Secure Boot and your choice for Linux

Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu together with Red Hat, have weighed into the controversy surrounding the so called Secure Boot setup that requires OEMs to lock down your BIOS allowing only “approved” software to boot from it. This is of course being pushed by Microsoft.

The two companies today issued a white paper that seeks to educate Linux users about what the Secure Boot is and what it means for them. The paper also makes recommendations as to how to implement the Secure Boot to achieve its original goal of prevent security breaches while maintaining user freedom at the same time.

Any new Windows 8 PC will have Secure Boot switched “ON” when it leaves the shop and will be able to boot Microsoft approved software only. However, you will most likely find that your new PC has no option for you to add your own list of approved software. So to install Linux (or any other operating system), you will need to turn Secure Boot “OFF”…This is why we recommend that systems manufacturers include a mechanism for configuring your own list of approved software. This will allow you to run Windows 8 and Linux at the same time in your PC with Secure Boot “ON”. This should also include you being able to try new software from a USB stick or DVD.

This goes without say about the real motive behind why Microsoft is actively pushing for the Secure Boot. With a lot of people happily conceding ownership of their devices to the very manufacturers they bought the device from, a lot of education needs to be undertaken by Free Software companies to create awareness about the danger of this move.

5 Reasons why Microsoft Windows users should definitely avoid Linux

Last Saturday I got myself an Acer Aspire One netbook (bought it on impulse, really) from a friend who had it gifted to him but said he had no use for it. It came preloaded as usual with Windows 7 and as a nay sayer to that OS, I opted to install the beta release of Ubuntu 11.10 on it.

Along the way, I made the following observations that I strongly believe, should help inform current Windows users, prospective Linux users and anybody else out there about why they should seriously not consider switching to Linux and Open Source software in general.

1. Linux turns you into a gadget control freak
No really, this is serious. After using Linux for sometime, it turns you into  a sort of gadget megalomaniac. You want to have absolute control over every part of your computer. I came to this realization when the Windows install that came with the machine, in its infinite wisdom, decided I did not need access to the BIOS and thus simply denied me access. Imagine a gadget megalomaniac being denied access to a part of his box. It was not a great feeling I’d like to recount. So yes, stay away from Linux since it will simply ingrain in your mind the need to have total control over gadgets you buy with your hard earned cash. Come on now, why would you want to exercise such control over just a gadget?

2. Linux does not encourage thinking and experimenting
Yes you read right. When you choose to use Linux, you just will end up being lazy and not so much as experimental as you’d be with Windows. Heck, you don’t learn so many lessons using Linux. Example? OK. So I downloaded the ISO image of Ubuntu 11.10, created a USB startup disk, booted it up, installed…done. Wireless, webcam, everything- check. Useful apps? Check. What? Yup. Done. Where’s the learning and experimenting when I have over 20000 programs just a few clicks away?

With Windows, after a fresh install, you’d now need to start thinking how to replace those apps. If you have the CDs available, bless you. Else, you’d have to think of how to fork up some $$$. If you have no means of paying for items online like me, you’d have to start thinking of how to get replacements, or make do with pirated ones (illegality!) and make sure it does not contain any malicious stuff. It’s really tough after every Windows install and this seriously encourages thinking and experimenting. Not so Linux!

3. Linux turns you into a spoiled, pampered child
Bear with me, I know you’re not a child, but when you choose to use Linux, be prepared to become a spoiled child. Huh? Yea you read every word right. There’s just way too many choices to make when it comes to Linux and Open Source software. Want to try out Linux? Yes? OK so you’ve probably heard of Distrowatch, you head there and suddenly feel intimidated by the sheer number of Linux distributions listed and only a download away. How the heck do you navigate such a world of plenty without feeling spoiled and pampered when each distro is a full fledged OS?

Windows simply has just- guess, guess, guess- Windows. Only one Windows. No fuss. Of course there’s the starter, home, business and those other “grades” but hey, they’re all one Windows right? The netbook came with the barebones starter edition, but it was still Windows. As we say in my part of the world, having less makes you appreciate even more the very little you have. Well Linux and Open Source do not encourage that thinking!

4. Windows knows better what’s good for you
No seriously, Windows simply has you at heart and makes decisions that are in your ultimate interest. Not by your machine downloading updates that may require a restart? Don’t worry, Windows will simply do that for you as it did a colleague this afternoon at the office. Bought a license for the starter edition? Windows knows you probably don’t have much of anything since you chose to buy that license so it denies you the luxury of changing the wallpaper and other tiny bits. Come on, what more can you ask from an OS? What of Linux? Forget it. You’d have to do virtually everything above manually.

