How Linux comes home

How Linux comes home

Summary: At ZDNet, we often ask how Linux will ever crack the home market.It might come in through your next mobile phone, but most users won't know it, nor will they use it, as Linux.

TOPICS: Open Source

Linux FirewallAt ZDNet, we often ask how Linux will ever crack the home market.

It might come in through your next mobile phone, but most users won't know it, nor will they use it, as Linux.

If you have a wireless router, you may have Linux, or as I've written it may be easy for you to get Linux. But most users won't crack open their routers, and unless the applications on them have a command line interface they may never know it's there.

But we're getting close. I personally think Linux is coming into most homes through home networks. (The picture comes from a German site covering Linux firewalling tables.)

Consider Microsoft's pricing, and the pricing of Windows applications. Then apply this to the home user. Windows XP Home costs about $100 per machine, although most users won't know this because it's bundled. If you want XP Pro, it's $150, and the charge is more explicit.

Then there is the cost of security. It's $50 for each PC on your network, yours, the spouse's, and that of each kid. This is a recurring charge. You have to renew it each year, on each machine. Sometimes you'll get a price break on this, but I have often faced a forced upgrade to a new version.

Once you're identified as a network buyer by Microsoft, business prices apply on everything. Right now there's no volume discount, and there's no simple technical solution.

With Linux there is. You can place a firewall, with anti-virus protection, between your network and every PC. Many home users find they now have obsolete PCs that could be deployed in this manner. The only problem is that PC LAN connections are one-way in -- only the router goes in multiple directions.

What I'm calling for, then, is a router card for an obsolete PC (defined as one that only runs Windows 95 now), and a Linux installation that includes an updated security application. If you charge $150 for the card, and $50/year for for the updates (on a par with what's now charged for individual PCs) I think there's a market opportunity. A big one.

Now I know you can do this yourself, and that Linux includes firewall capabilities out of the box. But the mass market wants something simple they can buy at a mass merchant and install today.

And if this solution is already available let me know.

Topic: Open Source

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  • Off-topic: ZDNet survey and Info update.

    You may get interrupted by an offer to take a survey that purports to be about ZDNet page layouts. It isn't; it's about ads of some sort.

    My flash blocker prevented me from seeing the ads at all, which limited my response to a degree. But not the force of my opinions.

    ZDNet can sell ads all it wants and welcome. But letting the company name be used for misdirection is inappropriate.

    Also, there may be a problem with log-in because I keep getting taken to my personal profile, and I have to click Update to finish the log-in process.

    Does this indicate a problem?
    Anton Philidor
    • profile update

      hey anton,

      even i am facing the same problem. upon authentication i am being directed the profole update page to get access to talkback. even the survey is kinda pest-like. zdnet can put a link to the survey to the side of the page of something rather hindering access to some pages.
      • used to happen to me often. they said a cookie was getting deleted and that

        there was a link on the page to bypass the signup/update.

  • Why are you payinmg so much for security?

    Switch to Avast! (which has automatic updates) or AVG and you're getting your antivirus free.

    Run AdAware, which I'm certain you've heard about, or spybot and get your anti-spyware for free.
    I use the Microsoft anti-spyware beta and it works well, but I don't want to offend any of your principles.

    You didn't mention it directly, but the XP firewall has worked perfectly for me for some time now. But if you want more protection, go to and download any of the free firewalls with a 6 rating.

    Security is free at home.

    On a related topic, the "real price" of Microsoft home is invisible in the computer price, as I think you already recognize. The price of XP Pro for a home user is the upgrade price only.

    Please don't use on-the-shelf retail as your source of Windows cost information. Lessens credibility substantially.

    Linux? Is that for home use? Who'd a thought?
    Guess people who like Linux have to go home sometime, though.
    Anton Philidor
    • that is common sense

      Most people do that anyhow, I can't remember the last time I let XP do anything except auto-update.

      I even block iexplore.exe in zonealarm (the free one) and find to really simulate an IT environment that is where linux comes in handy - I do exactly what the article mentions and use a linux workstation as a secure layer between my broadband router's network (I call that my DMZ) and my open unfirewalled copper gigabit hub (it connects all my hubs throughout the house), where I am very strict about allowing any type of net access - being a paranoid parent of my 6 yo son. in honesty I only allow XP auto-updates for him and we play head-to-head racing games over the "secure" network segment.
    • MS Windows Home, Invisible Price?

      I am not sure what you are talking about. Last time I checked, MS is not giving this version of Windows away for free to PC makers. $100 maybe too steep. I think the cost that is passed on the consumers is around $70 to $80.

      It is certainly not invisible.
      • About $50 for XP Home, I believe.

        That's the amount charged by Microsoft to OEMs.

        The consumer pays one price for a pc, not separate prices for Windows and then the rest of his purchase.

        I meant, the amount paid for Windows is invisible to the buyer.
        With the exception of the upgrade to XP Pro or any other differentiated charge.

        Sorry I confused you.
        Anton Philidor
        • OS prices

          I clicked into a Canadian online computer store that was more than willing to sell me a package without any OS installed at all. They'd knock off about $115 Canadian from the price, which would work out to about $94 American at the current rate.
    • you are going to get some serious pie on your face

      1) If Linux has some market share it will get hacked so bad that the entire Linux community would be caught with their pants down. Do I need to remind you about Firefox.

      2) Stop spreading false information about products that you have a negative bias. It is pretty obvious from your reading that no one should take you and Paul Murphy seriously.

