Tag Archive for Linux User & Developer

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.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 151

Linux User & Developer Issue 151This latest issue of Linux User & Developer magazine includes, in addition to my usual four-page news spread, a two-page review of Intel’s latest entry into the embedded market: the Quark-based Edison, an ultra-tiny single-board computer the size of a postage stamp.

Sadly, the Edison I reviewed isn’t quite the Edison that Intel originally unveiled. The original Edison was to use the SD Card form factor, making it easy to build expansion boards by using a standard SD Card slot component. It was also to run exclusively on the Quark, a low-power x86 processor built from the old Pentium microarchitecture. The latter feature was nixed when feedback from users of the Galileo, another Quark-based embedded development board, revealed that it was too underpowered to be of much use; the former when Intel discovered it didn’t have enough pins on the SD Card layout to make useful connections.

The result of these last-minute modifications is the Edison you can buy today. The SD Card layout has been ditched for a stamp-sized board featuring a high-density Samtec connector on the underside, making it more awkward for hobbyist development, while the Quark chip is still present but relegated to coprocessor status while an Atom processor handles running the operating system.

My review sample, kindly provided by Intel UK, came with the Arduino-compatible break-out board. When connected to the Edison, this creates an overly expensive and extremely large development board with Arduino-compatible headers – but one which, the promise goes, you can use to refine a design which can then be implemented in a far smaller footprint using a bare Edison board and your own custom break-out board.

As for how I got on with the Edison and whether I rate it as any better than Intel’s previous offerings – the Galileo and MinnowBoard families – you’ll have to buy the issue to find out. If you do, you’ll also be treated to my regular four-page spread of all the latest news in the world of GNU/Linux, open-hardware, open-software, open-governance, and open-anything-else-that-catches-my-eye, plus a bunch of articles written by people who aren’t me.

Linux User & Developer Issue 151 is available in all good supermarkets and newsagents, many bad ones, and digitally via services including Zinio now.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 150

Linux User & Developer, Issue 150This month’s Linux User & Developer includes both my regular four-page news spread and a review of the MinnowBoard Max single-board computer from Intel.

The MinnowBoard Max is the latest in Intel’s increasingly scattershot efforts to make an impact in the hobbyist-grade single-board computer market. Like its predecessor, the MinnowBoard Max is open hardware and produced in partnership with CircuitCo – the company behind the BeagleBoard and BeagleBone Black – and features the x86 instruction set architecture. Where it differs is in how easy it is to use and how much power it can offer.

I reviewed the original MinnowBoard design back in Issue 131, and found it lacking on a couple of levels: the single-core Atom chip was woefully underpowered compared to rival boards like the Gizmo, and its 32-bit UEFI firmware made it near-impossible to boot any operating system bar the bundled and extremely cut-down Yocto Linux installation.

The MinnowBoard Max clearly demonstrates that Intel is listening to feedback, though. The 32-bit single-core Atom is now a 64-bit dual-core model, and comes complete with a 64-bit UEFI implementation. The result: significantly improved compatibility and performance. A single-core version, slightly cheaper and drawing less power, is also available but not something I have yet tested.

As to whether the MinnowBoard Max is a worthy investment in a market near-monopolised by chips based on the ARM instruction set architecture, you’ll have to read the full review to find out.

The review, my four-page spread of all the latest happenings in the world of open-everything, and a whole bunch of stuff written by other people is available now from your local newsagent, supermarket, or digitally via Zinio and similar distribution services.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 149

Linux User & Developer Issue 149This month’s Linux User & Developer features my usual four pages of news from the world of openness alongside a review of some interesting software I’ve been playing with: Keybase.

Created, oddly enough, by the co-founders of dating site OkCupid, Max Krohn and Chris Coyne, Keybase is technically little more than a wrapper around the open-source Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) implementation GNU Privacy Guard (GPG). Conceptually, however, it turns the entire PGP/GPG concept on its head, and in doing so aims to make it as easy as possible for less technical types to enjoy the benefits of strong cryptography.

A quick backgrounder: PGP/GPG use public-key cryptography, which is a highly-secure method of sharing secrets. Rather than traditional encryption, which requires a secret known to both parties, public-key cryptography splits the secret in two: the public key is available to anyone, but can only be used for encryption; decryption requires the private key, kept secret. It can be best imagined as an extremely secure padlock: I can give you the padlock, but once you’ve snapped it shut only my key will open it again.