5. You don’t contribute to any cause when you use Linux and Open Source software
Seriously, when you use Windows, you contribute to a lot of worthy and commendable causes like Microsoft aiding the Tunisian government spy on its people, helping Gates back agri giants like Monsanto to supply wholesome and healthy food to a starving Africa among a host of others. So yes, your license fee is being put to good use right? Now show me what cause you support when you use the freely available Linux and Open Source software? I can’t think of any right now…

There you have them! These observations, I believe, should help inform anybody who out there who is thinking of using Linux and other Free and Open Source software. Carefully peruse the list and be sure you really want to live with all the downsides of Linux and FOSS before jumping aboard for there’s no turning back once you do!

2 Reasons Why Google Should Buy Ubuntu

In its apocalyptic battle with both Microsoft and Apple, there is one thing that both companies have that Google does not: a desktop OS. Chrome OS at best, is just a bridge OS. No matter how one looks at things today, there are hundreds of millions of machines out there powered by Windows or Mac OSX. 
I’m not sure we’ll all wake up one day and suddenly realise we’re living in the “cloud”. Google needs to equally have a traditional desktop OS, and I strongly suggest the purchase of Ubuntu Linux. Here’s why
Better competition with Microsoft
So Google’s Chrome OS is out. And it’s aimed at so called thin clients. That’s cool. But what about the “fat clients” that are in the majority today? Windows is Microsoft’s cash cow. To be able to compete with Redmond head on, Google would need to bring to the table not what it thinks people will be using in the future, but also a better alternative to what they are using today, until that elusive future is reached. 
Living in a part of the world where the cost of bandwidth is still on the high, it’s very difficult to see value in a cloud based OS other than the traditional one. There are also people and businesses that use Windows because either the Windows applications they depend on have no Linux alternatives or where there are, those alternatives don’t meet their requirements.
Google with its clout can get ISVs to port their applications to Linux. If the application my employer uses has a version for the Linux OS, why would I not evangelise it (Linux) to my bosses? Also, what’s the value in having Android/Chrome OS power smartphones/tablets/netbooks and when it comes to the desktop where more heavy lifting of internet activities take place, there’s suddenly no Google backed Linux presence? 
The Android Magic
Given the fact that there are millions of people that use Android without having the foggiest idea it’s Linux, one would expect that Google would have tried to replicate such a feat on the desktop first before going very futuristic with Chrome OS. 
Properly packaging Linux for the masses will again give Google the exact success its enjoying with Android in that given its price point (free definitely), array of commercial grade applications available and polish, more and more OEMs will be more than likely to give shipping their boxes with Linux some thought.
And how does Google gain I hear you ask? Simple. First it could ship the OS with its Chrome browser (I personally would not mind Ubuntu shipping with Chrome, really). Secondly, owning the OS will give it a better insight into developing seamless syncing with its other platforms for the myriad form factors those platforms support.  Also, it would help them tightly integrate their vast array of services into their OS platforms and thereby replicate the Apple “Garden of Eden” experience, but in an open environment.
There is a lot of space in the desktop market that currently only Microsoft and to a lesser extent Apple are making use of. There is still a lot of money to be made in that part of the market. Also Chrome OS, no matter what Google would want us to believe, cannot be a serious substitute to Microsoft Windows. Grab an already popular brand of OS and throw in the gauntlet more fully Google!

Ubuntu To Support Hybrid CD / USB Images

Ubuntu ISO images used to require the USB startup disk creator utility to be able to write the ISO image to USB (flash) sticks.

However, this morning, Colin Watson wrote on the Ubuntu mailing lists that “[A]s of tomorrow’s daily builds, all Oneiric amd64 and i386 CD images on can also be written directly to a USB device [example through the use of the dd command].  You can still use usb-creator if you need to enable persistent storage on the USB stick, but if all you need is to install from the stick then this simplifies the process.”

Other major distros like Fedora have long had hybrid ISO images, but Ubuntu’s delay in supporting the feature was because “…we couldn’t simply use isohybrid [since] that would break jigdo downloads, so we had to switch to xorriso as the CD image generator on these architectures for its new JTE support, and by the time all that landed in Debian I didn’t really want to cram it into 11.04.”

ClipGrab- A Simple Way to Grab YouTube Videos On Linux

ClipGrab is a simple open source, free software application that makes grabbing and converting videos from sites like YouTube on the fly very simple. Simple open the application, enter the url of the video you want to download and configure your parameters for conversion. Hit grab.

