Get proprietary software out of schools!

I just set up a Linux computer for my young fellow so he could access Literacy Planet, a requirement of his curriculum. The install went well on an old Athlon 1900+ box of Slackware 14.1 with XFCE as the window manager. For those of you who don’t know Linux  (or GNU/LINUX) is an alternative operating system for computers, usually replacing Microsoft Windows or Apple OSX and is generally considered free software. Linux comes in many flavours, called distributions; for example Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, Arch and Slackware are all Linux distributions. They all vary in certain ways due to the individuality of their respective maintainers but they all have one thing in common; The Linux kernel.

Free software isn’t just free as in gratis. The user is free to modify and redistribute the programs as they see fit under the terms of the appropriate licence. Free software is often referred to as Open Source. While free software is all open source, not necessarily is all open source software free software.

Of course Linux is not for everyone. People buy a computer so that it “just works” out of the box. Linux requires re-installation in most cases but there are some hardware venders that do offer Linux out of the box, the most famous being Dell. Still, most consumers will be used to either Windows or Mac and purchase accordingly.

Free software is also available for Windows and Mac computers. For example, an alternative to Microsoft Office is LibreOffice; an alternative to Internet Explorer is Firefox (disclaimer: Firefox is not entirely free software as it does contain some non-free parts, however there are 100% free spin offs of Firefox). There are many more examples covering all types of software. You don’t need to be a geek to use these program, you just need to have the desire to take back your computing power.

One of the key advantages to free software is that many eyes can look over the source code and when bugs are found they are fixed almost instantly. This also improves your security as back doors are not put in place by design. With closed source proprietary software, no body apart from the programmer and his boss know what is in the software and they decide if and when security holes and bugs are fixed.


Back to the recently formatted Slackware box.

After I set it up the login, network and a nice wallpaper and icons, I browsed to Literacy Planet and proceeded to log in to my young bloke’s pre configured account. I was greeted with a splash screen..

Oops!

Looks like you don’t have the latest version of Flash Player installed.

Not to worry, you can click here to download it (it’s free!)

Gasp! WTF???

I could not believe my eyes. An “educational” site, endorsed by the school curriculum, telling me to install Flash Player because “it’s free!”… and “not to worry”. Flash Player would have to be the single most insecure, buggy piece of software in existence yet we all use it daily. What makes it worse is that there is a free (as in beer, as in speech) alternative that has been around for years now, and it is cross platform; HTML5.

Yes, I do use flash out of necessity, but it is permanently blocked and only invoked if absolutely needed. But why do programmers and their employers still insist on using it? This is lunacy. Especially when education is involved. Flash no longer supports my old Athlon 1900+ processor now anyway so I can’t install it even if I wanted to. Html5 works perfectly on that old box.

I can’t help but think that this is a political decision by the powers that be to continue supporting their “mates”. Surely educators are aware that not everybody can afford the latest and greatest and especially in this time of increased security awareness that not everybody is as gullible as to accept “she’ll be right mate! It’s free!”

 

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Slackware 14.1


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There you go folks. There is a new slackware out there for your linux enjoyment.

For more info visit slackware.com .

Announcement: Slacko 5.6 is released!

On August 13, 2013, I hereby announce the release of Slacko Puppy Linux Version 5.6

This is the successor to Slacko 5.5 which was a very successful release. It is still based on the solid binary packages of Slackware 14.0. Coincidentally, 5.5 was released on March 5 this year, my Mum’s birthday. Today happens to be my son’s birthday! Happy birthday Jackson  8-).

There are some great new features including:

  • experimental f2fs support
  • ability to run internet programs as unprivileged user, Spot
  • latest Firefox ESR 17.0.8
  • latest Google Chrome in repo
  • latest OpenOffice 4.0 and LibreOffice 4.1.0 in the SFS Manager
  • latest Skype in the SFS Manager plus much more
  • latest Nvidia and AMD/ATI graphics drivers for new and legacy cards

You can read more about it at the Slacko Home Page.

Enjoy!  :dog:

f2fs – booting linux on an f2fs flash drive

Today I had an eureka moment. I installed a full install of Slacko Puppy Linux to an f2fs formatted flash stick, booted and surfed the net. Has anyone done that yet?

The kernel is k3.4.52 patched with f2fs patches from Now Computing. I had to hack them a bit because the developer is only supporting k’s 3.0, 3.2, 3.5 and 3.8. I also patched the kernel for AUFS as we do in Puppy.

The unique problem here is that no bootloader supports f2fs at the time of writing. The work around is to first create a small boot partition in a recognised format such as vFAT, ext2, 3 or 4. Then you can boot the stick with grub (I used grub4dos). You could probably use syslinux, grub2 or even lilo.

In the boot partition you create a /boot directory that contains the kernel image (vmlinuz) and an initrd (in my case initrd,gz). Now in my kernel configuration I have all the relevant drivers that I need as builtins however using an initrd it would work just the same to have hid, usbhid, ehci-hcd, uhci-hcd and f2fs as modules and just load them. In fact, in my init script I have those loading anyway with the error sent to /dev/null. Of course you need a tree with the appropriate modules in the appropriate places, busybox, the necessary mount points and so on.

The real trick was to find the root partition which was on /dev/sdb2, however that would not work, nor would sda2, which probably should have since I wasn’t loading any other filesystems and the only builtin is ext2 (I was using FAT32 on my boot partition). My hard drive is formatted NTFS and ext4. I achieved this by using the UUID in the init script itself. You could just as easy have a config file that init reads.  Once the root filesystem is mounted you then switch root in to the running systems as with any other initrd.

Thanks have to go out to Barry Kauler for integrating f2fs into Puppy Linux infrastructure and for some of the code from his init script. My init script uses some of that but uses a directory structure based on Slackware’s initrd and some of the code from Pat Volkerding’s init script too.

I’ll post the code and documentation at a later date.

Any questions, ask in the comments.

Slackware 14 released

Slackware Logo

And … we’re there

– Pat Volkerding, twitter, Friday 28th September, 2012

As many in the Linux world will know Slackware is the oldest surviving Linux distribution. It was started by Pat Volkerding back in 1993. He has remained at the helm ever since.

Announcement.

Slackware’s KISS philosophy is well known. While it is not quite the easiest Linux it’s structure and mechanisms follow a very simple framework.

Congratulations to Pat and the Slackware team.

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Slacko Puppy has already started the next phase of development based on the binaries of Slackware 14. You can follow development on the Puppy Forum.