Microsoft patent 7617530, the flap about sudo

The blogosphere has been buzzing with indignation about a Microsoft patent application 7617530 that apparently was granted earlier this month. You can read the application here.

Yes, enough people have complained that this is like sudo and why did Microsoft get a patent for this. In fairness the patent does attempt to distinguish what is being claimed from sudo and provides copious references to sudo. What few have mentioned is that the thing that Microsoft patents is in fact the exact functionality that some systems like Ubuntu use to allow non-privileged users to perform privileged tasks.

In PC Magazine, Matthew Murray writes,

Because a graphical interface is not a part of sudo, it seems clear the patent refers to a Windows component and not a Linux one. The patent even references several different online sudo resources, further suggesting Microsoft isn’t trying to put anything over on anyone. The same section’s reference to “one, many, or all accounts having sufficient rights” suggests a list that sudo also doesn’t possess.

IMHO, they may be missing something here.

Let’s set that all aside. What I find interesting is this. The patent application states, and I reproduce three paragraphs of the patent application here and have highlighted three sentences (the first sentences in each paragraph).

Standard user accounts permit some tasks but prohibit others. They permit most applications to run on the computer but often prohibit installation of an application, alteration of the computer’s system settings, and execution of certain applications. Administrator accounts, on the other hand, generally permit most if not all tasks.

Not surprisingly, many users log on to their computers with administrator accounts so that they may, in most cases, do whatever they want. But there are significant risks involved in using administrator accounts. Malicious code may, in some cases, perform whatever tasks are permitted by the account currently in use, such as installing and deleting applications and files–potentially highly damaging tasks. This is because most malicious code performs its tasks while impersonating the current user of the computer–thus, if a user is logged on with an administrator account, the malicious code may perform dangerous tasks permitted by that account.

To reduce these risks, a user may instead log on with a standard user account. Logging on with a standard user account may reduce these risks because the standard user account may not have the right to permit malicious code to perform many dangerous tasks. If the standard user account does not have the right to perform a task, the operating system may prohibit the malicious code from performing that task. For this reason, using a standard user account may be safer than using an administrator account.

Absolutely! Most people don’t realize that they are logged in as users with Administrator rights and can inadvertently do damaging things.

My question is this: why is the default user created when you install Windows on a PC an administrator user? As you go through the install process, the thing asks you questions like “what is your name” and “how would you like to login to your PC”. It uses this to setup the first user on the machine. Why is that user an administrator user?

If you are smart (and if Microsoft really wanted to be good about this) the installation process would create two users. A day-to-day user who is non-Administrator, and an Administrator user.

I’m a PC and if Windows 8 comes up with an installation process that creates two users, a non-administrator user and an administrator user, then it would have been my idea. But, I don’t intend to go green holding my breath for this to happen. Someone tell me if it does.

Till January 1, 2010, Bye-Bye Linux!

Bye-Bye Ubuntu! Back to Windows …

Around the New Year each year, the fact that I am bored silly leads me to do strange things. For the past couple of years, in addition to drinking a lot of Samuel Adams Double Bock or Black Lager, I kick Windows XP, Vista or whatever Redmond has to offer and install Linux on my laptop.

For two years now, Ubuntu has been the linux of choice. New Year 2009 saw me installing 8.10 (Ignorant Ignoramus) and later upgrading to 9.04 (Jibbering Jackass). But, I write this blog post on my Windows XP (Service Pack 3) powered machine.

Why the change, you ask?

This has arguably been the longest stint with Linux. In the past (2007) it didn’t stay on the PC long enough to make it into work after the New Year holiday. In 2008, it lasted two or three weeks. In 2009, it lasted till the middle of August! Clearly, Linux (and Ubuntu has been a great part of this) has come a very long way towards being a mainstream replacement for Windows.

But, my benchmark for ease of use still remains:

  1. Ease of initial installation
    • On Windows, stick a CD in the drive and wait 2 hours
    • On Linux, stick a CD in the drive and wait 20 minutes
    • Click mouse and enter some basic data along the way
  2. Ease of setup, initial software update, adding basic software that is not part of the default distribution
    • On Windows, VMWare (to run linux), Anti-Virus, Adobe things (Acrobat, Flash, …)
    • On Linux, VMWare (to run windows), Adobe things
  3. Ease of installing and configuring required additional “stuff”, additional drivers
    • printers
    • wacom bamboo tablet
    • synchronization with PDA (Windows ActiveSync, Linux <sigh>)
    • On Windows, DELL drivers for chipset, display, sound card, pointer, …
  4. Configuring Display
    • resolution, alignment
  5. Configuring Mouse and Buttons
  6. Making sure that docking station works
    • On Windows, DELL has some software to help with this
    • On Linux, pull your hair out
  7. Setting Power properties for maximum battery life
    • On Windows, what a pain
    • On Linux, CPU Performance Applet
  8. Making sure that I login and can work as a non-dangerous user
    • On Windows, group = Users
    • On Linux, one who can not administer the system, no root privileges
  9. Setup VPN
    • On Windows, CISCO VPN Client most often. Install it and watch your PC demonstrate all the blue pixels on the screen
    • On Linux, go through the gyrations of downloading Cisco VPN client from three places, reading 14 blogs, web pages and how-to’s on getting the right patches, finding the compilers aren’t on your system, finding that ‘patch’ and system headers are not there either. Finally, realizing that you forgot to save the .pcf file before you blew Windows away so calling IT manager on New Year’s day and wishing him Happy New Year, and oh, by the way, could you send me the .pcf file (Thanks Ed).
  10. Setup Email and other Office Applications
    • On Linux, installing a Windows VM with all of the Office suite and Outlook
    • On Windows, installing all of the Office suite and Outlook and getting all the service packs
    • Install subversion (got to have everything under version control). There’s even a cool command line subversion client for Windows (Slik Subversion 1.6.4)
  11. Migrate Mozilla profile to new platform
    • Did you know that you can literally take .mozilla and copy it to someplace in %userprofile% or vice-versa and things just work? Way cool! Try that with Internet Exploder!
  12. Restore SVN dump from old platform

OK, so I liked Linux for the past 8 months. GIMP is wonderful, the Bamboo tablet (almost just works ), system booted really fast, … I can go on and on.

But, some things that really annoyed me with Linux over the past 8 months

  • Printing to the Xerox multi function 7335 printer and being able to do color, double sided, stapling etc., The setup is not for the faint hearted
  • Could I please get the docking station to work?
  • Could you please make the new Mozilla part of the updates? If not, I have Firefox and Shrill-kokatoo or whatever the new thing is called. What a load of horse-manure that upgrade turned out to be. On Windows, it was a breeze. Really, open-source-brethren, could you chat amongst yourselves?

But the final straw was that I was visiting a friend in Boston and wanted to whip out a presentation and show him what I’d been up to. External display is not an easy thing to do. First you have to change resolutions, then restart X, then crawl through a minefield, sing the national anthem backwards while holding your nose. Throughout this “setup”, you have to be explaining that it is a Linux thing.

Sorry folks, you aren’t ready for mainstream laptop use, yet. But, you’ve made wonderful improvement since 2007. I can’t wait till December 31, 2009 to try this all over again with Ubuntu 9.10 (Kickass Knickerbockers).

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