Category Archives: Linux

It’s Banking Day at the Ranch and a Linux Live CD is in the Saddle!

I’ve maintained for years, that I treat my Windows machines as if they have already been compromised – a position that has left me open to some criticism. I’ll take the criticism – I’d rather be safe than sorry.

If you’re a regular reader of Tech Thoughts Daily Net News column then, you’re probably aware that the following items from last week (below the break), are not in the least unusual. In fact, notification of security breaches, or unpatched vulnerabilities that are weeks or months old, are now commonplace.

A legitimate question is – how likely were you to have been affected by any of the unpatched flaws – as noted below – or, the scores of similar long-standing vulnerabilities published in Tech Thoughts Daily Net News over the last few years?

I’ll grant you that “not very likely”, is a reasonable assumption. Still, the question remains – how do you know that you’re not already compromised by a yet to be disclosed vulnerability? Something to think about.

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Eight-month WordPress flaw responsible for Yahoo mail breach: Bitdefender – A cross-site scripting flaw that saw some Yahoo email users lose control of their accounts has now been traced back to a WordPress installation that was not patched for at least eight months.

Serious security holes fixed in Opera – but Mac App Store users left at risk again – It should go without saying that if you use Opera, you should update to version 12.13 as soon as possible. But… what if you didn’t get your copy of Opera from the official website? What if, instead, you acquired your version of Opera for Mac from Apple’s Mac App Store?

Symantec denies blame after Chinese govt hacks The New York Times – After one of the world’s most famous newspapers points the finger at Symantec for failing to protect its network against a four-month long Chinese cyberattack, the security firm returns fire –

Symantec:

“Turning on only the signature-based anti-virus components of endpoint solutions alone are not enough in a world that is changing daily from attacks and threats. We encourage customers to be very aggressive in deploying solutions that offer a combined approach to security.”

I found Symantec’s response more than interesting. This is the first time that I can recall, that a major security vendor has gone on record and suggested that their product, as a stand alone solution, should not be expected to identify and contain each and every conceivable threat.

I couldn’t agree more and, I have made that point consistently, for years.

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Initially, I had no intention of writing such a long introduction to a simple review – but, my continuing disappointment in the computer technology industry as a whole, whose overall response to an epidemic of criminal activity, runs along the same lines as that old time movie – Jaws – in which one of the plot lines revolves around keeping people in the water (despite the evident danger from a Great White shark) since to do otherwise, would be bad for business, got the better of me. Perhaps not the best analogy – but, it works for me.

I have a sign on the wall above my desk that reads – Bullshit in = Bullshit out. I can’t think of a more fitting epitaph for the current state of affairs in an industry rife with misinformation, misdirection, hype, and sheer outrageous bullshit.

I’m not a gloom and doom guy – but, market forces are such, that a little crystal ball gazing has convinced me that the status quo is as stable as the Rock of Gibraltar. In other words, if you want to be safe on the Internet, then accept the fact that you’re on your own.

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It’s Banking Day at the Ranch and a Linux Live CD is in the Saddle!

While connected to the Internet, just like you, I face exposure to Trojans, spyware, viruses, phishing scams, identity theft, scam artists, schemers and cyber crooks lurking in the shadows, just waiting to make me a victim. Even so, the odds of me picking up a malware infection, or being scammed, are fairly low. Am I just lucky, or is it more than that?

To some extent I might be lucky – but, it takes much more than luck to stay safe on the Internet. For me – it really boils down to prevention. Preventing cybercriminals from getting a foothold by being vigilant and adhering scrupulously to fundamental security precautions, including –

A fully patched operating system.

A robust firewall.

Automatically updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

Increased Internet Browser protection through selected add-ons.

Encryption where necessary.

and, most importantly never forgetting toStop. Think. Click.

Despite all those security precautions though, there’s one connected activity that still concerns me – online banking. Regardless of the fact that I choose my Internet banking provider based partially on it’s low profile, I’m not entirely relying on this low profile as a guarantee that cybercriminals will not target my provider.

