I love the Linux Mint desktop distribution. Lots of people love Mint. Mint’s my current favorite Linux desktop distribution. But, like most distributions, to run it, I had to install it myself. Now, Mint, in conjunction with CompuLab, is selling its first Mint-branded PCs.
True, you could buy a PC or laptop from ZaReason and a handful of other Linux PC vendors with Mint Linux, but the two mini-PCs that Mint and CompuLab are offering are the first to have Mint’s official blessing.
These PCs, the fit-PC3 basic and pro models are now available with Linux Mint branding under the name “mintBox.” According to Clement “Clem” Lefebvre, Mint’s founder, “The mintBox is amongst the toughest computers on the market. It features a die-cast solid-metal case which acts as a giant passive heatsink. Although the metal makes the mintBox heavier than other devices its size, it makes it feel really unique, robust and well engineered. More importantly, it cools down its components without needing any fans. Other than the noise coming from its internal 250GB hard-drive, the mintBox is completely silent.”
The mintBox comes with four USB ports: Two in the front, and two in the back. Two of these support USB 3.0. It also has a pair of external serial AT Attachment (eSATA) ports; two mini-Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) sockets, plus a mSATA port, and a good old RS-232 port. This tiny computer, smaller than a Mac Mini, also comes with Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Gigabit Ethernet. Both models also come with an HDMI port and a DVI adapter.
As you might guess from that construction and all those ports, the mintBox started life as an industrial computer. And, indeed, CompuLab is an embedded and industrial computer specialist.
The mintBox Basic, which list for $476 plus shipping, duty, and value added tax (VAT) comes with a 250GB hard drive. For a processor, it uses an AMD APU G-T40N. This is a 1GHz dual core, which includes an integrated ATI Radeon HD 6290 for graphics. This is an Intel-compatible embedded system unit. This system comes with 4GBs of RAM.
The higher end mintBox Pro retails for $549 plus shipping, duty, and VAT. It is identical to the Basic except it uses the higher-speed AMD APU G-T56N. This is a 1.65GHz dual core CPU and comes with an ATI Radeon HD 6320 for graphics. It also comes with 8GBs RAM and a ribbed metal case for better heat dissipation.
Lefebvre also claims that one of the highlights of both models are how “easy it is to open it. Both the RAM and the HDD are accessible from underneath the box. Use a standard screwdriver to open the bay and you can upgrade your RAM or switch the HDD for a SSD drive without any hassle.” This makes both ideal for people who like to upgrade their systems.
The mintBox, according to Lefebvre, with its Kensington lock and 4 small dents underneath it for the mintBox to be mounted on a VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association) mount bracket and their low-power consumption “(respectively idle and full load: 8-17W for the basic model, 9-24W for the pro model) make the mintBox an attractive device for companies, hotels and cybercafés where it can be placed or mounted on walls securely and significantly reduce noise levels and electricity bills.” In other words, the mintBox is meant both for serious computer hobbyists and for serious business use.
The system has been tested with both Linux Mint 12 and the latest Linux Mint 13. According to a note by Lefebvre, it appears that the mintBox will be shipping with “Mint 13 OEM 64-bit, the big question is whether it’s Cinnamon [Mint's own GNOME 2.x style desktop based on GNOME 3.x) or MATE [A Gnome 2.x fork] by default and with or without ATI drivers. Both editions work out of the box on the hardware without drivers, except the sound output via HDMI.”
Audio via HDMI requires an AMD/ATI driver, fglrx. If not supplied in the system this can be installed via Mint’s Software Manager. I imagine this driver will be pre-installed as CompuLab and Mint ramp up production.
Both mintBox versions are available for purchase today. US and Canadian orders are shipped from CompuLab’s US office in Florida. Expected delivery time from “in-stock” is two weeks. In the rest of the world, the units are shipped from CompuLab’s Israeli offices. 10% of each sale goes towards Linux Mint.
All Windows 8 licensed hardware will be shipping with secure boot enabled by default in their replacement for the BIOS, Unfied Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). So far, so good, who doesn’t want more security? The fly in the soup is that by default only Windows 8 will run on these systems, so no Linux, no BSD, heck, no Windows XP for that matter. Fedora Linux, Red Hat’s community distribution, has found a way: sign up with Microsoft, via Verisign to make their own Windows 8 system compatible UEFI secure boot key. A lot of Linux people hate this compromise. Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux, has another take: “I’m certainly not a huge UEFI fan, but at the same time I see why you might want to have signed bootup etc. And if it’s only $99 to get a key for Fedora, I don’t see what the huge deal is.”
