68: IGEL Weekly: How to Restrict Firefox to a List of Designated URLs?

Dec 7, 2022

One of my favorite parts about the IGEL Community and any community is people helping people. Someone asks a question, maybe not even relating to IGEL itself but an associated technology. Many fine folks jump in to give their suggestions. Recently I saw just this in the IGEL Community, and the solution is so fantastic and helpful; I wanted to share it with all of you! 

Joseph Masone, asked the question: 

“Aside from modifying hosts files, is there a way to allow only a list of URLs we designate via the Firefox browser? We tried setting up a local HTTP proxy. However, that can be bypassed by simply typing HTTPS in the URL. We also tried restricting all the navigation menus/toolbars; however, one of the sites we need to allow access to has links that can leverage to access other unwanted sites.”

Host: Andy Whiteside
Co-host: Patrick Toner

WEBVTT

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Andy Whiteside: Everyone and welcome to episode 68 of idl weekly. I’m your host, Andy White Side today is December the sixth

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Andy Whiteside: 22. I’ve got Patrick Toner with me. Patrick. How’s it going?

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Patrick Toner: It’s going Good don’t go to it’s a little sad to hear say December sixth. I it’s like as soon as I get used to writing 22 on forms and things like that.

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Andy Whiteside: That’s when the year changes. So oh, man I can’t write a check to save my life. I can’t write the numbers.

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Andy Whiteside: I can’t sign my name. I can’t like. I can’t write period in a legible way, and then the dates

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Andy Whiteside: I. I have to look every time to see what date it is, and half the time it’s what month it is, and sometimes it’s what year it is, I can’t even

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Patrick Toner: It’s insane. I hear you. I hear you. It’s very maybe it’s because we just don’t write that stuff as much. I don’t know what it is.

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Patrick Toner: you know, growing up in school. You probably wrote it every day right now. We

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Patrick Toner: and technology kind of doesn’t. We don’t have to do that. It’s all done for us. That’s it. That’s a great example of how technology has helped us.

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Andy Whiteside: Right. I mean, you don’t have to write your name. I heard somebody talking about writing their name on the top of their paper.

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Andy Whiteside: there! Nobody does that anymore. It’s all part of your digital footprint.

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Andy Whiteside: and that’s good.

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Andy Whiteside: But what if you had to write your name like I had to go to this. Which which

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Andy Whiteside: and the I did? I have to write my name on a little piece of paper. I forget to fill it out.

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Okay.

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Patrick Toner: yeah, I mean, our names are on our what our email signatures, you know. And then even that stuff Every company goes to the space. And like, hey, we have, like a 100 different email signatures. We need to standardize. That’s how little we think about it. We really don’t look at it. We don’t think about it

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Andy Whiteside: well, and that’s an interesting conversation, too, because we have. We had res and absence and profile, unity, and the thing, whatever Citrix bought

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Andy Whiteside: that made all that, you know follow you kind of around, but it never quite got to the finish line, and

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Andy Whiteside: I don’t think Microsoft even has it where your outlook, your

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Andy Whiteside: your you know your exchange footprint actually has your signature tattooed into that. So every I’m. I work from 3 virtual desktops for laptops. I’m all over the place all the time, and I’m constantly having to copy my signature from somewhere else and put it in.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah, it is. It is definitely well, that’s the thing for sure, Microsoft, If you’re listening. We we need that fix

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Patrick Toner: or someone needs to develop it.

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Patrick Toner: There we go.

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Andy Whiteside: and there may be an answer for that already, and I just I just don’t know it.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah, he’s in here.

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Patrick Toner: I I wrestle with that one as well for sure.

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Andy Whiteside: Well, Patrick, thanks thanks for joining us. Just you and I. Today we picked a article. Let me pull it up on the screen, so you and I can talk through it

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Andy Whiteside: around Firefox. It’s an older blog.

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Andy Whiteside: but the name of it is how to restrict Firefox to a list of designated urls.

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Andy Whiteside: Looks like maybe Joseph Mason asked the question in the Ij community. And let’s see, Can we tell who actually responded here to this?

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Patrick Toner: Well, it’s speaking of names and signatures. I I was just gonna say I I this sounds like Seb wrote it, but I don’t see his name anywhere, but i’m pretty sure this is Seb’s writing just it reads like said when he says, I must confess the solution is quite articulate.

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Andy Whiteside: Yeah, that probably is true.

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Andy Whiteside: So help me understand this. Why is this important? Why is it important to?

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Andy Whiteside: I guess. First, maybe

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Andy Whiteside: take an igl OS and lock it down to where it’s browser only or maybe not browser only, but when it relates to the browser, you want it to go to one place in one place only. Why is important.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah, you know it. It really comes down to, you know, security and security policies in your company. I’ve had this request many times over the years, and at 1 point the answer was that there’s really not a way to do this at the OS level. and there probably was a way. Obviously this the scripting probably what works back then.