The inescapable fact remains; I am my own best protection while conducting financial transactions on the Internet. Frankly, I’m not convinced that financial institutions are where they need to be when it comes to protecting their online customers.

Despite my best efforts, it’s possible that malicious code may be installed on my computer – ready to pounce on my banking user account names, and passwords. Which is why, I have long made it a practice to conduct my financial affairs on the Internet via a self-booting Linux Live CD. Since a Linux Live CD is read-only media, the environment (running entirely in RAM), should be more secure than Windows.

I’m not suggestion that Linux systems are impervious to malware (I know better than to make that claim) – but, since the majority of malware is Windows specific, banking online through a Linux Live CD should offer a more secure environment.

If you can click a mouse – then, you’re good to go. It’s that easy. Today’s Linux distros are not your Granny’s Linux.

I’m not suggesting that you replace your Windows operating system and jump with both feet into Linux. That’s impractical. What is not impractical however is – running with Linux on those occasions when you do your Internet banking.

Recommended Linux Live CDs:

Puppy Linux – A complete operating system with suite of GUI apps, only about 70 – 140MB, and boots directly off the CD. I should point out that Puppy is my personal favorite.

Damn Small LinuxDamn Small Linux is a very versatile 50MB mini desktop oriented Linux distribution.

Fedora – Fedora is a fast, stable, and powerful operating system for everyday use built by a worldwide community of friends. It’s completely free to use, study, and share.

Ubuntu – Fast, secure and easy-to-use.

Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) – A Linux distro from the US Department of Defense. Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) creates a secure end node from trusted media on almost any Intel-based computer (PC or Mac). LPS boots a thin Linux operating system from a CD or USB flash stick without mounting a local hard drive.

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, downloads, Linux, Live CDs, Online Banking

Bite Back Against Banking Bandits With Puppy Linux

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Woof, Woof! That’s the sound of Puppy Linux as it starts. A good sound as it turns out; it reminds me as to why I’ve just booted my computer from this amazing little Linux distro – safety, security, and a substantially increased chance that I’ll hang onto the paltry funds in my bank accounts.

Puppy Linux is not a one trick pony – although, I tend to use it for one thing only (at the moment) – Online Banking. More on this in a moment*.

This is a very well trained Puppy:

Easy – Just use a CD or USB flash to boot a PC. Puppy Linux is downloadable as ISO, an image that can be burned to CD or DVD.

Fast – Because Puppy is small, it can live in your PC’s memory and be ready to quickly execute your commands, whereas in other systems, programs are first read from drive storage before being executed.

Save Money – Even if your PC has no hard disk (ex, broken hard disk), you can still boot Puppy via CD or USB and continue working. Old PCs that no longer work with new systems will still work good-as-new with Puppy.

Do More – Puppy boots in less than a minute, even in old PCs, and it does not require antivirus software. Administering Puppy is quick and minimal. With Puppy, you just have to take care of your data, which you can easily save to USB flash (Then forget about your operating system!). Your data can be read by other computers.

Do Magic – Help your friends suffering from computer malware by booting Puppy and removing malware from their PC (use antivirus that is built-in or can be installed in Puppy). Example – bad Autorun.inf is easily removed by Puppy (Just delete it as well as its companion exe program). If your friend thinks that she has lost data from her corrupted hard disk, boot Puppy and try saving her data!

Carry Anywhere (Portable) – Because Puppy is able to live in CD/DVD or USB flash, as well as save data to these same devices, you can carry your programs and data with you.

The Puppy Desktop – Not flashy; not eye candy – but functional and efficient.

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In the following illustration, I’ve clicked on the Browser icon (SeaMonkey is the native Browser), to open this site. I considered showing my online banking connection – in a moment of madness.   Smile

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*Not to be argumentative – wait, I will be argumentative. The Internet, and its related technologies (connected devices, and so on), has become a massive playground for outrageous hype and sheer BS. It’s like listening to a used car salesman. Nowhere, is this more evident than in the orbit of security technology.

