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LibreOffice celebrates its first birthday today

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September 28, 2011

The Document Foundation, producers of the popular LibreOffice open source office software suite, is celebrating today the first birthday of the software’s release to users of the computing community.

Last year, LibreOffice started life out of sheer disgruntlement at the way Oracle handled the OpenOffice project after it took ownership of Sun Microsystems.

At the time, key open source developers left the OpenOffice organization and set up their own software shop, run by a group of consensus decision makers and largely supported by many volunteers that were already working in the Linux and open source community.

Although the team asked Oracle if it wanted to take part in the new project, Larry Ellison’s people handled rejection badly and ended up donating the entire code base of OpenOffice to the Apache Software Foundation-- something that really irritated many.

IBM is still developing the OpenOffice code, but progress has been slow and there's been even more defections to The Document Foundation.

“The situation with Apache is progressing very slowly, and it's not really fair to compare the two products. But we hope it’s going to be sorted out very quickly,” said The Document Foundation spokesman Italo Vignoli. “If you look at the last couple of months, in terms of code generated and developers working, we’re had a lot more activity than OpenOffice.”

To date, LibreOffice has signed up over 250 new code developers-- something that's nothing to sneeze at he said, and organizations such as Canonical and others have appointed staff members whose job is solely to develop for the software suite.

And even more developers in the open source community are still coming on board, and the group is planning to expand the range and sophistication of the whole platform.

“The Document Foundation has attracted more developers with various commitments in the first year than the OpenOffice.org project in the first ten years", says Norbert Thiebaud in a statement. Theibaud was a first-day developer who jumped on LibreOffice code on September 29 of last year, and is now a member of the TDF Engineering Steering Committee.

According to various data from The Document Foundation, there have been around 7.5 million downloads of the LibreOffice suite since its first stable launch in January 2011.

Additionally, it estimates another ten million users are installing the code via USB sticks or CDs burned via internet downloads of the software.

And Vignoli added that LibreOffice was now the office suite of choice for the vast majority of Linux distributions, and in 2012 there will be even more of an effort to attract enterprises and users of Windows systems.

“We all know how conservative Windows users can be, thus we have more Linux users,” he said. “But given the market sizes, Windows users will grow faster than Linux users. For enterprises, they need to test the software very carefully before deploying, and so we’ve only just started to see corporate deployment and expect more announcements in the next few months.”

But make no mistake-- it hasn’t been all plain sailing from the getgo! The Document Foundation had been hoping to set up a formal legal holding entity in Germany to manage the code as a foundation.

But sadly, the legal paperwork has slowed the process down quite a bit, but it's now moving forward again nevertheless.

In other Linux news

Outside of the United States, there are several other Linux distributions that are dubbed national distros. These include China’s Red Flag Linux, Turkey’s Pardus and the Philippines’ Bayahnian versions. And other countries, such as Russia, are on their way to moving their entire IT infrastructure to Linux and open-source software.

In the U.S., the government, especially the military, makes great use of Linux on a daily basis. In fact, it's the most-often used operating system in the DoD (department of Defense). Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux), the most popular software suite for hardening Linux against Linux itself is sponsored by the NSA (National Security Agency).

However, and this is important to note, there hasn’t been a national American Linux desktop distribution, until now. The Software Protection Initiative (SPI) under the direction of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Defense recently created Lightweight Portable Security (LPS).

As the name implies, this is a small Linux desktop distribution that’s designed for secure use for most users.

LPS is designed to boot from a CD or USB drive on any Intel-based computer. And it doesn’t install anything at all. It’s designed purely to run in memory only and to leave no traces behind when you’re finished running the operating system.

According to the SPI, LPS allows general Web browsing and connecting to remote networks. It includes a smart card-enabled Firefox browser supporting Common Access Card (CAC) and Personal Identity Verification (PIV) cards, a PDF and text viewer, Java, and Encryption Wizard / Public.”

With it you can turn your untrusted Windows or Mac home or public system into a trusted network client.

“No trace of work activity or malware can be written to the local computer in any way, making it a secure desktop.”

And it’s not your usual operating system in other ways either. LPS isn’t meant to be patched. When it’s updated, you need to download a new virgin copy of the operating system. LPS is updated at least every quarter. To get the best possible protection, the SPI recommends that you simply download a fresh copy of the distribution with every update.

LPS has a very simple interface based on the Ice WM desktop. More than anything else, LPS looks very much like Windows XP.

And as you would expect from a safety first distribution, it comes with a minimum of applications. These include the older, but still essentially secure, Firefox 3.6.22 Web browser, the Leafpad text editor, and the OpenSSH secure shell client and Citrix XenApp client for running remote desktop sessions.