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Patrick Toner: but many customers would do this not at the OS level, but maybe they would.

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Patrick Toner: you know, block it at the firewall level internally, or whatever they’re doing

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Patrick Toner: the but the one thing that’s changed a lot is.

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Patrick Toner: you know, end Users have gone home that more people are working remotely they’re working remotely, either full time, or maybe a few days a week, coming back into the office. So doing it at the firewall level. That’s only gonna really affect you when you’re in the office once you go home it’s wide open.

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Patrick Toner: so there! There is more of a need now to restrict this at the operating system level.

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Patrick Toner: that’s this is really a great way to do it. you know, to to basically no matter where the user is, whether in the office at home, or it’s, Starbucks, or whatever they can only hit a few different urls

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Patrick Toner: from their company assigned device.

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Patrick Toner: So is this a security or productivity need or both. Well, that’s a good point. I guess it could be both, I mean, if you don’t want.

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Patrick Toner: Your engines are scrolling Facebook and tik tok and everything else all day.

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Patrick Toner: yeah, that could actually be productivity.

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Patrick Toner: yeah, I mean, I think it definitely plays into both categories, you know. for sure. You don’t want any any malicious type websites coming into the to the mix especially on company property and yeah productivity for sure that without a doubt that that plays into it.

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Andy Whiteside: and just for clarification. It looks like Seb, wrote the blog. but Joseph asked the question, and then found the answer to his his own question. And that’s what the the blog is addressing here.

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Patrick Toner: Okay.

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Andy Whiteside: no. It starts off with the kind of the comment from Joseph around doing what we all, as it admins to understand how Dns works could possibly do, which is to go in and just

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Andy Whiteside: modify the host file, so that the only place you can get to is

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Andy Whiteside: resolve the name, but that that’s not a real security approach. That’s just kind of what do we call that security through obscurity. Kind of thing.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah, I think I think that’s a good way to put it.

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you know.

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Andy Whiteside: but then he points out

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Andy Whiteside: the ability to launch the app, pointing it to a Json file equipment. okay. So all of you as the more technical guy your what was the solution. Joseph came up with: let’s do that. You had exactly right. You know it’s a script. So you know the Nigel operating system.

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Patrick Toner: I don’t, have I’m not looking at the Us. In front of me, so I usually have it up. you know it’s it’s in the system area. You could put custom commands into the operating system.

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Patrick Toner: And there’s all these different sections. Now. There’s sections where the OS is starting up.

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Patrick Toner: there’s sections, but you know at the they they called the desktop initialization phase. It’s the last thing that happens as the OS finalizes. so you you know, that’s one thing that you know from a timing perspective when you’re doing scripting. And I jos you know which category which section you put it in matters

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Patrick Toner: but at the end of the day. What you’re really talking about is the Linux script. you know. So you know it’s using the said command sed and what it’s doing is it’s really just looking at a Json file, and it’s editing it.

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Andy Whiteside: Okay, so any exceptions. So, Firefox, you and I, we’re talking about chromium versus Firefox a while ago. Firefox has a long history of being a a very robust let’s call it maybe work where the enterprise browser, and it comes with a Json file, which is

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Andy Whiteside: really a file that’s used to at least a startup

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Andy Whiteside: control applications like firebox.

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Patrick Toner: That’s right, and I am almost certain the same is true for chrome and chromium. They also have a Json file that has the same function.

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Patrick Toner: so I guess in theory you could do something similar with chromium or chrome the way he’s doing it here.

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Patrick Toner: but but yeah, this is the Json files going to. If you look at the way it’s, it’s written here. it’s telling it’s telling the browser to block everything, and then it’s saying, Except for these exceptions, so it’s. Say, hey, you know, it’s using this command

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Patrick Toner: slash and block all Urls.

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Patrick Toner: and then exceptions. And it has google.com. So in this scenario. Only google.com would work

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Patrick Toner: but you could create a list, you know. Hey? Maybe I want these 10 business websites

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Andy Whiteside: that my users use. They can access these, but absolutely nothing else. And chances are you go into this Json file, whether it’s for chromium or firefox. You’ll find all kinds of things about full screen mode or partial screen mode or I I don’t know the different tools and toolbar being available or not probably pretty powerful. If you went through there and looked around.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah, I mean every every, every type of custom thing like this the customers have asked in the past. It’s usually editing a Json file for the browsers.

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Patrick Toner: it’s extremely powerful,

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Patrick Toner: you know, and really a a lot of the the ideal profile. When you when you look at the Firefox settings. it’s most likely just making a change in that file. But you’re just doing it with it easy, Gui, instead of scripting.