Outrageous claims of “total protection” based on stale data; ranking security suites as if # 1 was truly more effective than # 2……

As if the premise is – system security is a static environment in which knowledgeable users operate in their own best interests.

As if cybercriminals are sitting still, and not releasing highly sophisticated attacks on a daily basis.

As if application vulnerabilities are not discovered virtually on a daily basis.

So, am I being argumentative just for the sake of it? Not bloody likely.

Qualys Inc. releases a Consensus Security Vulnerability Alert @RISK Newsletter on a weekly basis (to which I subscribe), that sets out the most recent vulnerabilities for which exploits are available in the cybercrime marketplace.

Here’s a small sampling of the latest –

Title: Trojan uses new C&C obfuscation technique
Description: The Polish CERT has observed a new Trojan spreading in the
wild via a number of different social media techniques. While not
particularly novel in that regard, this particular piece of malware is
interesting in the way that it contacts its command and control servers.
Instead of using the address provided in a DNS query response, the
malware takes that value and transforms it into a different IP address,
which is then used to contact the C&C. This technique, if it becomes
widespread, has interesting implications for malware detection at the
network level.

Title: Symantec PcAnywhere 12.5.0 Login and Password Field Buffer Overflow
Vendor: Symantec
Description: The host-services component in Symantec pcAnywhere 12.5.x
through 12.5.3, and IT Management Suite pcAnywhere Solution 7.0 (aka
12.5.x) and 7.1 (aka 12.6.x), does not properly filter login and
authentication data, which allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary
code via a crafted session on TCP port 5631.

Title: Banking trojan spreading via phishing attacks
Description: The Sourcefire VRT has discovered a new Trojan being
dropped on users via a large-scale UPS-themed phishing attack. The
Trojan, which attempts to steal credentials for several major financial
institutions
, also drops other malicious binaries on the infected
system. Its C&C communications are of particular interest, as its
authors chose to use the hexadecimal string “0xDEADBEEF” – which is
commonly used by attackers and researchers alike as a way to follow user
input through system memory – as a protocol marker of sorts.

Note: input through system memory.

It’s this last type of vulnerability (though not exclusively), which drives my need to logon to my banking site via a self-booting Linux Live CD – in this case – Puppy Linux. Since Puppy is read-only media, the environment (running entirely in RAM), will be much more secure than Windows.

Yes, I admit that it’s a pain (occasionally) to shut down and reboot just to complete an online financial transaction but, I’d rather be safe than sorry – I’m into an ounce of prevention.

Since the majority of malware is Windows specific, banking online through a Linux Live CD is my ounce of prevention. It should be yours as well.

Minimum Hardware Requirements for Puppy Linux 4.2.1:

500MHZ processor
128MB RAM
512MB free hard drive space to create an optional save file
No hard drive required to boot a Live Disc.
CD-ROM any speed

Download at: Puppy Linux

More information is available on the publisher’s site.

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Filed under Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Freeware, Linux, Live CDs, Online Banking, Open Source

Rip Your Commercial DVDs With Free MakeMKV Beta

imageCDs and DVDs are not indestructible – they seem to attract scratches, cracks and sticky fingers – at least around here. As a result, I’ve developed the habit of backing-up my DVDs by ripping them to a Hard Drive – and often, to additional storage devices. This, despite the fact that it’s generally prohibited by laws that protect the “Greed Is Us”  entertainment industry. An industry which has been slow to react to changing technologies.

As I see it – it’s my Disc – I paid for it. If I buy something, it becomes mine. As for the law – I don’t give a rat’s ass what this particular law says. I will not be coerced by a government that holds a clumsy club over my head to protect an industry which continually shows little regard for the paying customer.

