The Best Open Source Software You Should Be Using

There was a time when, if you wanted a quality piece of
software for your computer, you had to get your wallet out and pay for it.
Microsoft products were – and still are – a prime example of this.

But then the open source movement picked up steam and suddenly
we were treated to outstanding quality products. The price? Absolutely nothing.
Don’t you just love the Internet?

But What Is Open Source?

There are two forms of software – open source and closed
(proprietary) source. It’s important to understand the difference.

Open source is when the source code (the code that runs the
software) is freely available for anyone to inspect. You can see how features
work, clone your own versions of that software and release them as open-source
too (meaning you don’t make a profit on it). Open-source projects are always
free. That is the whole point.

On the other hand, closed source (proprietary) software is,
as the name says, completely closed. The companies don’t want you to see the
source code because they rely on the source code to make a profit with their
products.

For example, you will never see the source code for Microsoft
or Apple products. It’s just not in their best business interests. You can run
open source products on Microsoft or Apple operating systems but getting under
the hood of Windows or macOS to inspect their code? Yeah good luck with that.

Below are what I feel are the biggest and best open source
projects around. Obviously “biggest and best” is very subjective so maybe you
disagree with me? If so, please do let me know.

Linux

Linux is probably the biggest, most well-known, and most popular open source project in existence. Since it began in 1991, there is now easily a couple hundred active Linux operating system “distros” (short for distributions). This includes the Tails system, which I recently profiled, and high-profile ones such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and Debian.

Linux is attractive to people who are turned off by the
thought of having to pay for expensive operating systems or by people with a hatred
towards Windows.

Linux is supported by most major software apps but its
downside is that installing those apps is not as straightforward as it would be
on Windows or macOS. Some technical ability is required.

Mozilla Firefox

I’ve made no secret of my fondness for Google Chrome, but I
still have a place in my heart for Mozilla Firefox. Firefox has been around
longer than Chrome has been, and Firefox were the ones who started to destroy
Microsoft’s browser monopoly.

I’m surprised though that not many people know that Firefox is open source and that its owner Mozilla is a non-profit foundation. You can freely inspect the code, volunteer to help develop the browser, and even make your own browser based on the Firefox code. Three examples are WaterFox, PaleMoon, and the Tor Browser.

LibreOffice

If there was ever a reason never to pay for Microsoft Office
again, LibreOffice would be it. Even paying for Office 365 is pointless when
you see free alternatives like LibreOffice and Google Suite.

LibreOffice is a word processing suite which includes text
documents, spreadsheets, databases and “presentations” (their version of
Powerpoint). Although LibreOffice has its own file format, other file formats,
such as Microsoft files, are fully supported, and there is a nifty one-click
PDF generation button.

KeePass

Not so long ago, I wrote about my love for KeePass and despite shinier rivals trying to get my attention, my affection for KeePass has never waned. Sure, KeePass is a bit plain and functional. But sometimes that’s all you need.

As well as storing your passwords, it also has a very
easy-to-use password generator. When you accept the password it offers you, it
automatically pre-fills the KeePass fields so all you need to do is “save”.

Since KeePass also has a portable version, it is easy to
stick the password database file in cloud storage and sync it across computers.

WordPress

Along with Linux, this is probably the other most famous
example of open-source projects. It is used by a staggering 60 million websites
to power everything from online shops to portfolios to blogs (and many more
uses in-between).

Let’s just say that if WordPress decided to stop development
tomorrow, a lot of websites would have serious problems.

To extend its usability, WordPress relies heavily on its vast library of plugins and themes. Most of them are free but there are a lot of premium options as well.

Chromium

I mentioned earlier on that Mozilla Firefox was the best
open-source browser, but Google has also been working on their own light
open-source offering.

Not to be confused with Google Chrome, Chromium is Google’s
open-source browser. Most of Google Chrome’s code is based on Chromium but
Chromium is also a browser in its own right.

