Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Awesome Power Of GNU/Linux

By Robert Pogson

Modern computing hardware is awesome. GNU/Linux allows you to have it all. Unlike other operating systems which charge extra for the privilege of using your hardware to its fullest capability, GNU/Linux lets you do everything from Day One for $0, no extra charge, nada...

To focus your mind, consider networking your PCs. Lots of people and organizations have a bunch. They are on a network so you can use them all any way you want, right? Who owns the hardware after all? Look at M$'s EULA:

"The software is not licensed to be used as server software or for commercial hosting ­ for example, you may not make the software available for simultaneous use by multiple users over a network."

Well, suppose you want to install GNU/Linux on a PC or make your PC serve other PCs on the network. The GPL and other Free Software licences permit running the software whether or not it is "server" software. You can share files, printers, databases and executables and their displays just by plugging in. Here are some easy ways to do that.

Debian Installer Task Selector Menu
Suppose you are installing Debian GNU/Linux. At installation time, you can choose what roles you want the PC to have and the installer will simply add the software that makes it happen:   Want to do it later, after you start your "new"/"liberated" PC? Just log in as root or become root with the su command and type tasksel. See that line, "SSH server"? Just check it and the installer will make your PC a server and client with the Secure Shell Protocol which allows you to log in or run applications remotely on a PC. Can you feel the power? All you have to do to run some application on a PC running an SSH server is to type or click to activate a command like

ssh username@name_or_number_of_PC some_command

You will be prompted for a password. If you associate that command with an icon a click on one PC will activate the command on the other PC. For that you will want an authentication method other than passwords and there is one, a key. For every PC from which you want to connect to other PCs, run the command


and append the resulting key (/home/user/.ssh/ to the other PCs in a file, /home/username/.ssh/authorized_keys . If the command you want to run on the remote PC is a GUI application just supply -Y as an option as

ssh -Y username@name_or_number_of_PC some_command

and your mouse and keyboard and monitor will display the window of the remote application.
The huge advantage of this technology is that you can arrange to maintain any number of other PCs without leaving your seat and you can run the newest software on the latest and greatest PC in the organization instead of some old client PC. This is exactly what the City of Largo, Florida, does. They have a few very powerful computers and the users run applications on those machines. Everyone gets the performance of a powerful machine for peanuts. If the PCs on your LAN are just a few years old, the next PC you add could probably run all the applications on the older machines better.
Did you notice those other kinds of servers you can install? Yes. Just a few clicks and a few minutes can make your PC a powerful web-server, file-server, or print-server at installation time and you don't need to pay anyone for the privilege of getting the best use of your hardware.

There is a rule, Metcalfe's Law,

"that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2)".

Why give up that power because M$ wants you to pay extra for using your own hardware? Do IT the right way, using FLOSS. The software may be downloaded freely and the licence comes with it allowing you to run the software, examine it, modify it and distribute it. Simple, eh? For a more detailed discussion, read:

Other distributions of GNU/Linux will have similar solutions to the "problem" of using your hardware to its fullest without paying extra.

-- Robert Pogson

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