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Linux Lite?

Hemos posted more than 14 years ago | from the security-issues-galore dept.

Linux 170

smock writes "An interesting (and, IMO, excellent) suggestion is over at Linux Journal. " Essentially, an argument for better opening security, given the lack of experience of many new Linux users.

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Re:No Root? (1)

blahedo (24332) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684949)

Which means it's even a bigger security hole than it would be otherwise. Or am I just way off here?

No, you're absolutely right. But, there are a few solutions. First, they could do something involving the serial number on the CD it came on; then, the "now you're ready to be root" section of the manual can say how to use it. Or, you could cast root as something other than an ordinary account, e.g. with a prompt sequence like: "What do you want your username to be? And its password? Now, make up a super-secret emergency password, different from the first one, and type it here: ..." There are a lot of ways you could get a root password unique to the machine such that the "dumb user" doesn't really know what to do with it until they are no longer just a dumb user.

perfect sense (1)

dourk (60585) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684950)

Why do we need http, nfs, telnet, ftp servers running by default in a home networked environment. I've always used RedHat, and sure it gives the option of what servers to run, but somebody with no unix/server experience would quite probably just pass over such a screen without even thinking about the consequences.

Re:No Root? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1684951)

I dunno about this being *tooo* far off... As far as not even letting the user know about root until they're forced to dig into the manual ("Oh, BTW, in order to make the following changes, you must be logged in as root... For an explanation of root, please turn to page XX...") -What if root's password were set (by default) to the user's normal password? Or some derivative of their username? Being relatively new to Linux myself, I dunno if this is feasible (or itself another nasty security risk); could someone more experienced please comment?

Good idea. (2)

Logger (9214) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684962)

There is definitely room for another flavor of Linux along these lines. Hiding root almost completely, is a good idea. Certainly a root password will be setup at install, but a large set of root capabilities could be handled by a small set of setuid root programs that ask for the root password to peform admin tasks. Packages could be installed by something like an setuid root install shield, which would ask for root's password to install the package system wide, otherwise the package would be installed in the user account if possible. Even better, the install shield should have a configuration screen which lets you pick which users have the priveledge to add and remove system wide applications. This would then be implemented via groups, file permissions, and setuid root, behind the scenes. Using this, root could really be reserved for only the most neccessary occations, and attempting to login as root could come with all sorts of warnings.

Of course if you don't want all this hand holding, don't use it. This is Linux after all pick the flavor that fits you!

The installation program I'd like to see (4)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684963)

I really can't imagine this being terribly complicated, but I would personally love to see a nice, graphical (or at least curses-based) installation program that behaved basically like this:

1. Select a basic "personality" for this system:
a. Server
b. Workstation
2. Select a starting configuration for this system:
a. Minimal (most secure)
b. Standard
c. Custom (for experienced users or administrators only)

You would then proceed to an application selection area, where you would pick some major configuration options (X Windows, Web Server, Mail Server, Games, etc.) and, if you picked Custom, an exhaustive sub-list of packages selectable with checkbox efficiency. Defaults would be pre-selected based on what "personality" you chose for the system.

Basic daemon configuration would be taken care of at this time as well. If you chose to install the telnet daemon, you would be presented with a warning and an option to automatically refuse connections (firewall? TCP wrappers?) from Internet hosts. Repeat this procedure for things like sendmail, httpd, whatever.

Daemon venders tend to like their packages shipped individually with everything "turned on", because in most cases, when the package is being installed, it's being installed by someone who's about to configure and *use* it. This is bad in the cases where someone is installing a new system, because they probably *won't* be jumping straight to the "configure and use" part. They'll install all of the packages and get to them "later." So, if we force them to make configuration decisions at *install* time, and build (or use pre-built) configuration files then, instead of the stock configuration files, the system ends up being much more secure with the user much more aware of what's been installed and how it's been set up.

Along a similar line of thought, and perhaps this already exists, an extension of this installation program could be a graphical "autorpm" of sorts. A program that retrieves from the 'Net a list of updated packages (such as RedHat's updates), and either automatically makes the updates or at least notifies the user that updates are available (a la Windows Update). If the package uses a new configuration file format, a packaged utility should be included and run to convert the old configuration to the new, otherwise the user should be presented with a configuration dialog again to be sure the new package is ideally configured for the system. I've been the victim of several instances where an RPM "upgrade" *overwrote* the existing configuration file (though it did save a backup). In cases where the "default" configuration only differs from the user-specified configuration in that the default configuration is much less secure, the change might not be noticed immediately (or ever).

I'd also like to see warnings where an installed/upgraded RPM is being installed on a machine that previously contained a self-installed copy of the same package. An example could be some HTTP daemon. A quick search for various httpd binaries could let the RPM's installation program know about previously installed copies of the package that weren't done via RPM's and warn the user (perhaps with the option of duplicating the old package's configuration files in the new setup).

Anyways, these are just a few of my ideas, and it seems like we're starting to move in these directions, but the setup programs I'm seeing are just baby steps. Instead of just dropping everything and writing a totally user-friendly setup *system*, we're spending time writing stuff "in between," and I just don't think that's a very efficient way to do it.

It's already there. (1)

Rares Marian (83629) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684964)

Ahem... The Server, Workstation, or Custom installations.

It hink Debian will do a better job a bout it. Since they allow you to pick a purpose for the computer, you can then know precisely what not to install.

Imagine that... A user asks not what his/her/its/their computer can do, but ask what he/she/it/they want to do with his/her/its/their computer.

There already is something like that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1684965)

Try Turbo Linux They have composed lately Turbo Linux Workstation 3.6 and Turbo Linux Server 4.0 Does that count for something?

Re:debian (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1684966)

I don't think it means what you think it means.. from the hosts.deny man page:

Matches any host whose name does not match its address. When tcpd is built with -DPARANOID (default mode), it drops requests from such clients even before looking at the access control tables.


Install options already exist in every distro (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1684967)

Every distro already has different install options, like workstation, network basic, X and everything.

But the thing is that tradionally, linux users chose to use it for its "power" features. Why bother installing it if you dont want the good bits.

Also, distributions should package there programs in a secure manner.

The only problem is users dont upgrade to new packages as new releases are made.

Isn't this what Corel is trying to do? (1)

Fafhrd (37655) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684968)

From all we have heard and seen, it seems Corel Desktop Linux trying to be exactly what the author is proposing.

Of course, we will only know if that's the one when they release the distro. But the other distros would do well in taking a note from this article as well.

Remove duplicate commands/apps (2)

javatips (66293) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684969)

The author have a good point.

All distribution should be secure at install, it should be up to the user to enable some ports, etc. If the user as enough knowledge to enable the ports he wants, he should have enough knowledge to make hes system secure.

There is a liability issue with this, if a system is not secure out of the box, one could sue the distributor if another one break into the system. Unless the license agreement state that the distibutor shall not be responsible for this.

One thing that all the distros should do, is to clean up the apps and command duplicates.

Why when I install linux I have 3 or 4 word processor, 3 or 4 text editor, several web browsers, 2 or 3 administration utilities than have the same functions, etc.

A default linux installation with most distos take at 500megs to 1gig. This is a lot more bloat that Windows9x/NT.

Why also the installation wizard like Lizard can only be invoked at installation and I have to use another utilities when I add new hardware? There should be a way to invoke the installation wizard to update the configuration.

Re:not necessarily a good idea (5)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684970)

Would reading a few paragraphs kill anyone?

