Originally posted 2009-12-28 01:00:36.

Windows 7 – Virtualization

So you’ve upgraded to Windows 7 and now your considering the options for running virtual machines…

If you have a PC that’s capable of hardware assisted virtualization (I-VT or AMD-V) and you’re running Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate the decision is fairly easy; use the virtualization technology from Microsoft that provides you with Virtual XP mode (as well as generalized virtualization).

However, if you don’t have a PC capable of hardware virtualization or you didn’t spring for the more expensive version of Windows you have some good (free) choices.

While Microsoft doesn’t officially support Virtual PC 2007 SP1 on Windows 7, since it was designed to run under Vista it will work.  The real downside is that you have fairly old virtualization technology emulating an antiquated hardware.

You could consider buying VMware or Parallels, but why spend money when there’s a better free alternative for personal use…

That would be – VirtualBox (yes, I’ve harped on VirtualBox for the Mac before, and now it’s time to harp on VirtualBox on the PC).

VirtualBox is a project sponsored by Sun Microsystems.  They’ve actually been working on virtualization technology for a very long time, and their virtualization technology is top notch. 

VirtualBox will run on several different operating system, you can even share the virtual machine files between operating systems if you like.  But one of the really nice things about VirtualBox is that it will support machines with or without hardware assisted virtualization and it emulates very modern hardware (which makes the paravirtualization of devices much more efficient).

Unless you have specific requirements that force you to choose other virtualization software, I would recommend you take a good look at VirtualBox.

VirtualBox

Originally posted 2009-11-14 01:00:43.

Concrete5 Review

Content Management Systems (CMSs) strive to make maintaining a web site simple; they generally are focused on allowing one person or many people to effectively contribute and edit content, change the overall appearance (without needing to re-enter content), produce reports, etc.

Many CMSs have a fairly steep learning curve before a user can build and deploy or even manage a site.

Concrete5 is different.

Concrete5 makes the task of managing a small to medium size web site as easy as using a WYSIWYG editor.  I installed the software and had it running in less than ten minutes.  The administrative interface was straight forward enough that I really didn’t need to refer to any documentation at all to use the product to publish content, change content, and add pages.

Downloading themes required me to register for the Concrete5 Market Place (registration is free, and many of the downloads are free, but some of them are not).

Concrete5 core is open source, and free; some of the add-ons for Concrete5 are free, some are not.  Concrete5 actually started as a closed source, commercial CMS, which recently became an open source (and free) product.  Concrete5 software can be downloaded and installed on your web site / server, or you can run a hosted site on Concrete5.

Concrete5 includes a RSS/ATOM feed add-on (I actually wrote one that’s a great deal more flexible for use on my web site, but you get this for free with no work) which makes it easy to provide live content on your web site.  Additionally there are free Flash, Google Maps (you need a Google Maps API key to use it), YouTube, and several other free add-ons as well.

One great feature of Concrete5 is that it keeps page revisions, so it’s easy to roll back to a previous version of a page; or to just see what’s changed (I do this on web sites I author from scratch using a source control system — and many CMSs provide this ability, but not as cleanly and as simply as Concrete5).

Overall, Concrete5 is simple, and will likely handle the vast majority of user’s needs — though a two page boiler-plate web site will handle the vast majority of user’s needs, so that’s not a high mark.

Snippy remarks aside…

If you can use a WYSIWYG editor, and you understand simple drag-and-drop paradigms and you’re comfortable using a web application and moving through menus you can maintain a web site.  You might need help setting up the web site, and you likely will need help installing the software — but even those are straight forward and something you could learn in less time than it would take to do simple tasks in a more sophisticated CMS.

The short of it, Concrete5 has a very low learning curve (almost no learning curve indeed); and will allow most any user to build and maintain their own web site with [virtually] no training.

The number of add-ons available for Concrete5 is small; but it appears from reading the information on their site and several other reviews that the add-ons all work, and work together (which isn’t necessarily the case with other CMSs).  Though as I’ve already enumerated, many useful add-ons are available and free.

For users who understand CSS, HTML, PHP it’s very straight forward to build your own themes; and actually extending Concrete5 would not be a daunting task.

What I like about Concrete5…

It’s easy to install, easy to use, and provides most basic functionality that a CMS should provide — and the core is free.  It does not overly abstract core parts of a web site (no doubt that’s where it get’s it’s name).  Concrete5 has a lot of potential.

What I don’t like about Concrete5…

The web site goes out of it’s way to criticize other content management systems (and that to me is ridiculous; both Joomla and Drupal are capable of being used to build more sophisticated sites — but both of those are much harder to use to build a simple site); it doesn’t support tables prefixes (which means each instance of Concrete5 needs it’s own database, and it’s dangerous to try and share a database between Concrete5 and any other software (this is significant because some hosting plans greatly limit the number of databases you are allowed); it’s a relatively new “community” project, and thus does not have a large body of people working on it or eyes reviewing it (which means it’s more likely to have security issues than some of the more mature CMSs).

I’m neutral on the fact that parts of Concrete5 are offered free, and parts are offered at a (generally) modest price.  I agree that developers are entitled to make a living off their software, and as long as it doesn’t become a razor/razor-blade type model I’m fine with it; but success often breeds greed (like familiarity breeds contempt).

One thing to keep in mind:  always select the right tool for the job.

What Concrete5 does it does well; but decide what it is you want to do before you select the tool.

http://concrete5.org/

Originally posted 2010-04-03 02:00:42.

Oracle – The Destroyer of Open Source

Yes I know Oracle supported open source Linux in the past; but that was when they felt they needed to help in the fight against Microsoft, but since their acquisition of Sun Microsystems and MySQL it seems that Oracle is killing off open source projects; like because Larry Ellison believes that’s the road to profit, and has feared open source from the beginning.

Open Solaris is a thing of the past (though the project will likely be reincarnated as a real open source project not under the control of a big company); who knows what will happen with VirtualBox and MySQL or any one of the many other open source projects that Sun Microsystems supported.

Originally posted 2010-08-26 02:00:53.