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Andy Whiteside: But in this case it looks like, okay. So there are they setting a

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Andy Whiteside: script that runs every time

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Andy Whiteside: that goes in and modifies or make sure that entry is modified versus going in and maybe editing the

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Andy Whiteside: the text file.

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Andy Whiteside: and then make your part of the image. I guess, in Nigel world can you make? Can you go in and edit the Json and leave it modified for the base image? Or do you need to go in and touch it every time the machine comes up.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah, it’s a it’s a great question. And you mean, really, the the answer is, No, you can’t just edit the file. and the reason for that is, I. J. Is a sandbox operating system. So

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Patrick Toner: every time you reboot the OS, it’s, you know, whatever’s in that Json file by default that’s going to default back to it. So the way you would do this is, you copy this script and edit it as as you would need.

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Patrick Toner: and you would put it into one of those sections in a Nigel profile. So I don’t know which one there. I don’t see a recommendation. But you know desktop initialization a final desktop command is probably where I would put it basically every time the OS boots it’s the last command that runs.

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Patrick Toner: And then, as you launch your Firefox browser, that change is already made in that Json file, so it it keeps it.

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Andy Whiteside: it keeps that the changes you know that they stay in effect, even after a review. because you have a sandbox or less. That’s that’s necessary. So they so they don’t get tattooed. In effect, you’re just manually. You’re not your autom automatically through the ums

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Andy Whiteside: telling you this is what you’re going to do every time every time you come up.

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Patrick Toner: Yep, absolutely, you know, every time.

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Andy Whiteside: and that’s the power of just the concept of the sandbox dos?

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Andy Whiteside: That’s the power of a true enterprise Linux operating system. That’s the power of a centralized management solution. it. It’s really the ideal story kind of in a nutshell, and in this case it’s all about a something as simple as a browser, but something as powerful as a browser.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah. And I think, too, it shows the power, you know of knowing scripting right that that’s that’s ultimately. If you want to become a Nigel wizard, right the more you can learn about Linux scripting the better. because there’s just so much you can do it’s outside the lines of what’s built into the Us. It’s already a lot of settings there. It’s over 7,000. But

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Patrick Toner: if you know how to script, and you know, you know, some some basics about Linux yeah, it’s really powerful.

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Andy Whiteside: Yeah, this is so interesting because I’ve got this 20 year, old son. I I don’t know whether to send him down the the the sass route or into the cloud world, or into scripting and scripting. No matter which direction you go. It is super valuable

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Andy Whiteside: for this kind of runtime code.

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Andy Whiteside: power, management or management.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah, you know it’s it, you know, I think Linux is, and you know I I’d be curious of your thoughts on this Andy. I mean, I think

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Patrick Toner: knowing Linux now, there’s just more and more systems back in Front-end Moving to Linux is probably

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Patrick Toner: a great place for any young person who wants to get into you know technology.

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Patrick Toner: But you know, to your point scripting is it’s just. I remember when I was working in health care. There was one guy he was like a power shell scripting with, and everybody would go to him, and he was. He was probably about job security that you know that hospital would go down without the guy.

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Andy Whiteside: Well, and I actually have this in my background. I was becoming an AI X administrator unix at 1 point, and I was playing with Linux

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Andy Whiteside: and then I got a job at Microsoft doing support for a couple of years, and then around that time Microsoft brought power shell forward because they realized that having a real shell was going to be super powerful in the enterprise space or in in you know the business world.

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Andy Whiteside: and they they went from kind of a consumer operating system to a true business operating system, multi-user scripting true shell behind it. And honestly for me, I think that’s what’s happened. I think the Linux world, the unix world, became the Linux world to some degree. And the the the Microsoft world started thinking shell was important as well. Therefore scripting became a real thing Instead of you know, batch file stuff

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Andy Whiteside: that was going on and then. Now, all these worlds, if you really want to be a a powerful strong entity in the configuration, because think about it. You have a ui that somebody can design that can do. X could do X number of things, but at a script level at a at a shell level you could do 100 times those things

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Andy Whiteside: things you couldn’t fit on a screen or design in a Ui.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I mean it kind of what we’re talking about, right? We’re talking about, you know, an an operating system with a Ui that has so many little, you know, levers. I mean 20 something years worth of development.

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Patrick Toner: and there’s still need at times to custom script something.

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Patrick Toner: you know, even when you’re talking about a solution like this, it just has like 7,000 things you can change in the Ui. There’s going to come a point, really. That’s 7,005, 7,006.

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Andy Whiteside: You need those things outside the bounds

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Andy Whiteside: you you can’t fit all those things in a Ui. Nobody has time to design it you I to do all that. So Therefore, if you want to do the sort of superficial level stuff, then you use the Ui If you want to get deeper or like. In this case, script it, and schedule it.

