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How to migrate to the world of Linux from Windows

Today, 02:37 PM

Posted by Falkes in Community News

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Introduction

Installing Linux on a computer, once you know what you’re doing, really isn’t a difficult process. After getting accustomed to the ins and outs of downloading ISO images, creating bootable media, and installing your distribution (henceforth referred to as distro) of choice, you can convert a computer to Linux in no time at all. In fact, the time it takes to install Linux and get it updated with all the latest patches is so short that enthusiasts do the process over and over again to try out different distros; this process is called distro hopping.

With this guide, I want to target people who have never used Linux before. I'll give an overview of some distros that are great for beginners, how to write or burn them to media, and how to install them. I’ll show you the installation process of Linux Mint, but the process is similar if you choose Ubuntu. For a distro such as Fedora, however, your experience will deviate quite a bit from what's shown in this post. I’ll also touch on the sort of software available, and how to install additional software.

The command line will not be covered; despite what some people say, using the command line really is optional in distributions such as Linux Mint, which is aimed at beginners. Most distros come with update managers, software managers, and file managers with graphical interfaces, which largely do away with the need for a command line. Don’t get me wrong, the command line can be great - I do use it myself from time to time - but largely for convenience purposes.

This guide will also not touch on troubleshooting or dual booting. While Linux does generally support new hardware, there’s a slight chance that any cutting edge hardware you have might not yet be supported by Linux. Setting up a dual boot system is easy enough, though wiping the disk and doing a clean install is usually my preferred method. For this reason, if you intend to follow the guide, either use a virtual machine to install Linux or use a spare computer that you’ve got lying around.
What distributions are available to choose from?

The chief appeal for most Linux users is the customisability and the diverse array of Linux distributions or distros that are available. For the majority of people getting into Linux, the usual entry point is Ubuntu, which is backed by Canonical. Ubuntu was my gateway Linux distribution in 2008; although not my favourite, it’s certainly easy to begin using and is very polished.

Another beginner-friendly distribution is Linux Mint. It’s the distribution I use day-to-day on every one of my machines. It’s very easy to start using, is generally very stable, and the user interface (UI) doesn’t drastically change; anyone familiar with Windows XP or Windows Vista will be familiar with the the UI of Linux Mint. While everyone went chasing the convergence dream of merging mobile and desktop together, Linux Mint stayed staunchly of the position that an operating system on the desktop should be designed for desktop and therefore totally avoids being mobile-friendly UI; desktop and laptops are front and centre.

For your first dive into Linux, I highly recommend the two mentioned above, simply because they’ve got huge communities and developers tending to them around the clock. With that said, several other operating systems such as elementary OS (based on Ubuntu) and Fedora (run by Red Hat) are also good ways to get started. Other users are fond of options such as Manjaro and Antergos which make the difficult-to-configure Arch Linux easy to use.
Downloading Linux

Now, we’re starting to get our hands dirty. For this guide, I will include screenshots of Linux Mint 18.3 Cinnamon edition. If you decide to go with Ubuntu or another version of Linux Mint, note that things may look slightly different. For example, when it comes to a distro that isn’t based on Ubuntu - like Fedora or Manjaro - things will look significantly different during installation, but not so much that you won’t be able to work the process out.

In order to download Linux Mint, head on over to the Linux Mint downloads page and select either the 32-bit version or 64-bit version of the Cinnamon edition. If you aren’t sure which version is needed for your computer, pick the 64-bit version; this tends to work on computers even from 2007, so it’s a safe bet. The only time I’d advise the 32-bit version is if you’re planning to install Linux on a netbook.

Once you’ve selected your version, you can either download the ISO image via one of the many mirrors, or as a torrent. It’s best to download it as a torrent because if your internet cuts out, you won’t have to restart the 1.9 GB download. Additionally, the downloaded ISO you receive via torrent will be signed with the correct keys, ensuring authenticity. If you download another distribution, you’ll be able to continue to the next step once you have an ISO file saved to your computer.
Writing the ISO to USB

Note: If you’re using a virtual machine, you don’t need to write or burn the ISO to USB or DVD, just use the ISO to launch the distro on your chosen virtual machine.

Ten years ago when I started using Linux, you could fit an entire distribution onto a CD. Nowadays, you’ll need a DVD or a USB to boot the distro from.

To write the ISO to a USB device, I recommend downloading a tool called Rufus. Once it’s downloaded and installed, you should insert a USB stick that’s 4GB or more. Be sure to backup the data as the device will be erased.

Next, launch Rufus and select the device you want to write to; if you aren’t sure which is your USB device, unplug it, check the list, then plug it back in to work out which device you need to write to. Once you’ve worked out which USB drive you want to write to, select ‘MBR Partition Scheme for BIOS or UEFI’ under ‘Partition scheme and target system type’. Once you’ve done that, press the optical drive icon alongside the enabled ‘Create a bootable disk using’ field. You can then navigate to the ISO file that you just downloaded. Once it finishes writing to the USB, you’ve got everything you need to boot into Linux.
Alternatively: Burning the ISO to DVD

Note: If you’re using a virtual machine, you don’t need to write or burn the ISO to USB or DVD, just use the ISO to launch the distro on your chosen virtual machine.

If you’re on Windows 7 or above and want to burn the ISO to a DVD, simply insert a blank DVD into the computer, then right-click the ISO file and select ‘Burn disc image’, from the dialogue window which appears, select the drive where the DVD is located, and tick ‘Verify disc after burning’, then hit Burn.

If you’re on Windows Vista, XP, or lower, download an install Infra Recorder and insert your blank DVD into your computer, selecting ‘Do nothing’ or ‘Cancel’ if any autorun windows pop up. Next, open Infra Recorder and select ‘Write Image’ on the main screen or go to Actions > Burn Image. From there find the Linux ISO you want to burn and press ‘OK’ when prompted.

Once you’ve got your DVD or USB media ready you’re ready to boot into Linux; doing so won’t harm your Windows install in any way.
Booting into the Linux live environment

Once you’ve got your installation media on hand, you’re ready to boot into the live environment. The operating system will load entirely from your DVD or USB device without making changes to your hard drive, meaning Windows will be left intact. The live environment is used to see whether your graphics card, wireless devices, and so on are compatible with Linux before you install it.

To boot into the live environment you’re going to have to switch off the computer and boot it back up with your installation media already inserted into the computer. It's also a must to ensure that your boot up sequence is set to launch from USB or DVD before your current operating system boots up from the hard drive. Configuring the boot sequence is beyond the scope of this guide, but if you can’t boot from the USB or DVD, I recommend doing a web search for how to access the BIOS to change the boot sequence order on your specific motherboard. Common keys to enter the BIOS or select the drive to boot from are F2, F10, and F11.

If your boot up sequence is configured correctly, you should see a ten second countdown, that when completed, will automatically boot Linux Mint.
 
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Those who opted to try Linux Mint can let the countdown run to zero and the boot up will commence normally. On Ubuntu you’ll probably be prompted to choose a language, then press ‘Try Ubuntu without installing’, or the equivalent option on Linux Mint if you interrupted the automatic countdown by pressing the keyboard. If at any time you have the choice between trying or installing your Linux distribution of choice, always opt to try it, as the install option can cause irreversible damage to your Windows installation.
Hopefully, everything went according to plan, and you’ve made it through to the live environment. The first thing to do now is to check to see whether your Wi-Fi is available. To connect to Wi-Fi press the icon to the left of the clock, where you should see the usual list of available networks; if this is the case, great! If not, don’t despair just yet. In the second case, when wireless card doesn’t seem to be working, either establish a wired connection via Ethernet or connect your phone to the computer - provided your handset supports tethering (via Wi-Fi, not data).
Once you’ve got some sort of internet connection via one of those methods, press ‘Menu’ and use the search box to look for ‘Driver Manager’. This usually requires an internet connection and may let you enable your wireless card driver. If that doesn’t work, you’re probably out of luck, but the vast majority of cards should work with Linux Mint.
For those who have a fancy graphics card, chances are that Linux is using an open source driver alternative instead of the proprietary driver you use on Windows. If you notice any issues pertaining to graphics, you can check the Driver Manager and see whether any proprietary drivers are available.
Once those two critical components are confirmed to be up and running, you may want to check printer and webcam compatibility. To test your printer, go to 'Menu' > 'Office' > 'LibreOffice Writer' and try printing a document. If it works, that’s great, if not, some printers may be made to work with some effort, but that’s outside the scope of this particular guide. I’d recommend searching something like ‘Linux [your printer model]’ and there may be solutions available. As for your webcam, go to 'Menu' again and use the search box to look for ‘Software Manager’; this is the Microsoft Store equivalent on Linux Mint. Search for a program named ‘Cheese’ and install it. Once installed, open it up using the ‘Launch’ button in Software Manager, or have a look in 'Menu' and find it manually. If it detects a webcam it means it’s compatible!
 
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Installation
By now, you’ve probably had a good look at Linux Mint or your distribution of choice and, hopefully, everything is working for you. If you’ve had enough and want to return to Windows, simply press Menu and then the power off button which is located right above 'Menu', then press ‘Shut Down’ if a dialogue box pops up.
Given that you’re sticking with me and want to install Linux Mint on your computer, thus erasing Windows, ensure that you’ve backed up everything on your computer. Dual boot installations are available from the installer, but in this guide I’ll explain how to install Linux as the sole operating system. Assuming you do decide to deviate and set up a dual boot system, then ensure you still back up your files from Windows first, because things could potentially go wrong for you.
In order to do a clean install, close down any programs that you’ve got running in the live environment. On the desktop, you should see a disc icon labelled ‘Install Linux Mint’ - click that to continue.
 
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On the first screen of the installer, choose your language and press continue.
 
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On the second screen, most users will want to install third-party software to ensure hardware and codecs work.
 
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In the 'Installation type' section you can choose to erase your hard drive or dual boot. You can encrypt the entire drive if you check 'Encrypt the new Linux Mint installation for security' and 'Use LVM with the new Linux Mint installation'. You can press 'Something else' for a specific custom set up. In order to set up a dual boot system, the hard drive which you're installing to must already have Windows installed first.
 
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Now pick your location so that the operating system's time can be set correctly, and press continue.
 
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Now set your keyboard's language, and press continue.
 
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On the 'Who are you' screen, you'll create a new user. Pop in your name, leave the computer's name as default or enter a custom name, pick a username, and enter a password. You can choose to have the system log you in automatically or require a password. If you choose to require a password then you can also encrypt your home folder, which is different from encrypting your entire system. However, if you encrypt your entire system, there's not a lot of point to encrypting your home folder too.
 
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Once you've completed the 'Who are you' screen, Linux Mint will begin installing. You'll see a slideshow detailing what the operating system offers.
 
 
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Once the installation finishes, you'll be prompted to restart. Go ahead and do so.

First boot
Now that you’ve restarted the computer and removed the Linux media, your computer should boot up straight to your new install. If everything has gone smoothly, you should arrive at the login screen where you just need to enter the password you created during the set up.
 
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Once you reach the desktop, the first thing you’ll want to do is apply all the system updates that are available. On Linux Mint you should see a shield icon with a blue logo in the bottom right-hand corner of the desktop near the clock, click on it to open the Update Manager.
 
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You should be prompted to pick an update policy, give them all a read over and apply whichever you think is most appropriate for you then press ‘OK’.
 
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You’ll probably be asked to pick a more local mirror too. This is optional, but could allow your updates to download quicker. Now, apply any updates offered, until the shield icon has a green tick indicating that all updates have been applied. In future, the Update Manager will continually check for new updates and alert you to them.

Optional tasks
You’ve got all the necessary tasks out the way for setting up Linux Mint and now you’re free to start using the system for whatever you like. By default, Mozilla Firefox is installed, so if you’ve got a Sync account it’s probably a good idea to go pull in all your passwords and bookmarks. If you’re a Chrome user, you can either run Chromium which is in the Software Manager, or download Google Chrome from the internet. If you opt to get Chrome, you’ll be offered a .deb file which you should save to your system and then double-click to install. Installing .deb files is straightforward enough, just press ‘Install’ when prompted and the system will handle the rest, you’ll find the new software in ‘Menu’.

 

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Other pre-installed software includes LibreOffice which has decent compatibility with Microsoft Office; Mozilla's Thunderbird for managing your emails; GIMP for editing images; Transmission is readily available for you to begin torrenting files, it supports adding IP block lists too; Pidgin and Hexchat will allow you to send instant messages and connect to IRC respectively. As for media playback, you will find VLC and Rhythmbox under 'Sound and Video' to satisfy all your music and video needs. If you need any other software, check out the Software Manager, there are lots of popular packages including Skype, Minecraft, Google Earth, Steam, and Private Internet Access Manager.

Where to find help
Throughout this guide, I’ve explained that it will not touch on troubleshooting problems. However, the Linux Mint community can help you overcome any complications. The first port of call is definitely a quick web search, as most problems have been resolved by others in the past and you might be able to find your solution online. If you’re still stuck, you can try the Linux Mint forumsas well as the Linux Mint subreddit, both of which are oriented towards troubleshooting.

Closing words
Linux definitely isn’t for everyone. It still lacks on the gaming front, despite the existence of Steam on Linux, and the growing number of games. In addition, some commonly used software isn’t available on Linux, but usually there are alternatives available. If, however, you have a computer lying around that isn’t powerful enough to support Windows any more, then Linux could be a good option for you. Linux is also free to use, so it’s great for those who don’t want to spend money on a new copy of Windows too.

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Google discloses a "high" severity security flaw in Windows 10

Today, 02:01 PM

Posted by Falkes in Community News

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A few days ago, Google's Project Zero team publicly exposed a security flaw in Microsoft Edge because Microsoft failed to fix it in the allotted time. Although the move received slight backlash, it was also appreciated by many .

Google's Project Zero team of security researchers is tasked with finding bugs in software products developed by the firm itself as well as those from other tech giants. On successfully finding a flaw, the researchers report it to the relevant company and provide them with 90 days to fix the issue before it is made public.

Over the past couple of years, the initiative has disclosed several vulnerabilities in the same manner. Now, Project Zero has exposed a "high" severity security flaw in Windows 10.

According to the report in the Project Zero directory, the issue has been definitively tested on Windows 10 version 1709.

The flaw in question relates to the SvcMoveFileInheritSecurity remote procedure call (RPC), which if exploited, can lead to an arbitrary file being assigned an arbitrary security descriptor, that can potentially lead to elevation of privilege.

The remote procedure call makes use of the MoveFileEx function call which moves a file to a new destination. The problem occurs when the RPC moves a hardlinked file to a new directory which has inheritable access control entries (ACEs). Now even if the hardlinked file doesn't allow deletion, it can be allowed based on the permissions provided by the new parent directory that it has been moved to.

This essentially means that even if the file is read-only, if the server calls the SetNamedSecurityInfo on the parent directory, it will be able to assign it an arbitrary security descriptor, which would potentially allow other users on the network to modify it.

The security researcher who discovered this flaw has also attached a proof-of-concept code in C++ which creates a text file in the Windows folder, and abuses the SvcMoveFileInheritSecurity RPC to overwrite the security descriptor to allow access to everyone.

The security researcher went on to say that:

Some additional notes about this issue. Firstly based on the fix for issue 1427 this only affects Windows 10, it does not affect any earlier versions of Windows such as 7 or 8.1. However I've not verified that to be the case but there's no reason to believe it's incorrect. MS consider this to be an 'Important' issue, but crucially not a 'Critical' issue. This is because this issue is an Elevation of Privilege which allows a normal user to gain administrator privileges. However in order to execute the exploit you'd have to already be running code on the system at a normal user privilege level. It cannot be attacked remotely (without attacking a totally separate unfixed issue to get remote code execution), and also cannot be used from a sandbox such as those used by Edge and Chrome. The marking of this issue as High severity reflects the ease of exploitation for the type of issue, it's easy to exploit, but it doesn't take into account the prerequisites to exploiting the issue in the first place.

According to the details presented in the report, the flaw - labeled "1428" - was disclosed as a "high" severity security issue to Microsoft on November 10, 2017, along with a similar security issue, dubbed 1427. The standard 90-day deadline was provided to resolve both the problems. When the issue proved difficult to fix, Microsoft asked for an extension in the deadline and released the supposed fix last week on Patch Tuesday.

However, contrary to what Microsoft may have believed, the patch fixed issue 1427, but detailed analysis from the Google researcher proves that 1428 - detailed above - still hasn't been resolved. As such, Google has informed the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) that it is making the flaw visible to the public. It will be interesting to see if this disclosure accelerates the fixing of the bug given that it is now public knowledge accessible to everyone, even those with malicious intent.


We have reached out to Microsoft for clarification regarding the security flaw, and will provide an update if the company responds.

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You can no longer 'view image' on Google Images search results

19 Feb 2018

Posted by Falkes in Community News

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Searching for images relating to a particular subject or those matching an image you already had was made particularly easy by using Google's search engine. While a boon for consumers, the search giant has come under fire by content creators and publishers, who aren't pleased with the ease of access with which users can copy their copyrighted images through Google Images.

As such, the company is making a small change to the user interface for showing results related to image searches. The 'view image' button which allowed you to conveniently open an image alone has now been removed.

Of course, this doesn't mean you won't be able to download the images at all, if you so wanted. It's simply a measure that is aimed at making things a little more harder for users before they can obtain a local copy of an image, as you are now required to instead 'visit' the webpage where the image is found and then manually open it from within the website hosting it.

The changes will ultimately mean users are more likely to visit the sites where images they like are hosted, thereby helping drives revenues for the site through ad views and increase the overall exposure of the website. Unfortunately, some sites do tend to disable the ability to right-click on, and open, images, which may make it even harder to grab an image.

Alongside this change, the 'search by image' button has also been removed from the search results. As with the last change, this doesn't mean you can't search using an image at all but simply that you now have one more step to perform before you can reverse search for images. You will now need to drag the image results you've opened into the search bar manually. This, again, seems aimed at allaying publishers' concerns about users quickly searching for alternative images that do not feature a watermark.
 

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Windows to get new Ultimate Performance mode

17 Feb 2018

Posted by Falkes in Community News

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We've seen different energy modes, many new SKUs announced, recently a gaming mode, but yes, Windows 10 will be getting an Ultimate performance mode now as well. It is intended for heavy-duty machines that can’t afford to cut down on performance during processing of extensive workloads.

The new perf mode would be coming to Windows 10 Codenamed Redstone 4, the Spring Creators Update. Its Insider builds have been separated from the active development of Windows 10, reports fossbytes; Now, the insiders who earlier opted into ‘Skip Ahead’ and are still a part of it will receive Windows 10 Preview Builds under the RS_PRERELEASE branch, featuring the changes that may arrive with Redstone 5. Non-Skip Ahead users will get builds from the RS4_RELEASE branch.
 
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Microsoft has released fresh Insider builds. Among the new features added is a new performance scheme called Ultimate Performance. Windows 10 Pro for Workstations users running Insider Build 17101 (rs4) or Build 17604 (rs5) can take the advantage of the new setting in Control Panel > Power Options.

As the name suggests, the power mode is designed for heavy-duty machines that can’t afford to cut down on performance during processing of extensive workloads. Microsoft’s Dona Sarkar said in the announcement post that they have been able to find areas in Windows where performance and efficiency trade-off is made and a collection of settings allows the system to adjust itself according to the user behavior, policy, and hardware.

“This new policy builds on the current High-Performance policy, and it goes a step further to eliminate micro-latencies associated with fine-grained power management techniques.”

It goes without saying that the new power policy would require the system to consume more power while exploiting the hardware to its fullest. That’s why Ultimate Performance won’t be available on battery-powered Windows 10 PCs. Both OEM’s and users would be able to select the power plan as per their will.

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