sábado, 28 de agosto de 2010

Are these actually PC problems?

When this blog was born, I wanted to record everything I was learning from computers. I believe that a computer is a great tool when it works on your side and not against you.

Since I started recording my experiences here, I have seen many problems and read a lot online about many more threats. Interestingly, they are all reported as PC issues. Among the most common situations one can find:

1. Rarely are USB drives clean. It doesn't matter what your antivirus software tells you (AV technologies catch in average 19% of threats according to statistics). Once those jump into your HD, prepare for a whole lot of fun trying to remove them.

2. Portable Hard Disks are not immune to USB viruses. USB viruses think of them as gigantic flashdrives.

3. Security is almost a synonym of insecurity. Even the highly-praised MS Security Essentials got hit and cooperated with viruses!

4. You must be prepared for your system to fail, be it due to a system failure or a user-caused problem. Sometimes it will happen sooner than expected. How about four months (as in this case)? Well, that should give you a reasonable time span for you to make your back ups... Being computers fallible and vulnerable, users should bear and grin when these problems occur.

Well, I disagree. I also bought a netbook four months ago. It is, by definition, a PC, but it has not crashed so far. It does not get infected regardless of how many hours I spend online everyday or how many infected USB drives I plug to it (I have seen 53 different viruses in two weeks). So, it is secure. When people ask me about my efficient antivirus, they open up their eyes in astonishment as they hear that I do not have an antivirus because my OS protects me; it is is my antivirus.

An experienced reader who goes online under PJCOLON once said: "It's disconcerting that when the so-called technical publications report on malware, trojans, botnets, etc, it is always a PC problem they never call it out for what it really is: A Windows OS/application problem. I'm using a GNU/Linux powered PC and I do not have any malware problems. Do you?"

So, PJCOLON is right. Those in the list are not PC-bound issues, but OS problems. The press should start reporting them as what they really are: the intrinsic flaws of Windows, not of PCs. My Mandriva desktop has none of those. Nor does my Mandriva netbook. As far as I have heard, the other members of the Linux family (Mepis , Pardus, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Fedora, Sabayon, Arch, and the rest) that run on PCs stand solid against viruses.

However, before you migrate to Linux, you must know that, as in any change of OS, a successful migration depends on intelligent choices and understanding of the situation. I will discuss that later.

martes, 24 de agosto de 2010

My Linux Computer is Acting Weird

A few days ago, thanks to one student, I realized that something funny was happening with my Linux netbook.

He said that it was weird that I was unafraid of USB viruses when I used my computer. Because of that comment, as in a Joycean epiphany, I discovered that THERE MUST BE SOMETHING TRULY WRONG with my netbook. Let me explain:

Since I installed Linux, I haven't seen a blue screen of death--Not even a flash of the scary blue. That's WEIRD.

It is also very strange that my Linux system keeps showing me invisible files stored in USB drives. I am not talking of hidden files. I am talking of many folders that I haven't created; they appear spontaneously when I plug in my USB drive onto any Windows computer. Of course, in Windows, I have no problem because the hideous files remain unseen. What's more: the antivirus constantly tells me that my USB drive is clean. Yet, when I use the flash drive in Linux, I can see them: lots of folders, sometimes with cryptic names, sometimes executable files with the name of my real folders. They are viruses! How am I supposed to have peace of mind if this Mandriva Linux OS keeps showing me how infected my USB drive actually is?

Moreover, it's very weird that my Linux computer refuses to behave as a normal Windows computer. I can get rid of those viruses in two clicks. I do not have to disable system restore...I do not have to boot in safe mode, mess up with the Windows registry, nor run full scans that take forever. Why is Linux so strange?

But here comes the most remarkable thing: my computer, regardless of the quantity of viruses I store in my USB drive (if I decide not to delete those files, of course), keeps WORKING, unaffected by the frightening threats! Now, that is TRULY WEIRD. Why would a person want to have a computer like mine, that is invulnerable to the scourge of USB viruses?

I turned to my student and said to him: "You think that my keeping of the USB viruses is weird. Well, they are harmless in my computer. I believe it's weirder to know that these viruses can destroy your OS and you, as a meek sheep, simply accept to live with that condition".

