Veterans Today: Ding Dong the Bush is Dead

Google Plus Pulls the Plug

Image result for google plus end of life
October 8, 2018 - Google Plus announced they will shut down by August 2019
Okay, it was a good ride.  Today, I see Google announced their intention to end their Google Plus service.

So it goes.  I won't beat a dead horse.  This one has been dead for a long time.  Yet, I stuck with it.

But, everything Google does fizzles.  I won't be surprised if Blogger also bellies up.

I'll be looking for a new nook to hang out in daily.  Any suggestions where to go?

Peace.  Out.  -- Dietrich

RetroShare 0.6.3 Secure P2P Communications Platform Preview, Now with AppImage Support

RetroShare AppImage Shown Running 


If you are thinking, this is a new application, don't be fooled.  This application has a long history of over ten years development under its belt.

I have known its Lead Developer, Cyril Soler, for several years and have witnessed a gradual, carefully crafted set of changes which are seen in the current production version 0.6.2 and if one chooses to live on the 'bleeding edge' of technology, one can grab a copy of RetroShares GPLv2 open source from their github repository, build it with Linux make and see a preview of what's in the offing for version 0.6.3, the release of which, I am told, is coming soon.

With a feature freeze in force I can safely discuss what this incarnation of RetroShare will offer.

What is RetroShare?

RetroShare Logo
RetroShare is a secure Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Communications Platform.  Because of the nature of P2P, this type of network cannot be taken down by government order since it is not a 'central server' topology.  Sites like MegaUpload, for example, have been arbitrarily taken down and central server systems can be easily stopped.  The design of P2P relies upon a PC to PC network along which each PC becomes a 'node' that shares encrypted data with the others in a secure encrypted TLS tunnel which is established at the point a user logs into Retroshare.





What Makes RetroShare Different?

Retroshare is different in that it hosts several useful services that together make a platform where Friends can connect, communicate, and share with assured 'Privacy'.

RetroShare is About Privacy at its Core

RetroShare Ensures Privacy, Not Anonymity
Some have the mistaken notion that RetroShare affords Anonymity.  Actually that is not true.  While RetroShare 'accommodates' providing an extension plugin interface to both Tor and I2P, software applications intended to obfuscate a user's IP address, RetroShare makes no representations for their use nor does RetroShare support use of said applications.

At its core, RetroShare privacy is ensured when Friends, who have carefully vetted each other, exchange what is called a 'Friend-to-Friend' (F2F) Certificate.  Essentially, this certificate is a GnuPrivacy Guard (GnuPG or PGP in commercial apps) certificate which when exchanged between Friends makes intrusion into Friend-to-Friend activity impossible.  The FBI has in fact petitioned U.S. Congress to ban encryption as they are not able to crack GnuPG 4096-bit certificates at all.

Encryption is Privacy.  Privacy is Your Inalienable Right.

Encryption is Privacy
The main Chat lobbies are, while operating inside of a TLS encrypted tunnel, attached to public internet central Chat server technology which provides venues for people reaching RetroShare to meet others from around the Globe inside this encrypted P2P Network.  The normal caveats about what kind of information one should share in a public setting prevail and should be observed always when entering into any conversation had in the public Chat lobbies.  In other words, avoid discussing anything of a personal or private nature in the lobbies.

What you do with Friends is Safe from Prying Eyes

Assuming you have selected your Friends with due care and know and trust them personally there is zero chance of any of your activities becoming known.  F2F Services include:

o File Sharing
o Private F2F Chat
o Audio/Video Calls
o Sharing Forums with a select Circle or Group of established Friends

The creation of Groups or Circles (a new 0.6.0 Feature) facilitates targeting a specific audience of people for a particular purpose, in Forums and Channels where various ideas and discussions can be grouped by design.

Taken in total, the features of RetroShare qualify it as being one of the most comprehensive applications supporting private Friend-to-Friend activities.

RetroShare makes no representation about what people choose to do with it.  RetroShare's promise is that, when using core RS F2F encryption with vetted Friends, privacy is guaranteed.

What's New in Upcoming RetroShare 0.6.3?

