Happy belated 17th birthday, Linux! On Oct. 5, 1991, Linus Torvalds created the Linux kernel and launched a free operating system that powers many of the world’s most powerful computers today. First scorned as the unreliable work of hobbyists, Linux, with its low cost and flexibility, has become a key component of data centers. With access to its open source code, users can adapt the software to their specific business requirements, which many consider a key advantage. Linux is increasingly used to run mission-critical applications as well as Web servers, and it’s giving Microsoft Windows a run for its money. The Linux Journal celebrated the birthday with a nostalgic retrospective. It’s worth a look.
Happy Birthday, Linux!
As threats become less predictable and more targeted, security technologies have shored up their methods and devised additional precautions to secure company systems. With its acquisition of CounterStorm, a government-run security software company, Trusted Computer Solutions (TCS) has done just that. CounterStorm adds to TCS’ existing security protection process built into TCS’ Security Blanket. Security Blanket hardens and creates a baseline for a system, and CounterStorm acts as a vigilant guard to maintain these measures.
“Ten years ago, most attacks were random,” said Ed Hammersla, the chief operating officer at TCS. “Now we are seeing attackers who have a focused knowledge of their victims. CounterStorm acts as a last line of defense in an environment in which more serious, targeted attacks … have become prevalent.”
Security Blanket first runs a security compliance profile on a system, automatically brings it into compliance with specified security standards and monitors the system for possible breaches.
CounterStorm strengthens the lockdown process with yet another measure: anomaly-based targeted threat prevention that observes a system’s typical behavior, scans for deviations and isolates and attacks these anomalies. With this approach to abnormalities, CounterStorm makes server scanning and issue resolution easier for admins. “It is much easier and less costly to fix 100 servers than it is to fix 1,000,” said Hammersla.
With the acquisition, TCS expands further into commercial applications for its security tools. Hammerla said that while government and the private sector have different security needs, an unsecured system can result in damage to either. “Government and commercial software security administrators have different concerns,” Hammersla said, “but face the same consequences.”
“Hospitals, for example, are not particularly anxious about their networks being infiltrated by China, but the government certainly is,” Hammersla said. “However, over time, I think that we will see more and more of the commercial and government compliancy standards merging.”
Mono 2.0 is now available for download. An open source project sponsored by Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc., Mono is a Unix-based tool that enables Microsoft .Net applications to run on Linux, Solaris or Macintosh platforms.
Mono 2.0 follows two previous versions of Mono, with the first released in 2004 and the second in 2006. The latter version was used to write Moonlight, an open source plug-in to Microsoft’s Silverlight for creating interactive applications.
The key advance in Mono 2.0, a spokesman said, is that it achieves full compatibility with .Net, where the previous versions only reached partial capability with .Net. Mono 2.0 also includes a debugger, a Language Integrated Query from .Net 3.5 and a Migration Analyzer.
Michael Cote, an analyst with Denver, Colo.-based Redmonk, said the new version of Mono helps the Linux platform by enabling .Net developers to work on Windows as well as open source platforms.
“It’s great to give companies the option of using the underlying OS of their choice,” Cote said.
Mono 2.0 may be downloaded from http://www.mono-project.com.
A SearchEnterpriseLinux reader from Queensland, Australia, wrote that my recent article asking whether open source is really cheaper than proprietary software missed the point.
“Most users are locked into the concept of Microsoft and this is the problem,” wrote Trevor Hughes. “For Mr. Average, Linux has much to recommend it. If I can do it anyone can. I am 57 and a newcomer to computing. For Internet communications and normal use, Windows is NOT worth the money.”
Hughes really takes issue with the article’s conclusion that users require more technical expertise and a certain openness to risk-taking to maximize the financial savings of open source. However, the article actually addresses Linux on servers in the data center, not Linux on home desktops.
Nevertheless, Hughes expresses the positive, can-do, problem-solving attitude that would lead to successful operation of Linux in the data center — and Windows, too, for that matter.
It’s pretty obvious that Linux can be a big money-saver over Windows. Why else would so many big corporations make the switch? It’s like anything else. There are always trade-offs, and companies and individuals are able to vote with their dollars on what they want to do. And choice is always a good thing.
