Netbook Makeovers, Cloud Censorship, and a Lucky Backup
A couple of weeks ago, I bought my five year old son an Acer Aspire One netbook. Not that he really needs a netbook, but it's another item in our ever-growing arsenal of tools designed to help him develop the skills he needs to develop. That's not really the story here. The story is that the Acer netbook came with Windows XP pre-installed. Since I primarily wanted to use the netbook as a learning tool, I installed gCompris, TuxPaint, TuxType, and OpenOffice. The latter is set to hide most menus, rulers, etc, and default to a 72 point font. At first I figured that since I wasn't going to be working with the netbook, that I would just leave XP on it and be done with it.
Except I do have to deal with it. I have to start it up, log him in, fire up the appropriate application, and so on. It took me a handful of times to discover how impossibly dreadful XP is on a netbook. It was unbearably slow, obtrusive, and definitely not designed for the device in question. The slowness was the part that practically drove me to drinking (more than usual, I mean). Do I need to point out that five year-olds don't have a lot of patience? Waiting 5 minutes while the system comes out of hibernation, lets you log in, reconnects to the network, and brings up a word processor is asking that five year-old to go find something else to do. I won't even go into the annnoying non-stop display of popups that plague Windows users worldwide. No, I refuse to mention it.
I shouldn't have to come clean on this, but I will. I'm not the world's biggest fan of Microsoft Windows (really?) but I recognize its position in business and on most of the world's desktop. But trust me. It doesn't belong on a netbook.
So what does? Linux, of course. The kind of Linux that was designed for a netbook. In the hours that followed my decision to scrap Windows from yet another computer, I tried Easy Peasy (based on Ubuntu 8.04), Moblin, and Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10 which is based on the current Sue Graftonesque release "K is for Karmic Koala" (there's a thread on my WFTL-LUG titled "Sue Grafton meets Linux" so I couldn't resist). Without going into intense detail as to how one stacked up against the other, suffice it to say that Ubuntu Netbook Remix is the clear winner by a landslide. Moblin comes gets the prize for having the coolest desktop interface I've seen in a while. Somebody pointed out to me that there is now an Ubuntu Moblin Remix based on Karmic Koala, something I'll definitely be checking out. I may not have made a final decision on the version of Linux that will run on my son's netbook, but you can be sure that Windows is history.
Behind every silver (or chrome) lining . . .
. . . is apparently a dark and ominous looking cloud. In my last post, What Kind Of Bird Are You Booting?, I looked under the hood of Google's ChromeOS and discovered Ubuntu's 9.10 release, Karmic Koala, which I thought was pretty cool. Most of the discussing that followed though had to do with security in the cloud, and whether your data was safe, and whether it was even yours. As one commenter put it, "That whole recent Google Docs censoring thing is really creepy and a good reminder that your work doesnt belong to you."
As far as safety is concerned, there's no question that if you rely on cloud services and those services aren't available (GMail outages always make news on this one), you're out of luck. Running mission critical applications that are 100% dependent on cloud services may not be the best thing and businesses that need access to their information right now, should consider running their own servers or at least looking at some hybrid solution. Sure, use the cloud, but sync local copies of the data with that in the cloud. If the cloud vendor doesn't let you 'take your data with you', then don't buy from them.
Should you trust your data to the cloud? My answer is a firm "No!" You shouldn't trust it. That said, you shouldn't trust your data to anything, including your local desktop or server. Anything you post online that you want to exist or access tomorrow had better be backed up somewhere. Along the same vein, anything you store on your local computer's hard disk that you want to exist or access tomorrow had better be backed up somewhere. System adminstrators generally work on the premise that everything is going to fail at some point, including the hard disk. It's just a question of when. Your job, whether professionally, or personally, is to be prepared for that inevitable crash.
Then there's that whole nasty issue of censorship. Over on the Google Docs support forum, there's a fascinating and frightening discussion about a teacher whose class notes for a course on Henry David Thoreau were flagged for inappropriate content. The result of this was that the document was unavailable for sharing until Google's content police had a look at it or the hapless teacher screamed loudly enough, whichever came first. For the record, it was the scream.
There was a lot of back and forth, tests by the prof to find out what got him in trouble; obvioulsy his desire to explore Thoreau and share his thoughts with the class couldn't have been enough, but I digress. Eventually, someone name Mary appeared in the forums, indentifying herself as a Google employee. She explained that this was obviously an issue with the Google Docs spam filter and that this particular incident would help in improving the system. My suggestions for improving the system would be to leave people's documents alone. What they write is their own business. What's the point of having an online collaborative document creation system if you can't collaborate on the documents because you typed a dirty word? *&%!@ And seriously, why does a word processor need a spam filter?
Cloud computing, in and of itself, is a good thing. As with every useful tool ever created by humans, it comes down to implementation and use. I am not for one moment suggesting that Google, or any other cloud services company, is evil. But always remember that you are the customer for these products and, as such, you have a say in the matter. If you don't like the way vendors are providing cloud services or you find certain practices distasteful, talk about it. Blog about it. Complain to the management. Or just plain speak with your wallet and buy from someone else.
A lucky backup . . .
. . . is, by definition, the one you can rely on when disaster strikes. Which it will. Someday. In my ongoing search for a friendly backup solution for your Ubuntu system, I ran across something called "Lucky Backup" (clidk on the image at right for a full sized screenshot). You can find this one in the Ubuntu repositories so it should be as easy to install as it is to get up and running.
When the program starts, you will need to create a backup Task. You do that by clicking the Add button to bring up the Task properties dialogue (see figure 2). Enter a name for this task (e.g. My home directory"), provide a directory to back up from and a directory to back up to. In my second to last post, I introduced you to rsync at the command line -- that's because many of these programs use the program under the friendly GUI exterior. luckyBackup is no exception. My destination folder is a network-attached external drive. You can, of course, back up to a local folder, but that won't protect you in the event of catastrophic failure.
Click the validate button or simply Okay to finish your task. That will now appear in the task list. Notice as well that there is a checkbox to create a restore task at the same time. If you recall from the rsync discussion, what you are essentially doing here is an rsync, but one in which the source and destination are reversed -- use caution here. When you are happy with the result, click the diskette icon to save your configuration and you're ready to run a backup. Notice there's a "simulation" checkmark if you want to test out a large or multiple backup configuration. Make sure the appropriage task is selected and checked on, click Start, and you're on your way.
luckyBackup lets you create multiply tasks, schedule them to run attended with cron, and it also provides a mechanism for restoring your data.You can save the profile (the backup and task definitions) in a safe place so that you can import it for restoring should disaster strike. The real use for a program like this is the catastrophic failure scenario because a restore brings everything back. You could go looking for a specific file using your favorite file manager, but luckyBackup isn't ideally suited for this. It is, nevertheless, an easy to use and highly approachable program that's worth checking out.
Until next time . . .