Sunday, February 15, 2015

Passion for Linux / Open Source Computing - Joe Collins

Why am I so passionate about Open Source computing? Because it is one of the few really good things going on in the world today. Open Source simply means Free, as in free to use, free to share, free to modify, free to scrutinize for errors and security vulnerabilities and most often, free of cost. The Linux kernel is at the heart of the Open Source movement. It is the engine that drives it along. Do people make money off of Linux? You bet! No one is getting rich, though. When you look at a Linux Desktop, what you are seeing is the work of thousands of people all around the world. Many of them do it in their spare time and get nothing but the satisfaction of knowing they're contributing to something that helps people.

So, why do they do this? It basically comes down to ethics. If I make a copy of a Windows or Mac program and share it with my friends then I'm a pirate. MS and Apple developers want you to pay to use their software and you'll have to buy a new license for each device you put it on. The source code is not freely available; it's proprietary, therefore it would be illegal to attempt to modify one of these programs to fit your needs or the needs of your company. This kind of secrecy means that even a qualified computer programmer may not know exactly what any given application is actually doing. It is quite possible that a nifty little app you downloaded to help organize your music collection just might be sending personal information that has nothing to do with music back to somewhere you don't know to be used by people you don't know for purposes you don't want to know about. This sort of thing happens all the time. It's called malware because it is malicious in its intent. Getting rid of this stuff is a huge pain and often trashes the entire system in the process. Open Source software is subjected to intense code revue by the community. Any app that does more than what it's supposed to do is flagged as bad and not allowed to be distributed. Period. This is one of the contributing factors that make Linux computers very secure. Could someone get a virus on a Linux machine? Sure, but they'd have to work at it awful hard.

Linux is available in many different flavors called distributions. Basically, a distribution is the Linux kernel bundled with all the other software needed to make a usable operating system. There are well over 100 to choose from. Some are general purpose desktops while others are very specific to certain user’s needs. Linux Mint and Ubuntu are the most popular and Mint is generally considered the number one distribution these days.

If one were to take a Windows computer and manage to get through the install process for Linux Mint, they'd end up with a very familiar desktop that comes ready to go with all the basic tools one might need to do everyday computing tasks. It's generally compatible with files you may already have so you're not starting from scratch here. Your office documents, music files, digital pictures and videos will all be supported . Yes, there will be a learning curve and the Linux system is different from anything you've used before but I have come to believe that Linux's computing philosophy is essentially how computers should have been run from the start. It's not so much that one has to learn Linux as much as it is that one must un-learn Windows or Mac when making the switch. It's funny, my kids use Linux every single day and they have more about it than Windows. As a matter of fact, they complain if they have to use a Windows machine. They hate it. They've learned Linux from the start and that's what they're most comfortable with.

Ubuntu 14.10 on Dell XPS

I've been goofing around with Linux for the last ten years or so but it has only been in the last year that I have seen an explosion of interest. I have helped several people make the transition from Windows to Linux as their main system and every one of them is very pleased. Actually, I'm sort of surprised by that because I figured someone would end up not liking it and going back to Windows or Mac but it hasn't happened yet.

Linux already runs your household devices like your smart TV, cell phone, DVR, Wi-Fi router and it runs most of the Internet but it has never caught on in a big way on the home Desktop. It's a niche market for sure but one that is growing. There is a world community of people out here ready and willing to help you get setup and keep your system going. All you have to do is ask. The more people who use Linux, the better it will be... That's why I have posted about it here and elsewhere.  It doesn't take much to get started - an old Windows XP machine will work nicely! Linux Mint is free to download and burn to a DVD for installation. It will cost you some time and a blank DVD. Hey, use a DVD-RW and you can erase it and use it for something else if you don't like Linux. What do you have to lose? Come join the fun!

*This article was written by my friend Joe Collins on another forum and is reposted here with his permission.*
Please visit Joe's EzeeLinux website here:

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ransom-ware Viruses - Do NOT Pay Them!

There is a new breed of viruses out there now known as Ransomware. Basically, what they do is encrypt all of your data files - your pictures, music, letters, spreadsheets, tax returns, etc. - and offer to sell you the UN-encrypt key for a price.

This is another one of those things where an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. If you've heard it from me once, you've it a million times - BACKUP YOUR DATA FILES!

Winston Churchill once said, "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."

I guess I'm fanatical about it (not to mention anal), but consider this - you can buy a new computer, but you can't buy a copy of your stuff!! If you have questions or need assistance with a backup plan, please contact me at your convenience. It is always a pleasure to help people preserve their precious files. Please don't be one of those folks who find out how precious they after they're gone.

Great article on Ransomware from NBC at the link below.