Independence day

The NSA affair continues to make the headlines even three month after the initial report of the report of Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian. Slowly, very slowly, the message of these headlines begins to creep into the consciousness of normal people.

With the result that I'm being asked by an increasing number of people for advice. They always want to know what I'd “recommend”. Recommend with respect to what? As it turns out, most people want to be safe from the spying eyes of the services without changing any of their habits (like skyping and online banking with their trusted Windows XP). They have the most amusing ideas how to accomplish that.

One guy believed he would be safe if he would use his Windows as virtual machine. I tried to discuss this approach, but he insisted, and I thus simply informed him that it is indeed possible to convert a physical Windows installation to a virtual machine. I also told him, as requested, that both VMPlayer and VirtualBox provide convenient point-and-click interfaces with which he can manage his virtual machines. In the course of one afternoon, he converted his existing installation of Windows 7, formatted the disk, installed four different Linux distributions in a row, got VirtualBox running on the fourth, was ignorant about the guest add-ons and was thus shocked to see his Windows running at 1024x768, formatted the hard disk once more and installed Windows again. D'oh! 😄

Others keep asking me about Truecrypt. It's true, everybody seems to recommend Truecrypt right now, even Fefe. I've never used Truecrypt, and I never will. First of all, Truecrypt is not available in the repositories of any of the distributions I'm using (Archlinux, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Debian) since it is not free. Second, the authors of Truecrypt are unknown. I don't see any reason why I should prefer Truecrypt over the better alternatives existing for Linux.

Oh well, there's the culprit. If you want disk encryption for Windows, and are looking for alternatives for BitLocker, Truecrypt appears to be truly attractive.

But seriously: how can anybody aware of the facts still consider using Windows, except as a game starter?

In July, the Guardian has reported that "Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users' communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company's own encryption [...]." End of July, Heise reported that Microsoft can install root certificates without user intervention by a mechanism called "Automatic Root Certificates Update". In August, the Zeit reported about "Trusted Computing" and the fact that from 2015, a computer with Windows 8 is principally controlled by Microsoft (also read the first paragraph in italics). And in September, Bruce Schneier argues that one should doubt the integrity of commercial, closed-source software in general, and proprietary encryption programs in particular (right, it's a Captain Obvious article).

And at the end of Schneier's article, he says: "And I'm still primarily on Windows, unfortunately." So one can't blame the people, I guess.

Then there are those coming to me since they want to convert to Linux. There's one guy who's using Windows XP, and he asked me if there's a free clone. I could have told him about ReactOS, but I just shook my head. He then asked if there's at least “a Linux without command line”. Literally!

Others just ask me what I'm using. When I tell them that I'm using several different distributions, they are confused. “Why? And which one can you recommend?”

I principally try not to recommend anything. Not because I'm an obnoxious arrogant prick, but because I've learned that my likes and dislikes are incompatible with those of most other people. To be fair, I advice them against Ubuntu, but they install it anyway. Most of them try a few weeks and are then back to Windows, with the sole exception of this little Chinese guy who misunderstood my advice and now calls me the Abanda master. He also calls my Fedora Abanda, the Debian on the workstation Abanda, the OpenSUSE on the servers Abanda, and is always so happy with his little Abanda (aka Ubuntu) world that I never had the courage to disillusion him.

Of all the people talking to me, I had only once the impression that I'm talking to a person who seriously considers a change. “It's not only this NSA business, but even more the dependent position you are in as a Windows user. You always got to accept what MS throws at you, even if you greatly dislike it.”

I gave that person one simple advice, and I repeat it here: If you seriously consider to switch, disregard your previous computer experience, and learn Linux from the grounds up. Install Crunchbang on a virtual machine and work your way through The Linux command line. It will take lots of time (months), but after that, you'll never need Microsoft or Apple again.

It will be your independence day.