Archive for the ‘Ubuntu’ Category

Attending the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Budapest

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

By Elizabeth Krumbach

On Saturday, May 7th, I’ll be taking a flight out to Budapest, Hungary to attend the week-long Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS) as the kick-off event to the development of the next Ubuntu release, 11.10 (code name Oneiric Ocelot) coming out in October 2011.

The Ubuntu Developer Summit is the seminal Ubuntu event in which we define the focus and plans for our up-coming version of Ubuntu. The event pulls together Canonical engineers, community members, partners, ISVs, upstreams and more into an environment focused on discussion and planning.

My role at these summits as an Ubuntu Community Council member tends to be on community work, which includes recruitment and retention of volunteers to the Ubuntu community. I will also attend sessions related to upstream collaboration; most worthy of note are the collaboration sessions related to Debian as my primary development interest remains there. Debian is the parent distribution of Ubuntu, which LinuxForce almost exclusively deploys to our customers.

This will be my third time attending a UDS. I’m excited to see what I will learn, from the possibilities for the next release to the new ideas I will be able to apply in my day-to-day work. So much comes from such in-person collaborations with fellow contributors.

Attending the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit 2010

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

By Elizabeth Krumbach

On the heels of the 5th Annual Emerging Technologies for the Enterprise Conference (ETE 2010) in Philadelphia that CJ attended last week, I’ll be attending the 4th Annual Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit tomorrow through Friday in San Francisco.

The Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit is an exclusive, invitation-only summit gathering core kernel developers, distribution maintainers, ISVs, end users, system vendors and other community organizations for plenary sessions and workgroup meetings to meet face-to-face to tackle and solve the most pressing issues facing Linux today.

My attendance will be in my capacity as a member of the Ubuntu Community Council as well as my role as a Debian Systems Administrator. As such, my attention will be split at the summit between community and governance interests, like the FOSSBazaar Workgroup and Josh Berkus’ How to Prevent Community: Making Sure Your Pond Stays Small, and talks and panels like Does Open Source Mean Open Cloud? where Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth will be a panelist, and the Linux Standard Base Workgroup and Virtualization discussions.

It’s shaping up to be an exciting summit, if you are also attending be sure to say “Hello”!

How and why contributing to FOSS can benefit your organization

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

By Elizabeth Krumbach

At first glance, the ecosystem in the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) world can seem a bit complicated. There are several ways to get software: project websites where you can download it directly, use a software management tool that your Linux distribution provides, or you may also be able to install a Linux distribution that includes everything you need right out of the box! Once you understand this ecosystem, you can find where your contributions would be most useful, and why contributing is beneficial to your organization and the FOSS community.

So, where does this all begin? FOSS often originates with a project which maintains the source code for the software and provides its own development and support infrastructure.

A Linux distribution is a carefully culled collection of software from these upstream projects which makes a complete operating system and even includes a lot of application software. This collection of software is tested and prepared to run securely and maintainably together. Debian is built upon this model.

Some distributions of Linux use Debian as a source project unto itself. There are a number of Linux distributions based on Debian, including the popular KNOPPIX and Ubuntu distributions. Being “based on Debian” can mean several things, but it primarily means they draw from the software repository at some point in the release cycle, and they use the Advanced Packaging Tool (apt) to manage this software. In these cases Debian is an intermediary between the original FOSS project and the “children” distributions which may also pull from original software projects to expand upon what Debian provides to target their particular focus.

So where in this software ecosystem should your organization contribute? Why would your organization choose to contribute to Debian rather than to the original project (“upstream” of Debian) or a project like Ubuntu (“downstream” of Debian)? It really depends on your goals.

If your organization is interested in using FOSS in a way which requires rapid development, new and diverse features released quickly, or specializations that the distribution may not easily support, you will probably want to work directly on the upstream project. Frequently this requires programming experience, but many projects need other kinds of help such as bug reports in the form of feature requests which they may be able to satisfy in later releases. In these cases, contributing to development in these projects directly is the best way to meet your needs in using and building upon the software.

If your organization needs to use FOSS in a stable, maintainable and secure way, you should probably work directly with Debian. The primary duty of most developers within the Debian community is working on the “packages” which make up the operating system: creating, updating, patching, tracking their security and handling bugs, forwarding details and patches to the upstream projects when applicable. This is what maintains the solid, core operating system that makes up not only Debian, but the child distributions which depend on it, and which could not exist without it. By contributing to Debian you’re also contributing to Ubuntu, Knoppix, and dozens more, improving the tool shelf for everyone (related: Given 250,000 tools on the shelf, how do you manage them?). Contributing to Debian also helps the upstream projects, taking the burden off of them to provide installation documents and support on Debian and placing that upon you, plus making their software more readily available to users through a simple search through the Debian repository.

