User lock down

In many big companies it is quite normal to lock down most features at the desktop that would allow the user to adjust settings and install software. Basically there are strong limitations for the user.

I can understand the reason, why this is done: To reduce security risks and to avoid users accidently change something that they don't know how to change back.

So the overall lock-down is a way to reduce required end-user support.

The other side of the medal is:
  • Every person is different and hence works in a different way. Hence the same configuration can't be the optimum for all users.
  • Depending on the position different additional tools might be interesting for different users boosting their productivity.
  • For the most users it is simply demotivating when they are locked down.
  • Users will find workarounds for many lock-downs (e.g. using http://portableapps.com/ on a memory stick).

Because of the disadvantages I want to point out alternative options:
  • Lock down only where and when necessary.
    Some users - especially the beginners - either prefer a lock down. Those are the users who have some fear in front of a computer to mess something completely up. Other users have detailed know-how on how what operations to avoid and how to prevent themselves from viruses as good as possible. You could introduce a point-system or simply lock down a users PC only when a particular support time per month is exceeded.
  • Set a time limit before pushing default configuration.
    In some companies when a user calls for IT support, there is a maximum time of 15 or 30 minutes to solve the problem - otherwise the user gets a new image (with default configuration). That way it is ensured that your staff does not loose plenty of hours to solve end-user problems.
  • Train the users.
    Train them security and other basics (who to distinguish executable files from data files, where to never confirm approvals in popups, don't running executable attachments from emails, how to properly install and remove software etc etc etc). The user who is aware of the risks cautious and prudent.
  • Migrate to Linux on the desktop.
    Linux is more secure and less prone to break down after several software installations, uninstallations or upgrades. Also backup of local settings is easier. And it is a proven fact that Linux users require less support - even if they are no geeks! Everybody I talk to, who gives Windows and Linux support, tell me that and this is matching my own experience.

Related posts: Your holy machine, Why Linux?, Going Linux, The community.


Locale configuration on Ubuntu

OK, first I was annoyed that changing the date format to ISO (yyyy-mm-dd) is not so easy on Ubuntu as it was on Windows. Yes, but - as usual in the Linux world - you are much more flexible on Ubuntu.

I am a special case: I want my menus and environment in english, I am located in Austria (so I want currency in Euro, thousands separator is dot and not comma, ...) but the date format I like to have in ISO format (and not the german default dd.mm.yyyy) because I find the ISO format simple the most practical (well, I am working in IT and the ISO format is the best to sort if you have just plain text). Under Windows I had a german OS (because I needed to support mostly users with german version) and changed the date format in the international settings.

Situation under Ubuntu is different: You install an english base system and install whatever languages you like through:
  1. "System - Administration - Language Support"
  2. Click "Install/Remove languages..."
  3. Choose the language(s) you want to support - every user can choose the language he/she likes at login (last used language is remembered as preselection).
  4. In the "Language for menus and windows" list you can drag and drop languages to specify priorities. The language the user chooses at login is taken first of course, but usually the language dragged to first place here is the default for new users. Attention: When installing a new language, it is usually put on top and somehow the system tries now logging in all existing users with that language (if they don't change it at login) - so doing changes here overwrites the last remembered language for the users. This behavior might be desired or not...
  5. In the text tab you can change the country you are in (this is similar to the Windows international settings - but you can't override parts of the country settings here.
So first, I found that I have less options than under Windows - until I discovered these options that you can set in your /etc/default/locale (a plain text file):
So you can really define the behavior of plenty of formattings!
The content of my etc/default/locale is now (LANG and LANGUAGE was set when I changed settings in the GUI, LC_DATE and LC_TIME I have added manually:

I have added LC_DATE myself (just a wild guess because it is not mentioned in the list above - which I found on the internet), for Thunderbird for example LC_TIME was sufficient.

Probably this obsoletes post "Firefox change default page format" (but did not check).

Related posts: Firefox change default page format, OpenOffice and LibreOffice starts slow, Default paper size in Open Office, Normal.dot in OpenOffice or LibreOffice.


    The Open Source idea

    As open source software gets more and more popular, when talking to other people or reading about open source, I often notice that people seem to get things (partly) wrong. So I want to clear up a few major missinterpretations:
    1. Open Source does not necessarily mean (completely) free (in the sense of money costs and legal permissions).
      There are a lot of writings about free as in beer or free as in freedom or things like that. I do not find that very clear.
      The point is:
      • Some software - when you buy it - comes along with the source code. Reason: Companies (especially since economic crisis or because of general fears) worry about their investment. What, if a company fails or goes up in flames? If the customer has the source code then there are at least two options if changes are needed: Have somebody in the company looking at the source code and implement the changes or hire somebody doing that work.

      • For some software the version that includes the source code is only very limited - either in functionality or from legal permissions.

      • And then of course there is real completely free and open source software that costs nothing and you can do with it what you want. The GPL and related licenses only have the limitation that derived work must be released under the same (or compatible license) - that way you get open source spread like a virus ;-) .

    2. How can a company survive from the financial point of view when giving software away for free?
      This is the most asked question when it comes to open source in business. Some companies give away base products away for free hoping to make business with AddOns and enhancement requests. This business model sometimes is successful. Unfortunately in many cases the base products are quite useless without the additional plugins/addons and developing those on their own is often not an option for companies.

      But what is completely forgotten by people asking this question: You would never accept to pay your plumber license fees each year for just having tubes in your walls. - You pay the plumber when there is work needed (repair, put additional tubes etc)! You also would never accept to pay your haircutter a license fee (even if your haircutter declares officially he/she will use the money to improve haircutting skills). You pay the haircutter when actually hair cutting is needed.

      The same should apply for software: Money for work.
      And the idea of free and open source software is that you pay for the planning and implementation work. Once that is done, the good thing with software is, that it can be copied around. Other than eating, haircutting etc software does not go rotten or fades away.

    3. Software as a service cannot be free in the long term.
      In the last years companies offering web services or web applications hosted by those have multiplied like rabbits. Most of them - at least initially - were free. Now I observe them becoming commercial one after the other. The point here is that for the customer using these services seems to be completely hassle free. Yes, no need to maintain server hardware (farms), watch and control server tasks to be up and running etc. - But that work is now outsourced to the provider of that web service. There are at least power costs and hardware that needs to be replaced (HDs, burnt motherboards etc) from time to time. There is actual maintenance work needed and that costs money. This is different from having software that does not need maintenance work by itself. Software maintenance work is usually only needed, when somebody else breaks major interfaces - which is maybe sometimes done even with the intention to create the need of maintenance work. However, this is not the idea of the open source movement. The idea of the open source movement is more to boost innovation. But: With big open source products there also comes big requirements of infrastructure and related services. For example: There are plenty of repository servers for the Linux kernel and all the software available. There is maintenance work required for all those. So how can that service be offered in the long term? Well, I assume, that many of those servers are maintained by people who see this as their contribution - instead of paying fees, they set up a server and contribute that way. Costs less that usual maintenance license fees - and nobody pays taxes for it. :-)

    Related posts: Paying for free and Open Source, The Open Source movement, The license keys, Why Linux?, Going Linux, The small software vendors, The community, Popular Ubuntu desktop myths.