Proprietary software as a false economy


By Eraserhead1, Infinity0, Sav_vas - Levenez Unix History Diagram, Information on the history of IBM's AIX on ibm.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1801948

I recently had to fill in a form for the Computer Science Department at the University of York.

Like, I am sure, any computer science department in any major world university, York is a “Unix shop”: research servers all run Linux and I guess the academics who aren’t using that are – as I am now – are running the modified/derived BSD that is Mac OS X.

But the form was “optimised” (i.e., only able to operate properly on) Microsoft Word – not a piece of software found on many ‘nix machines.

Because the rest of the University – like almost all of Britain’s public sector – was totally reliant on Microsoft’s proprietary offerings.

Thirty years ago I worked in a public sector organisation that used a mixture of proprietary software for “mission critical” work – Netware, Word Perfect and MS Dos. But even that mixture has gone: it’s Microsoft for everything (on the desktop) these days.

And now the price of that false economy – because so often this reliance on Microsoft has been justified because it keeps training costs low (“everybody knows how to use it”) – has been revealed by a massive global ransomware attack.

If free/open source software (FOSS) had been more-widely used then, of course, the risk would not have disappeared: not least because the crackers would have turned their attention to FOSS and left Windows behind: but there are two pretty obvious advantages to FOSS in terms of security:

  • You can see how it works – you wouldn’t walk across a bridge with no visible means of support, yet every time you use proprietary closed-source software you do just that: the fact it hasn’t fallen down yet seems like a poor justification.
  • Everybody can fix it: if Microsoft’s software breaks or is seen to have a vulnerability you are essentially reliant on them to fix it. And if you are using an unsupported piece of software you may not even have that. Again there are no guarantees of invulnerability with FOSS – software is hard – but there is a guarantee that you or anyone you ask/pay can attempt to fix your problem.

It’s time we ended this dependency on proprietary software and invested in a FOSS future.

It’s Friday afternoon…


…and I could really do with an answer to this question I have posted over on “Superuser”:

 

 

I am seeking to back up an encrypted volume used by Virtual Box on one OS X machine to another using rsync (I will eventually stick this into cron).

This is the command line (I am sharing public keys so no password is required) – with some details obscured:

rsync –bwlimit=100 -av -e “scp -P [port numb] user@address:~/VirtualBox\ VMs/ubuntu1/*” ./ubuntu1/.

But it won’t copy anything, just repeatedly giving me this, ie no copying is done – despite the fact that ubuntu1.vdi date stamp and size have now changed:

building file list … done drwxr-xr-x 170 2012/10/04 19:06:15 . -rw——- 7265 2012/10/05 10:00:21 ubuntu1.vbox -rw——- 7265 2012/10/05 10:00:21 ubuntu1.vbox-prev -rw——- 7881625600 2012/10/05 10:53:23 ubuntu1.vdi

sent 132 bytes received 20 bytes 304.00 bytes/sec total size is 7881640130 speedup is 51852895.59

How do get this to work properly?

Smaller PNG graphic files from your LaTeX


I use LaTeX (LyX as the front end) to generate the occasional bits of mathematical script that appear here. Is it bad to admit it gives me a small thrill to see how the LaTex is transformed into something mathematical – makes me feel like a proper scientist/mathematician. Well, I’ve done it now…

WordPress.com will not display postscript natively (or if it can I have never been able to get it to work), so I usually open the .ps files in GIMP and convert them to a PNG – PNGs being optimised to handle things like line drawings and graphical images of text.

The PNGs that come out of this are of a reasonable size but they could be smaller. Some years ago I wrote some Perl code to do that (I needed something that worked in a CGI environment and while Perl is not so fast for even integer maths it was the best option).

That code is available on CPAN as Image::Pngslimmer and on a typical Linux/BSD (OSX too?) install (I am assuming you have perl and the cpan module installed) you should be able to get it on to your box with sudo cpan Image::Pngslimmer – which may ask you a lot of questions before it installs if you have never used CPAN but while YMMV the default answers should probably work.

You can write your own script or just use this quick and dirty one for PNGs of 64K or less:

#!/usr/bin/perl -w
use Image::Pngslimmer();
my $srcfile = shift;
open INF, $srcfile;
binmode INF;
read(INF, $buffer, 65535);
my $blob2 = Image::Pngslimmer::indexcolours($buffer);
my $blob3 = Image::Pngslimmer::discard_noncritical($blob2);
print Image::Pngslimmer::zlibshrink($blob3);

To use this copy the script above into your editor and save it with a name eg shrinker.pl and then execute like this: perl shrinker.pl some.png > smaller.png which will create a new file smaller.png from some.png (which is untouched).

The results can be reasonably impressive. This file – created by cutting from the GIMP – comes in at 14.4KB (NB the graphics you see here are preprocessed by wordpress.com, click on the graphics to see the original):

Proof graphic, uncompressed

But after a bit of processing with the above script, this comes in at 9.7KB:

Compressed proof graphic

Finally, please do not say this doesn’t matter because your pipe is so fat. Millions of these things are being pumped through the internet every minute and the collective saving of bandwidth really would matter if we could deliver it…