Monthly Archives: February 2018

Plasma Mobile Could Give Life to a Mobile Linux Experience |

In the past few years, it’s become clear that, outside of powering Android, Linux on mobile devices has been a resounding failure. Canonical came close, even releasing devices running Ubuntu Touch. Unfortunately, the idea of Scopes was doomed before it touched down on its first piece of hardware and subsequently died a silent death.

The next best hope for mobile Linux comes in the form of the Samsung DeX program. With DeX, users will be able to install an app (Linux On Galaxy—not available yet) on their Samsung devices, which would in turn allow them to run a full-blown Linux distribution. The caveat here is that you’ll be running both Android and Linux at the same time—which is not exactly an efficient use of resources. On top of that, most Linux distributions aren’t designed to run on such small form factors. The good news for DeX is that, when you run Linux on Galaxy and dock your Samsung device to DeX, that Linux OS will be running on your connected monitor—so form factor issues need not apply.

Outside of those two options, a pure Linux on mobile experience doesn’t exist. Or does it?

You may have heard of the Purism Librem 5. It’s a crowdfunded device that promises to finally bring a pure Linux experience to the mobile landscape. This device will be powered by a i.MX8 SoC chip, so it should run most any Linux operating system.

Out of the box, the device will run an encrypted version of PureOS. However, last year Purism and KDE joined together to create a mobile version of the KDE desktop that could run on the Librem 5. Recently ISOs were made available for a beta version of Plasma Mobile and, judging from first glance, they’re onto something that makes perfect sense for a mobile Linux platform. I’ve booted up a live instance of Plasma Mobile to kick the tires a bit.

What I saw seriously impressed me. Let’s take a look.

Testing platform

Before you download the ISO and attempt to fire it up as a VirtualBox VM, you should know that it won’t work well. Because Plasma Mobile uses Wayland (and VirtualBox has yet to play well with that particular X replacement), you’ll find VirtualBox VM a less-than-ideal platform for the beta release. Also know that the Calamares installer doesn’t function well either. In fact, I have yet to get the OS installed on a non-mobile device. And since I don’t own a supported mobile device, I’ve had to run it as a live session on either a laptop or an Antsle antlet VM every time.

What makes Plasma Mobile special?

This could be easily summed up by saying, Plasma Mobile got it all right. Instead of Canonical re-inventing a perfectly functioning wheel, the developers of KDE simply re-tooled the interface such that a full-functioning Linux distribution (complete with all the apps you’ve grown to love and depend upon) could work on a smaller platform. And they did a spectacular job. Even better, they’ve created an interface that any user of a mobile device could instantly feel familiar with.

What you have with the Plasma Mobile interface (Figure 1) are the elements common to most Android home screens:

Because KDE went this route with the UX, it means there’s zero learning curve. And because this is an actual Linux platform, it takes that user-friendly mobile interface and overlays it onto a system that allows for easy installation and usage of apps like:

  • GIMP

  • LibreOffice

  • Audacity

  • Clementine

  • Dropbox

  • And so much more

Unfortunately, without being able to install Plasma Mobile, you cannot really kick the tires too much, as the live user doesn’t have permission to install applications. However, once Plasma Mobile is fully installed, the Discover software center will allow you to install a host of applications (Figure 2).

Swipe up (or scroll down—depending on what hardware you’re using) to reveal the app drawer, where you can launch all of your installed applications (Figure 3).

Open up a terminal window and you can take care of standard Linux admin tasks, such as using SSH to log into a remote server. Using apt, you can install all of the developer tools you need to make Plasma Mobile a powerful development platform.

We’re talking serious mobile power—either from a phone or a tablet.

A ways to go

Clearly Plasma Mobile is still way too early in development for it to be of any use to the average user. And because most virtual machine technology doesn’t play well with Wayland, you’re likely to get too frustrated with the current ISO image to thoroughly try it out. However, even without being able to fully install the platform (or get full usage out of it), it’s obvious KDE and Purism are going to have the ideal platform that will put Linux into the hands of mobile users.

If you want to test the waters of Plasma Mobile on an actual mobile device, a handy list of supported hardware can be found here (for PostmarketOS) or here (for Halium). If you happen to be lucky enough to have a device that also includes Wi-Fi support, you’ll find you get more out of testing the environment.

If you do have a supported device, you’ll need to use either PostmarketOS (a touch-optimized, pre-configured Alpine Linux that can be installed on smartphones and other mobile devices) or Halium (an application that creates an minimal Android layer which allows a new interface to interact with the Android kernel). Using Halium further limits the number of supported devices, as it has only been built for select hardware. However, if you’re willing, you can build your own Halium images (documentation for this process is found here). If you want to give PostmarketOS a go, here are the necessary build instructions.

