FOSS Anniversaries

In the last LinuxWorld article I wrote for the magazine I talked about FOSS anniversaries, mostly because a number of important projects turned into double figures, and yet most people let it pass them by.

Talk to young programmers and developers today and you’d be fooled into thinking that free/open source software (FOSS) was a relatively new invention. Those crusty old folk among us (myself included, born in that prehistoric era of the early ’70s) know that it goes back a little further than that.Many of us become dewy-eyed about our memories of Linux when it first came out – or the first Red Hat release. In fact, many of the FOSS projects that we take for granted today are a heck of a lot of older than people realize.

And my final request:

To try and redress the balance I’m starting a FOSS anniversaries project. Initially it’s going to be held on my personal blog at http://mcslp.com – click on the FOSS Anniversaries link to go to the page. If I get enough interest, I’ll consider improving on it and moving it elsewhere. Until then, if you’ve got some additions or corrections, use the contact form to let me know.

Here is the FOSS Anniversaries page, which is on this site. If you want me to update anything, use the Contact page.

Session Tracking With Apache

My new piece on how to track user sessions on your website with Apache is available on ServerWatch.com. Here’s an excerpt:

Using HTTP logs to track the users who visit your site isn’t always as useful as you think it’s going to be. While metrics, like the total number of page hits and, within that, page hits over time or from a specific IP address, easily identify, they don’t always tell how people are viewing your site or answer specific questions the marketing department may pose.This article looks at how to track progress through a site using an Apache module and provides answers to some of the more complex marketing-led questions that may be posed.

Read on for the rest of the article.

LWM Editors Move House

After some heavy negotiations, discussions and a lot of thinking the majority of the old LinuxWorld team will be doing some work with a new organization in the form of Brian Profitt at LinuxToday/LinuxPlanet. These sites are run by the same people (Jupiter Media) who I do ApacheToday/ServerWatch material so it’s a relatively familiar home, although under slightly different circumstances ;)Kevin Bedell, Contributing Editor – Open Source Software and LicensingDee-Ann LeBlanc, Contributing Editor – Games and MultimediaJames Turner, Senior Contributing EditorIbrahim Haddad, Contributing Editor – TelecomMaria Winslow, Contributing Editor – Open Source ApplicationsMartin C. Brown, Contributing Editor – LAMP TechnologiesSteve Suehring, Contributing Editor – Security & InternetSteven Berkowitz, Contributing Editor – SciencesRob Reilly, Contributing Editor – TBDEach of us will be on the hook for one article a month, plus blog feeds through Linux Today/Linux Planet sites. You can expect the first content to start showing up around the beginning of June.I’ve also got a couple of other announcements in the pipeline. I’ll let everybody know when I have something more definite to tell.

Kyle Rankin, Knoppix Hacks

Knoppix is not just another Linux distribution. Unlike many Linux alternatives, Knoppix doesn’t need to be installed; everything runs from a CD (called a ‘Live CD’ distribution). While Live CDs aren’t unique to Knoppix, it is the way the Knoppix CD is packaged that makes the difference. Knoppix includes intelligent hardware detection – it can automatically identify nearly everything on your machine and then make the bet of it – and the CD includes a wide selection of programs, from typical Linux applications through to repair utilities and tools.I talked to Kyle Rankin, author of Knoppix Hacks about how the book idea was formed, how he chose the contents and some of the things you can do with Knoppix.

OK – I can’t make up my mind whether I’ve fallen in love with Knoppix or the Knoppix Hacks book. What lead to the production of this book?A friend of mine works at O’Reilly heard that they were looking for someone to do a Knoppix book for them. Not too long before he had seen me use Knoppix at an installfest to resize someone’s Windows partition and set up Debian in a relatively short amount of time. He approached me with the news and encouraged me to send them a book proposal. I had never written a book before, but I personally used Knoppix a lot, especially as a recovery tool. I thought a Hacks book applied to Knoppix was a great idea so I started jotting down ideas and submitted a formal proposal for the book that was accepted. Add months of furious writing and Knoppix Hacks was born. I started the book liking Knoppix and finished the book absolutely loving it.

