LINUX BLOG SAFARI

On Holidays, Hot Air and the 7 Horrors of Linux

Well, the holiday season is upon us once again, and that means it’s the beginning of what, for many geeks, is a time of unnatural, enforced, repeated and prolonged socialization.

Yes, it can be an uncomfortable time for those of us who aren’t perky, extroverted cheerleader-types, and we here at LinuxInsider are no exception. So it was with great relief that we came across a few posts in the blogosphere that promised some welcome, Linux-inspired distraction.

Another group photo? Sure, we’ll be right there! Ha.

Android Garage Door Opener

To wit: Brad Fitzpatrick, a hacker and blogger — not to mention LiveJournal founder and now Google employee — has managed to write an Android application that serves as a garage door opener.

How cool is that?

“I just threw on some shoes and hopped on my motorcycle to do a test lap around the neighborhood,” he wrote in a post that got more than 750 Diggs and 100 comments. “When I got to the corner, I pulled up the activity and press ‘Start’ (aka ‘Going home now’).

“I then finished the lap around the block and the garage door started opening a few houses away,” Fitzpatrick went on. “By the time I pulled up, I could already back the bike into the garage. HELL YES.”

Hell, Yes!

Hell, yes — that’s the refrain we need to be striving for, those of us who don’t always enjoy the gregariousness built into the holidays, and the winning combination of Linux and gadgets is here to help.

Then, for example, there was the post entitled “A Geek’s Guide: How to Pimp Your Car with Linux.” Need we say more? “Linux as car stereo,” “Not for mere mortals” and “Homage to the empeg” are among the sections of Jesse Casman’s Royal HeHe2-ness post, which garnered more than 500 Diggs and scores of comments.

“I think carputers are cool,” wrote Erik in response. “Two years ago, I spent days dreaming about how I’d install one in my car and have GPS and all the MP3’s I could want. The system I was looking to build was going to cost me at least US$1,500.

“Then I bought a Garmin Nuvi with an SD adapter and FM transmitter for $250, along with a 16 Gig SDHC card,” Erik continued. “Does pretty much everything I was looking forward to having my carputer do.”

FOSS Everywhere!

Speaking of looking forward, the folks over at Gartner have come out with another set of predictions that ignited some lively discussion in the Linux community.

Specifically, the results of this Gartner study (as reported by Computerworld) suggest not only that 85 percent of companies are already using FOSS, but also that the remaining 15 percent will do so in the next 12 months. In other words, all companies will be using open source software within the next year!

That prediction caused no small amount of surprise over at the Linux Loop, where Thomas Teisberg pondered its meaning.

‘It Is Good News’

“All this means is that in a year just about every business will be using *some* piece of open-source software *somewhere*,” Teisberg wrote. “In other words, a giant corporation that uses a piece of open-source software in some tiny department somewhere would count, even if all their other software was proprietary.”

On the other hand, “the big deal here is really that it means that just about every IT department will have had at least a little experience with open-source software,” he pointed out. “You can’t guarantee that this experience will make it to higher levels or that it will be entirely positive, but just a little bit of experience with open source software can certainly help to eliminate doubts. While this prediction might not be as monumental as it might seem, it does matter and it is good news.”

So, is FOSS really just a year away from corporate ubiquity? LinuxInsider just had to ask around.

‘Watered-Down Stuff’

“The Gartner Group claim is the sort of watered-down stuff that makes me think I could open a consultancy,” Slashdot editor Timothy Lord told LinuxInsider.

One of Gartner’s conclusions is that companies must have policies in place for deciding when and where to use OSS and identifying the associated intellectual property and supportability risks, the article points out.

“Replace ‘OSS’ with ‘bottled water’ there — or, better, ‘any new proprietary software’ — and I don’t think it would be any sillier,” Lord asserted. “Companies are free to set whatever policies they’d like, but how many years in do IT managers need to be insulted with this sort of nonsense?”

‘Barely Worth Scoffing At’

“What ‘intellectual property risk’ does a company face by merely using software with any of the well-known open source licenses?” Lord continued.

