Category Archives: Ubuntu

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

Secure Your Online Banking With A Linux Live CD

imageWhile 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 low  – not 0% but…… Am I just lucky, or is it more than that?

Well, 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

An aggressive HIPS (host intrusion prevention system).

Increased Internet Browser protection through selected add-ons.

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 its low profile (four branches as opposed to the usual 3,000/5,000 branches common in Canadian banking), 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 (though unlikely), 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 running Firefox. Since a Linux Live CD 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 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.

Recommended Linux Live CDs:

Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) – A Linux distro from the US Department of Defense.

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

Puppy Linux – A complete operating system with suite of GUI apps, only about 70 – 140MB, and boots directly off the CD.

KNOPPIX – Live Linux file system on CD.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Cyber Crime, Cyber Criminals, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety Tools, Linux, Live CDs, Malware Protection, Online Banking, Software, System Security, Ubuntu

Clean Up With Click&Clean Firefox and Chrome Extension

imageIf there’s one thing regular readers here seem to agree on it’s – CCleaner is an awesome application. You can count me in the “awesome application” appreciation group. This free system cleaner is still my “go to” application for simple system cleanup.

CCleaner users know, that running this venerable utility can help keep a system clean by emptying the Recycle Bin, Temporary Setup Files, Downloaded Program Files, Temporary Internet Files, Old Chkdsk Files, Temporary Files, Temporary Offline Files, Offline Files, and more.

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Generally, I would run CCleaner once a day – if I could remember to do so. I’ve now discovered a “no need to remember” way to launch CCleaner automatically, whenever I close my Browsers – either Firefox, or Chrome.

Click&Clean is a free Firefox and Chrome extension which not only does a major cleanup job on Browser activity in its own right (see fast facts), but the application can be set to launch CCleaner automatically (for a deeper and more secure cleaning), on Browser shut down. Additional external applications (rather than CCleaner), which can be set to run automatically include – Wise Disk Cleaner Free, Computer Janitor, and BleachBit.

Setup is simple and straightforward. From within the options menu, you can choose which external application you wish to run.

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For convenience, you can add an extension icon to the Browser’s navigation Toolbar, as illustrated below.

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Fast facts:

Delete your browsing history
Clear records from your download history
Remove cookies and Empty cache
Delete temporary files
Remove Flash Local Shared Objects (LSO)
Delete private data when Firefox closes
Automatically close all windows/tabs
Clean up your hard drives and Free up more disk space – including secure file deletion
Launch external applications, like CCleaner, Wise Disk Cleaner etc. on Windows – or Janitor, BleachBit, etc. on Linux

System requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Linux, Mac

Download the Firefox version at: Mozilla

Download the Chrome version at: The Chrome Web store

The Chrome version has several additional features not available in the Firefox version.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, Browser Plug-ins, Browsers, Chrome Add-ons, downloads, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Google Chrome, Linux, Mac, Software, Ubuntu, Windows Tips and Tools

Download Miro HD Video Player – Sync Your Media To Multiple Devices And A Whole Lot More!

imageThere’s been much discussion lately, in Tech media circles, on the benefits of  getting rid of expensive Cable TV, where prices seem to be skyrocketing, and focusing instead on the multiple alternatives which the Internet now provides.

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 May 20th, 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.

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 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 Connected Devices, Digital Media, downloads, Easy Computer Networking, File Sharing, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet TV, iPhone, Linux, Mac, Media Player Replacement, Media Players, Multimedia Tools, Release Candidate, Software, Ubuntu, Video Players, Video Tools, Windows Tips and Tools

Use Free Prey To Track Your Lost Or Stolen Laptop Or Cell Phone

imageRecent statistics indicate that more than 10,000 Laptops are lost, or stolen, each week at U.S. airports alone. Broken down, this same set of statistics indicate that a Laptop is stolen, not lost but stolen, every 53 seconds!

If you are a Laptop owner, you should consider what can you do now, to increase the probability that should your Laptop be lost or stolen, you can increase the chances that it will be returned to you.

One solution is offered by Prey, an Open Source application, that can enhance recovery chances. Stolen Laptop recovery is always a hit and miss proposition, but without an application such as Prey on board, the chances of recovery, at least statistically, are virtually nil.

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What is Prey?

Prey is a small applet for your Laptop or Android Cell Phone, which, when activated by a remote signal, either from the Internet, or through an SMS message, will provide you with the device’s location, hardware and network status, and optionally – trigger specific actions on the device.