I saw something sparking in his eyes as another student asked me to help him install Linux in his computer.

sábado, 21 de agosto de 2010

I Lost the Discs (with the drivers)

Today, as I was moving all the furniture to another room in preparation for the coming of the baby, I had to put together my wife's deskptop. The last thing was the installation of her new Logitech WebCam. To say "install" is an exaggeration because all I had to do was plug it in one of the usb ports of the desktop computer and open the program named Cheese! (Yes, as many other women, my wife also uses Linux and understands it pretty well, although Mark Shuttleworth might not believe it). That was all: plug and play. Nothing complicated to do.

Then I rebooted her computer in Windows and placed the CD with the driver on the tray to install it there. I cannot say that it was necessarily difficult, but I had to reboot three times following the instructions to get the device running.

The interesting part of the story took place when she told me that she wanted to give the old cam to her sister. So, I packed it inside the box of the new one and remembered that I needed the CD with the driver for the cam I just removed. When I asked my wife for the CD, she simply said "It must be in the box where I keep all the things for the laptop. If not, I don't know where it is".

As she is 37 weeks pregnant and cannot move much, I found the box and checked it, but the camera driver was missing. For a split second, a flash of an ancient fear traveled through my body. My wife saw my face and calmly said to me: "Maybe I lost it..." I immediately understood my wife's peace. SHE NEVER USES WINDOWS ANYWAY. If ALL the drivers are lost, what is the problem? No worry whatsoever. A Mandriva install gave her everything she needs to use her computer.

Too bad for her sister, though. She uses Windows and must either download the lost driver or wait until my wife finds the disc.

sábado, 14 de agosto de 2010


As I was browsing the Web, I read this comment of a user who considered that Windows is a necessary OS "to get things done". He said this in the context of his disappointment with Linux because of the need of the command line (it was actually Ubuntu that he meant, but people very often fail to understand that Canonical's distro does not represent accurately all other Linux distributions).

At home, I have a dual-boot desktop PC that starts by default with Mandriva Linux 2010 Spring (PowerPack). The other OS is Windows XP SP3, which I had not used for more than three months until today. After I read the comment, and since I hadn't used Windows at home for quite a long time, I thought that it would be fun to boot my desktop in XP to finish installing all the software that was pending after my last formatting, so I restarted the system in Windows "to get things done" and this is what happened:

The First Woe: Fear the Curse of Fear
The PC greeted me with the long-forgotten warning: "Your Antivirus is outdated. Click here to update it". After enjoying antivirus-free Web browsing with Mandriva, one quickly forgets that this warning is the second display of affection that you obtain in Windows after not using it for a while. Well, I complied and clicked for the update. In so doing, I remembered that Spybot Search-and-Destroy was also outdated and, logically, I asked for an update of that program, too. After a five minute wait, both programs were ready, so I immunized the browser with Spybot and decided to run both Spybot and the antivirus to see if they could catch something...an action that took me to woe number two.

The Second Woe: Do You Care for a Byte of Memory?
The download of the AV updates was acceptable, but you know that scanning for viruses is not usually a five-minute operation. Thus, I braced myself for a rather long wait...But why waiting? I did not turn my computer on to WAIT, but to GET THINGS DONE! So, I boldly opened Word...well, "tried to open Word" is more like it. XP eats memory like candy and, when running two different scans at the same time, you understand how slow your PC can become. I took a peek at the progress of both programs and the bar discouraged me. Hence, I forgot about Word and decided to kill some time with a game that is not too heavy on resources. That lead me to woe number three.

The Third Woe: Can the Taskbar Multi-task?
The answer is NO, of course. Since the two scans prevented me from working, I opened a game. But I silenced the effects and the music and opened Winamp (a very old version that I like because of its light weight) to play music. When I was surrounded by twelve flying insects on Planet Formica and the battle was becoming interesting, XP closed the game. The reason? A memory violation...

I thought: "OK, if XP does not want me to play, I'll GET TO WORK!" I located an anti-malware program and decided to install it. But first I waited for the scans to finish. After 40 minutes, they stopped and reported no threats. So I installed the program only to remember woe # 4

The Fourth Woe: Karate Kid Computer, Turn on / turn off
In Linux, the ritual of rebooting after an install becomes a hazy memory buried in the back of your brain. But this WAS Windows, not Mandriva Linux. With full lungs, XP said to me, "I don't care what you do in Sparta, but THIS-IS- BOOTLAND!!!" and I had to reboot to try the program... After almost an hour, I was getting closer to getting things done at last.