Many other browser developers use Chromium code for their own
browsers. This includes Amazon Silk and Opera. As of this year, Microsoft Edge
will also incorporate Chromium into their browser.

Cryptocurrency

Finally, cryptocurrency. Yes, even that is open-source as
anyone can take an existing cryptocurrency, study the code, and make a new one.
For example, I could take Bitcoin and use the code to make an ONeillCoin if I
was so inclined and had the developing skills.

But that is for another article and for someone who knows
what they are talking about.

The Features Which Make Signal The Most Secure Messaging App In Existence

When I first started using the Internet almost 20 years ago,
there were many instant messaging options available. From MSN Messenger to
Yahoo Messenger to ICQ, I used them all.

The problem though was that they were not secure. If the chat
platform or a government wanted to eavesdrop on your conversations, they very
easily could. But thanks to Edward Snowden, we eventually found out just how
little privacy we have online.

Since then, huge advances have been made in making it more difficult for people to listen in on our conversations. Among them is a heavily encrypted smartphone and desktop app called Signal, made by the wonderfully-named Moxie Marlinspike.

Below I will outline the features that make Signal so secure and how to activate those features. Since I use an iPhone, I will be focusing on that device but the following equally applies to Android phones as well.

Make sure to also read my previous posts on this topic: Is Your Messaging App Really Secure? and Best Encrypted Messaging Apps, the latter of which talks about a couple of other secure messaging apps you can use.

Strong
End-To-End Encryption & No User Records

The one weakness in Signal’s chain is that you need to
register a valid phone number to use the app. Until they figure out a way
around this, there won’t be truly 100% anonymity on Signal.

But balancing this out is very strong end-to-end encryption
as well as no user records. This means Signal does not keep logs of your calls,
except the last time you logged onto the service. So your phone number might
reveal you to be a Signal user but nobody will ever know who you are talking to
or what you are talking about.

Set a Screen
Lock PIN On Signal Itself

If you have a mobile phone, you should have a screen lock
PIN. That is just a given. But you can also add an additional screen lock PIN to Signal for extra security. You can
also use Touch ID to open Signal but that would not be recommended.

To add a screen lock PIN to Signal, go to Settings–>Privacy. Scroll down to “Screen Lock” and move the toggle so it is on.

You will also be asked when you want the screen lock to time out. I recommend choosing “Instant”.

Hide Messages
From Appearing On Your Lock Screen

If you have Signal locked down, it then becomes a bit ironic
if messages from people start popping up on your phone’s lock screen. That kind
of gives the game away, doesn’t it?

So instead of seeing the full message on the screen, you can instead tailor the notifications so you either only get the name of the sender (which is still too much information frankly), or my preferred option which is a notification which only says “New Message”.

Once in the Settings, go to Notifications and then “Notification Content”.

Now decide which one you want.

Make Sure
You’re Talking To The Correct Person

Since there is end-to-end encryption, the chances of a
“man-in-the-middle” attack is slim. This is where an intruder gets in the
middle of two people talking and intercepts messages passing themselves off as
one of the people on the call or chat.

But nothing is guaranteed in life except death and taxes.
Which is why you should still take additional steps to ensure that the person
you are talking to is the right person.

There are two verification methods. One for voice calls and
one for text chats.

With the voice call, once the call is connected, a two word
verification phrase appears on the screen. Both sides see this on their screen.

So one person says the first word and the other person says
the second word (for example). Anyone trying to break into the conversation and
impersonate one of the callers will not know what the phrase is because they
will not have it on their phone.

For text chats, it’s a bit more involved but the upside is
that you only have to do this once (or until they register a new device with
Signal).

First, when you send a message to someone, an identity key
from them is downloaded onto your device and Signal automatically trusts that
key as coming from the right person. But if you want to double-check the
person’s bona-fides, it’s simple.

Just tap on their name at the top of the chat screen.

Now tap “View Safety Number”.

