New Home Server + Gaming HTPC build. Win8 and NSA driving me to Linux! - AVS Forum
View Poll Results: New Server OS?
Windows 7 x64 7 41.18%
Keep Windows Server 2012 x64 and suck it up 4 23.53%
Linux (Common Distro like Ubuntu, Red Hat, etc.) 3 17.65%
Some weird distro of Linux I've never heard of but is *so awesome* 1 5.88%
Windows 8 x64 (Basically Server 2012 but consumer version) 0 0%
VMWare ESXi, and then load Linux on top of that. 0 0%
VMWare ESXi, and then load Windows & Linux on top of that for different purposes. 1 5.88%
Something else... 1 5.88%
Voters: 17. You may not vote on this poll

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post #1 of 28 Old 07-07-2013, 03:14 PM - Thread Starter
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Hi All,
It's been a while since I've posted here, and my entire layout is now changing.
I just built two new beefy machines in the last year. the HTPC is now a Haswell-based 4770k and a GTX 7xx, the server is Ivy-Bridge 3770k, and has 3x3TB in a FlexRAID array.

I've been running Server 2012 on the server, and Windows 8 x64 on the gaming+HTPC machine in the living room. I am frustrated and furious. Windows 8 is a pain in the ass, even with the excellent ClassicShell mod I find it to be forgetting settings, the stupid "charms" menu getting in the way of various things, etc. The only thing that's good is that fantastic new Task Manager.

So between Windows 8/Server 2012's miserable new GUI, and lack of support, and the NSA revelations that Windows has had backdoors since 2007 (at least) to PRISM, I am looking to give the finger to Microsoft. The only issue is of course gaming: The HTPC will need to run a Windows OS for gaming.

So, what are the community's thoughts about moving to Linux/etc for the server? Maybe back to Win7 for the HTPC?

Roles for the Server:
> File server (music, movies, pictures, backup)
> Secure comms (VoIP, video, email, etc.)
> Possibly a tuner aggregator in the future?
> Possibly running some of my work stuff in a VM (KVM? VMWare?)

Roles for the HTPC:
> WAF is a must. (She's tolerant of using the desktop GUI of a machine, but loves the XBMC type interface)
> Gaming for me. (Steam mostly - would tolerate a dual-boot but would be less preferred)
> Playing movies, TV Shows (MKV stored on the Server, downloaded automatically via things like SABNZBd, etc.)
> high-end music (i.e. FooBar2000, etc. for FLAC, easy music playing for parties, etc.)
> Eventually Live TV via a cableCARD tuner in either the HTPC or the Server. (I have good experience with Windows MC, but not required)

Any suggestions are very welcome! Thank you!

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post #2 of 28 Old 07-07-2013, 04:28 PM
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Linux = Fail.

Win 7 X64 for the win.

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post #3 of 28 Old 07-07-2013, 04:37 PM
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Hi Cetrian,

 

For your server OS, I'd recommend Windows 8 Pro x64:

 

  1. Compatibility with your Secure Comms requirements
  2. Compatibility with your Tuner Aggregator requirement
  3. Your virtualization needs can be met with Hyper-V, which is baked into W8Pro
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post #4 of 28 Old 07-07-2013, 05:57 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the feedback so far. I have been experimenting with VMWare ESXi 5.1u1 and trying to install it on my server to no avail. (Couldn't detect the NIC, custom install ISO's not working, etc.)

Mfusick - I've seen some of your threads and your advice carries a lot of weight (even though I don't want to hear it! ha) Thanks. What do you think about Bizzy's Win8Pro reccomendation?
Bizzy - you're kidding about security on Win8Pro right? I dislike Hyper-V, but I can always run VM Workstation if I really wanted to.

I really don't want to abandon the virtualized server idea yet. Considering dicking with ESXi some more before I give up on it and/or trying Linux as the host OS and virtualizing with KVM or VMWare for Linux.

My goal is to rid my server of "infection" by Microsoft by having at least one OS running without a MS Kernel between it and the hardware. If I have to run Windows in a VM on top of the server for certain tasks, so be it.