Much proprietary software comes with “poison pill clauses, such as that purchasers may not report benchmarking. Did Gartner issue a similar warning about Computer Associates’ or Microsoft’s software when they were actively peddling software that came with such restrictions, invalid as they may have been?” he added.

Windows, for example, “specifically disclaims responsibility for all sorts of situations in which it might be used — and surely it is used in some of them,” he noted. “I’m sure Gartner will get right on that.”

In short, Lord concluded, the report is “barely worth scoffing at.”

IT’s Madame Zelda?

Others seemed to agree.

“I don’t know why people even bother with Gartner,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. “Ever see their predictions about Itanium? IBM absolutely lambasted them for revising their predicted Itanium sales downward each year and still being wrong every time.”

Indeed, the company “could probably save money and improve their odds by firing all their experts and just hiring some fortune tellers instead,” Mack said.

Of course, “I hope they are right in this case,” he added.

‘Goblins Under the Bed’

“Gartner has come kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” blogger Robert Pogson agreed. “For so long they derided GNU/Linux; even today they warn of goblins — or complexity of licenses or something — under the bed of GNU/Linux.”

The GPL is, in fact, “very simple,” Pogson told LinuxInsider. “Use, examine, modify, distribute the same way you got it. Wonderful. Compare that with Microsoft’s EULA and myriad versions of licensing and tell me with a straight face that GNU/Linux is difficult.”

That’s not to say, of course, that Linux users are entirely protected from harm. A recent post by Jun Auza titled “The 7 Deadly Linux Commands” got more than 2,000 Diggs and hundreds of comments from bloggers with their own thoughts and horror stories to share.

‘7 Deadly Linux Commands’

“If you are new to Linux, chances are you will meet a stupid person perhaps in a forum or chat room that can trick you into using commands that will harm your files or even your entire operating system,” Auza wrote. “To avoid this dangerous scenario from happening, I have here a list of deadly Linux commands that you should avoid.”

We won’t reproduce any of those deadly commands here; suffice it to say readers should not try any of them at home!

Others, meanwhile, had plenty to add.

‘Everyone Makes Mistakes’

“I do a lot from BASH and scripts,” Pogson began. “I once deleted the file system out from under me by mistyping a wild-card. Another time I had SSHed into so many servers I forgot which one I was working on and shut down the wrong one. Everyone makes mistakes.”

Today, “I pause to reflect before doing anything irreversible, and sometimes I make backups,” he added.

Mack, meanwhile, recalls a certain command that “overwrites the system memory and crashes the machine rather quickly. This shows why tab completion can be a dangerous thing sometimes because /dev/kmsg is for sending things to the kernel log.”

Not Just Linux

Of course, “most (if not all) of these dangerous code snippets are only dangerous, as some of the commenters to the original story point out, if running with root privileges,” Lord noted. “An ordinary user (or prudent sysadmin) could wipe out his own files, but wouldn’t otherwise damage the system.”

Also, though they’re labeled as dangers in Linux, “the commands presented predate Linux — they’re just as bad on any *nix system with a similar system of shell input,” he added. “I suspect they’d all ‘work’ in Mac OS X, too.”

The rewards, on the other hand, can far outweigh any risks. “There’s no life like it, being in control of your system in detail,” Pogson concluded.

The Beauty That Is Linux

“Scripts are some of my favorite things,” Pogson explained. “Rather than thinking of destruction, look at the beauty of this: ssh -Y myserver.anywhere.com rdesktop 2003server.somewhereelse.ca and I get a GUI from a system running that other OS relayed through another system running sshd (could be GNU/Linux or Cygwin on that other OS) and I can have it all. Or I can loop over a list of servers and networks and tweak them all up to date. Or I can wake up a neighborhood to get a fresh disc image by Clonezilla.

“The mind boggles at the possibilities of GNU/Linux — it scales well and can do whatever we need done,” he enthused. “That other OS needs more expensive toys the bigger it gets. Only the income to M$ scales well in it.”

And on that note, dear readers, we’ll say farewell for another week. Chin up during these stressful times, and remember the beauty that is Linux!

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