Create Your Own Live Linux CD

It used to be said that Linux was an operating system for geeks only. I enjoy refuting that by loading a bootable, Live Linux distribution like Knoppix, PCLos or Mepis into a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive and letting a die-hard Windows user give it a test drive. Generally within minutes they’ve figured out how to open applications and use the desktop with as much ease as they use Windows. I’ve converted several Windows users to Linux using a Live CD.

But I won’t deny that many Linux users also appreciate the fact that Linux allows them to configure their operating system in ways that Windows and Mac users cannot. Nowhere is that more true than in the creation of a customized, bootable Live Linux CD.

Live Linux CDsA Live CD is typically designed to boot and run entirely from a read-only medium like a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive. Some will even run from a bootable USB device. It does not install on the hard drive and no permanent changes are made to the computer it’s running on.

Until now we’ve been limited to using Live (bootable) CDs or DVDs from the major distributors like Knoppix. A book published in November empowers us by showing the average Linux user how to create their own, specialized Live CD.

In Live Linux CDs, Christopher Negus guides us through the process of deciding what to put on our custom disk and how to create it.

He spends the first few chapters describing what a Live CD is and how it works. He takes us on a tour of the components of a Live CD, such as the boot loaders and file systems. Negus finishes the first part of the book by showing us how to build a basic Fedora-based and Gentoo-based Live CD as well as creating a custom Knoppix disk.

Chapter 9 through the end of the book goes more in depth on the creation of specialized bootable distribution. One factor that sets Linux apart from the Windows and Mac operating systems is that Linux distributions can be built to cater to a specific audience.

Live Linux CDs illustrates in detail how to create a CD geared specifically toward security, presentations, gaming, or multimedia. We are also guided through making a CD that provides firewall protection to a computer or network and one that allows us to create a clustered computer environment. Nearly any specialized task you want to create a Live Linux disk to accomplish, this book will allow you to make with ease.

That’s not to say that creating a Live distribution is easy. It’s a task that requires a basic understanding of the Linux command line and console, Linux file systems and the Linux kernel. The author refers to these as “guru skills”. Especially in creating specialized CDs, you’ll need guru skills. Thanks to the Open Source nature of Linux, these skills can be acquired by anyone willing to apply themselves. Even the novice can learn a great deal about Linux and Live CDs from this book, but the novice will want to pick a few of those guru skills before trying to create a custom Linux CD.

This is a valuable book if for no other purpose than to explain clearly what makes Linux so stable and adaptable. It can help even the newest Linux Live CD user get more from their experience with Live distributions. Yet Live Linux CDs will be most appreciated by those with a good grounding in Linux commands and a desire to create their own unique version. I would recommend this book to LUGs (Linux User Groups) as a way to create their own Linux distro as a means of creating interest and providing a service to the community they serve.

Most of all, I recommend this book to any Linux user who enjoys tinkering with the operating system and wants to build something truly their own. I know one guru who created a special distribution for his forum members. The possibilities are endless. Let Live Linux CDs be your guide to a new enjoyment of your Linux system.

Live Linux CDs: Building and Customizing Bootables
Christopher Negus
Pearson Education Inc. 2007
ISBN 0-13-243274-9
14 chapters, 2 appendices, CD-ROM

Fedora 5 Unleashed & SELinux by Example

Usually I prefer to review books one at a time. Since I like to not only read the book I’m reviewing but apply some of the suggestions, it makes to evaluate it from an average user’s point of view as well, trying to cover more than one book per review is difficult.

In the case of these two books, though, my usual practices have to be ignored. These two books not only need to be reviewed together, they need to be purchased and read together. Allow me to expand on my reasoning.

Fedora Core is, in my experience, the first Linux distribution to include setting up SELinux (Security Enhanced Linux) as part of its installation routine. Even though SELinux is supported by Debian and Gentoo, Fedora is the only OS I’ve encountered that presents the opportunity to setup SELinux during installation. Having both these books at hand while setting up Fedora Core 5 will leave you with no unanswered questions.