Since the majority of commercial DVDs are protected by a digital lock – CSS, CPRM, or AACS – should you decide, that it’s appropriate to safeguard your investment in commercial media – you’ll need a format converter capable of decrypting, and preserving, the media content.

MakeMKV is the best one-click free solution to convert owned video that I’ve found, to date. This is a very impressive application – straightforward, and easy to run –  even for a relatively new computer user.

A quick walkthrough:

For this post, I’ve chosen to backup one Disc from my collection of the HBO series – The Pacific – a 10 part series which cost me $90 – including tax. So yes, given the cost involved, I feel more than justified in protecting my investment.

Any of the following screen captures can be expanded to the original, by clicking.

On application launch, you’ll see the following. Be sure to expand the menu from which you’ll have an opportunity to select a variety of customizing options. Then click on “Make MKV” and……

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sit back and relax.

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Converting video is time intensive and your CPU will get a real workout. In this test, the job took approximately 30 minutes to complete.

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The following screen shot shows the save location, and the relative sizes of the files. The first title – “00” represents the first episode. Similarly, the second title “01” represents the second episode from the DVD. Title “02” represents both episodes combined. Additional content from the DVD is also noted.

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Finally, I’ve included the following screen captures in order to give you an idea of the just how perfectly MakeMKV has completed the task. BTW, VLC Media Player is my preferred application for running media on a PC. It is an outstanding application which offers a huge range of control functions. For example – if, I had forgotten to uncheck “Subtitles” while processing this test task – no big deal. VLC Media Player provides an option to “not show” subtitles while running.

Running in a Window.

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Running in full screen

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MKV File Format Fast Facts:

MKV is open and free. No one holds patents or licenses and anyone can implement it freely. As a result nearly every software player and many hardware devices support it. The best software players out there ( VLC, MPlayer ) have full MKV support and are absolutely free.

MKV files do not have evil features attached.

You can play them on any capable hardware. No need for HDCP-certified video card or any “trusted” environment.

You can copy them to your laptop and watch anytime, even if your laptop lacks DVD or Blu-ray drive, or any drive whatsoever.

One file is one title. If you don’t want to watch dozen trailers before the movie, you don’t have to. And fast forward button always works, too.

There are no restrictions where to play the file. There are no region-based restrictions. You have control over the content you’ve paid for.

MKV files are easy to change. Want to remove unneeded audio track from the file? Thought about converting MPEG-2 video into H264 to make the file 5 times smaller? All of it can be easily done with free software.

MKV files are compact. For exactly the same content MKV files are about 10% smaller than DVD files and roughly 40% smaller than Blu-ray files.

System requirements: Windows Vista, XP, Win 7 (tested here on Win 8), Intel-based Mac OS X 10.5 and above, and Linux.

Download at: MakeMKV

Restrictions you need to know:

Program is time-limited — it will stop functioning after 60 days. You can always download the latest version from makemkv.com that will reset the expiration date.

MakeMKV is currently still in beta and during the beta phase it will rip both DVD and Blu-ray for free. However, the DVD ripping functionality will always remain free.

After 30 days if you want to continue ripping Blu-ray discs, you’ll need to purchase a license.

HD-DVD support is limited – some discs may fail to open and not all audio and subtitle tracks will be preserved.

Blu-ray and DVD discs are fully supported.

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Filed under Beta Software, Digital Media, downloads, Freeware, Linux, Mac OS X

Zorin Linux OS – The Look And Feel Of Windows 7

imageThere was a time, when Linux was crazy difficult to install and run on a PC. Those days are long gone, and running Linux, in various flavors, couldn’t get much easier. Average users simple want to point and click, and Linux based operating systems, by and large, allow them to do just that.

There’s no doubt that Windows and Linux are not the same operating system under the hood. But, average users don’t look under the hood of an OS – not in Windows – not in Linux.

Having worked with Windows 8, Developer Edition, since its release date –  I can assure you, running Linux (with the small initial differences from Windows), is a snap compared to the effort needed to rethink virtually every move in Windows 8. I say this, not because I’m down on Windows 8 (it has its place, and under the hood, there are substantial improvements), but, because I’m “up” on Linux.

