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Reviews

OnePlus 5T review—An outstanding combination of specs, design, and price

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Android
Reviews

After launching the OnePlus 5 earlier this year, OnePlus is back with an end-of-year upgrade for the device. The OnePlus 5T takes a winning formula—high-end specs with a low price tag and a metal body—and reworks the front of the phone to dedicate as much space as possible to the screen. This device has a new screen, a new button layout, a new fingerprint reader, and a new camera setup. It almost feels like a totally new device.

We liked the OnePlus 5 from earlier in the year, but, with the more modern design, OnePlus has fixed OnePlus 5's biggest downside. The result is something that is extremely compelling—a $500 phone that makes you question exactly why you'd give $800 to those other OEMs when this has nearly everything the more expensive phones have.

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Review: Fedora 27 Workstation

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Red Hat
Reviews

On the whole there are several things to like about Fedora 27. The operating system was stable during my trial and I like that there are several session options, depending on whether we want to use Wayland or the X display server or even a more traditional-looking version of GNOME. I am happy to see Wayland is coming along to the point where it is close to on par with the X session. There are some corner cases to address, but GNOME on Wayland has improved a lot in the past year.

I like the new LibreOffice feature which lets us sign and verify documents and I like GNOME's new settings panel. These are all small, but notable steps forward for GNOME, LibreOffice and Fedora.

Most of the complaints I had this week had more to do with GNOME specifically than Fedora as an operating system. GNOME on Fedora is sluggish on my systems, both on the desktop computer and in VirtualBox, especially the Wayland session. This surprised me as when I ran GNOME's Wayland session on Ubuntu last month, the desktop performed quite a bit better. Ubuntu's GNOME on Wayland session was smooth and responsive, but Fedora's was too slow for me to use comfortably and I switched over to using the X session for most of my trial.

Two other big differences I felt keenly between Ubuntu and Fedora were with regards to how these two leading projects set up GNOME. On Ubuntu we have a dock that acts as a task switcher, making it a suitable environment for multitasking. Fedora's GNOME has no equivalent. This means Fedora's GNOME is okay for running one or two programs at a time, but I tend to run eight or nine applications at any given moment. This becomes very awkward when using Fedora's default GNOME configuration as it is hard to switch between open windows quickly, at least without installing an extension. In a similar vein, Ubuntu's GNOME has window control buttons and Fedora's version does not, which again adds a few steps to what are usually very simple, quick actions.

What it comes down to is I feel like Ubuntu takes GNOME and turns it into a full featured desktop environment, while Fedora provides us with just plain GNOME which feels more like a framework for a desktop we can then shape with extensions rather than a complete desktop environment. In fact, I think that describes Fedora's approach in general - the distribution feels more like a collection of open source utilities rather than an integrated whole. Earlier I mentioned LibreOffice can work with signed documents, but Fedora has no key manager, meaning we need to find and download one. Fedora ships with Totem, which is a fine video player, but it doesn't work with Wayland, making it an odd default choice. These little gaps or missed connections show up occasionally and it sets the distribution apart from other projects like openSUSE or Linux Mint where there is a stronger sense the pieces of the operating system working together with a unified vision.

The big puzzle for me this week was with software updates. Linux effectively solved updating software and being able to keep running without a pause, reboot or lock-up decades ago. Other mainstream distributions have fast updates - some even have atomic, on-line updates. openSUSE has software snapshots through the file system, Ubuntu has live kernel updates that do away with rebooting entirely and NixOS has atomic, versioned updates via the package manager, to name just three examples. But Fedora has taken a big step backward in making updates require an immediate reboot, and taking an unusually long time to complete the update process, neither of which benefits the user.

Fedora has some interesting features and I like that it showcases new technologies. It's a good place to see what new items are going to be landing in other projects next year. However, Fedora feels more and more like a testing ground for developers and less like a polished experience for people to use as their day-to-day operating system.

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Kubuntu 17.10 review - Hello darkness my old friend

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KDE
Reviews
Ubuntu

This must be one of the worst Kubuntu releases I've tried in a long time. Part of the fault lies with the parent distro, and the heartless switch to Gnome, which just shows that the passion to making Ubuntu an important desktop player is gone. This is just inertia and apathy. Still, there's so much wrong with Kubuntu on its own that I feel like a total fool for investing my time in this effort. And it also proves that there is only one good release for every three, showing that distro teams are overstretched roughly by 300%. The whole fast-release bullshit is just the modern-era agile-crap nonsense. It helps no one. Shitty products serve no purpose. Being fast for the sake of it is like running head first into an industrial blender to have your outstretched arms finely chopped by spinning blades.

Kubuntu 17.10 Artful Aardvark makes me sad. Makes me angry. Zesty was one of the finest distros ever created. This is one of the worst. That makes no sense. How can it be? Where's the modicum of care and diligence to ensure this kind of stuff does not happen? Application crashes, kernel crashes, media bugs, weird artifacts. Horrible.

