USB sticks may beat Internet hurdles globally

Dec 06, 2013 by Nancy Owano weblog
World map of IPv4 addresses. Credit: arXiv:1311.6754 [cs.OH]

(Phys.org) —One may think that free software would be of enormous benefit to people in the towns and villages of the globe where the price of proprietary software is restrictively high. Such is not the case, as noted by Thierry Monteil of the University of Montpellier 2 in France. While the software is free to download, the cost of bandwidth is not. What is more, important but large software packages that enable technology students and workers to carry out their projects may take very long times to download, and may regularly be at the mercy of unreliable Internet connections. Monteil has authored a paper available on arXiv, which presents what may be a cheaper and easier way to transmit large software packages. He has written the paper, "Spreading Huge Free Software without Internet Connection via Self-Replicating USB Keys." The paper describes his concept and how he tested it out. In short, one can use self-replicating USB keys without having to rely on a hard-to-afford and time-draining Internet connection.

Unfortunately, he wrote, the cost of bandwidth is expensive relative to the local income in countries and, even beyond cost, the available bandwidth does not allow huge downloads. "The network consideration "seems to be an important bottleneck in spreading free software where bandwidth is a rare commodity," he stated.

What the author has in mind instead is a self-replicating USB thumbdrive. The script will let a bootable USB stick replicate itself onto another stick, and at rates that can top the users' Internet connections.

MIT Technology Review noted how the concept involves a self-replicating bootable USB stick that holds an operating system and any software that needs to run on it. The stick can copy its contents to another USB stick. That way, users in underserved parts of the globe can get their hands on information they need more easily.

Monteil wrote a script that clones the contents of one USB stick to another. To test the idea, Monteil used the script to transfer Sage, with an installation of Debian. Sage (stands for Software for Algebra and Geometry Experimentation) is a free mathematics software system licensed under the GPL

The use of USB sticks for transferring information, nonetheless, carries a risk where someone could inject malware as part of the cloning events. "While being very efficient for our purpose of spreading huge inside a community, it is definitely not advisable for spreading sensitive software, or for large-scale distribution," he wrote. Monteil also observed how "This communication-via-replication protocol currently relies on trust, and should be only used "for short distance communication...or among "a small structured community."

Explore further: German police software can ID neo-Nazi music

More information: Spreading huge free software without internet connection, via self-replicating USB keys, arXiv:1311.6754 [cs.OH] arxiv.org/abs/1311.6754

Abstract
We describe and discuss an affordable way to spread huge software without relying on internet connection, via the use of self-replicating live USB keys.

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User comments : 15

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Eikka
2 / 5 (5) Dec 06, 2013
It's ironic then that to be able to transfer open source software conveniently on USB drives and use it offline, you have to be using proprietary operating systems or forcing everyone to use e.g the same version of Debian, because all the open source Linux distributions lack a unified cross-compatible platform for delivering software.

All the distributions are built with the assumption that you have constant internet availability to the central repository of that particular distribution from which you can always pull down the necessary shared libraries and packages to install software.

The problem is that if you'd have to be carrying dozens of different versions for different distros and versions thereof to cover all the use cases, instead of a simple "setup.exe" file that just works in all versions and variations. Hence the reliance on repositories to pull down all the case-specific files and configurations, and why it's very tedious to create offline installers for Linux.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (6) Dec 06, 2013
Before you comment on it: No. Linux Standard Base isn't it. It isn't consistently implemented across the different distributions, so it might as well not exist. It's also too narrow in scope, only covering the very basic ABI instead of things like user interface compatibility so you wouldn't have to download the entire K desktop environment in case you were using Gnome or vice versa.

That fact alone means that in order to run a simple small 500 KB application, you may have to download 100 MB worth of additional software just because it wasn't made for your specific Linux distribution.
QuixoteJ
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 06, 2013
That fact alone means that in order to run a simple small 500 KB application, you may have to download 100 MB worth of additional software just because it wasn't made for your specific Linux distribution.
One of the stupidest things that has happened to software in the last 10 years is that a lot of it *requires* an internet connection for one reason or another. It is like requiring that you have a hose running from the engine of your car back to a gas station all the time, in order to get fuel into the engine, because car makers don't install gas tanks in cars anymore.

Hey, that sounds like electric cars in sense... hmm...
krundoloss
1.7 / 5 (3) Dec 06, 2013
This is interesting, a modern version of "Sneakernet". I do think that software companies should consider low bandwidth customers and have ways for them to function. It always come down to money and control. Software companies like that they can offer "software as a service" and get continual revenues, deliver updates more directly, and of course, disable a user who hasn't paid their bill. Its costs them more money to come up with a scheme that works for low bandwidth customers, so they just don't do it in most cases. Its a numbers game, and the poorest and least populated countries always lose in a numbers game.