While reading the manuals is something we would *hope* everyone would do, time and experience has shown us that it just Won't Happen. We can't just say, "Well, dammit, you should have read the manual," over and over again. We have to build something that will work securely for those that *don't* read the manuals, because there will always be a significant percentage of users that simply won't.

No amount of screaming, shouting, pasting of banners and throttling will get everyone to "clue up" and read about what they're installing, so we have to adapt the distributions so that they will still function for these types of people.

LinuxPPC (1)

Daniel (1678) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684971)

Remember LinuxPPC? They gave out the root password and no-one could break in. If nothing is listening on any port it doesn't matter what root's password is. (even exim and so on can do this..deny connections to the SMTP port from anything but localhost. ipchains is your friend)
Of course, what happens what the user types 'rm -rf /' is another story, but we're assuming that people who can't understand the concept of root won't be mucking around in a shell.. :-P

default security on distro's (1)

c0re_pump (71147) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684976)

the security sometimes should be better, thing is the market is too wide and the demand for options too big... meabythere should b more distro's with the same ver. example: RedHat 6.0 desktop & "" i dunno... server... or something like that. is a good pt. tho

Yes! (2)

Enoch Root (57473) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684979)

Yes! That's an excellent suggestion. While I still think it would be possible to make a default installation of Linux that would set up a solid security for the most common configurations, it would be a good idea to create a specific distro of Linux that would be aimed at end users wanting an alternate OS.

I mean; us hackers could still fall back to Debian, slackware or whatever, while end users could setup a stripped down version of Linux which would run word processor and other stuff while logging them automatically in single-user mode. I mean, for most people that's all they need.

Linux still sees itself as a network OS, and until some extra effort is spent in making it darn easy to install and run on a single machine not connected to any LAN, it won't catch on completely. I mean, not everyone has a friendly Linux guru to set them up and give them the tour ('Well, you have to use 'ls'. Well, it's possible to use 'dir', but you need to alias it. Let me show you...' etc.)

"There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

No Root? (2)

wilhelm (5091) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684981)

OK, so if the user doesn't even know there's a root account (even though there will have to be), that means that they don't know what the root password is. Which means they didn't set it. Which means all the root passwords will be the same. Which means it's even a bigger security hole than it would be otherwise. Or am I just way off here?

Finally (0)

warmi (13527) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684983)

Finally somebody recognized that in most computers being used at home, security is only unnecesary junk that nobody really uses.
Way to go ...!

Wonderful Idea (2)

mwillis (21215) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684985)

I have been thinking along these lines for some time. If World Domination (tm) is truly a goal, we have to recognize that a lot of users will never, ever, have the inclination of imaginative horsepower to understand administration activities. Not everybody likes recompiling their kernels or editing /etc/inetd.conf or...

What to do? Give them a secure, stable, preconfigured setup they can browse the net and send mail from. Something you can set up for your grandmother, and it will just plain work. I am wondering who will get there first.

New distro vs. install option? (2)

Raul Acevedo (15878) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684986)

I wonder if it would be better for the existing distros to have a "secure" install option rather than just creating a separate distro altogether. (RedHat for example has "workstation" and "install" options; it should a "secure" option too.)

Then again, a good separate commercial distro might be very good. There's probably enough security issues to merit a company just focusing on that, not to mention if they do it right they'll be proactive about finding security problems in Linux and feeding them back to the community.

Personally I think it'd be nice if Linux took OpenBSD's path of concentrating on security, for example by auditing all code for security problems. But that doesn't look like it'll happen any time soon.

My Experience with such defaults (1)

BiGGO (15018) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684988)

As the article suggested, we should make a dumbed down installation.
But from my experience (with redhat) it is very confusing.

In redhat, if you choose workstation you agree to wipe out all of your HD.
Obviously bad for multibooters which are most of the newbies today.
Being that, these users are forced to choose their packages alone.
The defaults in there are quite bad for newbies, and i expect the expert to twaek it's packages
instead of a newbie that doesn't understand what he does.
Then one has to choose his services, which is a disaster when people just choose all "because it can't hurt",
or don't delete the unused defaults. (which are again quite bad, imho)

The average newbie likes to go on his installation just by clicking ok on everything,
so i think what must be done is to make it so.
Caldera has an installation that makes it easy for users to click "ok" all the way through.

Another thing is,
newbies of one area are not newbies in another.
Some newbies need to set their partitions, but have no idea what i daemon is.
Some others don't know what partitions are but know what packages they want.
There must be a way for newbies to "skip" only some choices, not all.

i think it is a bad bad bad idea not to explain root to users,
or make their computer some non-multiuser version.
this makes security worse. think win98.
Users should understand multiuser enviroments,
this is how linux works, and this is how it should work.

The day Microsoft makes something that doesn't suck,

Loathing dselect (2)

twit (60210) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684989)

I dunno. I rather like dselect because it's good for what I do. (Then again, I know linux pretty well, and have been using it for going on five-six years).

That said, using the debian core functionality would be an excellent way to implement this. Start off with basic install, use apt to get what you need to start off and no more, and most importantly have apt periodically update packages from dists/stable. Security flaws will "fix themselves" (or at least be fixed seamlessly and without needing too much user intervention) as Debian maintainers get around to patching and updating the relevant packages.

Maybe the underlying distribution doesn't have to be debian, but Debian is well suited to this kind of automation.


Re:Install less, and use firewalls (3)

Trepidity (597) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684990)

(1) Yeah, that would seem to be the best way to do things.

(2) This doesn't seem like such a great idea. If all the services are set up correctly, there's no need to firewall the PPP device. If there's no telnetd running, a script kiddie can't telnet into your box. Rejecting incoming TCP connections would have nasty side-effects such as messing up IRC DCC transfers and ICQ messaging.

(3) Definitely. New users should not be encouraged to set up an ftp/http/irc/telnet server during their initial install. They should get the OS running first, then worry about setting up services.

For all the wrong reasons. (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1684991)


What this article proposes is nothing less than the dumbing down of Linux. And his motivation?

"We have to do it so all the drooling idiots will never have to think for themselves or learn about their computers!"

The drooling idiots can keep their Windoze and MacOS, for all I care. I'm a Linux elitist and proud of it. I'm sick of the M$ myth that computers are easy to use. Computers are not always easy to use, and damnit people deserve to be honestly told that when they get into Linux. They need to be sat down and told: "Look, you're graduating off your training wheels now. There are fewer safeguards in your new OS. UNIX (and Linux, of course) have a philosophy called "leave enough rope", which means they give you the power to hang yourself by the neck if you ask for it. Don't think this is going to be easy. You have been granted great power and flexibility, but with it comes complexity."

This will undoubtedly scare away some novices or lazy people, or people who just aren't interested in their computers except as a means to an end. This is all well and good and as it should be. M$ OSen are out there for people WHO DON'T WANT TO THINK. And personally, I'm not so worshipful of the Cult of Linux that I feel the need to turn everyone into a Linux junkie. Let there be diversity and many OSes. Let those who would willingly walk into the Gates of hell take their damnation in the form of bluescreens and Back Orifice [] . You asked for it, you got it! No pity for the masses. []


Now, none of this is to say that shipping distros with better "out of the box" security is a bad thing. Precisely the opposite, in fact. Let's get real here, folks. Out of the new users coming into Linux now, the "second wave", (i.e., the typical users), how many of them will actually need a real mailer daemon running on their box?

So does it make sense to ship with sendmail or POP/IMAP (both notorious security holes) enabled and running by default? I don't think so. Similiarly with webservers. If a user wants these daemons, they should set them up themselves.

