On Fri, 15 Mar 2019 21:31:02 -0500
John Goold <jrg.desk...@gmail.com> wrote:

>Hash: SHA256
>*A Critique of Qubes*
>Before discussing Qubes, I want to give you a bit of background about
>me. I do not want to tell my life-story, I doubt anyone is interested.
>However, I want you to know "where I am coming from" and what I want
>from Qubes. I am keeping in mind that what I want is just that and
>Qubes may not be intended to satisfy, or interest in satisfying my
>wants and needs -- that is, I may simply be part of the wrong
>* Retired roughly 2 decades
>* 73 years old
>* Degree in Computer Science
>* Started out programming mainframes in Assembly Language (machine
>  code)
>* Later, large-scale software development (various roles) -- R & D,
>  telecoms and mission-critical apps (those involved in health-care are
>  regulated)
>* Proprietary H/W and OSes, then various Unixes.
>I am not paranoid over privacy and security, but I recognize there are
>many individuals who, rightfully, fear for their privacy and anonymity
>- -- their livelihood and even their lives may depend on it.
>* Reliability -- do not fail on me or, if something goes wrong, fail
>  gracefully.
>* Reasonable security -- more than is provided by the more standard
>  Linux distributions (I am a fan of Linux Mint).
>* Reasonable privacy (I hope that is not an oxymoron); though perhaps
>  it is too late in the game for me (though I have never been a fan of
>  social media, or anything Google)
>* No need to spend large amounts of time tinkering with my basic
>  personal computer setup.
>* Ease of use and administration, including software installation.
>* GUI for virtually everything unless there is a really, really, really
>  good reason to use a CLI. Do not get me wrong, I am comfortable with
>  CLI's, but I do not want to spend my time researching various Linux
>  administration tools. Consider me lazy if you wish.
>* No need to build my own tools to use Qubes (I do some website and
>  server- side development to keep the neurons firing -- I can do all
>  the programming I want in that environment).
>Basically, my personal computer(s) is a tool. If I write some software
>on it, that software will be for some other purpose and not to
>complement the OS.
>- ---------------------------------------------------------------------
>I started using Qubes for my main computer about two months ago. I had
>previously experimented with release 3.2 and 4.0 on my HP laptop and
>ran into various problems -- discussed by many users ad nausium in
>qubes-users. I got a nice little desktop computer for Christmas (from
>my wife :-) -- an Intel NUC7i7 (32 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD).
>So I started from the beginning. Installing Qubes 4.0.1 was relatively
>straightforward, although it did require researching the use of a USB
>mouse and keyboard.
>Basic configuration was no worse than any Linux distribution I have
>played with. Software installation was not as straightforward. I was
>forced into using the CLI (I do have two proprietary programs: VueScan
>and Bcompare). Installing other software can be problematic. I
>installed Chromium. The install appeared successful. I was able to add
>Chromium to an appVM. When I started the appVM and launched Chromium
>from the menu... nothing! No window, no error message. I tried a number
>of times (the reason for just re-trying will be mentioned below).
>* When launching a program from the Qubes menu, particularly if the
>  target   appVM has to be started, the program often fails to be
>  launched. This happens very frequently with the Text Editor.
>  This is annoying as one waits a bit in case one is simply being
>  impatient, or at least I do, so as not to launch two copies of the
>  program by accident.
>* When a USB device is attached to an appVM, there is an appropriate
>  notification. When it is detached, there is a notification that the
>  device is being detached, but no notification to indicate that it has
>  been successfully detached  so how long should one wait before
>  unplugging it?
>* Ignoring whonix (I do not use it... yet), there are two template VMs
>  in the vanilla Qubes 4.0.1 installation: Fedora and Debian. However,
>  they have not been treated equally, with Debian being the loser. The
>  Qubes documentation indicates that Fedora was favoured for security
>  reasons.
>  Since I had been using Linux distributions based, directly or
>  indirectly, on Debian, when I first set up Qubes, I created my appVMs
>  based on Debian. That  was painful as I then had to install a lot of
>  basic software.
>  When I re-read the documentation, I realized the security reasons,
>  so I switched all my appVMs (except one!) back to Fedora. It was not
>  painful, but I would have rather have spent the time doing something
>  else.
>  The kicker came when Firefox stopped playing Flash content in my
>  untrusted appVM, complaining that I needed an up to date version of
>  Flash. I installed the most recent version, but that did not solve
>  the problem. The problem is/ was something to do with Fedora (or the
>  version of Firefox for Fedora or ??).
>  Since Firefox and Flash were working fine on my Linux Mint laptop
>  (which I use "to play with"), I re-based my untrusted appVM on Debian
>  and, lo and behold, Firefox and Flash worked just fine. This, by the
>  way, was when I attempted to use Chromium.
>  The appVM that had remained Debian-based (the "except one" mentioned
