RSS

Monthly Archives: March 2008

FreeBSD: a review

By popular demand of one person I present to you my review of FreeBSD 7.0. I hope to be a little bit more thorough with this review than I have with past reviews.

Things to note

First there are a few things to note about FreeBSD. FreeBSD is not an anyway Gnu/Linux. If you are used to Linux you may find somethings different about FreeBSD and you may not like it because it isn’t what you are used to.

FreeBSD is more of a server or workstation OS and may not be quite what you are looking for in a home pc out of the box. The great thing about open source software is that you can make it what you want (assuming you have the knowledge to do it).

FreeBSD has a Linux binary compatibility mode but I still had problems with Linux binaries (and one python script, I only tried one though). I presume that this may be, in part, due to system calls that are not supported.

Installation

If you have ever installed FreeBSD before then you know what to expect in 7.0. The installer is text based and can be kind of annoying. I’m not a fan of this installer at all; I especially hate the partitioner. I’ve tried to find some screenshots because I don’t have the set up to get them but was unable to locate any. To bad for you. The installer isn’t really all the complicated but I would suggest looking at the handbook the first time you install. First it will ask you some questions about settings and then you will be given the opportunity to choose what to install. After this installation will begin. It wants to jump around between all three disks (you can’t get a dvd) to install different things. It seems to have a list of things to install and goes through installing each one after another until it hits one that is not on the disk that is in the drive at the time. At which point it will ask you if you would like to switch disks. I would hope that you could say no and then get that stuff later but I don’t think I have ever tested it. I always just switch.

FreeBSD is supposed to get a new graphical installer sometimes soon. The installer is called finstall and is supposed to be release sometime in the near future to be used with 7.0.

Using it

The first boot

On the first boot you are ready to go and FreeBSD is completely installed as you may expect. I don’t remember anything interesting about the first boot, but it has been a while. As far as I can remember it was just like every other time I booted.

First the bootloader askes you what you want to do then FreeBSD asks what you want to do (regular boot or safemode or whatever else) and then you then you are dumped to a standard text login. If you want a graphical login you will have to configure that yourself. I’ve done it in the past but I didn’t mess with it this time around because it was ocationally useful to go straight to the command line. In fact, you will probably need the command line to configure X to your liking and whatever else you may want to configure. Like I said in the beginning this is not an OS meant for your average Joe. It is meant for a person who has experience with unix or unix-like operating systems.

Gnome

What can I say? Gnome is Gnome. If you want auto disk-mounting you will have to set it up yourself (which is not Gnome’s fault but it would be nice if you didn’t have to). Other than that the only comment I have is that screen savers didn’t work for me. They also didn’t work with Gentoo so I would assume that it is a configuration problem.

package management

I don’t know if what FreeBSD has fits my definition of true package management, but it does have packages and it is easier to install software than doing The make dance. FreeBSD uses zipped tarballs(.tbz) as packages. It essentially just has a script that does that does the make dance for you. I don’t consider it to be true package management due to the way it works not with the packages themselves. All packages are stored on the FreeBSD FTP server and one must download a package and use pkg_add to install it (or you can just use pkg_add -r to get the version in the tree for your version or maybe it is the most resent one I’m not sure.) My definition of a true package manager is program that allows you to wield complete control over the software installed on your system. This means installing, un-installing, updating, auto-update-checking, version checking, searching, and so on. pkg_add does not do many or even most of these things. I have heard of other package managers for FreeBSD but I didn’t look into any.

other stuff

Fileroler didn’t support zips out of the box; I had to install unzip. This might have had something to do with my configuration when I installed. In any case if you want to unzip things make sure you have unzip

My mouse seems to act a bit odd with FreeBSD. It is really sluggish even after I have messed with the mouse settings in Gnome and also seems to have a problem moving up and down. There are two possible answers to why this is: one is that my mouse is a piece of broken crap, while it may be a piece of crap it is not to my knowledge broken as it worked just a few hours before I installed FreeBSD; or That there is a problem in X’s mouse support (Do ps2 mice have drivers?). When i reinstall Linux I will make an edit to this post on the status of my mouse.

