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Reviews

Review: Haiku R1 beta 2

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OS
OSS
Reviews

Haiku is an open-source operating system that specifically targets personal computing. Inspired by the Be Operating System (BeOS), Haiku aims to be fast, efficient, simple to use, and easy to learn. It is specifically geared toward desktop usage and maintaining a responsive desktop environment.

The Haiku project has been, to date, in perpetual development mode. Which is to say the releases to date have been labelled as being alpha or beta releases. I mention this because while the version label is R1 beta 2, the platform should probably be regarded a relatively mature project with the benefit of nearly 20 years of development behind it.

The R1 beta 2 release includes a number of new features such as improved font scaling and HiDPI support, along with the ability to work with mouse devices that offer more than three buttons. More applications have been ported and are now available through the project's software manager. The installer has mostly remained the same, however users can now exclude the installation of optional packages while setting up Haiku. New driver support has been added and there are some new options for keeping the Deskbar (a sort of combined desktop panel and system tray) out of the way.

The project's latest release is available in 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x86_64) builds. There are also builds for ARM, PowerPC, m68k, and SPARC architectures, however these builds are considered to be unsupported. I downloaded the 64-bit build which is available as a 955MB ZIP file. Unpacking the ZIP file presents us with a 1,108MB (1GB) ISO file we can write to optical media or a thumb drive.

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openSUSE 15.2 Is The Mercedes-Benz of Linux Distributions

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Reviews
SUSE

The openSUSE DVD comes with a large collection of software packages, which include the GNOME, KDE, Xfce, MATE desktops and much more. The installer will allow you to select the desktop environment you want during the installation, beside any other packages you may desire.

[...]

Overall, the openSUSE 15.2 distribution is a good release, as it ever was. We recommend upgrading to the new version or installing it on a fresh hardware if you are willing to transfer to the openSUSE world.

One can also give a word about how awesome the available documentation for openSUSE is; You can search in their wiki, for any information you desire and you’ll probably find it in no time.

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KDE Plasma Desktop review: I'm still not switching from GNOME

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KDE
GNOME
Reviews

I have to confess: I don't give KDE a fair shake. It's not because I don't believe it to be a strong take on the Linux desktop, it's just that I prefer a much more minimal desktop. Also, I was never a big fan of the old taskbar/start menu/system tray combo. I leaned more toward the GNOME way of thinking and doing things.

Recently, a reader called me out on my lack of KDE coverage, so I thought it was time to offer up my take on where KDE Plasma stands, and who might be best suited to use this open source desktop. Comparing Plasma to my usual GNOME desktop is really quite challenging, given these two desktops are night and day. It's like comparing the works of Clive Barker to that of William Gibson--they're both incredibly good at what they do, they're using the same tools to tell stories, but in very different genres.

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CrowPi2 Raspberry Pi 4 Learning Kit Review – Part 1 – Unboxing and First Boot

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Linux
Reviews

Last month, we wrote about Elecrow introducing CrowPi2 Raspberry Pi 4 laptop and electronics learning kit for its launch on Kickstarter crowdfunding website.

The company has now sent one of its kits to CNX Software for evaluation and review. I’ll start by checking out the content of the package, and boot it up, before publishing a more detailed review in a few weeks.

The package is fairly big and highlights it’s made for kids over 8 years old with close to 100 course resources and over 20 electronics modules.

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MATE Review: A Lightweight Desktop Environment for the Nostalgic

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Linux
Reviews

MATE is one of the great Linux Desktop Environments for those who are looking for something very traditional and nostalgic. It is the living descendant of one of the most popular Linux desktops, GNOME 2, and has a classic feel and approach. In this MATE review, we’ll look at the user interface, performance, and some notable features, and we’ll cover who should try MATE.

MATE feels classic when you first boot up. This makes sense, as MATE is a fork and continuation of GNOME 2, one of the most beloved Linux desktops of all time. MATE follows traditional desktop paradigms and gives you a great-looking and great-feeling interface. MATE is incredibly sharp out of the box with a great theme and icon pack. The feel is great as well, with very minimal resource usage and a fast, snappy interface. Things run well, and MATE would be a great choice for a lower-end system or those looking to remain efficient on system resources.

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Review: Artix Linux 20200125

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Reviews

This is one of the lesser known distributions but it has garnered quite a few fans in its relatively short existence. Artix Linux, from hereon Artix in short, has a reader supplied rating of 8.4 as an average of 94 opinions on DistroWatch at the time of writing, which isn't bad for a distribution that is slightly more involved in terms of technical knowledge and experience a user should possess. Not to discourage the curious and the newcomers, but it is not an install and forget type of Linux though not really that hard to use either.

