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Argos Uses GNU/Linux, Windows Leads Only to Malware

200px-Argos.svg

ARGOS, the British retailer which according to Wikipedia employs over 50,000 people, seems to have moved many of its well-integrated systems (online and in-store) to a new platform not too long ago. We’re frequent customers, so sometimes we see downtimes and issues which reveal details about the back end. There is something we can report today.

Yesterday at Argos there was a malfunction at the terminal (thin client with IBM touchscreens as the only user-facing part) and it uses GNU/Linux, as one can easily tell. Argos seems to be using Fedora (an old version likely) based on the window decorations, probably with GNOME/GTK. For 50,000+ staff plus millions of customers that would be a lot terminals running GNU/Linux.

Argos recently changed the terminal systems/front end (not to my liking, as I liked the old interface better). The crash yesterday resulted in an error message showing Opera (proprietary Web browser), so presumably that is what they are using on top of GNU/Linux. Odd choice of browser, but that’s what they want….

Last year we reported that another British giant, Ryman (smaller than Argos, but still a highstreet chain), had moved to GNU/Linux. They told me that had dumped it due to Windows malware.

Incidentally, a friend who goes by the name iophk (for anonymity), shared this link with me yesterday. “Windows should not be on PoS or anything else mission-critical,” iophk wrote. Well, based on Ryman and Argos turning to GNU/Linux, many large stores gradually learn this. My current employer moved Specsavers (British giant) to Free software in the server room a long time ago, about a decade ago.

How to Block Facebook and Stop the Most Creepy Type of Spying

Facebook is facing a massive class action lawsuit in Europe right now. Facebook is indeed very unique when it comes to mass surveillance because the intrusive spying (data collected) is being shared among private companies. Facebook is a malicious network which spies on everyone, not only people who are registered with Facebook, and then sells this data to various different companies; it does not only share it with government spies. In order to protect oneself from Facebook’s wide-reaching privacy-infringing data-sharing (e.g. sharing of one’s browsing history and ID with advertising giants and even worse vultures) one must block all Facebook domains and IP addresses. In Debian/Ubuntu systems this can be achieved in the following way:


$ host www.facebook.com
$ whois -h whois.radb.net 31.13.91.2  | awk '$1=="origin:" { print $2 }'
$ whois -h whois.radb.net '!gAS32934' | tr ' ' '\n' > /tmp/fb
$ sort -n -k1,1 -k2,2 -k3,3 -k4,4 /tmp/fb > /tmp/fb2
$ for net in $(grep '^[[:digit:]]' /tmp/fb2); do sudo ufw --dry-run \
  reject out to $net;done

Or modify for direct use of iptables on OpenWRT.

Remove --dry-run to make it work on systems that use UFW. For plain iptables, one needs to use a different line but then need some additional tricks unique to each distro to make the settings persistent across reboots.

“I put up something a while back on HowToForge about this,” said the source of the above script/comamnds, “but it always needs new coverage. I usually do the same for Microsoft networks, too.

“People with decent router hardware but still with stock firmware should be nudged to OpenWRT.”

Currys/PC World (UK) Voids Warranty on Hardware If Buyer Installs GNU/Linux

200px-PC_World

TODAY I learned something somewhat shocking. A policy which I believed was some kind of controversial fringe policy from way back in the days of Vista is still in place, and it’s in place right here in the UK. Currys/PC World is totally overzealous with its GNU/Linux-hostile policy, which is almost definitely dictated by non-technical management, maybe in collusion with Microsoft.

To start this story from the very beginning, an old desktop of mine died on me and I sought a replacement immediately (within the hour). My wife and I quickly grabbed our stuff and rushed to a nearby computer store. There are not many such stores anymore because Currys pretty much devoured the competition, including Dixons.

So over 3 hours later we are back home and there is still no replacement. We were eager to pay as much as it takes for what we needed, but Currys has an unacceptable policy. Not only does it put Windows (Vista 8) on virtually every machine that’s not “Apple”-branded (there are barebone boxes only for desktop and they’re available online only) but it has an outrageous policy regarding warranty.