Red Hat Fedora 5 Unleashed is a massive book. To look at it, someone unfamiliar with Linux might think that Fedora is a very complicated system. Actually Fedora is one of the easier distributions to install. The reason the book is so large is that it covers every aspect of the Fedora Core 5 operating system in exquisite detail.

The first several chapters deal with the usual topics; an introduction to Fedora, preparing to install your new operating system (hardware requirements, partitioning, etc.) and the actual installation process. If you elected to enable SELinux during the installation, this is the time to set aside Red Hat Fedora 5 Unleashed and crack open your copy of SELinux by Example.

If you’re new to Linux or if the phrase “policy language” means nothing to you, then you’ll want to follow the author’s suggestions on how to use this book.

“Thoroughly read and understand Part 1 (Chapters 1-3); this part provides you with the necessary background and conceptual insights to understand SELinux. In particular, carefully read and study Chapter 2. You may want to skim Part II (Chapters 4-10) to get a sense of the content of these chapters. These chapters are loaded with the details of the SELinux policy language. For most people, there are too many details to absorb as part of a strategy to first learn about SELinux.”

You don’t really need to fully grasp all the functionality of SELinux before you start using your Fedora installation. Eventually you’ll want to read SELinux by Example completely through and establish your own policies to meet your needs. SELinux allows you to construct a secure operating system from the ground up. It gives you control over kernal resources, allows you to write policy statements for type enforcement, roles, users and constraints. Using SELinux you can define, manage and maintain security policies as well as develop and write new policy modules. After reading this book, you’ll be able to effectively administer any SELinux system.

Now you’ve installed Fedora Core 5 and gained a bit of enlightenment about SELinux. It’s time to pick up Red Hat Fedora 5 Unleashed again and dig deeper into this system.

Because so many applications come pre-installed in nearly all modern Linux distributions, perhaps the hardest task facing any new user is trying to decide what they want to do first. Should you set up your peripherals, get your network up and running, play around with the user interface? There’s a chapter to help you do all of those. Fedora 5 Unleashed will also help you to manage services, set up and administer your computer as a web server using Apache, learn about shell scripts, play games, share files with a Windows user via Samba, create databases with MySQL or PostgreSQL, watch TV on your computer (providing you have a TV tuner card installed), or build a new Linux kernal. You can even create publications using Open Office, the application I’m using to write this review. Fedora 5 Unleashed will walk you through every step of accomplishing these tasks and many more with clear examples and easy-to-understand writing.

Once you advance beyond the basics and want to really dig into the guts of Fedora, keep this book handy. It will tell you how to manage the X window system, teach you about Linux programming, administering a web server and a network, all from within Fedora Core 5. You’ll even be able to set up a DNS server if you wish. Fedora Core is the step-child of the Red Hat Enterprise version of Linux, and shares a lot of the Enterprise functionality. Red Hat Enterprise is the operating system of choice on many servers, perhaps the only serious challenge to Microsoft’s Windows Server system. The Enterprise edition is a rock solid and fully featured operating system, and Fedora Core has inherited those characteristics. If functionality means more to you than a flashy interface, Fedora Core may be the right operating system for you.

I can’t imagine anything you might want to do in Fedora Core 5 that isn’t explained in Fedora 5 Unleashed. If you want to run a server, have a functional not flashy OS or just want to install one of the most mature Linux distributions available, buy a copy of Fedora Core 5 Unleashed, put the DVD into your DVD-ROM drive and get started. The DVD contains hundreds of applications that will have you being productive within minutes of installation.

And if security concerns you, and it should, you’ll want to have a copy of SELinux by Example handy to refer to as you set up your policies. Combined, these two books will make you a master of your new operating system.