Here is an incomplete, unofficial list of new features and remedial changes that will find their way into 0.6.3 which I have culled from the past 12 months of RS github merged Pull Requests:

o Updated retroshare-nogui and Web GUI using the RS API (Restful)
o Updated Files with end-to-end Turtle tunnel encrypted transfers
o Updated RetroShare Chatserver
o Many Chat Lobby bug fixes and Enhancements
o Many Forum bug fixes for Circle integration
o Improved GUI
o Android Enhancements and bug fixes
o Improved Statistics
o Fix memory leaks in Gxstrans
o Redesigned RS Logo and Login Page
o Fixed various regressions
o Fixed Start Page Set Focus bug
o Add support for openssl's chacha20-poly1305 implementation API
o Improved Unit Test compilation
o Improved Relay functionality
o Fixed many Windows compilation errors and bugs
o Fixed various Channel bugs
o AddFriendWizard and QuickStartWizard gui enhancements
o Updated TopBar, Buttons, 'look and feel'
o Revised 'Reputation' core logic
o Autologin made 'optional' at compile time
o Added I2P BOB support
o Rename of Top Stack Menu Items
o Updated Wiki, README.md and ancillary help files
o Improved UPnP documentation (written by DrBoB with little or no comments)


Testing


I have witnessed many contributors go through testing to the point of Ad. Nauseam.  It is hard work and if it were not for the unrelenting work of those testers assisting the Devs, RetroShare would never progress and improve as it has.  A special mention goes out for the work done by @jolavillette.  He is indispensable.  As for the rest of you, you make me tired just watching from a distance.  Hats off to all the Testers.


Support for RetroShare 0.6.3. AppImage Format Arrives


Credit: AppImage Logo
I am happy to report that RS 0.6.3 will be offered bundled in AppImage format.

What is AppImage format?  Essenstially, RetroShare.0.6.3.AppImage will be available along side the other package formats found at RetroShare.net.

The primary advantage to using AppImage is that it is a downloadable binary image which can be run in 'User Space' without the necessity of installing from a package like the other Distro-specific packages of RetroShare require.

Effectively, this means just one AppImage can run on 'any' Linux Distribution.  This is not a unique technology per se, but, new to Linux.  RetroShare 'Portable' for Windows can be put on a USB and run at any Windows workstation.  Similarly, Apple's OSX DMG format works the same as AppImage.

Try RetroShare, No Special Installation



Just the other day, I finished bundling RetroShare as an AppImage for internal testers.
It is a revision that incorporates many of the new 0.6.3 features.  Warning: There are still bugs to be ironed out and so, please be aware this isn't a production (stable) version yet.

Download the image file here. The MD5 checksum file here.
From a Terminal, cd into the folder where the AppImage is found and type: chmod a+x ./RetroShare06-12345678-x86_64.AppImage
Then to run, type: ./RetroShare06-12345678-x86_64.AppImage &

The application mounts in /tmp and runs from User space but will see any existing configuration in ~/.retroshare on your local hard drive.

Have Fun.  -- Dietrich

Endless OS: A Remarkable Linux Distribution Unlike Any Other

Endless OS 2.6.4


So, last week I was researching new methods of package management and came upon Endless OS.

At first glance one might quickly conclude Endless OS (EOS) is an average Distro.

Well, it isn't.  In fact, this Distribution is completely unique from any other.

Let me explain.

OSTree: A New Package Management Paradigm

OSTree was written by the Gnome Project.  Despite its provenance, the application is agnostic and can be used with any Distribution.  From the Gnome OSTree wiki page:


"OSTree is a tool that combines a "git-like" model for committing and downloading bootable filesystem trees, along with a layer for deploying them and managing the bootloader configuration.
OSTree is like git in that it checksums individual files and has a content-addressed-object store. It's unlike git in that it "checks out" the files via hardlinks, and they should thus be immutable. Therefore, another way to think of OSTree is that it's just a more polished version of Linux VServer hardlinks."

Endless OS developers saw fit to seize upon the opportunity to be the first commercial Linux Distribution which employs OSTree.  What does that mean for the target market's end user?  From their vantage point they won't notice or care.

In fact, the entire Desktop presentation is quite professional and equals the polish of that seen in Chromebook's ChromeOS, without any reservation.  It is that good and with simplicity and ease of use combined succeeds in doing Google's Chromebook one better in my opinion.


Endless OS, The Company

From Wikipedia:

Endless Computers, Inc. is an American company founded in 2012 that developed a desktop computer that comes with its own Operational System. The computer can be connected to TV or computer monitors, old and new. It comes with more than a hundred free apps that can be accessed without an internet connection. The content is curated from open source providers such as Wikipedia, Libre Office and Linux educational games. Endless is headquartered in San Francisco, California, with offices or presence in Rio de Janeiro, México, Guatemala, China, Taiwan, UAE and India.
The company has a team of advisors that includes 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, designer David Kelleyand Nicholas Negroponte of the One Laptop per Child initiative.

That should tell the reader the level of collaboration, scale of this organization and the degree to which they plan to make Endless Computers a world-wide success.