Thinking Hypervisor >( Linux ) & ( Windows ) if possible.

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post #5 of 28 Old 07-07-2013, 07:30 PM
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I think it is hard to get a straight forward "best" answer here.

Also don't listen to Mfusick, he's lying! tongue.gif
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post #6 of 28 Old 07-07-2013, 09:00 PM - Thread Starter
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Well, I've finally succeeded in an ESXi install, and will use it to play with several OS's in VM's. My goal was an OS less-NSA-friendly than Windows so of course all of this would be predicated on VMWare not being in bed with our friendly spooks in VA/DC/MD, which is an unlikely prospect I admit.

I suppose there never ever will be a trusted platform unless I review all the code myself, and compile it myself. Still, I'd like some concept of peer-reviewed code providing more security than a proprietary bloated mess that is impossible to use well, such as Win8/Server2012.

UPDATE 1: Let me add the following link which was extremely helpful in getting ESXi 5.1u1 on my ASUS Sabertooth Z87 Mobo. The problem here is Intel's white-boxed NIC - there is no driver included by default in VMWare as Intel is being a punk and not intending this chip for servers. (Note same issue with Windows Server OS's)
http://www.ivobeerens.nl/2011/12/13/vmware-esxi-5-whitebox-nic-support/
The bottom line here is to use this custom ESXi image creator script, a driver written by some guy who deserves a case of beer, and unetbootin on the Mac to make the USB bootable install stick.

UPDATE 2: Huge roadblock. Seems most Z77/Z87 chipset boards, especially ASUS, do not support a tech called "VT-d" which allows you to passthrough hard drives and entire controllers to the guest OS. I realize I'm getting a little heavy into server stuff here, but this is very important for people looking to virtualize their home media server. Unless you are willing to set up some crazy SAN in VMWare for your own home use, you'll need to pass-through hard drives. Also, you'll want to pass through other PCIe devices like tuner cards. It seems all ASUS Zxx series boards, as well as all Intel xxxxK CPU's do not support VT-d, and therefore you'd be better served by a true host OS than a hypervisor OS. I'm going to try the Linux + FlexRAID route now for the host OS, and virtualize using KVM or VMWare inside of that. A little worried about future support for tuner cards in Linux... Back to the drawing board....

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post #7 of 28 Old 07-07-2013, 10:54 PM
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Most ASRock Intel 7/8 Series chipset mb support VT-d. Check also this thread: VT-d compatible motherboards.
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post #8 of 28 Old 07-08-2013, 03:50 AM
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That sure is a lot of work to hide the Charms bar. Why not just disable the Charms bar hot corners? StartIsBack has the option to disable all hot corners and boot directly to the desktop (ClassicShell might too). Running your HTPC through ESXi would be even more work than just dealing with the few little Win8 interface changes, not to mention the WAF of ESXi.
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post #9 of 28 Old 07-08-2013, 04:44 AM
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I personally use ESXi with a Freenas VM and that has worked out really well for me. I pass through two IBM M1015 cards to the VM and it works great.

Though I will be switching to Proxmox with ZFS soon. I was set on ESXi because I wanted to use a win7 VM and passthrough my ceton card. At the end of the day it didn't work out smoothly with the card. I went to an HD Homerun Prime and that negates the need for the Ceton card.

On your passthrough issues, I had one major roadblock too but a firmware upgrade to my mobo fixed it. Though many others have issues even with hardware that is VT-d/Passthrough supported.
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post #10 of 28 Old 07-08-2013, 10:19 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the great feedback - you fellow AVS'ers never disapoint. BryanSJ - your ESXi server is pretty impressive! Seems like something I should try to build, but I already have this hardware which is not VT-d compatible frown.gif
I'm not trying to virtualize the HTPC, to be clear. I guess you're right - sticking with Win7x64 or a heavily de-Metro'ed Win8x64 is the way to go for the gaming+HTPC machine.

