Linux User & Developer, Issue 158

Linux User & Developer Issue 158As always, you’ll find two pieces of mine in this month’s Linux User & Developer magazine: the four-page news spread, and a review of Hewlett Packard’s latest Ubuntu-based entry-level laptop, the HP 255 G3.

Based on low-power AMD accelerated processing units, there are three devices to HP’s Ubuntu-powered laptop range: the entry-level 255 G3, as tested; the mid-range 355 G3; and the top-end, yet still budget-friendly, 455 G3. Prices increase by £50 each step up the ladder you take, jumping from just shy of £200 for the 255 G3 to £300 for the 455.

It’s fair to say HP’s hedging its bets with the x55 G3 family: while the model I tested arrived with Canonical’s Ubuntu installed, all versions are also available with Microsoft’s Windows on instead – a fact telegraphed by the use of the Windows logo on the Super key across all models, including the Ubuntu variants. That’s not something I can hold against the company, though: Linux on desktops and laptops has always been a hard sell, though in my opinion it would do better concentrating on higher-end models for developers – as rival Dell did with its Project Sputnik.

Supplied by nearby e-tailer Ebuyer, I had a blast reviewing the laptop – it made a real change from the usual teeny-tiny microcomputers, and photographing something with a back-lit screen is always a fun challenge. I was also surprised to see just how capable the entry-level model was, although it was disappointing to find the now more than three-year-old Ubuntu 12.04 LTS as the operating system of choice.

For my final conclusion on the device, my regular four-page news spread, and a bunch of stuff written by people who aren’t me, you can pick up Linux User & Developer Issue 158 in your nearest newsagent or supermarket now, or grab it digitally from Zinio or similar services.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 152

Linux User & Developer Issue 152The pages of this month’s Linux User & Developer magazine include, in addition to my regular four-page news spread near the front, a review of the interesting Bq Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition smartphone.

While it’s a shift from my usual review fodder – although I have reviewed Android tablets for a LU&D group-test a few years ago – the Bq Aquaris is an interesting beast. Based on hardware designed for an entry-level Android smartphone, the operating system has been replaced with a very-early-release build of Ubuntu Touch, otherwise known as Ubuntu for Phones and born from the abortive Ubuntu for Android project.

As the name suggests, Ubuntu for Phones is designed specifically for smartphones and includes UI modifications as required. Its biggest innovation is in Scopes, app-like ‘views’ which gather information from multiple – though, at present, very limited – sources for at-a-glance viewing. The Today scope, for example, shows weather and upcoming appointments, while a Nearby scope shows weather and nearby Yelp listings.

The whole thing feels like a mash-up between Android 1.5, webOS, and Sailfish, complete with a card-like multitasking environment and gesture-based access to various system functions. Ubuntu for Phones’ biggest selling-point, though, is the ability to act as a converged device by connecting to a display, keyboard and mouse and switching to a desktop-style user interface – a feature entirely missing from the entry-level Aquaris, which will be a disappointment for anyone who remembers the failed crowd-funding campaign for the top-end Ubuntu Edge device.

If you want to know my conclusions, Linux User & Developer Issue 152 is available at all good newsagents and supermarkets now, or digitally via Zinio: Linux User & Developer and similar services.

Custom PC, Issue 141

Custom PC Issue 141If you’re a fan of my work, this month’s Custom PC magazine is going to be something of a treat: as well as the usual five-page Hobby Tech column, I’ve penned an eight-page special cover feature on the Raspberry Pi 2 single-board computer.

The special blends nicely into Hobby Tech itself: a two-page review of the Raspberry Pi 2 straddles the two features, leading in to a two-page round-up of the best operating systems available for the Pi – along with a preview of Windows 10, coming to the platform in the summer. Four pages of tutorials then follow: turning the Raspberry Pi 2 into a media streamer, a Windows- and Mac-compatible file server, and getting started with Canonical’s new Snappy Ubuntu Core and its innovative packaging system.

