Divining from the Entrails of Ubuntu's Gutsy Gibbon: Page 3

Posted September 20, 2007

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

(Page 3 of 4)

A version of the same tool has also been grafted on to Firefox for installing browser extensions, and a mention of "third party applications" in the help raises the possibility of commercial software being available through Add/Remove Applications some day -- although the reference might just be to software developed by projects outside Ubuntu.

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The trouble is, Add/Remove Applications remains basic. Even its help suggests that you use Synaptic "for more advanced needs." Yet even Synaptic is less flexible than the basic apt-get command, and not much easier to use. And, for all the care given to the layout of Synaptic, the updater, and Add/Remove applications, I have to wonder: does any distro really need three or four desktop applications for the same function? After all, apt-get serves the same purpose as all of them. For some reason, the thinking of Ubuntu's planners seems uncharacteristically muddy here.


One of the best-known of Ubuntu's features is the use of sudo for administrative functions, rather than logging in as root. Given that you use sudo by entering your own password rather than the root one, this arrangement has always seemed an unnecessary relaxing of security to me -- it means that an intruder only needs one often-used password instead of two to gain control of the system. Just as importantly, for many users, the sudo command becomes a magic word that they use without any comprehension of what they are doing, or any chance of learning it. Yet Gutsy Gibbon continues the practice, presumably in the name of convenience.

In addition, the Gutsy utility for managing users has adopted much of the slackness of Windows, allowing the creation of three classes of users: Administrator, Desktop User, and Unprivileged. To be fair, the default is Desktop User, not Administrator, as it is in Windows. However, when you flip to the User Privileges tab in the application, you can see that Desktop Users can do everything except log in with sudo, which still seems unacceptably broad for security.

Even worse, the selection of choices is likely to encourage newcomers to imitate their Windows habits and automatically give every user Administrator privileges. Admittedly, you can further restrict privileges on the next tab, but how many are going to bother? And, when combined with sudo, a herd of Administrator accounts opens up too many entrances for security breaches.

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Usually, the principle of allowing simple choices and hiding more advanced choices somewhere close by is a sound one. However, in the case of basic security, an exception needs to be made. Undoubtedly, the result of this utility will be Ubuntu installations with far more root accounts than are necessary. Security can only suffer as a result.

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