As I said in the opening FreeBSD is not Linux and it should not be expected to act as Linux does. FreeBSD does not use GNU’s coreutils so many common programs will behave a bit differently. This isn’t normally a problem and I can’t say that I experienced any problems while testing. I am only aware of the difference because I use a mac which also uses BSD utilities instead of GNU’s.

In Conclusion

I know that I always seem to only find problems with software that I review, but that is because the problems are what stick out to me the most. That doesn’t mean that the software is necessarily bad just that it isn’t what I want. When I try a Linux or BSD distro I go into it expecting a fully functional OS for the purposes of my daily computing needs. FreeBSD is not meant for that without some love and care that I don’t have time to put into it. Therefor I must say that FreeBSD 7.0 does not meet my approval for an everyday home PC. I would however consider it for a server. From what I have heard most of the major improvements to the kernel are in areas that only really affect servers, such as SMP. FreeBSD 7.0’s SMP support is, from what I’ve heard, much better than Linux’s and allows FreeBSD to blow Linux out of the water in speed tests.

I’ve decided to take LinuxCrayon’s advice (which he left in a comment here if anyone is interested) and will be trying slackware next. I hope it can beat fedora for my distro of choice but I wouldn’t bet on it (and to think not to long ago I was a Debian guy!). I’ve seen it around and though about trying it before but just never did it. I’m not going to promise to write a review on it (I will if it blows me away).

Well I think that about raps it up for me. There is no way I’m going to get the read and edited so you will just have to suffer my typos and what-nots. :p

 
4 Comments

Posted by on March 31, 2008 in freebsd, review

 

Tags: , , , ,

11 security tips

A lot of people don’t seem to know or care about the security of their computers. If you are reading this site you probably aren’t one of those people but I’m sure you know some, and if you are one of those people then READ THIS! Even if you are a security knowledgeable citizen of the intertubes there may be a few things you don’t know or you can at least share this with your “dumb” friends :).

If you happen to be one of those “dumb” friends and you don’t understand any of this don’t hesitate to ask you “smart” friend for help. We love it when you ask us for help with your computers.

Don’t use Microsoft products:

As a general rule Microsoft products are not the most secure, though thats not to say if its not made by Microsoft it is secure or that only open source software is secure. I’m not just talking about windows here; outlook, IE, MSN messenger, and whatever tend to have more security flaws then their competitors. I believe this is partially due to the way Microsoft makes products (e.g. buy something someone else made and give it to developers that aren’t familiar with it and tell them to screw with it so that it is different then it was when they got it and get it out the door as fast as possible with absolutely no testing), Microsoft’s monopoly, having fewer devs looking at the code than an open source project would. This really is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself. I guess I can’t just tell you to stop using Microsoft products without giving a suggestion on what you should use. Ubuntu is probably the best thing for a non-technical person to use if they want to continue to use the computer they already have. If you are a non-technical person or your “friend” is and you are in the market for a new computer I would suggest apple products. If you insist on using Windows I only ask that you stop using IE. Switch to firefox.

Keep up to date:

In general software becomes more secure with time. So it is generally a good idea to have the latest version of software, or at least the software that is going to be connecting to the internet (i.e. your web browser, email client, or instant messenger). It is especially important that you keep up to date on the updates for you OS.

Browse defensively

It a pun of defensive driving get it? Yeah, I know it wasn’t funny… Anyway, unsafe browsing habits is among the top causes of security problems. Pay attention to what you are doing. If you get an email claiming that paypal needs your password treat it the same way you would if you got a letter in the mail that says Social Security needs your social security number. This is called phishing. You will be sent to a web site that looks a lot like paypal but is not paypal. All you have to do is look at the address bar and see that you are at http://www.someurl.com (that is an example and not really where you will be) instead of at http://www.paypal.com.

Besides getting your information stolen unsafe browsing can lead to viruses and root kits (a program that takes control of your computer so that a cracker can use it). So be careful what you download. If you are doing loading a file and its called 5billionpicsofsexygirl.exe.zip, it is not the porn you wanted but a virus! You should always be leery of files with two extensions. Also, check the file size. if it is really 5 billion pictures it is going to be much larger than 500kb.

