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Newsletter Section 1

UKUUG News




Editor's Column

(Susan Small)

[sue] The production of your cover CD took much longer than we anticipated causing this issue to be nearly one month late in reaching you. However, I hope you will agree that the wait was worth it once you have seen what is on the CD. Both the CD and this issue, focus on security issues, following on from the Winter Conference of the same theme.

I hope you like the idea of “theming” the Newsletter and CD in this way. Please let us know what themes you would like to see in future editions and what software you would like included on the cover CD. The April edition will be considering “heterogeneous interworking”.

I received a lot of responses from you over the article printed in the last Newsletter regarding Linux - On the Internet, no-one can hear you scream! In this issue there is a response to that article and a letter from RedHat. Please keep the feedback coming!

The last issue of the Newsletter was printed on slightly better quality paper and we felt it looked better. As we did not receive any comments from you about this, do we presume that you either didn't notice or didn't want to comment? This issue will hopefully see a coloured logo on the front page - we await your comments ...

Report from the Chair

(Mick Farmer)

[mick] As I have said before in this column, the UKUUG membership is, at best, static, if not actually declining, albeit slowly. This phenomenom is not limited to our group. Similar user groups, both in the UK and Europe, are also experiencing the same trend. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find an underlying cause for this. In the UK at least, computer user groups are getting together to combat the problem. You may have read in the computing press that the UKUUG, along with twenty or so other user groups, have formed a loose alliance in order to make our (collective) voice heard. Initially, we will be advertising one another's events in our newsletters and offering own-member prices at events for members of these other groups. I will keep you informed as things develop.

Our income is derived entirely from your subscriptions, which means that your Council has to provide existing, and new services, from a dwindling pot of money. As we have no intention of raising subscriptions, this means that we have to occasionally cut our costs.

Au revoir EurOpen!

For some time now, your Council has been discussing what benefits you, our members, get from the UKUUG's membership of EurOpen. Apart from some exposure as a sponsor member, the majority of your Council

considers that whatever benefits there are, they do not justify the cost (currently 10,000 ECUs per annum) of our continued membership. Therefore, we have decided to resign from EurOpen and not renew our membership for 1997. This is particularly sad, as we have supported EurOpen from its inception (formerly known as the European UNIX Users Group). We fully intend to remain on friendly terms with EurOpen, and the national groups that comprise its membership, and to co-operate wherever possible. If you think that this decision is a big mistake, please let me know.

Networking at Owles Hall

Currently, we share a computer system with the Sun User Forum (formally the Sun User Group), situated at Owles Hall and connected to the Internet via PSI Ltd. PSI have recently informed us that they intend to change the service provided. We are not willing to accept these changes, which means that we must go elsewhere. There may be some disruption to the network services we provide when we move to an alternative solution, but hope that these will be kept to a minimum.

Jim postponed!

Unfortunately, we have to postpone Jim Reid's Internet Security Seminar, due to be held on 3/4/5 March this year. Jim has recently changed jobs, which means that he no longer has the time to come to London so early in the year. As soon as a new date has been agreed we will let you know.

Freely Reusable Software

This event will take place in Bath in early May, not April as we originally announced. The programme is well advanced and full details will be sent out as soon as possible.

O'Reilly Authors

Two well-known authors of O'Reilly books are visiting the UK this year. Matt Bishop, author of “Running Linux”, will be here until April. Jerry Peek, author of “MH & exmh” and co-author of a number of other books, will arrive during the summer and stay for a year, studying in my department! If you are interested in asking either person to talk at one of your local meetings then contact our secretariat in the first instance.

Annual General Meeting

This will take place on Thursday, 26 June at the Institute of Education, London at 6.00pm. As usual, this meeting will be followed by a meeting of the London LUG. Further details concerning the AGM and the LUG meeting will be sent out as soon as possible.



Report from the Treasurer

(Ivan Gleeson)

[ivan] I'm pleased to say that our financial position continues to improve. This is much to the credit of the Council and Staff at Owles Hall, who have endeavoured to keep expenditure as low as possible, whilst still providing existing valuable services at a good level.

From a number of discussions I had with members at Manchester (and what a good event it was!) it was clear that we need to continue this progress in offering new services with “value for money” in mind. Consequently, the Council has decided not to renew sponsorship of EurOpen (not a

light decision!) [see Chair's report. Ed] and will be providing new services to meet the current needs of the members. Hopefully, an announcement will be given very shortly once details have been finalised.