Annoyances 101

The one thnig I hate about buying computer equipment is the timing…you can guarantee that the moment you buy something, a newer, better, and probably cheaper model will be released the day after. For me, it’s today. According to InfoWorld Seagate will be releasing 100GB 7200RPM drives and 120GB 5400RPM drives in a few weeks time. Today, after much deliberation, I ordered two Toshiba 100GB, 5400RPM drives. I thought about a 7200RPM 60GB unit, but decided that space would be more useful. Since they will replace 60GB 4200RPM units, I’m still going to be upgrading both speed and capacity. And the new Seagate drives will be expensive; my two came in at just over £200+VAT. It might have cost upwards of £400+VAT for the new units.That doesn’t make Seagate’s announcement any less annoying of course…

New Book Review Blog

I have a new blog totally dedicated to hosting book reviews and interviews. It takes the place of the books blog I had at LinuxWorld, which is obviously now defunct. The new site, The Writers Perspective will host all the reviews and interviews that conduct each month, as well as links and information on reviews and interviews that I have published elsewhere, such as Free Software Magazine. There are four entries up there now – quite a few interviews are currently pending. Probably best to add the feed to your favourite reader 🙂

David Sklar, Essential PHP Tools: Modules, Extensions, and Accelerators

PHP is a popular web development/deployment platform and you can get even more out of the platform by using the extensions and tools available on the web to extend PHP’s capabilities. I talk to David Sklar, author of Essential PHP, about his new book and PHP development.Why do you use PHP?It’s proven itself to be a flexible and capable solution for building lots of web applications. I’m a big fan of the “use the right tool for the job” philosophy. PHP isn’t the right tool for every job, but when you need to build a dynamic web app, it’s hard to beat.Could you tell me what guided your thoughts on the solutions you feature in the book?They’re solutions to problems I’ve needed to solve. Code reuse is a wonderful thing and PEAR makes it easy. It’s a frustrating waste of time to write code that does boring stuff like populate form fields with appropriately escaped user input when you’re redisplaying a form because of an error. HTML_QuickForm does it for you. The Auth module transparently accomodates many different kinds of data stores for authentication information. One project might require a database, another an LDAP server. With PEAR Auth, the only difference between the two would be one or two lines of configuration for Auth.

Tony Mobily, Hardening Apache

It is the administration task we love to hate: securing a website. Apache forms the backbone of most websites so it makes sense to start there. In Hardening Apache, Tony Mobily does just that, starting with the basics of creating of a secure Apache installation and moving on to more in depth techniques for securing Apache installations from attack. Let’s see what Tony has to say when I talk to him about his new book and how to approach security, Apache and otherwise.One of the key elements I get from your book is the back to basics approach. For example, I know a lot of companies with extensive login systems that leave their server room doors wide open. Do you it’s best to work from the inside out or the outside in when setting up security?I believe that you always need to get the right person for the job. For example, if you need to re-tile your bathroom, you don’t call a wood worker. It’s the same with computer security; “physical” security (e.g. preventing people from breaking in) and “logical” security (preventing crackers and script kiddies from using your servers and resources) are very different things which require very different skills and training.In this field – in fact, in any field – improvisation is just not an option.If a company asked me to secure their physical network, I would redirect them to Steve, a friend of mine who does just that. Steve tells me amazing stories of sniffing packets by just placing a device next to the cable, for example, or other stories which I would see nicely in a James Bond movie rather than real life.Even “logical” security branches out! I wouldn’t be able to audit the source code of a complex program, for example.The problem is that even though improvisation shouldn’t be an option, it still happens. When a manager installs updates on a Unix system, or (worse) a service pack on a Windows machine, he is improvising and putting his systems at risk – full stop.To go back to the question, security is a problem that has to be faced as a whole. To connect to the example I made earlier, a good physical design will prevent problems such as random people getting to close to a network cable and sniffing packets, or people accessing the servers’ consoles. On the other hand, a good logical design will mean that any piece of information will be encrypted, and if intruders did manage to access the cable, they won’t be able to do anything with the collected information.

Matthias Warkus, The Official GNOME 2 Developer’s Guide

Install Linux and the chances are you’ll be given the choice between a GNOME or KDE desktop. GNOME is the better known of the two, but if you want to development applications that use the GNOME environment where do you start? Well a good place would be Matthias Warkus’ new book, The Official GNOME 2 Developers Guide. I talk to Matthias and ask him about the GNOME system and environment, along with one or two other topics.Could you describe to us what GNOME is?GNOME is one of the leading projects developing user-friendly free software. The GNOME community effort includes the GNOME Desktop & Developer Platform, probably the most advanced free desktop environment around, translations, documentation and many third-party applications.What you actually see on a computer said to be “running GNOME” is a tightly integrated, no-frills desktop system, on par with any commercial offering.