If the target of one of Debian’s children better meets your organization’s needs which cannot be achieved through Debian directly, then by all means contribute directly to it. Child distributions already exist which focus on everything from being an Open Source LiveCD toolbox (like KNOPPIX) to being a polished desktop operating system (like Ubuntu). As an example, even within Ubuntu’s family there are targeted projects, like Edubuntu, focused on education by packaging and shipping a collection of educational software and a project devoted to making your computer a PVR like TiVo called Mythbuntu which works with the MythTV project to easily deliver their software on a platform. Contributing to projects like these also expands the open source ecosystem and may be the preferred method to reach your organization’s goals.

Understanding the way in which these projects and distributions work together and selecting a place in the workflow for your organization to contribute is the first step. But perhaps a more important question is why you’d want to work on a FOSS project instead of doing in-house development. The benefits for the FOSS community are obvious, they will reap the benefits of having your expertise, from having the packages in Debian and beyond, but are there benefits for your organization?

I believe there are big benefits, which include:

  • Peer review of packages and software now and in the future
  • Processes for asking the community for assistance
  • Bug reporting infrastructure, which may include patches submitted by community members
  • Procedures to become informed about security problems and policy changes
  • Free collaborative resources provided for FOSS projects (Alioth for Debian,  SourceForge, LaunchPad or the Apache Foundation, etc) for development, including development mailing lists and hosted revision control systems like git, bazaar, svn.
  • Opportunity to learn key FOSS development strategies and industry “best practices” via freely available documentation, chat rooms, forums and mailing lists

In short, by putting the time in to releasing software, packaging for Debian or work in children distributions, you not only are doing good for the FOSS community, you get to take advantage of the plethora of tools, resources and people available to assist in the development process.

Some thoughts on best practices for SMTP blocking of e-mail spam

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

By CJ Fearnley

Blocking e-mail spam at the time of SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) transfer has become a best practice. There is no point wasting precious bandwidth & disk space and spending time browsing a huge spambox when most of the incoming flow is clearly spam. At LinuxForce our e-mail hygiene service, LinuxForceMail, makes extensive use of SMTP blocking techniques (using free and open source software such as Exim, Clam AV, SpamAssassin and Policyd-weight). But we are extremely careful to only block sites and e-mails that are so “spammy” that we are justified in blocking it. That doesn’t prevent false positives, but it keeps them to a minimum.

Recently we investigated an incident where one of our users had their e-mail blocked by another company’s anti-spam system. In investigating the problem, we learned that some vendors support an option to block e-mail whose Received header is on a blacklist (in our case it was Barracuda, but other vendors are also guilty). Let me be blunt: this is boneheaded, but the reason is subtle so I can understand how the mistake might be made.

First, blocking senders appearing on a blacklist at SMTP time is good practice. But to understand why blocking Received headers at SMTP time is bad, it is important to understand how e-mail transport works. The sending system opens a TCP/IP connection from a particular IP address. That IP address should be checked against blacklists. And other tests on the envelope can help identify spam. But the message headers including the Received header are not so definite. We shall see that even a blacklisted IP in these headers may be legitimate. So blocking such e-mail incurs unnecessary risks.

The problem occurs when a user of an ISP (Internet Service Provider) sends an e-mail from home, they are typically using a transient, “dynamic” IP address. Indeed it is possible that their IP address has just changed. Since the new address may have been previously used by someone infected with a virus sending out spam, this “new” IP address may be on the blacklists. So, due to no fault of your own, you have a blacklisted IP address (I will suppress my urge to rant for IPv6 when everyone can finally have their own IP address and be responsible for its security).

Now, when you send an e-mail through your ISP’s mail server, it records your (blacklisted) IP as the first Received header. So your (presumably secure) system sending a legitimate message through your ISP’s legitimate, authenticating mail server is blacklisted by your recipients’ overambitious anti-spam system. Ouch. That is why blocking such an e-mail is just wrong. This kind of blocking creates annoying unnecessary complications for the users and admins at both sides. Using e-mail filtering to put such e-mails into a spam folder would be a reasonable way to handle the situation. Filtering is able to handle false positives whereas blocking generates unrecoverable errors.

Do not block e-mail based on the Received header!

