The Linux road to heaven

23 10 2008

One article by Ed Bott on Zdnet made me think of how Linux enthusiast often underestimate the complexity of the scenario regarding Linux based systems market share and penetration.
Bott reported MSI concerns about their Linux based machines which, they state, suffer from a higher return rate (up to 4 times) from end users than windows based machines. They say they will stick to their effort to manufacture and sell Linux laptops but disclose the problems they must face in offering such machines to the desktop public (e.g. higher costs for software development and support, especially when we speak of low price sub notebooks like those of their Wind line). I can accept this complaint as a general one but in the specific I wonder why the huge success of similar products (Asus EEE PC for one) occurred despite the problems MSI disclosed.
Bott admits he writes about Windows for a living and though we can judge his opinion as biased and MSI example as poorly relevant one, but this is not the point and not certainly the object of my thought.
Up to today there’s no competition in the OS market shares, except for an ongoing insurrection from the part of OSX. With OSX we’d better speak of system ascent, but I bet the share of Linux distros altogether is nothing more than a tiny biodiversity in the personal computers world ecosystem. I say this without a solid statistic base given that I haven’t really found any statistics I’m comfortable with on the web.
Focusing on the desktop environment and considering the most spread distros I am more than conscious that Linux is a valuable alternative to Microsoft Windows. From the day I migrated to Ubuntu I’ve always done my best to convert friends and colleagues to a Linux distro. Sometimes I even got close to it. I never succeeded though.

I share Bott’s opinion when he talks about habits. Men stick to their habits and they’re not prone to invest time end energy in trying different things, especially when these things aren’t always full interchangeable. From the many problems which prevent Linux to penetrate the mainstream market I think this is the most relevant one. Microsoft is a colossus and despite all the attacks it suffers from geeks it has indeed been able to create and promote a system in such a massive way that nowadays the mass of people just consider Windows as a standard. More of that, they believe it’s a standard! For those people it’s just inconceivable to have a PC running an operating system different to the one they’re used to see and use. Sometimes when I enthusiastically speak of all the wonders and advantages (which are far from few and irrelevant) of a Linux system to people, they just listen to me with that attitude which says “yes, they also say you can receive broadcast tv with your screw driver”… That’s enervating but it’s just a normal reaction.
So, how could Linux improve its market share?

Well, I’m no business guru but I have some points about this issue. There are three marketing tricks which I think might give the market a little shake.

First: Focus the target.
Many distros have made (and are constantly making) giant leaps as desktop environment solutions. This is precisely why I took the decision to wipe out XP from my laptop and install Ubuntu. Despite these improvements Linux needs to strike those places where people are obliged to use a system which had been already chosen for them. With this I mean the work places. Let’s take Canonical as reference for our example. Say that Canonical propels LUGS or member of LUGS to start an activity to promote Ubuntu distro. Activities could be scheduled to propose small, medium sized and even large companies (in particular those belonging to the public administration) to consider the Linux distro when the desktop stations renewal is scheduled.

Second: Strike carefully
When carefully proposed, with a rational set of elements -an assertive mood and a clear presentation- there are strong reasons for such target companies to switch partially or fully to one Linux based distro. A partially switch is especially advisable as target because it permits to focus on a specific business sector more prone to be converted to Linux. Thinking of the company where I work, I found it difficult to imagine a sudden switch to say Ubuntu in the engineering department where there are mass investments on software running under XP. On the contrary it could be more convenient to convert the machines running in other departments such as administration, planning, warehouse, production, quality, to Linux. In my company the main problem would certainly be the management tool which is commonly used by all these departments and run under XP. Nevertheless a long time schedule conversion to Linux to such kind of departments can indeed offer strong advantages which are so much relevant for an organization to result in money saving and work flow improvement. Let aside the money aspect, two of the basic problems affecting the average company computer network are instability issues and system damages caused by viruses. Many people are illiterate when concerning even the basic aspects of information technology. I personally assisted to a warehouse man who wrongly typed DHL URL and when a nice gurl showed up with the sentence “click me” on her boobs, guess what he did?