I’ve been running dual boot systems for years – various flavors of Windows, and various flavors of Linux. With good reason – I wouldn’t, for example, do my online banking in any OS other than Linux. So, I’m comfortable with the idea that I can offer my opinion on how “hard” or how “easy” it is, to run with Linux.

Installing a Linux distro to run side-by-side with Windows (no partitioning required), is dead easy – and, on Startup, you’ll have a choice as to what OS to boot. It’s been my experience that Linux generally boots 2/3 times faster than Windows.

So, having said all that – let me introduce you to Zorin OS – a Ubuntu based Linux distro – which is built around an intuitive point and click user interface  -similar in layout, and function, to Windows 7.

If you would feel more comfortable with a Windows XP look – no problem. Zorin’s built-in Look Changer lets you change your desktop to look and act like either Windows 7, Windows XP, or a straight Linux look.

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Take a peek at the following graphics from the developer – I think you’ll be impressed.

Zorin OS runs on various platforms

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Start Menu

Start Menu expanded.

Desktop cube

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Multimedia applications running

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Look Changer

Software center

Fast facts:

Top-notch security – Thanks to Zorin OS’s immunity to Windows viruses you will never have to worry about them. Zorin OS also comes with integrated firewall software to keep your system extra safe. When a potential security threat arises, software updates usually come within a matter of hours through the Update Manager.

Easy to use, familiar desktop – The main goal of Zorin OS is to give Windows users easy access to Linux. That is why Zorin OS incorporates the familiar Windows 7-like interface by default, to dramatically reduce the learning curve of this system while still experiencing the main advantages of Linux.

Out-of-the-box software solution – From the versatile LibreOffice suite to the feature-packed OpenShot video editor, it’s got it all. Zorin OS is sure to facilitate all of your everyday tasks such as web browsing, document creation, social networking, making videos, chatting with your friends and beyond, all without having to install anything.

Software Galore – If the pre-installed software isn’t enough for your requirements there is no need to worry about it. Zorin OS comes with the Software Center which allows users to download and install tens of thousands of free programs. All you have to do is open the Software Center from the start menu, find a program which you want and click Install. You can even install Windows programs on Zorin OS in a similar way with PlayOnLinux.

Compatibility – Nearly every file that you use with your current operating system will work perfectly in Zorin OS with no need for additional setup. All your office documents, music, videos, pictures etc. will work out of the box in Zorin OS. Zorin OS also supports a large library of devices such as printers, scanners, cameras, keyboards. These devices will work as soon as you plug them in without the need for installing additional drivers.

Flexibility – Zorin OS gives users more flexibility. It allows you to use Zorin OS alongside your current operating system. While you install Zorin OS to your computer you have the option to keep your current operating system alongside Zorin OS and choose which one to load on start-up.

Zorin Internet Browser Manager – The default web browser in Zorin OS is Google Chrome. For those who want to use other web browsers, we have included our exclusive program called the Zorin Internet Browser Manager which makes installing and uninstalling web browsers simple and quick.

Social from the start – Zorin OS has been built with you in mind so staying in touch with your friends easily was a large aspect of building Zorin OS. The Me Menu lets you access your Facebook and Twitter accounts straight from the desktop. You can connect to all your favorite chat channels and make updates through a single window with Gwibber. Instant Messaging chat with Empathy is super simple. Quickly integrate your chat accounts from Facebook Chat, Yahoo, Google Talk, MSN, Jabber, AIM, QQ and many other sources and start talking.

Minimum system requirements:

700 MHz x86 processor
3GB of Hard Drive space
376 MB of system memory (RAM)
Graphics card capable of 640×480 resolution
Sound card

Downloads: both 32 bit and 64 bit.

The Core, Lite and Educational versions, are available to download for free from the Free download page.

The Premium versions (Business, Gaming, Multimedia and Ultimate), are available in exchange for a donation on the Premium page for a physical DVD, or a download.

I’ve been running with Zorin OS on and off – from a bootable DVD – for the last several months and, I must say – I’ve been very impressed.

I pointed out earlier – “It’s been my experience that Linux generally boots 2/3 times faster than Windows”. This is not the case when running from a DVD. Should you decide to go this route, you will encounter a much slower response than an installation will provide.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Alternatives to Windows, downloads, Freeware, Linux, Operating Systems

Free Linux Live USB Creator – Run Or Boot Linux From A Flash Drive

imageIf you’re looking for a painless way to run Linux without having installed any one of 200+ distributions to your Hard Drive, or without having to boot from a Live CD, then open source Linux Live USB Creator could be the perfect tool. In a very simple process, Linux Live USB Creator will install any one of a huge range of Linux distributions to a USB drive.

After installing your chosen Linux distribution, either from an existing ISO on your HD, or exercising the option to download an ISO through Linux Live USB Creator, you will have several available options.

Option 1 –  Run LinuxLive USB directly within Windows in a virtual environment.

Option 2 – Boot directly from the LinuxLive USB key.

The following screen captures illustrate how a previously complex process has been streamlined, so that a competent average user should be able to breeze through the installation. For this review, I installed PCLinux from an ISO, previously stored on my HD, to an 8 GB Flash Drive.

Launching Linux Live USB Creator will take you to a colorful, “follow the bouncing ball” simple interface.

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In less than 5 minutes the process is complete and I’m off to the races!

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Well, sort of. In fact, immediately upon installation completion, you will be taken to the developer’s site for a quick heads-up on using Linux Live USB Creator.

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As per the developer’s instructions, using Windows Explorer, I navigated to the newly installed VirtualBox folder on the USB drive, clicked on Virtualize_This_Key.exe, and sat back as PCLinux launched inside Windows in VirtualBox.

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Now, how cool is that! No fuss, no muss, no knowledge of running a virtual system required.

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As stated earlier, you have a huge selection of Linux distros to choose from. For this review I choose PCLinux since I had it hanging around on my HD – one of those “I’ll get to it when I can” downloads.

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Fast facts:

Free and Open-source – LinuxLive USB Creator is a completely free and open-source software for Windows only. It has been built with simplicity in mind and it can be used by anyone.

No reboot needed – Are you sick of having to reboot your PC to try Linux? No need with LinuxLive USB Creator. It has a built-in virtualization feature that lets you run your Linux within Windows just out of the box!

Supports many Linux distributions – Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, OpenSUSE, Mint, Slax, CentOS, ArchLinux, Gentoo, PCLinuxOS, Sabayon, BackTrack, Puppy Linux …

Persistence – Having a Live USB key is better than just using a Live CD because you can even save your data and install software. This feature is called persistence (available only on selected Linux).

SmartClean & SmartDownload – SmartClean uninstalls properly any previous Live USB installations and SmartDownload lets you download any supported Linux in 2 clicks automatically selecting the best mirror to download from. SmartClean also lets you clean your USB key in 1 click.

Intelligent processing – LiLi works with many Linux, even if they are not officially supported.

Hidden installation – LiLi hides the Linux installation, your USB key stays clean.

File integrity – tells you if your ISO is corrupted.

Keeps your data on your USB device.

Intelligent formatting – can format disks bigger than 32 GB.

Auto-update – automatic updates when new Linux distributions are available.

System requirements: Windows 7, Vista, XP

Download at: Linux Live USB

User’s Guide – This tutorial will show you how to create a Linux Live USB very easily.

Tested on Windows 8 (developer).

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Filed under downloads, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Linux, Live CDs, Open Source, Operating Systems, Portable Applications, Software, USB, Virtualization, Windows 8, Windows Tips and Tools

Is Linux Only For Techies?