The trouble then comes from verifying that the public key you’ve encrypted to genuinely belongs to your intended recipient, and not to a third-party trying to eavesdrop on your conversation. In the PGP/GPG world, this is assured by a ‘web of trust’ in which individuals physically meet and verify the identity of others, whose public keys are then cryptographically signed. Secure, but awkward.

Keybase’s solution: automated verification powered by social networking. ‘Proofs’ are posted to various social networks, currently ranging from Twitter and Reddit to Coinbase and even the DNS records of your personal website. These proofs are cryptographically signed with your private key. When someone wants to encrypt a message to you, they can verify these proofs through the Keybase website – or, for improved security, an open-source command-line application which wraps around GPG – to confirm that the key they are using belongs to the person in control of said accounts.

Coupled with a neat web interface which allows, among other features, non-members to quickly send encrypted messages to any Keybase member, it’s a great project. While it’s currently in beta, it shows considerable promise – and given the government du jour’s focus on eroding privacy, it’s something everyone should at least consider playing with.

To read the full review, plus my ever-enlightening four-page news spread and event calendar, head to your local newsagent or supermarket, or grab a digital copy via Zinio or similar distribution services.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 148

Linux User & Developer Issue 147As well as my usual four-page news spread, this month’s Linux User & Developer includes a two-page review of the CubieBoard 4 single-board computer and a chunk of work I did for the Ultimate Distro & FOSS Guide 2015.

Looking at the guide first, it’s a natural follow-on to the work I’ve done in years past for the magazine. Each year, a multi-page round-up of the ‘best’ Linux distributions is published; this year, deputy editor Gavin Thomas asked for something a little different. The result: a write-up of picks for ‘best’ distribution in a variety of categories, but also covering free and open-source software (FOSS) packages which can be installed in any distribution to extend its capabilities in a given category.

Some of the feature was written in-house by the magazine’s staff writers, but I was given four categories relevant to my expertise: Linux for developers, for enterprises, for security professionals, and for those looking for a distribution with rolling-release development methodology. In each case, a top pick was selected along with three alternatives. Five FOSS packages relating to the category were also highlighted, except in the rolling-release section where instead I highlighted five general-purpose FOSS packages which have received my personal seal of approval.

My review of the CubieBoard 4 from low-power computing specialist New IT takes the perspective of a Linux-confident user, as is usual for the magazine. As a result, some of the software-related disadvantages I highlighted in my review of the same hardware for Custom PC don’t apply – although it’s still fair to say that CubieTech should spend a little more time on polishing the sharp edges of its software releases before it brings out yet another new product.

For those unfamiliar, the big selling point of the CubieBoard 4 is that it packs eight ARM-based processing cores into a low-power fanless design. Using ARM’s big.LITTLE design paradigm, four are high-performance cores while four are low-power cores. Unlike its rivals, however, the CubieBoard 4’s AllWinner A80 chip provides the host OS with access to all eight cores simultaneously – making for a seriously powerful machine for multi-threaded use. While heat builds up quickly if you’re thrashing all eight cores, it’s one of the most powerful SBCs I’ve tested besting even the £199.99 Nvidia Jetson TK1 on CPU-bound multi-threaded tasks.

All this, plus my regular four-page look at upcoming events and everything interesting in the open source, open hardware, open governance and anything-else-open-I-think-of world, is available now at your local newsagent or digitally via Zinio and similar services. As always, my content will be republished translated into French in the coming months as part of Inside Linux Magazine.

UPDATE 20150130:

Since writing the CubieBoard 4 review, which was based on the v1.1 hardware revision, CubieTech has modified the board and released v1.2. New IT has kindly sent out an updated model, and there are numerous changes for the better: the Wi-Fi antenna no longer pushes up against a case bolt, the glue-on heatsink has been swapped out for a push-pin version with a tube of thermal interface material (TIM) and an air-gap between the fins and the top of the case, and the case itself has been revised to accommodate the push-pins. The GPIO header also now comes with a pin mapping table silk-screened directly onto the PCB for quick reference. While none of these improvements are dramatic enough to alter the overall score, they’re certainly welcomed.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 147

Linux User & Developer Issue 147This month’s Linux User & Developer magazine includes my review of a device I’ve been wanting to play with ever since I first interviewed its creator, Andreas Olofsson: the Adapteva Parallella.