>  above) is my "entertainment" appVM that I use for streaming radio via
>  Firefox and playing audio files (VLC player).
>  At least for some people, it seems Debian is a necessity, but it is
>  not given the attention it deserves. At a minimum, a GUI software
>  installer should be included in the Qubes distribution which would
>  make it much easier for people to install other software they feel
>  inclined to use.
>* Screenshot only appears to work from Qubes Tools. I can "add"
>  "Screenshot" to appVMVs based on Fedora (but not on Debian). But it
>  does not work -- The dialog comes up but, having chosen to select an
>area, I cannot do so.
>  Subsequent attempts to use Screenshot do not even present a dialog.
>  Although I have not seen this documented anywhere (which does not
>  mean it is not), it seems logical -- dom0 owns the screen (monitor),
>  so it makes sense that it handles screenshots. However, that means
>  screenshots are saved in dom0 and have to be moved (or, I suppose,
>  copied) to the desired appVM. It seems a bit awkward. If one is in a
>  program in an appVM and decides a screenshot would be nice, it is
>  probably focussed on that window or a portion of it. Since the OS
>  displaying the window "knows" what it is displaying, it seems logical
>  that some kind of screenshot could be made by that OS, but restricted
>  to its window.
>  If not, why is it possible to "add" Screenshot to an appVM?
>* About a week ago, I started having a problem: I could not
>  copy-and-paste between appVMs. Prior to that, I had been having
>  problems with Firefox freezing in different appVMs. Rebooting the
>  affected appVM solved (or should I say "worked around") the latter
>  issue; however, it had no effect on the former problem.
>  [Aside] Ever since my mainframe and Unix days, I have been used to
>          systems that would run for weeks or months between reboots.
>          That experience did not carry over to personal computers
>          until relatively recently (in terms of years) when improvents
>          in hardware and my switch to Linux got me back into the habit
>          of rebooting only when necessary.
>  Using Linux and now Qubes, I not only do not shutdown the computer
>  (i.e. power-off), but I do not logout -- I simply "Lock the Screen"
>  and power-off my monitor.
>  So, wondering about the copy-and-paste problem (and also the Firefox
>  issue), I decided to re-boot. I individually shut down each VM after
>  quitting its running programs -- dom0 and the sys- VMs excepted,
>  before clicking Shutdown (rightmost menu with my user name on it).
>  That looked like it solved the problems, but...
>  KeePassX 2 complained that I had the wrong password or the database
>  was corrupted. It was not a typo in the password (I tried several
>  times and restarted the vault VM to be sure nothing was wrong).
>  I was able to restore the vault VM from a backup, but was missing a
>  few entries. That was alright since my real password vault is on my
>  smart phone (FWIW, I use mSecure and keep it automatically backed up
>  to DropBox).
>My Bottom Line:
>I can live with most of the issues described above. What I cannot live
>with (and worry about) are stability and reliability issues.
>[Aside] I do not intend doing a daily full back-up. I do not wish to be
>        hypocritical, so full-disclosure: When I was managing the
>        internal hardware and software support teams at a Bell-Northern
>        Research lab., I insisted on daily backups. When managing the
>        "System Programming" group for a mainframe (same as the modern
>        "System Administration") the scheme involved daily, weekly,
>        monthly and  annual backups of data files and backups whenever
>        the operating system was updated, withappropriate off-site
>        storage.
>[Disclosure] I run a FreeNAS file server on a computer on my LAN
>        Whenever I create (or update) a file that involves my family
>        (that is, something legal, financial, or similar), I *always*
>        copy it immediately to the fileserver. In that sense, the only
>        "stuff" I will lose in a catastrophic failure of my personal
>        computer and my Qubes backups, is personal stuff not involving
>        my family.
>        My wife has access to the file server. My wife knows the master
>        password to my mSecure password vault (and I to hers). One of
>        our children has those master passwords in a sealed envelope).
>        In fact, my wife has the keyphrase for my encrypted Quebes disk
>        (Luks?) and my login password -- that does not mean she could
>        manage to navigate Qubes, but I intend to show her.
>[Question] So, what do other Qubes users do to protect their families
>        in case they die/get killed, get imprisoned, go missing?
>I need some reasonable assurance that data corruption on disk has a
>very low probability. I need some reasonable assurance that the
>operating system (the combination of Xen and dom0) is stable.
>I will probably survive regardless. However, I assume (hope) there are
>others like me. Qubes addresses a relatively small proportion of the
>population. However, it does not hurt if it can include people like me
> if nothing else, some of us would undoubtedly donate money and help
>support Qubes. The user base may be very small, but there is no reason
>to force it to be tiny.