Currently, I’m running a dual boot system – Windows 8 Developer and Ubuntu Linux – so much for the rumor that Microsoft has locked out dual booting Linux on Windows 8.

In fact, I’ve been running dual boot systems for years – various flavors of Windows, and Linux. I wouldn’t, for example, do my online banking in any OS other than Linux. So, I’m comfortable with the idea that I can offer my opinion on how “hard” or how “easy” it is, to run with Linux.

I like to think that my opinion is an “educated” opinion. An opinion based on long term usage and direct observation. So, it definitely burns my ass when I read fluff from Windows bloggers who pass judgment on Linux and who, without the benefit of personal knowledge, go into a “let’s trash Linux” mode.

In 30+ years of real world computing,  I have met only a handful of techies who have an accurate understanding of how a typical user computes – how a typical user experiences computing. An understanding based on – here’s that terrible word again – observation.

Instead, the “I just know” phrase, as to how a typical user computes, is often offered in place of evidence based opinion. A follow up query such as “OK, but HOW do you know?”, invariably leads to a shake of the head and an “I just know that’s all” rapid response.

This throwaway response puts me in mind of the years I spent in management consulting, when a “how would your customers rate your service delivery” query for example, would invariably be met with a “Oh hey – terrific, terrific”, comeback.

We’ll skip ahead to  the inevitable “How do you know?”, and I’m sure you can guess the answer – “we just know”. More often than not, a series of customer centric focus groups would reveal that a company had a massively misplaced perception of how customers really viewed service delivery. I refer to this only to illustrate the point that perception does not always line up with reality – despite the often quoted “perception is reality”.

One particular “I just know” statement, I hear repeatedly from fellow techies is – Linux is only for techies. But, is it? Nor from where I sit it’s not. I suspect that this fallacy is based on (amongst a host of misperceptions), the mistaken view that Linux is primarily a command line driven operating system. Something it decidedly is not.

Sure, if a user is a command line fanatic in Windows (as a DOS 1 veteran, I understand the attraction), then that preference can easily be carried over into Linux. But, that’s not how a typical user interacts with an operating system – not in Windows and not in Linux.

Ubuntu Linux for example, is built around an intuitive point and click user interface which is similar in layout, and function, to Windows – including Windows XP. Certainly more instinctive, and vastly more functional, than the new Windows 8 Metro GUI shown below.

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To be fair – the classic Windows Desktop is accessible through the Metro GUI in Windows 8. Here’s a screenshot of my classic Desktop running in Windows 8.

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Contrast the Windows Desktop shown above, with the following OLD Linux Desktop layout (March 2007). Point and click simple – similar in layout and functionality to the previously shown Windows Desktop.

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Here are a couple of Ubuntu Desktops I currently run. Simple, functional, and efficient.

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Alternative Linux Desktops are readily available, so that a transition to a Linux based operating system can be more or less, a seamless move for an average user. Admittedly, there are some issues new Linux users will encounter in making a change from Windows. But, these are essentially “where do I click” issues – not issues that require techie based skills.

A number of alternative Desktops are shown below.

Enlightenment

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Fluxbox

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KDE

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There’s no doubt Windows and Linux are not the same operating system under the hood. But, average users don’t look under the hood of an OS – not in Windows – not in Linux.

Average users simple want to point and click, and Linux based operating systems, by and large, allow them to do just that. To propose otherwise is disingenuous and suggests an uninformed basis for comparison.

If you’d like to get an handle on just how easy it is to run Ubuntu, you can download Ubuntu and run it alongside your current Windows system – just as if it was a normal Windows application. It’s a fabulous way to get a taste of Linux. Did I mention that it’s free?

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29 Comments

Filed under 64 Bit Software, downloads, Freeware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Ubuntu, Windows 8

Download Miro – An HD Open Source Internet TV Platform And So Much More

imageThere continues to be much discussion in Tech media circles, on the benefits of  getting rid of expensive Cable TV where prices seem to be skyrocketing (I just got another $2 a month bump this week), and focusing instead on the multiple alternatives which the Internet now supports.

