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Section Editor: Jon Corbet
May 4, 2000
Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Preference will be given to letters which are short, to the point, and well written. If you want your email address "anti-spammed" in some way please be sure to let us know. We do not have a policy against anonymous letters, but we will be reluctant to include them.
Date: 27 Apr 2000 20:35:24 -0000 From: Eric Smith <email@example.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Linus on kernel debuggers Linux Weekly News of 27-Apr-2000 reports: Linus has long had a dislike for interactive kernel debuggers. His position is that they lead developers to fix symptoms; he would rather they stare at the source and come to an understanding of the real problem. Yeah, user-space GDB is a real drag also. Too many programmers use debuggers as a crutch, when it is obvious that simply staring at the source code is *so* much more likely to result in true enlightenment. I always hate it when the hardware guys use logic analyzers, oscilliscopes, and simulators to find bugs in their designs. Obviously the correct way to verify or fix hardware designs is to stare at the Verilog code and schematics until your eyes bleed. And when my car's engine is making a funny noise, I'm apalled when the mechanic actually looks under the hood and finds the problem immediately, rather than spending a few days thinking about what could cause that sound. It's hard to believe that using methods like that, anyone could develop a true understanding of what's going on in there. Engineers today rely way too much on fancy-shmancy tools to help with their tasks. Back in the old days, we only had printf(), and WE LIKED IT. So what if it took weeks to fix obscure kernel bugs that with better tools could be found in days; the important thing is the process, not the results. Just like the "new math". Of course, good engineers don't use time-saving tools like compilers, either. If the program is worth writing, it's worth writing in assembler. Or better yet, toggling in binary via the front-panel switches. (It's not a proper computer unless it has front-panel switches.) Seriously, though, I don't understand why Linux thinks that debuggers "lead developers to fix symptoms". I've used both kernel- and user-space debuggers to find many hundreds of bugs, and in the vast majority of cases have been able to fix the underlying problem, not just symptoms. It's not at all obvious how having an additional tool and source of information can make it more difficult or less likely to develop an understanding of a problem. Eric
From: LucFrench@aol.com Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2000 05:34:05 EDT Subject: Re: soft tissue To: email@example.com CC: firstname.lastname@example.org Allan Stokes wrote: > It's exactly the same when look at the bone yard of proprietary encryption > algorithms broken and ignore the "soft tissue" of proprietary encryption > which hasn't been broken. Or as most people assume "hasn't been broken > yet". Which is exactly what the dinosaur people assumed about the kinds of > fossil fragments they had not yet found. > > Perhaps someday the mathematics of "provable security" will be invented and > they will look back at some of the proprietary work done today and discover > that some of it was actually warm blooded after all. I think I can make a statement that any professional cryptographer will agree with: If your encryption method (be it an algorithm, the underlying random number generator, or the program itself) must be kept secret in order to be secure, it is insecure. The reason most cryptographers dislike proprietary algorithms boils down to this. (There are some wrinkles and qualifications to that statement, but not many; and there are some other problems, dealing with trust and generic attacks.) I'd also like to point out that "Hasn't been broken yet" is the status of all computer based encryption algorithms, both open and closed. It's similar to all scientific theories' status of "Hasn't been disproven yet". As to the possibility of a Unified Security Theory, such a thing is quite frankly impossible. It's too complicated to go into in a letters column, but boil down to the fact that 'secure' and 'insecure' are qualitative, rather then quantitative, terms. Quantifying either requires complete knowledge of all possible attacks; and from here we get into circular logic. BTW, the cold-blooded dinosaur theory came about because all known lizards are cold blooded, and dinosaurs were clearly big lizards; therefore, dinosaurs were probably cold blooded. The syllogism was flawed only because of an unknown assumption (lizards don't have to be cold blooded). You've used a flawed syllogism as well, that because Assumption A and Assumption B look alike, and Assumption A has been proven false, Assumption B must be false as well. Just as a final note: > Of course, anyone dumb enough to trust someone who spends too much time > alone in a dark room deserves what they get. But that doesn't mean they > were wrong. People spend too much time forming opinions about what is > technically possible (we don't know) and then end up misplacing the emphasis > which belongs entirely on the social issue of what kind of development > processes we choose to trust. Actually, the underlying assumption is closer to "if you are hiding something, you may have reason to be hiding something, and since we don't know what you're hiding, we are therefore unable to trust you". *THAT* is why it's so important that encryption methods be open, and known vulnerabilities be listed; else, how can I, Strawman Consumer In Need Of A More Secure Computer Then What I Have Now, trust that you, Strawman Encryption Expert Trying To Sell Me Something, are being honest? This is what is driving people to open source for security in the first place; if you have the code, implementation flaws are easy to spot (assuming the code isn't some kind of hairball), and back doors are hard to put in (bogus stories involving fish of a South American persuasion notwithstanding). Thanks Luc "Jude the Secure" French
Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2000 12:46:24 -0500 From: "John J. Adelsberger III" <email@example.comArs.net> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: "Warm blooded security" In his letter dated April 21, Allan Stokes points out(validly) that lack of peer review and general understanding does not necessarily imply insecurity of an encryption algorithm. He fails to make the point that is crucial when you need a working system on a deadline in the real world: there is no provable security today, and at this track, the rules are a little strange: 1) Betting on the underdog does not inrease the payout if you win; all winning bets pay the same. 2) The fact that my horse wins does not necessarily imply that yours will lose. 3) Despite 1 and 2, there are still underdogs and favorites. Under those circumstances, betting on an underdog is all loss and no gain. Certainly, it would be wrong to disparage researchers into unknown areas of math, whether crypto or otherwise - but deploying their research prototypes as production systems is a most brazen sort of foolishness, and trusting an algorithm that is unknown to most of the research community over one that has been widely examined is even worse. -- John J. Adelsberger III ETAONRISHDLFCMUGPYWBVKXJQZ email@example.com
From: firstname.lastname@example.org To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2000 11:55:34 -0600 Subject: Printing in Linux The UNIX printing model is dreadfully lacking. Certainly you can find out that you have some printers out there by looking in the printcap file, but what do you know about those printers? The whole printcap concept was designed in the days when your printer could handle raw ASCII and not much else. If you look at the archetecture of more "Modern" operating systems, there is a well defined API for printing. A device manufacturer codes a driver to that API and the applications use that API to render their jobs. Thus, all applications use the same rendering API, and the same rendering API can render to PostScript, PCL or whatever other printer language the printer uses. Contrast this to UNIX where the application has to implement its own rendering routines or use a third party library. If the user wants to print to a PCL printer and his application only does PostScript, he's out of luck or has to use GhostScript. GhostScript effectively becomes the printer driver for many people and PostScript becomes the rendering API. While this state of affairs isn't too bad, it's not too good either. If you can cover PCL and PostScript, I'd guesstimate that you'd be covering about 90 to 95 percent of the printers out there. As for finding out attributes of the printer (How to use those extra paper trays, etc) Adobe has a Portable Printer Definition format for PostScript printers and Microsoft has a Generic Printer Definition format for PCL printers. You can code a "Driver" outside the application to read these two formats and add headers to your jobs and you'd be doing pretty well. The Printer Working Group (www.pwg.org) is working on an XML based printer definition format, as well. There's room for a lot of cleverness in building interfaces from files in these formats. For approaches that involve actually building the correct archetecture, I know of a couple of projects underway. There is an open API called XPRT which looks kind of interesting. You send X commands to a server and it renders a printing language. Xfree86 4.0 seems to have some XPRT support. The Gnome people seem to also be working on an API which I assume you'd have to use Gnome to take advantage of. Personally, I'd like to see an open solution which doesn't lock you in to a particular environment while it brings UNIX printing up to date. -- Bruce Ide email@example.com IBM PSC Driver Development
To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Printing is definately below-par From: Alan Shutko <email@example.com> Date: 27 Apr 2000 10:04:46 -0400 Gordon Haverland stated that printing on Linux is perfectly fine. Unfortunately, he's missing a lot of fundamental points. While it is true that you can simply pass stuff off to LPR and something will come out the printer, there's a lot of other stuff that printing apps need to know that has never been a consideration of lpr. First, the current Linux "printing system" gives no information to apps of the fonts available. While X can do this, you would need to install fonts in two places. X only provides bitmaps, so you can't pass outlines to the printer unless you write your own font subsystem and require that fonts be installed there. (You'd also have to do this to gain additional metric information that isn't available via X.) How do you ask lpr what sizes of paper are available, or tell it to collate and staple output jobs? You can't. How do you select the tray? You can't. While some of these problems are fixed in LPRng for certain printers using certain filtering systems, other problems remain. -- Alan Shutko <firstname.lastname@example.org> - In a variety of flavors!
