Thursday, May 23, 2013

Unix: Book Review -- Absolute OpenBSD: Unix for the Practical Paranoid by Michael W. Lucas, Open Starch Press, 2013

 I don't know which should come first -- why you should look at OpenBSD or why you should buy this book, but these questions seem tightly wound around each other. For those of us who have settled into one of the most popular Unix/Linux systems -- Red Hat, Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu, Mint, Suse, Solaris et al, OpenBSD may seem like a Unix from long ago, but there are aspects of this OS that set it apart from other popularly used Unix systems and this book by Michael W. Lucas and published by no starch press will help you understand, not just those differences, but how to install, deploy, manage, troubleshoot and thrive with an OpenBSD system.

To begin with, let's start with the subtitle -- "Unix for the Practical Paranoid". There's a lot in that title. These days, anyone who manages servers that interact in any way with the Internet are probably somewhat paranoid. In fact, the author says "If you're not paranoid on the Internet, you're in trouble". And why is OpenBSD "for the paranoid"? For one reason, it's because OpenBSD is regarded by many as the most secure OS (yes, even without the benefit of SELinux). Its focus on security borders on the fanatical. OpenBSD pays a lot of attention to the "baked in" kind of security -- auditing their source code with a keen eye toward routing out bugs that could represent an eventual compromise, rather than waiting for flaws to be discovered through successful exploits and addressing them then.

OpenBSD also has built-in cryptography, the systrace system call and the pf packet filter. Due to its ground up dedication to security, it is often used as the OS basis for intrusion detection systems, firewalls, VPN gateways and secure web sites. It's open source, yet it touts some of the highest quality documentation.

The first edition of Absolute OpenBSD: UNIX for the Practical Paranoid was published 10 years ago in 2003 -- ten years ago! It was so well thought of that it became something of a collector's edition and a lot of people have been hungrily waiting for this second edition. I was deeply entrenched in Solaris in 2003, though I still clearly remembered that "SunOS" prior to the birth of "Solaris" was a BSD-based operating system. About the same time that BSD and System V were merged to create Solaris, OpenBSD shot off from NetBSD, providing a clear option for those who wanted to remain in the BSD camp.

This book, in its nearly 500 (490) pages, covers nearly everything I can imagine stuffing into a book on OpenBSD and provides nearly a total immersion on the OS. Yet the author is not so arrogant as to presume you won't need to reach out to other information sources as well -- Chapter 1 is actually devoted to additional sources of information. Even so, you won't get through this book without acquiring a solid grounding in OpenBSD.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Is Unix Now The Most Successful Operating System Of All Time?

A fascinating little point made in a much longer piece about the smartphone wars. One that makes me wonder whether Unix can now be considered to be the most successful operating system of all time. Which is certainly a change from when I first entered the computing industry when Unix boxes were vast behemoths and the Windows based PC was what was used by the masses.

Within that, roughly 1.1bn had ‘smartphones’ at the end of 2012, of which around 900m ran either the iOS or Android versions of Unix. (As an aside, it is pretty striking that almost a fifth of the earth’s adult population has a Unix box in their pocket.)

Yes, it is true that both Apple AAPL +0.39%‘s iOS (and OSX come to think of it) and Google GOOG -0.28%‘s Android are variations of the basic Unix operating system. And 900 million concurrent users might indeed be the largest number of people using an operating system yet.

The only viable contender is of course Windows. DOS was never a large enough marketplace before Windows took over from that. And I agree that Windows sales numbers are, over time, much higher than of these Unix variants. Windows 7 for example sold 450 million copies all told. Windows 8 so far 100 million. So I’m willing to agree that Microsoft MSFT +1.05% has, over all the generations of Windows, sold more licenses than the current usage of the two Unix variants, Android and iOS.

But I’m really not sure whether the installed base of Windows has ever been 900 million units. Not all operating at the same time. And we are indeed saying that the current, today’s installed base of Unix is that 900 million. Even if that were shown to be wrong, that there are, or have at some time been, more than 900 million operating PCs running Windows, I don’t think that Windows would keep the crown for very much longer. For the growth rates are wildly divergent.

Almost all tablets and smartphones now run some variant of Unix (yes, I know, Windows Phone and Surface but really, volumes here are pretty small) and those markets are still growing by leaps and bounds. And the PC market is actually shrinking. So even if Windows might, just, still be the world’s leading OS I don’t think that that will last for very much longer.

But my gut feel for this is that Unix is indeed the world’s most successful operating system ever. 900 million concurrent users? I don’t think even Windows has managed that.