As it turns out — and this was confirmed to us by multiple people (in multiple PC World stores) after arguing for more than half an hour — once you install GNU/Linux (even if it’s dual boot with Windows) no damage to hardware would be covered by the warranty (keyboard, screen, and so on). One of the sellers, who follows the Linux Action Show, regretted this but also defended this policy because it’s imposed from above. No matter how ridiculous a policy it is, changes to zeroes and ones on the hard-drive (to remove spyware), according to Currys, would void the warranty on what clearly is not connected to software.

After many chats with colourful language and even car analogies or other such arguments about the separability of hardware and software we decided we just couldn’t do business at PC World. The company is inherently GNU/Linux-hostile. Avoid Currys.

Ryman (Large UK Chain) Switches to GNU/Linux on Desktops

Earlier today I went to Ryman, which a well established and widely known stationery shops chain in the UK, in order to get special prints. I was greeted by a young woman standing in front of a machine with Ubuntu GNU/Linux (version 12.04 by the looks of it) and lots of Free software like LibreOffice 3. She explained to me that the company switched to that for security reasons, after an infection had spread through the whole company. Well, given what NSA and GCHQ are known to be doing through USB ports, one would be irresponsible to use Windows to accept files from USB devices of arbitrary customers. Prior to Ryman I used similar services in a prints store (local family business) that uses Mac OS for accepting files over USB.

It should be noted that using Ryman for prints is not wise. They charge £2 (more than $3) for the service of just extracting a single file from a USB key, even if one prints just a single page. Copying the file takes just a few seconds, so they charge far more than a prostitute (pro rata).

Anyway, the good news is that UK businesses — even very large businesses — are adopting GNU/Linux on the desktops. It is rarely — if ever — being announced.

Letter From Anonymous on Windows Going ‘Open Source’

The other day I was sent an anonymised E-mail from someone who entertained the possibility of an “open” Windows/Microsoft — a notion that I reject for realistic reasons. Here is the full discussion.


Defining the Cause

Friday October 25, 2013

Hi Roy,

A like to share with you a thought and hear what you think.

By some twist of faith, how many Linux users are pushing for Linux over Microsoft? That would be a lot, right? But, as long as Linux users are pushing for Linux, you know they forget that Linux was “proprietary” too. So doesn’t it make a whole lot more sense, to do the SAME to Windows and make it “open source” too, just like GNU did for Linux?

This is not an accurate account of history. Linux Torvalds chose the GPL for his kernel, which was only briefly licensed as proprietary (it was obscure at the time). This is similar to MySQL. Windows cannot be compared in an apple-to-apple fashion by warping suppositions.

Here are some reasons for it, although not in much order or cohesion. I’m just rushing this to get it out. Please don’t be offended, just consider the possibilities of where this leads for the cause, okay?

If Windows become “open source”, shouldn’t that be a good thing? Don’t we want to see more corporations becoming “open source” free providers?

We want to maximise freedom, for freedom’s sake. If Windows was able to use deceiving labels to perpetuate control over users, that would not be a good thing.

Is the battle of Linux overshadowing GNU? Which isn’t about a kernel, as so much for being “open source code” to be a lot more important, right?

Maybe that SCARES Linux developers? Why would anyone want to use Linux if Windows was made “honest” by releasing ALL of the “open source” code?

It’s not just a problem of honesty and the “battle of Linux” can be viewed as a battle for GNU/Linux, however “battle” may be defined. Advocacy perhaps, given the context.

Haven’t Linux enthusiasts pointed out that Gnu/Linux is trusted more for being “open source”? But the same could be true if Windows did the same!

It’s not just about trust. There is more to it than that.

Are we fighting for “open source” code or against proprietary code? Or is that we just loath and hate anything about Microsoft? Hopefully, we will realize, the main real reason why Microsoft become hated, for using “proprietary code”.

Microsoft is not hated for this. Based on my experience talking to people, ethics are the problem, business ethics in particular. The framing of advocacy as a “fight”, or the choise of pro- or con- (for or against) is quite arbitrary; if you are for something, one can always portray you as being against something, or vice versa. Bias guides language.

Proprietary code is locking in vendors, people and society.

And it is not just about lock-in.