Artix is a systemd-free fork of Arch Linux that grew out of the Arch-OpenRC and Manjaro-OpenRC projects joining forces to provide installable images with alternative init solutions to Arch users who were unhappy with the parent moving to systemd. In fact, Arch was one of the early adopters. While in the beginning only OpenRC might have been offered, Artix now also provides install images using the runit and s6 init software, "because PID1 must be simple, secure and stable." [1] There's great variety and choice on the download page, but only the x86_64 architecture is supported. The project provides Artix base images of 520MB each, similar to a net-install or the Arch install image, and with Cinnamon, MATE, Plasma, Xfce, LXDE and LXQt ISO files for almost every major desktop environment. They weigh in between 939MB and 1.1GB depending on your chosen flavour. The page makes it clear what to expect with these, i.e. only a basic set of applications is included to get the user started: a file manager, a media player (MPV), a network manager, a document viewer, a web browser and the graphical installer. It is then up to us to add applications and shape the system to our needs and liking.

There are also community supported images labelled community-gtk and community-qt which are much larger at 2.3GB and 2.8GB respectively.

You can get every flavour with any of the three supported init systems. Official images seem to be respun now and then. At the time of writing most stable images are dated from February 2020, with the Xfce ISO labelled 20200506 apparently released in May. Further down the page there are also weekly snapshots that I guess incorporate the latest package updates, and testing images for GNOME and i3, again for all three init systems. That's a huge library to maintain and gives us a hint of how dedicated folks behind this project are. Should you have trouble with the latest version a few older ISOs have been archived and are accessible at the bottom.

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Jussi Pakkanen: Pinebook Pro longer term usage report

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GNU
Linux
Reviews

I originally wanted to use stock Debian but at some point the Panfrost driver broke and the laptop could not start X. Eventually I gave up and switched to the default Manjaro. Its installer does not support an encrypted root file system. A laptop without an encrypted disk is not really usable as a laptop as you can't take it out of your house.

The biggest gripe is that everything feels sluggish. Alt-tabbing between Firefox and a terminal takes one second, as does switching between Firefox tabs. As an extreme example switching between channels in Slack takes five to ten seconds. It is unbearably slow. The wifi is not very good, it can't connect reliably to an access point in the next room (distance of about 5 meters). The wifi behaviour seems to be distro dependent so maybe there are some knobs to twiddle.

Video playback on browsers is not really nice. Youtube works in the default size, but fullscreen causes a massive frame rate drop. Fullscreen video playback in e.g. VLC is smooth.

Basic shell operations are sluggish too. I have a ZSH prompt that shows the Git status of the current directory. Entering in a directory that has a Git repo freezes the terminal for several seconds. Basically every time you need to get something from disk that is not already in cache leads to a noticeable delay.

The screen size and resolution scream for fractional scaling but Manjaro does not seem to provide it. Scale of 1 is a bit too small and 2 is way too big. The screen is matte, which is totally awesome, but unfortunately the colors are a bit muted and for some reason it seems a bit fuzzy. This may be because I have not used a sub-retina level laptop displays in years.

The trackpad's motion detector is rubbish at slow speeds. There is a firmware update that makes it better but it's still not great. According to the forums someone has already reverse engineered the trackpad and created an unofficial firmware that is better. I have not tried it. Manjaro does not provide a way to disable tap-to-click (a.k.a. the stupidest UI misfeature ever invented including the emojibar) which is maddening. This is not a hardware issue, though, as e.g. Debian's Gnome does provide this functionality. The keyboard is okayish, but sometimes detects keypresses twice, which is also annoying.

For light development work the setup is almost usable. I wrote a simple 3D model viewer app using Qt Creator and it was surprisingly smooth all round, the 3D drivers worked reliably and so on. Unfortunately invoking the compiler was again sluggish (this was C++, though, so some is expected). Even simple files that compile instantly on x86_64 took seconds to build.

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Kevin Fenzi: pinephone: initial thoughts

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Reviews
Gadgets

I ordered one of the ubports editions of the pine64 pinephone and after a small amount of playing around with it, I’d like to share my thoughts.

First a little background. I’m very big on open source for many many reasons. I use Fedora rawhide for my laptop day to day and in general try and use free software wherever else I can. My phone has been a annoyance to me for many years now. Being completely closed source, apple/i-phones are right out for me, which basically just leaves android. Now you might think “Thats great, android is open source”, but it’s really not. While the source is indeed available, development is done by google in secret and dumped into the open after release. This means you don’t get a lot of the advantages of open source for android. Other forks/projects do take that android source and clean it up and make it nice, but they too are at the mercy of upstream that may change things in a new release drastically, leaving them to try and catch up for months after a new release. I’ve been using /e/ on my trusty one plus 3t for the last 3-4 years. They are based off lineageos and ‘de-google’ things from there. I’ve never found myself very excited by it, they too are trapped by the android development all taking place elsewhere. I’ve looked at other possible software, but they all have their issues.

3 or so years ago, Librem announced they were going to make a phone that was as open as they could make it, with high end specs. As far as I know some few batches have been made/distributed, but it’s still not a realized product. As part of this push however, software was created that could run on most normal linux distributions that could handle phone specific workflows. See https://source.puri.sm/Librem5 for a long list.

Fast forward to late last year: The pine64 folks, who have made a number of aarch64 based products successfully announced the pine phone. They produced a prototype like developer version and then, early this year announced the ubports version (some $’s of each phone would go to the ubports folks), cost: $150. The ubports version sold out and they have now announced a postmarketos version, also with a usb-c “dock”, more memory and a circut board fix to allow usb-c to work right. cost: $200 with dock, or $150 without.

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Managing tasks with Org mode and iCalendar

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GNU
Reviews

Org mode is an Emacs mode for note-taking and project planning, though Org's workflow and file format have found adoption outside of Emacs, as we'll see. Org mode makes it easy to keep notes, maintain to-do lists, plan projects, and more in Emacs. Worg, a community site for Org, describes it as a "powerful system for organizing your complex life with simple plain-text files". This sounds rather appealing since many readers probably appreciate the power of simple text files and might agree that modern life is getting increasingly complex.

What makes Org mode interesting is that it's not merely a task manager, but a system to organize your life. Org mode can also be used to keep a variety of notes, such as ideas, quotes, a list of links, or code snippets. What I noticed is that I often jot down thoughts and ideas throughout the day as I perform a range of activities, such as working on a problem, reading articles, or interacting with others. Some of those notes might just be random observations that I want to preserve, while others may lead to specific tasks later. Keeping both notes and tasks in the same document seems natural from this perspective.

Org mode offers a rich set of features, such as folding sections (i.e. hiding information under a particular heading), keeping a time record for tasks (clocking in and out), capturing notes or tasks from within Emacs or other applications (such as a web browser or PDF viewer), maintaining tables (including support for text spreadsheets), and exporting to other formats (such as HTML, LaTeX, or Open Document Format). In terms of tasks, Org mode sports features commonly found in task managers, such as states (e.g. TODO and DONE), task dependencies (expressed via sub-tasks), priorities (e.g. [#A] for the highest priority), and tags (e.g. :@home:).

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Xfce Review: A Lean, Mean Linux Machine

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GNU
Linux
Reviews

One of the best parts about Xfce is that it’s flexible enough for anybody. Whether you’re a GNOME user looking for something lighter, someone with an old machine that struggles under heavier Desktop Environments, or just looking to keep things simple, I cannot recommend Xfce enough. It will serve you well, and with just a little customization and tweaking, it can look and work however you want it to.

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Audiocasts/Shows: Kubernetes, Open Source Security Podcast and "Reflecting On My Linux Journey"

  • Physics, politics and Pull Requests: the Kubernetes 1.18 release interview

    The start of the COVID-19 pandemic couldn't delay the release of Kubernetes 1.18, but unfortunately a small bug could — thankfully only by a day. This was the last cat that needed to be herded by 1.18 release lead Jorge Alarcón before the release on March 25. One of the best parts about co-hosting the weekly Kubernetes Podcast from Google is the conversations we have with the people who help bring Kubernetes releases together. Jorge was our guest on episode 96 back in March, and just like last week we are delighted to bring you the transcript of this interview. If you'd rather enjoy the "audiobook version", including another interview when 1.19 is released later this month, subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. In the last few weeks, we've talked to long-time Kubernetes contributors and SIG leads David Oppenheimer, David Ashpole and Wojciech Tyczynski. All are worth taking the dog for a longer walk to listen to!

  • Open Source Security Podcast/Josh Bressers: Episode 208 – Passwords are pollution

    Josh and Kurt talk about some of the necessary evils of security. There are challenges we face like passwords and resource management. Sometimes the problem is old ideas, sometimes it’s we don’t have metrics. Can you measure not getting hacked?

  • Reflecting On My Linux Journey And Where It May Lead

    I ramble a bit about my Linux journey. Well, not just my Linux journey since my story begins before Linux existed. And even in the parts of the story that involve my Linux years, the story is really more about my journey with "free and open source software".

Mozilla: Rust 1.45.2 and Code Quality/Security

  • Announcing Rust 1.45.2

    The Rust team is announcing a new version of Rust, 1.45.2. Rust is a programming language that is empowering everyone to build reliable and efficient software.

  • Reference Sheet for Principals in Mozilla Code
  • Understanding Web Security Checks in Firefox (Part 1)

    This is the first part of a blog post series that will allow you to understand how Firefox implements Web Security fundamentals, like the Same-Origin Policy. This first post of the series covers the architectural design, terminology, and introduces core interfaces that our implementation of the Same-Origin Policy relies on: nsIPrincipal and nsILoadinfo.

KDE and GNOME: QML, MyPaint Brush Engine, Daniel van Vugt and Pitivi Summer of Code

  • QML Online - Can be everywhere!

    A new feature of QML Online is already available, allows it to run in any site/blog with minimal js/html code! Hopefully, our experience with QML examples, tutorials and documentation should change in the near future.

  • MyPaint Brush Engine [Final Phase]

    Coming to my project, it is almost complete apart from some finalisation related stuff that still is remaining. Perhaps, some review changes that my mentors shall give me once my current patch has been reviewed are also remaining. [...] I don't know why, but I always seem to have this feeling at the back of my head that something will come up that will be tough to handle and ruin my project. Though this has been happening even before GSoC started. That scares me a bit :( Anyways.

  • Ubuntu's Prolific GNOME Developer Is Looking To Tackle Deep Color Support

    GNOME could soon be playing nicely with deep color displays that aim to offer more realistic color reproduction thanks to the greater bit depth for each color component.  Canonical's Daniel van Vugt who has led many of the Ubuntu GNOME performance optimization initiatives and countless bug fixes for GNOME since Ubuntu switched back to using it as the default desktop is now looking at plumbing deep color support. Daniel recently has been working on better graphics clock frequency scaling as part of optimizations to improve the GNOME 4K experience particularly when using Intel graphics. The latest area he started dabbling with is deep color support. 

  •        
  • Vivek R: Pitivi: Object Tracking

    I’ve been selected as a student developer at Pitivi for Google Summer of Code 2020. My project is to create an object tracking and blurring feature. In this post, I introduce a feature in development which allows the user to track an object inside a video clip.

Security Leftovers

  • Security updates for Monday

    Security updates have been issued by Arch Linux (ffmpeg, libjcat, mbedtls, tcpreplay, and wireshark-cli), Debian (ark, evolution-data-server, libjpeg-turbo, libopenmpt, libpam-radius-auth, libphp-phpmailer, libssh, ruby-zip, thunderbird, and transmission), Fedora (chromium, clamav, claws-mail, evolution-data-server, freerdp, glibc, java-latest-openjdk, nspr, and nss), Gentoo (libsndfile, pycrypto, python, snmptt, thunderbird, and webkit-gtk), Mageia (botan2, chocolate-doom, cloud-init, dnsmasq, freerdp/remmina, gssdp/gupnp, java-1.8.0-openjdk, matio, microcode, nasm, openjpeg2, pcre2, php-phpmailer, redis, roundcubemail, ruby-rack, thunderbird, virtualbox, and xerces-c), openSUSE (claws-mail, ldb, and libraw), Oracle (firefox), Red Hat (bind, grub2, kernel-rt, libvncserver, nss and nspr, and qemu-kvm-rhev), Scientific Linux (firefox), Slackware (thunderbird), and SUSE (firefox, kernel, and targetcli-fb).

  • The 9 Best Cross-Platform Password Managers

    Bitwarden open-source password manager comes at no cost and rated as the best password manager. It provides a multi device sync option and unlimited passwords. Its free version helps in saving identities, credit cards and notes.

  • Linux Foundation announces new initiative to secure open-source software

    The Linux Foundation said today it’s presiding over a new foundation that brings some of the world’s most important open-source security initiatives under a new umbrella. The newly launched Open Source Security Foundation will host security projects such as the Core Infrastructure Initiative, which was set up in response to the infamous Heartbleed vulnerability discovered in the Open SSL protocol in 2014, and the Open Source Security Coalition, founded by GitHub Inc.’s Security Lab in 2019.

  • Technology and Enterprise Leaders Combine Efforts to Improve Open Source Security

    The Linux Foundation, today announced the formation of the Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF). The OpenSSF is a cross-industry collaboration that brings together leaders to improve the security of open source software (OSS) by building a broader community with targeted initiatives and best practices. It combines efforts from the Core Infrastructure Initiative, GitHub’s Open Source Security Coalition and other open source security work from founding governing board members GitHub, Google, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, NCC Group, OWASP Foundation and Red Hat, among others. Additional founding members include ElevenPaths, GitLab, HackerOne, Intel, Okta, Purdue, SAFECode, StackHawk, Trail of Bits, Uber and VMware.