Tag Archive for Ubuntu

Linux User & Developer, Issue 173

Linux User & Developer Issue 173This month’s Linux User & Developer includes a rare laptop review, my first for the magazine since the Hewlett Packard 455 G3 in Issue 158, courtesy Newcastle-based Nimbusoft: the Aurora.

The Nimbusoft Aurora is the Ultrabook entry in a range of products the startup company is offering for sale, designed to offer portability at a reasonable price. Based on a chassis from original design manufacturer (ODM) Topstar, the Aurora can be tweaked at the time of ordering: the review sample sent across came with an SSD instead of a hard drive and an upgraded wireless card, both of which were reflected in the slightly raised price in the review.

The hardware’s not the star here, though: Nimbusoft is one of the only companies in the UK not only offering Linux as a pre-installed option on its devices but offering Linux exclusively. You’ll find no option to buy Windows on the Nimbusoft website, nor a PC Specialist-style option to buy the devices without an operating system installed; instead, all laptops come equipped with Ubuntu 16.04.1 LTS and you choice of officially-supported desktop environments.

As a Linux user myself, it’s a great feeling knowing that the laptop you’re firing up is fully supported and won’t run into any strange errors as a result of not-quite-ready wireless drivers or a badly-supported LCD backlight circuit. Accordingly, I was thrilled when the Aurora booted up in to an absolutely stock Ubuntu install with no bloat or branding, ready for me to give the device a name and create my user account.

While Nimbusoft may not offer Windows machines, the same can’t be said for other Topstar customers; as a result, there’s the usual workaround for the Super key being emblazoned with Microsoft’s Windows logo: a sticker, with a range of replacement logos available at the time of purchase or the key being left stock if you’d prefer. The same can’t be said of the Internet Explorer logo on one of the shortcut keys, though, and I was disappointed that this didn’t trigger Firefox when pressed – but that, the relatively poor keyboard, and a slightly sub-par battery life of five hours, were pretty much the only negative points I encountered during the review.

If you’d like to read my full analysis from a Linux user’s perspective, Issue 173 is on shelves now and also available electronically from Zinio and similar distribution services.

PC Pro, Issue 268

PC Pro Issue 268My review for this month’s PC Pro is on a topic dear to my heart: hardware which not only fully supports the open GNU/Linux operating system, but even comes with it pre-installed. Specifically, it’s the Aurora laptop from Newcastle-based Nimbusoft.

Based on a Topstar Ultrabook chassis, the Aurora is designed to appeal to those who like Apple’s MacBook Pro and MacBook Air range. Though not as powerful as the former or slim as the latter, it’s a comfortable little laptop with a slick aluminium chassis – albeit one I would discover during dismantling is rather thinner than you might expect.

The hardware isn’t the main feature of the Aurora, anyway. Nimbusoft’s claim to fame is in being one of the few companies offering a range of hardware with a Linux distribution pre-installed. the company even goes further than its competitors in offering a choice of desktop environments, and I’m pleased to say that the review unit – specced with Ubuntu 16.04.1 running the stock Unity DE – proved to be entirely without bloat or branding, in stark contrast to Windows laptops I’ve looked at in the past.

Reviewing the laptop for PC Pro involved running it through a standardised battery life test: the looping of a film with the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios disabled and the display set to a brightness of 170cd/m². This makes my result of five hours exactly – give or take a couple of seconds – directly comparable with the magazine’s other reviews, even of tablet-style machines. Getting the display to exactly the right brightness, though, is always a challenge.

While the battery life proved slightly disappointing and the chassis rather thin, I came away from the Aurora rather pleased – but to get my final verdict on the machine you’ll have to pick up a copy of PC Pro Issue 268 from your nearest emporium of glossy print or digitally via Zinio or one of the many competing digital distribution platforms.

Custom PC, Issue 161

Custom PC Issue 161In this latest issue of Dennis Publishing’s Custom PC Magazine you’ll find – to no great surprise – my long-running five-page Hobby Tech column, covering the handy thermoplastic FORMcard, the Raspberry Pi powered Nextcloud Box, and Zachtronics’ Shenzhen I/O.

Looking at Shenzhen I/O first: it’s rare that I’ll write a game review as part of Hobby Tech, but Zachtronics’ output is a typical exception. The last I covered was the company’s excellent eight-bit minicomputer ‘simulator’ TIS-100, and Shenzhen I/O builds on that premise with a new near-future theme. The player is placed in the role of a newly-hired engineer at a Chinese electronics concern and given the task of building increasingly complex hardware from simple components using a drag-and-drop interface and a simple TIS-100-like instruction set.

As good as the game itself is – and it’s absolutely fantastic – it’s the manual that really caught my attention. Like the Infocom feelies of old, the document is written entirely in-universe and acts as a series of emails, manual extracts, data sheets, and reference material for the hardware and projects you’ll be tackling through the game. If TIS-100 whet your whistle, you won’t be disappointed with Shenzhen I/O.

The Nextcloud Box, meanwhile, is something a little more professional. Designed around the Western Digital Labs PiDrive product, it offers a simple means to build a single-drive low-power 1TB network attached storage (NAS) device running Nextcloud’s open-source software on top of the Ubuntu Snappy Core operating system.

My review of the Nextcloud Box goes into great detail about its features and capabilities, but there are two things that struck me during the review process and are worth highlighting here. The first is that the WD Labs’ box, emblazoned with Nextcloud branding, really needs a rethink: the cables go through very sharp bends, and those using cheaper cables may find they don’t last very long at all. The other is that getting set up for local access was an absolute breeze, without even the need to connect a monitor to the device – something other Pi-powered project creators could do with copying.

Finally, the FORMcard review. I’ve long been a fan of Sugru, a mouldable silicone putty which hardens into rubber overnight, and when I was contacted to see if I would be interested in giving rival FORMcard a try I jumped at the chance. Created by Peter Marigold and crowdfunded into production, FORMcard is a starch-based bioplastic which softens with the application of heat. Simply take one of the credit card footprint plastic sheets, dunk it in hot water for a minute, then mould it to your hearts desire. Unlike Sugru, it hardens in minutes and is fully reusable – assuming you can remove it from whatever surface you smeared it over – but it’s, for obvious reasons, not the material to use if you’re patching something that gets hot.

For my full opinions on all three items, plus the usual array of interesting things written by people who aren’t me, you can pick up the latest Custom PC Magazine from your nearest newsagent, supermarket, or from the comfort of right where you are now via Zinio and similar digital distribution platforms.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 172

Linux User & Developer Issue 172Readers of this latest issue of Imagine Publishing’s Linux User & Developer will find my review of the surprisingly capable Nextcloud Box, a bare-bones network attached storage (NAS) system based around a Raspberry Pi 2.

Provided as a press sample by Nextcloud, the company split from the Owncloud project, the Nextcloud Box is at its heart a rebadged – though, oddly, cheaper – Western Digital Labs PiDrive. Inside the box you find the black plastic housing, a 1TB USB hard drive, a clever splitter cable for power and data, and the screws you need to mount your own Raspberry Pi. You also get a small 4GB micro-SD card, which serves as the bootstrap device: on first run, the operating system is copied from this micro-SD to the 1TB hard drive.

It’s the contents of the micro-SD card that makes the Nextcloud Box distinct from the PiDrive: it contains a copy of Ubuntu Snappy Core and a preinstalled Snap of the Nextcloud NAS software. Administered almost entirely from a web interface, Nextcloud proved to a powerful NAS package with everything from encrypted storage and remote access to centralised calendar and contact facilities – and with additional functionality available through a built-in ‘app store’ feature.

If you’re interested to read the full review Linux User & Developer Issue 172 is on shelves now at supermarkets and newsagents throughout the land, or can be grabbed in digital format from Zinio and similar services.

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.

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 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.

Micro Mart, Issue 1251

Micro Mart, Issue 1251This week’s Micro Mart includes a feature I wrote a short while ago regarding Valve’s plans to release a compact console-cum-computer dubbed the Steam Box. While written before certain facts came to light – the confirmation that the PlayStation 4 would basically be a locked-down x86 PC, for example, and once and former Valve partner Xi3 announcing its own Piston product to Gabe Newell’s dismay – it still covers plenty of interesting ground for anyone into the gaming scene.

Topping 3,500 words, the feature starts with a look at the history of Valve itself, from its founding by former Microsoft staffers Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington in 1996 to the launch of Steam, the company’s incredibly successful digital distribution platform. Next, a discussion of the difference twix console gaming and computer gaming – and Valve’s concept to unite the two in a way that hasn’t been attempted since the days of the Commodore 64GS or the Amiga CD32.

A large chunk of the article deals with gaming on Linux, for one simple reason: Valve co-founder Newell has been vocal in his dislike for Microsoft’s Windows 8, and has confirmed that the Steam Box – expected to launch at retail early next year – will be based on Linux, likely a customised version of the Ubuntu distribution for which Valve has been porting its Steam client.

Following the background, the feature includes industry comment from Valve’s Anna Sweet, as well as Nvidia’s Jason Paul on his company’s Project Shield hand-held console – another Linux-based gaming device that it is hoped will help computer gaming capture more of the market share enjoyed by the console jockeys.

If any of that sounds interesting, pick up a copy of Micro Mart Issue 1251 from your local newsagent or supermarket – but be quick: it’s Dennis Publishing’s weekly, so it won’t be on shelves for long. Alternatively, pick up the digital version via Zinio.

Linux Tips, Tricks Apps & Hacks, Volume 1

Linux Tips, Tricks & Hacks Volume 1Imagine Publishing has recently been attempting to branch out from its traditional magazine fare with ‘bookazines,’ the somewhat clumsy portmanteau given to the company’s book-format publications which gather content from previous issues of its magazines. The latest of these is Linux Tips, Tricks Apps & Hacks, which takes themed material from the company’s Linux User & Developer magazine and collates them together for easy access.

As a regular contributor to Linux User & Developer, it’s little surprise to see some of my content find its way into the first volume of Linux Tips, Tricks Apps & Hacks. There’s my feature on how to fix a broken Linux installation from Linux User & Developer Issue 107 plus my bumper 10-page special on Ubuntu 12.10, comparing it to rival distributions on a range of subjects from usability to community engagement, which first appeared in Linux User & Developer Issue 119. A few other pieces of mine, including distribution reviews, also appear between the covers.

Sadly for my bank balance, republication such as this does not carry with it an additional fee – but it’s always nice to see my work reaching a new audience, and for those who missed the features the first time round Linux Tips, Tricks Apps & Hacks provides a handy way to catch up on matters.

For more information, or to snag a copy, check of the official product page on the Imagine Publishing Shop.