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Where Linux Went in 2018 – and Where It’s Going | Community


For those who try to keep their finger on the Linux community’s pulse, 2018 was a surprisingly eventful year. Spread over the last 12 months, we’ve seen various projects in the Linux ecosystem make great strides, as well as suffer their share of stumbles.

All told, the year wrapped up leaving plenty to be optimistic about in the year to come, but there is much more on which we can only speculate. In the interest of offering the clearest lens for a peek into Linux in 2019, here’s a look back at the year gone by for all things Linux.

Ubuntu Sheds Unity but Sees Silver Lining in Cloud

The last ripples from 2017 into 2018 came from Ubuntu’s decision to phase out the Unity desktop and switch its flagship desktop environment to Gnome. Ubuntu’s first image to ship with Gnome was with its October 2017 release of 17.10, but it was something of a trial run. With April’s 18.04, Ubuntu officially unveiled its first Long Term Support (LTS) track to feature Gnome 3.

With an LTS sporting Gnome and holding up to user testing, the countdown clock began on the eventual switch to the Wayland display server, intended to take over for the aging Xorg server. Think of display servers as the skeletal beams that a desktop is bolted to.

Ubuntu 17.10 tested Wayland waters, but although 18.04 shied away from Wayland, the fact that 18.04 seems to have Gnome under control means the Ubuntu flagship desktop developers can turn their attention to Wayland, hopefully catalyzing its evolution.

Many saw the end of Unity not so much as an admission of defeat in cementing Ubuntu’s own desktop vision, but as evidence of a pivot in Canonical’s focus to cloud computing and IoT. After months in the wild and the update to Ubuntu’s incremental patch, 18.04.1, it is clear by this point that the decision to abandon Unity did not so much as jostle the stability of Ubuntu’s release. In fact, 18.04 has proven exceptionally stable, polished and well-received.

Few are the distributions that can put out as robust and distinct a product as Ubuntu, while also maintaining their own desktop. The only one that might lay claim to this is Linux Mint, but its code base has far fewer deviations from Ubuntu than Ubuntu’s has from Debian. Put another way, Mint’s code base is similar enough to Ubuntu’s (Mint’s upstream) that it can afford to dedicate time and resources to in-house desktops.

Without its own desktop, Ubuntu doesn’t seem worse for wear, but as refined and dependable as ever, especially with the introduction of features like a minimal install option and restart-less kernel updates.

It will be hard to tell how the end of Unity ultimately will impact Ubuntu until its next LTS drops in April 2020 — but for now, Ubuntu fans can breathe a sigh of relief as the distribution continues to shine.

Linux Gamers Won’t Be Steamed at Valve Much Longer

Another major development in desktop Linux computing was Steam Play’s August announcement of
beta testing support for running Windows games on Linux. Steam evidently has been playing the long game (no pun intended) in backing work on the Windows compatibility program Wine, as well as the DirectX translation apparatus Vulkan, over the past couple of years.

This past summer, we saw these efforts coalesce. In a framework called “Proton,” Steam has bundled these two initiatives natively in the Steam Play client. This enables anyone running a Linux installation of Steam Play (who is enrolled in the beta test) to simply download and play a number of Windows games with no further configuration necessary.

A marked lack of access to top-tier games long has been a sticking point for Linux-curious Windows users considering a switch, so Steam’s ambitious embarkation on this project may prove to be the last encouragement this crowd needs to take the penguin plunge.

Steam has been exercising patience, as it has been maintaining a periodically updated list of the number and degree of Linux-compatible Windows games in its library of titles. It hasn’t been afraid to acknowledge that a number of Windows games still need work, another sign of sober expectations on the part of Valve.

Taken together, these steps suggest that Steam is in this for the long haul, rather than throwing together a quick fix to increase revenue from Linux-bound customers. If that weren’t proof enough, Steam even has gone so far as to post the code for Proton on GitHub, which is as good a sign as any that it is invested in the Linux community.

The entire undertaking holds promise to steadily improve the Linux desktop experience as more games reach mature compatibility, and Proton slowly crawls out of beta.

Red Hat Hangs Its Hat on IBM’s Rack

Although the Linux desktop landscape saw modest but undeniable progress, there was much more at play in the enterprise Linux arena.

Perhaps the single biggest Linux headline this year was IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat. IBM and Red Hat have enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership, and IBM’s shrewd tactic in competing with Microsoft more than a decade ago played the leading role in Red Hat’s rise in the first place.

Red Hat popularized, if not pioneered, the practice of selling support and tailored configuration as an open source business model. Fatefully for Red Hat, IBM was the big ticket customer that supercharged its revenue stream and confirmed the profitability of premium support. IBM minted its alliance with Red Hat because it wanted to compete with Microsoft in the server market without having to license an expensive operating system.

In some ways, IBM’s outright purchase of Red Hat may have been inevitable. The two have grown symbiotically for so long that subsuming Red Hat into IBM likely was the only way to squeeze more efficiency and return on investment out of the relationship.

You could even liken it to a couple who’ve been together for years finally announcing their engagement. Whatever else Red Hat’s purchase signifies, it legitimates Linux as an enterprise powerhouse, and lends credence to open source developers who long have touted the profitability of their work.

Amid all the deserved fanfare surrounding this betrothal, little attention has been paid to the reverberations it will send through the bedrock of the entire Linux space. Red Hat spearheads development of systemd, a replacement for the System V Linux init process that already has seen significant adoption among Linux distributions. This is no meager contribution, as the init system is the single most central component of the operating system after the kernel, and it dictates how the OS finishes booting.

Thus, the question on the minds of those who are giving this matter serious consideration is this: How will entrusting a (now) corporate-owned company to build the init process implemented in the vast majority of Linux distributions impact the course of Linux’s development?