Seven Observations On Software Maintenance And FOSS

Monday, November 30th, 2009

By CJ Fearnley

The November 2009 issue of Communications of the ACM (CACM) has a very interesting article by Paul Stachour and David Collier-Brown entitled “You Don’t Know Jack About Software Maintenance”. The authors argue energetically for using versioned data structures and “continuous upgrading” to improve the state of the art of software maintenance.

The piece got me thinking about FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) and “continuous upgrading”. Here are seven observations on FOSS software maintenance that occurred to me as I reflected on the CACM article:

  1. FOSS projects “continuously” apply bug fixes and feature enhancements at no additional cost to their users. By applying these improvements “continuously”, the user reaps a steady stream of “interest payments” providing ever-improving security, performance, and functionality.
  2. Since FOSS incurs no licensing or license management costs, upgrading FOSS is not hindered by capital expenses.
  3. Typically support in FOSS projects is focused on the current stable version. Therefore, upgrading to the current stable version is the preferred way to receive the best support from FOSS communities.
  4. One of the key reasons behind Debian‘s strong track record of “continuous upgrading” is its way of handling the tricky issues involved with dependent library upgrades (such as libc6, libssl.so.0.9.8, & etc). The chapter on Shared Libraries in the Debian Policy Manual details a proven method to effectively handle library upgrade issues (including its sophisticated handling of versions).
  5. When upgrading is applied routinely and “continuously”, it becomes crucial to support customizations across upgrades which can be one of the biggest obstacles to a smooth upgrade (see my earlier post on customization and upgradeability). One reason for Debian’s effectiveness in this regard is its robust configuration file handling policy.
  6. It is worth noting that the “continuous” implied here is not the one emphasized in dictionaries (which takes its nuances from the mathematical / physics concept of “no interruptions” and the epsilon-delta definition that students of Calculus learn). That concept of “continuous” is impossible in systems administration which is necessarily discrete as are all computer operations. The connotation required here is, perhaps, “unending”, or “eternal” or somesuch.
  7. The “right” frequency for “continuous” upgrades is a complex tradeoff between business requirements and upgrade infrastructure maturity. Debian and Ubuntu provide vary mature support for “continuous upgrading”. They support the upgrade of production servers through release after release after major release with minimal downtime or risk of a glitch that could affect users. Their current release frequency of about 2 years may be the best we can do given the current state of the art of software maintenance. I hope we can learn to increase the frequency as better engineered upgrade policies are developed.

I prefer the name “eternally regenerative software administration” over “continuous upgrading”. It avoids the philosophical problems with the word “continuous” and emphasizes the active, “ecological” approach needed to envision the engineering of “regenerativity” in software. By that I mean software maintenance should involve building the system so each new version enables installation of the next while facilitating management of any customizations and integration with other software (including libraries and other “helper” applications). Regenerativity is the process of growth and change used by Nature itself. Software maintenance needs to follow similar principles.

Congratulations Elizabeth on your election to the Ubuntu Community Council

Monday, October 12th, 2009

By CJ Fearnley

I was thrilled when I saw that Mark Shuttleworth announced the election of Elizabeth Krumbach to the Ubuntu Community Council. Here is my “open memo” of congratulations to Elizabeth:

Elizabeth, you earned this honor to serve through your competent and tireless efforts to positively contribute to FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) communities like Ubuntu and its upstream, Debian. Collectively, it is the work done in the FOSS communities that has built a “game changing” software infrastructure which already delivers business results to illions of organizations around the world … day in and day out. Thank you for all that you do by contributing to these vitally important communities!

The Ubuntu Community Council plays an important role in the management and development of the communities which not only build the Ubuntu operating system but also contribute to the FOSS communities that intersect with Ubuntu in so many ways. Your good judgement and broad experience on the workings (both socially and technically) of FOSS communities will help Ubuntu continue producing software to meet the needs of more and more individuals and organizations and thereby grow the whole FOSS ecosystem.

From working with you the past few years, I know you are ready to lead Ubuntu in support of reaching toward the lofty ideal of eternally regenerative software (ERS). ERS is an emergent property of the Debian GNU/Linux operating system (which Ubuntu has inherited) wherein all the component software is integrated to facilitate easy upgrades (re-generation) through each and every (eternally) major new release of the operating system. I eagerly look forward to seeing how your contributions to the Council will foster efforts to improve the integration and eternal regenerativity of free and open source software in support of providing business results to all the organizations that have so wisely chosen to use FOSS.