This topic is another great example of why you shouldn’t run windows. Windows has many vulnerabilities that will allow an attack to install software onto your computer by simply directing you to a webpage or getting you to open an email.

Use long, random passwords:

Passwords are generally your first line of defense against an attack and the longer and less guessable they are the safer they are. I talked recently about a website that generates a very long password for you. I suggest that you use it.

Don’t right down your passwords:

You remember those dosen long random passwords I told you to use? Yeah, never ever write them done (or give them to others). If you do it completely defeats the purpose of having them because then anyone can just read it! There are some memory tricks you can use remember them if you are having trouble: break each password up into small section of 1-3 characters (e.g. if your password is oetuhc89dh break it into oet uhc 89 dh or oet uhc 89d h), or assign each character in your password to an object and place that object in you memory palace.

To be honest, I don’t remember most of my passwords. I let firefox remember them for me and I just use a master password. I know this isn’t the most secure thing to do but its better than using the same one password I remember for every site. I also keep all of my passwords in an encrypted text file (that is NOT labeled passwords.txt). If you are really paranoid you might want to keep this on a flash drive so that the people in black helicopters can’t steal your hard drive and recover the unencrypted text file from your deleted files. I just use srm.

Use security extension for firefox:

I’ve already said that you shouldn’t use IE because it isn’t secure and that you should use FireFox (or opera if you want). Now I’m going to tell you that FireFox is still not secure enough. FireFox is better than IE but like all things in this world it isn’t perfect. Fortunately, there are some extensions that can bring Firefox closer to perfection.

fireGPG
flashBlock
McAfee Siteadvisor
NoScript
SafeCache
SafeHistory

secure your network:

I’m all for sharing your network with others, but it really isn’t very secure. a lot of people don’t even know that it is possible to log in to their wifi router and change things. Well you can. so lets all go to http:192.168.1.1 and change our routers passwords and then go over to the security tab and turn on encryption (make sure you know the wep key or wpa password).

If you know what your doing and you want your network to be secure but also want to allow others to use it, you can make a section that you use which is secure and a section for others to use that is open.

Turn off file sharing:

File sharing is evil turn it off when you aren’t using it. Next time you stay at a hotel that offers free wifi poke around at the network a bit and you will be amazed to find probably dozens of windows machines that have file sharing (not as in p2p) on and completely open to you. This is yet another reason why you should not use windows. Linux/BSD/Mac OS will make you work to reach this level of insecurity whereas windows does it by default (or maybe it is a toggle in the network settings I can’t remember). However, I do believe that vista is a bit more secure than XP when it comes to file sharing.

Use multiple passwords:

As well as using long, random passwords you should be using multiple passwords. In fact, you should really have a different password for everything. At very least use a different password to login to your computer as you use on to log into the bank’s site and yet another for myspace or whatever.

Encrypt your stuff:

Anytime you are using a computer you should have the expectation that someone could get access to your files if they are determined enough. Thus, the only sure way to protect yourself is to use encryption (unless the FBI, CIA or any other organization with a three letter abbreviation for a name are after you.) You have two options: encrypt only the files that you want to secure or encrypt all of your files. Both have their advantages. If you only encrypt certain files it will be a red flag to anyone who finds them that they are important. Encrypting everything means encrypting the partition that your stuff is on. Recently some security experts have shown thatit is relatively easy to get around this kind of encryption. I presume that the attack used to do that only works if the partition is mounted at start up; so if you don’t mount it at start up and simply mount it yourself after you have logged in I think you may be able to protect yourself from this.

If you want to go with the first method (encrypting individual files) you should check out a series I wrote about GNUPG a long time ago.

If you would prefer to use the second method (full partition encryption) you should check out the series that Zeth over at the Commandline Warriors put together.

Remove important stuff with srm or shred.