Red Hat Fedora 5 Unleashed
Paul Hudson & Andrew Hudson
Sams Publishing 2006
ISBN 0-672-32847-x
1069 pgs. DVD-ROM
$49.99 USA/$66.99 CAN/
£35.99 Net UK (inc. of VAT)

SELinux by Example
Frank Mayer, Karl Macmillan, David Caplan
Pearson Education, Inc. 2007
ISBN 0-13-196369-4
425 pgs.
$44.99 USA/$55.99 CAN

[tags]Fedora, SELinux, Pearson Education, Sams Publishing[/tags]

The Official Ubuntu Book

Most Linux distributions are built to meet a specific purpose; address a specific audience. There are USB-bootable versions, live disks, and versions geared toward scientific research or desktop publishing. Ubuntu Linux is one of the few distributions designed around a philosophy.

You may have heard about Ubuntu’s founder and first developer, Mark Shuttleworth.

Shuttleworth gained worldwide fame on 25 April 2002 as a civilian cosmonaut aboard the Russian Soyuz TM-34 mission, paying approximately US$20 million. Two days later, the Soyuz spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station, where he spent eight days participating in experiments related to AIDS and genome research. On 5 May, he returned to Earth. In order to participate on the flight, Shuttleworth had to undergo one year of training and preparation, including seven months spent in Star City, Moscow. [Source: Wikipedia] In the 1990s, Shuttleworth was a developer for Debian Linux. In 2004, he released Ubuntu Linux.

The Ubuntu Web site has this to say about its guiding philosophy:

“The Ubuntu community is built on the ideas enshrined in the Ubuntu Philosophy: that software should be available free of charge, that software tools should be usable by people in their local language and despite any disabilities, and that people should have the freedom to customise and alter their software in whatever way they see fit.”

The book’s forward and first chapter both discuss this philosophical distribution. Details on installing and configuring Ubuntu begin in chapter 2. The Ubuntu developers have done an outstanding job at making Ubuntu as easy to install as any other distribution, despite its Debian ancestry.

Chapter 3 covers most all the activities the average desktop computer user might need to do in the course of a day. It discusses finding and using the installed applications (adding new ones is covered in Chapter 4), understanding the file system, the various parts of the desktop and how to get around, adjusting the look and feel of Ubuntu and working with multimedia.

The next chapter deals with managing your system, keeping it updated and configured. It details working with devices like cameras and printers and ends with a look at the Terminal.

Using Ubuntu in a server configuration is covered from start to finish in chapter 5. You can even set up RAID under Ubuntu.

Chapter 6 covers troubleshooting while chapter 7 introduces you to Kubuntu, the KDE window manager based version of Ubuntu, which uses the Gnome manager by default. If you prefer KDE and decide to install Kubuntu, this book is still applicable.

Chapters 8 and 9 finish the book by looking at various participants in the Ubuntu community and other Ubuntu related projects.

Ubuntu has experienced a huge surge of enthusiastic users. In a short space of time its popularity has begun to rival Fedora and Mandriva. There are various theories as to why this is happening. Some credit the philosophical roots of the OS, some say it’s due to the pleasing brown default color scheme. I doubt it’s because of its interface. Gnome is a no-frills desktop, but many distributions offer Gnome. I say it has something to do with the fact that the Ubuntu community is serious about their mission to make and maintain an operating system that offers freedom of use and low cost to the user.

Ubuntu offers a unique distribution method. Anyone can request a copy of the OS on disk here free of charge, including shipping.

Another unique thing: Once you’ve installed Ubuntu to your hard drive using the included DVD, you’ll find a full copy of the book in your home directory. This means you can give the book and disk to a friend and still have the Official Ubuntu Book available for reference any time you need it.

It seems Ubuntu is really serious about that philosophy.

The Official Ubuntu Book
Benjamin Hill and Jono Bacon et. al.
Canonical, Ltd. Pearson Education, Inc. 2007
ISBN 0-13-243594-2
412 pgs. w/DVD-ROM
$34.99 USA/$43.99 CAN

[tags]Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Canonical, Pearson Education[/tags]

Linux forks

This isn’t a reference to open source cutlery.