      3) Like Anton said Microsoft has free anti-virus. Has free firewall. These products are free and work well.

      4) You just lost a reader at Zdnet. I finally realize that correcting you and Murphy is not worth my time.
      • Linux Hacks

        The thing is, there are already a huge number of installs of Linux, and they don't seem to be getting the crackers' attention as much as Windows - after all, someone hacking Google would be able to boast big-time.

        The advantage that Linux has lies in its choice: it's just not a monoculture like Windows is. An unpatched exploit on one open-source program would just mean for me a temporary (or if necessary, permanent) switch to one of the typically many open-source alternatives. If they break KDE, I'll switch to Gnome, or iceWM, or...

        But then the poster I'm responding to has already made up his mind that Windows is better than any other OS out there. I bet he hasn't even tried any of them.
    • Antivirus/antispyware

      I'm on Linux at home, and so is a very technophobic friend of mine. Neither of us have to have any antivirus or antispyware programs.

      Antivirus? The only Linux antiviruses are anti-Windows antiviruses for Linux mailservers servicing Windows machines. There are no anti-Linux-virus antivirus programs - there are no surviving Linux viruses.

      And nobody's been able to figure out how to get a spyware program to install on a Linux box, without knowing the root password. So there's nothing to work with to create an antispyware program.
  • But routers are cheap.

    Why would anyone spend $150 plus $50 a year to convert an old PC to a router, when they can buy a dedicated router for $60 or less and be done with it?
    • router alone are not adequate

      You have no way of changing or updating rules. A much better solution is load and old pc with ipcop or smoothwall. Cost is minimal and the system is highly configurable. Anybody reading in here probably has an old pc and a couple nics hanging around anyway. :-)
  • mistrust of freeware

    many older Americans have some mistrust of freeware of any kind, and feel that they should be paying for a product to protect their investment. I myself have difficulty understanding the "for free" business model, and it seems to imply that the developers are doing it as a hobby and not a profession. That said, creating a firewall/router/antivirus solution that is also eco-friendly (keeping old computers working) is an interesting concept, if you could make the implementation easy enough for anyone to use. Somehow though, I believe you can buy lan cards for as little as $10 so a four port router would cost $50 in cards (unless you used a multiport card) $75 dollars for the initial software bundle including disk, and $50 dollars a year for home network security? Sounds like a bargain. A little cumbersome, but what the heck, you're saving the environment. I expect there will be a lot of used pc's in the coming years.
    • Likely not better for the environment.

      "A little cumbersome, but what the heck, you're saving the environment."

      Two things should be factored in here.

      1) The old PC isn't being used to reduce the need for a new PC, it is just being used to reduce the need for a new router, and to delay the day the PC ends up in a land fill.
      2) Routers typically remain powered on 24x7, even when the computers on the network are off. Since even an old PC is likely to consume several times the power of a router (no fans, etc), this would seem to more than offset any minor help the envoronment receives from item 1 above.

      Just because something is more dificult and expensive, it doesn't make it better for the environment...
      • point taken on the power supply issue....

        although you didn't include the harm done to the environment by sending your money overseas to the manufacturer of that router/firewall combo and using more energy to produce it, ship it, and get it to you. With a good power supply and turning the hard drive off, power consumption would be in the ballpark. I do wonder if you could make it a dsl or cable router, since that is where most of the broadband business is. It seems like you would be able to make that linux box a webserver as well, and then the whole thing starts to make some sense, although you would have to pay for a static ip, unless you can get that dns alias thing to work (I tried, but it doesn't seem to work with verizon dsl) we have become a society that believes in throwing away and always getting something new, burning resources and virgin material in the process. Very little we throw away is actually used up, broken and worthless, a sad testiment to the children that we have become.
    • Open Source != Freeware

      Open Source just means that anyone can see the source code. It does NOT mean Freeware.

      Companies and programmers get involved with Open Source from two angles:
      1) The company offers consultancy and training help to others who want to use the software; examples include IBM, Mandriva and Red Hat.
      2) The company is not necessarily a computer company per se, but is big enough to afford to hire programmers to make the software do what they want/need it to do (scratch an itch). They could be manufacturers like Daimler/Chrysler, entertainment firms (Disney uses Open Source), etc. They can then pass the modifications back to the team that maintains the original open source project.
  • The fudberries are ripe today!

    Lessee now, my costs for security are:

    Router with firewall - which would be used irregardless of OS - $50 - so lets say I spent a 'premium' of $10 for the firewall.

    ZoneAlarm - free.
    Either Norton or McAffee - shop around - get license for two installs for $15.
    AdAware, Spybot or MS malware/spyware - free.

    For sake of argument, let's say I have 4 machines I need to secure - that's a cost of $10 per box.

    If penquinistas are supposed to be so darn elite and smarter than us poh' uneducated dumb slob MS users - wow you sure get taken to the cleaners when you actually DO buy a piece of software. Hmmmm, maybe that has something to do with it? When you finally HAVE to pay for some software, the chest starts to heave, the eyes start to see stars, the hands start to shake, the skin starts to sweat, and you just don't know what to do? Cause I just can't see how you guys ever come up with these prices that you allege non-penquinistas have to pay.
    • $10? That much?

      Firewall: IPTables $Free

      Intrusion Detection: SNORT $Free

      Antivirus: Not required - $Free

      anti malware/spyware: Not required, nor available - $Free

      Listening in amusement to people advising you to "update your virus definitions!" - priceless.
    • penquinistas?

      at least we can spell penguin