According to the developer – “Prey helps you track and find your Laptop or Phone if it ever gets out of sight. You can quickly find out what the thief looks like, what he’s doing on your device and actually where he’s hiding by using GPS or WiFi geopositioning. It’s payback time.”

There have been substantial changes and improvements to Prey, since I last reviewed it here on January 28, 2010.

Installation is very simple, as the following screen captures indicate. BTW, Prey can protect your desktop/s, as well.

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Fast facts:

100% geolocation aware – Prey uses either the device’s GPS or the nearest WiFi hotspots to triangulate and grab a fix on its location. It’s shockingly accurate.

Wifi autoconnect – If enabled, Prey will attempt to hook onto to the nearest open WiFi hotspot when no Internet connection is found.

Light as a feather – Prey has very few dependencies and doesn’t even leave a memory footprint until activated. We care as much as you do.

Know your enemy – Take a picture of the thief with your laptop’s webcam so you know what he looks like and where he’s hiding. Powerful evidence.

Watch their movements – Grab a screenshot of the active session — if you’re lucky you may catch the guy logged into his email or Facebook account!

Keep your data safe – Hide your Outlook or Thunderbird data and optionally remove your stored passwords, so no one will be able to look into your stuff.

No unauthorized access – Fully lock down your PC, making it unusable unless a specific password is entered. The guy won’t be able to do a thing!

Scan your hardware – Get a complete list of your PC’s CPU, motherboard, RAM, and BIOS information. Works great when used with Active Mode.

Prey can check its current version and automagically fetch and update itself, so you don’t need to manually reinstall each time.

You monitor your devices on Prey’s web Control Panel, where you can watch new reports arrive and manage specific settings, such as changing the frequency for reports and actions.

You can add up to three devices for free, and can optionally upgrade to a Pro Account in case you wish to bypass this limit.

Full auto updater.

System requirements: XP, Vista, Win 7, Mac OS, Ubuntu Linux, Linux – all other distributions, (64 bit where appropriate), Android.

There is no guarantee that even with Prey on board that a stolen, or lost device, will be recovered – but, it seems sensible to make every effort to increase that likelihood.

Download at: The Prey Project

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Android, cell phone, Cloud Computing Applications, Connected Devices, downloads, Free Surveillance Applications, Freeware, GPS, Interconnectivity, Laptop recovery, Linux, Mac OS X, Open Source, Software, Ubuntu, Utilities, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP

LimeWire Is Dead – Long Live FrostWire!

If you visit the official LimeWire website, you will, no doubt, be surprised to see the following message –  “This is an official notice that LimeWire is under a court-ordered injunction to stop distributing and supporting its file-sharing software. Downloading or sharing copyrighted content without authorization is illegal.”

The Recording Industry Association of America which represents the recording industry distributors in the United States, has struck once again in its aggressive battle to combat what it defines as copyright infringement. While I’m not a supporter of copyright infringement, I do consider RIIA’s tactics not far removed from those that were once employed by the Spanish Inquisition. Heavy handed – to say the least.

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Unfortunately, if you were a LimeWire user you’ve noticed that searching, downloading, uploading, file sharing and so on, are no longer available. But, don’t despair – there are other solutions. Maybe now is the time to take a close look at a LimeWire alternative – FrostWire.

FrostWire (newest version: 4.21), released September 29, 2010, is a free, open source Peer to Peer application which incorporates all of the now dead LimeWire’s functionality, as well as a number of the features of the old LimeWire Pro – including multi-threading downloads, and Turbo-Charged connections.

To insure broad appeal, FrostWire is a multi platform program running on Windows 7, Vista, XP, 2000, NT, Mac OS X 10.4 or later, Linux, and some flavors of Unix.

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Fast facts:

Open-source

Firewall-to-firewall transfers

Built-in community chat

Connects to more sources

Creative commons license support

Broadband network connection

Junk result filters

Turbo-Charged download speeds

iTunes integration

Gnutella support

BitTorrent support

Proxy Support

If P2P file sharing is one of your interests, then you’ll find that this program, with its highly intuitive interface, should meet all of your needs. With almost 30 Million downloads on CNET alone, calling this application “very popular” is a bit of an understatement.

System requirements: Windows 7, Windows 2000, Windows Vista, Windows NT, Windows XP, Mac OS X 10.5 or later, Linux, Unix such as Solaris.

Additional requirements: Java Runtime Environment 1.6

Download at: FrostWire.com

Note: Consider the trade-offs, and the very real risks involved in Peer to Peer file sharing.

