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 127

Linux User & Developer, Issue 127This month’s Linux User & Developer features a singular piece of my work: a review of ZevenOS Neptune, a distribution born from the sadly departed BeOS.

ZevenOS, a German distribution, was originally designed to provide an upgrade path for those coming to Linux from BeOS, a proprietary operating system developed for the BeBox in 1991. While it never really took off commercially, the design of BeOS won it some fans – and ZevenOS took Ubuntu and reskinned it to match the BeOS look and feel.

ZevenOS Neptune, on the other hand, is a different beast. Based on Debian, Ubuntu’s upstream distribution, ZevenOS Neptune is a fork from ZevenOS that aims for a more cutting-edge feel. Sadly, that does come at the cost of its retro-chic appearance: Neptune looks far more like a modern Linux distribution than does the original ZevenOS, which will disappoint fans of BeOS.

For those who don’t mind a fairly cookie-cutter KDE desktop, however, Neptune is pretty snazzy: the ISO includes the ability to turn a bootable USB stick into a full installation with persistent storage – something that normally needs to be done from a separate operating system at the time of creation – and while hard drive installation requires the user to manually partition the drive, handy English and German PDFs are included on the Live DVD desktop to guide new users through the process.

But how is ZevenOS Neptune to use? Does it suffer from stability issues from its Debian Testing roots? Is it worth switching from a rival distro?

Pick up Linux User & Developer Issue 127 at any half-decent newsagent or supermarket, or digitally on Zinio, and you can find out.