Oct 102020

One of the big names in the opensource world – Eric Raymond – has declared that Windows will soon be effectively a Linux distribution. Which seems like a ridiculous notion; except technically it might make a lot of sense.


It seems impossible for Microsoft to replace Windows with Linux, but actually it could be done. Windows itself consists of a bunch of software applications which call Windows “APIs” which in turn make calls to the legacy NT kernel. If all that software is written cleanly (it won’t be, but bear with me), it should be possible to make modifications to both (or either) the Linux kernel and the Windows APIs to allow Windows software to run natively.

Impossible? Nope – it has already been done to a certain extent – Wine and Proton allow a considerable amount of Windows software (and games!) to run under Linux.


So it’s not impossible, but surely it is a lot of work. So why?

Microsoft has a bit of a problem – they don’t make a huge amount of money selling the Windows operating system, and maintaining it is hugely expensive. All those security fixes, all those bug fixes, and all those new features they want to introduce.

Now most of this is done to the “userland” rather than the kernel itself, but the kernel does still need to be maintained. But what if you could use the Linux kernel and get some level of maintenance supplied by those not employed by Microsoft?

Would that save Microsoft money? It seems quite possible, and you can bet someone in Microsoft has estimated whether it would or not.

Will It Happen?

There are those who point to certain actions by Microsoft – the Linux subsystem for Windows, the Edge browser for Linux, the rumour of an Office build under Linux, etc. as indicators that Microsoft is planning this.

I think they’re wrong to the extent that those actions don’t say whether Microsoft is planning to make Windows a Linux distribution or not. There are plenty of reasons why Microsoft is releasing Linux software not least because they will almost certainly have developers that believe that porting software is a good way of finding bugs.

The real answer is that the only people who know are inside Microsoft.

The Join
Nov 182013

Today the news comes that Google and Microsoft have agreed to block child abuse images. Great!

Anyone reading (or watching) the news story could be forgiven for thinking that this will solve the problem of child abuse images on the Internet, but that won’t happen. What Microsoft and Google have done is a tiny increment on what they were already doing – instead of just excluding hosts given to them by the Internet Watch Foundation, they are also going to ‘clean up’ the search results for certain searches.

It isn’t blocking child abuse images. The search companies can’t do that; anything who thinks so needs to go and learn a bit more about the Internet which includes the government. Who have of course come out of their rabbit hutch spitting lettuce leaves everywhere, saying that if this action by the search companies isn’t effective they’ll legislate.

Which is just about the clearest evidence so far that the government is completely clueless when it comes to technology; obviously Eton‘s reputation is overstated when it comes to technology education.

People tend to think of child abuse images as being a little bit like anything else you browse to on the Internet – you just search for it, and up it pops. I haven’t tried, but I suspect what you would get is a large number of pages like this one – talking about child abuse images in some way, but no real images. Undoubtedly there are some really dumb child pornographers out there who stick up their filth on ordinary web servers; whereby they’ll quickly get indexed by the search engines and someone law enforcement bods will come pounding on the door.

However the biggest area of child abuse image distribution is likely to be one of the variety of ‘stealth’ Internets … the “dark nets’, or ‘deep web‘.

The later are web sites that cannot be indexed by the search engines for various reasons – password protection, links have never been published, etc. These would be the choice of the not quite so dumb child pornographer.

The former are harder to find – they are roughly analogous to peer-to-peer file sharing networks such as Bittorrent which is widely used for sharing copyrighted material (films, music, etc.). But ‘friend to friend’ file sharing networks are private and not public; you need an invitation to join one. This is where the intelligent child pornographer lurks.

And all the hot air we’ve heard from the government so far is going to do pretty much bugger all about the really serious stuff. If you are a clueless politician reading this, get a clue and ask someone with half a brain cell about this stuff. And don’t invent half-arsed measures before asking someone with a clue about whether they’re likely to be effective or not.

May 022012

One of the cool things about “the cloud” is that there are numerous different companies all offering cloud-based storage of one kind or another. You can even get quite a bit of storage for free, and different solutions offer different cool solutions – such as Dropbox where my phone is configured to automatically send photos up to it. And there are plenty of other solutions out there :-

  • Box
  • Google Drive (of course you may already be using Google Docs which means you essentially have storage related to that).
  • SkyDrive (although for some mysterious reason, Microsoft doesn’t supply a Linux client)
  • iCloud
  • Wuala
  • SpiderOak
  • Ubuntu One – which despite the name, isn’t just for Ubuntu!
  • And in a note for myself, there’s also SparkleShare which is essentially a DropBox client to talk to your own servers.
Undoubtedly there are a whole ton more, but I think I’ve gotten the “big names” covered. The best strategy is of course to find the one whose client works with all the platforms you use (phone, PC, laptop, etc.), comes with the most free storage, and the cost of getting more storage is the least (in decreasing order of importance). Of course in the real world, you are likely to end up with more than one – simply because it’s tempting to look at the next “new thing” or because you want more cheap storage, or simply because other people insist you use service X.

Now if you use multiple cloud-storage solutions, you have a bit of a problem – different clients offering different functionality, different amounts of storage available, and remembering what you put on which “cloud-disk”. Plus of course there is the interesting problem of security – different providers provide different levels of privacy and operate in different jurisdictions where different laws apply.