Systemd of a Down

This leads perfectly into the next big story from the past year, because it demonstrates both the weight of the responsibility bestowed upon Red Hat in writing an industry standard init system, and the potential for harm, should this responsibility not be approached with proper humility and care.

Recently, a major bug affecting systemd was discovered. It allowed a user with a UID number higher than a certain value to
execute arbitrary “systemctl” commands without authenticating, granting what amounted to full root access to that UID.
The bug in question isn’t in systemd per se, but it pertains to systemd, in that systemd implicitly trusts the program containing the bug, polkit. So, because implicit trust itself is an unwise software development practice, to say the least, it equates to a bug in systemd, in some ways.

When systemd first took hold in the Linux biome, there was more than a little griping in the community. The central issue was that systemd contradicted the Unix philosophy by constructing and relying upon such a monolithic program (moreso than init intrinsically is).

To give a sense for how truly behemoth systemd is, it has swelled beyond the bounds of init’s reasonable purview to encompass DNS server IP assignment and regular task scheduling, relegating such venerable Unix stalwarts as /etc/resolv.conf and cron to (eventual) obsolescence. It seems that these Unix philosophers may have had a compelling, but ultimately unheeded, point.

Microsoft Opens the Open Source Patent Floodgates

IBM was not the only one to stake a claim to Linux: IBM’s perennial foe, Microsoft, made Linux maneuverings of its own in 2018. In October,
Microsoft joined the Open Invention Network (OIN), subsequently open-sourcing more than 60,000 patented pieces of its software.

The OIN is a coalition of partners committed to insulating Linux and Linux-based projects from patent lawsuits. To that end, all members not only are obligated to openly offer patented software for public use, but also are allowed to freely license patents from one another.

Aside from the benefits this obviously confers on Microsoft, especially with companies like Google for fellow members, it puts another power player squarely in Linux’s corner. This may be the final sign of good faith the Linux community needed that Microsoft sincerely has embraced Linux and, moreover, that it has substantial plans for Linux-related projects in its future plans.

Open Source and Open Silicon?

There is one more notable milestone on the desktop Linux front — notable for what it portends for Linux, and computing on the whole. System76, the foremost Linux-focused hardware manufacturer in the U.S. (and maybe the world) has announced a
line of high-end Linux desktops featuring open hardware specifications.

The Thelio line boasts an elegant, premium look that is sure to lure more than the privacy-conscious. Open hardware is the hardware analog to open source software, and while it has been an aim of the security-conscious and freedom-loving tech denizens, it has subsisted as little more than a pipe dream until recently.

The quest for open hardware arguably was accelerated by the Snowden disclosures, and the extent to which they revealed that hardware OEMs may not entirely deserve users’ trust.

Purism was the first consumer-oriented company to take up the charge but, as it will admit, its product is a work in progress, and not as open as the company and its privacy crusader allies envision.

Bringing more open hardware options to consumers, and thereby injecting competition into an otherwise sparse field, is an unalloyed good.

What Next?

While reviews of the year’s events certainly are interesting, if just for a sense of scope, retrospectives aren’t particularly useful unless they are applied. With all of these 2018 milestones in mind, what trajectory do they suggest for 2019?

Last year easily was one of the best years for the Linux desktop sphere since I started using Linux (which admittedly wasn’t very long ago). Alongside big news from Steam and a reassuringly strong LTS release from Ubuntu, came piecemeal strides by distros like Elementary and Solus in solidifying their work and their reputations as just-works, mass-appeal desktop systems.

Along with the production of first-class hardware like System76’s Thelio PCs, and even Manjaro’s Bladebook, desktop Linux has never looked better.

I won’t indulge in the clich and predict that 2019 will be “the year of the Linux desktop,” but I foresee it building on the gains from 2018 to make even sleeker, more modern, and more usable desktops with burgeoning appeal outside the Linux niche. 2018 saw some
high-profile publications giving Linux an open mind and a positive reception, so it wouldn’t be a far-fetched scenario for Linux to see an uptick in first-time users.

The enterprise realm is set to be much more tumultuous, as IBM and Microsoft have planted their respective flags in different corners of the Linux world. This could precipitate a wave of innovation in Linux as established corporate powers poise themselves for cloud supremacy.

On the other hand, this cloud computing contest could lead development of Linux and its satellite projects down a path that is increasingly dissonant — not just with Unix philosophy, but with the free software or open source ethos as well.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.


Jonathan Terrasi has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2017. His main interests are computer security (particularly with the Linux desktop), encryption, and analysis of politics and current affairs. He is a full-time freelance writer and musician. His background includes providing technical commentaries and analyses in articles published by the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights.





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Q4OS: A Diamond in the Rough Gets Some Polish | Reviews


By Jack M. Germain

Dec 20, 2018 11:19 AM PT

Q4OS: A Diamond in the Rough Gets Some Polish

Sometimes working with Linux distros is much like rustling through an old jewelry drawer. Every now and then, you find a diamond hidden among the rhinestones. That is the case with
Q4OS.

I took a detailed first look at this new distro in February 2015, primarily to assess the Trinity desktop (TDE). That was a version 1 beta release. Still, Trinity showed some potential.

I have used it on numerous old and new computers, mostly because of its stability and ease of use. Every few upgrades I check out its progress. Key to this is watching the improvements and additional functionality of Trinity.

Q4OS is a lightweight Linux distro that offers some worthwhile alternatives to more established distros. Do not misunderstand what “lightweight” in Linux means, however.

Q4OS is designed with aging computer hardware in mind, but it does not ignore more modern boxes.

Its main claim to fame is the developing
Trinity project desktop. Trinity was forked in 2008 from the last official release of the K Desktop Environment’s third series (KDE 3), version 3.5.10.