Over the next twelve months I intend to focus on identifying and implementing ways of allowing us to reduce individual membership. The first of these involves enhancing many of the administration functions before April 97. My incentive being a bottle of bubbly to be supplied by the Chairman (from his own funds of course!).

Please contact me if you would like any additional financial information or have any ideas for new services you would like to put forward to the Council.

For the last three years I hae been involved with UNIX and, as an IT Auditor with the Bank of England, tend to concentrate on security. I am a member of both the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) and the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA). I currently chair the ISACA UNIX Special Interest Group.



Red Hat Explains it All

or:
Why the Linux OS is better than NT and other commercially restricted OSes

(Robert F. Young)

When we first encountered the Linux operating system we were certain it would not succeed. At best it might be a short term success. Most likely it would be quickly forgotten as NT, OS/2, Nextstep, Interactive, and other commercial alternatives matured.

Today we have tens of thousands, if not millions, of keen users of the Red Hat Linux operating system and we are confident Linux will enjoy long-term success. We find the most exciting part of our adventure with Linux to date is less the success we are enjoying than the element of helping to establish a whole new software development model.

What Linux is

Linux, for the rare reader who does not know, is the advanced multi-user, multi-tasking OS originally built for Intel compatible PCs. It is the result of a worldwide development effort over the Internet. It can be used as a UNIX workstation or server for tasks ranging from large reliable Internet web servers, to low-cost workstations for client/server networks.

The factors that will ensure the long-term success of Linux have little to do with the current list of features – although the current feature list is impressive. For example it runs on a wider range of PC equipment than any other non-Microsoft OS. Of course Microsoft does have the unfair advantage of having the Intel hardware makers build their products specifically to run dos/win. When you consider that Linux also runs on Digital Alpha computers, Sun SPARC and now Apple PowerMac hardware, Linux has even Microsoft's OSes beat.

How Linux is licensed

This is all the more remarkable when you consider that it is “freely distributable” under the terms of the GPL license. Simply put, this license enables anyone to work on Linux provided they make their changes available under the same terms. This means while Linux can be – and is – sold in a variety of forms, it can also be downloaded or copied without cost or restriction.

The GPL is not the only type of “free” software license, and Linux benefits from software licensed under several other

freely-distributable software licenses. The four main types are: Public Domain software, Shareware, BSD-type copyrights, and the General Public License (GPL). There are pros and cons to each of these but for cooperative software development projects we prefer the GPL and here's why:

The GPL allows you all the freedom of the others with an added benefit – not to you or its author – but a benefit for the project itself: By requiring that you put any changes or additions to the GPL'd code you borrowed under the same GPL'd terms it ensures that no one developer gains any advantage over the other development contributors. (Software that simply runs on top of or uses Linux or other GPL'd code can be placed under any copyright you choose). This solves problems such as occurred in the original UNIX project. AT&T held the copyright to UNIX and many groups including the University of California at Berkeley helped them build it. When finished, AT&T was able to exercise their copyright to restrict everyone's use of the technology that had been cooperatively built.

Under the GPL the Linux copyright may be held by Linus Torvalds and others but they have no more right to restrict the use of it than you or Red Hat does. This small burden – the lack of restrictive control – ensures Linux and its related technologies will continue to evolve to the benefit of all of its users equally.

Where the resources for Linux development come from:

How can a free OS that apparently has little money behind it be competitive with products from the world's richest computer software companies? The answer is that appearances can deceive. There is in fact a lot of money being invested in Linux development. Commercial Linux companies like Red Hat Software invest directly in Linux both via code that we write and contribute back under the GPL, and money we donate to important Linux development teams like the Free Software Foundation and GNU projects, the LDP and the Linux documentation it is responsible for, and the Xfree86 team and their X server.

Red Hat Software's role in Linux development relates to Linux developers being largely uninterested in ease-of-use features. If you have the skills to help write operating system code you also have the skills to install and manage an OS without pull-down menus, dialog boxes, and configuration tools. Features that most people who might benefit from using an advanced operating system require to use it productively.

The story of Red Hat Linux illustrates this point. In 1994 Marc Ewing, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon's famous computer science program, was working at IBM. In his spare time he was building the world's most advanced development tool. His development machines were a couple of Linux workstations. They were running SLS Linux that he had had to patch and modify substantially. When he found that he was not making the progress he expected on his project he stopped and did some analysis of

where his time was disappearing. He discovered that he was spending more time maintaining his Linux workstations than he was working on his project. So he stopped and decided that the world did not really need another development tool – what the world really needed was a better Linux distribution.

