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A Summary of My 2017 Work

Linked by Paul Ciano on February 10, 2018

Antoine Beaupré:

…working on patching old software for security bugs is hard work, and not particularly pleasant on top of it. You’re basically always dealing with other people’s garbage: badly written code that hasn’t been touched in years, sometimes decades, that no one wants to take care of.

Yet someone needs to take care of it. A large part of the technical community considers Linux distributions in general, and LTS releases in particular, as “too old to care for”. As if our elders, once they passed a certain age, should just be rolled out to the nearest dumpster or just left rotting on the curb. I suspect most people don’t realize that Debian “stable” (stretch) was released less than a year ago, and “oldstable” (jessie) is a little over two years old. LTS (wheezy), our oldest supported release, is only four years old now, and will become unsupported this summer, on its fifth year anniversary. Five years may seem like a long time in computing but really, there’s a whole universe out there and five years is absolutely nothing in the range of changes I’m interested in: politics, society and the environment range much beyond that shortsightedness.

To put things in perspective, some people I know still run their office on an Apple II, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. That is “old”. And the fact that the damn thing still works should command respect and admiration, more than contempt. In comparison, the phone I have, an LG G3, is running an unpatched, vulnerable version of Android because it cannot be updated, because it’s locked out of the telcos networks, because it was found in a taxi and reported “lost or stolen” (same thing, right?). And DRM protections in the bootloader keep me from doing the right thing and unbricking this device.

We should build devices that last decades. Instead we fill junkyards with tons and tons of precious computing devices that have more precious metals than most people carry as jewelry. We are wasting generations of programmers, hardware engineers, human robots and precious, rare metals on speculative, useless devices that are destroying our society. Working on supporting LTS is a small part in trying to fix the problem, but right now I can’t help but think we have a problem upstream, in the way we build those tools in the first place.

Paul Ciano

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