Suffice it to say, Plasma Mobile isn’t nearly ready for mass market. If you’re a Linux enthusiast and want to give it a go, let either PostmarketOS or Halium help you get the operating system up and running on your device. Otherwise, your best bet is to wait it out and hope Purism and KDE succeed in bringing this oustanding mobile take on Linux to the masses.

Learn more about Linux through the free “Introduction to Linux” course from The Linux Foundation and edX.

Linux LAN Routing for Beginners: Part 1 |

Once upon a time we learned about IPv6 routing. Now we’re going to dig into the basics of IPv4 routing with Linux. We’ll start with an overview of hardware and operating systems, and IPv4 addressing basics, and next week we’ll setup and test routing.

LAN Router Hardware

Linux is a real networking operating system, and always has been, with network functionality built-in from the beginning. Building a LAN router is simple compared to building a gateway router that connects your LAN to the Internet. You don’t have to hassle with security or firewall rules, which are still complicated by having to deal with NAT, network address translation, an affliction of IPv4. Why do we not drop IPv4 and migrate to IPv6? The life of the network administrator would be ever so much simpler.

But I digress. Ideally, your Linux router is a small machine with at least two network interfaces. Linux Gizmos has a great roundup of single-board computers here: Catalog of 98 open-spec, hacker friendly SBCs. You could use an old laptop or desktop PC. You could use a compact computer, like the ZaReason Zini or the System76 Meerkat, though these are a little pricey at nearly $600. But they are stout and reliable, and you’re not wasting money on a Windows license.

The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is great for lower-demand routing. It has a single 10/100 Ethernet port, onboard 2.4GHz 802.11n wireless, and four USB ports, so you can plug in more USB network interfaces. USB 2.0 and the slower onboard network interfaces make the Pi a bit of a network bottleneck, but you can’t beat the price ($35 without storage or power supply). It supports a couple dozen Linux flavors, so chances are you can have your favorite. The Debian-based Raspbian is my personal favorite.

Operating System

You might as well stuff the smallest version of your favorite Linux on your chosen hardware thingy, because the specialized router operating systems such as OpenWRT, Tomato, DD-WRT, Smoothwall, Pfsense, and so on all have their own non-standard interfaces. In my admirable opinion this is an unnecessary complication that gets in the way rather than helping. Use the standard Linux tools and learn them once.

The Debian net install image is about 300MB and supports multiple architectures, including ARM, i386, amd64, and armhf. Ubuntu’s server net installation image is under 50MB, giving you even more control over what packages you install. Fedora, Mageia, and openSUSE all offer compact net install images. If you need inspiration browse Distrowatch.

What Routers Do

Why do we even need network routers? A router connects different networks. Without routing every network space is isolated, all sad and alone with no one to talk to but the same boring old nodes. Suppose you have a and a network. Your two networks cannot talk to each other without a router connecting them. These are Class C private networks with 254 usable addresses each. Use ipcalc to get nice visual information about them:

$ ipcalc
Address:          11000000.10101000.00000001. 00000000
Netmask: = 24   11111111.11111111.11111111. 00000000
Wildcard:            00000000.00000000.00000000. 11111111
Network:       11000000.10101000.00000001. 00000000
HostMin:          11000000.10101000.00000001. 00000001
HostMax:        11000000.10101000.00000001. 11111110
Broadcast:        11000000.10101000.00000001. 11111111
Hosts/Net: 254                   Class C, Private Internet

I like that ipcalc’s binary output makes a visual representation of how the netmask works. The first three octets are the network address, and the fourth octet is the host address, so when you are assigning host addresses you “mask” out the network portion and use the leftover. Your two networks have different network addresses, and that is why they cannot communicate without a router in between them.

Each octet is 256 bytes, but that does not give you 256 host addresses because the first and last values, 0 and 255, are reserved. 0 is the network identifier, and 255 is the broadcast address, so that leaves 254 host addresses. ipcalc helpfully spells all of this out.

This does not mean that you never have a host address that ends in 0 or 255. Suppose you have a 16-bit prefix:

$ ipcalc
Address:          11000000.10101000. 00000000.00000000
Netmask: = 16     11111111.11111111. 00000000.00000000
Wildcard:          00000000.00000000. 11111111.11111111
Network:       11000000.10101000. 00000000.00000000
HostMin:          11000000.10101000. 00000000.00000001
HostMax:      11000000.10101000. 11111111.11111110
Broadcast:      11000000.10101000. 11111111.11111111
Hosts/Net: 65534                 Class C, Private Internet

ipcalc lists your first and last host addresses, and You may have host addresses that end in 0 and 255, for example and, because those fall in between the HostMin and HostMax.