Q4OS simplified KDE 3 design

Q4OS has a simplified KDE 3 design that has useful desktop applets for this alternative to the Trinity desktop. Other desktop options also are built in.

– click image to enlarge –


The Germany-based developers recently issued a significant update to the Q4OS snapshot of the distribution’s Testing branch, code-named “Centaurus.” Q4OS Centaurus 3.4 is based on the current Debian “Buster” and Trinity desktop (TDE) 14.0.6 development branches.

This distro is fast and runs extremely well on low-powered aging computers. Q4OS has superb performance on newer computers. Its design pushes classic style with a modern user interface in a new direction. Plus, it is very applicable for virtualization and cloud use.

From Rough to Polished

When I first started to monitor the Trinity desktop, I thought it had the potential for becoming a new attention-getter among up-and-coming Linux distros. The primary distro developer that implemented TDE was, and still is, Q4OS. The distro primarily is built around TDE as the default desktop.

It is easy to swap TDE into other more popular desktops without removing an easy return path to both TDE and KDE. Supported desktops include LXQT, LXDE, XFCE4, Cinnamon, KDE Plasma, Mate and GNOME. Installing a different desktop does not remove the TDE desktop. Instead, you can select between the alternative you installed and the TDE desktop at the login screen.

To install a different desktop environment, go to the Desktop Profiler tool and click the Desktop environments drop-down in the upper right corner of the window. A new window appears, where you can select your desktop of choice from the drop-down. Once back at the main Profiler Window, select which type of desktop profile you want, and then click Install.

These choices give both business and individual users lots of options. One of the big values in using Q4OS Linux is the add-on commercial support for customizing the distro to meet specific user needs. The name of the developers is not publicized on the website.

However, Q4OS clearly is intended to be more than a community-supported general purpose Linux distro. The website also invites businesses to makes use of Q4OS.org’s commercial support and software customization services.

What’s Inside

Q4OS is designed to offer a classic-style user interface (Trinity) or other alternatives with simple accessories. The distro provides stable APIs for complex third-party applications, such as Google Chrome, VirtualBox and development tools. The system also is ideal for virtual cloud environments, due to its very low hardware requirements.

One of the most important changes in this latest release is the switch to the Calamares installer. Calamares offers nice new installation features. For example, it offers optional full encryption of the target system, as well as easy disk drive partitioning.

Another important change is a move to the new Trinity 14.0.6 development version. All dependencies from the current stable Q4OS Scorpion version have been removed, making Centaurus fully independent, with its own repositories and dependencies.

Secure Boot support has been improved too. This is very handy if you install Q4OS on newer hardware hosting Microsoft Windows.

The Calamares installer detects if Secure Boot is active and adjusts the target system accordingly. If Secure Boot is switched off in the firmware, no Secure Boot files are installed.

Q4OS Centaurus offers the bleeding edge of Linux computing. It will be in development until Debian Buster becomes stable. Centaurus will be supported at least five years from the official release date.

The minimal hardware requirements are ideal for older hardware. The Trinity desktop needs at least a 300-MHz CPU with 128 MB RAM and 3 GB hard disk storage. Most of the other alternative desktops are lightweight and run with ease under the minimum resource requirements. The KDE Plasma desktop — and perhaps the Cinnamon desktop — thrive with at least a 1-GHz CPU, plus 1 GB RAM and 5 GB hard disk storage.

All About Trinity

The TDE project began as a continuation of the K Desktop Environment (KDE) version 3 after the Kubuntu developers switched to KDE Plasma 4. The name “Trinity” reflects that heritage. It means “three,” and TDE was a continuation of KDE 3.

The Trinity desktop design presents the simplified look of KDE applications while eliminating the layers of customization associated with KDE’s Activities and virtual desktop navigation. It displays the Bourbon start menu and taskbar.


Q4OS Trinity environment

Q4OS’s Trinity environment has a simplified desktop with bottom bar, classic menu options, and the ability to add/remove application icons on the desktop.

– click image to enlarge –


Timothy Pearson founded the TDE project and continues to lead it. He is an experienced software developer who was the KDE 3.x coordinator of previous Kubuntu releases.

TDE is both flexible and highly customizable. It has a pleasant visual appeal. Its desktop effects are compatible with older hardware. Trinity fills the gap left open with the other lightweight desktop options, which offer little in the way of desktop visual effects.

The field of new alternative desktop environments has created a clutter that may have blunted more interest in TDE. For instance, choices such as Pantheon, Enlightenment, Budgie and Awesome offer unique lightweight choices. Still, Q4OS levels that playing field by letting you use your desktop choice without undermining the unique system tools and customization opportunities the distro provides.

You will not find the Trinity desktop shipping as an option with most Linux distros. Those that use Trinity include Devuan, Sparky Linux, Exe GNU/Linux, ALT Linux, PCLinuxOS, Slax and Ubuntu Nightly.

TDE’s growth with Q4OS makes the combination a viable alternative to meet individual and small business computing needs. The TDE 14 series has been in development for more than two years. This extended development period has allowed the creation of a better and more stable feature-rich desktop environment than found in previous TDE releases.

Using It

Whether you adopt Q4OS to replace a Microsoft Windows experience or another Linux distribution, you will not have much of a learning curve. Out of the box, this distro works well with the default configurations.

Its simplified interface is intuitive. Whether you are a holdover from Windows XP or Windows 7 or even a disgruntled Window 10 refugee, Q4OS offers an inviting look and feel.

The basic collection of software barely gives you enough applications to get started. You will not find any bloat.

Installed titles include Google Chrome, Konqueror, KWrite text editor and a few system tools. From there, what you want to use is easily available through the software center and the Synaptic Package Manager (after you install it).

The Welcome screen makes it very easy to start setting up the desktop with just a few clicks. It is a good starting point. From that panel, you can add packages conveniently and quick start some of the unique features.