Third: Development and development
Big things come out of small things. How can we seriously expect a big company involved in big projects requiring huge investments spread on a pipeline of hundreds of people to release a version of their best seller software for a platform which is to their eyes sterile? In this I strongly agree with those who say that commercial software isn’t necessarily evil. Some forms of exploitation of commercial software or some commercial practices are. For this reason the promotion to those small workshops which can produce and release innovative and quality software for Linux is much important. Take games for example. I’m motivated to think that a strongly engaged and highly skilled team of independent people can realise games that are at least for some aspect comparable to the million dollars productions that bust the market nowadays. Don’t forget that such a small team would work under completely different organisational and money constraints, especially when the team represent a start up entity for the members. Linux game scenario is today rich of high quality and completely free and open source games being developed by communities of enthusiasts whose main aim is no other than to see their game to grow and flourish. Free tools are also there to help this process. We have Blender which is a 3D modelling tool comparable to the professional ones used in “serious” game productions. Blender is also equipped with an integrated game engine, and we even have more powerful engines like Ogre3D, Crystal Space, and Panda3D which is maintained and used in Disney’s commercial game products.

Linux is a great operating system with big capabilities and a vast community of supporters. I do believe that Linux in general is really one tool that can help improve the world we are living in. We just need to be more focused and less dispersive. I know that dispersion is one of the main characteristics of Linux, as highlighted by the multitude of distros, but I’m truly convinced that the success of our cause will pass through unity.

Ubuntu success in achieving a vast public knowledge is there just to witness this concept.

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….Tim licensed under this creative commons license


GPS devices can be spoofed

24 09 2008

Spoofing it’s a jargon word which in communication and computer domains generally applies to situations implying one person/device successfully deceiving another person/device. The spoofer makes him/her/it believe to communicate/exchange data with the correct interlocutor while instead this role has been embezzled by the spoofer.

A common example of spoofing is the classic man-in-the-middle attack where an attacker spoofs an Alice into believing the spoofer is her friend Bob. The attacker then spoofs Bob into believing he/her/it is Alice. In this way the spoofer can gain access to all the messages being exchanged by the couple. Spoofing is a way to succeed in such an operation without having to deal with cryptography systems breaching.

Physorg reports that Cornell researchers have demonstrated that GPS devices can be successfully spoofed by a spoofer device located nearby. The spoofer receives the tracking signals from the satellite constellation and send out fake signals to deceive, within the signal range, receiving navigation systems.

The purpose of the researchers is that of warning navigation systems manufacturers and pushing them to take countermeasures in order to prevent that such a thing can take place in reality.

Moreover the article states also that GPS systems are nowadays deeply interconnected with our technological infrastructure such as the power or water grid. In this sense, have you got any ideas about which other threats can be caused by spoofed GPS systems?

Is this science fiction or can it turn into a real threat to our increasing dependency to technological devices?

I don’t see many reasons one should want to spoof a navigation system to throw the user off his/her track. However the most obvious to me is the possibility to lure a target into a trap. Thieves, or worse, could lure tourists armed with handheld navigation devices to remote areas and then attack them. A worse scenario implies terrorists spoofing the GPS systems of their targets to make them fall into their traps

The whole idea of such kind of threats is scaring but makes me think about the fact that many people think malwares such as viruses and similars are normally aimed only to damage their computers or devices. In reality this is the less important and the most trivial threat one can expect from a “digital” attacker. We are getting more and more dependant on technological systems and devices. Despite all the concerns for security issues the vast majority of the world population, at least those living in the so-called rich countries, totally relies on computers and all sorts of techno-gadgets. Criminals take advantage of it to perpetrates crimes such ad blackmail, theft, and other even worst felonies which damage people not directly but mediated by a technological system. Of course the way our society is getting techno-dependant is not something one would like struggle against. Technology has mostly changed our lives for the better and I tend to think that the drawbacks are really microscopic compared to the advantages. One must only be aware that people nature hasn’t changed at all; we’re still far away from the Trekkie consciousness of life and technology can be -and it is- used to threat us.

Credit: picture by Jimmy_Joe licensed under this Creative Commons license