October Operating System Highlights From Around the Web

October 23

Windows

Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 beta testing has begun, according to a report on BetaNews. Some who tested early versions of SP3 were invited to begin testing the next series of OS updates.

It's unlikely you can volunteer to be an early tester without being invited, but Microsoft does have information on its BetaPlace site for those wanting to try.

Windows 2000 has received a Common Criteria security certification, Microsoft announced yesterday. Common Criteria is an ISO standard for evaluating IT product security.

Unix

As its volume increases exponentially, spam is climbing ever higher on my Top Annoyances list. Which is why my interest is almost always piqued by articles promising some relief. On IBM's DeveloperWorks site, consultant Brian Goetz reviews SpamAssassin (an open source as well as commercial product, not sold by IBM). The software has "an understanding of the differing needs of its various customers -- users and system administrators," he says.

Designed for Unix systems, "SpamAssassin can easily be used with Procmail to filter spam on behalf of a single user, and it can be used with Sendmail or other MTAs to filter spam on behalf of an entire site," Goetz notes. His happy conclusion after several months of use: "The false positive and false negative rates are extremely low."

You can read his full review or head to the SpamAssassin project page on SourceForge site for more info.

Linux

Byte columnist Moshe Barr is a brave man: He takes on two of the most passionate, vocal and likely-to-flame tech communities in trying to compare Mac OS X and Linux on an Apple Xserve. I'm glad I'm not wading through his mailbox this week (wonder if he's got SpamAssassin). . . Read his conclusions in Comparing Apples and Penguins.

Linux "is making significant inroads into Germany, Europe's largest economy and home to some of the world's largest corporations, the IDG News Service reports from the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in Frankfurt. An IBM official told conference attendees that Big Blue has deployed the OS for several large German customers.

Fujitsu says it will be adopting Linux as a key OS, with a goal of having "commercialised large-scale, mission-critical enterprise systems running on Linux within the next three years," The Register reports. Fujitsu made its announcement in Japan, likely to be the first market to see the new products.

It's probably not for savvy sysadmins, but for others who've never worked with Linux on the desktop, Linux Online has posted a Getting Started With Linux online tutorial. It's not quite as linear as I'd like -- that is, it takes a fair amount of travel through pages to get more than a snippet of information, since most pages are very short. But there's a fair amount of information available if you're patient enough to keep clicking.

October 23

Linux

The latest version of what used to be Corel Linux OS, now Xandros Desktop, has just been released ($99 for a single license). The company touts it as a bridge between Linux and Windows, with many implementation features similar to Windows and the ability to deal simply with Microsoft .doc and .xls files.

One early review sings positive. "This distribution is Linux through and through, but it could just be the Linux that will truly snag a market that is looking to escape from the confines of Windows," writesTina Gasperson for Newsforge.com. "I like the ease of use combined with common-sense security options and configurability; I like that it reaches out to Windows users without alienating the Linux community." She offers many installation details in her review.

There's a conference coming up in Boston Dec. 3-4 that focuses on deploying Linux in the enterprise. Along with a diet of vendor cheering from folks like Red Hat and IBM, the agenda features panels on issues like "server consolidation strategies using Linux," "managing Linux on Data Center mainframe systems" and "integrating Linux into the enterprise." There's more info on sponsor Jupitermedia Corp.'s Web site.

And speaking of Linux conferences, Robin Miller posted a roundup of a visit to "Open Source: A Case For E-Government" in Washington last week. "Linux, Open Source, and Free Software are starting to become not only part of the government IT scene, but possibly the fastest-growing part of it, and smart government officials from many countries -- and the private businesses that work with them -- obviously realize this and are trying hard to learn as much about Open Source as they can, as fast as they can," Miller concludes. Read more.

A columnist for the U.K.-based Register newspaper online is chastizing a number of major corporate sites for being hostile to alternative operating systems and browsers. While the initial complaint was readers' problems opening accounts with Scottish Power if they run Linux or the Opera browser, the company's "discriminatory policies against minority computing users (it's yet to give us a response on this beyond saying it is looking into the issue) illustrate a wider problem of commercial Web sites failing to allow users of perfectly capable alternative browsers from using their online facilities," writes John Leyden in an article titled Online banks, retailers shut out Linux, Opera, Konqueror fans.

Windows

Soon you can have Windows on your phone -- Microsoft Smartphone software, more specifically. The Orange SPV (for sound, pictures and video) will be rolled out in the U.K. starting next week, according to a Microsoft Corp. statement. In the U.S., AT&T Wireless says it will have a Smartphone-based handset available by the middle of next year. There's a developer's kit available from Microsoft for those who want to develop applications for the phones.

How's this for a spam nightmare: Ads pop up on your computer even when you're not using your browser. That's what's apparently happening on some Windows-based systems thanks to software called Direct Advertiser, Wired reports. The software exploits a Windows service called Messenger, that was designed to allow system administrators to notify users of important events. "Now somebody on the other side of the world can sit there and pop up messages on your screen," Gary Flynn, a security engineer at James Madison University, told Wired.

More for power users: PC World's Six Windows Tweaks I Couldn't Live Without. They include creating personal sticky notes and elegant ways to manage multiple windows.