I have no doubt that this company will succeed where the One Laptop Per Child initiative failed, particularly with Nicholas Negroponte's guidance.

The EOS Desktop

So, let's talk about the Desktop.  It took me a few days of trial and error to get the raw Endless OS gz image to work in my ThinkPad's Virt-Manager qemu-kvm environment.  First, I converted the raw image file to qemu's qcow2 format with qemu-img.  Then, I imported the qcow2 file.

Turns out, the img.gz file provided at the Endless support page would not boot unless I set the qemu display type from qxl to vga or cirrus.

At that point, it bootstrapped into the Desktop and 'first time' user mode where one can define their user name and password.  That then is followed by a screen which lets the user watch a tutorial on how the Desktop works -- a nice professional touch.

So, from what I have gleaned thus far, Endless OS is forking on their github site many of the Gnome Shell Desktop components and applications, but providing (GPLv2 requirement) the changes upstream to the Gnome Project.

Essentially, you have a Gnome Shell with EOS committer 'enhancements'.  The 'top bar' is moved to the bottom of screen.

I won't go over the Desktop's functionality other than to say it's designed to ensure 'Joe Average' will have no difficulty navigating and using it.  After all, it's Gnome Shell with EOS enhancements.  A lot of input from Red Hat went into the design and usability of Gnome Shell to result in what it has become today.  It has outgrown its 'bleeding edge' early 3.0 days and is now mature and stable.

The EOS Application Repository


From the Desktop, one can click on 'More Apps' to reach the screen shown (left).

While the number of applications presented is roughly 100 at present, plans for the future include employing FlatPak (formerly xdg-app) application 'bundles' to facilitate organizing and managing applications as the github binary library continues to grow in number and size.

Despite the foregoing, Endless OS support qualitatively exercise special care in which applications will be made available to end users.

The basic needs for a newcomer to computing are there.  Word processing, spreadsheets, Evolution Email, Gmail, Gimp, Skype, Chromium, Terminal, File, Printer, Simple Scanner apps are found in Utilities.  Add to that categories for Education, Games and Resources rounds out a nice mix of software to which the user can avail themselves.

Adding an application only takes a few seconds, unlike traditional Linux remote repositories.  All applications are present in the computer's OSTree binary tree and when an application EOS is merely adding a Desktop Icon launcher to it.

Unlike Endless OS, Google's Chromebook ChromeOS, applications are remote and must be installed from an Internet connection.  In many countries, access to the Internet is still problematic and the target market includes those who simply don't have the financial resources to pay for internet access.

Thus, the local cache of apps is perhaps the prime differentiator for choosing Endless over another operating system such as ChromeOS.

EOS Desktop Settings

Click the Endless button on the bottom status bar and then settings, sends the user into Gnome Shell's control center application.










EOS Updates

From the Desktop Settings screen, clicking on the Details icon will send the user to the default application associations.  In the 'Overview' mode, shown is a link 'Check for updates now', which if clicked will so cause EOS to check for any updates on the Endless website, download, and update accordingly.





EOS Security

As for security, it is direct side benefit of OSTree that Endless bootstraps into an application  sandbox.  In addition, Chromium, the web browser incorporates its own sandboxed namespace, a recent enhancement which replaces the former SUID.  Together, this makes Endless OS a safer choice for everyday computing needs.




Conclusions

So, what have I missed?

Well, needless to say, there's a lot going on 'under the hood' insofar as Ostree is concerned.  But, I leave that 'meaty' topic for another day.   Once I have thoroughly wrapped my head around it and can be in a position to talk intelligently about it, I will perhaps write more in-depth about the finer points of ostree and the long-range implications of its use in the Linux ecosystem.  

Overall, I think EOS succeeds in making a high-quality commercial Distro that offers locally cached applications.

Is EOS a trend or a 'one-off' technology mutation?  I would say it is most definitely a trend.  And, I would expect another one or two companies will attempt to utilize OSTree in year 2016.

Will the non-commercial Distro community at large see the virtues of OSTree and be swayed to make a wholesale switch to replace remote repos and traditional package managers?  I am not so sure.  Given the technical hurdles, and the lack of resources for many solo Developers, it will be a slow process of change for them, at least initially.  But, who knows the future?  Really.  I could be wrong.

Canonical Ltd. have their sights set on the package manager proliferation problem and are now offering their own solution called Snap.

Clearly, Red Hat's Atomic.io and rpm-ostree initiatives indicate their serious investment in this realm  and naturally they have the resources to advance and migrate to using OSTree on a larger scale.