Yes, I can hear you saying "but those things are hard to set up!" Well, I have two replies for that. The first is: Yeah, damn right those things are hard to set up. There's a reason for that. It's so fools with incomplete understanding who don't want to take the time to enlighten themselves, don't mess with them. The other reply is: Yeah, damn right those things are hard to set up - and shouldn't we the open source community be doing something to fix that?

I agree with main point of this article, which is that distros need to ship with tighter security. But I think the author is advocating better security for all the wrong reasons.


Re: Securing Linux (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684992)

Here's a good start on how to secure a Linux Box: tyOS.wri

I'll say people don't have time to secure their OS. At 8pt Font, and 0.5" margins, the above is 164 pages ! How many Linux newbies are going to spend the time to read and secure their box?!

The 'secure' option should complement the install. i.e. Secure Workstation, Secure Server

Re:not necessarily a good idea (1)

.pentai. (37595) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684993)

While I agree on the sickness of the dumbing down movement, and that it should be an installer option, not a seperate distro, it must be realized that the 'average' users as you called them, WANT dumbed down.

Can you go to a school and go up to any windows/mac user, and expect them to even know what a daemon is, never mind what a port is, or even what an ip is? No, sadly, you can't.

The 'average' user will have no idea what these little programs are that are running that magically give others the power to '0wn' their box.

The fact is, people will install linux, get screwed over by script kiddies, and blame linux.

Re: Package **Nightmares** (2)

Hard_Code (49548) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684994)

About a year ago I decided I was sick of being a windows luser. I am a programmer, and had had previous generic *nix experience so I was far from being inept. I, like many others, decided to take the easy approach and go with Red Hat (I was aware of the other distributions, but had it on good word from a Linux guru that I should start out with Red Hat).

Most of the installation was pretty straightfoward...I knew my hardware specs and wasn't really phased by all the partitioning. However, the package installer was a **nightmare**. There was an absolutely humongous list of packages with undecipherable names that all had intricate dependencies on each other. "What is prl3.405.1? And why do I need it for tk103.4? What the hell is asdf4.21...and why does qwerty1.2.3 want it?" Since no clue was really given as to WHAT these things were, I was forced (after several attempts at a minimalistic install) to install a humongous amount of crap @350 MB.

Now I used to be a DOS dork with a stupid 386. I knew every in and out of my system, and spent a lot of time tweaking. I liked to be able to understand and control everything. But the sheer amount of stuff I was required to install under Linux made this a bit daunting, and less than enjoyable. Sometimes there is such a thing as TOO much choice ;). Anyway, I kept Linux around for a while, until the real world problem of disk space came around.

I would really, *really* like to switch to SOMETHING other than Windows. BeOS looks pretty nice too...I sort of like the idea of a clean start. If I do permanently switch to Linux it will probably be Debian, because I've heard their package handling is rather stringent. I'd also like GNOME and KDE to mature a bit, and see XFree86 get some of the performance enhancements in.

Our experience with LinuxPPC Lite (5)

haaz (3346) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684995)

We (LinuxPPC Inc.) used to have a "lite" version of LinuxPPC R4, our old glibc-1.99 distro. Lite was a minor debacle..

First, it was hard to install. I actually can't remember why at this point, but it rarely seemed to work.

It was hard to figure out what needed to be in, and what people would want, and still give it a small footprint. The final cut was a 104 MB distro that could be installed into as little as 30 or 50 MB. But really, you can do that with R4 anyway. I installed from an R4 CD onto a Zip disk. I had Apache running, but no X. It was slow, but it worked!

Then there was LinuxPPC Live, which was an all-in-one distro similar to the recently announced "DemoLinux". Live consisted of a big fat ramdisk.image.gz file and a bigger, fatter live.filesystem file.

Now, the problem with Live was that to make it small enough to fit on demo CD-ROMs and Zip disks, we had to (again) do a lot of cutting, which made it semi-useless. You could set up a PPP dialup with netcfg (kppp was a buggy pile of junk at the time, and of no use). But, if you booted it off a CD, it took forever to boot, and it couldn't save any settings.

Linux on PowerPC still has to contend with users who have HFS Extended formatted drives. HFS Extended, or HFS+, is a more efficient disk format than Apple's original HFS, the Heirarchical File System. (Anyone else remember MFS?) Most Macs now ship with HFS+ formatted HDs, and Linux can't boot from a live filesystem on an HFS+ disk.

Live worked better than Lite, but only slightly. I never had problems with it (that is, it booted, it ran), but it just wasn't usable for much.

The good news is that doing Live provided a lot of solid R&D ground for us to do our current release's installer on. LinuxPPC 1999 (and the new Q3) can boot right from the CD-ROM, into Linux, into X, and into the installer. And it's all under the GPL. C'mon, Caldera! You made such a big deal about releasing Lizard under a semi-open license.. let's see you go all the way. ;)

Live as a standalone distribution isn't a totally dead concept, though. It's got a lot of merit, and it's served nicely as a proof of concept for the live filesystem. It's not perfect, definately not ideal for power users, but it's a good way to get people into Linux with a minimum of fuss.

Exactly! (1)

dave_d (22165) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684996)

Is it so hard to add a little bit of documentation to explain what these daemons do/used for, and why an average user does/doesn't need them? Either right on the computer screen or in the text manual. I haven't installed any newish versions in a while so I've no idea if they do any of this yet or not. I think this would be way more valuable than a separate installation that just hides these dameons from the user.

My parents eyes glaze over when I talk about computers to them, but I know both of them are smart enough to read a few paragraphs that an installation program SHOULD have in order to understand, for the most part, what they're doing.
Also, they know that they'd be better off in the long run to do a little reading so they have an idea 'what's going on' with the computer later on.

The more information that the newbie can learn/understand, the better off we all are.

Re: RunLevel (1)

Hard_Code (49548) | more than 14 years ago | (#1684997)

I agree that the user NOT knowing about root is patently BAD. At least tell the user that they must now enter a root password, AND WRITE IT DOWN, and DON'T FORGET.

Couldn't this be fixed with RunLevels? Couldn't you just set up the box to boot into X under a certain user?

This is Bastille Linux (1)

jammer (4062) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685008)

This is what the bastille Linux distribution has in mind -- an Linux distro which a sysadmin can give out to his users to install, without worrying about a bunch of security updates, locking down daemons, and all the riff we all love to hate.

How's this? (2)

Hiro_Protaganist (87503) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685009)

I was just talking to someone about making a spinoff distro of Debian called "Snack Cakes", as in "Little Debian Snack Cakes". Or just "Little Debian". Of course, then we have the whole "Big Debian v. Little Debian"

Re:For all the wrong reasons. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685010)

Amen, brother. About all I can add is that the feeling that Linux should be easy for anyone to use apparently comes from the belief that anyone _should_ be using Linux. If you believe instead that the world is better off with Linux for those who want Linux, MacOS for those who want Mac, BeOS for those who want Be, etc., then the idea of dumbing down Linux looks kind of silly. To use the author's airplane analogy, why even recommend a Cessna over an F16? That's just a difference of degree, not kind. Most people don't want to be pilots at all - they just want to get somewhere, so recommending a difference of _degree_ is just plain silly.

Re:No Root? (1)

Merk (25521) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685011)

Sure, and then they discover the data on the floppy somehow became corrupted. Or Sis had to use a floppy for her school project so she formatted it and walked off with it...

It's not like without this stored password the root account is forever unavailable. I have a strong tendancy to forget my root password since I use the account so seldom. I therefore know how insecure any machine is when you actually have physical access to it. But having said that, this solution has a few big flaws.

holes by default? (1)

belbo (11799) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685012)

(I am no expert, please bear with me ;-))

IIRC inetd is turned on by default on Redhat. The newbie thinks "Great, Internet, I need that".
Trouble is that /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny are empty and /etc/inetd.conf has turned on ftp and pop by default.

