by Charles Babcock
When is less really more? When it’s a Linux operating system designed to run containers, such as Red Hat Atomic Host, Ubuntu Snappy, or CoreOS. As developers increasingly embrace containers for building and running apps, these small footprint systems could change the operating system’s long-standing role
We have used software conforming to fully disclosed public international standards for over a decade: at first Open Office, and then after some corporate re-arranging LibreOffice. It is easy to use, works (mostly) with all established Microsoft formats, and unencumbered by dangerous licensing legalities and legal overhead, tracking licenses, number of permitted installs from volume licensing contracts, and so forth. It is especially important for global commerce as the spreadsheets and document files it saves are universally recognized and will work with any computer in any organization or country, even if they cannot buy the latest Microsoft Office product. LibreOffice also can save documents in the standard .PDF format for mass distribution and archival purposes without additional “plugins” or cost — it is built in from the start.
There is great value in having a totally open standard to allow all people everywhere to use, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, economic status, or any other of a host of parameters beyond the control of individuals all over this planet. We are no longer a disconnected bundle of trivial kingdoms, walled off from each other and silent: we are a global community of living, thinking, humankind, interacting for good or evil: isolationism is an obsolete model for nations, and for software.
Document Freedom Day
Yesterday, March 26, 2014 was “Document Freedom Day“: a day for celebrating information accessibility for all people everywhere and for raising awareness of open standards. There is a struggle of sorts raging since Linus Torvalds inadvertently started the Open Source movement. It essentially comes down to the economic models of Protectionism, where all standards are determined by a single ruler and may not even be known in their entirety by his subjects as he may be making up some of the rules as he goes along, entirely for his own personal gain. and Capitalism, where a open public interaction determines all the rules, openly and responsive to public intent and personal gain of the people at large.
To understand the impact on humanity of having a known international standard for communication and information exchange that is available to all people, consider what would have happened if, instead of being initiated and controlled by open standards, the Internet Web, HTML, CSS, and other critical infrastructure was controlled by one corporation only and licenses issued to maximize the wealth of corporate shareholders regardless of the harm or loss to humanity? Would there be a World Wide Web today? Would most people be able to use it? Would business and humanity have profited nearly as much if all things were decided on a software patent, protectionism, controlling, “just me and my rich friends” basis?
Examples of Open Standards in Action
But the concept of Word Wide Web was a collaborative effort, open to public scrutiny, and available to all. And because of this openness, a far greater development team — global and trans-cultural in nature — built an incredible system that allows communication for everything from buying a pair of hiking shoes to streaming video of news as it happens. I remember when the Great Wall fell in Berlin — I was chatting, in text, with a friend, and she relayed that another friend has just told her “Oh look, they are taking down Stalin’s Statue”. In text. Can you measure the difference now, when, instead of reading text about something important that is happening we can watch it as it occurs, free from the bias and controls of corporate news media?
Availability to all can be just as important for sharing information. Imagine how much simpler hereditary research would be right now if all records from the past were stored in a standard, electronic format available to everyone! How could medicine advance if all past records were likewise standardized and published? Or science? Would history that we know be different today if for the last two millennium records were written by anyone — not just the elite — and available to anyone today so that we could read accounts of what happened from more than one perspective? As it is, history is usually written by the victor, and truth becomes a murky and evasive fugitive.
A Vision of a Future Without Open Standards
Flipping time and looking to the future, can you imagine what could happen if only one corporation could totally control all information software for the personal profit and wealth of only their shareholders? Businesses would be subject to absolute control of this corporation, as their business could simply be turned off at the corporation’s whim: prices could be set to anything the corporation wished, at any time: only those the corporation wishes to have access would have access.
A future more reminiscent of a Fallout series game than today? Don’t be so sure. If Microsoft Windows XP was not “activated” in time, what happened? Windows 7 does let the computer continue to run simply with nag boxes reminding us that the software has not yet be “activated”, but couldn’t they just as easily turn it off? Could Microsoft, or any other for profit corporation likewise simply deny access to anyone? How would these corporations respond to a a secret letter from a secret court to secretly turn off some organization’s computers?
Do you really think that is so far fetched? What has been going on for the last few years already — secret letters from secret courts demanding Internet Service Providers turn over private records belonging to their customers, or “take down” web sites? If one for profit corporation rose to the point it could control all computers, or even most computers, could government order them to collect and forward all the private information in those computers? Could dissidents be silenced by merely invalidating a code in a database somewhere so their computers, phones, tablets would no longer start? What happened with Twitter in the London riots last year? Yes, it was “turned off” for London. And in Egypt.
It’s All About Control
The open software movement and the corporate desire for it to end is very much like the American Second Amendment “Gun Control” movement — Software Patents are not about software and Gun Control is not about guns, but both are about CONTROL. And it behooves us as a global community to promote freedom and oppose protectionism in whatever form it may appear.