Of course, Linux is designed a bit differently than say Windows. Windows has made it easy for novice, no need to learn “terminal”. But, it always had a clumsy dependency to backup plenty of DLLS versions for instance. Which is just ridiculous! It takes a Chinese hackers to offer the only unofficial tool to actually trim and reduce the WinSxS bloatware.

Windows had and still has competition which makes it easier for novice users to embrace computing. There are suppositions above that I cannot accept, so I cannot reply to them.

You know, “open source code” would be the BEST thing for Windows and Microsoft. That’s not as scary as it seems, because the real reason Linux despises Windows and Microsoft, is for the lack of interoperability, vendor lock-ins, and shoddy development, that has comes to be known as mostly vaporware branding in the world!

Microsoft has already tried openwashing. It also created some proxies that try to make Microsoft look “open”. I don’t think these have been effective as people very much distrust those proxies and many detest Microsoft even more for trying to infiltrate the philosophical rivals. sometimes derailing it from the inside.

But, all of this could be eliminated, if Microsoft adapted “honesty” as their policy by supporting and releasing “open source” code under GPL3 or GPL4 (coming soon).

Honesty, tenets, etc. have been tried by Microsoft marketing already (microsoft.com still has some Web pages to that effect). The same goes for “transparency” (for example reports on surveillance requests compliance). If everything Microsoft ever released was re-licensed GPLv3+ (unlikely as they incorporate bits of code from other parties), that would not mean honesty. Malicious features like DRM (for Hollywood) and perhaps back doors would still be in there.

I am beginning to think, it was NOT Linux that matters at all for whom without having “open source” code, Linux would had remain proprietary. The only reason Microsoft is proprietary, is related to it’s CEO, “Bill Gates”, who pushed the business into a market monopolizer for profiteering, right?

Gates is no longer the CEO and Linux would not have become popular if it remained proprietary (BSD was already ahead). There were other forces in industry pushing for proprietary, even predating Gates.

Didn’t he advocated and pushed that software freedom by taken away for the sake of profits? This works against an open free society, it is evil, it is immoral and that’s the pain, misery and suffering we are having to cope and deal with here from the very beginning.

The same practice is embraced by the medicine ‘industry’ (oligopoly), where generics are being kept away for the sake of profit (more people die, but large corporations make more money). India seems to be the only country that is eager to fight against this, at least sometimes.

What is to prevent the same thing from happening with Linux now? Won’t some rich corporation take it over, once it matures into a rich profitable market? We (creators and developers) do all the work and they (proprietary owners) take over, right?

The GPL does not quite allow this. Linux can be forked if this happens and all the developers then work on the fork.

So what is important here, is the push for “open source code” more than anything else. But tell that to Linux users who bash Windows a lot, instead of realizing there will always be another proprietary around the corner to replace Microsoft. Maybe that would be Apple OSX. Maybe, it might even come from China or Taiwan!

Windows is being replaced by Android to a large degree. Android is a free/libre system for the most part. Taiwanese companies and Chinese companies (RPC) use Android a lot. The notion of ownership is different when licensing is copyleft-leaning.

How much longer will it be before Ubuntu or Linux gets bought by proprietary rich corporation like Microsoft? But, if we got Microsoft to use GPL3, maybe a GPL4 is required, to become “open source” this would INSURE GNU life of living!

These are unlikely — if not impossible — scenarios. There are other risks — urgent issues like software patents. Using these, for example, Microsoft is believed to be already making billions of dollars from Android sales.

The open source community is no less human like the rest of us. There will be temptation to swing back to proprietary. So it is just better to get all public businesses to ditch proprietary code all together, once and for all.

Swinging back to proprietary or “semi” proprietary (like “half” pregnant) is a real issue these days.

The same can be said for freedom, as a democracy cannot be both ignorant and free at the same time! When you fail to demonstrate adequate concern for the freedom of others, you embolden and empower those who want to take yours away.

The same applies to “open source” code. If we don’t insure it for everyone, there will be others who will want to push “proprietary” code.

Now, imagine how the world would had been improved differently had Microsoft not been proprietarized. All the best ideas and software code could had been shared freely with everyone and a more open free society.

Microsoft was proprietary from the start, not proprietarized, except when Bill Gates fished other people’s code from the dumpster, as he himself admitted.

Which is greater to have, your freedom or wealth? What good is wealth if you have no freedom? In comparison, if you have freedom, you can do anything.