From: "Corfield, Richard" <RICHARDCO@POLK.CO.UK> To: "'email@example.com'" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Subject: Re: Printing and Re: WordPerfect "review" Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2000 12:53:14 +0100 I'd agree that the existing print system under UNIX is very strong. Its standardisation on PostScript as a printing language should make life a lot easier for software developers, users and administrators alike. Software developers because they only need write drivers for postscript Users because they can always preview output, and manipulate it with tools such as GS, GV and mpage. Administrators because they can redirect output to any printer knowing that its in a language that the printer driver can understand. They can also filter it on the way (mpage for example). The job is only translated from Postscript at the last minute. My experiences with some other printing systems seem to confirm these advantages. Its a pain when you can't preview output and its a pain when you can't print to a printer because you can't find the driver disk to set up your wordprocessor to be able to create jobs for it. Its also a pain when one version of the OS has a printer driver with mpage like functions and the version I work on doesn't so I can't print two sides on one from my desktop. Under Linux you can apply mpage to any print queue regardless of the type of printer on the end of it. The only problem with the system is that the word processor has no knowledge of what the capabilities of the printer are. This causes me problems at times because my printer cannot handle small margins and some programs try to print into them so some edges can be lost. What seems to be needed is a way for the word processor to find out what paper sizes and margins the particular printer supports, whilst keeping the advantage of a printer agnostic printing language and without bringing in all of the problems with a certain other system when you do this. For example I find it annoying when I load a document into a word processor to find that it has been "Changed" because my word processor has a different default printer to the original author's. Perhaps an extension to lpd or lpr or lpstat could allow the word processor to find things like paper size, margins and perhaps colour capability. Then the only problem is what happens when you try to print a document on a less capable printer than that intended by the original author, and you're not using something like LaTeX where it doesn't really matter too much. Certainly something that must happen is that this must be solved correctly, rather than just copying the solution from somewhere else, warts and all. - Richard. <Standard Disclaimer: All oppinions my own and not those of my employer, or probably anyone else in my office for that matter>
Date: Tue, 2 May 2000 21:10:33 -0400 From: "Jay R. Ashworth" <email@example.com> To: Tammy_Cavadias@zdcommunity.com CC: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/comment/0,5859,2555159,00.html ... the Taschek column on Open Source. Was that op-ed? If so, it should have been slugged. If not, it's shoddy journalism. [Looks again] Ok, it's commentary. Is it ZDnet's intent to reduce readers' opinion of its worth by running commentaries that are obviously based on factually incorrect premises and incomplete research? *I* could write opinion columns too (and I do, my weblog address is listed below), but that doesn't mean anyone would read them... A major fraction of the Internet depends completely on open-source software, written well before the term was coined. BIND (name service), sendmail, (mail transport), perl (CGI scripting, among other things) and Apache (>55% of all publicly accessible webservers) are just the most visible examples. If this column wasn't a troll, then I must cast my lot with the people who'll be ignoring ZDnet completely if it's going to publish writing of this caliber. Cheers, -- jra -- Jay R. Ashworth email@example.com Member of the Technical Staff The Suncoast Freenet Tampa Bay, Florida http://baylink.pitas.com +1 888 806 1654
Date: Sun, 30 Apr 2000 04:30:10 -0700 From: Jim Dennis <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: Microsoft.email@example.com Subject: Protocols, APIs and File Format Libraries Hi, As a long time observer in this industry (having done stints in tech support, quality assurance, development, and systems administration) and as a writer and industry journalist (having written one book on Systems Administration, a few articles for various magazines, and an online technical support column) I'd like to comment on the possible measures that you will take vis a vis the Microsoft case. (Duh! That's what this e-mail address is for, isn't it?) Obviously we'd like to arrive at a solution which is remedial, punitive, and deterrent. I don't believe that a breakup and ongoing regulation of Microsoft's business will achieve these goals. Unfortunately any ongoing regulation of their company is likely to be mired in bureaucracy and hampered as it becomes increasing politicized. It will be interesting to see how future administrations will meddle in these affairs. The set of measures that I believe would offer the greatest remedy to consumers and industry participants while acting as a fitting punishment to Microsoft and possibly even deter future monopolists would be to require that Microsoft fully document their protocols (networking), APIs (programming interfaces) and file formats. These elements of their software are necessary to achieve interoperability. They are also the very elements that Microsoft has obscured and changed in order to stifle competition and thwart innovation throughout the rest of the industry. Furthermore I'd recommend that the only form of acceptable documentation for these software standards would be a set of functional "reference implementations" of the necessary utilities and libraries to perform a the core operations of each protocol, call each API function, or read, parse and manipulate each file format. These reference implementations would have to be published in true "open source" form and subject to a FREE license --- which which specifically allows commercial and proprietary derivative works by third parties. (I would not recommend the GPL --- a BSD like license would be more appropriate). I'd also recommend that the court should require that these implementations be delivered in a timely fashion, that they be in ANSI standard C and/or