Over time people change. Over time corporations and their philosophies change. Managers must anticipate what the impact will be on their own operation and take proactive steps to ensure business continuity and profitability.
Virtual Machines (VMs)
Teaching handouts often require fair use (‘Teaching” under the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended) screen shots of the actual computer screens. The VM allows one to run a sand boxed OS and collect such information as is needed to put screen shots in teaching handouts, especially screens that do not have any convenient means of saving a screenshot such as the GRUB boot loader. They are also used to test software, create a safe(r) place to try new apps which might contain malware or spyware, and to run a different OS than the one in general use on the computer.
For example, to access one Indiana medical reporting system, care providers are required to use only Microsoft Internet Explorer — no other browser will work right. If the care provider uses some distribution of Linux on all their computers for reasons of cost control, reliability, and security then they would be excluded from inputting their work into this system and as such would never get paid. They can create a VM and buy one Windows license to install in it so that they can use IE in this one situation.
Note 20181104: Microsoft has their own entry into the virtual machine arena. In an email to me from Blake Miranda, the Outreach Manager for Cloudwards, she writes:
My colleague Steve recently put together a pretty comprehensive article on Hyper-V; what it is, and how users can improve their productivity through its applications.
This also keeps all their highly private client data isolated from all their other computer systems, thus making it far less likely that they will run afoul of patient privacy legislation such as HIPPA and its uglier, more vicious step sister 42 CFR Part 2. One disclosure of patient information not covered by a specific signed permission form can result in a cost of $240,000 to the care provider, per unauthorized disclosure. Imagine if a care provider’s client data were stolen and published on the Internet. Since the VM is totally isolated from all other systems, and is not even turned on except when it is needed to enter data in the State system, this provides much less opportunity for unauthorized disclosure from within or without the agency. Since a VM is physically just files, it can be on a removable disk or memory stick and locked in a drawer (or safe) when not in use. Web Service providers often use VMs for each web server so they can maximize efficiency of their physical hardware and also so that they can recover entire web servers from backup in a matter of minutes.
We have used VMWare Workstation and later VMWare Player since 2003. However lately there seem to be changes at VMWare: The CEO (who helped found the corporation) was fired by the Directors and an ex-Microsoft executive hired to replace her. Wikipedia says:
VMWare does have a lot of trial and free downloads available, but I don’t find the free VMWare Player any longer. There is a new VMWare Player Plus. There are concerns about the eventual impact should the license terms become unacceptable to me. VMWare has a much larger number of products now than they did in 2003 when I purchased my first VM supervisor from them, and honestly I do not grasp all the intricacies of each. I am really quite comfortable with VMWare Player and Workstation, but I have no idea where VMWare is going, and that concerns me.
In 2010 our favorite hardware manufacturer and protagonist for the free OpenSource office suite OpenOffice and for the free OpenSource database MySQL (which is used on 90% of the web servers on the Internet), Sun Microsystems, was bought by the for-profit database giant Oracle. Oracle has long been recognized as the absolute best of the best so far as high performance secure corporate database systems is concerned: the name Oracle is synonymous with “high quality professional database”. Says Wikipedia:
OpenOffice seems to have then gone on hold after the transfer of ownership and some of the OpenOffice project personnel forked the project to start LibreOffice. However, Oracle Corporation does not seem to have totally rejected the concept of OpenSource software, libre (free) computing, and related social movements, rather they have many Communities and seem to have some interest in supporting new OpenSource, or at least free, software development. There are free downloads. VirtualBox is one of the Oracle projects that has come to the public mind in the last two years or so. It is a substitute product for the VMWare Player and possibly Workstation.
As such, it is time for me to be proactive and learn how to use the new Oracle VirtualBox. To install VirtualBox is straight forward — choose VirtualBox in the Ubuntu Software Manager.
Once installed, I changed the default folder for storing Virtual Machines to something I liked better than the default. The other preferences I left alone.
I clicked the NEW icon in the upper left corner of the box, then set up a Windows 7 Home machine. From there I simply followed the prompts and had a VM in about 10 clicks.
Next I installed the Windows 7. I converted the Windows 7 Home DVD into an .iso, as .iso files on the disk tend to work much faster than DVD drives. Then I connected the .iso as the cd drive. Click Settings in the top tool bar. Under the storage area I deleted the CD (- icon at bottom) and added a new CD using the .iso image file. If you have done this in VMWare it is similar — you’ll find your way around easily.
Total Windows 7 Home install time was about 3 minutes, including the obligatory reboot. As I learn more about VirtualBox I will update or post more.
Notes: 20130807 2338
1. You can resize the VM window to fit the unused space on your desktop and have Windows respond by changing its resolution to use the full area.
2. Use of system resources is light.
3. Remember to install “Guest Editions” to get full functionality, such as shared folders. At the top menu bar click Devices, then at the bottom of that menu select Install Guest Editions.