Friday, June 24, 2005

The Virtues of IPCOP

Firewalls for home users has become a common practice. There are a multitude of choices but one open source project stands out. IPCOP has been around since at least 2001 when I messed with the pre 1.0 beta. Those times are easy for some of us to remember because IPCOP was a spin off of Smoothwall. There are lots of posts out there that chronicle the forking that resulted in the IPCOP project.

IPCOP is an excellent choice for anyone who has an old PC laying around. You can use that hardware along with the IPCOP Linux distibution to create a free firewall. Depending upon your particular setup, analog modem or cable modem or DSL, you will have to install the appropriate networking devices. In my case this is simply two network interface cards in order to connect to my cable modem. For most other connection types the drivers are included in IPCOP. The installation is a snap. I can get it installed in under five minutes. That small effort get me a free firewall that out performs and contains more features than any product you can buy at CompUSA or Best Buy.

But don't take my word for it check out these sites for more information:

More IPCOP info and links at Distrowatch.com

SysAdmin article about IPCOP written by two extremely talented members of my local LUG. Way to go Phil and Bryan!

(NOTE: Comments are welcome but keep them on topic. Additional insight or information on the topic is appreciated! Off topic posts or fake comments with links will be deleted)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Can You Make Your Own Lojack?

I am pondering a new idea. I have a nice vehicle. Its a classic convertable and it could easily be stolen. I wonder how hard it would be to build a homemade lojack device.

I am not the first one to think of this. I found one post on the Internet where someone wanted to use gps and wireless. That would work if there was an open access point around but I thought it might be a little easier than that. What if you mounted a retired cell phone with GPS capability. Keep it attached to the car battery via a car charger and always left it running. It would not have a phone plan for making calls but it would still connect to the towers.

Would you be able to inform the police that the car was stolen and would they be able to track it by the phone? Curious to know if anyone else has experience with this?

(NOTE: Comments are welcome but keep them on topic. Additional insight or information on the topic is appreciated! Off topic posts or fake comments with links will be deleted)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Words of Wisdom - Fix It Yourself

Slashdot posted a story about Mobile Magazine's Notebook Tech Support Reviews. My link to Slashdot is on the right. Here is a link to the story which as Slashdot puts it, "Mobile Magazine tested companies' technical support for their notebooks/laptops. Each test had three calls to each of ten major notebook manufacturers (added three additional vendors since last year). Also, called three third-party providers of PC help. On the whole, what they found was a sea of ignorance -- and annoying fixation with pinning down our name, address, and serial numbers. Things haven't gotten any better since our 2004 test -- and most of the vendors we tested have actually gotten worse..."

At the end of the article is a great little gem of advice for anyone troubleshooting a problem with Windows. The advice is below. You can also check out the entire article here.

Fix It Yourself

Unless you have a real hardware problem, don't bother calling tech support -- you could save yourself hours of grief by following these quick tips. In many cases, these techniques are exactly what successful tech-support reps will have you do anyway.

1. If you're having trouble with a device, reinstall its driver.

Right-click on My Computer, select Properties, click on the Hardware tab, and press the Device Manager button. Find the troublesome device, right-click on it, and choose Uninstall. Then either reboot, or right-click on another device and choose "Scan for hardware changes."

2. If you're having trouble getting Windows to start at all, reboot into safe mode.

As your computer is booting up, press F5 repeatedly until you get a menu. Then pick safe mode. From there you may be able to uninstall troublesome devices or programs, and reboot normally afterward.

3. Remove programs from your startup sequence until the notebook reboots normally.

Choose Start > Run, enter msconfig.exe, and click on the Startup tab. Uncheck any programs that you don't know to be essential. Try rebooting and see if the problem goes away.

4. Run System Restore to bring your computer back to a happier time.

From Windows, choose Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore. Or, choose Start > Run, enter msconfig.exe, and then click on the "Launch System Restore" button. Can't get to the Start menu? Hit Control-Alt-Delete to get the Task Manager, then click on the New Task button and enter msconfig.exe.

(Original article linked above written by Dylan Tweney)

(NOTE: Comments are welcome but keep them on topic. Additional insight or information on the topic is appreciated! Off topic posts or fake comments with links will be deleted)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Apple vs. Linux

I have been reading a lot of news about Apple since they announced that they were switching to Intel processors. People I associate with are interested in discussing this with me because they consider me the local Linux Guru and since OS X is a BSD based operating system. So lately, when people ask me what I think about Apple's switch to Intel processors this is my answer.

