Linux User & Developer, Issue 159

Linux User & Developer Issue 159My review for this month’s Linux User & Developer Magazine is the frankly impressive CompuLab Fitlet miniature PC, which joins my usual four-page news spread between the publication’s ever-colourful covers.

I first reviewed the Fitlet in Custom PC Issue 148, published last month, but where that review focused on the device’s suitability for the hobbyist and for general-purpose computing my version for Linux User naturally takes the perspective of a die-hard Linux… well, user. As a result, the fact that CompuLab supplied it with a pre-installed version of Linux Mint 17.2 was a bonus – although there’s nothing to stop you wiping the system and installing any other flavour you fancy, thanks to its entirely standard architecture.

Traditionally, driver support in Linux has always been a pain when it comes to shiny new hardware. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had a device on the test-bench and found that it requires a bleeding-edge kernel or an array of patches to even boot – but not so the Fitlet. Everything, from the wireless to accelerated graphics, was working just fine out-the-box with the sole exception of the General Purpose Input-Output (GPIO) header – an oversight the company has since corrected with the release of an official SDK.

The sheer array of options on offer is enough to turn anyone’s head, too. Those who like an uncluttered desk will find the VESA bracket accessory a must-have; others might find the DIN rail mount a better choice; still more could opt for the larger passive heatsink to overclock the CPU – a one-setting feature directly in the BIOS, requiring no modification and with no effect on warranty – to wring some more performance out. It’s even possible to spec the Fitlet with different ports thanks to its modular Function And Connectivity Extension T-card (FACET) system: the dual-Ethernet single-eSATA default can be quickly modified to quadruple-Ethernet, if that’s your sort of thing.

It’s fair to say I’m a big fan of the Fitlet, and to read the review in full – plus all the latest happenings in the world of open source – all you need do is head to your nearest newsagent or supermarket, or download the issue digitally via Zinio or similar services.

Micro Mart, Issue 1195

Micro Mart, Issue 1195My first piece for Dennis Publishing’s weekly IT mag Micro Mart, and it’s a cover feature. Not that I’m boasting or anything. Okay, perhaps I’m boasting a bit.

As you can probably see from the cover it’s a look at AMD’s disappointing launch of its consumer-grade Bulldozer-core processors, the AMD FX Series. Completed to the tightest possible schedule – I received an email requesting a 3,500-word feature on Thursday, with a deadline of the following Monday – it forms an overview of the history of Bulldozer, its launch in the server market, its consumer launch and the complaints that have been raised over its performance.

It also includes comment from an AMD engineer in the company’s Austin facility on what is being done to address the architecture’s problems – not an easy thing to get on such short notice, and massive thanks to AMD’s André Heidekrueger and Bite PR’s Sami Makinen for organising that so quickly.

It’s a nice piece, if I do say so myself, and hopefully won’t be the last to grace Micro Mart’s cover. Fingers crossed for longer deadlines next time, though…

Linux User & Developer, Issue 109

Linux User & Developer, Issue 109This month’s Linux User & Developer magazine features another cover piece of mine – that’s three in a row, if anyone except me is counting – on Google’s Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ release and what it means for developers.

It was a fun, if somewhat challenging, piece, involving getting comment and option from industry luminaries including Xamarin chief technical officer Miguel de Icaza, Black Duck Software’s Peter Vescuso, Logic PD’s Mark Benson, Linux kernel maintainer Greg Kroah-Hartman and others.

Taking up four pages at the heart of the magazine, the feature looks at what has changed in Android 4.0, the industry’s reaction to those changes, what the re-opening of the source code – closed for Android 3.x ‘Honeycomb’ – means, and how developers can look to capitalise on the software’s release to make some serious dough.

Issue 109 also sees the second part of my three-part series on becoming a bug-fixer for open source projects, focusing on the LibreOffice project (thanks largely to how wonderfully helpful its members have been.) Finally, it includes a group test covering popular email clients, a project that saw me asking friends on Twitter to email sample messages to a test account for flavour – and a chance to see themselves in print, too.

More information is available on the Linux User & Developer website.