Given that your computer screen is, in reality, a high-definition display, you can easily enjoy Internet sourced videos in HD full screen. Pretty neat – especially if you have a wide screen LCD display.

Miro (last updated August 16, 2011), is a free (open source), Internet TV platform and Video Player (and so much more), that can certainly even out your path in breaking your reliance on Cable TV – and, the costs that go with it. Miro, in fact, might well be the perfect tool to help with your transition.

In my view, Miro is one of the most underappreciated open source applications available on the Internet. It never fails to amaze me how less deserving “media players”, which are often hyped to the max, can generate more downloads than this superb application.

Not only can Miro play virtually any video in HD, including, QuickTime, WMV, MPEG, AVI, and XVID, but on top of that this application, which sports major changes from previous editions, is effectively a media management center.  I must admit, I was more than a little surprised at how effective Miro is in this role.

For example, the application quickly, smoothly, and effectively, located my music files after prompting me to select a search path. Playback controls are typical and playlists are easily created.

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The core of the program however, is the well designed video features including built-in Torrent download capabilities.

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In the following example I downloaded a 1.4 GB movie using the Torrent client. The test torrent download  took full advantage of my Internet settings – 1.7 MB per second.

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Playback of the downloaded file was a bit of a treat really. Definitely HD; smooth; quality sound.

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Additional features include the ability to sync media to multiple devices –  including Android phones and tablets. Better yet, Miro will even convert video files to the right format to play on your phone.

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Getting the application just right to meet your specific needs, using the Settings menu is straightforward and uncomplicated.

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Fast facts:

Works with your current music library – It’s very easy to switch from iTunes to Miro– without any copying. Just point Miro to your music and video folders and those files will appear. If you don’t like Miro (impossible!), nothing’s changed.

Converts and syncs to Android – You’d have to be crazy to use a music player that doesn’t sync to your phone. Miro is simply the best music and video player for Android phones and tablets.

Download and play almost any video – Do you still use separate programs to download, play music, play videos, and sync to your phone? Miro plays almost any video or music format and downloads from YouTube, podcasts, Amazon, and bittorrent.

Convert any video – You can convert almost any video with Miro into mp4/h264, with presets for almost any device you can think of (including iPhones, iPods, iPads, Android phones, and more).

Share Your Media on your Network – When two Miro’s are on the same Wi-Fi network, they can stream and transfer music and videos to each other. It’s the easiest way to watch a video or play music upstairs if the file is downstairs.

Ultra-fast torrent downloading – Miro has some of the fastest bittorrent downloading in the world, built in. Try us head-to-head with any bittorrent application!

Open-source – don’t lock yourself in – Unlike some other media players, Miro is not trying to run your life. Not only is Miro 100% free and open-source, it’s made by a non-profit organization. You don’t need to be locked down by one corporation to have a great media experience.

Buy Music and Apps inside Miro – The Amazon MP3 store is built-in to Miro. Buy, download, and listen, seamlessly. Buy Android apps from the Amazon or Google app stores and they will sync to your device.

There are many more features in Miro that can be quickly covered in a short review. I haven’t, for example, covered the easy way to stream and share music and video on your local/home network, using Miro. Checkout the publisher’s features page.

This program continues to receive high praise from video geeks, and it’s worth considering as an addition to your entertainment applications.

System requirements: Windows 7, Vista, XP, Mac, Linux. (I have not tested this application in 64 bit – but, I understand 64 bit support is available).

Download at: Miro

User Manual for Miro 4.0 (last updated June 30, 2011), available here.

A caveat: During the install process, pay particular attention so that you don’t install items you may not want (Yahoo Toolbar/homepage) .

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Digital Media, downloads, Freeware, High Definition Video Players, Internet TV, Linux, Mac OS X, Media Players, Multimedia Tools, Open Source, Software, Video Apps, Windows Tips and Tools