The same principles apply regardless of your address blocks, whether they are private or public, and don’t be shy about using ipcalc to help you understand.


CIDR (Classless Inter-Domain Routing) was created to extend IPv4 by providing variable-length subnet masking. CIDR allows finer slicing-and-dicing of your network space. Let ipcalc demonstrate:

$ ipcalc
Address:          11000000.10101000.000000 01.00000000
Netmask: = 22   11111111.11111111.111111 00.00000000
Wildcard:            00000000.00000000.000000 11.11111111
Network:       11000000.10101000.000000 00.00000000
HostMin:          11000000.10101000.000000 00.00000001
HostMax:        11000000.10101000.000000 11.11111110
Broadcast:        11000000.10101000.000000 11.11111111
Hosts/Net: 1022                  Class C, Private Internet

The netmask is not limited to whole octets, but rather crosses the boundary between the third and fourth octets, and the subnet portion ranges from 0 to 3, and not from 0 to 255. The number of available hosts is not a multiple of 8 as it is when the netmask is defined by whole octets.

Your homework is to review CIDR and how the IPv4 address space is allocated between public, private, and reserved blocks, as this is essential to understanding routing. Setting up routes is not complicated as long as you have a good knowledge of addressing.

Start with Understanding IP Addressing and CIDR Charts, IPv4 Private Address Space and Filtering, and IANA IPv4 Address Space Registry. Then come back next week to learn how to create and manage routes.

Learn more about Linux through the free “Introduction to Linux” course from The Linux Foundation and edX.

CNCF Announces Serverless Whitepaper » Linux Magazine

Serverless or Function as a Service is one of the hottest topics these days. But what is ‘serverless computing’ and who is it for? Can it replace the existing models? These are some of the many questions the CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation) is attempting to answer in a whitepaper drafted by the CNCF Serverless Working Group.

“Serverless is a natural evolution of cloud-native computing. The CNCF is advancing serverless adoption through collaboration and community-driven initiatives that will enable interoperability,” said Chris Aniszczyk, COO, CNCF.

According to the whitepaper, “Serverless computing refers to the concept of building and running applications that do not require server management. It describes a finer-grained deployment model where applications, bundled as one or more functions, are uploaded to a platform and then executed, scaled, and billed in response to the exact demand needed at the moment.”

Being a new technology, there is a lot of work to be done for the healthy growth of serverless ecosystem. The CNCF has recognized its role in the space and attempting to address those needs. The CNCF will start a drive to encourage more serverless technology vendors and open source developers to join the CNCF. It will also look at ways to foster an open ecosystem by establishing interoperable APIs, ensuring interoperable implementations with vendor commitments and open source tools.

CNCF is a Linux Foundation Collaborative project that was created to foster innovation in the cloud native space. Kubernetes was its anchor project.

You can read the whitepaper on GitHub.

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Ubuntu to Start Collecting Some Data with Ubunt… » Linux Magazine

Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu, is planning to collect diagnostic data from its desktop operating system. In a message posted to the Ubuntu Developer mailing list, Will Cooke, Director of Ubuntu Desktop explained the reason behind this move, “We want to be able to focus our engineering efforts on the things that matter most to our users, and in order to do that we need to get some more data about sort of setups our users have and which software they are running on it.”

Ubuntu installer will have a checkbox with wordings like “send diagnostics information to help improve Ubuntu.”

Canonical has chosen to keep this feature opt-out, instead of opt-in. Which means unless you uncheck the box, Canonical will collect diagnostic data. Ubuntu privacy policy will be updated to reflect this change. In order to give users more control over the features, there will be an option in the Gnome System Settings to opt-out of it.

What kind of data will Canonical be collecting? Nothing invasive. They would like to know which flavor and version of Ubuntu you are running, whether you have network connectivity (one may wonder how will they get the data if there no network connectivity?). They will also collect data about the processor, GPU, screen-resolution, memory, storage and OEM manufacturer. Other data includes location (not IP address), installation duration, status of auto-login, disk layout.

Cooke said that all of this data will be made public. It could be a great way for Canonical to start collecting stats about Linux desktop. There are no credible stats about who is using the platform. Canonical’s move can be a step in that direction.

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Q4OS Makes Linux Easy for Everyone |

Modern Linux distributions tend to target a variety of users. Some claim to offer a flavor of the open source platform that anyone can use. And, I’ve seen some such claims succeed with aplomb, while others fall flat. Q4OS is one of those odd distributions that doesn’t bother to make such a claim but pulls off the feat anyway.