The next page walks the reader through a series of tips-and-tricks to help squeeze the most from the £30 marvel: overclocking the new quad-core Broadcom BCM2836 processor, built specifically for the Raspberry Pi 2 and offering a significant improvement over the single-core original BCM2835; expanding the capabilities of the Pi’s general-purpose input-output (GPIO) header; setting up a multi-boot platform to try out different operating systems; and updating the firmware and kernel modules to the very latest revisions using rpi-update.

Finally, the feature finishes with a single-page round-up of the best and brightest rivals to the Raspberry Pi’s crown: Lemaker’s Banana Pro, a dual-core Pi-compatible device with impressive operating system options; the SolidRun HummingBoard, a computer-on-module (CoM) design which promises future upgrade potential; the CubieTech Cubieboard 4, which packs an octa-core processor; the low-cost Hardkernel Odroid C1, the only entry in the list I haven’t personally tested; and the Imagination Technology Creator CI20, which bucks the trend by packing a MIPS-architecture processor in place of the more common ARM chips.

The remaining three pages of my regular Hobby Tech column – which celebrates its second birthday with this issue – feature an interview with local game devs Kriss and shi of Wetgenes regarding their clever Deluxe Paint-inspired pixel-art editor Swanky Paint and a review of Intel’s diminutive Atom- and Quark-powered Edison development platform.

All this, plus a smaller-than-usual amount of stuff written by people who aren’t me, can be yours from a newsagent, supermarket, via subscription or digitally via Zinio and similar services.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 140

Linux User & Developer Issue 140In this month’s Linux User & Developer Magazine, I take a look at two devices from the world of single-board computers – just for a change. The first is the Wolfson Audio Card, an add-on for the Raspberry Pi that promises to boost its sound capabilities considerably; the second, a quad-core Freescale i.MX6-based machine that tries its hardest to be an open-source set-top box. Plus, as usual, there’s my usual four-page news spread to enjoy.

The Wolfson Audio Card – or Wolfson Audio Board, depending on who you’re talking to – was supplied, as is usual for this kind of gear, by the lovely people at CPC. It’s the same device I reviewed for Custom PC Issue 130, so if you’ve read that review you’ll know what to expect: a piggyback board which takes up the GPIO port at the top-left of the Pi and adds digital audio inputs and outputs, significantly higher quality analogue audio support, a quality high-definition codec and even on-board microphones.

The quad-core SBC, however, is new. Supplied by UK distributor PCI Express – and yes, that’s a very awkward name for which to search – the Matrix TBS2910 is a powerful system based around the Freescale i.MX6 processor. I was especially excited to give this system a try, as the i.MX6 is considerably more powerful than the dual-core systems I’m used to – and, as an added incentive for giving it a thorough examination, will be the basis for SolidRun’s upcoming Hummingboard SBC design.

The Matrix is pretty unique in the market, in the respect that it comes from a company – TBS – more usually associated with digital television equipment. The reason is simple: the device is supplied pre-loaded with an XBMC-based Linux distribution and drivers for the company’s digital tuners, which can be connected via USB or through the on-board mini-PCI Express slot. I can see the latter interesting those who fancy adding new features to embedded projects, but there is a catch: switching to a different operating system requires the use of a Windows-only software utility, which sadly cost the Matrix some points in a review for a Linux magazine.

You can read these, plus coverage of the Hummingboard and its rival the Banana Pi, Google’s adoption of IBM’s Power architecture, more news from the Linux Foundation on its Core Infrastructure initiative and the death of Canonical’s Ubuntu for Android project, in the latest issue of Linux User & Developer in shops now or digitally via Zinio and similar services. Readers in France will be able to read the same in a couple of months as the localised title Inside Linux.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 139

Linux User & Developer Issue 139In addition to my usual four-page news spread, this month’s Linux User & Developer includes a pair of reviews: the PiFace Control & Display add-on for the Raspberry Pi, and the Cubieboard 2 single-board computer.