Still, the server issue is perplexing. I've been playing with Linux Mint and it seems interesting.

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post #11 of 28 Old 07-08-2013, 11:49 AM
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I don't understand your current need for ESXi since you already have a server and an HTPC. If you wanted to have both but build one box it would make more sense. It seems like something fun to fiddle with, but not worth the cost it would take you to get it the way you want right now

If you are gaming from Steam you can use Ubuntu

Ubuntu Server LTS is pretty solid if you want a file server that you are capable of setting up from a command line. Plex, MySQL, NTFS drives, FlexRAID, etc are all available. NFS shares should kick things around the house nicely if you run a debian based distro for the HTPC. Steam is pretty much Ubuntu only, so you'll have to go that route for the HTPC (Arch support unofficial - https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Steam)

RomCollectionBrowser also integrates nicely with Steam, so your pretty set on the XBMC (all platform) and Steam (all platform) front. Not all games are available for Linux, but Steam is making a concentrated effort to put out the steam box which will be linux based so support is going to get better from already pretty good.

I don't really feel like you need ESXi for "occasional" Windows work stuff. If anything, that's when you could fire up the VM and run your already purchased copy of W8 specifically for that purpose.

The only point to keep you "stuck" with windows would be cablecard DVR. Myth (linux) supports cablecard content from the HDHR Prime, but only for non-HBO/Cinemax/Starz channels on Comcast and FiOS. If you could find a way to eliminate that from your "to-do" list then go for it. However, if a cablecard DVR is a true must-have, and you want to be able to watch/record HBO or you're forced to use an archaic (inferior) cable provider like TWC, Charter, Cox, etc. then you should go ahead and suck it up.

Also, it's been well documented that Ubuntu is leaking your dash searches to Amazon, so don't go searching around in the Ubuntu dash (Post v12 versions only AFAIK). In fact, if you avoid the unity interface altogether you'd probably be happier, since it's quite a pile of junk IMO
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post #12 of 28 Old 07-08-2013, 12:16 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks, 4th-horseman. The virtualization requirement is only for the server. It would be to have a VM host to try new OS's, run some of the products that my company makes (we deliver it as an OVA, a virtual appliance), run a secure OS in a sandbox, etc. I think I've essentially thrown out the ESXi idea at this point and I'm going to go with a Linux-based Server OS like Ubuntu Server, Debian, or even perhaps go the CentOS route. I'm leaning heavily on Ubuntu Server 13 right now as the next step, with a long term plan to go to LTS 14 when it comes out next year. There are several hypervisors, including KVM that would work well for my VM desires, and Ubuntu Server can just talk right to the HDD controllers for my storage needs.

I can't see a way around using Windows on the HTPC specifically for some of the reasons you state:
> Full CableCARD support (I have FiOS, and would like to eventually go this route versus their box)
> Best gaming support

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post #13 of 28 Old 07-08-2013, 03:07 PM
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If you've already got a Server 2012 box, fire up Hyper-V and make a Linux guest to play with. That will be the fastest way to build a new server without disrupting your existing infrastructure. Once you get it built and tested, it's pretty easy to image a linux install from a Hyper-V to bare iron or VMware. With the TechNet license expiring, you may have to do this anyways. (I'm assuming you didn't pay full fare for Server 2012)

Also, VT-d compatibility is still immature...I just went through that hassle myself. Just because two products individually support VT-d doesn't guarantee they'll work in combination. You may need to try different boards/cards until you find a setup that works. I'd recommend a vendor with a nice return policy and using Intel boards and checking the compatibility lists.
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post #14 of 28 Old 07-08-2013, 05:00 PM
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The best thing to do to create an ESXi compatible box would be to copy someone else's known working design.
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post #15 of 28 Old 07-08-2013, 09:33 PM - Thread Starter
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Well, gentlemen, with all your excellent advice and some research, I ended up going Ubuntu Server 13.04 for the server. It meets all of my requirements and is rock solid. It offers heavy security that Windows cannot, and a large community of fellow nerds to help. I was able to build a very secure system on modern hardware with UEFI, full disk encryption, etc. It surprisingly needed zero drivers. I was floored - there isn't even a masochistic Device Manager where you load drivers you hope will solve your latest pain. The GUI isn't winning any awards, but the server capabilities are really nice. I plan to go with Windows in some flavor for the HTPC and will update with how this all works out in the end.

