New Linux Releases from Ubuntu and SuSE

Ubuntu LogoIn the same way as you wait ages for a bus only for two to come along at once, it’s the season for new Linux releases. Today Canonical released Ubuntu 14.10, aka Utopic Unicorn, and in less than two weeks OpenSuSE will push out 13.2. I’m a SuSE user so I’ll be downloading that over the weekend and getting stuck in.

openSUSEIt’s good to see such a flurry of activity. The new releases all have a plethora of new features. Interestingly, Ubuntu is going after the Android developers with the new Ubuntu Developer Tools Centre which helps coders develop apps. The new Centre downloads the Android toolkits along with libraries and dependencies, bringing them into the launcher. Although first available for Android, the plan is to extend this to other platforms such as Go and Dart. A big win too is that Netflix now plays in Chrome without any trickery!

From OpenSuSE, the new release focuses on the much-improved Gnome desktop (3.14), though KDE users aren’t forgotten either with plenty of improvements there too. I think it would be fair to say that it’s an incremental release but there’s still plenty to look forward to – more will be revealed as the release gets closer.

Reflecting on recent use, I don’t get to use my desktop as much as I used to. Like many other people have found, tablets have taken over for day-to-day computing and the desktop has been relegated to occasional use. Between a Nexus 7, a Chromebook, a local NAS and the cloud, my big box is heading for extinction. Much as I love tinkering with Linux and RAID, I really don’t know if I’ll replace the PC when the time comes. It is undoubtedly a post-PC era.

Not happy with the look of Windows 8.x? Make it resemble Ubuntu

While reviews of Windows 8.x have been mixed, it seems there is a perception problem with the general public about Microsoft’s latest operating system. Version 8 was largely hated, and 8.1 only went so far in fixing those issues. The company plans to go further when “Threshold”, or Windows 9, debuts later this year.

However, if you’d like to at least change the look of the OS, you can get a taste of Linux with an Ubuntu theme for it. Ubuntu is perhaps the most universally loved consumer version of Linux, though Mint has been gaining steam recently. It has a beautiful user interface that makes it consumer-friendly.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to actually install Linux, or learn all of the associated commands — a theme called Mavericks (ironically the same as the latest OS X) can go over top of Windows 8 and just make it look as if you are running the rival operating system.

It’s a free to download and install, though a premium version is available for a mere $1.35, which is a small price to pay by any app or software standard. The theme was created by the good folks over at Deviant Art and can be found here. You’ll also want to read the detailed instructions and get the visual style information.

maverick_8_1_for_windows_8_1_by_dpcdpc11-d7voprz

XOEye Streaming Safety Glasses

XOEye LogoThere’s no doubt that wearables are where it’s at right now, but devices such as Google Glass or Recon goggles are very much luxury toys. XOEye Technologies have taken a more practical approach, developing safety glasses with built-in video cameras and microphones for use in business, typically manufacturing, construction and field service industry. Don and Todd talk to Aaron Salow, CEO of XOEye.

Currently in the prototype stage, the XOEye solution streams HD video and sound from the glasses across the internet to a remote viewing station, where an expert can review and discuss what the wearer is seeing, usually in an attempt to solve a problem. The wearer can hear the expert through small speakers installed on the glasses, so a conversation can take place between the wearer and the expert. Although still in the early stages of development, XOEye is exploring different materials for the glasses and a range of additional sensors, such as gyros and accelerometers, and other enhancements including a torch.

The final product is expected to come to market in June and there’s more information at www.xoeye.com.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Portal, Portal 2 arrive in Steam for Linux

Two popular Valve games, Portal and Portal 2, have arrived on Steam for Linux. The two games, released in 2007 and 2011 respectively, have previously been available for the Windows and Mac platforms.

This latest Valve game release for Linux is very good news at a time when Steam for Linux usage has been sinking. The April figures for the Steam hardware survey are now public and they indicate further losses. In March the Linux usage was at 1.6-1.7% and now, for April, it’s down to 1.5-1.6%.

portal 2

Portal is selling for $9.99, while the newer Portal 2 retails for $19.99. The Portal series is a very popular first-person puzzle-platform game. Other big releases such as Left 4 Dead 2 are expected to be coming soon.

Lightworks by EditShare

lightworks-monitor-gui-new2EditShare is introducing the Mac version of Lightworks. Lightworks is a cross–platform film editing software. Lightworks has been used by some of the best film makers over the past two decades. It now works seamlessly on Mac OS X.  Film makers who love their Mac’s, will now have the option of using it for their film editing. EditShare will be showing off the Mac version at NAB and will be starting the new alpha program in the near future.

EditShare is also releasing the full version of the new Lightworks version 11.1 for Windows on April 30, 2013. The Linux version has successfully completed the Alpha program of version 11.1 and will begin the public beta on April 30, 2013.

EditShare is already working on Lightworks version 11.2 which will add:

  • Added support for AJA I/O hardware
  • Support for screen capture using the record panel
  • An improved import panel: now behaves similarly to bins, mark/park clips before import
  • Native H.264 MOV playback
  • Added curve effect to FX color correction effects

If you are or want to be a film maker you owe it to yourself to take a look at Lightworks, by EditShare. If you are at NAB they will be at booth SL9010 showing off the new Mac version of Lightworks.

Pogoplug Mobile Review

Pogoplug LogoThe cloud is definitely where it’s at right now, but what if you don’t like the idea the idea of Google, Dropbox et al looking after your data? Then you might be interested in a Pogoplug, which allows you to create your own cloud storage that’s only limited by the size of the hard disk. A Pogoplug is a hardware gadget that connects USB storage devices to your local LAN and then makes the space available across the Internet, effectively creating a personal cloud. The data is stored in your control and if more storage is needed, plug-in a bigger hard drive.

On review here is the Pogoplug Mobile, the 3rd generation of Pogoplug device from Cloud Engines. It offers a single USB port plus an SD card slot along with the network port and power socket. Newer Pogoplugs come with USB3 ports, but as the maximum speed of the Pogoplug cloud is always going to be the speed of the Internet connection, the faster transfer speeds of USB3 are unlikely to be a significant benefit. For testing, I used a 64 GB memory stick, rather than a hard drive, which means that the unit will run silently with minimal power consumption.

Pogoplug Packaging

The Pogoplug website has downloads for Windows, Macs and Linux, and the relevant app stores have versions for Android, iOS, Blackberry and legendary WebOS. I was able to try the Windows, Linux, Android and WebOS versions. The Windows version connects to the Pogoplug and presents it as a drive letter, allowing most Windows applications to use the Pogoplug transparently. The Pogoplug software has additional backup functionality as well, which may be useful for some people. The Linux version is command line only but anyone familiar with Linux will have no trouble getting the Pogoplug mounted into the filesystem.

The Android app is simple and straightforward with a couple of nice tricks up its sleeve. Broadly you can browse files in a directory fashion or you can view music, photos and movies in a tag or meta-data based fashion, As expected, there are viewers and players for the media, though movies get handed over to the default app rather than playing within the Pogoplug app. The music player is basic and has one really irritating flaw; it doesn’t seem to be able to pick up the track number from the mp3 files and consequently orders tracks alphabetically when playing albums. This really needs to be fixed.

Back viewPerformance-wise, the Pogoplug is always going to be limited by the upload (rather than download) speed of the broadband connection when outside of the home. This usually meant a little bit of buffering before playing music but once the playback got underway, there was rarely any stuttering. There were occasional times when folders refused to refresh but my suspicion is that any problems were down to the local data connection on my phone rather than a problem with the Pogoplug. YMMV. Inside my home, the performance was excellent.

In common with other social and cloud apps, the Pogoplug app has automatic uploading of pictures and video from the devices camera. It’s also possible to set the folder where the uploaded images are to go. Frankly, this is brilliant as my wife is hopeless at remembering to copy photos off her smartphone so by setting up the Pogoplug app on her phone, any photos she takes get automatically transferred. On occasion, a photo would sometimes fail to completely upload; again I suspect the loss of 3G connectivity than any fundamental problem, but the error checking could be improved. It’s also possible to upload any image from within the photo Gallery app.

As with most cloud solutions, you can also share with friends and family, using either the app or the web interface. It’s straightforward – select the folder you want to share, select who you want to share with and an email is sent to them with the relevant link. It’s an easy way to share photos of Junior with grandma and grandpa.

Any downsides? Only two that i can see….first, there’s no direct integration with any other apps that I could find. Quickoffice and other office apps typically allow access straight into Google Drive or Dropbox but none seemed to work with a Pogoplug. Effectively I had to download a Word doc to the phone, do my edits in QuickOffice and then upload the doc back to the Pogoplug. Not slick.

The second is that when I was at home and on the same subnet as the Pogoplug, Internet access to Pogoplug’s servers was still needed, presumably to check authorisation privileges. Normally, it’s not going to be an issue, but it would be handy to have a way to bypass this when working locally and the connection to the Internet goes down.

Overall, the Pogoplug is a handy device that gives you control over your data rather than entrusting it to a megacorp. A few glitches spoil what is otherwise a neat little solution that potentially gives as much data storage space as you need, without paying per GB per annum. For the low cost of the Pogoplug unit (about $50 / £35), it’s a bargain.

Disclaimer – this was a personally purchased device.

OpenSUSE 12.2 Out Now

OpenSuSE logoFor Linux fans, there’s a new version of OpenSUSE out today, bringing the version number to 12.2. Albeit a little late, this new version sees some significant upgrades and changes which improve performance and reliability. OpenSUSE is one of the big 5 Linux distributions so it’ll be a solid release.

In additional to the 3.4 kernel, KDE is bumped to 4.8.4 and Gnome to 3.4. SuSE has always been a strong proponent of the KDE desktop (my personal favourite) so I’ll be checking that out later. LibreOffice 3.5 brings word processing and spreadsheets to the party and Gimp 2.8 is on hand for image editing.

“We are proud of this release, maintaining the usual high openSUSE quality standards.” said Andrew Wafaa from the openSUSE Board. “The delay in the schedule caused by our growth in the last two years means we have to work on scaling our processes. Now this release is out and with the upcoming openSUSE conference in October in Prague, the community has time and opportunity to work on that.”

I run OpenSUSE on my main PC so I’ll be upgrading soon – the distro is downloading via BitTorrent as we speak – but live upgrades are also now supported so I might investigate that for the first time.

The full press release is here.

AKiTiO MyCloud Mini Review

Over the past couple of weeks I have had a AKiTiO MyCloud mini plugged into my network, and when I say mini its small but packs an amazing punch. The AKiTiO MyCloud Mini is essentially a mini customized Linux server that surprisingly has a lot of standard Linux server features, that can become it’s own NAS device which then can be used as a file server. It is made to serve up media, documents, images files locally or remotely.

Managing the tiny device is done so though a web browser which is served from the device itself. My son who is 15 became quite enamored with it, and I let him manage it. The first thing he did was attach an external eSata drive that I let him borrow, and started pulling in video clips to the device that he subsequently accessed via his Xbox 360.

The MyCloud Mini supports streaming to media devices that supports UPNP and DNLA, like the Xbox 360, iTunes, Windows 7 and a variety of other devices.

I think my son became the geek of the week, when he showed his buddies at school his remote file server and how he could access files on it from his mobile phone.  There is an associated Android and iPhone app for the device which makes it easy to access your content while remote.

My concern was security and I ran a variety of test against the device internally and externally and could not find any reason to be concerned about placing media and files on the device to be accessed remotely.

What surprised me was how quickly my son got the hang of managing it. I did have to explain some very basic things to him like how he could manage it with a web browser. For the price which runs close to a $100.00 a small business or home owner could use this device to manage there media.  I never know whats going to be shipped to me to review and form the get go I knew the team that designed put a lot of thought into the design and management of the device.

I have only touched the surface of what this server can do and amazed what it does at the price point. For more info visit AKiTiO.com for more details.

A Slice Of Raspberry Pi

Image Couresty of The Raspberry Pi Foundation

The long-awaited U.S. release of Raspberry Pi hit snag this month when the folks behind the pint-sized PC (credit card-sized, actually) realized the units were manufactured with non-magnetic jacks. “No magnetics means no network connection,” a blog post stated on the Raspberry Pi site earlier this month.

Tech folks have been buzzing about this British non-profit start-up (The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a UK registered charity) since it announced it was taking pre-orders for its Raspberry Pi and demand outstripped supply within minutes. Originally designed to provide a cheap, versatile and powerful little PC for young people to learn programming with, Raspberry Pi has instead captured attention from the entire programming world – many of whom (myself included) are waitlisted for the $25 to $35 dollar machine (probably more like $50 after taxes/shipping).

The draw is threefold – it’s inexpensive, versatile and small. Essentially, it’s a little Linux machine on a RM11-based Broadbom BCM2835 200MHz ARM processor with up to 256MB of SDRAM, composite and HDMI outputs, USB and memory card slots. No case, no bells, whistles, etc. They have a pretty extensive FAQ – it will answer all of your technical inquiries and then some.

Sounds pretty cool – a neat little PC that programmers both novice and pro can push and pull in many directions. The Raspberry Pi team has already taken to testing this little wallet-sized computer to the max, like running Quake 3 on it with minimal issues.

Outside of the technical impressiveness and the attractively cheap price, it’s the goal of this project that deserves the most respect. From the Raspberry Pi team – “We want to see cheap, accessible, programmable computers everywhere; we actively encourage other companies to clone what we’re doing. We want to break the paradigm where without spending hundreds of pounds on a PC, families can’t use the internet. We want owning a truly personal computer to be normal for children. We think that 2012 is going to be a very exciting year.”

They’ve got the buzz. They’ve got the mission. Now, all they need is magnetic jacks. Stay tuned.

Ubuntu Linux Heads for Smartphones and Tablets

ZDNet is reporting that Canonical is intending to make the next release of Ubuntu, 12.04, a LTS (Long Term Support) release with intention of then expanding Ubuntu beyond desktops and laptops into smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, with a target of 2014 for an all-platform release.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, in an interview said, “This is a natural expansion of our idea as Ubuntu as Linux for human beings. As people have moved from desktop to new form factors for computing, it’s important for us to reach out to out community on these platforms. So, we’ll embrace the challenge of how to use Ubuntu on smartphones, tablets and smart-screens.” The full announcement is expected at the Ubuntu Developer Summit, which starts tomorrow and runs for a week in Orlando, Florida.

Having already been in discussions with partners for around 18 months, it seems that this is more than wishful thinking, but one can’t help feel that the whole Palm-HP-WebOS debacle bodes badly for any company wanting to get in on the smartphone and tablet space. If HP can’t make it happen with a solid OS and Zen of Palm, what hope has Canonical? When quizzed about this, Shuttleworth said that he saw “Android as its primary competitor…..We’ve also already heard from people who are already shipping tablets that they want Ubuntu on the tablet.” And of course, “Ubuntu already has a developer and customer base.”

While there’s no doubt that the mobile space is still maturing and there’s plenty of change still to come,  I have a hard time seeing Ubuntu on anything but a small niche of tablets and an even smaller niche of smartphones. iOS and Android have their foothold and Microsoft will be a solid third if Windows Phone 7 continues to deliver and Windows 8 delivers as expected. A fourth player is going to have difficulty making inroads, especially one as relatively unknown as Canonical and Ubuntu.

Smart TVs are a more plausible destination as the internal software is of less concern to the consumer. Most people buying a TV are looking at the exterior brand such as Sony, Samsung or LG, and not what’s inside, although this may change if a “Powered by Roku” or “Google TV inside” campaign runs. Plenty of change to come in this space too.

I wish Ubuntu every success.