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Andy Whiteside: Well, you can’t do that in the Ui.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah. Well, you can in this Ui I guess. Schedule it. you schedule it, you know, at at boot, but it’s not, you know. But yeah, most most of the time that’s not going to be

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Andy Whiteside: well. No, I mean nobody sitting there. Every time the machine comes up to click, click, click! You’ve got to write it into a script

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Andy Whiteside: via the power of the shell, and then stick that into the ums, maybe through a ui. But then that point you’re just pointing to a script or some type of command that’s going to run each time

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Andy Whiteside: super powerful head. So if you’re 70 years old or 20 years old, and you plan to be relevant in it for the next

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Andy Whiteside: well forever.

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Andy Whiteside: go understand shells and go and learn how to script.

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Andy Whiteside: And you’ll make yourself a valuable resource.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah. And you know, if you’re a Nigel person, you know, join the community, and you know you’ll see the the people in that community that are the most

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Patrick Toner: that had the most valuable feedback

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Patrick Toner: who constantly come up with solutions. They’re the ones who know the they know when it’s scripting, and

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Patrick Toner: you know it’s there. There’s never been a better time in the every you know. There’s all these different training platforms. you could pay a monthly fee, and so you know an expert walk you through it. There’s really never been a better time to learn this type of stuff. You do it from the comfort of your home, and

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Patrick Toner: never have to leave and just have somebody walk you through it. So it’s.

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Patrick Toner: It’s great stuff.

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Andy Whiteside: So, Patrick, if you had to start learning a shell language tomorrow, which one. Would you start with?

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Patrick Toner: Yeah, If I had to start one

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Patrick Toner: it it would either be power. I would either really want to know powershell power shells touch it touches so many things, you know, and I just think about my background a little bit. Some roles I’ve worked in

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Patrick Toner: you know. You look again, making the the analogy of you know the example of the guy we’re doing in health care.

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Patrick Toner: You just.

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Patrick Toner: you know, took a lot of time he learned self taught, and he knew power, shell scripting really well. and he was super valuable. I would. So it either be I would.

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Patrick Toner: But I I think Powershell is probably going to be the most

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Patrick Toner: you know the most used, so that that that’s probably a good place to to for anybody.

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Andy Whiteside: I agree. well, so I I I was coming up in the AI X world at 1 point, and I was learning corn shell which is similar to Bash.

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Andy Whiteside: but then I started going to Microsoft route, because that’s where I got my next set of jobs. And that’s when I started to become aware of Powershell.

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Andy Whiteside: and then we did a podcast yesterday around the Citrix stuff, and it included. It was about, Linux

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Andy Whiteside: and I didn’t realize until then how much effort had gone into bringing power shell over to the Linux world that way it becomes a ubiquitous thing.

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Andy Whiteside: So whether it’s maybe a azure, or whether it’s a Linux OS, or whether it’s windows, or whether it’s maybe aws.

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Andy Whiteside: i’m not sure about the Google guys at this point. But powershell would be one

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Andy Whiteside: that I would. I would go down the route of that’s again with my 20 year, old son. I’m trying to figure. Okay, Where do I point him?

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Andy Whiteside: And I? There’s so many things to the point of that. But if you could learn how to write.

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Andy Whiteside: and if you could learn power shell and how to use it for the command and the commandlets, and then turn around and be able to put that into a script, and then schedule that script. Then you’re You’re on your path to being a well paid person and technology for many, many years to come.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah, totally agree.

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Andy Whiteside: And you can impress the hell out of your friends, too.

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Patrick Toner: That’s true. Well, not all your friends, but at least your technical friends.

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Andy Whiteside: I would say, even some of your non technical fringe like, hey, you do this. Watch this, just type it out and hit sin. And this beautiful thing of messaging going across the screen happens, and you know they think you’re a a genius, and all you did was type a little command with the switch or something on it. Or.

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Patrick Toner: Yeah, I I think we’ve had this discussion about, you know, impressing our wives with these things. I’m i’m pretty sure if I tried to show my wife powershell scripting. you know, she would probably fall asleep. But I think for those years she really couldn’t explain what I did for a living.

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Patrick Toner: I still can’t.

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Andy Whiteside: Yeah, he works on computers. That’s it. That’s it. The computers is is that you know that’s very simple, very basic computers that he

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Patrick Toner: makes all the payments on all this stuff around here. That’s all. There you go 2 very important things. Yeah.

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Andy Whiteside: all right, sir. Well, I appreciate the time and good discussion, and we’ll we’ll pick a topic and do it again next week.

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Patrick Toner: Great thank you.