On another note, I have always been frustrated by Linux and how it does such a good job of being overly complicated, confusing, and incompatible within itself. Too many programmers who want it "their way" just mucking it all up and creating thousands of distros with their own unique problems. If they focused on fewer, better distros, Linux would be much more successful.
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Dec 06, 2013
I'm observing a surge of anti-linux articles and comments the last days.
Microsoft seems to be desparate.
krundoloss
1 / 5 (1) Dec 06, 2013
I am not really anti-Linux, I am more pro-standardization. Linux is really crippled for me due to lack of driver support and multimedia functions. I just find with Linux, you have to "make it work" and with windows "it just works". It comes down to money, once again. If you were developing a business application, would you rather build it for windows, who has 90% market share of desktop computers, or Linux, which has some portion of 5%. Of course, mobile devices are taking over, and the dominance of Microsoft is weakening. Android is the best example of "Linux done right".
Anda
1 / 5 (2) Dec 06, 2013
The quality of the comments...
I assure the author that in the regions of the globe with connection issues, people already have all the soft they need. People are not stupid, they find ways to do things.
They're not waiting for his ... stick
Ober
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 06, 2013
How does this differ from the '80s when people mailed floppy disks around? Why the need for some kind of script? Can't the users work out themselves how to copy a USB stick?
Seriously, someone from a University actually wrote a paper on this?????????????????
Eikka
1 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2013
I'm observing a surge of anti-linux articles and comments the last days.
Microsoft seems to be desparate.


Whenever the topic of open source software comes up, it usually brings open source operating systems with it, and the fact that free open source software in general is more or less like a house built half-way before the occupants move in precisely because it is free.

People who live in such houses are entitled to their choices, but really, don't pretend that it's anything but what it is. The fact that the software you use is incomplete is not a Microsoft conspiracy.

How does this differ from the '80s when people mailed floppy disks around?


Try making an offline installer for some Linux software package, and you'll see that you really do need a script to pull down all the dependencies and roll it into a package. It's like assembling IKEA furniture, except you have to go to a hardware store to fetch all the nuts and bolts separately.
alexweir1949
not rated yet Dec 07, 2013
I on http://cd3wd.com am now using microdownload technique to offer downloads - use 7zip free utility to split 4.3GB files into 2600 x 1.44GB - users with slow & intermittent but uncapped bandwidth can download even over a 7 day period and reconstitute the download file - simple - let this become a standard technique! Alex Weir, Africa
alfie_null
1 / 5 (1) Dec 07, 2013
On another note, I have always been frustrated by Linux and how it does such a good job of being overly complicated, confusing, and incompatible within itself. Too many programmers who want it "their way" just mucking it all up and creating thousands of distros with their own unique problems. If they focused on fewer, better distros, Linux would be much more successful.

Bet all those programmers (more specifically, those distro maintainers) would agree with you most strongly.

Can't blame it all on the distros though. Depending on your needs, you might choose one version of a package, and I, another. For instance, old and stable, or new and feature-full. All this seeming chaos is just a reflection of how dynamic the environment is.
Newbeak
1 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2013
Trading USB sticks may become common when TTP is adopted,with it's grotesque $10,000 fines for downloading copyright protected material: http://stopthetrap.net/
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2013
On another note, I have always been frustrated by Linux and how it does such a good job of being overly complicated, confusing, and incompatible within itself. Too many programmers who want it "their way" just mucking it all up and creating thousands of distros with their own unique problems. If they focused on fewer, better distros, Linux would be much more successful.
Linux is just a kernel. Of course there will be no uniform standardization! It is as if you buy a Corvette motor and then complain about driving problems

If you want a complete *NIX system try a BSD, like FreeBSD. In OS architecture it is critical to distinguish between system and user programs. Linux and windose fails this basic wisdom
Zera
1 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2013
Wow, a little behind the curve here aren't you?

SWIM will go to his friends home, and download their entire movie/music/game collection on to his external hard drive. Once home he will empty the contents on to his desktop computer. He does this with many of his friends on a month to month basis.

This is repeatable and does not attract a cost associated with an allocated bandwidth/cost arrangement. It represents a structured community, where SWIM will organise before hand (in many cases via online IM) what to download so as to prevent crossover/duplication.

Now that SWIM lives in the country, where he has limited access to bandwidth this is especially true, in many instances reserving precious bandwidth for the prioritised tasks. Only 1 instance of a file is downloaded within his peer group, it is then shared to ensure access and in cases of hard drive failure redundancy.

MY IDEA: create town based community servers. Na-DUH?
goracle
not rated yet Dec 12, 2013
So much FUD. So little time.

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