This then presents to you the identity key along with a QR
code. If the person is physically with you, you can scan the QR code and Signal
will instantly approve it (or not). Otherwise, ask the person via text chat to
type the identity key back to you.

When it has been confirmed, you can tap the “Mark as
Verified” button.

Self-Destructing
Messages

Finally, as any good criminal will tell you, if you don’t
want to get caught, you need to get rid of the evidence.

This means that if you are say a whistleblower, you don’t
want to be leaving any proof of your conversations on your Signal app, if
somehow someone managed to gain access to it.

You can of course delete messages but being human, it is very
easy to forget. This is why Signal’s “Disappearing Messages” is really neat.

This is where you send a message to one of your Signal
contacts, and once the message has been read, it is wiped from your device and
theirs – with no way to get it back.

To enable “Disappearing Messages”, tap on the contact’s name
at the top of the chat window.

Now scroll down to “Disappearing Messages” and toggle it on.
Underneath that, you will see a slider where you can specify when the messages
should disappear. Put it to your preference, although you should give the other
person a reasonable amount of time to read the message.

Now when you send a message, a timer will appear on the
screen counting down to when the message will disappear.

Conclusion

There are several other cool features which make Signal a
very secure app such as a registration lock preventing someone from
deregistering your phone number, as well as relaying your voice calls through
Signal’s servers to conceal your IP address.

But the ones I have gone into more detail are the best, and
illustrate why you should be dumping WhatsApp in favour of Moxie’s alternative.

How To Make & Manage Music Playlists For VLC Media Player

One of my favourite software apps
by far is VLC Media Player. I love how it plays anything you throw at it and I
particularly like its playlist features too.

If you’re in the flow, work-wise,
there’s nothing worse than having to stop all the time to start a new MP3 album
or one single new song. It is much nicer to be able to preload several albums
into VLC Player all at the same time and let it do its thing.

Today we will look at how to set up
and manage those playlists.

Opening Up VLC
Player

When you open up VLC Player for the
first time, you will see an empty playlist like this.

If you don’t, go to View and either choose Playlist or Docked Playlist. You should now see the playlist view.

As it says in the main window, the
first option is to either drag a media file or folder into the window. This
will take the media files and load them in sequential order.

Yes I like the Backstreet Boys.
Don’t judge me.

Alternatively, you can look at the
options on the left to find media to play. Either media on your computer or
internet media such as podcasts and radio.

There actually is a third way of
loading tracks (but only in Windows). When you install VLC Player, you will get
two new options in the right-click menu, as you can see below.

Choose one and the tracks you
highlighted will automatically get added to the VLC playlist.

The difference between the two is
that “Add to VLC media player’s Playlist
will add the tracks to the end of the playlist and will play when the previous
tracks are finished. “Play with VLC media
player
” on the other hand overwrites the rest of the playlist and plays the
highlighted tracks immediately.

Saving
Playlists

Sometimes you will want to save
playlists if you have a sweet setup going and you don’t want to keep
reconstructing the same playlists over and over again.

To save your current playlist, just
go to Media–>Save Playlist To File.

By default, VLC Player will try and
save playlists as XSPF format. But I would suggest going instead with M3U
format instead.

Once you have given a name to your
M3U playlist and saved it to your computer, double-click on the playlist and it
will automatically load in VLC player and start playing.

But saved playlists also record the
location of those media files on your computer, as they are basically text
files with the location of each media file. So you can’t move the location of
those files on your computer, or expect that saved playlist to work on another
computer. Otherwise you will get error messages.

If you MUST move the music to
another location, you will need to make a new saved playlist again which points
to the new folder.

Shuffling and
Looping

Once you have your playlists all
set up, there’s nothing to stop you from shaking things up a bit and
introducing some randomness into your life.

First, the last three controls at
the bottom of the media player are to do with playlists.