But then the firewall blocked the anti-Malware program. When I was trying to solve the problem, the firewall showed an alert of a high-rate attempt to access my computer from the outside. And then, it flashed a warning: "the Win32 Sality Virus that disables antivirus programs is becoming too common. Your version of the firewall cannot stop it, but an upgrade of the program can. Do you want to upgrade for free?" A year ago, I would have clicked YES immediately. However, more than an hour and 15 minutes had elapsed and I had not accomplished anything. The missing installation required me to knock off the firewall, but the firewall was asking me to update! This was too much. I felt completely unproductive in front of the computer. I was mad while I thought that this was XP, the most popular OS today. From what I have seen happening to happy users, Windows 7 performs pretty much in the same fashion, except that it requires more computer resources to run properly. That, in itself, is a funny paradox. I buy clothes that fit me; I do not buy shoes too wide for my feet hoping to fatten until the shoes fit. However, Microsoft expects you to drop XP and buy Windows 7 and to buy new hardware if your PC does not fulfill the requirements for 7. So, Windows is an OS to which the computer has to accommodate! Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Overlooking that fact, you still have the same rebooting rituals and security problems in Windows 7. But wait, there's MS Security Essentials! As it is stated here, it is a paradox that the Essentials are not included with the OS. I laughed in relief at the fact that Microsoft does not make cars for, if the Redmond company did, you would probably have to go to MS EssentialsGarage after buying your car to get the brakes and the door locks! Of course, you would be very happy because you get them for free. (?!)

Following a freeze during installation and a reboot, the program finally decided to launch. I updated it and guess what? The computer asked me again for a reboot. So I rebooted it... only that this time I started Mandriva.

Windows for getting things done? Good joke.

sábado, 7 de agosto de 2010

Some Notes on Linux Effects

One of the many attractive features of Linux is the possibility to add beautiful effects to the desktop. Compiz provides the best known set of effects and they can be used both in Gnome and KDE distros. You get this set by installing it from the distribution repositories. However, KDE has its native effects, which are also nice although a bit stiffer: Kwin. (This is Kwin's flipswitch, an application switcher effect that is is also seen in Compiz and in Windows Vista)
However, Compiz also has the Ring Switcher, the Fire-writing, and many other effects. The problem is that some of the possibilities are mutually exclusive. For those who like this kind of eye candy, I'll point out two features in which Compiz and Kwin differ:

1. Different wallpapers in the multiple desktops
As far as I know, this is only possible if you are using Kwin effects. Somehow, the plasma environment does not enable the different wallpapers with Compiz. Here's the desktop display in Compiz. All wallpapers are the same:

2. Skydome
A skydome is the animated background that moves as you rotate the cube in Compiz. It is pretty impressive when you have a background image that merges on both sides.
However, if you have Kwin, although you can change the background, you cannot animate it to follow the rotation of the cube. This is the Kwin cube with its fixed background:

Of course, the Compiz set has a lot more effects than Kwin does. Nevertheless, I've seen that Compiz makes KDE unstable in certain computers. Kwin effects, on the other hand, do not seem to cause this problem.

So, if you want to beautify your KDE distro, take this information into account and remember: No four wallpapers if you get skydome. And yes, there are other effects, too, like the ones that Metisse incorporates. However, that is the matter of a different discussion.

Some people consider effects a waste of computer power. They may be right but, in my modest opinion, the cube, the multiple wallpapers, fire-writing, water, and snow make my computer environment more appealing to me. I find this aspect significant because, believe it or not, those pieces of eye candy become quite relaxing when you are trying to write an article on, say, Japanese acceptance/rejection ambivalent syndrome or the dark night of the soul in T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets and the muses decide to hide from you. Plus, when the poor souls trapped in Windows 7 Starter see me enjoying my writer's block by playing with the desktop effects, they always ask themselves why I get so many cool features for free and they have to pay to be able to use the over-rated Aeroshake.