Bit-Tech, Raspberry Pi Feature

Raspberry Pi LogoFollowing an interview with Raspberry Pi co-founder Eben Upton last week, the first of two confirmed features: a look at the project, which has created a 700MHz ARM-based credit-card size computer costing just $35, from a modder’s perspective.

Will it take off? Where are the mounting holes? Is it possible to overclock the Broadcom system-on-chip at the heart of the system? What software does it run? Can it play games? Does it support 1080p video playback? Will I ever stop asking these stupid questions?

All this and more answered over on Dennis Publishing’s computing enthusiast site, Bit-Tech.

The second feature to come out of the interview, a more Linux-focused Q&A-style transcription, is scheduled to appear in Imagine Publishing’s Linux User & Developer Magazine, Issue 111.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 108

Continuing my work for Imagine Publishing, this month’s Linux User & Developer magazine has as its cover story a feature I wrote on the top ten Linux distributions of 2011.

Echoing a similar feature created for Issue 100, this latest run-down was a pleasure to write: as before, its creation involved the downloading, installation and configuration of ten Linux distributions within a virtual machine environment (VirtualBox, if you’re curious) so that screenshots of each can be taken.

Rather than using stock screenshots, each image is specific to the feature and includes the same applications – a media player, a calculator and the application menu – for easy comparison between different distributions’ visual styles.

Doing that takes a fair amount of effort, of course, but the result is worth it.

The feature also collects comments and opinions from distributions’ developers and community members, along with a rapid-fire ‘quick facts’ boxout for each.

Also in this latest issue is the first of a three-part series looking into becoming a bug fixer for an open source software project, using the real-world example of the LibreOffice productivity suite and including input from community members Michael Meeks, André Schnabel and Markus Mohrhard.

More information is available on the Linux User & Developer website.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 107

This month’s Linux User & Developer Magazine is a bumper issue for me: as well as another cover story on ten ways to fix common Linux problems, the issue includes my group test of password managers and an in-depth interview with Canonical’s Gerry Carr ahead of the launch of Ubuntu 11.10.

First, the “10 Ways to Fix Linux” piece: this was something of a departure from the norm, but proved a fun challenge. For each problem, the issue needed to be reproduced on a test-bed system – specifically, a VirtualBox environment – in order for screenshots to be taken and each fix tested for viability.

While the piece is unlikely to contain anything to surprise the hardcore among the magazine’s readership, relative newcomers should hopefully find it a useful cut-out-and-keep reference for the most likely issues they’ll come across while using Linux as a personal operating system.

The group test, as is usual, took four popular packages – Seahorse,
KeepassX, PasswordMaker and LastPass – and pitted them against each other to see which emerged the victor. As with most software-based group tests, the packages were installed in a clean Ubuntu environment within VirtualBox to ensure no conflicts were present.

Finally, the interview: conducted over the telephone with Canonical’s Gerry Carr, the piece covered the new features of Ubuntu 11.10, upcoming changes for 12.04, the backlash following the switch from GNOME to Unity on the desktop, and more.

Interviews are always a bit of a pain due to the amount of time taken up with transcription afterwards, but it’s rare they don’t make an interesting read; I’d like to think this one is no exception to that rule.

More information is available on the Linux User & Developer website.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 106

This month’s Linux User & Developer magazine includes two pieces of mine: a review of the latest version of the media streaming VortexBox distribution and a group test covering multi-language integrated development environments (IDEs.)

Aimed at the magazine’s developer readership rather than newcomers to Linux, the group test takes four of the most popular development environments – Komodo, Netbeans, Geany and Eclipse – and puts them head-to-head to see which emerges victorious.

While it’s easy to just look at a list of features, care was taken to ensure that the scoring metrics used were useful: how fast each is, the facilities on offer, the languages supported were all included, but perhaps the most important metric of all – and one not normally seen in a group test – was a look at the availability of commercial support.

The review looked at the latest release of VortexBox, a handy media streaming distribution which can turn unused hardware into a Universal Plug ‘n Play (UPnP) server. As with the majority of distribution tests – except where hardware support or 3D acceleration functionality is on trial – the software was installed into a virtual machine running under Oracle’s VirtualBox.

More information is available on the Linux User & Developer website.