For some reason, the distribution also includes Adobe Flash. Considering Flash’s recent checkered security record, we wouldn’t have included it if this had been our distribution.

And the encryption wizard is something very simple to use. When you launch it, you get a small window where you can drag and drop files to work on. Once there, you have three large buttons at to choose from: “Encrypt,” “Archive,” and “Decrypt.”

There’s also a Deluxe version of the distribution that comes with OpenOffice and Adobe Acrobat.

Now of course, Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux) isn't for everyone, but if you want a secure desktop operating system you can carry in your pocket and use on almost any computer you’re likely to find, it’s well worth burning to a CD or USB drive.

In other Linux news

Last Thursday, Red Hat announced the financial results for its fiscal year 2012 second quarter ended August 31. Total revenue for the quarter was $281.3 million, a jump of 28 percent from the year ago quarter.

Linux tech support subscription revenue for the quarter was $238.3 million, also up 28 percent year-over-year.

"The overall combination of strong sales execution and higher support demand led to second quarter revenue that was above its previous guidance and represents four straight quarters of accelerating revenue growth," stated Jim Whitehurst, President and Chief Executive Officer of Red Hat.

"We continue to win and strengthen relationships with enterprise customers who partner with Red Hat to cut costs while modernizing their IT infrastructure to enable applications to run on bare metal, virtualization and in the cloud. Based on the strong first half results, we believe Red Hat remains well positioned to finish fiscal 2012 as the first billion dollar open source software vendor."

GAAP operating income for the second quarter was $52.5 million, or 18.7 percent operating margin. After adjusting for stock compensation and amortization expenses as detailed in the tables below, non-GAAP operating income for the second quarter was $76.4 million, up 41 percent year-over-year.

Non-GAAP operating margin was 27.2 percent, up 250 basis points from the year ago quarter.

Net income for the quarter was $40.0 million, or $0.20 per diluted share, compared with $23.7 million, or $0.12 per diluted share, in the year ago quarter. After adjusting for stock compensation and amortization expenses as detailed in the tables below, non-GAAP net income for the quarter was $56.5 million, or $0.29 per diluted share, as compared to $36.8 million, or $0.19 per diluted share, in the year ago quarter.

Both GAAP and non-GAAP net income for the quarter included a discrete tax benefit of $2.1 million, approximately $0.01 per diluted share. Excluding this tax benefit, GAAP earnings per share would have been $0.19 and non-GAAP earnings per share would have been $0.28 for the quarter.

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Operating cash flow was $77.1 million for the second quarter, as compared to $64.3 million in the year ago quarter. At quarter end, the company's total deferred revenue balance was $813.2 million, an increase of 25 percent on a year-over-year basis. Total cash, cash equivalents and investments as of August 31, 2011 was $1.3 billion.

"Our investments in sales and R&D continued to pay off, producing market share gains, higher revenue and 30 percent year-over-year billings growth," stated Charlie Peters, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Red Hat.

"Our productivity continued to improve as evidenced by non-GAAP operating income growth of 41 percent and cash flow growth of 20 percent in Q2. Moreover, year-to-date non-GAAP operating income grew 35 percent and operating cash flow grew 34 percent compared to the first half of last fiscal year."

Additional information on Red Hat's reported results, including a reconciliation of the non-GAAP adjusted results, are included in the financial tables available on the Red Hat website.

In other news about the Linux community

The UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) secure boot protocol is part of recent UEFI specification releases. It allows one or more signing keys to be installed into a system firmware.

Once enabled, secure boot prevents executables or drivers from being loaded unless they're signed by one of these keys. Another set of keys (PKEK) permits server communication between an operating system (OS) and the firmware itself.

An OS with a PKEK matching that installed in the firmware may add additional keys to the whitelist. Alternatively, it may add keys to a blacklist as well. For security reasons, binaries signed with a blacklisted key will not load.

However, and this is a bit sad for now, there's no centralised signing authority for these UEFI keys as of today, but it is hoped that this will soon change.

If a vendor key is installed on a PC or on a server, the only way to get the code signed with that key is to get the vendor to perform the signing.

A personal computer or server may have several keys installed all at once, but if you are unable to get any of them to sign your binary, then it won't be installable.

And of course, this impacts both software and hardware vendors at the same time. An OS vendor cannot boot its software on a system unless it's signed with a key that's included in the system firmware.

A hardware vendor cannot use its hardware inside the EFI environment unless the drivers are signed with a key that's included in the system firmware.

If you install a new graphics card that either has unsigned drivers, or drivers that are signed with a key that's not in your system firmware, you'll get no graphics support in the firmware-- it's as simple as that.

Source: The Document Foundation.

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