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Reviews

Pinebook: My First Few Surprising Hours With A $99 Linux Laptop

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GNU
Linux
Hardware
Reviews

The Pinebook is available in both 11.6" and 14" models for $99 (the 14" model has a lower resolution screen at time of publication, although mine had a "surprise" upgrade to 1080p before it was advertised on the site), and it's being offered in "Buy To Order" format. That basically means you buy it, they build them in small batches, then periodically ship them out from China.

Let's set expectations early. The Pinebook is built around a 64-Bit Quad-Core ARM Cortex A53 CPU clocked at 1.2GHz, with 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM. That's the same board Pine64 sells for $29.99. To arrive at $99 on my model, the Pinebook surrounds that board with a white clamshell-style enclosure, 16GB of eMMC flash storage, Wifi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, a full-size keyboard, multi-touch touchpad, an SD webcam and a 1080p IPS display.

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Free Personal Finance Apps You Can Take to the Bank

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Linux
Reviews

These seven money manager applications for Linux offer a wide range of features and user interfaces. Some are good starting products for users with little or no experience with this category of software. Other titles give you all of the tools to manage your household and your small business.

I deliberately avoided ranking these Linux products. I also suspended the usual star rating for each one in this roundup. All of them share two things in common. They are all free open source applications. They are all stable and very workable, depending on your money-tracking and management needs.

Some of them are easy to set up and use. Others are more involved and can be frustrating if you are not familiar with accounting procedures.

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Review: NetBSD 8.0

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Reviews
BSD

NetBSD, like its close cousins (FreeBSD and OpenBSD) does not do a lot of hand holding or automation. It offers a foundation that will run on most CPUs and we can choose to build on that foundation. I mention this because, on its own, NetBSD does not do much. If we want to get something out of it, we need to be willing to build on its foundation - we need a project. This is important to keep in mind as I think going into NetBSD and thinking, "Oh I'll just explore around and expand on this as I go," will likely lead to disappointment. I recommend figuring out what you want to do before installing NetBSD and making sure the required tools are available in the operating system's repositories.

Some of the projects I embarked on this week (using ZFS and setting up file sharing) worked well. Others, like getting multimedia support and a full-featured desktop, did not. Given more time, I'm sure I could find a suitable desktop to install (along with the required documentation to get it and its services running), or customize one based on one of the available window managers. However, any full featured desktop is going to require some manual work. Media support was not great. The right players and codecs were there, but I was not able to get audio to play smoothly.

My main complaint with NetBSD relates to my struggle to get some features working to my satisfaction: the documentation is scattered. There are four different sections of the project's website for documentation (FAQs, The Guide, manual pages and the wiki). Whatever we are looking for is likely to be in one of those, but which one? Or, just as likely, the tutorial we want is not there, but is on a forum or blog somewhere. I found that the documentation provided was often thin, more of a quick reference to remind people how something works rather than a full explanation.

As an example, I found a couple of documents relating to setting up a firewall. One dealt with networking NetBSD on a LAN, another explored IPv6 support, but neither gave an overview on syntax or a basic guide to blocking all but one or two ports. It seemed like that information should already be known, or picked up elsewhere.

Newcomers are likely to be a bit confused by software management guides for the same reason. Some pages refer to using a tool called pkg_add, others use pkgsrc and its make utility, others mention pkgin. Ultimately, these tools each give approximately the same result, but work differently and yet are mentioned almost interchangeably. I have used NetBSD before a few times and could stumble through these guides, but new users are likely to come away confused.

One quirk of NetBSD, which may be a security feature or an inconvenience, depending on one's point of view, is super user programs are not included in regular users' paths. This means we need to change our path if we want to be able to run programs typically used by root. For example, shutdown and mount are not in regular users' paths by default. This made checking some things tricky for me.

Ultimately though, NetBSD is not famous for its convenience or features so much as its flexibility. The operating system will run on virtually any processor and should work almost identically across multiple platforms. That gives NetBSD users a good deal of consistency across a range of hardware and the chance to experiment with a member of the Unix family on hardware that might not be compatible with Linux or the other BSDs.