According to an article in Linux Today, CERN’s huge Large Hadron Collider, the largest atom smasher in the world, runs on a customized version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) that is modified for scientific purposes. Scientists hope the collider, a 17-mile tunnel under the French-Swiss border that has been planned for 20 years, will answer questions about how the world began by shooting particles in the tunnel at nearly the speed of light. Collider operations were abruptly halted after only a few trials last month due to helium leaks in the tunnel and won’t resume for a few months. But how cool is it having Linux number crunching 15 gigabytes of data for this huge project? So does anybody still think Linux isn’t ready for prime-time, mission-critical projects? Go Red Hat!
Everyone agrees that the Linux desktop has a lot of work ahead to transform itself from a techie obsession to the intuitive, user-friendly desktop of a Macintosh or Windows machine. Even Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the popular Ubuntu Linux desktop, blogged about the shortcoming in a recent column and vowed to close the gap.
In the meantime, however, U.K.-based TechRadar.com recently published Linux: The Girlfriend Test, and a tough test it was indeed. The goal: to find out if a first-time Linux user, presumably a female college student, could accomplish nine familiar Windows tasks using Fedora 9, the community version of Red Hat.
Here are the tasks and how she fared on each one:
1. Bookmark a website in Firefox. No problem.
2. Write and print a letter in OpenOffice. The first part was easy but the letter wouldn’t print and no error message appeared with a reason or resolution.
3. Rip a CD. Task accomplished. But Fedora failed to identify all the output options.
4. Send an instant message. After several unsuccessful attempts, she succeeded by going to msn.com and inputting user data from her Windows Live Messenger account.
5. Create a pie chart in OpenOffice. No problem.
6. Transfer the ripped CD to her iPod. Attempt failed because of a protocol problem. Again, no error message appeared to identify or fix the difficulty.
7. Move a photo of her head onto a photo of her boyfriend’s body using Photoshop. Easy.
8. Watch a video on YouTube. Failed because Firefox was unable to install Flash player due to a malformed file. There was no work-around explanation.
9. Make an international phone call using Skype. Application installation was successful but audio playback problems prevented communication.
The writer concluded that Linux needs to do more with wizards and pop-up instructions to help new users without a technical background successfully transition from Windows or Macintosh to the Linux desktop.
I agree. But I have to say it was a pretty tough test, and the writer never mentioned how he fared in the “Boyfriend Shopping Test” that was his part of the bargain. Inquiring readers want to know.
Red Hat Inc. reported second-quarter revenues of $164.4 million, an increase of 29% in quarterly revenue compared with a year ago, at $127.2 million. Deferred revenue rose somewhat faster, climbing 32% to $496.9 million. Quarterly profits also rose, but by a slimmer margin, rising 11% from $18.2 million for the second fiscal quarter of 2007 to $21.1 million for the second fiscal quarter of 2008.
The quarter’s revenues included two one-year sales of $5 million apiece.
Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of the Raleigh, N.C.-based company, said the higher-than-expected revenue growth was achieved against economic headwinds. The healthy earnings reflected strong renewals from the existing customer base, with old and new accounts alike responsive to an opportunity for cost savings, he said.
Sales of JBoss, Red Hat’s middleware product, grew twice as fast as those for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), with rising sales as an embedded product to independent service vendors (ISVs) targeting the service-oriented architecture (SOA) market, Whitehurst said.
Red Hat’s recent $107 million purchase of Qumranet Inc. broadens its leadership in open source virtualization, which began with RHEL 5, continued with the Libvert virtualization layer and other tools to create a comprehensive virtualization portfolio, he said. Qumranet also gives Red Hat an entry into the early-stage virtual desktop market, he said.
CFO Charles Peters downplayed the potential adverse impact on future sales from the current turmoil in the financial sector. That vertical is now only 10% of the business, due to faster growing sales in government and telecommunications, he said. In addition, many of the financial customers are on multiyear contracts, he said.
Like RHEL, JBoss sales benefit from tighter economic times because corporations still need to deploy new functionality but have less money, Peters said.
Sometimes stories about customer problems have happy endings.
One day after publication, the Novell ZenWorks problem that I blogged about Sept. 17 appears to be on its way to resolution. Not that resolution was speedy; the issue was the topic of numerous emails between the customer, Novell and TechTarget for three weeks.
Grant Nickle, IT director for Louisville, Ky.-based Underwriters Safety & Claims, told me in mid-August that ZenWorks 10, a configuration management application, had many improvements over its predecessor but contained a key flaw: It wouldn’t retain user identities and settings in the cache after a user signed off or was no longer on the network. The omission is critical for an IT department that manages hundreds of desktops because there is no other way to preserve user identities except through Microsoft Active Directory. Making matters worse, Nickle never got a promised call from tech support.
