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DISTRIBUTION WATCH

A while ago, Linux Gazette editor Mike Orr and I considered founding an organization dedicated to the proposition that each user should have his or her very own distribution of Linux. That would make for several million new versions of Linux, a number we're steadily approaching. Here is one of the newer, more interesting distributions; quite exciting, n'est-ce pas?

kha0S—better living through extreme paranoia—aims to be the most secure Linux system ever. It's so paranoid, in fact, that right now it has stateside distribution “issues” on account of cryptography protecting privacy which is disagreeable to a certain government. kha0S is in version 0.99 right now, very close to the magical 1.0. Although it has no pretension of displacing market leaders (kha0S is expressly not a commercial project), it is vastly more secure and may raise standards across the board while filling its particular niche. This is a project not necessarily for people who need security, but for people who are intellectually fascinated by it. The kha0S team has surprisingly strong credentials for a fringe project like this, so they're probably going to turn out something rather impressive. It's nice to see brain power for Linux existing in areas which aren't Linux-specific, such as cryptography.

Kha0S employs a low-level-up approach: each component is tested to make sure it is completely free of security holes, then the kernel itself is hardened. Security packages to be integrated by default include the Cryptographic File System, Kerberos, IPsec, IPv6, VPN, ssh/lsh and others. The Cryptographic File System is one of the polishing stones of the kha0S project and should provide transparent encryption of files on the system (hopefully encrypting swap as well).

I suppose there's a limit to how secure a system can be, but the fun is in the project anyway, isn't it? It's a lot like hacking in reverse (or cracking in reverse, if you prefer), although I wonder what these folks were up to in their teenage years while becoming such security experts.

For more information on this exceedingly cool distribution, check out http://www.kha0S.org/, especially if you're very good at breaking encryption schemes (they may want you). I wonder how quantum computers will affect the kha0S project—I probably won't have to worry for a very long time.

—Jason Kroll

KEYBOARDS—>CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF THOSE PENGUINS!

The first time I saw Windows, I thought it was a joke; I actually laughed. I didn't look at it again until I bought a PC to install Linux. That's when I noticed something horrid on my keyboard: little keys with Windows on them. Well, now Linux has its own keyboards—magical custom hardware—without those Windows logos.

Linux CoolKeyboards' flagship product, featuring the uber-ubiquitous Tux, is a keyboard appropriate for mainframes. It is serious, heavy, and it clicks, a genuine “Old Skool” design from the days when machines were machines and coders ate pizza (wow, it seems like only yesterday). It is slightly oatmeal in color, with a 70s brown hard plastic dustcover (which I recommend removing or decorating) and lots of keys. The keys are quite perky, among the least gummy in history. The feel is a question of taste: do you prefer, for example, Mac keyboards, soft-touch keyboards, laptop keyboards, etc.? If you believe the only real keyboards are ones with key-punch, microswitch action, this is just your thing. Ah yes, the Linux point of this keyboard is the penguins—two penguins and a Linux logo—replacing the Windows keys. As an added bonus, all twelve function keys are labelled twice (once on the keys and once on the keyboard, so you can bring it to parties as a conversation piece) just like in the “old days”, but then again there's a Euro mark on the 5, a sign of changing times (along with our dear penguins). I'd like to see non-oatmeal colors and a more specialized Linux setup (change caps-lock to control, etc.), as well as rubber on the feet which are lethally sharp.

Consideration for the DVORAK layout would also be nice. All in all, though, CoolKeyboards is on to a good thing (and trying to patent it for whatever reason). Now, on to smaller things.

Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite—you've seen those very happy people; this is why they're so happy—it's a tiny keyboard, with only 60 keys, optimized for Linux users. This means that control replaces caps-lock, escape is next to 1 where ~ usually is, delete/backspace is large, the number pad has been removed, and the weird keys (function, cursor, page keys, etc) are accessed with a special Fn key (as found on laptops). Specialized configuration of keys can be achieved by way of dip switches and a paper clip. Few people will realize how tiny this keyboard is until they see it; the keys are full size, but the board itself is even smaller than those found on laptops. Strangely, everything fits! This has got to be the cleverest keyboard design going, especially for vi and Emacs users. It's much more elegant than a traditional keyboard, but it also relies heavily on the right hand. The key action has been described as “silky”, and is actually very soft, and again not gummy. The keys are quiet enough, though not quite as perky as on a laptop or the aforementioned board. As for layout, PFUCA says DVORAK will be a critical issue for the power user, but there are no plans for one as yet. PFUCA is delivering a black HHKL soon (what about translucent purple?), which would be nice paired with a flat-screen monitor and a tiny computer like a Netwinder (ah, StrongARM). Good for apartments where space is at a premium and for people who like small things. No Windows keys, and no penguins. (Try your local aquarium or zoo for penguin stickers, and go on a rainy day so there aren't so many people scaring the animals.)

If you've worn out your space bar from too much ZBlast, not to mention what you've done to your cursor, (ALT), and CTRL keys on account of Quake, maybe it's time for a new keyboard (and/or a joystick).

—Jason Kroll

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