So he began the Red Hat Linux project to address the limitations in Linux that he personally had experienced. An example of this is RPM – quite possibly the computer industries most advanced and sophisticated software package management system. RPM enables a Linux user to install new packages or update old ones without all the trial and error of placing the appropriate files in the correct paths, building the necessary links, and in the case of upgrades deleting all the old files and links. RPM does all of this for the user including warning the user of other programs and files that the new program will require that may not yet be installed, saving both the new user and experienced developer hours of system administration and maintenance work.

By contributing valuable ease-of-use features to the Linux OS under the GPL, Red Hat makes the Linux OS useful for a greater number of computer users thereby expanding the Linux community. In turn Red Hat is able to make a living selling Linux CDs, books, and applications to this rapidly expanding Linux marketplace. But contributions from companies like Red Hat Software represents only a small part of the funds going into Linux development.

Linux is built by the users for the users

The bulk of Linux development is funded by the developers themselves who work on Linux in order to apply it to projects or applications they need themselves. From super-computing projects at NASA to software development at Empress Software the work is funded by the users for their own benefit. The fact that this work also benefits the larger Linux-using community is simply serendipitous in the true sense of that word.

The story of the Iomega Zip driver in Linux is a good example. Grant Guenther, the head developer at database maker Empress Software Inc ( www.empress.com ) was encouraging the use of Linux as a development OS at Empress. It gave his development team-mates access to low-cost workstations at work and at home. When Empress chose Zip drives as a company standard for transferring data, Grant found that they were not supported under Linux. So he had a choice. Abandon Linux and purchase significant numbers of licenses of expensive commercial alternatives that come without compilers or source code – both of which are valuable features of Linux to software developers – or spend some time researching and writing his own Zip driver for Linux. So he did. Grant, as head of development for a commercial database company had both the skills and training to do this work well. Having built it he then posts it to the Internet asking for help in testing and improving. It quickly became part of the Linux OS for use by anyone who had an Iomega Zip drive.

Ongoing Linux development

Empress Software would have charged several thousand dollars for Grant's services had they been approached professionally to write such a driver. Under the Linux/GNU model the incentive was not direct cash but the indirect benefit he and Empress continues to receive from their use of Linux. Now consider that Empress and Red Hat are only two of several thousand organizations that include literally all the major government research institutions, most Universities, and a majority of commercial research and software development teams, and you begin to get the idea that the remarkable breadth and quality of the Linux OS is no accident.

The huge (and growing) amount of development effort behind Linux will result in this technology staying at or ahead of any commercial OS project you can name. An illustrative example is security. Because of the wide open nature of Linux and its available sources, security issues are identified, debated, and repaired in real time. The problem is discussed openly, the patches are tested widely, and the problem is worked on until resolved to everyone's satisfaction. While this open discussion of security issues in Linux has occasionally confused users of traditional OS into thinking that Linux has security problems – the reverse is true: all OS's have security problems, Linux simply identifies and solves them faster.

When we sit back and wonder how companies like Red Hat can succeed in competing with corporate giants like Microsoft and IBM in the operating system business, we think of people like Grant Guenther, developers from the University of Helsinki, to NASA, to all the college and commercial research teams around the world working on Linux. Suddenly the question becomes how is Microsoft going to compete with Linux? ;-)

I appreciate that the above probably raises more questions than it answers. Additional answers can be found at:

http://www.redhat.com/
http://www.li.org/
http://www.ssc.com/

and many other Linux sites that can be reached from these.

Bob Young is President of Red Hat Software, Inc. of Durham, North Carolina.



News from Owles Hall

(Jane Morrison)

[janem] From everyone at Owles Hall - Happy New Year! - I know this is a little late, but this is the first Newsletter of 1997.

1996 ended on a very successful note with the Winter Conference which was held in Manchester on 17 and 18 December. The event was well attended by some 50 delegates. There was plenty of lively discussion during the Conference, at the Conference dinner and in the bar after the dinner - some of which continued until the early hours.

Membership subscriptions were sent out in late January and I hope you are all making the necessary arrangements for prompt payment. If you have any queries concerning your subscription invoice please contact me as soon as possible.

Jane has worked at the Owles Hall Secretariat for 8 years. She looks after the administration for the UKUUG, SUN User Forum and EurOpen.



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