The Desktop Profiler lets you select which desktop environment to use. It also lets you select among a full-featured desktop, a basic desktop or a minimal desktop.

Install Applications installs the Synaptic Package Manager. Install Proprietary Codecs installs all the necessary media codecs for playing audio and video.

Turn On Desktop Effects makes it easy to activate more eye candy without having to wade through more detailed Control Panel options.

Switch to Kickoff Start Menu switches from the default Bourbon menu to either Classic or Kickoff styles. It is easy to try each one. Set Autologin allows you to set login to bypass requiring your password upon boot.


Q4OS desktop

A nice touch is the variety of background images and the right-click menu anywhere on the desktop.

– click image to enlarge –


Bottom Line

Q4OS has a focus on security, reliability, long-term stability and conservative integration of verified new features. This operating system is a proven performer for speed and very low hardware requirements. That performance is optimized for both new and very old hardware. For small business owners and high-tech minded home office workers, Q4OS is well suited for virtualization and cloud computing.

One of the hallmarks of this distro is to be a suitable powerhouse platform for legacy hardware. So the developers continue to resist a trend among Linux devs to drop support for old 32-bit computers.The 32-bit versions work with or without the PAE memory extension technology.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please
email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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How to Protect Your Online Privacy: A Practical Guide | Privacy


Do you take your online privacy seriously?

Most people don’t. They have an ideal scenario of just how private their online activities should be, but they rarely do anything to actually achieve it.

The problem is that bad actors know and rely on this fact, and that’s why there’s been a
steady rise in identity theft cases from 2013 to 2017. The victims of these cases often suffer a loss of reputation or financial woes.

If you take your online privacy seriously, follow this 10-step guide to protect it.

1. Beware of Internet Service Providers

You may not be aware of it, but your ISP already might know
all about your online searches.

Each time you search for something online, your browser sends a query to a DNS server. Before the query reaches a DNS server, however, it first has to go through your ISP. Needless to say, your ISP easily can read and monitor these queries, which gives it a window into your online activity.

Not all ISPs monitor your browser queries but the ones that don’t are the exception and not the rule. Most ISPs will keep records of your Web browsing for a period of a few months to a year. Most ISPs don’t record your texts, but they do keep records of who texted you.

There are two ways to protect your privacy if you don’t want your ISP monitoring your browser queries: 1) Switch to an ISP that doesn’t monitor your online data, if practicable; or 2) Get a VPN to protect your data (more on this later).

2. Strengthen and Protect Your Login Credentials

One thing most people take for granted is the login credentials they use to access their many online accounts. Your username and password are the only things keeping your information and privileges from getting into the wrong hands. This is why it’s important to make them as strong as possible.

Choose a strong username that is simple and easy to remember but can’t easily be linked to your identity. This is to prevent hackers from correctly guessing your username based on your name, age, or date of birth. You’d be surprised just how cunningly hackers can find this information. Also, never use your Social Security Number as your username.

Next, pick a strong password. There are many ways to do this, but we can narrow them down to two options: 1) Learn how to make strong passwords; or 2) Use a password manager app.

Learning how to make a strong password requires time and imagination. Do you want to know what the most common passwords are? They are “1234,” “12345,” “0000,” “password” and “qwerty” — no imagination at all. A password combining your name and date of birth won’t cut it. Nor will a password that uses any word found in the dictionary.

You need to use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and even symbols (if allowed). Complexity is what matters, not length, since a complex password will take centuries for a computer to figure out. In fact, you can
try your password if you want to see just how long it will take to crack.

If you don’t have the time and imagination to formulate a strong and complex password, you can use one of the
six best password managers. These apps not only save you the hassle of memorizing your complex passwords but also auto-fill online login forms and formulate strong passwords for you.

Whether you want to learn how to make strong passwords or choose to install a password manager app is up to you. What you should never neglect, though, is 2FA (2-factor authentication). 2FA adds an extra layer of protection for your passwords in case someone ever does learn what they are. In fact, you may already have tried it when logging into an account on a new device.

The app or service requires you to key in the access code sent to another one of your devices (usually your phone) before you are given access to your account. Failing to provide this access code locks you out of your account. This means that even if hackers obtain your login credentials in some way, they still can’t log into your account without the access code.

Never use the same usernames or passwords for different accounts. This prevents hackers from accessing multiple accounts with just one or more of your login credentials. Also, never share your login credentials with anybody —
not even your significant other.

3. Check the WiFi You’re Using

Have you ever heard of a
KRACK attack? It’s a proof-of-concept cyberattack carried out by infiltrating your WiFi connection. The hacker then can steal information like browsing data, personal information, and even text message contents.

The problem is that not even WPA2 encryption can stop it. This is actually why The WiFi Alliance started development of WPA3, which it officially introduced this summer.

Do you need WPA3 to defend against KRACK attacks? No. You just need to install security updates when they become available. This is because security updates ensure that a key is installed only once, thereby, preventing KRACK attacks. You can add additional layers of protection by visiting only HTTPS sites and by using a VPN.

You also can use a VPN to protect your device whenever you connect to a public network. It prevents hackers from stealing your information via a MitM (Man in the Middle) attack, or if the network you’ve connected to is actually a rogue network.

4. Watch Your Browser

If you read through your browser company’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy, you might find that they actually track your online activities. They then sell this information to ad companies that use methods like analytics to create a profile for each user. This information then is used to create those annoying targeted ads.

How do they do this?

Answer: Web cookies.

For the most part, Web cookies are harmless. They’re used to remember your online preferences like Web form entries and shopping cart contents. However, some cookies (third-party cookies) are made specifically to remain active even on websites they didn’t originate from. They also track your online behavior through the sites you visit and monitor what you click on.