Matthew Garrett, a Red Hat developer, explained why Fedora has ended up with its Microsoft-based UEFI solution. “We explored the possibility of producing a Fedora key and encouraging hardware vendors to incorporate it, but turned it down for a couple of reasons. First, while we had a surprisingly positive response from the vendors, there was no realistic chance that we could get all of them to carry it. That would mean going back to the bad old days of scouring compatibility lists before buying hardware, and that’s fundamentally user-hostile. Secondly, it would put Fedora in a privileged position. As one of the larger distributions, we have more opportunity to talk to hardware manufacturers than most distributions do. Systems with a Fedora key would boot Fedora fine, but would they boot Mandriva? Arch? Mint? Mepis? Adopting a distribution-specific key and encouraging hardware companies to adopt it would have been hostile to other distributions. We want to compete on merit, not because we have better links to OEMs.”
Fedora explored other options. “An alternative was producing some sort of overall Linux key. It turns out that this is also difficult, since it would mean finding an entity who was willing to take responsibility for managing signing or key distribution. That means having the ability to keep the root key absolutely secure and perform adequate validation of people asking for signing. That’s expensive. Like millions of dollars expensive. It would also take a lot of time to set up, and that’s not really time we had. And, finally, nobody was jumping at the opportunity to volunteer. So no generic Linux key.”
In addition, the Linux Foundation had proposed a system by “Linux and other open operating systems will be able to take advantage of secure boot if it is implemented properly in the hardware. This consists of:
All platforms that enable UEFI secure boot should ship in setup mode where the owner has control over which platform key (PK) is installed. It should also be possible for the owner to return a system to setup mode in the future if needed.
This all makes sense, but none of it has happened. So Fedora felt, since the next release of the distribution will be coming out at about the same time as Windows 8, that they had to do something.
What Fedora ended up doing was using Microsoft’s secure boot key signing services through their sysdev portal for one-off $99 fee. Why? Because, “it’s cheaper than any realistic alternative would have been. It ensures compatibility with as wide a range of hardware as possible and it avoids Fedora having any special privileges over other Linux distributions. If there are better options then we haven’t found them. So, in all probability, this is the approach we’ll take. Our first stage bootloader will be signed with a Microsoft key.”
This has flown as well in some Linux circles as a lead balloon. “How could you make a deal with the Devil!” “You’ve sold out!” And, for hard core developers, “I can’t build my own Linux from your source code now without jumping through hoops!”
Setting the anger aside, there’s something to all of this, but as Torvalds told me, “Yes, yes, the sky is falling, and I should be running around like a headless chicken in despair over signing keys. But as long as you can disable the key checking in order for kernel developers to be able to do their job, signed binaries really can be a (small) part of good security. I could see myself installing a key of my own in a machine that supports it.”
That said, Torvalds doesn’t think Microsoft’s spin on Windows 8 UEFI secure boot is really going to do for security. “The real problem, I feel, is that clever hackers will bypass the whole key issue either by getting a key of their own (how many of those private keys have stayed really private again? Oh, that’s right, pretty much none of them) or they’ll just take advantage of security bugs in signed software to bypass it without a key at all.”
Torvalds concluded, “Signing is a tool in the tool-box, but it’s not solving all the security problems, and while I think some people are a bit too concerned about it, it’s true that it can be mis-used.”
And, in the meantime, all the Linux desktop vendors are going to have to address the UEFI issue. By year’s end, many, if not most, mass-market PCs are going to be sold with Windows 8 and that in turn will mean there’s no easy way to boot them into Linux.
Linux and Windows are popularly thought of to get along like a bad tempered Pekingese dog and an ill-mannered Siamese cat. Things have changed though since Bill Gates said that “The GPL (General Public License, Linux’s license] … makes it impossible for a commercial company to use any of that work or build on any of that work.” Things have changed. Now, Microsoft has announced that its Azure cloud will support persistent VMs which will enable users to run Linux distributions. These distros are: openSUSE 12.1, CentOS 6.2, Ubuntu 12.04 and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 11 SP2.