C++ programming languages, that they must compile on non-MS operating system platforms (pick three --- Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, etc) and non-Intel (x86) hardware. A reference implementation is the only adequate documentation which can be accepted in this case --- since any other form is subject to endless subjective legal wrangling and interpretation which would necessarily cross the disciplines of computer science and jurisprudence. A reference implementation would also include a compliance suite. It can be unequivocably and objectively judged. Either it compiles and demonstrates interoperation with Microsoft's own software, or it fails and Microsoft can be fined, enjoined from releasing new products, etc. Of course Microsoft would be required to deliver such a suite for their existing operating systems and applications suites. This would be required to be done in a timely fashion. More importantly: The court should hold that Microsoft much continue to publish such reference implementations for all future upgrades and products. For future upgrades and products it would be reasonable to require that these reference implementations be published prior to software release and tested immediately. Micrsoft could then be enjoined from distributing new products and new revenue generating upgrades of their existing products until their products are judged to be in compliance (interoperable) with their own published reference standards. I believe that this approach has a number of advantages: * Objective criteria * Respect of Microsoft's legitimate intellectual property * Freedom to innovate * Low cost to the Federal Government * Little requisite regulatory burden * Promotion of both the competing commercial software industry interests and the open source and free software movements (and other consumer interests). * Low public perception of meddling and bureacracy * Academic and educational benefits Note that this plan does respect Microsoft's rights to its intellectual property. It doesn't require them to publish or provide any access to the source code of their current and future products. These reference implementations can be completely independent or they can be functional subsets of Microsoft's code. It also allows Microsoft to continue to modify their software (operating systems and applications) and to freely "integrate" and separate these products for their own business interests. However, it does so in a way that ensures that other companies can make competing products, enhancement utilities, etc. It also ensures that the U.S. Federal Government, international interests, and other parties will be able to maintain their document, networking and internal software infrastructures regardless of what Microsoft does with their future products and upgrades. (Indeed with these reference standards you significantly reduce the risks associated with use of proprietary software in general). Regardless of any breakup, and in addition to any regulatory oversight and punitive fines that you impose on Microsoft I recommend that you do the rest of the country some tangible good by requiring reference standard implementations of all networking protocols, application programming interfaces and file formats that Microsoft uses to "integrate" their clients to their servers, and to interface their applications with their operating systems, and to sort and interchange their documents configuration data, account and management databases, etc. Thanks. -- Jim Dennis firstname.lastname@example.org Linuxcare: Linux Corporate Support Team: http://www.linuxcare.com
Date: Wed, 03 May 2000 13:09:52 -0400 From: walt smith <email@example.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: several fundamentals Dear LWN readers, Distributions are proliferating like mosquitos in spring. The basis for being in business and obtaining funding for doing so has almost always been that money is to be had from service, and not sales of the basic (software) box. I disagree. However, service appears to be a necessary reason in order to achieve funding for Linux companies to exist. The Microsoft empire is largely based on sales of (software) box's at a reasonable price. I believe their prices, historically, have been reasonable. Many Linux boxes are approaching the same price basis. There is the caveat that the sink and entire kitchen are thrown in with the box. In other words, sales of the box are significant and important, and should be recognized as such. I feel more notice of this is necessary. -- I had an interesting experience recently. It should prove valuable to marketing psychologists. After actually spending some loot on a Linux box off-the-shelf, I had a revelation. Like many, I'd borrowed Linux CD's, and also downloaded free Linux from the Internet. When I went to "retailer", I knew I was purchasing "free" software. Why ? It wasn't free! But it was the feeling of getting something free and paying a little for the tiny manual and box. The convenience of the CD !! ? or was it? Nope! It was the feeling that, even free, that the box wasn't a sole source product. I knew the product would be upgraded "soon", but so what? it was cheap ($29). I knew it was free if I really wanted it to be free! I knew if I didn't like it, I had a choice of multiple different packages with the same underlying function and commonality (/lilo/, /usr/, ext2fs et. al)!! ..all free or shelved at competitive prices! It was a feeling of buying into a community; that same feeling non techies have buying Nikes or Windows. And I knew it was ALL there - no additional $$ for a wordprocessor, compiler - Jeeze! I even had multiple selections. -- I read on LWN that the new 2.4 kernel isn't due until possibly Autumn. This is a shame!! One of the Hallmarks of Linux is the *continuous* improvement. Waiting beyond some magical number isn't good for me psychologically nor a significant part of the Linux community. I understand the tradeoff for the stability that many (larger corportaions) require. Perhaps there's too much concern? PLEASE! this is not a swipe at Alan or Linus!!! I'm concerned about the market momentum, and I don't have a solution. -- One last prediction. SGI has moved in the right direction to adopt Linux. If they were a company with diversified products, it'd be even better. I believe neither SGI, nor Sun can continue as they have been: major changes are coming. This might mean the names SGI and Sun disappear, like DEC. regards, Walt Smith, Baltimore