I mean, what's the use of all those security updates and fixes if the worst holes are provided as an installation default? And with services like dynIP [] the problem even gets much worse. In its current form Linux is pure dynamite in the hands of people that have no idea of how to smell the fuse.

The author's proposal of having server and workstation editions will at least work for the sensible portion of new users. The rest will have to learn by error, I am afraid.

Security 101... Not offered on campus. (5)

ColonelNorth (71286) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685013)

So you arrive at college to move your junk into your dorm room. You notice a little jack in your wall that is too big to stick your telephone plug into and see the word DATA above it. After asking someone, you find out that it's an Internet connection. Not only that, it's *Really* fast and always connected. A sence of freedom and superiority overcomes you as you think of all of your friends with little modems. You can't wait, and run to the bookstore to get the "Network startup kit."
Opening your machine for the first time made you nervous, but after all, you have "ethernet" now, so you can't possibly go wrong. Magicly enough, Windows properly finds your new 3C509 and sets it up. You begin playing around with the network settings based on the little numbers you find on your dorm network setup paper. After a reboot, you fly into Netscape and get lost in the web, watching things come at you with blinding speed. But you want more.
You meet this scruffy, withdrawn student down the hall. You know he's the resident computer guru, so you ask him what else you can do to have fun on the internet. He gives you a long hard look, not sure just how bright you are. Unknown to you, he has been evaluating your intellegence since day one, along with the rest of the incoming freshman. He sighs when he realizes you are the least annoying person in your pack. "Linux," he says. You turn to him with a quizical look on your face. He points you to and tells you to look around. You jump to it.
Around 2 AM, your Debian install is complete. You had another hard drive lying around from when you had your machine upgraded, and an engineering major installed it and made it go. You choose debian because of the FTP install. You wanted everything to work without waiting, too impatient. Once it's set up, you leave your machine on as you go to bed. You logged out, and felt important doing so.
The morning brings around the first day of classes. You give your friends your 'New' email address and brag about being able to get your own email without having to use the Campus system. You don't know or care how sendmail works. You know, however that it works, and that pine is rather nifty.
As you walk in at night, exhausted from a full day of work and play, you hear your hard drive going a mile a second. You walk over to log in, and find your password changed. You're completely lost and have no idea what to do. You yank the magic cable out of the wall and turn off the machine. You remember that you can still boot to Windows, so you do. Ahh, safe, you sigh.
A week later, the scruffy geek comes back to your room with your hard drive. He had taken it, at your request, to find out what had happened. He snorted, and asked you what business did you have running NCSA HTTPD. You shrugged. He looks over at the wall. He looks confused and exasperated. Unbenounsed to you, he's having a chicken and egg argument with himself. "He needs to learn before he can use this stuff. However, he can't learn without using Linux."
He turns back to you. "Ok, I'll secure this system for you. However, this is a one time deal. I'll answer your questins, in brief, but I will not do anymore for you. Do you understand?" You nod. He returns your harddrive the next day. You're happy as a clam that everything, as far as you can tell, is just as you left it. What did he do? You let it escape your mind as you look at this neat thing called IRC.
Two weeks later, your hard drive is wiped. Unknown to you, another daemon, this time sendmail, had a Cert advisory posted, and you pissed someone off on IRC. The wrong person.

I hope you enjoied that little tidbit. This happens way too often. However, in reality, people's college boxes just become hideouts for script kiddies. I believe a condenced Linux Workstation would be extreamly useful. I wish I had one when I started. I, instead, was baptized by fire.


What's the article say? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685014)

SSC's just returning internal server errors.... Ho-hum!

Assumptions, and a little humor. (3)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685015)

There are two assumptions being made here that I am not sure are universally held.

First, that "we" collectively want people who refuse to read documentation running Linux.

Second, that "we" are striving for universal use of Linux.

These are contrary to the things that drew me to Linux in the first place. I started using Linux (and reading /. and hanging out at #linux) because every illiterate monkey who considers himself a "computer expert" doesn't. The OS sucks less, and so does the community. Now there is this big push to get "every computer" running Linux. World dominance is a Microsoft value, not an open source value.

I am not against making Linux (and associated software) easier to use, I am absolutely for it, but I am for making these things easier as one element of making them better. I am against making it easier to use at the expense of quality. I think that we need to be ever vigilant in this regard.

"Is ease of use more important than quality?"
"No. Quicker, easier, more seductive"
"But how will I know good ease of use improvements from the bad?"

You will know when your goal is making software better, not driving it on to every processor in the world.

My $.02


Re:holes by default? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685016)

You recall incorrectly.

The road to mainstream (1)

Danchez (21525) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685017)

This is what it is going to take to get Linux into the mainsteam.

As much as we would all like everyone to RTFM, it will never happen. The "average" home computer user never will read the manual. He/She just wants to get on thier computer and have it work. They care about the *apps*, i.e. the browser, word processor, spreedsheet, etc. not the underlying OS.

I know there have been times that I have installed RedHat or Slackware and really wanted the *easy* install option. Just press a button and go. It takes a while to configure and secure a box.

When I first started messing around with Linux I didn't have to worry about security because I wasn't wired 24/7, and had to share a line with roommates. I had time to learn the systems ins and outs *then* not until the past few years have I had to start securing my box.

You have to put yourself in their shoes. They want to use this wonderfull OS but first they gotta catch up on months/years of knowledge otherwise a bunch of script kiddies are going to take over my machine!! Not going to attract many people that way.

Give them Linux Lite, let them learn by exploring, then they can start expanding their system and grow with it.

ok enough ranbling... please excuse the spelling errors, it a Monday!!

A matter of choice (2)

EEEthan (41747) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685023)

Personally, I've been thinking about this and a few other things as well. The idea of a simple, secure, 'lite' distro is an alluring one, but as we've seen, there's no need for it to be an entire distro. What we need is for the installation options to be improved even further. One of the beauties about a linux distro is that every copy can be either a workstation or a server. What needs to happen is to continue to improve the installation programs. Linux installation programs could explain everything in a depth greater than we've seen in any previous setup util for any os, simply because of the massive amount of information available. An installation that could tailor exactly what is needed, based on computing need and experience, with a level of realtime help previously unheard of, is exactly what the os needs. With a tool like that, at the time of install, users would have a complete, powerful system, at startup. And there's no reason to have it stop there. Looking at SuSE's yast, I think we see the beginning of this process. But imagine a setup tool even more powerful and flexible, which could perform various types of automated updates, and search for information and help. It's a kind of killer meta-app, something that enables a user to take complete advantage of his system. I think the linux community has the basic elements already, and it's the only community that could provide anything like this in the near future.

Not a Linux problem: a distrobution problem (1)

dlc (41988) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685024)

This is not uniquely a Linux problem. Solaris, Irix, FreeBSD, etc come with a million services enabled by default. OpenBSD has it right--disable *everything*, and then turn things on specifically. The people who don't know what httpd and bind are don't need to run them. It's a simple as that. The people who do know what they are know not only if they need them, but how to turn them on or off.

RedHat has a good start but it could be taken further--the installation does ask for a server or workstation setup. What it should do is make you specify "server" as part of the Expert setup--a parameter you pass to it when you begin the installation.

