Linux Users Rendezvous with a GNOME

Network News Break: Whether your net's ready or not, DNS-Based Service Discovery has made its way to the Linux desktop. Also: Liberated WAPs in Texas, SSL VPNs on the rise, and Cisco looks to move its Linksys customers up the product line.

By Michael Hall | Posted Sep 17, 2004
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Desktop technology is not, as a matter of general practice, something we spend a lot of time paying attention to here. Sometimes, though, the things users have on their desktops have an effect on the things happening on our networks in a big way. We build anti-virus gateways to protect them from harmful mail (or keep them from sending it out), we maintain spam filters, and we erect proxies to ensure they don't waste bandwidth and time on inappropriate sites.

So we were interested to note that the latest release of the popular GNOME desktop for Unix and Linux (define) includes support for DNS-Based Service Discovery, which readers of CrossNodes will be familiar with from our coverage of Zeroconf (also called "Rendezvous" by Apple).

The technology allows services such as Web servers, file shares, printers, and CD burners to announce themselves over the same network segment in such a way that users can find them without needing to know the exact address of the services. Apple has extended its Rendezvous into areas such as instant messaging, where users can see buddies (or absolute strangers for that matter) sharing a network segment with them. Other user-oriented applications include shared bookmarks and RSS feed lists.

Depending on your perspective, things like Zeroconf and Rendezvous could be a real bane to network administrators, since it creates a situation where users may bypass "official" services and provide levels of interconnection between themselves that thwart certain security or QoS measures. It could also be a minor blessing for smaller organizations disinterested in the maintenance behind managing the traditional print or file server.

Either way, Linux has a tiny share of the overall desktop market (though it may have finally surpassed Apple, depending on the analyst you talk to), so one might be tempted to write the addition of this sort of tech to Linux desktop software off as something of negligible impact. Until, that is, one considers that GNOME is the default software for Sun's desktop offering as well as the forthcoming desktop package from Novell, which has recently undertaken to remake itself as a Linux company. In other words, Linux may not be a big player in your organization today, but at least two well-established companies with a good record of selling to the enterprise are out to change that, and GNOME is their desktop of choice. Your chances of seeing more Linux desktops in the next few years go up if you're involved in government or education, where arguments in favor of the more expensive Windows fall to the wayside, even if Linux provides a more austere desktop experience.

And as we noted once before, users have a way of seeking the path of least resistance. Apple and Linux developers, both keenly attuned to either maintaining or establishing better end user experiences, are providing the tools for them to do just that. It's incumbent on us to figure out how to accommodate those users before they accommodate themselves, to the detriment of the services we offer.

And speaking of users helping themselves to the detriment of a network...

Update

Last week we noted a minor scuffle at the University of Texas, which had disallowed 802.11b/g access points in one of its student housing buildings because of the disruption they were causing with the existing university WLAN.

We sided with the university in the matter, because we saw the matter as a case of a larger public (within the context of the university) good being disrupted by a minority. Since then, it appears the school has decided to rescind the ban because of uncertainties over their legal standing in the matter.

If the school has no legal right to shut down such devices, the decision is certainly sound. Hopefully, though, the opening for some user education in the matter will be taken and the users who are disrupting the WLAN (unwittingly or not) will receive some guidance on how to best conduct themselves and manage their personal networks.

The law doesn't always prevent the tragedy of the commons from playing out, but education can.

Elsewhere:

» According to an internetnews.com report, SSL-based VPNs are all set to grow. One analyst says "he expects to see SSL VPNs evolve toward improving accessibility to applications without the need to implement a full network connection."

Who else is excited about the prospect of SSL permeation? VeriSign says "Clearly, any SSL VPN gateway needs a certificate. So we expect this to fuel the demand and growth of our certificate business as well."

Don't feel like paying VeriSign? Here are some Australians who might be able to help you out.

» Also in follow-up to a story we've covered here (and will tackle once more next week, in a series on SPF), AOL has backed out of its support for Microsoft's Sender ID for E-Mail in the wake of a kerfluffle over Microsoft's patented tech. Did AOL back out too soon? Elsewhere, we're less convinced it was about the tech, as AOL claims, and more about a fairly successful, if disorganized, campaign to put a kibosh on the specification before patented technology became part of a standard we'll all depend on.

» It looks as if Cisco has joined the WiMax Forum, though at least one report is less sure that it's to help herald in the age of 802.16 as much as it is a chance for the networking giant to keep an eye on a potential competitor to investments the company has in 802.20-backing companies.

» Also on the Cisco tip, if you're one of the SMBs that bought Linksys gear because it's fairly cheap and easy to set up, then wondered what would happen when the company was picked up by Cisco, there's part of an answer now: Cisco is offering rebates to Linksys customers who want to trade up to Cisco gear.

The Cisco Tradeup Program includes a variety of product transitions, including jumps from the Linksys wireless broadband routers up to Cisco Aironet gear; and tradeups from Linksys VPN routers to a variety of Cisco's secure router line.

The Week in CrossNodes

» Sawing Linux Logs with Simple Tools

Scripting Clinic: Even if your servers are running at the peak of perfection, you still need to keep an eye on the logs. This month's scripting clinic covers the basics you need to make sense out of all those miles of digital chatter.

» Securing a Windows Server? Time to Talk SCAT.

Windows Security Configuration and Analysis Tool, Part One: With the Windows Server 2003 SCA Tool, you've got a valuable means to lock down your server. Here's how to use one of the best tools you may have never heard of.

Network News Break is CrossNodes' weekly summary of networking news and opinion. Please send your comments and suggestions to the editor.

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