Linux forks, a term often applied to the varieties of Linux distributions, are poorly understood even in the Linux community. Are all the various distributions available on the internet true forks of the kernal? Kevin Morgan argues that they are not. Is his Enterprise OpenSource Magazine (formerly LinuxWorld Magazine) article “Linux Technology Leadership and the Forking Issue”, he explores the concept of forking in detail, explains the advantages of having unique variants for distinct applications and explains why variants are not forks.
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Online Journalism Protected

Laurie J. Flynn of The New York Times writes:

A California appeals court ruled Friday that online reporters are protected by the same confidentiality laws that protect traditional journalists, striking a blow to efforts by Apple Computer to identify people who leaked confidential company data.

The three-judge panel in San Jose overturned a trial court’s ruling last year that to protect its trade secrets, Apple was entitled to know the source of leaked data published online. The appeals court also ruled that a subpoena issued by Apple to obtain electronic communications and materials from an Internet service provider was unenforceable.

In its ruling, the appeals court said online and offline journalists are equally protected under the First Amendment. “We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish ‘legitimate’ from ‘illegitimate’ news,” the opinion states. “Any attempt by courts to draw such a distinction would imperil a fundamental purpose of the First Amendment.”

The ruling states that Web sites are covered by California’s shield law protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

Apple had argued that Web sites publishing reports about Apple were not engaged in legitimate news gathering but rather were misappropriating trade secrets and violating copyrights. But in its ruling on Friday, the panel disagreed.

“Beyond casting aspersions on the legitimacy of petitioners’ enterprise, Apple offers no cogent reason to conclude that they fall outside the shield law’s protection,” the ruling states

Multimedia for Linux

Awesome multimedia technology heads for KDE
Multimedia seems to be the new driving force behind the computer hardware market. And it’s not just for Windows anymore.

Phonon, an advanced multimedia architecture due in KDE 4.0, will be demonstrated at LinuxTag, May 3-6, in Wiesbaden, Germany. The Phonon architecture supports NMM (network-integrated multimedia middleware), enabling such capabilities as delivering synchronized audio and video presentations across networked systems, controlled by a single, central application.
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Explorer Destroyer Going Too Far?

It’s no secret that the browser wars are on again in earnest. Look in any forum like Lockergnome’s and I’ll bet you’ll find a thread on the evils of Internet Explorer and how Firefox is a gift from Heaven.

Fanatical followers of a particular piece of software aren’t new. Nearly every anti-virus application has its ardent supporters who quickly dismiss any other product as inferior. Discussing favorite email clients can lead to flame wars. And let’s not even get started on the Windows vs. Linux debate.

Google and Mozilla have escalated the browser war to a new level, and even some hardcore Firefox devotees are questioning the wisdom of this latest gambit.
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Just Say No to Microsoft

Just Say No to Microsoft

©Tony Bove 2005
NoStarchPress, Inc.
ISBN 1-59327-064-X
243 pgs. Paperback

“I just want something that works.” How many times have those of us who suggest alternatives to Microsoft heard that phrase? Another statement we often encounter is, “Most of the good applications are written for Windows. Why not use the most popular operating system?”

Tony Bove advises us to “Just Say No to Microsoft”.
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Nice sites for novices

A faithful reader writes,

I enjoy your Linux newsletter but it seems to be aimed at those who are familiar with Linux. Would you recommend some resources for those of us new to Linux? Also, I tried to run the Ubuntu Live CD on my Sony VAIO desktop but it kept hanging up at “Starting hotplug subsystem”. Any suggestions?

I’ve found the best places to learn about Linux are forums, where you can ask specific questions and get a variety of responses. Reading a static Website or book works for some, but I prefer forums.
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From Windows to Linux

In this era of rising costs and security concerns, many people are beginning to consider a move to a Linux operating system. What holds them back are the stories they’ve heard about how difficult it can be to learn Linux and the fear that their favorite applications will no longer be available to them.

Three recent books from our friends at Addison Wesley/Prentice Hall publishing should help make the move to Linux both painless and rewarding.
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