Tuesday, 9 December 2014

HP Stream 11 - A Windows notebook that's not a "Chromebook killer"



So this is Microsoft's answer to Chromebooks, low spec laptops and "Windows 8.1 with Bing" - as if the mere adding of default IE defaulted to Bing search is anything to boast about. I'm sure most sensible users will install either Chrome or Firefox browsers anyway. This is the HP Stream 11 and the build of it looks quite similar to my HP Chromebook 14 but actually feels cheaper in the flesh. It has an 11.6-inch 1366×768 display and 2GB RAM, much like many Chromebooks. It has 2.16 GHz dual-core Intel Celeron N2840 Bay Trail processor, which is somewhat slower than the Haswell CPUs of many Chromebooks.

Some articles have called it a "Chromebook killer" but I think that's far from the truth. Even with it's 32GB SSD, more than most Chromebooks, it only has 17.5GB of free space, which will soon fill up with the detritus from Windows updates and registry bloat, aswell as all those apps the user will install. Advanced users could remove the Windows Restore partition to recover 7.2GB of storage. The user could just install only a few apps or not install any extra apps at all, and just use web apps, but then that would defeat the purpose of getting a Windows laptop, might aswell have bought a Chromebook in the first place. And the hardware with just 2GB RAM is not going to be much fun with anything more than light office work either.

The advantage of a Chromebook is even with meagre hardware it is much quicker than Windows on the same or similar hardware.  And you won't have to worry about intrusive updates (and their many reboots), viruses/malware and there's no overhead of a bloated OS. Even if there is a problem, it takes minutes to wipe the entire OS and restore your Chrome extensions and data. Windows boots in around 30 seconds out the box on the Stream 11, but given time I'd wager that time will only get longer and longer, whereas my Chromebook 14 boots from cold to in use in just 7 seconds, and will stay that way. Not that I often boot mine from cold, I use it all the time, shut the lid and then open it again later and it's connected and working in a second. I actually find it more convenient than waiting for my Nexus 7 to wake up.  

Chromebooks have been a massive hit both in schools and in the consumer market, judging by their appearance in Amazon's best selling laptop list. It is going to take more than cheap hardware and Bing to kill Chromebooks. I would only really recommend buying a HP Stream 11 if you absolutely positively have to use a lightweight native Windows app for something that cannot be done on a Chromebook!





Sources: ZDNet, Arstechnica, Amazon, HP

Thursday, 4 December 2014

iPearl mCover HP Chromebook 14 Hard Shell Case Review

Since I happen to have had a "Coral Peach" HP Chromebook 14 bought for me, I decided I needed to tone it down a bit and have the added bonus of protecting it's bodywork too with a shell case that I found on Amazon UK. It's available in 9 different shades including clear, but I bought the black version since black goes with anything. It also kind of reminded me of the Apple BlackBook.



Naturally it arrived in a huge box with plenty of packaging. There was no instructions but it's fairly easy to work out how it goes on, there are clips around the lid and a lip along the bottom edge on the hinge side.



The bottom piece of the shell fits in a similar way but with larger clips on the corners and grill holes for cooling. It also has a couple of handy pull-down lugs at the rear that raises the laptop up on stilts, useful for those who like to have the keyboard angled more towards them, and also presumably to aid cooling, both intake and exhaust fans are on the base of the Chromebook. It has four big rubber feet to keep the laptop firmly rooted to the spot.




So far I am quite pleased with it, it does the job just fine, keeping my Chromebook in pristine condition, and avoids covering it with greasy finger marks that it so readily attracts.


If only it covered the rest of the pink bits! (Oo-errr!)  




My next accessory purchase will hopefully be a decent Bluetooth mouse, this one in particular hopefully:

Saturday, 15 November 2014

How to quickly add a printer connected to Ubuntu Server to Google Cloud Print



You cannot install a printer in the usual way on a Chromebook (without installing a Linux distro + CUPS etc),  it can only print to Google Cloud Print connected printers. Usually you would need a computer with Google Chrome to do this, but if you have a headless Ubuntu print server there are other options. The simplest way I have found is by installing cloudprint from the Ubuntu repositories. (I assume it is also available in other distros repositories too.)

sudo apt-get install cloudprint

Then once that's finished run

cloudprint

It will then prompt for your Google account name (usually your Gmail email address) and password, then in a moment it will hopefully show up like so:



Then you can manage your printer(s) from the Google Cloud Print website and now I can print from my Chromebook or anywhere from Chrome or Android. I have a networked HP 2600n and have added it to my Ubuntu Server, which is on 24/7.



Source: AskUbuntu

 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

HP Chromebook 14 Review



HP Chromebook 14 (2013)

When I was deciding on getting a Chromebook, I made the decision to go for the outgoing version of HP's Chromebook 14, as I needed a large 14 inch screen, Intel Haswell CPU and 4GB RAM. I don't like tiny 11 inch screens, and the larger screen also means a decent size keyboard. Although this makes the HP heavier than some Chromebooks, it is still around half the weight of my chunky old 6.6lb Sony VAIO! I could have waited and got the newer replacement model 14, with better screen, but that only has 2GB RAM, and an ARM CPU, which is annoying. I need plenty of RAM as I tend to have a lot of tabs open and planned to run Xubuntu using Crouton, which in theory works better with the Intel CPU.




I received my Chromebook on Friday in a quite plain brown HP and Intel branded cardboard box with large padding blocks inside protecting it. I was struck by how slim and well built the HP 14 feels. The underneath is a kind of rubberised plastic, with 2 ventilation grills. 4 rubber feet prevent the device sliding on glossy surfaces. It has 2 speakers at the base of the screen, under the hinge, and they sound fairly good for what they are.




In the box there's a little Setup Instructions leaflet, the warranty and small PSU, which reminded me of the one from my Samsung N145 netbook.




The left side of the HP has two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI out and a headphone/mic socket. The right side has the power input, a single USB 2.0 port and the SD card slot. Photos on top of my Sony VAIO for comparison:



The setup instructions are barely needed as the Chromebook is so simple to setup, mainly constituting wireless setup and signing into your Google account.




After the brief setup process is the best time to setup Crouton to install Xubuntu alongside of ChromeOS. To do this you need to enable Developer mode, which wipes the device. I found plenty of good howtos, but I used this one here. Instead of Unity though I chose XFCE desktop and Trusty as my 'buntu version:

sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -r trusty -t xfce,gtk-extra,core,audio -e

This gives you a minimal Xubuntu setup. It's best not to install too much as it only has a 16GB SSD, of which part of that is taken already by ChromeOS.




The great thing about using Crouton is you can quickly switch between Chrome OS and Xubuntu using the CTRL + ALT + Shift and the arrow keys (located with the function keys along the top of the keyboard).



I like the smooth aluminium around the comfortably-sized chiclet keyboard. The keys have a fine texture so your fingers are not slipping off them and size and layout suits me. You'll probably notice the metal is a bit of a fingerprint magnet though! You'll also notice I bought the "coral" coloured model, because the white and silver models were out of stock. In some lights it looks pink and some lights it looks red or orange. I plan on toning down the look using these covers from Amazon. Some have complained about the screen but I am happy with it, perhaps because it's still better than a lot of my old laptops. The viewing angles are fine and it's plenty bright.


More than just a browser.

I have found that I can do a bit more than just web browsing on my Chromebook. It has a basic file manager that can access and play videos from USB hard drives etc. Chrome OS has a desktop with wallpaper and a panel (Google calls it a shelf) where you can pin apps to. There is a growing section of the Chrome store devoted to apps that work offline too. At the moment the only time I find myself switching to Xubuntu is to use Gtk VNC Viewer, as for some reason I can't seem to connect to my server using the VNC Chrome app.




The best thing about the HP Chromebook 14 is closing it and opening it later and finding it ready immediately. Suspend and resume works perfectly and the battery lasts over 8 hours, so you can use it pretty much all day without needing to plug it in. Also, from a cold start, it boots to the login prompt in 5 seconds! A couple more seconds and it's ready to work.

And there's still more interesting features being implemented in Chrome OS that I look forward to trying. With Android Lollipop phones will unlock when in proximity of your Chromebook (should you choose to use that feature).  Also you'll soon be able to run many more Android apps on your Chromebook. There are also plenty of choice when it comes to Chromebooks with new ones being released and updated every year.














Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kool KDE Features and Little KDE Quirks

I have just recently switched from Cinnamon to KDE on Mint 17 and I am still discovering cool little stuff along with the odd quirks of KDE.

Kool KDE Features

The other day I had a cool moment with KDE, specifically with KDE Connect. I got an incoming call on my phone, and Amarok automatically paused for me to answer it, then after I hung up, the music automatically started again! Awesomeness! I assume it should work with other KDE media players, not sure about other non-KDE-native apps. It reportedly does work with Clementine. Some users have reported high battery life when scanning for a connection using Bluetooth, but I am using KDE on my workstation so I obviously cannot test that.




Another thing I love in KDE is it's System Tray not only shows all recent notifications but it also shows current file transfers for Dolphin, including estimated time remaining. Click the plus sign and it also shows the transfer speed too, which is very useful. You probably also notice I have switched back to Mint's default KDE theme.

 

Another thing I like is the "root actions" menu in Dolphin, which is useful for changing or repairing permissions on files and folders. I did not like Dolphin when it first replaced Konqueror for file management, but it has come a long way since the early days of KDE 4.x.



KDE Quirks

One mildly annoying thing with KDE is, and always has been for me, Kwallet. With my recent KDE use I have noticed it popping up when I open Chrome and Amarok for the first time after login. Luckily I found a little trick to stop Chrome needing to open Kwallet here without needing to completely disable Kwallet. I have not yet found out how to do similar for Amarok. Should I add a similar entry for Amarok? Answers in the comments please! I have tried disabling Kwallet before but it used to course problems, so I don't do that any more!



Another little quirk of KDE is the way it treats workspaces and monitors. It treats each monitor as a separate set of activities. The downside of this is you cannot set one widescreen wallpaper to span over two or more monitors. The only workaround that works at the moment is to edit your wallpaper in your favourite editor, I use GIMP, and split the picture down the middle and set the two parts to the appropriate monitors. I'll admit this is only a very minor annoyance but it means wallpaper switchers don't tend to work well unless you like different wallpapers for each monitor!




So far I am really enjoying KDE on my main workstation and I am still rediscovering the features and quirks of KDE, so I shall likely update this article in the future.




Sunday, 21 September 2014

A Fresh Start With Mint 17 KDE for my Workstation

I've recently had a bit of a Linux desktop crisis as my favourite desktop, Cinnamon, has been playing up somewhat on my main workstation, after I had been satisfied with it for so long. It started getting flickering with one of the dual monitors going black briefly when fullscreening VLC or anything that runs fullscreen. Cairo Dock was also becoming increasingly buggy too, so it was time for a change. I tried LXDE and XFCE installed on Mint but they all felt lacking on my dual monitor setup. I then tried to install KDE but it messed up the install, and so it was time for a reinstall.

I briefly tried fresh installing Xubuntu and then stock Ubuntu but for some reason the mouse and keyboard stopped working on them on the first boot. Quite odd. I then reinstalled Mint Cinnamon 17, then installed MATE again and had that running for a few weeks until today, when I decided to start fresh again. I used MATE for a few weeks, but although it worked OK, Gtk2 feels old and just does not feel as smooth as Cinnamon used to do.



So I decided to try KDE again, but this time with a fresh install of Mint 17 KDE, but keeping my /home partition and that's what I am running now. I already have KDE installed on one laptop, so I knew what to expect. It got off to a slightly shaky start on the LiveCD as Desktop Effects are enabled by default and they do not play well with the open source Nouveau driver! So I disabled them for the install and disabled them on the first boot, then re-enabled them after installing the Nvidia drivers.



Then after installing my favourite apps, such as Chrome, Filezilla and others, I got down to customizing my desktop to how I wanted it. KDE is great for those who need to customize everything, but the only thing lacking is the way it treats desktops separately, so you cannot span a single wallpaper across multiple screens. A workaround is to split your wallpaper down the middle with GIMP, and set the left and right bits appropriately.


I set the main KDE panel to the top of the screen and then made an auto-hidden panel at the base of the screen for most used apps and resource monitors etc. I did briefly try Docky, but it does not work how I want. I did try a completely dark theme all over the desktop, but they are very tricky to get right, especially with gtk apps and WINE etc so I decided to stick to stock theme other than a dark desktop theme for the panel. I also installed Conky with Gotham theme. Here's how my KDE desktop looks with the lower panel visible, with Dolphin and Amarok open:


I did actually install Gmusicbrowser too, but the keyboard media buttons don't seem to work with it. Thankfully Amarok works very well in it's native KDE, unlike whenever I have tried it in other desktops. I do also like the KDE main menu's Favourites list, a good contender feature-wise for Cinnamon's menu.



KDE has some nifty features and the desktop effects can actually be quite useful, like the 3D app switcher and taskbar window previews, which I have not had for years.




Another cool feature is KDE Connect which makes Android Notifications appear as notifications in KDE, as well as enabling you to control audio/video playback in KDE from your phone, amongst other things.



So I am quite happy now with Mint 17 KDE on my HP xw6600, it's very nice and usable once it's been setup right, and now that I have got used to it. I would say though it does need plenty of resources to run smoothly, so it's not ideal for low end laptops with integrated graphics. My desktop is a HP xw6600 with 8GB RAM and 4 core 2.5ghz Xeon CPU and Nvidia 7600GT. It has been stable so far though, more so than Cinnamon, I have only had one settings dialogue crash once, that's about it, so hopefully I shall keep Mint KDE on my main workstation for a long while.



Monday, 8 September 2014

How to add Gmusicbrowser to the Media Menu in Cinnamon/Gnome desktops

My favourite music player for a long time has been Gmusicbrowser as it's lightweight and can handle extremely large music collections with ease, taking only a short time to scan my 50,000+ track collection. However for awhile now, it's tray icon never shows in Cinnamon or Gnome desktops, which has it's own Media Menu with playback buttons and volume controls. Without a fix it usually just shows only 'Gmusicbrowser' clickable that just opens the player, and no controls. I found a work around sometime back that I just rediscovered after a reinstall of Mint 17 Cinnamon on my main desktop.



Essentially you need to use your favourite text editor to add 'cinnamon' to the list of players in  /usr/share/cinnamon/applets/sound@cinnamon.org/applet.js in the "compatible_players variable" section, save the file, then restart Cinnamon (Ctrl+F2 then enter a single letter 'r' and press enter) or just logout and log in. Now start Gmusicbrowser and it should now have a proper entry in the Media Menu with playback controls and we're done. I've also rediscovered Gmusicbrowser's built in desktop widgets.