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post #16 of 28 Old 07-09-2013, 11:13 AM
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Your installation of Ubuntu Server went to the 3rd or 4th gen? The only sticking point can be networking, but if you are intending to use XBMC on the HTPC go ahead and setup NFS shares. XBMC in windows plays nice with NFS and you'll take full advantage of all those cores, but samba on Ubuntu Server (last time I was using it) was not up to the level of Win->Win samba. I didn't troubleshoot it very much either, just ditched it since I could work around it
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post #17 of 28 Old 07-09-2013, 01:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bryansj View Post

That sure is a lot of work to hide the Charms bar. Why not just disable the Charms bar hot corners? StartIsBack has the option to disable all hot corners and boot directly to the desktop (ClassicShell might too). Running your HTPC through ESXi would be even more work than just dealing with the few little Win8 interface changes, not to mention the WAF of ESXi.

yup, classic shell has an option to disable "active corners"
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post #18 of 28 Old 07-09-2013, 01:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bryansj View Post

That sure is a lot of work to hide the Charms bar. Why not just disable the Charms bar hot corners? StartIsBack has the option to disable all hot corners and boot directly to the desktop (ClassicShell might too). Running your HTPC through ESXi would be even more work than just dealing with the few little Win8 interface changes, not to mention the WAF of ESXi.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jeffkro View Post

yup, classic shell has an option to disable "active corners"

Windows 8.1 preview from Microsoft also allows disabling hot corners as well as booting directly to desktop.

http://winsupersite.com/windows-8/windows-81-tip-optimize-desktop
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post #19 of 28 Old 07-09-2013, 01:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mfusick View Post

Linux = Fail.

Win 7 X64 for the win.

While this made me laugh out loud... and I'm a big fan of linux... the statement rings true for HTPC/Media Server. If you want something simple and rock solid Win 7 x64 really is the best solution. Throw VirtualBox on top and you're good to go.

Running Windows Home Server 2011 Evil Abandoned Edition
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post #20 of 28 Old 07-09-2013, 01:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cetrian View Post

Well, gentlemen, with all your excellent advice and some research, I ended up going Ubuntu Server 13.04 for the server. It meets all of my requirements and is rock solid. It offers heavy security that Windows cannot, and a large community of fellow nerds to help. I was able to build a very secure system on modern hardware with UEFI, full disk encryption, etc. It surprisingly needed zero drivers. I was floored - there isn't even a masochistic Device Manager where you load drivers you hope will solve your latest pain. The GUI isn't winning any awards, but the server capabilities are really nice. I plan to go with Windows in some flavor for the HTPC and will update with how this all works out in the end.

I'm not sure ubuntu is more secure than windows, like osX it is just targeted less. If you ask me the safest OS for doing things where you want top security, aka investing/banking, is Chrome OS. You can buy a $250 chromebook for these uses and then relax about the rest of your network security. Personally I'm paranoid about security on my laptop which I use for banking but don't care much about my HTPC or gaming machine.
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post #21 of 28 Old 07-09-2013, 01:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rickcfer View Post


Windows 8.1 preview from Microsoft also allows disabling hot corners as well as booting directly to desktop.

I'm hoping 8.1 is a big improvement for desktop use. I actually like the start screen but hate full screen metro apps and the charms stuff.
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post #22 of 28 Old 07-10-2013, 04:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by itznfb View Post

While this made me laugh out loud... and I'm a big fan of linux... the statement rings true for HTPC/Media Server. If you want something simple and rock solid Win 7 x64 really is the best solution. Throw VirtualBox on top and you're good to go.