Different Clients

Different clients work in different ways with different features. For instance, for a Linux user :-

  1. The Dropbox client seems to work pretty well, but it doesn’t appear in a list of filesystems (i.e. when you type df) so you can’t instantly see how much space is still available, etc. At least not in the standard way.
  2. Box(.net) lacks a Linux client, so you have to hack something together. Perfectly possible for more geeky users, but even for us there is the danger that a hackish solution may suddenly stop working mysteriously. Or rather that is more likely.
  3. Ubuntu One doesn’t seem to work via a filesystem interface at all.
  4. And that seems to be the same with SpiderOak.
It may be different for Windows users (I’m too lazy to check – if anyone wants to submit details, please go ahead), but I doubt it.

Whilst cloud storage providers may offer additional features to differentiate their product, they are all essentially the same as a removable hard disk, usb memory stick, or some other kind of removable storage. Whilst the additional features are very welcome, why should we have to learn a new way of managing storage just because it is out there in the cloud ?


There is a great deal of paranoia about storing private data in the cloud with the assumption that creepy organisations such as Google will do something nasty with the data. Well maybe, but the likelihood of Google being that interested in an individual’s data is a little unlikely. Of  course just because the cryptogeeks are a little paranoid does not mean they are completely wrong – there are privacy issues involved.

Firstly, Google could be looking at your data to determine things about you that would be of interest to advertisers – to present targeted adverts at you. Which at best can be a little weird.

Next we like to believe that the laws of our country will protect us from someone picking through our personal data. That someone could be the company supplying the storage, or it could be the government in the country where the storage is hosted. That would probably be fine if the storage was restricted to one location where we could be sure that the government protected us, but where is the storage located?

Much of the time the storage is located in foreign jurisdictions where there is no guarantee that any kind of privacy will be respected – especially if a foreign government takes an interest in your data. Don’t forget the laws of say the USA are not designed to protect citizens of any EU country (or visa-versa). There are of course agreements such as the EU Safe Harbour agreement, but it is possible that it does not offer as much protection as assumed – it is not really intended for private individuals choosing to put their own personal data into foreign jurisdictions.

Probably most of us do not have to worry about this sort of thing (although we can choose to), but some may have to be cautious about this sort of thing. Some of us deal with personal data about third parties – sometimes very personal data – and need to consider whether storing such data in the cloud is being appropriately responsible about the data privacy. For example, a contractor who stores information about their clients should be taking actions to ensure that data is not accidentally leaked (or hacked and published).

The easy answer to this problem is to assume that cloud storage is not safe for sensitive personal data, because there is a simple solution to the problem that still allows the cloud to be used. Use encryption such as TrueCrypt to ensure that even if the cloud leaks your data, it is still encrypted with a method that is not known to the cloud provider.

Store It Twice!

There have been occasions where storage providers have removed access to storage either permanently or temporarily – such as the Megauploads site. Whilst it is perhaps unlikely, it is possible for a cloud service provider to disappear and for the customers to lose their data – even if the cloud provider claims that there is some protection against this sort of thing happening. But it could happen, so it is sensible to ensure that if you store data in the cloud, that you should ensure that you have copies of that data elsewhere.


Dec 052009

So a few days ago I was idly looking at the “StatPress” page on my site to look how few people were visiting to see something rather surprising :-

Graph of accesses

What was happening here ? Have I been slashdotted ? Is my income from those silly ads down the side going to shoot through the roof to a level worth letting a certain company send me the payments ?

No. Nothing so exciting. All (well, the overwhelming majority) were from an MSN robot – presumably indexing this site. Well fair enough, but why so many accesses ? It is not as if my site has much on it – nowhere near the nearly 100,000 page fetches they tried. A closer look at the Apache logs shows that the msn robot repeatedly fetched many pages including one page 1,300 times!

Sounds like Microsoft has a bug somewhere.

Jul 292007

Just seen part of an interview with Bill Gates on News24 where Microsoft’s educational projects were being discussed, and the One Laptop Per Child project was brought up. Bill sort of avoided trying to talk about it by claiming that hardware costs will continue to come down and the real problem is about educational content.

It is true that hardware costs tend to come down … to a point where prices stay fairly static but specifications increase. He has also glossed over the fact that the OLPC laptop is semi-ruggedised with features specifically intended to help with its use as a learning tool rather than a working tool; including the special display which has a special low-power black and white mode intended for reading eBooks. Not something found in a typical laptop!

The other thing that was totally ignored is that the Sugar user interface (running on a stripped down RedHat) is designed to be easy to use for children rather than rely on some conventional approach to desktop computing. For instance there is an easy way to see your local “neighbourhood” (press F1) … the local mesh of internetworked OLPCs.

However Bill hit the nail on the head by bringing up the content issue. It is the real problem and in fact the OLPC project highlights this and has a prominent area on their Wiki to deal with content. Perhaps Bill should put his money where his mouth is and help fund the content projects … it may not help Microsoft directly (although given that the content is intended to be “open-source” there is no reason why a Microsoft operating system could not use it as well as the OLPC laptops) but it would help education.