I was introduced to the Parallella project way back in November 2012, when I interviewed Olofsson ahead of the launch of a Kickstarter campaign to create a low-cost development board for his company’s many-core tile-based Epiphany chip architecture. The promise: a single-board computer boasting a dual-core ARM processor, user-accessible field-programmable gate array (FPGA) and a 16- or 64-core Epiphany co-processor for the bargain-basement sum of $99. The Kickstarter campaign ended its run successfully, and the boards were produced – but there was a long delay between the Kickstarter production run and general availability, and a further delay before the boards became available in the UK.

Thanks to RS Components’ UK arm, availability is a solved issue. While the price of the boards might have increased – the attention-grabbing $99 price having proved unsustainable – the specifications remains the same, with 16-core Epiphany-III boards available now and 64-core Epiphany-IV boards just around the corner. For the Linux user, the magazine’s target audience, they’re tempting indeed: low-power enough to run on battery, a Parallella has the grunt to handle even complex tasks like machine vision but lacks readily-available software written for the Epiphany architecture. With partial OpenCL compatibility, it’s relatively straightforward to get parallelisable code running on the co-processor – and while optimisation is a harder task, the board is nevertheless tempting for anyone familiar with OpenCL and other multi-threading interfaces.

As to whether the Parallella is worth the asking price, you’ll have to buy the magazine to find out – and if you do, you’ll also be treated to my usual four pages of news from the world of open source, open hardware, open governance and open-anything-else-that-catches-my-eye.

Linux User & Developer Issue 147 is available at all god newsagents and most bad ones, supermarkets, or electronically via Zinio and similar services now. As always, the content in this issue will be republished in a French translation as Inside Linux in the coming months.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 146

Linux User & Developer Issue 146In this month’s Linux User & Developer Magazine, my usual four-page news spread is joined by a review of the remarkably compact SolidRun CuBox-i4Pro ARM-based microcomputer – but don’t let its diminutive size fool you into thinking that it lacks grunt.

Kindly supplied by Jason King at low-power computing specialist New IT, the CuBox-i4Pro can be considered a companion product to SolidRun’s Raspberry Pi-like HummingBoard. Where the HummingBoard is clearly aimed at electronics enthusiasts, with its bare circuit board and easily-accessible – and undeniably Raspberry Pi-inspired – general-purpose input-output (GPIO) header, the CuBox-i family is more polished. Like its predecessor, the CuBox, it’s supplied in a roughly cubic plastic case which achieves its tiny footprint with clever use of a dual-board mezzanine design and includes features – like eSATA and optical audio connectivity – that highlight its targeting of the home theatre market.

I was undeniably impressed by the performance of the CuBox-i4Pro, the top-end model in the CuBox-i range. As well as 2GB of memory, the system packs a quad-core Freescale i.MX6 processor. Its biggest feature, however, is compatibility: software created for the enthusiast-centric HummingBoard can be run on the CuBox-i family without modification, and vice-versa. Ever the sceptic, I proved this to myself by taking a micro-SD card I’d prepared for the HummingBoard and sticking it into the CuBox-i4Pro; it booted up perfectly and without complaint.

That cross-compatibility makes SolidRun one of the only companies to offer product ranges aimed at both enthusiasts and those who want a finished plug-and-play product. Whether it will tempt anyone into making the leap from rival platforms, of course, remains to be seen – but it’s worth mentioning that the HummingBoard has already seen adoption as the go-to ARM testbed platform for several Linux distributions.

If you want to know my final verdict, as well as giving yourself a chance to catch up on the month’s happenings in the open source, open hardware, open governance and open-anything-else-interesting world, you’d best head over to your local newsagent or supermarket and pick up a copy. Alternatively, you can read it from the comfort of wherever you happen to be right now via digital distribution services including Zinio.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 145

Linux User & Developer Issue 145In addition to my usual four-page news spread this month’s Linux User & Developer magazine includes a review of the SolidRun HummingBoard-i2eX, a powerful dual-core microcomputer designed to be roughly Raspberry Pi compatible.

If my description of the HummingBoard sounds familiar, it should: I reviewed the same device in a head-to-head with the similarly Raspberry Pi-inspired Banana Pi in Custom PC Issue 134. Where that review focused on a hobbyist perspective – given that it appeared in my regular five-page spread, Gareth Halfacree’s Hobby Tech – this review is more tailored for the Linux crowd to better address the magazine’s target audience. The board itself, of course, remains unchanged: a dual-core Freescale i.MX6 processor with powerful graphics is installed alongside a chunk of RAM on a computer-on-module (COM) mezzanine board inserted into a feature-packed expansion board, both being supplied by Jason King at low-power computing specialist New IT.

