[nmglug] February 27th

Sam Noble s at mnoble.net
Thu Mar 13 16:16:30 PDT 2014

On Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 03:47:52AM -0700, esque wrote:
> I haven't been there ...nor have I even had a computer because Debian is a
> hassle to find and install drivers  for videos word processor everything.

Hi Sky, Sorry to hear you're having difficulty. Of course it's hard to
discuss the topic of "everything" but maybe I can guess at and provide
some insight into the types of problems you might be having as I helped
you install Debian on your machine.

Also note, that while I've used Debian very happily for many years, I
don't consider the choice of a GNU/Linux distribution to be something
"important".  Rather it is usually just a matter of technical
preferences; however the role of a distro is to install a bunch of
software on _your_ machine, so it is important that the distribution is
trustworthy and that they make choices that you would agree with
regarding what they install.

One common point of contention in that area, which I suspect you may
have been recently encountering, is how much effort is spent on dealing
with non-free software. As an activist in the free software movement, I
am making an effort to never use non-free software, and when I discover
that one of my computers has had non-free software installed when I did
not intend it, I feel angry and betrayed.

The likelihood of that happening does vary greatly by distribution, with a
corresponding side-effect that many people use mostly free systems that
also use some non-free software, of which they are unaware!
A similar and likely even more common case is the one where a user of a
mostly free Operating System, _is_ aware that they are installing
non-free software but possibly would not have done so had the system
designers not "encouraged" them to do so by providing tools that work
around the restricted distribution or other installation issues
accompanying the non-free software.

As an example Debian and Ubuntu developers sometimes package non-free
software using the same mechanisms that are used to distribute the
freedom respecting software that makes up the distribution. This of
course requires effort and skill, and is almost always intended to
provide convenience or some other benefit to users; but instead causes
users that don't want to use non-free software (like me) to have to be extra
diligent. And can cause both of the previously mentioned somewhat tragic
scenarios where unwary users don't even know they are using software
that disrespects their freedom, and encouraging users who may know
better to go ahead and use the non-free software anyway.

While I can whole-heartedly recommend making an effort to never use
non-free software, it is sometimes inconvenient. Especially in the cases
where a non-free alternative is very popular; as the community and
developer base around any free alternative is that much smaller. Take as
an example the poor support for the gnash plugin with respect to flash
video sites. I am confident it would be much better did not so many
GNU/Linux users opt to install the non-free alternative.

With regard to your current difficulties, it's worth noting that I
regularly configure systems to _not_ experience these issues by ensuring
that only the freedom respecting "official" portions of the distribution
are available to the package management system. And I likely did the
same to your system... 

so "you're welcome?" :P  

> I want Ubuntu. Nowhere when I google can I come up with anything that
> says there's an NSA back door using Ubuntu anyway.

While it is now widely reported that the NSA's TAO does have access to a
very broad range of devices; that need not be your primary privacy
concern with regard to Ubuntu, as they knowingly and admittedly are
reporting the content of each use of the desktop to at least both
Canonical and Amazon.
This is supposedly easy to turn off, (see fixubuntu.com) but I can't
relate to using software that behaves that way and then still thinking
we are likely to get from such a poor starting point to some trustworthy
and privacy respecting endpoint.

However some people are trying. If you believe that the problems you're
having with your system would be helped by an Ubuntu style install, [
with respect to which tools and applications are installed by default,
rather than the availability of packages with freedom restrictions ] you
might be interested in the distribution Trisquel, which is a derivative
of Ubuntu whose goal is merely to remove anything which does not respect
your freedom.

> Anyway I need to get my own computer set up and then also there is a
> lot of interest in people learning basic privacy tools and I'm talking
> about people that aren't geeks.
> I would be interested in doing something like this if anyone can help
> me at least get my own computer back.

That's great. There are many tools that can provide increased privacy.
But as Glen Greenwald discovered while trying to arrange his
communication channels with Ed Snowden, the tools are unfortunately
difficult for many people to use, and many of us that are at least
passingly familiar with the tools still need to come to terms with how
far from end-user usable they are. But I can recommend the
Liberationtech mailing list at stanford as an excellent place to lurk
and hear the discussion on whether we can get from A to B on that one.

> Something about the way Debian was set up disallows me from running
> from boot too.

Not sure what you mean there, but that one at least is something we can
probably fix.


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