This is why it’s a good idea to clear Web cookies every once in a while. You may be tempted to change your browser settings to simply reject all cookies, but that would result in an overall inconvenient browsing experience.

Another way to address the monitoring issue is to use your browser’s Incognito mode. Your browser won’t save any visited sites, cookies, or online forms while in this mode, but your activities may be visible to the websites you visit, your employer or school, and your ISP.

The best way I’ve found so far is to replace your browser with an anonymous browser.

One example is TOR (The Onion Browser). TOR is a browser made specifically to protect user privacy. It does this by wrapping your online data in several layers of encryption and then “bouncing” it for the same number of times before finally arriving at the right DNS server.

Another example is Epic Browser. While this browser doesn’t run on an onion network like TOR, it does do away with the usual privacy threats, including browsing history, DNS pre-fetching, third-party cookies, Web or DNS caches, and auto-fill features. It automatically deletes all session data once you close the browser.

SRWare Iron will be familiar to Google Chrome users, since it’s based on the open source Chromium project. Unlike Chrome, however, it gets rid of data privacy concerns like usage of a unique user ID and personalized search suggestions.

These three are the best ones I’ve found, but there are other alternatives out there. Whatever privacy browser you choose, make sure it’s compatible with your VPN, as not all privacy browsers are VPN-compatible — and vice-versa.

5. Use a Private Search Engine

Presenting risks similar to popular browsers are the search engines many people use. Most browser companies also produce their own search engine, which — like the browser — also tracks your online searches. These searches then can be traced to your personal identity by linking them to your computer, account, or IP address.

Aside from that, search engines keep information on your location and usage for up to several days. What most people don’t know is that persons in the legal field actually are allowed to use the information collected by search engines.

If this concerns you at all, you may want to switch to a private search engine. These private search engines often work in the same way: They obtain search results from various sources, and they don’t use personalized search results.

Some of the more popular private search engines include DuckDuckGo, Fireball, and Search Encrypt.

6. Install a VPN

What is a VPN, and why do I strongly recommend it?

A VPN (virtual private network) is a type of software that protects your Internet browsing by encrypting your online data and hiding your true IP address.

Since you already know how online searches are carried out, you already know that browser queries are easily readable by your ISP — or anyone else, for that matter. This is because your online data is, by default, unencrypted. It’s made up of plain text contained in data packets.

You also already know that not even built-in WPA2 encryption is good enough to protect against certain attacks.

This is where a VPN comes in. The VPN courses your online data through secure tunnels until it gets to its intended DNS server. Anyone intercepting your browsing data will find unreadable jargon instead.

You may hear advice against trusting VPNs with your security. I’m actually inclined to partially agree — not all VPNs are secure. However, that doesn’t mean all VPNs are not secure.

The unsecured VPNs I’m referring to are the “free lunch” types that promise to be free forever but actually use or sell your data to ad companies. Use only the safest VPN services you can find.

A VPN is primarily a security tool. While you may enjoy some privacy from its functions, you will want to pair it with a privacy browser and search engine to get the full privacy experience.

A VPN can’t secure your computer or device from malware that’s already present. This is why I always recommend using a VPN together with a good antivirus and firewall program.

Some popular browsers run WebRTC protocols by default. You have to turn off this protocol. This protocol compromises a VPN’s security by allowing your true IP address to be read.

7. Watch Out for Phishing

You may have the best VPN, anonymous browser, and private search engine on the market, but they won’t do you much good if you’re hooked by a phishing scam.

Phishing employs psychological analysis and social engineering to trick users into clicking a malicious link. This malicious link can contain anything from viruses to cryptojackers.

While phishing attacks usually are sent to many individuals, there’s a more personalized form called “spearphishing.” In that case, the hackers attempt to scam a specific person (usually a high-ranking officer at a company) by using information that’s available only to a select few people that the target knows.

So, how do you avoid being reeled in by phishing attacks?

The first option is to learn how to identify phishing attempts. Beware of messages from people you don’t know. Hover over a link before clicking it to make sure it navigates to the site it portrays. Most importantly, remember that if it’s too good to be true, it most likely is.

The second option is to install an antiphishing toolbar. This software prevents phishing by checking the links you click against a list of sites known to host malware or those that trick you into disclosing financial or personal information.

It then will prompt you, once it determines the link to be connected to one of those sites, and provide you with a path back to safety.

The best examples I’ve found are OpenDNS, Windows Defender Browser Protection, and Avira Browser Safety.

8. Encrypt Your Communications

If you’ve been following tech news in the recent months, you may have found an item about the FBI wanting
to break Facebook Messenger’s encryption. Say what you will about the social network giant, but this news reveals one thing: Even the FBI can’t crack encrypted messages without help.

This is why you should always use “encryption mode” in your messaging apps. Apps like Signal, Telegram, and Threema all come with end-to-end encryption and support for text, calls, and even video calls.

If you require constant use of emails, ProtonMail, Tutanota, Mailinator, and MailFence are great alternatives to popular email services that actually monitor your email content.

9. Watch What You Share on Social Media

Social media has become one of the best ways to keep in touch with important people in our lives. Catching up to everyone we care about is just a few clicks away. That said, we’re not the only ones looking at their profiles.

Hackers actually frequent social media sites as they hunt for any personal information they can steal. They even can circumvent your “friends only” information by adding you as a friend using a fake account. I don’t think I need to mention the problems hackers can cause once they’ve stolen your identity.

This is why you should exercise caution about what you share on social media. You never know if hackers are using the photos you share to target you for their next attack. You may want to skip out on filling out your profile completely. Avoid giving your phone or home number, and perhaps use a private email to sign up.

