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 luckyBackup in progress

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.

Creating a task for your luckyBackup.

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 . . .

Comments

XP netbooks, children and careless fathers.

The main error is to believe
a) a 5 years old child is autonomous
b) a 5 yrs old child needs a PC (at least, without being helped).....
If this error occurs, how can one trust the man who made it?

BTW litl also has an Ubuntu UME base under the hood

The base running under our UI is a customized version of Ubuntu UME (which is based on Hardy). Canonical work with us on this.

Kids love litlOS

Hi Marcel,

I take it you didn't try our linux cloud-based OS running on our litl webbook (available at litl.com). We don't have a log in and our product doesn't need any maintenance. It just boots. Five year old kids absolutely love it - we know because we've tested it on a few, including our CEO's kid. And we don't have anything like a typical interface - we designed our own card-based interface before anyone else had heard of such a thing. We have the bare minimum of settings so you can't get lost in these, the best 12.1" LCD on the market with a 178-degree viewing angle, and a high quality low travel scissor action keyboard. Our product is designed to be absolutely simple to use. It updates its own software automatically without any user intervention and so keeps adding features and channels as we build them. Litl channels are special apps that customize the interfaces to selected media streams, other content and webapps so they just sit right in our UI scheme like another card. There are many of these in the pipeline and we'll be launching an SDK soon so the community can build their own channels.

On your points about cloud-based storage - services like Google Docs are likely to have much better managed and backed up storage on their server farms than most average users could ever manage to run themselves. You're unlikely to lose your data for good though of course nothing is impossible. Neither is it impossible that your hard drive(s) will fail. As far as litl goes, our device doesn't target the corporate market with do-or-die data - we're targeting recreational use at home. We see our webbook as an "always on" device that is there for all the things you like to do at home. We leave the corporate stuff to the work laptop which our customers almost certainly already have.

Cloud computing

I firmly believe that most businesses and home users will be infinitely better off if they don't use "cloud computing" or online apps. If you can't count on having complete privacy and ownership (and/or control) of your documents and data, you are asking for trouble every time. Anytime your documents or data are not stored ONLY on your own computer(s) or your own network, you risk them being leaked, or seen by anyone who has access to the computer(s) that they ARE stored on. And it seems that several times a week I read about data/documents being lost or leaked. Even if your documents are kept in sync with a local backup available, you can have no reasonable expectation of privacy when your documents/data are stored on someone else's computer ot network. There is always someone besides you (and those you may want to collaborate with) that has access to your data/documents. ALWAYS! Usually more than one person will have access. And the more people who have access, the more likely it is that someone will snoop, or leak something.

I fully agree about backing up your documents and data. Anyone who doesn't will wish that they had sooner or later. I have been doing so for many years (by various methods). While I have lost a few documents, there are times that I could have lost many more, plus many pictures, and other data had I not had a recent backup.

TTYL

Google Is Evil

Google's mantra used to be "Don't be evil," but they've turned into what they most wanted to avoid. They don't just want to control the internet, they want to control YOU!

Acer Aspire One

I have an Acer Aspire One.

It runs great it's an awsome machine , how dare you dis it like this ?

By the way , whats this babble about winxp ? My acer came with Linux pre-installed.

:)

Cloud Dreams

Since google, like facebook , is in it for the advertising , you really can't trust their "cloud". They will go over your data looking for advertising opportunities. the fact that the spam filter is hitting your private documents is already proof that your private documents arn't so private.

The only cloud you should depend on is the one you set up and run inside your own home or office, for your own purposes.

Get a linux box and just use it for throwing back up files on, and you'll be fine (as a home user). But the coming cloud is a disaster for privacy.

luckyBackup

I've been using luckBackup for about a year now, it's a very good backup tool. It also has a synchronise option which is useful if you want to work on files away from your main PC, you simply re-run the synchronise on your return to udpate your main system with any files you have modified or added.

Cloud issues....

While the privacy, ownership, and censorship issues are real, the cloud offers significant benefits if implemented properly. All of these issues will work themselves out over time. If you do not like a vendors policies, I am sure another will offer what you need. The ability to collaborate world wide at a very low cost compared to other solutions is very attractive to us. Let's give this some time to develop. It is unlikely to replace everyones infrastructure but many will find a lot to like in the cloud

Google filtering of Google Docs

Very interesting stuff here. I personally will think twice before using Google Docs for anything serious or which requires collaboration. With this sort of censorship, technical problems or whatever you want to call it, just goes to show that regular locally installed office apps are going to be around for a long time.

Netbook, notebook, laptop :)

In relation to your comment about Ubuntu NBR. I also have this installed on an Acer Aspire One and it runs very well. I like the interface.

Additionally, I have just installed Karmic on a new Lenovo X200.

Everything works, all the FN keys, the little light at the top of the screen (which shines on the keyboard), wireless, camera - OOTB (out of the box) as they say. I also like how you can encrypt the /home partition during install. Nice.

One word of warning though. I also bought my wife an X200 and she has the stock standard WiFi card. This was problematic, though I did find that using the Win2000 (yes, you read that correctly) wireless drivers with Ndiswrapper, has solved that...it was not my work, but that of others, which solved this problem. I suggest upgrading the Intel WiFi card and using Wicd...works like a dream.

Google filtering of Google DoCS

Exactly my thoughts Marcel...as you'll note in my post to WFTL-LUG which was being made without knowing you knew about this already :)

To reiterate my comments:

Now what I find disturbing is the notion that there are any filters in the first place.

What is the purpose of this censorship in the first place? People sharing documents that someone else doesn't think is appropriate? I can't quite get my head around that. Blogger, for instance. Does that have a filter that prevents people sharing offensive things? What about Youtube? No. What about images found during a google search? Not from what was said about the images that were intended to insult the USA president's wife. Google indicated that it didn't intend to censor such things.

Though the image has apparently since been removed:


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/24/michelle-obama-photo-goog_n_368760.html


the issue remains as it was the image poster, not google, who removed the image. Google merely apologised.


So I repeat my question: What is the purpose of this filter when Google provide other services to which the broader community has great access?

If this is something Google believes is reasonable and it would appear it does, then this would surely be something that the adopters of Google's ChromeOS should become more aware of and maybe they should take greater notice of RMS (Richard Matthew Stallman) who is seriously concerned about keeping your documents etc in the 'cloud'.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/sep/29/cloud.computing.richard.stallman


This is more grist to the mill and raises questions for me about the use of google docs.

The expanse of space surrounding Planet *buntu is getting busier and busier. As a result, achieving a stable orbit is particularly difficult when you're easily distracted. Consequently, Marcel Gagné's blog looks at pretty much anything and everything that orbits Planet *buntu. News, howtos, rumors, opinions, controversy, tech tips, helpful hints . . . you'll find it all here. Oh look! A shiny object!

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