The author raises a very important point--as "the masses" are becoming more and more interested in Linux, and it is becoming increasingly less rare for people to be using it, it behooves the distributors to create distributions that are secure by default. In fact, I can think of no reason not to create secure distributions under any circumstances. Especially with the newer, graphical control panel-type administration tools, where turning services on and off (like sendmail and http) is becoming point-and-drool easy.

Is there any reason to have login, exec, rsh, wall, httpd, finger, and bind on the average workstation, even one connected to a network? Not really. Probably not at all; in these days of NIS and NFS, many services need only run on one centralized server.


Re:The installation program I'd like to see (1)

Demona (7994) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685025)

One other thing which I don't see mentioned yet: I think this hypothetical single-user distribution would do well to tweak the multimedia settings (although just turning off all those default services might be enough to provide non-jerky video playback :)

Re:Yes! (2)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685026)

HU? Every person I know of who doesn't know what ls does also doesn't know what dir does either. There are very few dos users anymore (this is a sad sad thing) and of them most atleast know enough unix to know ls and even a few process control functions.

Re:For all the wrong reasons. (1)

eGabriel (5707) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685027)

Well put. The reason that Linux is a good operating system is that is like Unix. Unix at home can be a bit like flying a kite indoors to the savvy user; its power comes from the ability to have 100 luser accounts and one wise guru account... in that instance none of the user needs to be particularly familiar with the system, and it can be as user friendly as the admin makes it.

There is no such category for the home user. You simply must be the wise guru person, or you should be running Be or something instead. The consequence of letting people water down the OS alarm me.

Re:For all the wrong reasons. (1)

miyax (32757) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685028)

Yeah you know, I'm a Linux newbie and I agree with you. Although the author of the article makes a good point, it's just as easy to install Linux without all the "complicated sysadmin" stuff, and all that stuff's fun to mess with anyway : )
Besides, Linux folks are very nice and helpful when newbies like me have a question. There's lots of support out there...nothing's all that difficult.


Re:not necessarily a good idea (1)

Stinking Pig (45860) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685029)

Yeah it's the right idea, but RH doesn't implement it as well as they could, because the user's account has *no* rights to anything except /home/username. They can't mount their Windows partition or use files on it, they can't configure or install software packages, they can't even dial the modem or mount a cd-rom without logging in as root. That's why many users run as root all the time -- it's easier than figuring out permissions. chmod is not terribly intuitive, and I have yet to find an explanation of the numbers.

A single-user workstation needs to, by default, let that user do most workstation tasks, just about anything except deleting the kernel or unmounting the swap partition.

Re: Red Hat Lite (2)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685030)

I completly agree with you. Lets call it Ultra instead of lite.. hehe JK thats a bit far..
Umm how bout Distribution Desktop
or maby Distribution User Edition.

(replace Distribution with your favorite distribution of course.. as in RedHat User Edition.)

Linux and the PC Assumption (1)

The Welcome Rain (31576) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685031)

The trouble with the LinuxLite suggestion is that it violates the architectural intent of Un*x, which is meant to be a networking, multi-user OS and is designed on those assumptions.

People have already noted all of the problems with lacking a root password, etc. These are reflective of an underlying problem -- we are asking Un*x to do something it was never designed to do. Microsoft tried to take a 16-bit, single-user, single-tasking system and make it into a 32-bit, multi-user, multi-tasking OS -- and wasn't the result just grand?

If you want a solid, nice-looking, single-user OS with GNU tools and good security, try MacOS or BeOS. I run Linux by preference, but I use Be and recommend it to inexperienced users who won't abandon their old x86 hardware :). Each system has its place.


A Question of Motive (1)

Crutcher (24607) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685032)

Stop the flame war, I have a point.

This LinuxLite is Yet Another Option, and Linux has ALWAYS been about options, so don't yell that a trimmed version is evil, or foolish, or that people should all RTFM.

Mainly, because yelling won't make them.

His point is good and valid, and if following will bring us more linux users, then lets do it. The whole point is MORE. The evolution of the system is driven by numbers, and an uneducated linux user can only become one thing: a more educated linux user. But first, we have to get them on the system, and we have to get their resources to support the system.

And there does need to be a LinuxLite ONLY Cd, because we want them to play with it, but we don't want them to hurt themselves, and we dont want to scare them (so no "Experienced users ONLY" options).

If Linux is a tank, think of Linux Lite as the Poeple's Car (the Volkswagon). It is built around the same ideas, but is simple enough to be understood JUST by taking it apart, and is straightforward enough, that a newbie can put it back together.


Re:debian (1)

namesAsh (88101) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685033)

yeah, try ALL: ALL

Re:You've just described Linux Mandrake... (2)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685034)

I use 'autorpm' to keep stuff updated. For background updates, it works fine, e-mailing me progress reports, but the interactive mode it uses to install new packages is just horrible. I haven't looked at the Mandrake-update program, but I suspect it behaves similarly.

Additionally, it just uses RPM's upgrade facility. It would be very nice to have a global configuration mechanism so that one could configure a new package at install/upgrade time (or at least select from multiple pre-written configurations). There are already some efforts on global X-based configuration programs (dotfile I think might be one such effort), but it hasn't quite made its way into a large enough chunk of packages (it might not be flexible/powerful enough for large apps that have complex configuration systems, such as sendmail or Apache).

Re:default security on distro's (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685035)

It's a great article but it doesn't tell Linux newbies like me how to fix the security issues...anyone care to point out a site that would help the newbies?

Re:not necessarily a good idea (1)

_blueboy (88578) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685036)

I am a little annoyed that so many people have the same attitude as you do towards software development, the "it wouldn't kill the user if..." attitude.
Keep in mind that for most people, computers are tools, not toys. And why shouldn't software be dummy-proof just like other tools? Imagine if everytime you bought a new toaster or a new television you had to read a long manual, and then spend an hour or two setting it up, and then weeks or months learning how to use it!!
Think about it. How many people do you know who say things like "I'd use computers more often, but I can't figure out how to boot the internet" or "I'll start using computers when the become easy to use". We need to start making software intuitive for the computer-illiterate!!

Re:You've just described Linux Mandrake... (1)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685037)

I've actually been interested in Mandrake for a while. I just hope their Linux distribution skills are a lot better than their grammar and spelling skills. :)

Setting up RedHat 6.0 Firewall/IP Masq. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685043)

Ok, so I just ordered RH6 and plan to use it to run a low-cost firewall w/IP maquerading for our partial-T1 connection. Where should I go on the Web to make sure that I have all the security holes filled? Where should I hang out to monitor what new ones are found? Thanks!

I submitted this as a RedHat bug (2)

Nelson Minar (7732) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685044)

I submitted a suggestion like this as a RedHat bug (ID 134 [] ) awhile ago. The response was not exactly overwhelming.

The RedHat workstation/server difference is helpful, but not enough. We need an option to install the RPMs but not start the services. And I think *all* listening ports (except maybe telnet) should be off by default.

Re:Isn't this what Corel is trying to do? (1)

namesAsh (88101) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685045)

that's right. Saw a cool demo last Thursday. It should be out in November.

Re:Yes! (1)

Enoch Root (57473) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685046)

I did alias 'ls' to 'dir' for a friend once, because he kept typing 'dir' without thinking. Of course, that was back in college.

But there things that you need to explain to Linux newbies, whether you think that was a good example or not. Just buying a nicely-packaged distro in a computer bookstore and running the setup won't do it for people like my mom.

"There is no surer way to ruin a good discussion than to contaminate it with the facts."

Re:Yes! (2)

Jonny Royale (62364) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685047)

I agree that the article is exemplary in it's suggesstion, but I don't think having a "stripped down" anything would be a good way to go...better still, have a distribution that would be setup by default with minimal requirements for users , but leave everything else available, but inactive, until users can figure out whoat it is, and how to use it properly. This might encourage some to do some more work, and build a better user.