For HTPC yes but for media server? I think Linux works great for that. Was there something specific that Linux falls short with as a media server?
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post #23 of 28 Old 07-10-2013, 04:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by itznfb View Post

While this made me laugh out loud... and I'm a big fan of linux... the statement rings true for HTPC/Media Server. If you want something simple and rock solid Win 7 x64 really is the best solution. Throw VirtualBox on top and you're good to go.

For HTPC yes but for media server? I think Linux works great for that. Was there something specific that Linux falls short with as a media server?
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post #24 of 28 Old 07-10-2013, 07:23 AM
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Quote:
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For HTPC yes but for media server? I think Linux works great for that. Was there something specific that Linux falls short with as a media server?

Nope. As long as one's knowledge and comfort with the OS is up to the task they will both do the same thing. The only major advantage a Win7 server will have over a linux server is sharing between the server and the HTPC. Sharing between Win7 and Win7 is pretty flawless and super easy.

Running Windows Home Server 2011 Evil Abandoned Edition
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post #25 of 28 Old 07-10-2013, 01:36 PM - Thread Starter
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I find Windows file shares are not "flawless and super easy" - in fact they rarely work the way I would expect, always have permissions issues, and the stupid Public/Private network thing in Windows always gets in the way. I'm looking forward to the simplicity of NFS and hoping it will be more reliable.

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post #26 of 28 Old 07-11-2013, 01:03 PM
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Originally Posted by jeffkro View Post

I'm not sure ubuntu is more secure than windows, like osX it is just targeted less. If you ask me the safest OS for doing things where you want top security, aka investing/banking, is Chrome OS. You can buy a $250 chromebook for these uses and then relax about the rest of your network security. Personally I'm paranoid about security on my laptop which I use for banking but don't care much about my HTPC or gaming machine.

The security talked about here isn't exploit vulnerability but privacy concerns. Ubuntu "Quantal Quetzal" and later have privacy concerns focused on performing searches within the Unity dash interface and those searches being aggregated to Amazon by permission from Canonical. As far as privacy is concerned, Chrome OS is the least secure. Google is the ultimate surveillance tool, and if you are paranoid about the activity on your computer being under surveillance then avoiding Google products in general is a necessary step 1. There is nothing wrong and yet everything wrong with this depending on your point of view. Knowing that your Google History exists and can be subpoenaed gives the privacy paranoid crowd chills.

This is what's being discussed, and Windows related help integration, usage statistics, list of every app installed, etc gives people the same paranoia towards windows. The amount of "calls" home are fairly high and the idea that all of your data can be mined and inspected makes several people want to ditch Microsoft, Android, Google, Canonical, etc in flavor of more privacy conscious solutions.
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post #27 of 28 Old 07-11-2013, 03:58 PM - Thread Starter
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4th horseman gets it.
Using Ubuntu Server doesn't bother me as I don't ever use their silly desktop search application anyway. This seems pretty legit as far as control over what gets sent over the wire.

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post #28 of 28 Old 07-11-2013, 05:41 PM
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Originally Posted by 4th-horseman View Post

The security talked about here isn't exploit vulnerability but privacy concerns. Ubuntu "Quantal Quetzal" and later have privacy concerns focused on performing searches within the Unity dash interface and those searches being aggregated to Amazon by permission from Canonical. As far as privacy is concerned, Chrome OS is the least secure. Google is the ultimate surveillance tool, and if you are paranoid about the activity on your computer being under surveillance then avoiding Google products in general is a necessary step 1. There is nothing wrong and yet everything wrong with this depending on your point of view. Knowing that your Google History exists and can be subpoenaed gives the privacy paranoid crowd chills.

This is what's being discussed, and Windows related help integration, usage statistics, list of every app installed, etc gives people the same paranoia towards windows. The amount of "calls" home are fairly high and the idea that all of your data can be mined and inspected makes several people want to ditch Microsoft, Android, Google, Canonical, etc in flavor of more privacy conscious solutions.

True chrome OS gives the government easy access to all of your data, but I was talking about some dude in Russia cleaning out your bank accounts.
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