Just today, Microsoft has contributed 20,000 lines of code to Linux, licensed under the GPLv2. This is the first time Microsoft has chosen to use the GPL to license it’s own code.  The software they’ve released today helps to make Linux work better when running in a virtual machine on top of Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor.

Microsoft’s announcement was a big surprise coming from the same company who argued that the “[GPL] debases the currency of the ideas and labor that transform great ideas into great products” and have compared it to a virus.

While this is the first time Microsoft has released code under the GPL, it isn’t the first contribution Microsoft has made to Free Software.  For example, in January of this year, Microsoft made it’s first contribution to the Apache project.  Microsoft’s Bing search engine includes some open source code.  Microsoft also has it’s own Free Software license called the Microsoft Public License (Ms-PL) which is recognized as such by the Free Software Foundation.

Microsoft has also been showing support for Mono with promises not to sue Mono users for patent violations.  I was also surprised to notice that Microsoft’s video website, which requires the Silverlight plugin, redirects Linux users to Mono’s Moonlight plugin page.

So, what’s next?  Perhaps Windows 8 will run on the Linux kernel.

Last time, I covered some different ways of using SSH for remote access on a LAN or over the Internet, using RSA keys for secure authentication, and how to use GNU Screen to keep a process running after disconnecting your SSH session.  This time, I’ll talk about using SSH with X11 forwarding, using VNC with SSH, and making it all run faster by adding compression and changing the cipher of your SSH session.

X11 forwarding is a feature built into X which enables you to make use of graphical applications running on a server from another computer over the network (if the server has a GUI).  This technology enables you to use graphical tools to change settings or view files on the remote computer, or to forward graphical applications to your workstation which you might not otherwise have to ability (or desire) to install.  The forwarded applications will actually be running on the server, so your local computer will have it’s processor and memory free for other things.  To use X11 forwarding in Ubuntu, just add the -X flag to your SSH command like so:

ssh -X remoteuser@<remote IP address>

Easy, huh?  Now that you’re logged into the remote computer, you can try typing “nautilus” to launch the graphical File Manager.  Notice that the files displayed are those on the remote system, and not your local machine.  You could also try running “evince” to read some PDF’s you have on the server, or “eog” to browse your photo collection remotely.  You get the idea.  I find that forwarding VirtualBox is very useful.  Doing so enables you to use or administer Virtual Machines residing on your server, without having to install any software locally, and without taking up a big chuck of your memory.

X11 forwarding is very useful for making use of specific applications, but if you need remote access to the entire desktop you can use VNC.  VNC can be run over SSH in a variety of configurations, but I’ll show you one really easy way which uses X11 forwarding.   Before this will work, VNC access needs to be enabled on the remote computer.  You will also need the xtightvncviewer package installed.  You can install it from the command line by typing “sudo aptitude install xtightvncviewer”.  Now that you know how to use X11 forwarding, you can easily set up Ubuntu’s default VNC client Vino by SSHing into the remote system (remember the -X flag) and running the command “vino-preferences”.  On the General tab, all boxes should be checked except for “Ask you for confirmation”, and of course, setting a decent password is always a good idea.  After this is all set up, you can start VNC with the command “vncviewer localhost” from an existing connection, or in a single command from your local machine like this:

ssh -X user@<IP address> vncviewer localhost

While X11 forwarding can be extremely useful, it can also be quite slow, particularly across slower network connections or over the Internet.  To speed things up, you can instruct SSH to use compression (employing the same algorithm used by gzip) by adding the -C flag to your SSH command.

ssh -C user@<IP address>

You can also opt to use a faster but less secure cipher if you are willing to sacrifice some of the SSH connection’s security in exchange for increased performance.  There are a variety of ciphers available.  The default cipher used by SSH is AES (the Advanced Encryption Standard) which is extremely secure, and is approved for top secret information by the NSA.  However, it isn’t the fastest available.  A faster and still quite secure cipher is Blowfish, which is a good compromise if AES is too slow but you still want to keep the connection secure.  An even faster, but less secure cipher is Arcfour.  Arcfour has a few known vulnerabilities, but is still being used in WEP and WPA Wi-Fi encryption, Microsoft’s RDP protocol, and a number of other cryptosystems in spite of it’s flaws.

So, to use SSH with the speedier but still secure blowfish cipher, you would type:

ssh -c blowfish-cbc user@<IP address>

If you wanted to use Arcfour:

ssh -c arcfour user@<IP address>

Therefore, to connect to the remote system using SSH with X11 forwarding enabled, plus compression and the fast arcfour cipher, use:

ssh -c arcfour -XC user@<IP address>

Well, I hope you’ve found this useful.  If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to comment!

Next time, I’ll finish up this series with some tips on using Bash aliases to simplify the commands involved, as well as a couple other useful things you can do with SSH.  Thanks for reading!

Microsoft used it’s highly effective business strategies to gain an effective monopoly in the computer software industry in the early 1990’s.  Since then, businesses have had very little choice when making decisions about what software to use, as the Windows/Office combination has become an effective standard, as everyone is now locked into Microsoft’s proprietary formats.  This lack of choice has caused Microsoft’s high priced products to continue to sell, irregardless of the product’s actual quality.  Corporate competition has been made near impossible as Microsoft’s highly profitable products sell, not based on value, but out of inertia.  Unfortunately for Microsoft, this lack of competition has enabled Microsoft to produce products of reduced quality, without a disruption in sales figures to mandate internal changes.  With the high cost/low value release of Windows Vista, corporations are becoming more apt to consider alternatives.  IBM is stepping into that vacuum and offering a low cost/high value alternative solution to the business desktop model which has the potential to shatter Microsoft’s stranglehold on the market.

Yesterday, IBM issued a Press Release announcing their new desktop solution which utilizes a combination of Ubuntu, IBM’s Lotus Symphony, and server hosted virtual desktops using a solution called VERDE from Virtual Bridges.

Here are a few highlights:

Compared to Microsoft-based desktops, this virtual desktop solution, including industry-leading components from IBM, Virtual Bridges and Canonical, is estimated on average to deliver cost savings from:

  • Licensing: cost avoidance of $500 to $800 per user on software license for Microsoft Office, Windows and all related products
  • Hardware: cost avoidance of around $258 per user since there is no need to upgrade hardware to support Windows Vista and Office 2007
  • Power consumption: cost avoidance of $40 to $145 per user from reduced power to run the configuration and $20 to $73 per user from reduced air conditioning requirements from lower powered desktop devices annually
  • IT services: 90 percent savings of deskside PC support; 75 percent of security/user administration; 50 percent of help desk services such as password resets, and 50 percent for software installations, which are replaced by software publishing

Standard pricing for a 1,000-user VERDE deployment is $49 per user.

With the benefits of open standards over a proprietary platform come the freedom to select software in a heterogeneous environment,” said Malcolm Yates, vice president, Canonical. “Combining Ubuntu with IBM’s Open Client software applications we can break out of Microsoft dependencies completely and significantly reduce total cost of ownership.

Here is the full Press Release: IBM and Business Partners Introduce a Linux-Based, Virtual Desktop

When I consider the combination of the efforts of the Ubuntu community, the vision of Canonical guiding development, and the backing of companies like IBM, I have no doubt that widespread adoption of Ubuntu will soon reach a tipping point.  The infrastructure is in place, and the gears are turning; we just have to reach critical mass.  Having the word Ubuntu on a resume is feeling more and more valuable by the hour.