Simplify. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685048)

Install all the core OS to the / partition

Install all user apps in the /home/*you*/ directory

Develop an Install Wizard like in Win95 with a graphical shell.
Maintain the current use of the root user. With all the apps in the /home/ directory, the need for root access would be minimalized.

You take your UNIX knowledge for granted (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685050)

I agree. I am a newbie and I chose Debian (no shortcuts - I wanted to know Linux). But to correct you, I've had to read 500 plus pages over the last month and each of the problems I've had has taken days to fix (X server, file permissions, navigating your directories, printing). It even took me two hours to find how to "su to root" when I started so I could run dselect (all documentation says, "become root", assuming everybody knows this command). And I've been using PCs since the early eighties. I agree with you and I've spent as much time on other hobbies, but most people won't do this to use Linux.

Re:No Root? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685052)

I logged into a friend's computer awhile back only to discover she had NO root password established at all. With Slackware 3.6 unless you explicitly go in and set up a password the field is blank, and anybody can log in as root by typing root at the userid prompt.

I'd gotten her dynamically assigned IP address by reading an email header.

She'd been on the net without a root password for weeks.

a possible easier answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685053)

Might be this:
Give 'em a "user install". Let it include the Xconfigurator, or whatever, so they can play around in a controlled way to set up their screen...y'know, like everyone does with Lose9[58]. Don't offer them things they don't know what to do with - set reasonable defaults, which should include a reasonably (not C2, orange book compatable, jeez) secure environment. Y'know, like a user environment at work.

The install, of course, is in single user mode, and so as root. After installation, if you don't start X, and you need to change something, have them su -, or give inexperienced users another command that, first time in, would prompt them for a new root passwd.

Under X, give 'em the equivalent of "control panel", and again, they are prompted, the first time, to create a new passwd.

If they forget the root passwd, wither one might check to see if there is only one user, a common home environment situation, or if the user is physically typing from the console keyboard, and prompt them on how to reboot and reset it.


Securing other peoples boxen... (1)

Dast (10275) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685056)

When you secure a new user's box, most of the time they don't pay attention. And, in their defense, the things that fly by them are totaly over their heads anyway.

I started kind of like you, except I had been using unix (slowaris :) for about a year (on one of the school's systems). When I first installed Linux, I knew nothing about how to secure a box, but at least I was comfortable using it.

Fortunatly, I was able to learn, over time, how to secure a box without being trashed by kiddies in the process. Heh. Now I'm the guy in the dorm that people get install's from. A few of them actually learn, but most of them never quite get it. Oh well, at least I try. :)

not necessarily a good idea (2)

dave_d (22165) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685063)

Yes, there's probably not a real reason to have a lot of the 'default' daemons running - especially for the average user, and yes, Linux should install fairly securly by default, but one have seperate versions ala workstation and server? I don't think so. The installation program should be able to handle a lot of this - and, I personally, believe the user should have some clue what's going on- that may require some reading and understanding on what the installation program is asking. Would reading a few paragraphs kill anyone? Perhaps it would be nice to coddle new users with a 'dumbed' down version of Linux, but why not try to get the user to learn a little bit - that way there's a more intelligent userbase to work with.

It seems that way too many things are 'dumbed' down or over-simplified for the 'average' user - it makes me sick.

Another distro? (2)

Penrif (33473) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685064)

Dispite the general distain towards the folks, this seems like a great place for RedHat to come into play. For most newbies coming into the flux, they know of RedHat, they might even trust RedHat. So why not have a RedHat Lite? Cost less mayhap, perhaps it just comes on another CD in the standard install. Or just have a "presets" menu in the installer that has such things as "Secure", "Web Server", some pregrown installs that'll all work peachy.

Supurb idea, and an absolutly needed before Linux can be for the average folk.

This is A Good Thing(tm) (1)

primetyme (22415) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685065)

I think a 'lite' version of Linux would be a great thing for a couple reasons:

1.) For running most distributions as workstations, you don't really need sendmail, httpd, POP3, IMAP, etc running.
2.) Sure you can choose not to install these and other services, but like a good TCP wrapper, deny everything first, then install what you need.

Other cool things to include in such a 'lite' disto. would be an automatic ipchains configuration type script and automagic samba configuration. With the advent of the newer installers like Lizard from Caldera and Anaconda from Redhat, these features could be implemented with some work.

It should just be another option however, like Redhats current "Server, Workstation, Custom" configs, so power users dont have to deal with this 'lite' version.


um... NO (1)

Alan Shutko (5101) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685066)

Did you read the same article I did? About someone breaking into the author's machine because it _didn't_ have security?

Good Article (1)

BradyB (52090) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685067)

I think the author has some very valid points. A lot of people want to try Linux because they can and it won't usually cost them much to experiment with it. These versions, even if they don't switch to something like Linux Lite, need to come with some sort of documention that is up front about how to tweak for security or what not to do as root. Can there be a Linux that the end user doesn't even know what root is? I'll be making the move to Linux as soon as my compliant video card gets here. I'll be looking for some tweaks for security. Hope I can find some.

debian (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685068)

debian comes with a default hosts.deny file of ALL : PARANOID. That way, if you want an inetd controlled service open to anyone, you have to explicity open that service. More distributions should follow this lead.

Security... (2)

selectap (30841) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685069)

I think that this issue will become more important as we get away from PPP and move towards cable and dsl. The person who wrote this article was fortunate because he realized that someone was logged into his machine, but if the average user walks away from his/her machine at home, then Bad Things can happen without the user knowing it

All computer users need to be made more aware of security issues, including those running Windows. I have a friend with a cable modem, and just for fun one day he decided to see how many Windows shares were available to him on his network. He was able to get, among other things, someone's tax return because of a share that user left open.


Install less, and use firewalls (4)

Paul Crowley (837) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685070)

The basic idea is hard to fault. A few caveats:

(1) There's no need for entirely separate distributions: a radiobutton selection in the install dialog about whether you want the default desktop edition or something fancy would do.

(2) Firewalling the PPP device by default would help. A *lot*. Just bar incoming TCP connections and most other stuff and a lot of script kiddies get shown the door.

(3) The biggest helper would be if these distributions installed fewer packages! I've installed Debian umpteen times, and I've grown to loathe dselect. The best thing would be for distributions to install a minimum set of recommended packages at install time, enough to get online and browse the Web and read mail and news, and then let them get used to it. Another day, they can learn about making Web servers available and suchlike: a simple, secure base would be an excellent place to start.

Re:No Root? (2)

Jburkholder (28127) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685071)

yeah, i scratched my head wondering the same thing. How about this? When you insert a blank floppy to create a boot disk, it assigns a randome string as the root password and saves it on the boot floppy. Then, when the new user finally gets around to doing something that needs root, like installing an RPM or something, the manual tells them to insert the boot floppy and then something semi-automated comes up to prompt them to enter a root password?

Just a few things... (2)

El Volio (40489) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685072)

This is a very good idea. Forthwith, a few thoughts:

The users do need to know that there is a root account, and know the password. They need to be educated at least to the extent not to stay logged in as root. Many NT users have been able to grasp this; Linux users should, too. And as someone already pointed out, otherwise there will be known default root passwords, which is a Bad Thing, Man (tm).

In reality, all distributions should come with the default configurations a bit more secure. Maybe not to the level of extreme paranoia, but to a reasonable degree. Let's be honest, we sysadmins aren't perfect (although we want our users to think so). It's possible that we could forget to configure something when installing a new system, or erroneously assume that some option is already set in a secure manner when in fact it's not.