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Ubuntu MATE 18.10 Cosmic Cuttlefish - Reasonable-ish

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Reviews
Ubuntu

We mentioned consistency, remember? Well, in this regard, Ubuntu MATE is consistent. Lots of tiny visual bugs, average battery life, an occasional crash or three, and network connectivity issues. These were my top complaints with Beaver and they remain so with Cuttlefish. Ubuntu MATE 18.10 is more or less identical to its LTS predecessor. The changes aren't really big, with some extra hardware problems - the phone side is a big, big disappointment, but you get better overall theming and a more streamlined package manager.

I would like to see this project succeed, but the energy investment from going hobby to pro is exponential, and it can't be done easily. But this is exactly what Ubuntu MATE needs. A super-strong QA process, and more focus on getting things tightly integrated. Power management is another issue. In the end, you should stay with the LTS edition of course, but hopefully, the problems we see here will be resolved in the next version. This reminds me of the situation Xfce was in two years ago. Gaining momentum, becoming better, and then ... we'll see.

Because, speaking of energy, there does seem to be a limited, finite amount of it, and the mojo pendulum seems to have swung away from Xfce to MATE. There are a lot of excellent and unique new ideas in this project, but the glue (gluons in nuclear physics, if you will) isn't strong enough. Grade, about 7/10. I really want to see everything working like clockwork. Having a modern, majestic Gnome 2 reincarnate would be super fun. Take care, Borgians.

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Canonical: Mastering the upgrading of OpenStack

Manjaro Linux 18.0 – Review and Features

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Reviews

Manjaro has finally released a stable version of Manjaro 18.0 also codenamed “Illyria“. Manjaro always provided a lot of lot of emphasis on a user-friendly experience and Illyria is lived upto that to a great extent. The open source operating system is designed in such a way that it work completely out of the box straight away as it comes with a lot of pre-installed software. So once complete the installation of Manjaro 18.0, you don’t need to go installing other software that is needed for your day to day tasks. And Manjaro 18.0 has come out with fixes for a lot of issues and some improvements as well. Manjaro Linux 18.0 is certainly one of the easy-to-use and simple Arch Linux desktop version.

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A Linux Noob Reviews: The Pop!_OS Installer From System76

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Reviews

Welcome to a new series here at Forbes that zeroes in on your very first experience with a new desktop Linux operating system: the installer. In this debut review I'm going to explain why the heck I'm doing this, and give you a closer look at the relatively new Pop!_OS installer from boutique PC manufacturer System76 -- the same installer that actually inspired these articles. (Spoiler: yes it's that good.)

[...]

That tagline, present in the default wallpaper for Pop!_OS, also says a little something about the installer itself. This is, in my experience, sets a benchmark for other installers in the desktop Linux world. Even the most complex aspect of installing a Linux OS -- partitioning -- is explained in detail. Granted, the simplest partitioning tasks will take rookies a few tries to comprehend and master (myself included), but System76 did an exemplary job with the included help pages, and the interface is the most intuitive I've used. So far anyway!

Seriously folks, I never thought I'd walk away from an installer and feel excited. Nor did I imagine it would inspire an entire series of articles. But here we are! System76 has crafted an intuitive, fast and streamlined installation process that improves the incoming perception of desktop Linux for newcomers, and may perhaps feel like a breath of fresh air for Linux veterans. Overall, it looks fantastic and made me eager to dig into the daily Pop!_OS experience.

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An Everyday Linux User Review Of Elementary OS 5.0 Juno

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Reviews

Elementary OS is currently riding high in the Distrowatch rankings and it has been a while since my last review so I thought it was high time I took another look.

The tag line at the top of the Elementary OS website reads as “The fast, open and privacy respecting replacement for Windows and macOS”.

In this review I am going to examine this claim in depth as well as other claims such as “Apps you need, without the ones you don’t”. The website states that the applications have been carefully considered to cater for your everyday needs so you can spend more time using your computer and less time cleaning up bloatware.

Without further ado lets separate the fact from the fiction and explore Elementary OS with a virtual magnifying glass befitting a well known sleuth. After all it is “Elementary” my dear Watson. (Sorry, couldn’t resist).

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Samsung Linux on DeX beta hands-on: do almost everything on your phone

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Reviews
Ubuntu
Gadgets

Among the various Linux on Android implementations, Samsung’s Linux on DeX definitely looks the most polished ready to use solution, even if it’s still in beta form. Although it uses a two-year-old version of Ubuntu, there is already a lot that can be done from that. Plus, just like Android users, Linux users can be pretty creative and only time will tell if they’ll be able to use Linux on DeX to make almost any Linux distro work.

