I was checking the other day and was appalled at how long it has been since I posted here. I had been working a job during 2018 that had me traveling 3,600 miles by air every week so that is at least a viable excuse. 🙂
So what is my latest project? I wanted to get something better than the clunky old T500 “freedom laptop” that I could use as my daily driver. Some background here. My first paid gig as a programmer was on SunOS 4 (predecessor to Solaris) and Ultrix (on a DEC MicroVAX). I went from there to a Commodore Amiga (preemptive multitasking in 1985!). I went from there to OS/2 (I know, patron saint of lost causes) and then finally decided to “sell out” and move to Windows as the path of least resistance in the mid 90’s.
My wife bought me an iPod literally just as they started working with computers other than Macs and I watched with fascination as Apple made the big gamble and moved away from PowerPC chips to Intel. That was the beginning of the Apple Fan Boi years for me. My gateway drug was a G4 MacMini and I managed somehow to get in on the pre-production, developer build of an Intel-based Mac. I was quite happy on the platform until about three years ago.
When the Mac laptop came out without an ESC key (it was on this gimmicky little one row display at the top of the keyboard that could be reconfigured based on your application), as a long-time VI user (the commands are programmed into my spinal cord, I really have no choice now) I was disgusted. That forced me to recognize that I wasn’t Apple’s target market. They wanted average computer users who didn’t care if they were on the latest and greatest chipset and they were getting more and more closed and “un-upgradeable” every day.
As much as I would have loved to be on OpenBSD for my daily driver, it seems that Skype for Business (or Lync or whatever they are calling it this week) is like a virus infiltrating the modern enterprise. I ended up being quite happy on either Dell or Lenovo hardware running Ubuntu LTS on my work machine and Lenovo hardware running the latest & greatest version on my personal machine. To satisfy my work need for Skype for Business, I ran a domain-joined VM of Windows 10 and felt like the dirty old days in the early 90’s on 16-bit OS/2 when you had to click on the “penalty box” and run a Windows program.
Well, the Ubuntu workflow has now gotten ingrained into me and as I was puttering around in my office, I came across my beloved Thinkpad x230. I consider that to be the height of good, software-engineer oriented design and well balanced from a travel perspective. Let me tell you what I mean. The x220 was nice for the mechanical keyboard lovers (it was the last of the line to have that type of keyboard). Although I’d love to be a “purist”, I have gotten so used to the chicklet keyboards, the one that they put in that x230 is pretty ideal. Don’t get me started on the short-throw Apple keyboards – I can’t type my way out of a wet paper sack on those abominations.
Furthermore, unlike most modern laptops, the components on the x230 are all end-user upgradeable. No RAM soldered to the motherboard, no whitelisted WLAN cards, the ability to have two hard drives, it was nice. Although the CPU is a bit pokey compared to a “modern” one, it is no slouch and with 16 GB of RAM and a couple of 1TB SSD drives (one in the drive bay and an m2 SATA drive), it has more than enough gas in the tank. Furthermore, with the 12″ screen and small form factor, it travels pretty darned well. Also it was among the last to use the power connector that had graced Thinkpads for thousands of years (the round barrel one) which ensured that I had about 6.02 x 10^23 power adapters laying around somewhere in the house at any given time.
Seeing the old girl made me decide suddenly that I wanted to get a daily driver that was as secure (remember my Blog’s name!) and freedom-respecting as I could. I read up on where things stood with Coreboot (now starting to hit more mainstream laptops) and was really impressed with how well the team had advanced the state of the art when it came to scary things like the Intel Management Engine. Given that, it was time to get started.
I found a great blog post that had incredibly detailed instructions on what I needed to do in order to get a freedom-respecting, secure version of Coreboot built and installed on the x230 so I ordered a decent Pamona clip (don’t skimp on this – buy the brand name) and when it showed up, I spent about an hour and half building the image on my Ubuntu 18.10 Thinkpad T480 laptop (don’t ever buy the “S” models unless you hate upgrading things down the road) and flashing it onto the old girl. When I was done, I had a great Coreboot, ME-cleaned, SeaBIOS machine that actually booted up first try!
With that behind me, it was time to wipe out the primary 1TB SSD and install OpenBSD. I have been a continuous user of this incredible operating system (thanks Theo and the other devs!) for a long time now on my APU-2 firewall (see some of my earlier posts) and I ran it off and on over the years on various laptops. The goal this time was different. While this may disgust purists who want me to run FWM as my window manager and stick as close to base as possible, I had really gotten used to my Ubuntu workflow and wanted to see how much of that I could reproduce on this machine.
