Saturday, 19 April 2014

Upgrading from Xubuntu 12.04 to 14.04

I have just upgraded my Samsung N145 netbook from Xubuntu 12.04 LTS directly to 14.04 LTS using "sudo do-release-upgrade -d" - which needs the "-d" because usually you are supposed to wait for the point release (14.04.1) before upgrading from the previous LTS.

The upgrade went very smoothly, mainly because I only have a couple of PPAs added, most of the other software is from the default repos. The main new features I noticed were the much better looking login/lock screen (Light Locker), prettier boot screen and the new Whisker Menu which replaces the old menu. Note if you have upgraded from 12.04 you will have to replace the old menu yourself by removing the old one from the panel and adding the new one. Sean Davis has already done a nice rundown of the new features in 14.04. Overall it seems to be worth the upgrade, a good solid release.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Ubuntu 14.04 and it's other flavours have been released

The latest LTS from Canonical has now been released, Ubuntu 14.04 "Trusty Tahr" and of course the Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Lubuntu versions should all be available. I managed to download the Ubuntu version in just 15 minutes, by direct download, and have also downloaded the Xubuntu version. Next up I'll be upgrading some of my machines from 12.04 LTS directly and hopefully do a review.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Windows 9: Microsoft’s Latest Effort to Stay Relevant

Microsoft will announce Windows 8′s successor, codename “Threshold”, at their annual build conference in April this year, and most likely release it as Windows 9 in April 2015.

Windows 9, Windows 8, laptop

First a little history lesson. After the poorly received Vista and popular Windows 7, and after having missed the smartphone and tablet boom of the Apple iPad and Google’s Android systems, Microsoft decided to muscle in on the smartphone and tablet market with Windows RT and Phone 8 operating systems. But Microsoft made the big mistake of forcing the Metro (“modern”) interface in Windows 8 onto every platform, including non-touchscreen desktop and laptop computers. This has confused and frustrated a lot of users, no matter how many expensive TV adverts Microsoft put out. Microsoft Surface and Windows Phones have not made much of a dent either.

Windows 9, Windows 8, AOL Repeat

First Microsoft already has a  minor fix for 8 called 8.1, which merely brings back the Start button as well as some other fixes. This is a mistake since users don’t only miss the Start button, but actually miss the Start Menu too. As I have said before, switching from the touch-friendly Metro to the not very touch friendly desktop and back again feels awkward. Doing that every time I want to search for an application gets old fast! Both Apple and Google have sensibly, generally, kept desktop and mobile devices on separate operating systems (OSX and iOS, ChromeOS and Android) although Android seems to have jumped to all-in-one desktops at CES2014. However Android with it’s many OEMs, is far more flexible than Windows when it comes to custom interfaces. With the right skin, Android could make some inroads into all-in-one or laptop markets.

Lenovo ThinkVison-28

As Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrott states here, Windows 9 “needs to be everything that Windows 8 is not.” Although nothing has been set in stone yet, it will most likely have a windowed version of Metro that will work better on the desktop. This will supposedly make Metro apps, however few and little-used they are, integrate better into the desktop.

Microsoft’s backtracking fix to Windows basically makes Windows 8/8.1 the new Vista/SP1, but it might be too late for Windows to stay relevant for long. Google Chromebooks have outsold Macbooks in the US, and iPads are still leading tablet sales in the US. With Android dominating smartphones worldwide and making fast inroads into desktops and hybrid laptops, Microsoft Windows seems to becoming increasingly irrelevant. As Thrurrott put it, “Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good.” With many home users only needing browser based web apps and social networking sites, a Chromebook or Android desktop/laptop/tablet could be all they need. Even in the usually Windows dominant gaming market, Steam boxes that run Valve’s Linux-based SteamOS could eventually replace Windows once enough games are available in Steam for Linux. In the corporate world, most businesses will probably stick with the familiar Windows 7 until mainstream support for it ends in January 2015 while planning a switch away from Windows to a more secure, flexible platform, be that Chromebook and server based apps, Ubuntu or other desktop Linux, Android or OSX. One thing’s for sure, Microsoft Windows has a treacherous rocky road ahead.

Google Notifier Has Finally Been Retired

Although Google had warned on the 10th January earlier this year, Google Notifier Beta had still been working fine for some until a day or so ago. The email stated that “Starting on January 31, 2014, Google Notifier Beta will no longer be supported, meaning the app will no longer show recent emails and calendar events.” Google now recommends enabling Desktop Notifications in Gmail and Calendar or installing the Gmail Checker Chrome app, though the minority who still use PowerPC Macs (such as myself) will be out of luck since Chrome is of course Intel only which is kind of a shame really.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Thoughts On Convergence and Why Google and Apple Got It Right and Microsoft Got It Wrong

In a brief interview with Macworld to mark the 30th anniversary of the Mac, Apple's executive Phil Schiller (and his cohort Craig Federighi, I keep misreading his name as Ferengi...) affirmed that the Mac still has a bright future "as far as our eye can see." Federighi went on to say “It’s obvious and easy enough to slap a touchscreen on a piece of hardware, but is that a good experience? We believe, no.” Obviously the Mac will stick around as it would hardly be practical to write iOS apps (or lots of other heavy desktop work) on an iOS device.

Now I may not be a massive fan of Apple and I particularly get riled up when it comes to their attitude to patents, but as far as the desktop computer is concerned, Apple have got one thing right. Despite the massive success of the iPhone and iPad, they have kept OSX and iOS seperate, with just a little convergence between the two. There is Dashboard, iMessage, trackpad gestures and the admittedly silly "Natural Scrolling" but that's about it. OSX is still a reasonably usable desktop OS, albeit a fixed, non-customizable one.

Microsoft on the other hand, have, in my opinion, got things very wrong! They basically shovelled the Metro (I refuse to call it "Modern") interface onto phone, tablet and, most annoyingly, desktop with Windows 8. Microsoft has confused and annoyed a lot of users with this abomination. Even 8.1 does not really fix things, it merely brings back the Start button rather than what a lot of desktop users actually want which is the Start menu. Windows 9 will supposedly fix things by putting Metro apps in a windowed app on the desktop but we shall see. By then though it may be too late and Windows will be irrelevant, perhaps it already is...

Google have ChromeOS and Android. They have, at least on their own devices, kept them separate. ChromeOS is aimed at laptops and desktops as the browser is the desktop to Google. Chromebooks are great for those who need a second machine for writing, browsing and other light work. Despite Microsoft's FUD, Chromebooks are actually useful offline too. Things have taken a slightly different approach recently with some OEMs like Lenovo and HP putting Android onto all-in-one desktops and laptops, presumably to take advantage of the huge amount of apps in the Play store. I am not quite sure how I feel about this yet, I have yet to see what they are like in the flesh. If, and that's a big if, they have skinned Android to make it more desktop-like, they might be onto something but I don't think Android is quite right in it's stock form for a desktop PC, at least as a work computer, though it would be great as a touchscreen jukebox or media centre.

For things like photo and video editing, music production though I would rather have a full OS such as a 'proper' Linux distro, my personal preference at the moment being Linux Mint with Cinnamon desktop. With Linux, and pretty much any desktop, I like a top panel with the usual indicators, a searchable menu on the left and a dock at the base of the screen on one monitor, the great thing about Linux is it is so customizable!

Again I am not really keen on Ubuntu's Unity or Gnome Shell as I think it gets in the way of what I want to do, I don't like massive fullscreen menus covering almost a whole screen, which is one reason I hate Metro on Windows 8. And one day Ubuntu Touch might work well on phones and tablets but I just cannot get on with it on the desktop and I really have tried to like it. One thing I would (or would have liked) from Canonical is Ubuntu for Android, it would be great to take my phone, dock it to a HDMI monitor, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and have Ubuntu instantly load up on the monitor and still be able to use Android apps in a window on the desktop. This would be cool for travelling light for cubicle people.

I love having a (reasonably) powerful, multi-monitor desktop for AV stuff, Steam games etc, then switching over to a laptop for late night blogging and browsing. My Nexus 7 is great for light browsing and casual gaming and my Galaxy S3 is my camera, on-the-go browser, info-finder and above all, phone! Firefox syncs browser history and tabs between all three devices and my files are never far away with Dropbox or Copy or Linux home server on the LAN.

I have also been using PushBullet to receive Android Notifications on the desktop from phone and tablet. It's also good for quickly sending links between devices. It works OK but I wish there was a proper, fully formed desktop app on Linux that would do it better. Something like KDE Connect, but not so tied to KDE, would be great. Overall, I like having different devices and form factors for different purposes but with some synchronicity between them.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Mint 16 Cinnamon on a HP nc6320

I have just bought a HP nc6320 very cheaply, and it came with 1GB RAM and Windows XP Pro, which of course I immediately wiped out and installed Mint 16, Cinnamon version, (MATE desktop is also available) after upgrading the RAM to 3GB by adding a 2GB stick. It will take 2x 2GB sticks but I don't have another spare at the moment. I chose Mint 16 because Cinnamon desktop stopped working properly on Ubuntu on my old desktop, and I also bought a Dell Precision 390 workstation and Mint 16 installed and works very well on that, so I decided to give it a go on this, especially since I already had it ready to go on a USB stick.

Installation took around 10 minutes and almost everything seems to work nicely out the box. The only thing I cannot get working at the moment is the fingerprint reader, though I'm not trying too hard, it's not exactly that important to have for me. Wireless works out the box, as does Bluetooth, just make sure to press the Wireless button on the top row above the keyboard to turn it on. Suspend/Resume works perfectly and the 15" screen gives a 1400 x 1050 pixel resolution. Not surprising it all works I suppose since HP originally certified it to run Suse Enterprise Linux Desktop 10. The nc6320 feels fairly sturdy and has a reasonable keyboard and screen. I also appreciate the internal DVD writer it comes with. I do hope it lasts longer than the nc6120 I had awhile back though, which developed a motherboard fault. I've not tested the battery but since it's probably had a hard life the 1hr 37mins estimated is probably correct.

Mint 16 has a great out-of-the-box experience overall, the login screen looks swish and of course various codecs are already installed and the main theme is sensible. Well, except I don't really like green that much! I have installed Humanities-Zukitwo icons and Radiance gtk theme (from the repos), which I think look good with Adwaita Classic Cinnamon theme. I have also set it up in a similar fashion to my main desktop with inverted panel at the top and Cairo Dock at the bottom of the screen. Here's some more screenshots (click to enlarge):

Friday, 29 November 2013

Mini sd card reader by Meenova for Android

One of the great things about Android is OTG support. The fact that you can attach a mouse and keyboard or an external hard drive and they work is just wonderful. OTG is short for "On The Go" and a lot of modern Android devices support this. Nexus devices, the Samsung Galaxy S2/S3/S4, the HTC One, the newer Sony Xperia devices along with the Moto X/G. To get it working you attach a little cable and off you go. 
When it comes to reading micro sd cards, especially on the go (pun intended), things become a little more difficult. You end up having to lug around not only a cable but a card reader also. 

This is where Meenova come in. They created  small simple sd card reader that plugs straight into your device without the need of any extra cables. 

There is no doubt that these look cool and at only $12, and a choice of 4 different clours, means this is the sort of thing that you just throw on your keyring, or pocket and off you go. Meenova started off as one of those strange quirky things on Kickstarter and after being fully funded the opened their door to the public on September of this year. 

Personally I think this so cool, it is something I know I would get a lot of use out of. And I think I am going to have to order one. I just felt that there was no need to wait before letting you all see them.

If you want to know more info, or want to place an order head on over to the Meenova website and choose your colour.