10. Update Early and Often

You may have heard this before but it’s worth repeating now: Don’t ignore system updates. You may not be aware of it, but updates fix many vulnerabilities that could jeopardize your online privacy.

Most people put off installing updates since they always seem to come at inopportune times. Sometimes we just can’t put up with the dip in performance or Internet speed while updates are being installed.

It’s usually best to suffer what minor inconvenience they cause early rather than risk getting caught in the whirlwind of problems hackers can cause if you should get targeted. Most software and apps now come with an auto-update feature, so you won’t have to manually search and download them.

In Conclusion

Privacy is a human right, and our online privacy should be taken seriously. Don’t neglect to take the necessary steps to protect yours.

Beware of your Internet service provider, and always protect your login credentials no matter how strong they are. Remember to check the network you’re connecting to before you log in.

Watch what your browser and search engine are doing, and consider replacing them with more private ones. Prepare against phishing by learning to identify attempts and installing an antiphishing toolbar.

Always use encrypted messaging, and watch what you share on social media. Finally, never ignore system updates when they become available.

Follow these steps and you’ll soon be on your way to a more private browsing experience.


John Mason, an avid privacy advocate, is founder of
TheBestVPN and serves as its chief researcher.





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$34B Red Hat Acquisition Is a Bolt Out of Big Blue | Deals


The cloud computing landscape may look much different to enterprise users following the announcement earlier this week of IBM’s agreement to acquire Red Hat.

IBM plans to purchase Red Hat, a major provider of open source cloud software, for US$34 billion. IBM will acquire all of the issued and outstanding common shares of Red Hat for $190 per share in cash, under terms of the deal. That stock purchase represents a total enterprise value of approximately $34 billion.

Once the acquisition is finalized, Red Hat will join IBM’s Hybrid Cloud team as a distinct unit, preserving the independence and neutrality of Red Hat’s open source development heritage and commitment, current product portfolio, and go-to-market strategy, plus its unique development culture.

Red Hat president and CEO Jim Whitehurst will continue in his leadership role, as will the other members of Red Hat’s current management team. Whitehurst also will join IBM’s senior management team, reporting to CEO Ginni Rometty. IBM intends to maintain Red Hat’s headquarters, facilities, brands and practices.

Following the acquisition, IBM will remain committed to Red Hat’s open governance, open source contributions, and participation in the open source community and development model.

IBM also will foster Red Hat’s widespread developer ecosystem. In addition, both companies will remain committed to the continued freedom of open source via such efforts as Patent Promise, GPL Cooperation Commitment, the Open Invention Network and the LOT Network.

The acquisition was a smart business move for both IBM and Red Hat, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“It seems possible or likely that other vendors would be interested in purchasing Red Hat,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “By making a deal happen, IBM is bringing in-house a raft of technologies, solutions and assets that are both familiar and highly complementary to its own solutions.

Partnerships and Financial Oversight

Both IBM and Red Hat will continue to build and enhance Red Hat partnerships. These include the IBM Cloud and other major cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and Alibaba. At the same time, Red Hat will benefit from IBM’s hybrid cloud and enterprise IT scale in helping expand its open source technology portfolio to businesses globally.

Partnerships between the two companies span 20 years. IBM served as an early supporter of Linux, collaborating with Red Hat to help develop and grow enterprise-grade Linux and more recently to bring enterprise Kubernetes and hybrid cloud solutions to customers.

These innovations have become core technologies within IBM’s $19 billion hybrid cloud business. Between them, IBM and Red Hat have contributed more to the open source community than any other organization, the companies noted.

“For Red Hat, IBM is an ideal partner to help the company scale its business to the next level. Really, no other vendor comes close to having IBM’s reach into and credibility among global enterprises,” said King.

IBM intends to close the transaction through a combination of cash and debt in the latter half of next year. The acquisition has been approved by the boards of directors of both IBM and Red Hat.

The deal is subject to Red Hat shareholder approval. It also is subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions.

IBM plans to suspend its share repurchase program in 2020 and 2021. The company expects to accelerate its revenue growth, gross margin and free cash flow within 12 months of closing.

Moving Forward

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market,” said IBM’s Rometty.

Most companies only progressed 20 percent along their cloud journey, renting compute power to cut costs, she said. The next chapter in cloud usage — the next 80 percent — involves unlocking real business value and driving growth.

“It requires shifting business applications to hybrid cloud, extracting more data and optimizing every part of the business, from supply chains to sales,” Rometty pointed out.

Eighty percent of business workloads have yet to move to the cloud, according to IBM. Instead, they are held back by the proprietary nature of today’s cloud market. This prevents portability of data and applications across multiple clouds, data security in a multicloud environment, and consistent cloud management.

IBM and Red Hat plan to position the company to address this issue and accelerate hybrid multicloud adoption. Post-acquisition business will focus on helping clients create cloud-native business applications faster.

That will result in driving greater portability and security of data and applications across multiple public and private clouds, all with consistent cloud management. IBM and the absorbed Red Hat division will draw on their shared leadership in key technologies, such as Linux, containers, Kubernetes, multicloud management and automation.

Business Imperative

Red Hat/IBM is the second-largest computer software deal ever recorded globally, according to
Mergermarket data. In terms of computer software mergers and acquisitions in the U.S. alone, the sector already has hit a record high value of $138.3 billion this year, having surpassed all previous full years on record.

IBM/Red Hat accounts for nearly a quarter of total U.S. software deal value in the year to date. Red Hat is IBM’s largest transaction ever.

“IBM has been in need for some time of catching up with other tech giants, such as Amazon and Microsoft, in making a sizable investment like this in the cloud,” noted Elizabeth Lim, senior analyst at Mergermarket.