This development isn’t as surprising as it may sound. As ace Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley reported earlier this year, “Running Linux on Azure has been a surprisingly big business-customer request.” A quick look at the Cloud Market analysis of operating systems on the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) on June 7th found that there over 18-thousand Ubuntu Linux instances currently running and about 10-thousand otherwise unidentified Linux instances. In contrast, there were only 33-hundred Windows instances. It’s as plain as the nose on your face: businesses want Linux servers on the cloud.
In addition, Microsoft has been working with Novell, SUSE’s predecessor company, on Windows and Linux network and virtualization integration since 2006. More recently, SUSE and Microsoft have been working on Linux and Hyper-V integration. Making it possible to run openSUSE, SUSE’s community distribution, and SLES on Azure was the natural next move.
It comes as no surprise then that SUSE seems to have the most mature offering for its Linux on Azure. Besides offering simple instances of SLES, users can use SUSE Studio, SUSE’s build your own virtual server application Web-based service to build their own cloud-ready applications and automatically launch them on Windows Azure.
SUSE is also including automatic maintenance that keeps SLES up-to-date on the most current security patches, bug fixes and new features on Azure. In addition, SUSE is backing SLES on Azure with its usual range of support options In a statement, Sandy Gupta, general manager of the Open Solutions Group at Microsoft, said “Through our continued engagement on technical interoperability with SUSE, we look forward to delivering core value to those running mission-critical, mixed-source IT environments from the data center and into the cloud.”
As for Ubuntu, Paul Oh, Canonical’s business development director wrote, “Canonical and Microsoft worked together to ensure that Ubuntu, tested, certified and enterprise ready from the start.” Oh continued, “During the current Spring Release of Windows Azure, you can launch Ubuntu images directly from the Windows Azure Gallery. The Windows Azure gallery currently contains Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS and support is available directly from Canonical. In the Fall Release of Windows Azure you will be able to buy support directly from the Windows Azure Gallery.”
Want to try it for yourself? Microsoft is presently offering a 90-day free trial of Azure. In addition, during the preview period Microsoft will offer discounted hourly rates for Linux Virtual Machines ranging from $0.013 per hour up to $0.64 per hour depending on the instance size.
CloudForms was originally positioned to be a standard open source cloud Infrastructure as a Service platform.
Since the company first discussed its plans for CloudForms and OpenShift last May, there have been many development in the cloud space, not the least of which is the advancement at least two more community-focused open source cloud platforms known as OpenStack and CloudStack.
Red Hat announced in April that it will develop its own OpenStack cloud IaaS distribution. The CloudForms hybrid cloud management platform, which will support OpenStack, is also designed to run with Red Hat’s OpenShift Platform-as-a-Service offering.
OpenStack was originally developed by Rackspace and NASA but now counts more than 175 backers including Dell, Intel, AMD, Rightscale and IBM. Even VMware has publicly nodded to OpenStack’s advancement, partnering with Piston Computing to develop an OpenStack layer to VMware Cloud Foundry.
In an hour-long conference call today, Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens acknowledges that some of CloudForms’ functionality overlaps with other open source IaaS solutions especially in areas of self service and automation but he emphasized CloudForms as a comprehensive platform for open hybrid cloud management with application management included.
CloudForms offers more than just automation on top of virtualization, the common denominators of core IaaS platforms, he said. “There may be overlap in some capabilities … [but with some other offerings] all you can do is build cloud automation on a virtualized silo and make it into a cloud silo,” Stevens said.
For example, CloudForms gives customers the ability to create and manage hybrid clouds and applications that run in these mixed on-premise and public cloud infrastuctures.
With CloudForms, users can build a hybrid cloud that combines an on-premise cloud with any trusted public cloud such as Amazon or Rackspace. They can also deploy and manage one Application Blueprint and policy across multiple on-premise clouds, public clouds and virtualization technologies, Red Hat said.
CloudForms is part of the Red Hat IaaS stack comprimised of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Enterprise Virtualization, JBoss Enterprise Middleware and Red Hat Storage stack.
CloudForms is based on the company’s open source DeltaCloud APIs but will incorporate full support for Red Hat’s OpenStack distribution.
Today’s repositioning of CloudForms is well timed as enterprises increasingly ponder how to build and mix their on-premise cloud data with data stored in public clouds.