October 16

Windows

There's lots of Windows advice online for beginners who want to change their desktop look or create new shortcuts, but what about experienced IT managers who need much more sophisticated information? One option is 2000trainers.com, which has a number of tutorials written as "a resource for IT staff." The Learn Windows XP articles by Jason Zandri, for example, go over topics like an overview of Active Directory concepts, configuring DNS client settings and troubleshooting TCP/IP issues. While some of the information you might find in an explainer of manual commands, it's still a useful site for basics and reference.

Don't have a robust image viewing and editing application on your Wintel machine? Unless you're a graphics pro, there are a number of free programs out there that are surprisingly good at handling many basic tasks. The free and popular Irfan viewer -- it's consistently been the top download from the Tucows software library -- handles a couple of dozen different graphic file formats. And for re-sizing photos quickly, it's tough to beat Easy Thumbnails, another great freebie from Fookes (the creators of NoteTab).

Web watchers pounced on a recent Microsoft ad touting a user who switched from a Macintosh to a PC -- no doubt a Redmond response to the current Apple ad campaign where users talk about the benefits of Macintosh over Windows. Microsoft pulled its ad after Slashdot readers discovered the user's photo was actually a commercial photograph available for purchase by publishers for various uses; the user turned out to be an employee of a public relations firm hired by Microsoft, the Associated Press reports.

Don't miss Computerworld's own Wintel Advances Draw High-End Unix Users, a front-page article from this week's print edition that talks about cost-conscious IT shops ditching Unix. The Itanium chip and lower hardware costs are appealing to those looking to switch. Fortis Health and Norstan Communications Inc. are two institutions that are moving from Unix on high-end hardware to Windows/Intel equipment.

Linux

There's a new Linux distribution on the way: Gentoo. Does the world need yet another flavor of Linux? One of those involved in this free software project, Daniel Robbins, describes it as "a fast, modern distribution with a clean and flexible design." And, it's got "full support" for the Athlon, Athlon XP, Pentium III, Pentium 4 and PowerPC G4 processors. You can read more details from Robbins in an article on the O'Reilly Network Web site.

The U.K.'s Register newspaper online offers a review of a Linux-based tablet device, ProGear from Mira 2 Go. Author John Lettice concludes that while "the future of Progear does not look optimistic," he nevertheless believes it will be a viable Tablet PC option for "quite some time to come."

Unix

What do Apple executives think of Unix as a corporate strategy? Find out in this Macworld interview with Jordan Hubbard, Apple's manager of BSD technologies, where he argues that Mac OS X brings superior OpenGL performance and compatibility to Unix.

October 9

Which is better, Windows or Linux? That's tough to answer without clarifying better for WHAT (although many devotees of each OS -- Linux in particular -- have already decided based on criteria most important to them. We know this! No hate mail please!) However, PC World makes a valiant effort to thoroughly examine the question as it applies to desktop use. Check out Linux vs. Windows: The Rematch.

Unix/Linux

If you're interested in Linux security issues, a Linux Journal article posted this week offers a technical overview of security enhancements for two popular Linux distributions, Red Hat 7.3 and SuSE 8.0, including a table comparing the two.

Linux won a thumbs-up in the general press this week, as Forbes magazine reports the OS's role in helping e-commerce sites lower costs (see story).

And BBC has an interview with Linux creator Linus Torvalds posted last weekend ("I'm somewhere between geek and normal," Torvalds revealed).

Recent Linux reviews of note:

LinuxPlanet offers a first look at UnitedLinux 1.0 beta, just recently available for download. "It's what the UnitedLinux companies -- Conectiva, SCO (formerly Caldera), SuSE and Turbolinux promised it would be: a Linux that's optimized for server work," writes Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in his review. OSNews.com offers details about installing this Linux version in a UnitedLinux Beta Review posted by Gianmario Scotti. He notes that this version requires more than 2G of disk space, without multimedia apps.

If you're doing some work in Unix and need a bit of immediate help, one good source online for basic commands and utilities is UNIXHelp for Users, published by the University of Edinburgh.

In what I assume was an effort to make the guide less intimidating, they've designed it with very short pages -- meaning you may only get one or two paragraphs of information after clicking a link, along with several additional choices you can click on to narrow in on your search. And, the process repeats. But if you don't mind four or five clicks to get where you're going, there's a fair amount of useful info here that seems friendlier than a Unix man (manual) command. Links to examples and "did you know?" areas within the guide are nice extras.

"Why bother to learn shell programming, when you could be out there rollerblading or trying to get a date?" asks Andrew Arensburger. "Because, in a word, it's useful." Read it online, or see a shell programming tutorial posted by Donovan Rebbechi at Rutgers University.

TechTutorials offers a quick look at cron jobs, commands that allow scheduling various system events to run.

Looking to compile Apache Web server software on a Linux box? This detailed tutorial by Luc de Louw tells you how.

Don't miss the discussion raging on our forums about the future of Linux sparked by Fortune magazine's upcoming article Servers With a Smile.

If you need to test software on a lot of different OS environments but don't have loads of spare hardware for a testing center, there are software-based methods "that will help you 'create' enough machines to test against without spending anything more than a little time and some disk space," says David HM Spector in Ship in a Bottle, an article posted on O'Reilly Network's Linux in the Enterprise section.

Windows

If you're deploying XP in a network, Microsoft has posted a detailed technical guide for installing, configuring and supporting XP Professional with Windows 2000 Server, NT Server 4.0 and other server systems. A slew of other technical articles on XP can be found on the Microsoft TechNet site as well.

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