This will have another, non-technical effect. Once the mainstream media picks up on such a distribution or effort, that's going to entice more users (and corporate managers) to consider it a viable desktop option. I'm all for users learning more about what they're doing, but I've met too many customers who asked me, "What's 'double-click' mean?" to believe that this could ever happen.

multiple users in Lite systems. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685073)

I would really hate to see multiple accounts get scrapped from any configuration. Even in the most typical newbie setting: an idiotic family of four, say, it is so nice that everyone can have their own unique environment without stepping on each others toes. It would be tragic to lose that...

Scripts to secure standard distributions? (1)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685074)

Are there scripts available which you can run on "stock install" distributions like Red Hat which will automatically modify configuration files to get rid of & shutdown "unnecessary" services?

I realize that the proper place to do this is in the distribution, but until that happens, it seems to me that there are enough people who have performed these procedures so often that it might be possible for them to put a little script together that could be given to a newbie who has barely got the distribution installed so you don't have to go running over to their house in the middle of the night when they call you up asking "why somebody else is using my system?".

Thank GOD for this article (1)

the_tsi (19767) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685075)

I'm a most-time network/sysadmin for a department at a university. We run Linux, IRIX, and a (un?)healthy dose of Windows. As much as I can't stand windows, this article is right about RH's (or any linux distro's) default install.

I've convinced a couple of friends of mine to make the switch to Linux, but the ones who put it on machines with any sort of dedicated network access I *force* to go behind the firewall when they first install. It's almost criminal the number of ways into an out-of-the-box RedHat/Slackware system (the main distributions I've worked with). Finger, systat/netstat, and everything RPC are all completely running -- and not even filtered by tcpwrappers. The worst part is that these things are (99% of the time) completely unnecessary on a workstation.

Granted, I know to go and edit out /etc/inetd.conf and hosts.deny on the very first boot, but these folks don't realize it, and there's no way to tell them it unless you're looking over their shoulder when they install.


(okay, I'm done moaning now.)


Excellent article on secure installation of Linux (1)

El Volio (40489) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685076)

Check out this article [] on installing Linux securely. It focuses on RH5.x, but can be applied to just about any distro.

Not anything new. (3)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685077)

Debian and Red Hat already support installing a system without network servers, or with only the network servers you ask for. On Red Hat this is one check-box, not a big deal to do. If you install a system that way, there isn't really anything different from a system that's "optimized" for the single-user desktop.

The author seems a bit systems-administration-naive to think that you'd have to design a special distribution just for this.


Linux for Windows Users? (1)

soldack (48581) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685078)

Linux is approaching a crossroads when it comes to taking over the desktop. One extreme is the old path, the path of the smug Unix people. RTFM is the standard reply and clicking is for wimps. Linux and its community tends to be a bit better than that but still expects a lot from the average user. The fact is that most people in the desktop world would have major difficulties with running Linux. By "running", I mean to include setup, configuration, and general usage. To conquer the desktop Linux has to become easier to use. You shouldn't have to RTFM to setup a simple, safe, workstation. It should be as easy as... no, easier than Windows 9x. Or NT. Or the Mac. I know many of us have a nasty tendency to look down on a Win9x/NT/Mac user but they are the majority of the desktop crowd and they deserve a quality OS too. Without having to know what /etc does. Just like in the Win9x world the user should not have to know anything about the Registry. The old rule of thumb applies here: "It has to be so easy that your mother could use it."
Compatibility is a big issue here. Look at the how Microsoft takes the lead away from other companies. Lotus 1-2-3 ruled the spreadsheet world until Excel proved that everything Lotus 1-2-3 could do, it could do. It had pretty good compatibility (could open and save in Lotus's format) and had the same general functionality. It even had special help for people transitioning. How about Mac? Win95 is so similar to MacOS, Apple sued Microsoft. NT uses the same look and feel as Win9x. NT supports Novel networking well enough. All of this is done so that a user has no reason not to switch. Granted, Microsoft usually does these things just barely good enough but their idea is a good one. We need to take a page from our most hated enemy and beat them at their own game.
I have said this before but I think that it needs to be mentioned again. To win the desktop you need a perfect duplication of MacOS and Win9x/NT in look and feel. In a perfect world it would be so good that you could come in at night and install it on your boss's PC and all he notices is that things don't crash anymore. Then you would have him hooked!

New distro? Hell No, there is an easier better way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685080)

Why the hell are peole suggesting a whole new distribution for this? The author of the article is a dumbass. He suggests that NT is superior than Linux because it offers workstation and Server versions. Hey dumbo, so does RedHat. But instead of putting them on seperate CDs they put them on one and nicely and politely ask you during install "Workstation" or "Server" or heck even "Custom" if you are brave. What is the friggin fascination with another CD? Okay, so if the workstation turns on a couple of daemons that you think are too many, then ask for that to be changed. Not a whole new release? Damn! People are sooooo stupid!

Re: Red Hat Lite (1)

BluBrick (1924) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685082)

Or how about...

Secure Desktop
Power User
Secure Server
Open Server
Custom install

"Power User" is a common enough term that it would make newbies think twice before choosing it, while allowing those with a clue to have something more fun to play with. It'd also have the advantage of sorely punishing those who think they are power users, but are actually far from it!

You've just described Linux Mandrake... (2)

Jaime Herazo B. (60926) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685085)

... Almost!

Mandrake has the main install categories (server, workstation and custom), but not the subcategories.

The package categories are almost like it.
And it has Mandrake-update: You start it, it fetches the list of mirrors of the FTP site, let's you select one, then fetches the list of RPMs to update, you select the ones to get, it downloads and installs them, and you're set.

Now, they're preparing the next incarnation, we can suggest this to them, it shouldn't be hard to implement.

"Now you can see that evil will triumph, because good is dumb!"

Installation?? (1)

aeonek (73537) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685092)

I think this is mostly the fault of distributions not being easy enough to setup. Take Red Hat for example. During installation, you'll have to answer the question: What services do you want to be started at boot? (or something like that) But do anyone seriously think that a newbie should know what apmd, atd, inetd, lpd, syslogd, etc... is??
But this will get better, i'm sure.

Why a different distributions? (1)

ucblockhead (63650) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685093)

I don't see why different distributions are needed to accomplish this. It seems that the same thing could be accomplished with two options presented near the beginning, "Express" and "Advanced". "Express" would create the system this guy is talking about. "Advanced" would give you all the options. It should be doable with one package.

Re:No Root? (1)

Robert J. Casey Jr. (31067) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685094)

No, you are not way off here. That could be a security risk. Although, if this 'secure' distro has all net ports closed at install, then this would not be a problem, as there would be no feasible way to remotely gain access to such a system.

In this case, the security risk does not come from the 'net', it comes from a user working at the computer. For example.. maybe this new linux user just learns the rm command and wants to test it. Well, 'rm /etc/passwd' could be dangerous then, because any user at the computer would have root permissions.

Maybe a better idea would be to let a user set the root password and also have him/her make an unprivilaged user. This unprivilaged user would then be autologed into X with their desktop environment of choice. From here, a user could 'su' as root and make any important system changes needed.

No OS has ever been totally 'safe' from a new users musings. Good things happen and bad things happen. Such is life and human behavior. This does not mean that we cannot make it a little more diffucult for bad things to happen though!

Maybe an answer! (4)

stevew (4845) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685095)

First - I agree with the author. Why does
should a system come out of the box running
httpd, ftp, or whatever?