Its my opinion that Apple's decision to switch to Intel processors may be good for their business provided they make an important strategic decision. Apple is going to have allowed people to run OS X on any Intel based PC. They can do this one of two ways. They can officially support OS X on any hardware or they can do it unofficially. I think they will take the unofficial route. If Apple makes it simple for the hacker community to circumvent any security measures that force users to run OS X on MAC hardware only then people will run it on other hardware without support from Apple. This will increase the adoption rate of OS X and when users need a high end OS X PC then they will buy the supported MAC hardware. A couple of years down the road when OS X adoption has grown sufficiently then Apple will begin to officially support OS X on other manufactures PCs.

If this happens the UNIX based desktop market will no longer be up for grabs. Apple will have won and there will be three tiers to UNIX desktops. At the top will be OS X running on MAC hardware. Second will be OS X on unsupported hardware. Coming in a distant third will be Linux.

Why will Linux come in third? This is due to the fact that it is still a difficult operating system to administer. Even the most advanced RPM based distributions are difficult to manage once you go beyond what is included with the installation CDs. Device drivers are also an issue. Vendors have not developed drivers on a large scale. It's not likely to happen either because the key people in the Linux community will not embrace closed source drivers and hardware manufactures can not afford to release the intellectual property due to the competitive nature of their businesses. Finally, open source drivers remain too difficult for the average user to configure and install.

I am not the only one with this opinion. OS X is on the minds of other Linux users as well. I was at my local LUG meeting recently only to see several Linux enthusiasts running MACs and OS X instead. I was a little embarrassed by this because I have considered running OS X too.

There is still hope for Linux. It could come out on top but that would take a couple of smart moves by influential Linux companies and some big miracles. The main Linux distribution makers need to partner with some major hardware vendors and come up with Linux certified hardware for the desktop and notebook market and compete head to head with Apple's supported Mac/OS X products. Second, the device driver issues with Linux will need to be resolved. Some how the open source community will have to find a way to accept close source device drivers. Finally, major vendors who currently write software for the Microsoft and Apple platforms will have to be convinced to also publish their software for Linux.

Thanks for taking the time to ready my rant. One more thing......I also forgot to mention that all of this is a battle for second place. None of this will displace Microsoft's dominance in the desktop market. At least in the foreseeable future.

(NOTE: Comments are welcome but keep them on topic. Additional insight or information on the topic is appreciated! Off topic posts or fake comments with links will be deleted)

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Haves and Have Nots of Technology

I spent the past several hours setting up a PC for friend. No big deal I thought. I have been in the IT business since the early 90s. I can build a PC for him. How much time could it take. Just a basic PC. I now have about 6 hours into the build. I know its time well spent helping out a friend but it really feels like I lost a whole lot of time to lost when you think about what else I could have been doing. I have also noticed that things are really not getting any easier these days.

There was the OS, connect it to the local LAN and Internet, patching of the OS. Then there was securing the box with anti-spyware, anti-virus, and an firewall. Add in a wireless card and an office suite . The reboots are enough to make anyone a little angry. How many times do you really have to reboot to apply all of the patches for the OS, the office suite and then the AV software?

Have you looked that the options for networking these days. Its not an easy task and there are entire courses required for professional certification dedicated to it. I have taken some of these courses. The are really the basics of networking and the minimum knowledge level required to work with these features. Can you see the average Joe getting this type of education before they build a PC connected to the Internet? I really can't imagine a average fry cook, auto mechanic, police officer, or small business owner has the time to learn enough to get it right.

Then there is the joy of security. I installed the anti-spyware and firewall products only to see them pop up messages asking me if I wanted to allow a cryptic binary to make a change or begin talking to another IP address. There is no way a normal person can have any idea how to answer these questions intelligently.

I am beginning to think that the average user has the deck stacked against them when it comes to personal computing. Forget about the new user. Most are going to be relegated to buying an overpriced pre-built PC which is difficult to pick out from the countless vendors and usually means compromising on bad hardware components. Even when they spend too much money on a name brand PC they are likely to end up with a poor performance and some sort of infection. By the way what happens to the people who can not afford a new name brand PC and are not technically savvy enough to build one from older parts. Hope the have friend in the IT field.

Its 6 hours later and I probably have another hour to go. Mostly tuning the firewall so it does not bother my friend to much. Beside helping a friend I did get a chance to set up this blog and find something to write about.

(NOTE: Comments are welcome but keep them on topic. Additional insight or information on the topic is appreciated! Off topic posts or fake comments with links will be deleted)