If you are using full disk encryption this section probably isn’t for you, but if your not listen up. When you delete things from your computer they are not gone! it simply tells your computer that the space that was used for the old data can now be used to something else. So when you delete a file it can often be recovered by people who have the money to do that kind of thing.

Never fear, you can protect yourself from this one Too! Just use srm or shred to delete those important files (both of these (or maybe just one) should be available in your friendly neighborhood repository). Some people argue about which is better and I don’t know so I’m not going to comment. I think both will probably get the job done, however srm is more widely available.

If you are reinstalling your OS or getting rid of your computer you want to make sure that there is nothing left behind from the old OS that could compromise you security. I suggest using a live disk called Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN). If you don’t want to mess with this when you are just reinstalling your OS that is fine, but This is a must if you are going to be getting rid of your computer/hard drive. If you do not wipe the drive before you get ride of it the person who gets it next will have complete access to all of your files.

If you still need a reason to worry about the security of your computer know this: most spam comes from computers which have been taken over by attackers completely without the knowledge of their owners.

Stay tuned for the second part of my security series where I will try to get you to think like a paranoid person. Also Mr.linuxcrayon that FreeBSD review will becoming any day now.

 
20 Comments

Posted by on March 28, 2008 in security

 

Tags: , ,

I’m not dead.

I’m not dead, really! I hope to post some new stuff in a few days. I haven’t posted anything because I was lazy for the past few weeks and then I went on vacation.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 28, 2008 in blog

 

Tags: , ,

Site of the Week: a short essay and an open letter.

I kind of forgot to write this and I’m going to through it together now. Too make up for it I’ll give you two interesting things I found sometimes ago. The first is:

Inside the Monkeysphere

here is excerpt:

Picture a monkey. A monkey dressed like a little pirate, if you wish. We’ll call him Slappy.

Imagine you have Slappy as a pet. Imagine a personality for him. Maybe you and he have little pirate monkey adventures and maybe even join up to fight crime. You’d be sad if Slappy died, wouldn’t you?

Now, imagine you get five more monkeys. Tito, Bubbles, Fluffy, Marcel and ShitTosser. Imagine personalities for each of them. Maybe one is aggressive, one is affectionate, one is distant and quiet. And so on. They’re all your personal monkey friends.

The second is:

Why Can’t I own a Canadian

and an excerpt:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

ok I’m out of time (stargate is about to come on). See you later internet.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 7, 2008 in site of the week, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

A Brief Review of Gentoo.

As I promised here is my review of gentoo. I’ve been wanting to try gentoo for a while now but I could never get it installed quite right. Amazingly despite my isp’s block of rsync causing gentoo to believe that I didn’t have internet I finally installed it with success! The only thing of interest that I can think of to mention at this point was that the screen saver didn’t work. So once I got my isp to stop blocking Rsync (that took a about a week…) I decided I should update my system; I hoped this would fix the problem with the screen saver. So I ran emerge –update –world and that was when the trouble started. Gentoo is obviously a very manual distro which is fine but it can be annoying times. I won’t complain about that too much because I know the reasons for it and actually kind of like it in some way, however, I don’t have time to worry about software conflicts and updating config files every times I update something.

The trouble that I mentioned was that my computer stopped running the gdm on log in and once I did get into gnome it had lost all of my settings and half of everything simply didn’t work (including dvorak). I wasn’t really in the mood to try to fix this and I had no idea what was wrong so I decide to update gnome and see what happened. It fixed it thats what happened. (the first review was better; this one sucks pretty bad.) Once Gnome was functioning again I decide to install vlc (because that is how I roll). vlc had no gui interface so I’m assuming that somehow I got the cdl version or something. I believe I may have had one or two other minor problems, but I can’t remember what they were as it has been a little while.

Don’t think that gentoo is bad just because I had a few annoyances. I’m sure I would use gentoo if I had more time (and knowledge?) to invest in getting the thing to work properly (and then never touch it), but with school and everything I don’t. For me, Fedora is still the best distribution because it requires a lower level of maintenance (though it has been giving me problems on this install…)

 
11 Comments

Posted by on March 2, 2008 in linux, review

 

Tags: , , , , ,