I started out by installing 6.4 on a full disk encrypted drive (the 1TB primary SSD in the laptop). After the 4 minute “ordeal” (I love this OS) of doing that, I had a machine that would boot, but I needed to get some firmware to get things cranking. I haven’t had a chance yet to purchase/replace my WiFi card to an Atheros, so I needed the Intel “iwn” firmware in order to ping out. Once that was in place, it was time to focus on what I needed in order to have a machine that I could use as my daily driver, despite my “impairment” with the Ubuntu workflow. 🙂
First things first, I needed to do the necessary foo to get my user set up with doas support (I actually aliased doas to sudo on my Ubuntu machine, apparently that was something else I have programmed into my spinal cord – ha!), loaded VIM and aliased vi to it in my .kshrc and added colorls (which I alias ls to for some reason – habit on OpenBSD I guess). With that, I installed the gnome shell to get a baseline going. After a bit of a wait (it isn’t lightweight or standalone by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact that there are dedicated folks who keep fighting to make it work on OpenBSD despite the continuing downward spiral of systemd dependencies is a minor miracle).
With that in place, a quick reboot had me logged into a very bright-looking Gnome desktop environment. I quickly put on sunglasses so that it didn’t blind me and started looking for a theme that would tone things down a bit for me. I found a nice one called “Yaru-light” (Yaru is the new community theme for Gnome on Ubuntu 18.10) that gave me the right balance of contrast and darkness so that I could safely remove the sunglasses. I added some OpenBSD wallpaper to the lock screen and the desktop as eye candy, used the Gnome Tweak Tool to get minimize and maximize buttons back and I started to feel more comfortable.
My personal email is on Office365 (don’t ask – it’s a long story involving the fact that I have a family member who loves Outlook on the Mac and it won’t open Google calendars) so I installed Evolution and Evolution EWS and got that working. There is a bit of a bug when it comes to my folder list that I’m going to install the source to and see if I can fix and push upstream, but I have a workaround for it that I can live with for the time being. After that, I threw on Libre Office and tweaked the UI to give me the infernal Microsoft ribbon UI that I’ve grown used to despite my best efforts to fight it off.
Printing was a bit of a bear until I realized I wasn’t connected to the same network as my infernal HP printer and then it suddenly got easy. CUPS and a generic color Postscript driver to the rescue. When that first page rolled off the printer (after fighting against my own stupidity – I mean come on, can you ping the printer dude?) I felt like the Tom Hanks character in “Cast Away” when he made fire for the first time on the beach!
I threw on “DashToDock” next so that I could get that nice sidebar that I never use. For some reason I missed seeing it though so what the heck. I had to install it manually because Firefox wouldn’t connect to the Gnome Extensions stuff correctly. I later discovered that if I installed the chrome-gnome-shell package and the chromium browser (along with the Gnome extensions plugin for it), that I would easily install extensions from the browser in that. Must have been a Firefox thing.
Next up was starting to lock stuff down from a security perspective. I use Firefox as my default browser and am a big fan of the modifications recommended by privacytools.io – I wrote a little script that I keep updated with their latest changes so that I can apply it in a few seconds versus spending 10-15 minutes whacking around in the about:config page in the browser. The only thing I haven’t figured out how to do is to modify the actual things that I tweak in the “settings” page (default search engine, etc.)
Now for the fun part. Figuring out how to get my “NextCloud” files synchronized to this beast. That has always been a challenge for me on OpenBSD. There is no NextCloud desktop client but I have been told the old OwnCloud client should work – although I never could get it there. I installed it, ran into the problem I had seen before (near immediate crash once it started downloading files to my local disk) and decided to exercise my Google fu. Guess what, I found an old post of mine begging for help that some kind soul actually answered long after I had given up. After some tweaks to /etc/login.conf and /etc/sysctl.conf I was off to the races. Everything pulled down fine and I tested creating a new file in Linux and whammo – it showed up on the x230!
So in conclusion, I now have my primary workflow reproduced on OpenBSD with the exception of the infernal “Skype for Business” that always forced me into a Windows VM. I’ve decided that my “new years resolution” (a bit late, don’t you think?) is to use that awful program on my mobile device and say to heck with it on my laptop. Some remaining work that I need to do includes:
- Buying an Atheros WLAN adapter off of eBay and installing it, thus eliminating one more piece of proprietary firmware that I have to use
- Moving to -current with snapshots. I just discovered that the packages there have Gnome 3.30 (bless you devs for continuing to fight the good fight here!) which may clear up my Evolution annoyance. If not, time to download the source and see if I can fix it myself.
- Start to do what I really want to do with OpenBSD – get all of the base Kali Linux pentesting tools into the ports/packages on OpenBSD and create a meta-package that installs them all. Why should InfoSec professionals be forced to use an insecure operating system (Kali runs everything as root!) to do their jobs. I’m guessing that this will be the content of a future blog post here.