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Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to another exciting installment of The Answer Gang.
One of our crew has come up with an amusing bit of text to send to people who are amazingly off topic, for example, completely non-computing matters:
These Are Not The Droids You're Looking For
It gave me a belly laugh when I first saw it. Some who get this are asking computer questions, tho - solely about a certain Other OS. Perhaps amazingly, a few of the Gang don't mind working with MSwin. And certainly questions about mixing two or more operating systems are juicy and we love answering those (if we actually can) but this just isn't the place for a question that would be answered much better at the Win98 Megasite:
Oddly enough I don't think I've seen any MacOS questions roll through. But these sort of notes happen often enough that I've got my own little "answering machine style" note:
You've Reached The Linux Gazette Answer Gang
If that's the only peeve we have left I think we're doing alright. Now for stuff that's about our favorite penguin playground - Linux!
As it's been around a while and many of the commercial distros are releasing their new versions with 2.4 kernels and various modern bugfixes, I know an increasing number of truly Newbie users who are taking the plunge. Given the context I know them from, they're not generally dumb people, but they have been led to believe that the hassle of a full install will be worth it for the security they will gain.
Unfortunately, the gain doesn't happen automagically. Okay, the average setup is a little better out of the box than Windows. But it's like buying a car with a car alarm and other "smart sensors" -- they're no good if you can't find the clicker to turn them on. Or if you can turn on the alarm but not roll up the windows and close the convertible top.
Or if you find the clicker covered with cryptic phrases like "IPchains" and "construct a filter to block UDP..." This is nonsense to a lot of people. There are tools which claim to help toughen it up, except that if they don't explain what they're doing, you have no idea what they helped, or whether they are hindering something that you actually need to do.
Beyond that, there's simply that anything that had to go through the publishing industry is out of date. Your boxed distro may have taken a month and a half to hit the shelves - while they're proud of getting 2.4.2 in there, 2.4.5 is already released and pre6 is cooking along. And so on. If you don't make arrangements to update to the security patch versions as soon as you're a working system, you'll be wide open to something.
Pleasantly, tools to help people tweak firewall rules are actually starting to get usable. Distros increasingly resist, or have ways of tracking, suid binaries - which are dangerous not so much because of that feature, as that they are almost always suid root, the most dangerous account on the system. Distros make it increasingly easy to always get the latest, and the major ones seem to have websites where you can keep an eye on how they're doing.
So as we approach Independence Day -- which in the U.S. is a celebration of determining our own destiny -- take a few thoughts towards those unknown souls who set the first policies you depend on, and towards your own ability to choose how you are defended. The price of liberty... is eternal vigilance.