Yesterday afternoon, however, Nickle spoke directly with the product manager, who assured Nickle that the full functionality of the Dynamic Local User, which used to remember each user’s desktop settings and files, would be restored prior to Novell’s next Brainshare user conference in March. And Nickle has the product manager’s name and phone number to make sure he keeps his promise. In the meantime, Nickle will have to rely on ZenWorks 7, which doesn’t work with Microsoft Vista, but at least he knows he’s got a finite time to wait for a fix.
Actually, Nickle did Novell a favor by bringing a problem, which others in the user forum have complained about as well, to its attention. Kudos to Novell for recognizing and addressing the issue. Nevertheless, a nagging suspicion remains that it’s not as easy for an average user to bring a real problem to a software company’s attention as it should be. And that’s something all software companies should be striving aggressively to remedy. Just like nurses and physicians who need to be alert to minor symptoms of potentially major illnesses, there ought to be a way for software companies to flag a complaint that points to a serious problem and direct it out of normal channels to someone who can assess and remedy the issue. In the meantime, though, I’m celebrating Nickle’s victory. Novell listened and acted. And that’s a victory for us all.
Red Hat Inc. is forging open source inroads in education these days.
For starters, the Raleigh, N.C.-based company teamed up with Intel Corp. to help equip the new New York City Open Source Solutions Lab on the City University of New York (CUNY) campus. With software donated by Red Hat and hardware by Intel, the new center will help the city and public agencies develop and test open source applications for municipal and state use.
In addition to government use, however, the lab also will be used to train students in working with open source software.
Ted Brown, executive director of the CUNY Institute for Software Design and Development, said that students need to learn how to work with open source software because open source is a large and growing trend.
Closer to Red Hat’s home base, Red Hat engineer Will Cohen is teaching a graduate course in free and open source (FOSS) software at North Carolina State University. Introduced last spring, the FOSS course enables students to join in ongoing projects of their choice and learn skills such as fixing bugs, testing software and adding new features as well as strengthening their project management and collaboration skills.
Promoting these higher education efforts is the Fedora Project Team, which conducted a three-week tour last spring, visiting 15 of the nation’s top universities to encourage use and instruction in open source software.
Jack Aboutboul, one of the tour participants, told Red Hat News that the faculty and students were very responsive to Fedora’s message about open source software.
“When you have the chance to fundamentally re-architect modern computer science education in the U.S. you take it,” he said. “The time is right to begin incorporating open source into both the campus environment and the curriculum.”
Sometimes the latest is not the greatest.
Just ask Grant Nickle, IT director at Louisville, Ky.-based Underwriters Safety & Claims. An avid fan of Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc., SUSE Linux Enterprise and ZenWorks configuration management software, Nickle was in for a big disappointment when he finally got around to testing ZenWorks 10, which he’d had for about a year while continuing to run version 7.
Nickle discovered to his dismay that in version 10, ZenWorks’ Dynamic Local User doesn’t cache or save individual desktop settings, files and icons when the machines are turned off or disconnected from the corporate network. Unlike version 7, the desktop and all its settings and data must be re-created with every startup, which is a big problem when your job is to create and manage user IDs for several hundred desktops.
“This is a big problem,” Nickle said. ZenWorks used to be a great work-around for managing users without Microsoft’s Active Directory because it managed Windows users as well as those running other operating systems. Now, ZenWorks is useless, he says.
Ironically, Novell is pitching ZenWorks 10 as a way to encourage businesses to migrate from Novell Netware to Linux, a move Nickle would be only too happy to make since he runs SUSE Enterprise Linux on his servers.
In an Aug. 28 e-mail, Novell responded that ZenWorks does address this problem. The company said that a user can simply leave a Novell eDirectory login credential on the machine to log in the next time without creating a new desktop. But Novell corrected the previous e-mail on Sept. 11, admitting that user caching is not available in the latest version but would be included in a subsequent version.
That’s small comfort to Nickle, who has no way to deal with the problem in the interim and no idea how many months it might be until the next update. Especially since ZenWorks had this working in version 7 and then removed it in version 10.
“We are stuck,” he wrote. “We can either look for another product to manage our desktops” or stay with version 7, but version 7 doesn’t support Windows Vista, he said. Nickle suspects that “somebody just made a mistake,” and noted that other users in the ZenWorks forum have voiced the same complaint with just as much frustration.