Little time passed between the two reviews, so there wasn’t any chance for SolidRun to tweak the software. At the time of writing, Android 4.4 KitKat was available alongside a Debian variant which truly unlocked the power of the processor. Most impressive of all, however, is the cross-compatibility: the HummingBoard is based on the Carrier-One, an internal development board used by SolidRun while testing the Freescale chip; the same chip is available in single-, dual- and quad-core flavours in the company’s CuBox-i family of media-centric microcomputers – and the HummingBoard is entirely software-compatible, to the extent of being able to take a micro-SD card out of a CuBox-i and boot it on a HummingBoard without modification.

As to whether the board, which includes mSATA and mini-PCI Express connectivity in addition to the usual USB and GPIO features you’d expect of a Raspberry Pi-alike, is worth the cash, you’ll have to pick up a copy of the magazine to find out. If you do, you’ll also find four pages of the finest news I could cull from the worlds of open software, open hardware, open governance and more – along with the usual monthly event calendar.

You can pick up Linux User & Developer Issue 145 at your nearest newsagent or supermarket, or digitally via Zinio or similar distribution services.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 144

Linux User & Developer Issue 144In addition to my regular four-page news spread, this month’s Linux User & Developer magazine includes a detailed review of the Nvidia Jetson TK1 single-board computer (SBC) as so very kindly provided by Zotac.

Impressive popularity in the US coupled with regulatory red-tape delayed the Jetson TK1’s release in the UK and prevented press from getting their hands on the gadget. Thankfully, Zotac – the company chosen to take on the logistical details of international availability by Nvidia – was kind enough to provide me with the only press sample in Europe ahead of its formal launch at high-street retailer Maplin.

A review of the board was published in Custom PC Issue 133 from a hobbyists perspective as part of an extended seven-page Hobby Tech column, but this coverage concentrates much more closely on the device’s suitability for the Linux developer. As a result, you’ll find more in-depth analysis of the bundled operating system – Linux 4 Tegra, a customised variant of Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux – and a critical look at the lack of OpenCL support, despite its presence in the Tegra K1 process on which the Jetson TK1 is based.

I won’t give too much away here, but I’d urge you to pick up a copy of the magazine and read the review before shelling out the £200 – far higher than the $192 of its US launch, even taking VAT and import tax into account – Maplin is charging for the device, especially if you have plans to use it in hobbyist electronics projects or for GPGPU offload tasks.

A visit to your local supermarket, newsagent, or pointing your browser at digital distribution services like Zinio will also reward you with four pages of the latest happenings in the worlds of open source, open hardware and open governance, along with a selection of interesting features written by people who aren’t me. The contents of this magazine will also be later republished in France, translated as Inside Linux Magazine.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 143

Linux User & Developer Issue 143In this month’s Linux User & Developer magazine you’ll find, in addition to my usual four-page news spread, a review of the Banana Pi – a ‘clone’ of the Raspberry Pi featuring upgraded specifications.

I first discussed the Banana Pi in Custom PC Issue 131, where I compared it to the impending launch of the SolidRun HummingBoard. I shied away from offering a true review of either device, however: the HummingBoard had not been released at the time and I was working on pre-production hardware, while the Banana Pi suffered from glitchy software that its creators assured me would be addressed in future updates. Sure enough, the software has now been bolstered and works like a charm – giving me the chance to really put the Banana Pi through its paces.

There’s been plenty of negative sentiment towards the Banana Pi since it hit the Chinese market, mostly centring around its clearly Raspberry Pi-inspired name and more-or-less cloned layout. I, however, welcome its release: with a more powerful Raspberry Pi at least a year or more away from release, the Banana Pi is a perfect upgrade for those who find the Raspberry’s single-core ARMv6 processor – woefully out of date by modern standards, having been near-obsolete when the board launched two years ago – lacking.

The Banana Pi isn’t just a slavish copy, either. Sure, the 26-pin GPIO header is present and correct and you’ll find the right ports in more or less the right places, but the board includes a dual-core ARMv7 processor, 1GB of RAM, SATA connectivity and even an on-board microphone. In short, it’s a serious upgrade and offers considerably more software compatibility than the device from which it takes its inspiration – including the ability to run Android, something that was promised for the Raspberry Pi shortly after launch but never materialised.

If you want to read my conclusion on whether the board is worth the £41.95 that UK reseller New IT is charging, you’ll have to pick up Linux User & Developer Issue 143 either physically or via Zinio and similar digital distribution service. If you do, you’ll also find four pages of the latest open source and open hardware news, an events calendar, and a variety of things written by people who aren’t me.