“It makes sense that IBM would pay such a large amount for a company like Red Hat, to try to outbid any potential competition,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

The deal with Red Hat marks a transition for the company toward hybrid cloud computing, after years of seeking growth with mixed results. For example, IBM made big bets on its artificial intelligence system Watson, but its traditional IT business has shrunk, Lim said.

“It is clear that CEO Ginni Rometty intends, with this deal, to try to propel IBM back into the ranks of the industry’s top players after falling behind in recent years, and that the company also felt the need to acquire outside tech instead of spending years trying to develop it in-house,” she explained.

The question now is how successfully IBM will integrate Red Hat, said Lim.

Smart Business

The acquisition comes as a surprise, but it is a smart move that makes a lot of sense, said Tim Beerman, CTO of
Ensono.

IBM has been a big supporter of open source and the Linux operating system, so Red Hat’s open source software portfolio, supported by value-added “paid” solutions, is the perfect investment, he told the E-Commerce Times.

“It is a big win for IBM, Red Hat and their customers. IBM gets to modernize its software services by adopting Red Hat’s technology,” Beerman noted.

“Red Hat gains IBM’s financial backing and the ability to scale its capabilities and offer a hybrid IT approach, and its customers receive the ability to go to market faster with the assurance their providers have the investment they need to excel in a hypercompetitive market,” he explained.

This acquisition reinforces the concept that open source tools are part of the answer to hybrid cloud solutions, added Beerman. IBM’s investment will allow the companies to increase their security profiles in open source systems.

Over the years, IBM’s technology portfolio, particularly on the software side, has dried up or been sold off, according to Todd Matters, chief architect at
RackWare. IBM really needs some of its own technology in their portfolio, so the Red Hat acquisition makes a lot of sense in those terms.

“Red Hat brings a long list of very good software products. Linux — and Red Hat in particular — has been able to purvey to the enterprise very successfully, and that is the sort of thing that IBM needs for its typical customer portfolio,” Matters told the E-Commerce Times.

IBM had little choice but to acquire Red Hat, observed Craig Rosenberg, chief analyst at research and advisory firm
Topo.

The deal is a “huge move for IBM and the industry,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“In the multicloud market where AWS, Google and Microsoft have a clear head start, IBM had to make a move or risk being left behind. By acquiring Red Hat — and more specifically OpenShift — IBM becomes a major player, with a compelling developer-centric, open source offering and business model,” Rosenberg explained.

Deal Ramifications

With the Red Hat acquisition, IBM will get the industry’s premiere enterprise Linux distro and its most dynamic container platform, along with myriad other valuable assets, noted King. For Red Hat, the acquisition cements an alliance with one of its oldest strategic partners.

“IBM has also been among the industry’s staunchest and most generous supporters of open source projects and initiatives. Frankly, it is hard to think of similar deals that would have been as beneficial for both IBM and Red Hat,” said Pund-IT’s King.

That rosy view is not supported but some other onlookers, however.

IBM has committed to pay a huge price for the agile growth company, but it is far from a sure bet that the deal will transform IBM into a nimbler player, according to Jay Srivatsa, CEO of
Future Wealth.

“It paves the way for Amazon, Microsoft and Google to get stronger. IBM is counting on open source to cement the company’s credibility as a cloud player, but the train has left the station,” Srivasta told the E-Commerce Times.

“The risk of Red Hat simply becoming as irrelevant as IBM has in the cloud computing space is greater than the probability of IBM/RedHat becoming a leading player in this space,” he added.

One big stumbling block, according to Pete Sena, CEO of
Digital Surgeons, is the risky business of integrating Red Hat’s culture adequately. IBM has not matched Red Hat’s stewardship of open source.

“If IBM does not integrate the cultures effectively, Red hat employees may want to take their money and run,” Sena told the E-Commerce Times.

However, if IBM can deal with Red Hat’s proven successful open source format, the potential upside is nearly guaranteed, he noted.

“If you are a salesperson at either company, once this integration is rolled up together, then you have the ability to sell across various business units. The business implications point to IBM and Red Hat now having a ton of connected offerings,” Sena said.

Cloud Competition Impacted

Red Hat’s OpenShift container platform is being used or supported by virtually every major cloud vendor, noted King, and it’s likely those partnerships will persist.

“In fact, IBM emphasized that the deal would not disrupt any Red Hat customers,” he said, “but it is likely that the acquisition could spur interest in other container technologies by cloud companies.”

At the end of the day, though, mass defections are unlikely. It behooves service providers to support the technologies their customers prefer. For hybrid cloud customers, OpenShift is at or near the top of that list, according to King.

Because Red Hat will maintain its independence through the early part of the transition, it’s likely that things will remain relatively the same with respect to the e-commerce space relative, at least in the short-term, suggested Jonathan Poston, director of technical SEO at
Tombras Group.

“My guess is that IBM’s motive in the first place was less about controlling market supply and raising prices by buying out smaller, more competitive alternatives,” he told the E-Commerce Times, “and mostly about injecting vigor into a product inventory to extend the average life cycle through a classic strategic innovation acquisitions approach. An altruistic perspective, I know — but again, at least for the short-term, I suspect this will be the case.”

Open Source Reactionaries

The sudden unexpected announcement will no doubt produce some minor objections from the ranks of Red Hat workers. However, open source today is more commercial and institutionalized than it was even five years ago, so major turmoil over the business decision will not occur.

“Overall, I do not expect the deal to have any significant impact on open source culturally or as a practice,” said King. “IBM is too experienced and invested in open source to allow that to happen.”

However, the deal could spur interest in Red Hat’s competitors, like Suse and Canonical, as well as alternative container solutions, he suggested, and even might lead to other acquisitions in those areas.


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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Android Pie Is Filled with AI | Operating Systems


Artificial Intelligence plays a big role in Android 9, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system, released Monday.

Called “Android Pie,” the OS is designed to learn from its users’ behavior, and apply those lessons to simplify and customize their phone experiences.