The OTHER problem that stops us from
world domination is the GUI! X can be
impossible to get working - especially
on newer hardware(My EOne for example)

A couple of days ago there was an announcement
here of yet another distro that takes care
of one issue:

This distro runs exclusively off of a CDROM -
you can take linux to any machine! One of the
tricks they pulled that got it to run on my
EOne that neither the latest RH, Mandrake, or
Suse could do was bring up X! They used the
new Frame Buffer server. It isn't accelerated
but it works GREAT! So if the demolinux
people were to go a step further and tighten
up their system to not have a large number
of separate demons running - we might be
pretty close to what the author was asking
for! (Actually haven't looked at what
demons they HAVE enabled on this distro -maybe
it's already there?)


Re:not necessarily a good idea (1)

Zachary Kessin (1372) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685096)

I think redhat does it right, (THe other might to)
1 distro three configs:
  • Workstation
  • Server
  • Custom

Maybe have a few others. Its one CD it just asks
you how you want it setup. I think it should install all the demons. Just not turn them on.
Then have a short tutorial (under 2 pages) about root vs normal users.

Re:not necessarily a good idea (0)

Zachary Kessin (1372) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685097)

I think redhat does it right, (THe other might to) 1 distro three configs:
  • Workstation
  • Server
  • Custom
Maybe have a few others. Its one CD it just asks you how you want it setup. I think it should install all the demons. Just not turn them on. Then have a short tutorial (under 2 pages) about root vs normal users.

Re:Wonderful Idea (2)

Overt Coward (19347) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685098)

And don't just restrict this to a standalone desktop issue, either. What I'd like to see (since it's what I need right now) is a distribution that specifically sets up only those services needed for a home/office internet gateway (and possibly SMB file and print server, too).

Most distributions should be geared specifically toward a specific usage profile -- very few distributions should be the "general purpose" setup for tweaking by experts. From a business standpoint, give the consumers a tool they can use easily -- turn-key solutions are what seem to be wanted by the general public (as opposed to the subset of people who like to tinker around with their systems).

Linux well done, not "lite" (5)

messman (32358) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685099)

What is really needed is a good distro that takes care of installing everything properly. Most distros are just focusing on showing nice installation menus and all that crap. The current trend seems to have forgotten what's important and what's not. Distros are sending new users the wrong message: it seems to be more important to have a flashy and colorful desktop than a robust and secure box.

While I understand they do it to attract Windows users it is becoming a very dangerous game. The solution is not going even further the Windows way, as the article suggests. The only real solution is that the distributions stop focusing on copying Windows styles, looks, feels, sounds, etc. and start focusing on these points:

  • Good comprehensive documentation, including overviews and guides to the software they distribute. Besides all generic documentation which comes with a package there is a need for each distribution to explain what is included and why, how the packages included will help the user, and which packages should a user install to accomplish what she needs.
  • An installation system which educates the user at the same time it installs the packages. It should guide users so that they choose the installation which best fits their needs, avoiding the current install everything approach.
  • A good admintool which takes care of all the tedious system administration tasks in an unobtrusive way. It should perform all necessary security checks and monitor the system periodically.
Of course, these are the ultimate goals and it would take time to reach them. However, while some distros are at least partially working on similar projects, most are not. If new Linux boxes are insecure it is the distros fault. No doubt about it.

Re: Red Hat Lite (2)

jhoffmann (42839) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685100)

red hat lite is a great idea but the funny thing is that if you market something as "lite", you expect less features for less price. great for most products unless your product is support (a la redhat & every other linux distribution) red hat should be charging more for a red hat lite because the newbies are the ones requiring the most tech support.

Re:um... NO (1)

warmi (13527) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685101)

What I mean by that is a setup where everything is disabled, no services running, nothing.
Just like your average Windows box but even with no SMB ... 90 % of users at home don't need anything - everything they do is conducted either thru browser or client programs (mail, IRC) and those don't need anything listening on the local host.

Re:No Root? (1)

ptomblin (1378) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685112)

How about a "root" account that can't be logged into (you know, with "*NOLOGIN*" in the password field). Then if they wanted to do root stuff they would specifically have to boot it into single user mode. If you can only run as root when it's in single user mode, then script kiddies can't create root shells remotely.

You give up remote administration, but most users don't need it.

Don't Fool yourself (2)

Outland Traveller (12138) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685113)

"Nobody" may need to be concerned about security if your computer is never plugged into a network such as the internet.

However, as soon as you dial up your ISP, not to mention connect a cablemodem, you would be well advised to be concerned with security.

Even if you have nothing but valueless games on your personal computer, a malicious cracker can still make use of it as a depot for warez and pornography, and they can also use your computer as a launching pad for attacks on other systems. Some people will try and damage your computer simply because you live in (insert your country here).

How would you like it if your computer was seized by the feds for evidence because a malicious person used it for illegal purposes?

Everyone who is part of an worldwide electronic community should be aware of security (and privacy) issues. You don't have to be a security expert, but you should at least go in with a cautious attitude. In the end, you are responsible for yourself.

Well there is SOME good thinking here (2)

RodStewart (13476) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685114)

I mean in Windows the big deal is *poof* its there and its helped me. I mean if we ever want to survive this war the answer is standards, standards , standards. We need to have a better installation precedure, not just for the distro, but say for Quake3 , if i'm the average user I want installation to be simple. I mean do I really need a 12 step procedure, including mounting a cdrom changing up directories, copying the windows "content" files to the right place, downloading the linux binary, etc. AWW! This should be point and click, a BOOM your there. This should all be standardized too. What are we doing worring about the correct definition of open source so we can scold someone who doesnt do it exactly right, or having flame wars of Linux vs. xBSD? Lets make all our shit work together, and make it easier for the rest of us.

sorry about any errors,

Re:Maybe an answer! (1)

warmi (13527) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685115)

Regarding X issue I would rather favor distribution that comes by default with AcceleratedX - supports many more cards and it is much faster then XFree.
( and the price would be cheaper given wide enough distribution)

Redhat installation. (2)

jelwell (2152) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685116)

Redhat has been asking users whether they want a server, workstation, or custom installation for a while now. Anyone know the specifics between the server and workstation. I fear it may only be Gnome/Kde or no Gnome/Kde; but hopefully it rips out sendmail and some other nasty daemons.

What would really be appropriate is if distributions could package in ssh, but then we run into export problems - i assume, only because I know redhat doesn't come with ssh - but maybe that's the ssh people being uncooperative. But really, does a home user even need telnet?

Joseph Elwell.

great idea. (1)

flatrbbt (25980) | more than 14 years ago | (#1685117)

I have installed linux for a great number of newbies. They tend (like myself when I started) to be grossly unaware of what a deamon is or what it does, and have a very hard time understanding the concept of security in a multiuser system. The switch from single-user to multi-user is the most difficult concept to grasp as a newbie.

This makes security holes very common on such systems, as noted in the article. If a linux-lite distro were to be written that by default turned off all deamons, and left NO access to anyone except the local user, then it will have come a long ways towards desktop acceptability for the average corporate secretary. They should not have telnet or nfsd or samba or anything else running until their system administrator turns it on because it is needed.

Perhaps a "secure" workstation install option as the recommended install for new users is in order.

Hopefully Corel will adresss this in their upcoming distribution.

Steve Ruyle

Re:New distro vs. install option? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1685118)

Personally I think it'd be nice if Linux took OpenBSD's path of concentrating on security, for example by auditing all code for security problems. But that doesn't look like it'll happen any time soon.

My impression is that this is what kha0s Linux [] is all about -- "better living though paranoia"

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