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Review: Fedora 29 Workstation

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Red Hat
Reviews

Fedora 29 is a good release, but there are some issues with it. Users who are interested in trying out new things and are okay with the the occasional bug should feel comfortable trying out Fedora 29 Workstation. However, users wanting a polished experience might want to hold off until a few more bugs are fixed.

I would be okay with a few rough edges if they were just limited to the new features, but the two show-stopper bugs I had were playing full-screen video with GNOME Videos and being able to install texlive-scheme-full. Only the latter has been fixed, while video playback remains an issue. Playing full-screen videos in GNOME Videos on Wayland has worked perfectly on my hardware for the last several Fedora releases, but in Fedora 29 it is unusable. The video playback bug has already been reported in Red Hat’s Bugzilla, but the bug is still classified as new.

Overall, Fedora 29 Workstation is worth checking out, but I have to say "buyer beware" and encourage people to check to make sure all of the things they need are in a functional state before making the switch or upgrade. Things should be fixed in a few weeks, but I have honestly run beta releases of previous Fedora versions that had fewer issues than the final release of Fedora 29.

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Review: Clu Linux Live 6.0

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Reviews

Clu Linux Live is a Debian-based distribution which "provides various processing command line utilities (CLU) and data rescue tools which can be used on a wired or wireless network." The distribution provides a live CD that will automatically set up Samba network shares and the OpenSSH service to help users rescue files off a computer. The distribution also features such data recovery tools as ddrescue and Clonezilla.

Clu Linux Live is based on Debian 9 and is built for 32-bit x86 computers. The distribution will run on 64-bit processors too and, given the nature of the utilities included, there should be no practical drawbacks to Clu being 32-bit only.

The project's ISO for version 6.0 is approximately 420MB in size. Booting from the ISO brings up boot menu where we can opt to launch the distribution in regular or safe graphics mode. We can also load the distribution entirely into RAM in case we want to remove the boot media.

When the distribution finishes booting we are shown a text console where we are greeted by a series of prompts. The first one asks us to set a password for the root account. The second prompt asks if we would like to mount all attached storage devices. Later we will be told there is a command which will reverse this action, unmounting all hard drives and other attached storage volumes. The next two prompts ask if we would like to start the Samba and OpenSSH network services. These two services can be used to transfer files off the computer and, in the case of OpenSSH, it allows us to remotely manage a cloning or recovery process over the network.

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Security: Updates, Best VPNs for GNU/Linux, and Google+ Chaos Again

  • Security updates for Monday
  • Best VPNs for Linux
  • After a Second Data Leak, Google+ Will Shut Down in April Instead of August
    Back in October, a security hole in Google+’s APIs lead Google to announce it was shutting down the service. Now, a second data leak has surfaced, causing the company to move the shutdown up by four months. This new data leak is quite similar to the first one: profile information such as name, email address, age, and occupation was exposed to developers, even for private profiles. It’s estimated that upwards of 52 million users were affected by this leak. The good news is that while the first hole was open for three years, this one was only an issue for six days, from November 7th to the 13th, 2018.

Linux and Linux Foundation Leftovers

  • Initial i.MX8 SoC Support & Development Board Possibly Ready For Linux 4.21
    While the i.MX8 series was announced almost two years ago and the open-source developers working on the enablement for these new NXP SoCs hoped for initial support in Linux 4.17, the Linux 4.21 kernel that will be released in the early months of 2019 is slated to possibly have the first i.MX8 support in the form of the i.MX8MQ and also supporting its development/evaluation board.
  • AeonWave: An Open-Source Audio Engine Akin To Microsoft's XAudio2 / Apple CoreAudio
    An open-source audio initiative that's been in development for years but flying under our radar until its lead developer chimed in is AeonWave, which supports Windows and Linux systems while being inspired by Microsoft XAudio and Apple's CoreAudio.
  • Take Linux Foundation Certification Exams from Anywhere
    2018 has seen a new wave of popularity for the open source community and it has sparked more interest in potential engineers, system administrators, and Linux experts. 2019 is around the corner and now is a good time to look up Linux certification examinations that will enable you to progress in your career. The good news we have for you is that the Linux Foundation has made certification examinations available online so that IT enthusiasts can get certificates in a wide range of open source domains.

Games Leftovers

  • The Linux version of Civilization VI has been updated with cross-platform multiplayer support
    Just in time for the holidays, Linux gamers finally have version parity with other platforms. Expect to be able to spend just one more turn playing with friends on other operating systems.
  • John Romero has announced a free unofficial spiritual successor to The Ultimate DOOM's 4th episode
    John Romero, one of the co-founders of id Software has revealed he's been working on SIGIL, a free megawad for the original 1993 DOOM. [...] These boxes, will contain music from Buckethead, along with a custom song written expressly for SIGIL. A tempting purchase for any big DOOM fan, I especially love the sound of a 16GB 3-1/2-inch floppy disk-themed USB. You have until December 24, 2018 to order one and I imagine stock will go quite quickly.
  • Unvanquished Open-Source Game Sees Its First Alpha Release In Nearly Three Years
    Unvanquished had been easily one of the most promising open-source games several years back with decent in-game visuals/art, a continually improving "Daemon" engine that was a distant mod of ioquake3 while leveraging ETXReaL components and more, and all-around a well-organized, advancing open-source game project. Their monthly alpha releases stopped almost three years ago while today that's changed just ahead of Christmas. The Unvanquished developers announced Unvanquished Alpha 51 today as their first release in two years and eight months after having made fifty monthly alpha releases. While this is the fifty-first alpha, the developers say they should soon be ready for the beta drop.
  • Unvanquished, the free and open source shooter has a huge new release now out
    After being quiet for some time, the Unvanquished team is back and they have quite a lot to show off in the new release of their free and open source shooter. This is their first new release since April 2016, so the amount that's changed is quite striking! Hopefully, this will be the start of regular release once again, since they used to do monthly releases a few years ago and it was fun to watch it grow.
  • Valve adds even more gamepad support to their latest client beta
    Valve are continuing to support as many devices as possible with a new Steam client beta now available. Since there's no gamepad to rule them all, it makes sense for Valve to support as many as they can. Even though I love the Steam Controller, I do understand that it's not going to be a good fit for everyone. Now, Steam will support the PowerA wired/wireless GameCube Style controllers, PowerA Enhanced Wireless Controller and the PDP Faceoff Wired Pro Controller to boost their already rather large list of supported devices.
  • The turn-based tactical RPG Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark is coming along nicely
    After a few months in Early Access, the tactical RPG Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark has come along nicely and it's quite impressive. It became available on Steam back in August, this was with same-day Linux support as promised from developer 6 Eyes Studio after their successful Kickstarter.
  • Citra, the Nintendo 3DS emulator now has 'Accurate Audio Emulation'
    Citra, the impressive and quickly moving Nintendo 3DS emulator has a new progress report out and it sounds great. They've made some great progress on accurate audio emulation, with their new "LLE (Accurate)" option. They say this has enabled games like Pokémon X / Y, Fire Emblem Fates and Echoes and more to work. There's a downside though, that currently the performance does take quite a hit with it so they're still recommending the "HLE (Fast)" setting for now. They go into quite a lot of detail about how they got here, with plenty of bumps along the way. Most of the work towards this, was done by a single developer who suffered a bit of a burn-out over it.
  • Mindustry, an open source sandbox Tower Defense game that's a little like Factorio
    Available under the GPL, the developer originally made it for the GDL Metal Monstrosity Jam which happened back in 2017 and it ended up winning! Seems the developer didn't stop development after this, as they're currently going through a new major release with regular alpha builds.
  • Have graphical distortions in Unity games with NVIDIA? Here's a workaround
    It seems a lot of Unity games upgrading to later versions of Unity are suffering from graphical distortions on Linux with an NVIDIA GPU. There is a workaround available.

Wine-Staging 4.0-RC1 Released With Just Over 800 Patches On Top Of Wine

Released on Friday was Wine 4.0-RC1 while coming out over the weekend was the Wine-Staging re-base that is carrying still over 800 patches on top of the upstream Wine code-base. Wine-Staging 4.0-RC1 is available with 805 patches over what's found in the "vanilla" Wine code-base. But prior to the Wine 4.0 RC1 milestone there were a fair number of patches that were promoted upstream including ntoskrnl, WindowsCodecs, user32, and DXGI changes. Read more