“From predicting your next task so you can jump right into the action you want to take, to prioritizing battery power for the apps you use most, to helping you disconnect from your phone at the end of the day, Android 9 adapts to your life and the ways you like to use your phone,” noted Sameer Samat, Google’s vice president of product management for Android and Google Play.

google's android 9 pie

Adaptive Brightness and Adaptive Battery are two ways Android Pie uses AI to customize and improve a phone’s performance.

Adaptive Brightness learns what brightness levels a user likes in certain conditions and automatically adjusts the display to those settings when those conditions arise.

Adaptive Battery plugs into Google’s DeepMind systems and can learn a person’s phone usage patterns and make adjustments to optimize power usage.

“Users of the Android P beta program on Google Pixel phones found a 20 percent increase in battery life,” said David McQueen, research director for consumer devices in the London offices of ABI Research, a technology advisory firm.

“Battery life has always been a major pain point for the smartphone user, so this implementation of AI will be welcome relief,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Seeing Will Be Believing

The power management feature works without adding additional hardware, McQueen pointed out.

Huawei introduced performance-enhancing AI in its Mate 10 Pro product, he said, but to do it, the company had to add a chip to the device, which it called a “neural processing unit.”

“There’s not much going on in terms of new battery technology that can lengthen battery life, so Adaptive Battery could be a good thing,” suggested William Stofega, program director for mobile phones and drones at
IDC, a market analysis company based in Framingham, Massachusetts.

The Adaptive Battery feature appears to be compelling, acknowledged Tuong Nguyen,
a senior principal analyst at Gartner, a research and advisory company
based in Stamford, Connecticut. However, he is withholding judgment on the feature until the verdict from users comes in.

“We see a lot of power optimization announcements, and I’m sure they work well enough,” Nguyen told TechNewsWorld, “but my perception as a consumer is that I can never stay sufficiently charged and am always using too much battery.”

Screen Slices

Another new addition to Android is App Actions. It makes connections between when and how you use apps and makes suggestions based on those connections. For example, it’s 5:15 p.m. on a Monday. App Action may ask if you want to open the e-book you’ve been reading on your commute to and from work for the past week.

Google also announced a feature for Android Pie called “Slices,” which won’t appear in the OS until later this fall.

Slices shows relevant information from apps depending on a user’s screen activity. So if a user started typing Lyft into Google Search, Slice would display a slice of the Lyft app with information such as prices to a destination and the ETA for a driver.

“Slices is great because it brings us a step closer to the post-app world,” Nguyen said.

“Instead of searching through a dozen of apps and individually opening them,” he continued, “the UI allows me to use them with fewer steps.”

Better Security

Android Pie also sports a new single home button for simpler navigation.

In addition, Android’s Overview feature has been redesigned to display full screen previews of recently used apps. It also now supports Smart Text Selection, providing action suggestions based on selected text.

Security has been beefed up in Android 9. It has an improved security model for biometrics. It uses a secure, dedicated chip to enable hardware security capabilities that protect sensitive data, such as credit card information.

Android 9 chooses the TLS protocol by default, as well as DNS over TLS, to help protect all Web communications and keep them private.

Multi-Camera and HEIF Support

Android’s photographic capabilities are expanded in Pie. It supports multiple cameras, which enables developers to access streams from a number of physical cameras simultaneously.

“Multi-camera support is a potentially cool feature because it impacts the trajectory of immersive augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality experiences,” Nguyen said.

“Anything that advances immersive is exciting for me, but it’s a long road, so don’t expect to see something with a super impact immediately,” he added. “It’s more of a building block for bigger things to come.”

Android Pie also supports a new image format, HEIF. The format provides better compression than the widely used JPEG format without a loss in quality. Apple has been using the format for awhile.

A common complaint among consumers is a lack of storage on phones, Nguyen noted.

“I’m not familiar with the technical details on HEIF, but I think all consumers can appreciate having more room because of better compression,” he said.

Fighting Phone Addiction

With concerns rising about how much time people spend with their phones, Google decided to add some time management features to Android Pie.

“While much of the time we spend on our phones is useful, many of us wish we could disconnect more easily and free up time for other things,” observed Google’s Samat.

“In fact, over 70 percent of people we talked to in our research said they want more help with this,” he added. “So we’ve been working to add key capabilities right into Android to help people achieve the balance with technology they’re looking for. “

The new “digital well-being” features that will be added to Android Pie this fall include the following:

  • A Dashboard that helps users understand how they’re spending time on their devices;
  • An App Timer that lets an operator set time limits on apps and grays out the icon on their home screen when the time is up;
  • A Do Not Disturb mode, which silences all the visual interruptions that pop up on a screen; and
  • Wind Down, which switches on Night Light and Do Not Disturb and fades the screen to grayscale before bedtime.

While the new digital health features may be embraced by some users, they could be annoying to others.

“I can see things like Wind Down and app timers getting in the way,” IDC’s Stofega told TechNewsWorld. “I thiink people want to use their devices whenever and however they want.”

Possible Pain Points

For many Android users, all the goodies in the latest version of the OS are likely to remain out of their hands for some time, since Pie works only on Pixel models, and a few other phones that participated in the beta program for the software.

“It will be telling how quickly Android P is able to migrate to Samsung and Huawei smartphones, and then on to those that run Android One,” McQueen said.

Even for those who are able to get their hands on the new OS, there could be challenges.

“The issue always is how quickly will people be able to recognize some of these new features,” and whether these devices are “getting too complex for their own good,” Stofega said.

“These devices are becoming Swiss Army knife-like,” he remarked. “Device makers have to figure out and adjust to what people really need versus what’s technically possible.”


John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter
since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the
Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government
Security News
. Email John.





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