From left to right :

  • The
    first is to toggle the playlist on and off.
  • The
    second is to loop the playlist, so when it is finished, it starts again.
  • The
    third is for VLC Player to randomly choose the next song from the playlist.

If you right-click on a song, the
context menu will also give you sorting options.

Conclusion

Playlists are actually a rather
overlooked feature in many media players. People are content to load one song
or one album at a time, when there is absolutely no need to do it piecemeal
like that.

How To Use Netflix’s Parental Control Feature

Netflix has become the leading “go-to” site for streaming television and movies, and in recognition that children are also using the platform, there is also a separate children’s section with kid-friendly content.

But that doesn’t stop tech-savvy
kids from clicking on the adult section and getting full access to violent
movies or movies with sexual scenes. The last thing you need is to come home
from work and find your kid watching “Kill
Bill”
. This is why you need to turn on the built-in parental control
settings.

What Are The
Parental Control Settings In Netflix?

Without parental control switched on, anyone can access a Netflix
account if they know the password to that account. They then have unlimited
access to whatever that Netflix account is offering in terms of movies and
television programming.

When you add parental control, you are saying that in order to access
certain media, anyone else with access to your account (such as your kids) must
input a four digit PIN to verify they have permission to watch that movie or
show.

Every programme and movie on Netflix has a “maturity rating” (similar to age certificates in movie theaters). If you are the owner of the Netflix account, you can specify at what point in those ratings that the parental controls kick in and the PIN is required to go any further.

How To Switch
On Parental Control

First of all, you need a PIN that
your kids are not going to figure out. So don’t get cute and do birthdays or
1234, or 7890 or anything else like that.

When you have a good four digit PIN, go here and you will see this screen.

Now enter your account password to
proceed to the PIN page. If your kids know the account password, it is time to
change it and not tell them the new one. Otherwise they can access the PIN page
and disable it.

As you can see on this next screen,
the settings are very straightforward.

Before anyone says anything, my PIN
is not 1234. I simply typed that
there to obscure my real PIN. But on your screen, add your desired PIN in those
four boxes and click “Save”.

But wait, we’re not finished. You
now have to decide on when the PIN is needed. At what point in the “maturity
level” does the PIN need to be entered? When someone tries to access only adult
material? Or “older teens”? That is a judgement call only you can make
depending on your own personal circumstances, such as the age of your kids.

By default, the level is set to
“Adults” but if you want to scale it back further, just click on the level you
want. So if you want the PIN to start at say “teens”, click on “teens”. It will
go from green to grey.

Restrict
Specific Titles

Instead of an all-or-nothing
approach, you can instead specify particular movie and show titles that should
be restricted.

So if you decide that the PIN
should only apply to SpongeBob SquarePants because your kid will be traumatized
for life watching it, you can just block that.

Go to the “Restrict Specific
Titles” section at the bottom of the page and start typing in the name of the
movie or show you want to block. It will
only show if it is currently being offered by Netflix in your country.

Remember to click the Save button
again at the top.

Now Try It Out

Now go to something which will hit
the maturity level you specified, or something on your Restricted list. You
will see that if you try to access it, it will now ask you for the PIN.

How To Set Up & Use The KeePass Password Manager

I’m sure
you’ve heard this many times before until you’re sick and tired of hearing it.
You need strong unique passwords for each of your accounts. Don’t use the same
password more than once. Don’t use personally identifying information and make
the passwords as long as possible.

This means
no passwords such as 12345 or abcde. Or the classic password. If you use them, well, don’t
ask yourself or others why you were hacked. Instead you need something utterly
mind-blowing like g6J2_a1##@RlQ56..99+*B.

But the problem then becomes that you are not a robot that can possibly reel off incomprehensible passwords like that. That is why you need a password manager, and since I absolutely love open-source software, my password manager of choice is KeePass.

It also
has my loyalty because it has a portable version so it fits on my USB stick.