So, who is the primary market for Q4OS? According to its website, the distribution is a:

“fast and powerful operating system based on the latest technologies while offering highly productive desktop environment. We focus on security, reliability, long-term stability and conservative integration of verified new features. System is distinguished by speed and very low hardware requirements, runs great on brand new machines as well as legacy computers. It is also very applicable for virtualization and cloud computing.”

What’s very interesting here is that the Q4OS developers offer commercial support for the desktop. Said support can cover the likes of system customization (including core level API programming) as well as user interface modifications.

Once you understand this (and have installed Q4OS), the target audience becomes quite obvious: Business users looking for a Windows XP/7 replacement. But that should not prevent home users from giving Q4OS at try. It’s a Linux distribution that has a few unique tools that come together to make a solid desktop distribution.

Let’s take a look at Q4OS and see if it’s a version of Linux that might work for you.

What Q4OS all about

Q4OS that does an admirable job of being the open source equivalent of Windows XP/7. Out of the box, it pulls this off with the help of the Trinity Desktop (a fork of KDE). With a few tricks up its sleeve, Q4OS turns the Trinity Desktop into a remarkably similar desktop (Figure 1).

When you fire up the desktop, you will be greeted by a Welcome screen that makes it very easy for new users to start setting up their desktop with just a few clicks. From this window, you can:

  • Run the Desktop Profiler (which allows you to select which desktop environment to use as well as between a full-featured desktop, a basic desktop, or a minimal desktop—Figure 2).

  • Install applications (which opens the Synaptic Package Manager).

  • Install proprietary codecs (which installs all the necessary media codecs for playing audio and video).

  • Turn on Desktop effects (if you want more eye candy, turn this on).

  • Switch to Kickoff start menu (switches from the default start menu to the newer kickoff menu).

  • Set Autologin (allows you to set login such that it won’t require your password upon boot).

If you want to install a different desktop environment, open up the Desktop Profiler and then click the Desktop environments drop-down, in the upper left corner of the window. A new window will appear, where you can select your desktop of choice from the drop-down (Figure 3). Once back at the main Profiler Window, select which type of desktop profile you want, and then click Install.

Note that installing a different desktop will not wipe the default desktop. Instead, it will allow you to select between the two desktops (at the login screen).

Installed software

After selecting full-featured desktop, from the Desktop Profiler, I found the following user applications ready to go:

Obviously some of those applications are well out of date. Since this distribution is based on Debian, we can run and update/upgrade with the commands:

sudo apt update

sudo apt upgrade

However, after running both commands, it seems everything is up to date. This particular release (2.4) is an LTS release (supported until 2022). Because of this, expect software to be a bit behind. If you want to test out the bleeding edge version (based on Debian “Buster”), you can download the testing image here.

Security oddity

There is one rather disturbing “feature” found in Q4OS. In the developer’s quest to make the distribution closely resemble Windows, they’ve made it such that installing software (from the command line) doesn’t require a password! You read that correctly. If you open the Synaptic package manager, you’re asked for a password. However (and this is a big however), open up a terminal window and issue a command like sudo apt-get install gimp. At this point, the software will install… without requiring the user to type a sudo password.

Did you cringe at that? You should.

I get it, the developers want to ease away the burden of Linux and make a platform the masses could easily adapt to. They’ve done a splendid job of doing just that. However, in the process of doing so, they’ve bypassed a crucial means of security. Is having as near an XP/7 clone as you can find on Linux worth that lack of security? I would say that if it enables more people to use Linux, then yes. But the fact that they’ve required a password for Synaptic (the GUI tool most Windows users would default to for software installation) and not for the command-line tool makes no sense. On top of that, bypassing passwords for the apt and dpkg commands could make for a significant security issue.

Fear not, there is a fix. For those that prefer to require passwords for the command line installation of software, you can open up the file /etc/sudoers.d/30_q4os_apt and comment out the following three lines:

%sudo    ALL = NOPASSWD: /usr/bin/apt-get *

%sudo    ALL = NOPASSWD: /usr/bin/apt-key *

%sudo    ALL = NOPASSWD: /usr/bin/dpkg *

Once commented out, save and close the file, and reboot the system. At this point, users will now be prompted for a password, should they run the apt-get, apt-key, or dpkg commands.

A worthy contender

Setting aside the security curiosity, Q4OS is one of the best attempts at recreating Windows XP/7 I’ve come across in a while. If you have users who fear change, and you want to migrate them away from Windows, this distribution might be exactly what you need. I would, however, highly recommend you re-enable passwords for the apt-get, apt-key, and dpkg commands… just to be on the safe side.

In any case, the addition of the Desktop Profiler, and the ability to easily install alternative desktops, makes Q4OS a distribution that just about anyone could use.

Learn more about Linux through the free “Introduction to Linux” course from The Linux Foundation and edX.