Which is greater to have, your health or wealth? If you have wealth, you need it to afford healthcare, but you still may not obtain health. However, if you have your health, you can always earn wealth.

Now you diverge.

Which is greater to adapt in society, proprietary code or open source code? If you use proprietary code, nobody else can build upon it. If you use open source code, and it’s kept free for all, then everyone can contribute and build upon it.

The same can be said for society, as an open free society who strives with self-determination will thrive as a people. As compared to a tyrannical totalitarian society that is reduced down to a few possibilities.

That’s why Linux isn’t or shouldn’t be the focus. GNU must be the spotlight by insuring Windows is made “honest” to release the source code. It may even help fund GNU to discover all the infringing code used in Windows. What is it, 70 million lines of code there?

GNU/Linux is not the sole area to focus on. Ethics and justice are important, Free software is the means to reach the higher goals.

The only people who have something to hide, are those using proprietary code! What is Windows hiding? We should have the legal right to know, if there are backdoors built in. We should have the right to correct the source code, for mistakes, design flaws, to let everyone improve it.

Someday sooner, we will realize by releasing our freedoms, so that profits can be given away to a few will be viewed as both illegal and immoral. It puts the rich and wealthy first, and makes the society hindered, handicapped, crippled and censored.

Secrecy in code — as in anything in life — harbours misbehaviour. Richard Stallman foresaw the applicability to computer programs.

Feedback? Feel free to interject. I especially enjoy a rebuttal.

When is the new TechRights site going to be up and running?

Did you like any of the ideas for the documentary video?

Waiting to hear!

The scope of Techrights expands because GNU/Linux has outgrown the “advocacy” stage and our enemies are no longer just tech companies. A documentary video needs to be short in order to be viewed by many, or split into chunks because people have become too lazy (of overburdened by information overload) to sit through a full-length film.

If you want to write a guest post for Techrights (highlighting some of the above points), please go ahead.


For those who are not aware, I have been redesigning Techrights with Drupal.

UNIX/Linux: Suspend and Resume Process in Intervals

HAVING spent over an hour searching the Web and asking around the Web for a way of automating suspension and continuation (SIGCONT and SIGINT) of process execution in GNU/Linux, I finally found a script from Q. Boiler, which I have modified a bit to make it simpler to use.

Sometimes the scheduler used in GNU/Linux systems is so resources-greedy that it will let a process take up all the CPU/core cycles and in some cases, as in mine, lead to overheat and system shutdown (my ventilation seems to be flawed or maybe to blame is the unusual summer weather here in the UK because this only ever happens in summer). Anyway, having struggled to find a way to nice a process sufficiently or send the process a universal system signal to help reduce its load on the system, I finally found something which can automate what I have been doing manually (CTRL+Z and fg), especially when rendering some Blender3D clips for my own use. Here is the simple script to be run:



#!/bin/bash
#    Based on a script from Q. Boiler (q.boiler@quantprinciple.com)


var0=0
LIMIT=20

PROCESSID=$1
SLEEP=30
RUN=10

pid=$PROCESSID

while [ "$var0" -lt "$LIMIT" ]
do



kill -SIGSTOP $pid
echo "Suspending $pid"

sleep $SLEEP

kill -SIGCONT $pid
echo "continuing execution $pid"

sleep $RUN

done
echo "killing $pid"
kill -SIGINT $pid


The way to use this is to save the above as a script, say script.sh, give it running permissions, e.g. chmod 755 script.sh, then call it with the process ID as the argument name, e.g. script.sh 46223. The intervals for running can be set within the script or with slight modifications be passed as arguments to the script (this is not crucial for my needs). In case someone else runs into the same problem I have decided to document this publicly.

OpenShot: Good for Novice Users

656px-Screenshot_of_OpenShot

OpenShot is a fantastic video editor for those — who like myself — are not video editing experts and cannot afford to spend hours just learning how to use a video editing program. OpenShot has all the basic functionality and it is coupled with the power of Blender to help achieve rather pretty effects and transitions. Having tried numerous other video editors for GNU/Linux and wasted many hours just trying to learn them (or failing to find some missing functionality), I can warmly recommend OpenShot.

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