Setting
Up KeePass For The First Time

I am going to use the Windows portable version for this article as I generally dislike installing software if I don’t need to. Plus, since I use multiple devices, having something that can go on a USB stick appeals to me.

Download
It

So, first
you need the installation file (obviously).

If you go to the KeePass downloads page, you will see the latest Windows versions at the top. Always use the most recent version.

Below
that, you will see KeePass versions for other platforms, such as MacOS, Linux,
iOS, Android, and so forth. There’s even one for the Blackberry. Cute.

Even
though they are not all called KeePass, they are nevertheless all fully
compatible with KeePass password databases.

Open It
Up

Now unzip
the zip file, ensuring that the folder structures remain intact. Place the
unzipped file on your computer or USB stick and open it.

Click on KeePass.exe to start the program and you
will see a login window that gives you access to your secure password database.

But since this is your first time with KeePass,
there will be no database to open yet. So you will have to make one.

Close the login window and a blank window will jump
up.

Creating
Your First Database

Click File–>New, which brings up this.

Click OK and the next step is to make and save a
KDBX file (the file format of a KeePass password database).

Make sure it’s in the same folder as the other
KeePass folders and files so it doesn’t get mislaid.

You can also rename the KDBX file to whatever you
want. Call it Mango if you want. KeePass doesn’t care. As long as the KDBX file
format is there, that’s all that matters..

Setting The Database Password

The only thing stopping someone from hacking your
password database is the password you give your KeePass database. Make it weak
and they’ll bust right through. Make it strong and they will never get in.

So don’t rush this part of the process.

Try to make your database password as difficult as
possible to guess. Use upper and lower-case characters, numbers, and maybe a
few special characters such as a comma or a full stop.

As you are typing in your desired password, the
“Estimated Quality” of the password will show you what KeePass thinks of your
choice. You want that going as high as possible.

You Will Definitely Want An Emergency
Sheet!

You will finally be asked if you want to print an
“Emergency Sheet.” YES!

For obvious reasons, there is no reset password
option. So if you forget your database password, or you die and your
next-of-kin needs your passwords, then you or they are going to have a major
problem.

So print out the emergency sheet, write the master
password down, then hide it. If it is for your next-of-kin, put it with the
will where they can find it.

Customize Your Database

Your database will now open and you can begin making
and saving passwords.

The login categories are on the left. These are the
default ones KeePass gives you but you can delete them or rename them if you
want. You can also make unlimited new ones.

It will have two sample entries already saved on the
right and you can go ahead and delete those.

Generating Your
First Password

To generate a password, go to the top of the password
database window and click on the small yellow key.

A new
password window will now open. You now need to fill in the fields. The title would be the name of the
website, software, whatever. The user name…well that is self-explanatory. The
URL would be the link to the website or software service obviously. None of
these fields HAVE to be completed but it helps.

Now for the password. For security reasons, the
password is concealed with dots. If you click the three dot button, the
password will reveal itself. Click the button again to mask the password.

To generate a password, click the key icon under the three dot button and you will get this menu. Choose Open Password Generator.

You really only need the Generate using character set section. Choose the length of your password (a good length is a minimum 25 characters). Then choose what types of characters you want in the password.

Now click OK and the password box will be
pre-populated with the password. Click on the three dot button to see what you
were given. Don’t like it. Use the password generator again for another spin.

Logging In

When you want to log into that site, right-click the entry in KeePass and choose Copy Username. Then click in the username box on the website and CTRL + V to paste the username in (or CMD + V on a Mac). Right-click on the entry again and choose Copy Password and repeat the process in the password box.

You need to be quick because after 12 seconds,
KeePass wipes the information from your clipboard for security reasons. You can
shorten or lengthen the time in the KeePass options.

Conclusion

KeePass makes generating and managing difficult
passwords as easy as possible. Now there is no longer any excuse to say that
maintaining unique passwords is draining and stressful. KeePass makes it as
easy as a few clicks of the mouse.