Hacking Can Be a Good Thing

I consider myself to be very lucky when it comes to computers…

I have been a college professor teaching operating systems and programming for nearly two decades. During that time, I have taught courses in installing, configuring, using and programming computers. I have more knowledge about MS Windows, Unix and Linux than the average user. I feel privileged that I work in an environment that gives me the flexibility to learn and discover new computing skills. I am nearly 50 years old, and I’m just starting to appreciate the importance of “academic freedom“.

Having that *niche* in the computer field can be a good thing and a bad thing. One of the “bad things” is trying to convince people to use more than one operating system. I find it weird that most computer users do not understand or use “Dual Boot” or “Multiple Boot” systems. When I mention that I use Linux, the typical response from the average computer user is, “Linux – yes, I have heard of that…”, and then they change the subject ( or run away from me like hell ) . When I go to the IT area of a retail store and simply mention Linux, I notice most techie “know-it-alls” don’t really know it all. There are some that tell me they know Linux, but when pressed, they admit that they have only installed one version of Linux (mostly Redhat), but didn’t take the time to learn and configure it properly or understand how it works.

Other people are down-right hostile towards other operating systems. Many insist “Linux is not as user-friendly as MS Windows” and that “Linux will never compete with Windows”. If you are not careful, you can easily get “dragged” into heated discussions. Below is a link to a site (and subsequent comments) that demonstrate this fact:

http://windows7center.com/windows-7-news/why-windows-7-will-win-the-netbook-war/
(check out comments and replied from “Murray Saul” or “Msaul”)

It would be easy for me to keep what I learned all to myself. Why should I go to the trouble of convincing others of a free and powerful OS when they have been conditioned to use proprietary software? I guess my passion about Linux and open source software applications is based on my desire to teach. I teach to educate and empower people.

I am baffled that most computer users just stick with one operating system, and are afraid to “hack”. In fact, most computer users simply assume that the term “hacking” refers to breaking into computer sites like NASA or the CIA. The correct definition of “Hacking” is “curiosity”. Hacking refers to people asking questions, and not being satisfied with the “status quo”.

More people should ask questions regarding their current operating system:

  • Why do I have to buy anti-virus software from another company? Shouldn’t that be included in the purchase price of my OS?
  • Why can’t I be allowed to modify (or add) a feature onto MS Word since I have already purchased this software for my own use?
  • Can I download and install free and useful applications instead of trialware?
  • How come MS Windows doesn’t have different desktop environments like in Linux (eg. KDE, Gnome, Afterstep, ICE, Xfce4)?
  • How come MS Windows doesn’t allow me to “look inside or access” other OS partitions (like Linux) on my Desktop (without having to purchase an add-on)?
  • Why did MS decide to have the user press CTRL-ALT-DEL to login to a network? Was that on purpose, or was it some type of bizarre programmer humour?
  • When someone tells me, “They say you can’t do that…”, who exactly are “THEY”?

In the movie “Revolution OS”, Richard Stallman defines hacking as curiosity. Richard told the story of when the University (where he was attending) imposed a password system to charge for computer usage. Programming students were frustrated since they were accustomed to an open and free learning environment. People were trying to guess the password, and Richard asked, “What if I just press the ENTER key?”, and it worked. This healthy curiosity helped him and other programmers to develop the GNU project. The GNU project is a collection of programmers that develop software that users use, and if required, can easily modify. Linux would not be what it is today if it wasn’t for tremendous contribution from the GNU project. In fact, Richard Stallman prefers that the term “GNU/Linux” be used instead of just “Linux”…

I ask questions on a daily basis when I use my computer. For example, I was teaching a friend (who happens to be a student) how to manually edit webpages. He was dependent on a Windows application that displayed all of his webpages on a screen at the same time. He asked me the question, “Is there a way to just bring up only one webpage instead of 17 to edit?”. Although he was not have been aware of it, he was hacking…

I immediately showed him how to connect to a webserver via a graphical application made for windows called SSH SecureShellClient. I find this application to be useful to allow my college students to connect and graphically send files between computer systems. It has the ability to connect to issue commands, but also provides a secure method to transfer files by clicking on the “Window” menu, and selecting “New File Transfer in Current Directory”.

Here is a link for a free download (if used for non-commercial purposes) in case you are (dare I say) curious?:

http://www.filewatcher.com/m/SSHSecureShellClient-3.2.9.exe.5517312.0.0.html

After helping my friend, I was travelling back home when I asked myself the question, “Is there an application that is as good as SSH SecureShellClient in Linux?” Then I asked the question, “Can I install and run the WINE application so I can run that Windows application in Linux?”. I installed and ran Wine, and then using WINE, installed that Windows application to run in Linux. Ahh, the joy of learning (or should I say “hacking”)…

For those that are *curious*, this is how I did it on my Ubuntu Linux system. I used the Synaptic package manager to install the wine application. Here is a link to my WIKI explaining how to install software in Ubuntu using the Synaptic Package Manager:

http://zenit.senecac.on.ca/wiki/index.php/Install_Applications_in_Ubuntu

After installing the WINE application, I downloaded the windows installer program for SSH SecureShellClient. I then selected APPLICATIONS -> WINE -> CONFIGURE WINE. I selected the APPLICATIONS tab, clicked Add Application, and specified the location of that windows “installer program”. It allowed me to install and run that SSH SecureShellClient program in my Linux system. Here is a link to a screen capture of the Window application running on my Linux system:

http://matrix.senecac.on.ca/~murray.saul/ssh.png

Regardless of the “Great OS Debates”, I feel empowered by using more than one operating system. By asking myself simple questions (hacking), I have gained the freedom to learn and judge operating systems for myself.

Many computer users don’t want to question, but will take the “path of least resistance”. Unfortunately, users do not take the time to question (or users give up too easily) and then depend on whatever “THEY” say…

How does that old saying go?

“You’ve got to stand for something, or you will fall for anything…”

Murray Saul

Advertisements

~ by Murray Saul on January 22, 2010.

6 Responses to “Hacking Can Be a Good Thing”

  1. Very well written Murray. I completely agree with you. That is why the GNU/Linux OS is so popular among real computer enthusiasts, because it allows them to do stuff that other Operating Systems restrict.

  2. Hi there.
    Great installation help…thanks, fixed my problem.
    Anyone reading this guys stuff should bookmark it.

  3. Another great post.
    Thanks for the tips and help.
    Everyone, bookmark this site.

  4. You could definitely see your expertise within the paintings you write. The sector hopes for more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

  5. Having read this I believed it was extremely enlightening.
    I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this short
    article together. I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments.
    But so what, it was still worthwhile!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: