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October/November 2007 Issue | Volume 33 Number 7 | Page 31
Technology

Product Watch

A trip to LinuxWorld and more cool product news.

Once considered on the fringes, Linux has moved into the mainstream, as demonstrated by the companies who exhibited at this year’s expo.

When people think of San Francisco, generally what come to mind are cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf. But what about penguins? Yes,  penguins, as in the mascot of Linux software. While the ABA held its Annual Meeting in August in San Francisco’s Moscone Center West, LinuxWorld 2007 took place in Moscone Center North across the street. Put on by IDG World Expo, LinuxWorld is billed as “the premier event for the Linux and open source community.”

Once considered on the fringes, Linux has moved into the mainstream, as demonstrated by the companies who exhibited at this year’s expo. Novell Corporation and its partners were front and center, providing information on Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop version 10 and programs and hardware designed to work with it. The large technology companies such as AMD, Intel, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Palm and Promise Technologies all were in attendance,  as were smaller companies demonstrating their distributions of the Linux operating system. There were also other companies with specialized products for backup, database control and security. Two of the more interesting vendors present were Untangle with its open source network security offering and Ubuntu with its Linux-based  operating system.

Untangle Gateway Platform. Named “Best Security Solution” of LinuxWorld 2007, Untangle’s network gateway product provides antivirus, spam blocker, Web filtering, virtual private network, intrusion protection, firewall and monitoring—all through open source software. According to the company, the platform is built around more than 30 open source projects and “provides small and medium businesses and channel partners with a free and better alternative to costly and inflexible proprietary appliances.”

You can download and use the basic software at no charge, or if you want support and greater granularity of control over settings, you can subscribe on a fee basis to receive live technical support, remote access portal, active directory integration, configuration backup and more. Monthly pricing varies depending on the number of PCs on the network, from $25 for up to 10 computers to $250 for 151 or more computers. To get a better understanding of this product, I interviewed Jon Irwin, co-founder and chief architect of Untangle.

Irwin explained that he and co-founder Dirk Morris were involved in networking and OS security for some time. Irwin had assembled all of his own security applications, on a variety of platforms, mostly using open source software. The fact that the products were free made it an easy decision, along with the fact that ease of use was never an issue for him. He recognized, however, that the needs of an enterprise were different from those of small businesses that don’t have dedicated IT staff. So he set out to design a product that required the end-user to have to focus only on the most critical settings, with the goal of creating a unified command console and reducing the number of settings to make it the easiest and quickest way to get this type of product deployed.

Untangle runs 14 applications that are built on what Irwin describes as “best of breed” solutions. He believes that they’ve truly produced a product capable of untangling the complexities of the network security technology used by most small companies, including small law firms. Untangle is currently deployed in businesses of 5 to 300 PCs.

According to Irwin, the product’s strengths include the following: its open source foundation; no need for “forklift” (forced) upgrading, versus most hardware-based security devices; its unified command console and ease of use; and the fact that Untangle is agnostic when it comes to the hardware necessary to run it. (Minimum requirements are a 1.0 GHz Pentium CPU, 512 MB of memory and 20 GB of hard drive space.) To reinforce why open source is a reliable and secure model for software, Irwin left me with the following quote: “Your best defense isn’t through obscurity, but through having as many sets of eyes on the code as possible.” Clearly, he believes by opening the software source code to the world, you increase the likelihood of catching problems. Maybe he’s right? You can make that decision for yourself, but it does pose some very interesting possibilities for the law office.

The Ubuntu Operating System. Ubuntu finds its roots in the Debian GNU/Linux project and has taken the open source community by storm since its first release in 2004, rapidly gaining prominence in the commercial world as well. Witness the fact that in May 2007 Dell Computer Company announced it would begin selling desktop computers with Ubuntu’s Linux-based OS preinstalled, and it has also announced Dell will be selling Ubuntu-equipped systems in Europe. Ubuntu distributes both the desktop and server versions of its product via its Web site.

According to the company’s site, “Ubuntu is an African word meaning ‘Humanity to others,’ or ‘I am what I am because of who we all are.’ The Ubuntu distribution brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.” Ubuntu was founded by South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth and his company Canonical Ltd., which is the commercial side of the Ubuntu project.

Mark Murphy of Canonical shared some of the philosophy behind Ubuntu with me. According to Murphy, the goal of Ubuntu is to “give back to the community, make the software free and drive others into the market as well that can add value to the community and provide opportunities down the line for others.” He believes that what sets Ubuntu apart is better driver support and coverage than other distributions; the product’s different forms or flavors, which include edubuntu, kubuntu and xubuntu; and the fact that maintenance is very simple once installed and includes free security and program updates. In addition, there is a new version every six months with long-term support—five years for the server version and three years for the desktop version, with at least 18 months of security updates. “Make it different and make it free,“ Murphy told me. “Remember, Ubuntu is Linux for human beings.” It was apparent from speaking with him that Ubuntu and Canonical strongly believe in the open source ethos, like just about everyone else at LinuxWorld.

About the Author

Nerino J. Petro, Jr. is a legal technologist and the Practice Management Advisor for the State Bar of Wisconsin. A former practicing attorney, he blogs on legal technology and practice management issues at CompuJurist.

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