You can also search for the videos right from the application and download them. Supported video sites include YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, Clipfish, Collegehumor, MyVideo, MySpass, Sevenload, Tudou. You can convert the download videos to MP4, OGG Theora, MP3 (audio), WMV and OGG Vorbis (audio). HD videos can also be downloaded provided they are supported by the video service.

ClipGrab can be very useful if you find the new mode of copying flash videos on Linux unnecessarily tedious. You can install ClipGrab on Ubuntu thus

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:clipgrab-team/ppa
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install clipgrab

5 Reasons why Linux is the Future of Technology

From embeded spaces to mobile phones to desktops and servers, there’s not a single one of those except it’s being overtaken by the gradual but consistent revolution called Linux. Here’s why

The Breakdown of the Psychic Barrier
The situation where people simply state Linux is not for them because it’s either too difficult or unfriendly is what I like to call the psychic barrier to use. However, that barrier is being broken down gradually thanks to distros like Linux Mint and Ubuntu. I never cease getting amazed at the sheer number of Ubuntu powered laptops I keep seeing on campus, mostly owned by people who hardly even know the distinction between Linux and Windows.

There’s no gainsaying that Android has indeed come to stay. Having claimed Symbian as its first victim and set to be the most popular smartphone platform by the end of this year, there’s little doubt that Android is securing that space as the purview of Linux for a long time to come.

As I’ve stated a number of times, Africa, a massive market of about 1 billion people, is still mostly untapped and under-served. Symbian used to be the platform of choice of you wanted to use a smartphone. However, I’m increasingly seeing a gradual shift to the two platforms: iPhone and Android, especially among my contemporaries in school.

All it’ll take for Android to excel here is for a handset maker to achieve the right balance between reasonable price and the right hardware capable of running Andoid at reasonable speeds. I personally tick Samsung to achieve this feat.

Then in terms of desktops, again I was fairly surprised the first time I walked into our school’s computer lab and found out that half the computers are powered by Ubuntu 10.04. To say the popularity of Linux is soaring here in Africa is an understatement.

Again, it’s ten times easier for both an individual and a business to get access to Linux than to its alternatives. It’s this simple factor that in the long run will counter the Windows piracy in the developing world, a practice deliberatley overlooked by Redmond to help entrench its OS and maintain its dominance.

With Android already a stunning success, Google is now turning its attention to Chrome OS, the browser based, netbook centric OS. With the entire handheld market currently fixated on lightweight devices, Chrome OS need only repeat the Android formula to make that spectrum Linux owned.

There are other reasons why the status quo will never be the same, with Linux emergin ultimately as the winner. Some might not be so clear if you live in the heartland of proprietary software like the US, but as an African on the ground, I can confidently tell you that things are changing, the tables turning in favor of Linux in particular and open source in general, albeit at an agonizingly slow pace.

Ubuntu Linux – Not yet a Pariah but heading there

Yes, the most popular Linux distro is working hard to become the pariah of the FOSS community. To give you a typical example, take the case of the GNOME / UNITY switch.

If I were Shuttleworth, I’d not ship Ubuntu with my in-house DE just yet. I’d rather ship the usual GNOME but put a small script somewhere to inform users that “look, we’re planning on shipping our own DE but think it’s not ready yet. We’ll need all the feedback we can get from you before shipping it as default. Click here if you want to install Unity and help us test.”

That is how you ship something as default that digesses radically from the norm. How much testing can be done between now and April? Why the rush to ship Unity when the effort used to develop it can be contributed to GNOME? Of course I know there’s always been a not so cordial relationship between Ubuntu and the upstream GNOME devs, but that is still not an excuse.

Then there is the case of that bloated music player called Banshee. A player that virtually crawls on my 1GB laptop is going to be shipped as default, and even that choice was also mirred in controversy. Did Canonical think because Apple can get away with whatever percentage it charges app devs using its app store so they can as well?

Oh but I forgot! Ubuntu takes a lot of inspiration from Apple? Remember the window button switch? Or the default themes? Ah yes Mac OS. I really like Ubuntu. It’s the only distro that I’ve used consistently on my personal computer and really admire the philosophy upon which it was founded. Hey the word Ubuntu is from my continent Ok? :-D.

That not withstanding however, I honestly can’t just understand why Canonical keeps committing one blunder after the other. Yes I’m aware the company must eventually make profit, but the strategy used to attain that goal should not be such that will alienate it from the community that is its lifeline! Errors are bound to be made, but are we learning from them as we ought to?

Help Find out the Real Desktop Linux Market Share

There’s been a lot of talk about how Linux after 20 years still has just about 1% of the total desktop market share. Of course this figure is highly debatable and must be taken with a pinch of salt. 
To help give a rough idea of how many Linux desktop boxes are out there, DudaLibre has set out to let you add your count to it. Simply hop onto the site and submit your number of Linux boxes to the survey they are running. So far, over 256000 people have added theirs.
The same page also features a break down of the figures with some really interesting stats. Ubuntu as usual, has a whooping 61% of the figures tallied so far, with Poland having a staggering 26% of the boxes?
Which country are you from? Please add your computer to the tally so we can all have a rough idea of how wrong the 1% market share claim is.

Open Source, Global Health and Information Systems in West Africa

This piece originally appeared on the IntraHealth International Blog
The West African Health Organization (WAHO), WHO, the University of Oslo, Health Metrics Network (HMN) and the IntraHealth International-led USAID-funded CapacityPlus project have joined forces to organize an “unconference” in Accra, Ghana, next week to strengthen health information systems capacity throughout West Africa. Additional partners include the Kofi Annan Center of Excellence in Information-Communications Technology (ICT) and the region’s ministries of health.
“The absence of accurate, readily available health information is one of the greatest challenges in West Africa” notes Professor Kayode Odusote of WAHO. “Using open source technologies to foster innovation, adaptability and ownership of health information systems can save countless lives.”
An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference designed to avoid some of the downsides of a conventional conference, especially high fees and sponsored proprietary presentations.
“We can increase in-country and regional capacity using mature and interoperable open-source software while fostering a developer community,” says Carl Leitner of IntraHealth, who will be running an installfest and training sessions at the event.
The gathering, which will be held September 20–24, will bring together decision-makers, health information system (HIS) managers, ICT support staff from the region, developers of open source software for HIS, and other stakeholders involved in HIS strengthening activities.
“Wide participation is essential to ensure that research, development, and implementation of health information systems can be driven by local forces.  Country empowerment is only a part of the puzzle, the best systems are created by involving users as active developers,” states Johan Saebø of HMN.
The five-day technical meeting will focus on open source core software solutions that address specific health worker challenges including:
  • iHRIS:  a suite of open source tools for managing and supporting the health workers
  • DHIS2: an open source system for collecting and analyzing health information for national planning and decision making
  • OpenMRS:  an open source medical record and clinical care health system.
“We see this as a launching pad for ongoing locally designed unconferences across Africa supporting local capacity and community building around open source technology for global health,” explains Heather LaGarde who oversees IntraHealth’s OPEN Initiative, a coalition aimed at building technological fluency, local capacity and innovation in open source systems for health in the developing world.
O’Reilly Media has supported this conference by generously donating many books on using Linux, Ubuntu, and open-source software.
Contact: Brooke Buchanan (919)433-5700

What would persuade you to ditch Ubuntu for Windows?

I’ve been recently reading this article, on Zack Whittaker’s “iGeneration” blog, about what could persuade an user to abandon Windows and switch to Ubuntu. I had in my own already answered the question years ago since I’m already a Linux and Ubuntu user.

While reading the article it came to my mind the, in some way provocative, idea of reversing the question: what would persuade me to ditch Ubuntu and go back to Windows? What could Microsoft do to gain back users that their operating systems for Linux?

First a little premise, I know that most of us still have Windows installed in a dual boot configuration so the question should be, more precisely, What would persuade you to use windows as your primary operating system. By the way I don’t think this changes a lot the global meaning of what I’m asking.

Let me say I can Imagine a lot of things that could make Windows more attractive from my point of view: Making it Open source, free at least for personal use, removing the useless and annoying registration process or stopping distributing crippled (home, personal, starter) versions. I doubt Microsoft would ever listen to me. Anyway even with such radical changes, that would make Windows more similar to Linux (or BSD to be exact) I wouldn’t go back to Windows simply because Linux already has all these features.

At last the only reason that would return me to Windows would be having no other choice. For example, if I had to use some sort of life-saving application or hardware only available for Windows (OK I admit the therm life-saving is a little too dramatic). Must be noted that the better hardware and software support that Windows has is more a lack of merit by hardware and software producers than a Microsoft merit.

May be that I have very little imagination or I’m very close minded about Windows (or perhaps both). May be that the real strength of Linux is that once you start using it, after the initial difficulties, you aren’t willing to go back fro no reason.

So let me know … What would persuade you to ditch Ubuntu for Windows?