Interestingly, at last check the other day, I wasn't able to find a reference to EOS at Distrowatch.com.

I think that will do it for now.  Thanks for reading.  -- Dietrich

Microsoft's Love/Hate Relationship with Linux, Continued

Microsoft's Love/Hate Relationship with Linux
It certainly takes chutzpah for Microsoft to turn around and embrace Linux in their latest Software for Open Networking in the Cloud (SONiC), a port of Debian's GNU/Linux.

Chutzpah?  Because, I don't know about you, but, I have a long memory that's why.

Microsoft's Actions Speak Louder Than Words


First, came the media report of Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer stating Linux is a cancer.

Then, came Microsoft's Get the Facts campaign against Linux.

Then Microsoft made a public statement regarding some 235 specific patent infringements in Linux.

It was a public relations tactic designed to alter CIOs' perception of Linux.  In other words, "if you were thinking about using Linux in the Enterprise, don't do it", was the message.

It worked and was enough to hold Linux's penetration into the data center for just a few years.

And, Microsoft never specified in detail which patents were infringed by Linux.

It was a dirty tactic for certain.

Red Hat Linux Prevails


But the above did not deter commercial Linux development.

Red Hat Linux has made significant strides in year over year sales growth and expansion around the World, competing 'head to head' with Microsoft Windows.

Head to head, because Red Hat saw fit to take the entire .NET framework and port the API using JBoss:

Corporate Enterprises taking advantage of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) can run Windows clients from the data center as virtual machines (VMs) without the requirement of a Windows Active Directory server or Windows Terminal Server.  All APIs are emulated via SPICE thin client emulation software.

The result?  Users of RHEV and RHEL don't need the expense and 'lock-in' cost of licensing Microsoft's server software.  And the client licensed 'seats' can run in the data center with just solid state SPICE terminals in place at the user's workspace.

Using Linux Reduces Cost of Operation


Thus, there's no need to do continual hardware refreshes every 3-5 years.  CFOs know, those refreshes exact the cost of additional licenses plus the cost of the fat client cpu hardware, whereas licenses of RHEV windows seats can be repurposed to anywhere in the Enterprise's AD organizational departmental structure at no additional cost.

This equates to a major reduction in annual cost for break/fix call support of traditional fat client Windows.  Because the user's SPICE workstations are thin client solid state with no moving parts the user Windows Desktop 'experience' is the same as traditional fat client.

Microsoft Windows' Days are Numbered


So, you see, really, this is what Microsoft doesn't want CIOs to know.  Instead, they trot out an announcement that they will port Debian Linux as a network technology solution (routers running Linux are common place).

At this stage of the game, most CIOs know Microsoft Windows' days are numbered and are looking for ways to transition away from the 'lock-in' with proprietary software.

Microsoft is desperate to extend the life cycle of Microsoft Windows, so much so, that they have chosen to offer it for free with version 10.

Windows 10 is an utter security sieve and Microsoft partners with the NSA to gather metadata regarding end-users' activities.

We should not forget also how Microsoft's methodical 'extend, embrace, extinguish' destroyed the businesses of both Novell and Nokia, yes?

Yes.  So which is it Microsoft?  Love?  Hate?  What?

You aren't fooling anybody.  -- Dietrich




Antergos: Arch Linux Made Easy

Antergos for everyone - Arch Linux Made Easy

And so, here we are.  It's almost Spring.  The winter here in Upstate New York was relatively mild.  That is a nice switch.

I haven't felt motivated to write at blogger for about a year now.

It was around this time last year I chose to close Linux Advocates.

And I needed time to reassess what is going on in my life and whether or not Linux matters enough to stay 'in the fray' writing about it daily or weekly.

I've spent plenty of time doing other things in my Google Plus account accumulating over 17 million page impressions.  Indeed, there is a lot going on in the world besides Linux.  But today, I thought I would bring you up to date on my thoughts about the world of Linux.

The question I have put to myself: Has Linux changed for the better?

Well, to answer that question I have to discuss what has changed for me.

I don't recommend any Distro to friends and family besides Fedora.  Fedora will be around in 5 years and is stable.  The cookie cutter Distros will whither away and my disdain for Debian and Ubuntu has not diminished.

For me and the 'gear heads' out there, I recommend Arch Linux.  No, I don't have the typical 'attitude' and swagger, a reputation that is not entirely unjustified.

Arch is a 'nuts and bolts' Distro with 'some assembly required'.  This is where the trouble comes in for many who simply cannot do the needed manual cobbling together of a gui desktop to the kernel.