First, the Cubieboard 2. Despite its name, the Cubieboard 2 is near-identical to the original Cubieboard; where the original had an AllWinner A10 system-on-chip (SoC) processor, however, its successor boasts the more powerful AllWinner A20 – cleverly designed to be pin-compatible for easy upgrades.

Buying the Cubieboard in the UK was never easy, especially given the original model’s limited production run. Low-power computing specialist New IT has solved that problem, becoming a reseller for the boards. That’s good news, because the Cubieboard 2 – and its more powerful follow-up, the Cubietruck – is an impressive device: as well as the dual-core Cortex-A7 1GHz processor, it boasts 1GB of DDR3 memory, 4GB of on-board NAND flash storage – pre-loaded with a customised version of Google’s Android by default – and includes on-board SATA in addition to the usual Ethernet, USB and audio connectivity.

The Cubieboard’s true power is hidden on the underside of the board: a pair of 48-pin headers provide access to almost every single feature on the AllWinner A20 chip, from hacker-friendly I2C and SPI to LVDS and VGA video signals. In my opinion, this alone – even ignoring the significantly improved performance – is a reason to consider paying the premium the board demands over the popular Raspberry Pi.

Speaking of the Pi, the PiFace Control & Display add-on is an impressive piece of equipment. A piggyback board designed to mount onto the Pi’s GPIO header, the PiFace C&D offers a 16×2 character-based LCD panel, a series of buttons and an infra-red receiver – all of which can be addressed using a simple Python-based library, replete with example projects from a game of hangman to a system monitor script.

With the Pi being well-suited to embedded projects thanks to its GPIO capabilities, low power draw and impressive pricing, the PiFace C&D makes implementing such projects without local access to a display and keyboard a cinch. While the pricing is perhaps a little high – doubling the cost of a Model A-based project – it does make life a lot easier.

Finally, my news spread this month covers the launch of the WebScaleSQL MySQL fork, Nvidia’s Jetson K1 developer board, Facebook’s Hack language, the brief tenure of Mozilla chief executive Brendan Eich, the Canonical-KDE display server spat, the rebirth of the Full Disclosure mailing list and more.

For all this, and a bunch of stuff I didn’t write, head to your local newsagent or supermarket, or pick up a digital copy from Zinio. French readers can expect to see the same content, translated and published under the Inside Linux title, on shop shelves next month.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 119

Linux User & Developer, Issue 119This month’s Linux User & Developer features my biggest work for the magazine yet: a massive ten-page test of Canonical’s Ubuntu 12.10 operating system. It also marks the first time I’ve written news articles for the magazine, taking care of the initial two-page spread to cover for a staff writer’s absence.

First, the Ubuntu 12.10 feature. Officially the biggest single feature ever run in Linux User & Developer magazine, and the major focus of the magazine’s cover, the article takes a look at Canonical’s latest Linux release in a novel manner: rather than judging the software in a vacuum, as with most reviews, it is instead compared to close rivals in a range of categories including openness, appearance, support and community engagement. The result is somewhere between a review and a group test, but on a much larger scale: a typical group test takes up five pages, where this feature takes up a massive ten.

It’s a departure from my usual features for the magazine, and something I enjoyed. It’s not strictly speaking a review, as there were no scores and no real conclusion about the quality of Ubuntu 12.10 in and of itself – but if you’re a long-time Ubuntu user or simply a distro-hopper looking for a change, I’d recommend giving it a read.

The news feature, a two-page spread at the front of the magazine, looked at three stories from the open-source world – including one which, shock horror, paints Microsoft in a reasonably positive light. I’m not going to tell you what the stories are, naturally: go and buy the magazine if you’re that curious.

Linux User & Developer Issue 119 is available now wherever you would normally buy magazines, unless it isn’t – in which case either ask the staff to order it in, or grab a digital copy via Zinio.