martes, 3 de agosto de 2010


これはおもしろいです。知らなかったけど、日本では、Windows が アニメ の せいかく が あります。

しょうじきですね!WIN7の窓辺ななみ は やっぱり しっぱいしますよ。でも、これは一番おもしろいだと思います。いろいろなOS が でてきて、たのしそうです。分かった、WINXP は 美人ですが、WINME は 本当にかわいいですよ!! 


lunes, 2 de agosto de 2010

If Linux is not for Everyone, Neither is Windows

When contrasting Linux and Windows, one frequently hears the fallacy that Linux is not an OS anyone can use. Read this reaction about it. That recurrent argument is based on several misconceptions that I would like to discuss but, first, let us clarify something: there exists no such a thing as an easy, perfect OS. There is always a learning curve when using a system and the more you get exposed to an OS, the more "manageable" it seems. But easiness of use is only a perception, a mirage. Now, let us take a look at the misconceptions.

A. Simplicity:
Some people believe that you need to know many of the hidden arcane secrets of computer sciences to be able to operate a Linux system. They say "You must know command line to use Linux". That is not necessarily true. I will present you two cases in which Windows cannot beat the simplicity of Linux:
1. Erasing USB viruses
Those pesky .exe files become a real nightmare in Windows once they jump from your USB stick to your hard drive. Talk as much as you like, but neither MS Security Essentials, nor antiviruses beat the two-click solution in Linux to get rid those annoying viruses. Yes, in Linux, you just select the virus and delete it from the USB drive and the problem is gone forever. You need no scans for reassurance, with the implication of the waste of time. Clean and fast. A simple five-second operation...or maybe less than five seconds (that depends on your trigger-happy abilities with the mouse).
2. Installation
In Linux, you install only once and you get pretty much everything you need: the OS, the Office Suite, and a good assortment of useful programs, not demos. After installation, you just have to start using your system. No need for entering long strings of numbers to activate anything... In Linux, you forget about registering software, or unlocking, or downloading additional programs to unlock the OS features that you were supposed to get in the first place.

It is true that you might need the console if you want to do something additional with your system. However, that depends on two factors: what you intend to do and the Linux distro that you are using. About the former, most people I know only use the computer to do simple things, like browsing the web, making documents, and keeping in contact with others. All Linux systems excel at that, with the additional plus of security. Concerning the latter factor, if you use Mandriva, Mepis, Pardus, or PCLOS, chances are that you might not need to use the console. I'm not sure about Ubuntu, as it is based on Debian testing, but if you do not stumble with your hardware while taking your first steps, I think that even Canonical's distro can work for you.

B. Support

Who hasn't heard "Windows is backed up by Microsoft" as some sort of unquestionable guarantee of support? Linux, some say, does not have a company behind to help you when you have hardware problems. Now, we have to be open minded here. Who says that Windows will not give you hardware-related headaches? Remember that Windows produces the illusion of being efficient on hardware BECAUSE of the drivers released by hardware manufacturers, not because of the OS itself. What if your shiny Windows 7 lacks the driver to use, say, your scanner? That being the case, your scanner becomes an expensive piece of garbage in Windows. If there is no driver, then you either have to get new hardware or to downgrade. Do you remember Vista and its infamous hardware incompatibility? Many people were furious because, after paying for Vista, their printers did not work. But, if there IS a driver, (and you are sure because you had it on the DVD that you lost) then your option is to go driver-hunting online. If you are lucky and find it, then you have to install it... Going back to reality, the vast majority of people are so uninformed that will end up depending on a technician (who will rip them off) or on a friend who has more experience. I wonder how many of them actually depend on Microsoft every time they have a problem with their computers... I challenge you to try it: Next time your computer breaks, instead of calling a techie or a dependable friend, call Microsoft for support...as in the case of Windows 7 and the laptop batteries that has been discussed to exhaustion...

I would like to finish with an anecdote. Last week, a person came to my office because he wanted to show me something online. I let him use my computer, which was running Mandriva 2010 Spring and, after ten minutes of use, this person realized that he was not using Windows because the ALT+64 keyboard combination did not give him "@"...He used Mandriva Linux for ten minutes and did not notice it was not Windows!

If Linux is not for anyone, I guess Windows domestication is not for all of us, either.

It's the Ides of August!

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Roman general Julius Caesar is given an ominous message by the Soothsayer.  The message is a simple warn...