I began using Antergos (Arch derivative Linux) about a year ago.  And haven't switched away from it since.  That should tell you something.  I have found myself in the past constantly switching to try one Distro or another, only to retreat to old faithful Fedora.

This time, I was 'wowed'.  You see, as far as I was concerned, Arch has a great 'unmet need'.  That is, a drop-dead easy gui installer live cd.  The Antergos devs filled this unmet need with a Python cnchi installer from which six (6) guis can be installed on top of the Arch repo system, including AUR.

Antergos cnchi installer


Antergos is not without its growing pains, mind you, but I have dealt with the transition and don't have any reason to leave the fold.

Hat's off to the Antergos Developer Team.

And, the trend continues -- now there's another installer for Arch called Architect Linux.  And 'head turner' Apricity OS just arrived.

What makes Arch great?  Most gearheads will tell you, pacman.  I will agree.

It makes the difficult simple.

My biggest fret about static package Distros like Fedora is that you cannot get the latest revisions of software until the next release cycle, which leaves one about four to six months behind.  This causes a cycle of reinstalls, clean installs, depending on the need and extra work.

Arch is 'rolling release'.  That means when any upstream software provider makes a release, your pamac-systray will turn 'red' and notify you of an update.

It's a double-edged sword of course, but I like it.  I have set up an external eSATA 'BlacX' HDD docking station and have a mountpoint added /etc/fstab for a 1TB WD HDD to do cron backup at midnight (incremental diffs using rsync with Back in Time).  Back in Time runs like a swiss watch.  And, if the need should arise with a rolling release borked update, I can quickly revert to the previous day's backup set.  My laptop is a ThinkPad T510 m560 with 8GB ddr3 ram and a crucial 1TB SSD.  It's your typical 'tank' ThinkPad.  Rock solid.  The SSD is formatted to ext4.

And, just last week, Antergos became the first Distro to release with a ZFS filesystem install option.  That blew me away.  But, I don't think it is quite ready for prime time so I think I'll wait for the bugs to shake out and have a look again in 6 months.

So, to answer the question: Has Linux changed for the better?  The answer is definitely YES.

Only, it's not necessarily the way many think.  Debian and Ubuntu are both stagnant, one bogging down the other.  Canonical Ltd. has chosen to use the gnome-software installation center.  This is somewhat of a concession in my opinion.  Unity is a 'one off' gui -- no other Distros will use it.  I gave up on it a few years ago and have never looked back.

I might give Apricity OS a spin as a virtual machine in Antergos.

That's about it.  Will be back soon.  -- Dietrich







A Debian Developer's Lament: The Devil is in the Details

Debian migration to 'Jessie' with systemd:  The Devil is in the details.


I have been warning users of Debian that this scenario would happen.

It's now incumbent on the Debian Community to fulfill their next major revision, 'Jessie' and the foregone decision was made to merge systemd despite admonitions to do otherwise.

I maintain that systemd operability is going quite well elsewhere with the majority of Distros which have long since become compliant.  Debian, being what it is, a virtual speed bump on the road to innovation, chose to delay making their decision as to whether Upstart or systemd should be used in Jessie.

And I maintain that the amount of work to migrate packages in the 40,000+ repository is daunting at best.

My prediction has been that Debian will become another casualty and will pay for their lack of timeliness and decision to remain on an 18 month release management schedule.

What will happen?  If the below diatribe from a friend of mine is any indication, Debian will take a hit in stability and its popularity will suffer greatly, particularly because of the breadth of work to fulfill might take 'years'.

Had they bitten the bullet, they could have undertaken work to merge systemd two years ago.  

Be that as it may, the measured and thoughtful opinions set forth below by +Tycho Softworks are those of a truly experienced Debian Developer.  He is just 'one' in perhaps thousands who face their own personal 'hell' in getting their product(s) to function on the platform.

One final point.  It would behoove +Mark Shuttleworth to examine this situation very carefully.  To have hitched Canonical Ltd.'s wagon to Debian is now clearly a major contingent liability.  Debian's foundation may crumble as developer's are quick to recognize the 'writing on the wall'.  It's time Ubuntu had its own independent repository.  And it would be prudent for Canonical Ltd. to make the move now to RPM a Linux Standard Base-compliant package manager.  This move would be a strong signal and help to unify Linux and reduce complexity and common denominators facing today's Linux Developer.  Mark, I hope you are reading this.

Prognosis for Jessie: Terminal.  -- Dietrich

Prognosis on 'Jessie': Terminal

[ Edit: I've appended below some additional thoughts from +Tycho Softworks which reinforce this story's relevance. -- Dietrich ]