Welcome to Qubes.  I've been using it about a year, and I'm still on 3.2.  I 
have a motherboard issue with my laptop, and have another one to replace it 
with...just haven't taken the time yet.  USB ports are non functional on this 
one, and I want them to work before going to 4.?  I am running a Lenovo T520 
with the open source bios burned onto it to eliminate the Intel ME.  My 
replacement board has the BIOS burned, but I haven't taken the time to 
re-install it yet.

My setup and backup routine is as follows:

I have kept my "important" information in a Luks Encrypted container for some 
time now, pre-dating my Qubes use.  I went Linux on my laptop back in '08, and 
went to whole disk encryption shortly after that.  When I went with Qubes, I 
modified it for performance reasons where only the important data is actually 
encrypted.  My Qubes laptop has the main OS drive encrypted (160GB SSD) but the 
extra space is not (2TB HDD) and most of my user data is on VM's with their 
drive space on the HDD for size reasons.  On Qubes, there are two VM's of 

One is "mail", where I gather all of my e-mails (28 or so of them) with 
claws-mail (stores as discrete files, so recovery/search is possible without a 
specific program..I've used this since I've been on Linux, and I converted my 
old Outlook database to it so I have e-mails literally 30 years old).  

The other is "money", where I keep a Dosbox Ryan-McFarland Cobol system I wrote 
in the 80's for my personal bank account records and GnuCASH for my business 

I also run the delivered "vault" VM with keePassX (and NO network connection) 
where I have all of the various accounts and passwords recorded.  It is not by 
default included in the encrypted backups, but I keep a recent copy of the data 
file with my "money" records too.

Scripts back these up to a copy of the Luks container on my home server as 
often as I run them, which is at least daily, or more often. My home server is 
a Debian server (no GUI/DE) running a small number of VirtualBox VMs for 
different things.  I do have a static IP at home since I host my own web page 
for my farm (Drupal in a VM) which makes connecting home simpler than a dynamic 

I am creating a "Doomsday.doc" document with instructions on how to run my 
laptop in the event of my incapacitation/demise.  While I don't expect my wife 
or other survivors to continue to use my setup, at least they can get to all of 
the logins as needed to finalize bank accounts and bills, crypto currency 
wallets etc...

Once I am happy with the document, I will print it and put it in my safe at 
home.  If I had assets, I would include it with a will at an attorney's office, 
but I'm pretty much medically broke right now trying to make sure one of my 
children actually survives me.  Making medical history is expensive.

I have had zero issues with the stability of Xen, Dom0 or the data storage on 
Qubes 3.2...but...I am not doing logical volumes.  I may delve into that when I 
do the 4.x install, but I may not as well as it is an additional failure point 
as far as I'm concerned.  The main justification is to be able to add drives 
and therefore space without having to completely copy everything, but I'm not 
dealing with 10's of TB's of data either.

Anyway, it is good to see another old Mainframe guy using Qubes.  It is almost 
like running an entire datacenter on your laptop.  I got my start with the PC's 
before they were called "PC's" with the Ryan-McFarland stuff, then jumped over 
to the Mainframe world for a while...enduring the "upgrade" from VS Cobol to VS 
Cobol II...dabbling with IMS, IDMS and DB2 with a little ALC programming thrown 
in for good measure.  I've been pretty much exclusively working with the Lawson 
ERP for the last 20 years.  The one thing I miss with Qubes is the fact that my 
old copy of ISPFPC (4.0) won't run with Xen.  :)

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