Privacy: When you are connected to file-sharing programs, you may unintentionally allow others to copy confidential files you did not intend to share. So be sure to setup the file-sharing software very carefully.

If you don’t check the proper settings when you install the software, you could allow access not just to the files you intend to share, but also to other information on your hard drive, such as your tax returns, email messages, medical records, photos, and other personal and financial documents.

It’s extremely important to be aware of the files that you place in, or download to, your shared folder. Don’t put information in your shared folder that you don’t want to share with others. Your shared folder is the folder that is shared automatically with others on peer to peer file sharing networks.

Copyright Issues: You may knowingly, or otherwise, download material that is protected by copyright laws and find yourself caught up in legal issues. Copyright infringement can result in significant monetary damages, fines, and even criminal penalties.

Some statistics suggest as many as 70% of young people between the ages of 9 – 14, regularly download copyrighted digital music. If you are a parent, you bear the ultimate responsibility for this illegal activity.

Adult Content: Again, if you are a parent you may not be aware that their children have downloaded file-sharing software on the family computer, (Susan Naulls), and that they may have exchanged games, videos, music, pornography, or other material that may be unsuitable for them. It’s not unusual for other peoples’ files to be mislabeled and you or your children can unintentionally download these files.

Spyware: There’s a good chance that the file-sharing program you’re using has installed other software known as spyware to your computer’s operating system. Spyware monitors a user’s browsing habits and then sends that data to third parties. Frequently the user gets ads based on the information that the spyware has collected and forwarded to these third parties.

I can assure you that spyware can be difficult to detect and remove. Before you use any file-sharing program, you should buy, or download free software, that can help prevent the downloading or installation of spyware, or help to detect it on your hard drive if it has been installed.

Viruses: Use and update your anti-virus software regularly. Files you download could be mislabeled, hiding a virus or other unwanted content. Use anti-virus software to protect your computer from viruses you might pick up from other users through the file-sharing program.

Generally, your virus filter should prevent your computer from receiving possibly destructive files. While downloading, you should avoid files with extensions such as .exe, .scr, .lnk, .bat, .vbs, .dll, .bin, and .cmd.

Default Closing Behavior: It is critical that you close your connection after you have finished using the software. In some instances, closing the file-sharing program window does not actually close your connection to the network. That allows file-sharing to continue and will increase your security risk. Be sure to turn off this feature in the programs “preferences” setting.

What’s more, some file-sharing programs automatically run every time you turn on your computer. As a preventive measure, you should adjust the file-sharing program’s controls to prevent the file-sharing program from automatically starting.

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Filed under downloads, Freeware, FrostWire, Interconnectivity, Open Source, Peer to Peer, Software, Ubuntu, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP

Secure Browser – A Sandboxed Firefox 3.6

image Controlling malware intrusion, while surfing the Net, through the use of a ‘”virtual” environment, rather than operating in a “real” environment, continues to make sense given the level of cyber criminal activity on the Internet.

In the last few months we’ve looked primarily at operating system virtualization – Shadow Defender, Returnil Virtual System, Wondershare Time Freeze, and a number of other similar applications. But, there are alternatives to OS virtualization – specific application virtualization running in a sandbox.

Dell, not generally noted for their free software, recently released (through their subsidiary, KACE Networks), Secure Browser, a virtualized version of Firefox 3.6, which according to KACE –

Changes or malicious files inadvertently downloaded from the Internet are contained within the secure browser, keeping the underlying OS and computer secure from hostile changes.

Any changes resulting from browser activity may be quickly and easily reset to effectively “undo” such changes and return it to its initially installed state.

Fast facts:

Provides a virtualized and contained Firefox v3.6 Browser with Adobe Reader and Flash plug-ins.

Rapidly reset any changes made during normal use back to their initial state, enabling easy recovery from infections or attacks.

View statistics related to the number of processes detected and blocked.

Set white and black lists to limit access to known good sites, or prevent access to known bad sites to further limit the risk of attack and infection.

Contrary to my usual practice, I have not tested this application. Instead, I’m reporting on it’s availability only.

System requirements: Windows 32 bit only.

Download at: KACE

Note: Registration required.

Alternative solutions:

Sandbox your current Browser in Sandboxie.

Run the Chrome Browser which includes a form of sandboxing.

Run Comodo Dragon a variation on Chrome with additional privacy controls.

Run Ubuntu while surfing the Web.

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Filed under Browsers, Chrome, Comodo, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Firefox, Free Anti-malware Software, Freeware, Google, Internet Safety Tools, Software, System Security, Ubuntu, Virtualization, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP