Cloning a Hard Drive With Linux

Yeah well calling it Linux means I most likely lost 97% of the market.


Windows people don’t realize that there is a painless way to get their windows computer to do some of this stuff – a Live Linux Distribution like Ubuntu.  If you get a live disc working, you can copy this shell into it, then follow the instructions.  It should work.

Mac people may even be able to run this natively.

Maybe.  Depends if PV is Mac Friendly, if not, convert the PV line to a copy of your choice.


A Live Linux can be “burned” to a USB stick or to a DVD and your computer can be booted from that.


And now you know!


But none the less…

What this is basically is my own shell.  I use this to completely back up my computer.  All the drive specifications are found and known, and do not change.

I run fdisk -l as root and use the information in there to edit the shell script to change things as needed.

This assumes that you know what your drive devices are, are willing to edit a shell script to make your own changes as is, then have an external USB hard drive slightly larger than your boot device.  My boot device is /dev/sda and most likely yours is as well.

This assumes that you have a second drive sitting in your chip reader.  If not, you can comment out the line that copies it to the hard drive.

This assumes that you have room enough to do everything.

I am doing this on Debian Linux, however the commands here are so very generic that you should be able to run this on most “full” distributions of Linux.  Debian, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Centos, Fedora and the like come to mind.

Standard Internet Warranty – I make no warranties and it is at your own risk.  If you lose data, it is on you.  I take zero responsibilities for any miscoding or changing or whether a magic dragon comes out of the skies and takes you onward to valhalla.  Really.  None at all.

I will say that I ran this exact shell this morning and it worked for me.  You WILL have to change the file specifications to fit.   

Finally:

  • My boot drive is a 240gb SSD with about 120gb free.
  • My chip has about 12 gb worth of data on it.
  • Debian thinks that the chip is called “128GB” and it typically comes up in the file manager (thunar) on /media/bill/128 GB/

Prerequisites:

Installed versions of

How it runs:

  • This must be run as Root in Terminal.
  • This will pause after each step with an OK message in the Dialog box.
  • For me, the entire shell runs in about 2 hours on my i7 laptop with a USB 2.0 external hard drive.

First the shell in its entirety through to the end comment:

#! /bin/bash


#backup.sh from http://www.ramblingmoose.com

dialog –no-lines –title ‘Run This As Root’ –msgbox ‘This shell will backup SDA to SDB\nYou must click OK after each step so watch this.\nYour Disaster Recovery will thank you!’ 10 70

dialog –no-lines –sleep 3 –title “update your sources” –prgbox “apt-get -y update” 10 70
dialog –no-lines –sleep 3 –title “update your software” –prgbox “apt-get -y upgrade” 10 70
dialog –no-lines –sleep 3 –title “update your distribution” –prgbox “apt-get -y dist-upgrade” 10 70

arg1=”‘/media/bill/128 GB'”

dialog –title “copying the chip to the drive” –prgbox “cp -avr $arg1 /home/bill/128GB” 10 70

(pv -n -i 2 /dev/sda > /dev/sdb) 2>&1 | dialog –title “Backup SDA to SDB” –gauge ‘Progress…’ 7 70

dialog –title ‘Message’ –msgbox ‘Cloning is done, click ok to clean up and end’ 5 70

dialog –no-lines –sleep 3 –title “Removing the copy of the chip” –prgbox “rm -r /home/bill/128GB” 10 70 

dialog –no-lines –sleep 3 –title “Synchronize your drives” –prgbox “sync” 10 70
#end backup.sh

To actually use that mess…

  • Copy the entire text and paste it into your favorite text editor.
  • Save the file with a “.sh” extension somewhere you will be able to get to it – in your path.
  • Change the mode to executable – chmod 0770 backup.sh
  • Change the owner to root.  You never want to use this as a regular user – chown root backup.sh
  • Change the group to root.  chgrp root backup.sh
  • Run the shell as root: sudo ./backup.sh

Now, each line in excruciating detail!

—- Run the programs using bash interpreter

#! /bin/bash

—- I’m signing my work here

#backup.sh from http://www.ramblingmoose.com

—- This puts up a message box

dialog –no-lines –title ‘Run This As Root’ –msgbox ‘This shell will backup SDA to SDB\nYou must click OK after each step so watch this.\nYour Disaster Recovery will thank you!’ 10 70

—- The next three steps gets your distribution to date.  Don’t want this, comment it out

dialog –no-lines –sleep 3 –title “update your sources” –prgbox “apt-get -y update” 10 70
dialog –no-lines –sleep 3 –title “update your software” –prgbox “apt-get -y upgrade” 10 70
dialog –no-lines –sleep 3 –title “update your distribution” –prgbox “apt-get -y dist-upgrade” 10 70

—- Store the directory that Linux mounts the chip to in “arg1”  If no chip to backup you can comment this.

arg1=”‘/media/bill/128 GB'”

—- Wrap the actual work of copying the chip out to a dialog box.  The flags “-avr” say copy the whole drive in $arg1 recursively to the destination.  If no chip to copy, comment this line.

dialog –title “copying the chip to the drive” –prgbox “cp -avr $arg1 /home/bill/128GB” 10 70

—- This line does the real work.  Now that you copied your chip out to the hard drive, clone the actual hard drive.  The flags on pv tell it to report to stdout the percentage of work done so that dialog can show a pretty gauge.  Ahh, so pretty!

(pv -n -i 2 /dev/sda > /dev/sdb) 2>&1 | dialog –title “Backup SDA to SDB” –gauge ‘Progress…’ 7 70

—- Copy is done, it is time to clean up message

dialog –title ‘Message’ –msgbox ‘Cloning is done, click ok to clean up and end’ 5 70

—- remove the data that you copied from the chip from the hard drive to be neat. if no chip, comment this out.

dialog –no-lines –sleep 3 –title “Removing the copy of the chip” –prgbox “rm -r /home/bill/128GB” 10 70 

—- Your work is done, make sure you flush your cache by doing a “sync”.

dialog –no-lines –sleep 3 –title “Synchronize your drives” –prgbox “sync” 10 70  

#end backup.sh

The Netbook Server – How to Actually Share Part Of The Hard Drive

First, you installed Linux to a RaspberryPi or a Netbook, or whatever you had on hand.

Second, you made it so you could look into that machine from anywhere on your network.

If all you wanted was a taste of how to run Linux and have fun with all those free goodies there, you could have stopped.  Now I’m going to show you how to take a part of the hard drive (a folder) and share it out to the network.

Why?

So you can copy your pictures/recipes/important crap somewhere else.

So you can back up your computer across the network.

So you can brag to the co-workers that you have a proper Linux Home Server and sound like you know what you’re doing.

Well the deal is that it took me a half hour to do this last night.  I was distracted by what was on the TV so it would have taken less time.

I did this on a RaspberryPi first.

 

Since my instructions were written there I then repeated the steps on my Netbook running Debian, so the instructions work.  It also works on anything derived from Debian Linux, so that if you have found this article using Linux Mint, Ubuntu, or any of the other derivatives from the Debian Family, you SHOULD be able to get this working with very little fuss.

If you are familiar with Linux and the way things work, you’re used to finding instructions that promise to do something, get totally frustrated that the instructions are geeked out, and then realize that while it’s working you don’t actually understand WHY things are done this way.

I’m going to attempt to do it differently.  This way when I have to look at it later, I can look at my own B.S. here and say “Oh yeah, I remember this”.

The information you need:

1) Your sign on name – this will be written assuming you are “bill”.  Just change that to your own name from when you created the machine.

2) Your “root” and regular user (bill) Passwords.  

3) The name you gave the computer when you installed Linux.  It could be pi or rudolph or any other name you came up with.  

I will make assumptions and try to explain it all away.  Don’t worry, I followed these same steps last night and the server now “serves” files out to the network.  As long as your network has a firewall, your stuff is safe.

Get the machine “up to date”:

  1. Start your Terminal from the start menu.
  2. su and hit enter – Get “root” by giving it the root password.
  3. apt-get update – pull down all the headers of new stuff since the last time you got on the machine
  4. apt-get upgrade  – actually get all the upgraded software

Answer yes or Y to the prompt asking if you really want to update things, go make yourself something from the kitchen and come back in a bit.  It may take time.  There are always updates.  But if you never make changes to your “Repositories” on Debian or Raspbian, you are safe and free from any nasty viruses.

 

 

Get the Server Software Installed:

You’ll be shocked how little has to be done here.   The server software is called SAMBA.  You know, like the great music from Brazil?   The current name has been made less fun – CIFS.  People tend to say it as “Siffs”.

Geeks.

One line gets the software.  In terminal from the last part, as root enter the next line:

apt-get install samba samba-common-bin

Configure the Server Software:

You have to roll up your sleeves here.  You are actually going to change a text file, but I’m going to give you the information.  Remember – I am entering it as “bill”.  If you are on RaspberryPi, your regular user will most likely be “pi”.    Change “bill” to what you need it to be.

 

Second, a comment starts with a hash tag.  #

 

1) In terminal where you are signed on as “root”, enter the following line to get into the “Nano” editor:

 

nano /etc/samba/smb.conf  

2) Find the line with “wins support” and change the line to read:

wins support = yes

3) Find “Share Definitions”.  You are going to enter in a block of text.  Remember to change the path from “bill” to match your login name.

 

[Downloads]
comment = Downloads Directory
path = /home/bill/Downloads
browseable = no

    writeable = yes
only guest = no
create mask = 0770
directory mask = 0770
public = no

 

#browseable limits logins to only see this directory and what is created there.  “yes” shares everything.

 

4) ctrl+x to exit, type y to save the file, then enter to get yourself back out to the root terminal prompt.

5) add a Samba user to be able to share that directory.  In terminal enter the following:

smbpasswd -a bill

Enter in a password, then enter it in again.  This is the password you will need to have to be able to get at the files from out on the network on another machine.  You will log in as (bill) and (password) from that other machine when you try to get there using File Manager.  Same thing with Mac or Linux.  They all need that password.

Write down your password.  I recommend using the same as your regular user password.  If you made them all the same as the Root password, well that may be easier.  You can also leave it blank, but I do not recommend that.  In fact, forget I mentioned it (or not…).

6) restart the computer


At this point, the netbook server is now visible on the network.  It is sharing the default login’s “Downloads” directory.

If you go into File Manager in Windows, you will be able to get to the files that are stored in the netbook’s /home/bill/Downloads directory from any other machine on the network as long as you know the default user’s login.  It will ask you for user and password.

If you have followed this, you can use the computer’s name from when you created it.  I now have two servers “rudolph” for the netbook and the raspberryPi.  If computer names aren’t your thing, you can also find them via IP addresses.

But at this point you have a functioning File Server.

You’re done.  Next time it’s getting this machine to serve out files from an external drive that you plugged in.

When You Need A Home Server, How About A Low Power Netbook or a Raspberry Pi?

I had a problem, and this is the thought process behind how I solved it.  It isn’t the solution itself.  I have to take pictures and write all that stuff down.  I simply haven’t yet.  That will come in the future.  By the end of the process, I’ll have created a nice tidy, low power consumption file server that can be ignored because it will just work.

What this does also is to take that computer that was slid into the back of the closet with data on it, and clean all that once- important stuff off of it, and give the machine another 3 to 5 years of very important use.

Great way to reuse something that you were wondering how to get rid of isn’t it?

But here is the thought process, if you are curious…

 

 

We like to collect “stuff”.

Drive down any street in Suburbia during the weekends and you are guaranteed to find a $20,000 or more car sitting in the driveway because the garage is stuffed with things you can’t bare to get rid of.

That extends to the digital world too.

On my Main Computer, I have a 128 GB memory chip that I use as an external drive.  You know, like the one you stuff into your camera?

On it are my resume, personal files, picture collection, and many many more files.  That stuff is very important to me and must be safeguarded by frequently backing it up in case that chip gets lost or destroyed.

Just a few years ago, that would have been an inconceivable amount of space, if you could have found it at all.  Now, that size of an actual hard drive is getting to be Low End and harder to find.

What do You do now?

You being An Average Home User.  You have a Main Computer.  It could be any given thing from Mac to Windows to, if you are “odd” like me, a Linux Workstation.   You may or may not have other machines in the house.  Phones where you take pictures.  Actual cameras.  iPods and your music collection.

Where do you put all that “stuff”.

First choice.  External hard drive.  They’re about $50 for a reasonable sized drive, or $100 for a drive that will take you years to fill up.

But where do you connect it.  You start with plugging it into your computer’s USB port.  That works for a while, until someone else wants access to it.  After all “they” have stuff to save too!

It’s that Digital equivalent of the Two Car Garage.  But that doesn’t help the phone, it is not exactly easy to plug an Android phone into a standard external drive, and forget it for the iPhone.

Not to go too deeply into this whole thing, The First Choice hard drive needs to be moved.  If you are lucky your Wifi Router will have a USB port.  A Slot.  If you look in the little slot, the plastic tab should hopefully be blue for USB 3.0, but at least it should be USB 2.0.

(Yes, I know that is an inexact way of saying things, but I have a very broad audience here)

If it isn’t in use, that is, you plug your drive in to that USB port and go surf the administrative page of the router.  Mine is at http://192.168.1.1 and it brings up a login box asking me for user and password.  That is the page you use to configure where and who has access to that drive and your network.

I could spend hours writing here on how to configure your router.  I’m not.  See this is more of an intro to something that has been sitting in my mind.

Why?

You see we have already used that port with something else that needs to sit there.   It’s in use with the backup for that 128GB chip I was talking about earlier.

So I had to decide what to do next.

I have been given a number of “old” or “low power” computers over the years.  I won’t say specifically “Obsolete” because there’s always something you can do with a computer that is too slow to run Windows.

And that’s the crux of it.

The first time I tried this, I had attempted to use a RaspberryPi as a server.  Now, a RaspberryPi, or at least the “Model B” I have has the computing power of a cell phone of a couple years ago.   When I first got it, I put a lot of energy into turning it into a web server.

Take my word for it, there are better ways to make a home web server than a RaspberryPi.  It’s too slow for that.   You have the base operating system, and when you add all that “web stuff” it runs too slow to be useful.

But, the RaspberryPi is “just enough” for you to use as a desktop machine, if you aren’t slapping it around too much.  By that I mean, one browser with one or two tabs open, or some programming tasks.  After all it is not meant to be a “Screaming fast” computer.  Small tasks.

I did find out that the Pi was “just enough” to be a file server.

There is a software bug in the main operating system as I had it configured that had me choose another machine.  The amount of data that you copy onto an attached drive on the version of Linux called “Raspian” was limited to the free space on the boot drive.  Since it is common practice to use a 4 or 8GB memory chip for that, I only had 3 gigs free.   Another solution would be to get a larger chip and try again.  I will later.

You see the Raspberry Pi runs with so little power itself that it is like one of those old glowy neon nightlights that were used for years before they ended up being an indicator light in a power strip.

In other words it’s a Low Power Consumption alternative – very “Green”.

But since that didn’t work without my buying a very large chip, I looked around for an alternative.

The solution was that I had an old Netbook that was gathering dust.  After all, it was a Windows XP Era machine looking for a use case.

A Netbook of that first era had a very small display, 10 inches, with a small display of 1024 by 600.

Never mind the numbers, it was designed to be the machine you would use on the couch while watching TV.  That was why it ended up being set aside, I do too much graphics work to be able to live with such a small display.

Despite that the old beastly big CRT Monitors of the last century would not be able to do that resolution.

So I put that Netbook back on the air as what I call a “Drop In File Server”.

A Drop In File Server would be a computer configured to accept an external hard drive, sit on the network, and serve files.

The reality is that when you install the needed software, the Print Server comes along for the ride.  Configure and plug in a printer as well and you can print anywhere on your network.  You end up having a lot of benefits from having a dedicated machine doing that work.  All from something that was slow when it was new.

Another very important benefit is that all that runs on less than 10 watts of power, a refrigerator bulb of power consumption for something that will be left on pretty much whenever I am awake, 16 or more hours a day.

Now, the high order of this is that once you install Debian or Ubuntu Linux to do the actual work, you’re able to take that little netbook and put it on someone else’s network and serve files there.

That sounds kind of a strange need, but the idea for this would be to hand the little machine off to someone else let them plug it into their network and their own drive into the machine and that way I don’t have to be involved with computer support for someone who is 200 miles away.

You know, a Loaner Server.  Something to serve a need but not need a lot of service.

But it worked.  It would also work with just about any laptop made within the last 10 years, just like that old computer you forgot about under your jeans in the closet.

All that will just have to wait for another time.

Linux – Cloning Your Hard Disc on RaspberryPi and Raspbian

For a credit card sized computer, it’s been getting a lot of abuse.

I’ve been installing and uninstalling software since I got the thing from my buddy Craig in Atlanta, and not always having success.

Instead of completely reloading the operating system from the “official” image, I decided to do a backup of the computer.

Boring stuff that anyone who uses a computer on any operating system should do on a schedule.

While Windows can be made automatic, it’s fussy.  You don’t have the control over the operating system like you do in Linux, any Linux.  Anything I am doing on this little credit card sized computer, I can do on my bigger Thinkpad T60 laptop that is running a very similar version of Linux.  I would expect these same steps to work on my Debian computers, as well as any derived distribution like Ubuntu.   Just check your “switches” to make sure they “comply”.

That’s the strength and the weakness of Linux.  There’s so much flexibility it’s confusing, but in the flexibility you can get the operating system to do what you want and exactly what you want.

But you have to know what you’re doing.

Since the RaspberryPi only had an 8GB SDHC chip for it’s “disc drive”, it would be small enough and easy enough to backup.  Since it is Linux, why not just make a complete copy of the operating system and all the user data?

Clone the hard drive.

What I did was to cheat.  I did it from the desktop of the RaspberryPi.
Why is that a cheat?  Because files “could be left open” which means you are never 100 Percent Sure that everything gets copied.

The solution with the Raspi is to go into “raspi-config” and set the switch  in “Enable Boot to Desktop/Scratch” to go to “Console Text Console”.  That will put you in what we used to call “Single User Mode” and everything will be closed and there will be no doubt.

But, Me?  I’m cheating and it turned out fine.  No corruption and I was able to switch chips (hard drives) and it booted from the cloned chip with not a problem in the world.

On the other hand, I will be using these instructions to do exactly this on my “real” Linux laptop, an older Lenovo Thinkpad T60 machine.  I have the spare hard drives there too and why not?

Process:

  • Prepare a chip as a hard drive that is the same size or larger than your original drive.  That will need to be formatted FAT32 which can be done on any operating system that supports it.
  • Open a root terminal.
  • Close all other tasks that are running that aren’t essential.

Task 1:

  • In Terminal, run lsblk at a root prompt.  
  • This will tell you exactly what hard drives and media are connected to the computer on the /dev tree.
  • The picture shows the results of both commands.
  • Under the Name Column, the devices are shown as a tree.
  • What you need is not the name of the partition labeled as “part” but the actual root device called “disk”.
  • The internal media is the all important boot drive.
  • For mine, the internal media is on mmcblk0 – which is actually /dev/mmcblk0 .
  • For mine, the external media is on sda – which is actually /dev/sda .

Task 2:

  • Perform a “dd” statement from the internal to the external drive.
  • The statement is for my set up:  dd if=/dev/mmcblk0 of=/dev/sda bs=4096 conv=noerror,notrunc,sync
  • What that statement says is:
    • dd – Disc Dump or Copy
    • if=/dev/mmcblk0 – input file is /dev/mmcblk0 .  Since that is the root device, it will copy everything from that chip onto the output device.
    • of=/dev/sda – output file is /dev/sda .  Since that is the root device, it will copy everything from the input chip onto your output device, deleting anything that was on the chip.
    • bs=4096 – block your output data in 4K blocks for efficiency.
    • conv=noerror,notrunc,sync –  Convert the data but do not truncate any data (notrunc), do not stop on errors (noerror), and synchronize (sync) the file sizes by padding them with nulls in case there is an error on a file.

When that is all done, the dd statement will tell you how many records were copied in and out, and the record counts should be the same.  It will also tell you how large your chip was – here it was 7.9 GB.

Close enough.

If you want to test your clone, shut down your computer via a “shutdown -h now” in your root terminal, swap chips, then reboot.

It should “just work”.  It did for me.

I’m Sorry, It has Six Months To Live. Windows XP Is Dying.

Sure, lets be melodramatic for a bit.   I kept thinking of a doctor’s office with dark walnut book cases and the doctor talking to the patient in hushed tones. 

I guess I watch too much TV. 

We had this discussion last night.   Sitting on the bench, Bill, Kevin, and I, and our dogs Rack and Ellie, were watching life go by.  Bill’s Mom, Lisa, has an aged Windows XP computer.   We may be able to get some more use out of it by adding more memory since it only has 1 GB.  Maybe not.  But the thing that most needs to change is Windows XP.

On April, 8, 2014, Windows XP support from Microsoft will end.   Customers who pay lots of money will get support, but that won’t help you since Microsoft won’t be sharing that with the world. 

All of the dates for the end of life of Microsoft Windows are on this page.  You are safe with Windows 7 until 2020, although I suspect that you will find your software won’t work with it near the end.  Things might get a bit “weird”.

There are reports of people writing viruses to be set out into “the wild” on April 9, 2014 to create havoc.

Bot-nets, Trojans, and Viruses, Oh My! 

The result is that if you are running XP on your computer on that day or later, you really need to change that to a newer operating system.

So there’s the typical decision tree:

If you don’t need it, recycle the computer or pass it on to someone who can do that for you.  Problem solved!

If you still think you can use it, or you must keep it for “records”, or you’re just one of those paranoid people who can’t stand the idea of your old hard drive falling into someone else’s hands, you may be able to upgrade it.  Just don’t get onto the internet with Windows XP next April.  You’ll have a bad time of it, eventually.

Bad boys, Bad boys, What’cha gonna do when they come for you?!

Ok, so how do you know whether to upgrade?  If you really want to know, here’s a great oversimplification of things, but basically:

  • Windows 8 will work on a machine with 4GB of memory but if you are looking at a computer with XP on it, you’re going to be shocked when you start it with Windows 8.  You might want to stick with Windows 7.

  • You can install Windows 7 or Linux if you have 2GB of memory, an Intel Core Processor, or newer.

  • Assuming you need to keep the software and data on the computer, and your older computer has 1GB of memory and won’t take any more than that, Windows 7 Home can be installed, but it may be slow.  You probably won’t want to use it for much more than that “archive” look around for your old records or recipes.

  • If you don’t need the data and you’re comfortable with playing with new software, look into Linux.  Specifically Ubuntu Linux.   All the software you will need for normal “office” or “web surfing” use is free, including Libre Office to do what your Microsoft Office did for you.  One thing to consider with Linux is that there are very few viruses on Linux.  I don’t even run a virus scanner on my Linux laptops.

  • With older computers it gets more complex, but basically Linux will be your only option to use the machine on the web.  If the computer can’t take 1GB of memory, you really are limited.

Checking your memory is easy.   Start, find “My Computer” and right click on it.   Select Properties and it will be there for you.  Whether your machine can take more than what it has in it is another story, and you will have to do that research on the computer vendor’s website.  Good luck there, there are way too many combinations to fit in the scope of a blog article, so I can’t be all that specific.

Personally I have a mix of things here.   My older machines are either Linux or Windows 7.  While all of my computers are old, and some as old as 10 years old, I haven’t had to throw any out due to this XP thing – they’re all still serving a purpose.  Basically, this is the process I’m going through here as well.   Remember your mileage will vary and one size doesn’t fit all, you’re going to have to actually think this through, but it isn’t that tough, I’ve got faith in you!

Your Software Is Secure – Or Is It?

There’s a quote out there that goes:

If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

That’s directly applicable to any bit of “Free” software you use.  If there’s an ad being shown, if it asks you to install a different browser or tool bar, if there’s an offer to download 10 free MP3s – You Are The Product.

Fair enough.

There are exceptions to that rule.  There are a lot of excellent pieces of software out there that are free with no strings attached.  No phone home tricks, no advertising, and no other gotchas.   Those typically are called “GPL” or “GNU Software” or “FOSS“.  I do most of what I do on Windows, however off that windows machine, I live in that FOSS world of Linux.  If I want a spreadsheet, I merely download Libre Office and I’m happily counting away my beans.

I guess the fact that there is no support network provided with most of that kind of software means I’m still the product but I’ll ignore that.

Once you leave that world of Windows or Mac OSX where you pay and expect complete discretion (and you would be wrong), or Linux where the power of Open Source means you have thousands of eyes looking at the software and putting out a warning that your operating system might be spying on you (Ubuntu), it gets a bit questionable.

The assumption is that with your shiny iPad or iPhone, Apple is looking into that for you.   It’s not completely clear that that is true, and rumor has it that it isn’t.

On the other hand, Android does warn you when your phone or tablet is being asked to sign away your information.   You can still allow it, but it does warn you.   The idea is that the user is expected to be an educated Android user and actually stop and look at the warnings.   On the other hand, when is the last time you took the time to read an EULA (End User License Agreement)

Exactly, even I just skim them.   If it says it’s GPL, I assume it’s OK, otherwise, you may get one  of those programs that says that if you send an email to a specific address, you “win” 1000 dollars US.   Yes, that happened, once, and it took five years for anyone to find it and collect!

The most egregious use of the person being the product lately is the Jay Z app called “Magna Carta”.  Download and install the app and you get to join in and help to promote his CD of his latest “songs”.

Great, if you like that sort of thing.  On the other hand people did start to read what the app wanted to do to your Android phone.   It basically demanded full control, including your personal details, it wanted to start at start up time, and demanded access to your Facebook and Twitter accounts.  The assumption is that it was going to go out and put postings to those accounts in your name saying how much you were enjoying his “songs”.

Rap.  Bleah.  But he’s making my point for me.   It does not say that Jay Z is doing something with all that information, it merely says that the software has access to it.  He is using people as marketing tools to build the social buzz on Facebook and Twitter.  He may never use any of it, and that access may not ever be used, but it begs the question:

Is that in your benefit?
 
When you go to your app store, look around and ask yourself do you really need it?   That app will probably slow your phone or tablet down whether it is on the iPhone or a shiny new Android Tablet because it will want to start up when you turn the thing on.

Is that in your benefit?

That app may want to know who you called today, and forever.

Is that in your benefit?

That app may want access to whatever is running at any given moment.

Is that in your benefit?

The answer to all of that is no. 

Especially that last one.  If you use a smartphone to do your banking, your banking details are POTENTIALLY exposed to any app that is running at that time.   Want to share your bank account information with me?  I didn’t think so, but would you with an app developer?  That answer should still be no.

The best thing you can do with that phone is to make calls with it and keep it clean of unneeded software.  That includes free or paid apps.  There’s too much risk these days.

Sorry to bring bad news but there are some questionable people out there.

Need Excel or Word? Try Libre Office Free

Sure, it’s written like a spam or a sales document but the truth is that most people won’t need anything else and yes, it it is completely free.  Libre Office, is a complete office suite, and it really is free.

Ok, why am I talking like a salesman?  Simple, someone asked me if they could “borrow” my copy of Microsoft Word.  6:45 AM in the middle of my dog walk.  I told them to check my blog today for links for downloads for Libre Office instead.

First, you don’t really borrow software, you do that and it is considered piracy.
Second, you don’t really need to spend the money for a word processor or spreadsheet program when there is an excellent free piece of software out there.

Yes.  Free.

As in Free and Open Source Software.  “FOSS“.

Keeping this simple, basically “FOSS” works.  People do write software to do things and sometimes it is put out there for everyone to use.  You know, good guy stuff?

In the case of Libre Office, you can replace Microsoft Office with it.

Word is replaced by Libre Office Writer
Excel is replaced by Libre Office Calc.
Access is replaced by Libre Office Base.
Powerpoint is replaced by Libre Office Impress.
and Visio is replaced by Libre Office Draw.
They also have something called Libre Office Math, which I believe is a replacement for Mathematica but I don’t have any experience with it. It lets you solve equations like the ones you had in Algebra and Calculus by typing in the formula.  Don’t tell your high school kid but it should solve their homework for them.

Now, if you are a professional, you’ll realize that in certain cases you simply can’t use anything else.  Your IT Department decided this is what you’re going to use.  Go for it.

But if you are like the majority of computer users, on Linux, Mac or Windows, all you really need these days are a good browser and an occasional Word Processor and Spreadsheet.   The rest is overkill but hey, it’s all free.  They do make their money by donations, so if you’re fully employed you might want to drop some money in their tip jar

Think about it, Five Bucks for a Microsoft Office Work-alike Replacement.  Pretty cool, huh?

I use it on my machines here, Windows, Mac, and Linux.  In fact it came free with Linux Ubuntu, I didn’t have to think to install it … there it was.  It’s on my CentOS Linux Server that I’m building right now.  My Linux People will know – Synaptic has all this stuff for the asking on Ubuntu and Debian. I loves me some Synaptic!

The thing is that even the output files that you create using Libre Office are the same format as those out of the more popular programs like Microsoft Office.  The only rub is that you have to make sure you tell it to use the docx or xlsx formats when you save, or configure Libre Office to do that once and for all.  I forget once in a while and then get a little confused as to why my resume is not in docx.

The download page is here.  Like I said, you don’t have to pay for it.  It’s free.