My suggestion is not to upgrade for now. And even then, the foundation of your sanity is shaken. Come the upgrade, you do not know what will happen. You're hostage to arbitrary code decisions. There's no peace and stability in the Linux desktop. You will always have to dread the update process, not knowing what will break next. That is the essence of amateurism. And I'm right there, advocating Plasma and Kubuntu like the biggest of fools in this universe. Anyway, for the sake of public sacrifice, I'll also check 17.10 in-vivo upgrades on other machines, but my expectations are low. Aardvark gets 4/10. Don't bother for now, give it six months for the bugs to be fixed before a new release erases the slate and the cycle of depression starts again.

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Also: First Look At Linux Mint 18.3 Sylvia Beta

HTC U11 Life (Android One) review: Keep it simple

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Reviews

Android One has arrived in Europe, and HTC is one of the first manufacturers to ship an affordable, Google-branded phone. The Android One badge made its debut in India and parts of Asia, as Google emphasized quality software on super-cheap hardware. But with its latest round of "One" handsets, the prices are higher, the products more premium, and the hand on the software rudder a little firmer.

The Android One U11 Life — unlike the T-Mobile U.S. version we reviewed separately, running HTC Sense — runs Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, and comes with the promise of timely updates to future versions. It takes the fundamentals of HTC's flagship phone and downscales it into a smaller size, while trimming the specs back to the essentials.

There's a Snapdragon 630 processor — Qualcomm's latest mid-ranger, and the successor to the very capable 625/626 — along with 3GB or 4GB of RAM, and 32 or 64GB of storage, plus microSD. I've been using the 3/32GB model for the past couple of weeks, however the UK will be getting the more capacious 4/64GB model when it goes on sale.

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MX 17 Linux: The Best of 2 Linux Worlds

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Linux
Reviews

MX-17 Beta 1 images are available for download here. If you are looking for a computing platform that is a bit different and very reliable, check out the latest MX 17 Beta releases. Try out the various installation options. See how they work on your slowest legacy hardware.

If you like what you see, keep using the Beta release on USB until the final release of MX 17 comes out shortly. Then you can install it to your computer's hard drive in frugal mode, keep your existing Linux distro where it is, and choose which one to run with each new boot-up.

The beauty of MX Linux is you do not have to deal with wiping or partitioning your hard drive or fussing with the unpredictability of maintaining a dual-boot setup.

MX Linux is a powerful, easy-to-use computing platform that goes beyond lightweight performance without filling your computer with software bloat.

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LG V30 review: Good hardware design marred by bad camera, software

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Android
Reviews

Another six months, another LG flagship phone. Typically the V series has been LG's wacky, experimental line with an extra "ticker" screen on the front. This year, though, the V30 is all business. The ticker is gone in exchange for a slim-bezel device and a clean look.

With the V30, LG is still basically following the same path that Samsung travels by shipping a heavily skinned phone with a glass back and slow updates. When you do all the same things as Samsung without the marketing budget, it's hard to stand out.

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Antergos 17.11 – the Antagonist

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Reviews

Antergos shares the same roots with Manjaro. Both these distributions are in the Top 5 of Distrowatch list. However, my feelings from these operating systems are very different.
I liked Manjaro very much, and I felt disappointed by Antergos.

To certain extent, the disappointment was due to GNOME 3 desktop environment being used by default. I still dislike it, and it goes against my workflow. But there are some very Antergos-specific "features" that made me frown. Just to name a few: absence of office software in the default distribution, problem with software installation, huge memory usage.

Manjaro and Antergos. Such close brothers, so much difference.

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Ubuntu 17.10 Review – For The Record

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Reviews
Ubuntu

So who is the target user base for Ubuntu 17.10? As much as I’d like to say newbies, I simply can’t do that. The help tool is very newbie friendly and would do well to have a variation on other GNOME-based distros. But GNOME 3 itself, even with Ubuntu development tweaks, is simply not going to win over someone used to a traditional menu layout.

That said, I can say that while I still dislike the handling of GNOME extensions, indicators and other desktop elements, Ubuntu 17.10 is lightning fast, stable and has the basics in place to get the job done for most people used to a Linux desktop.

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SparkyLinux 5.1

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GNU
Linux
Reviews

SparkyLinux is a Debian-based distribution for 32- and 64-bit computers. According to Sparky's website, the distro aims to "provide a ready to use, out of the box operating system with a set of slightly customised, lightweight desktop environments." There are no less than 24 desktops to choose from, as well as various "Special" editions. Like Debian, Sparky has three branches, which Sparky refers to as 'editions': Stable, Rolling and Development. For each edition there is a "Home" and "Minimal" version and, to make your choice yet more overwhelming, for each version various ISOs are available. Among others, the Home versions include ISOs for four different desktop environments and the Minimal versions include a "Linux Freedom" ISO. I couldn't find any information about the Linux Freedom version on the Sparky website but I am assuming that it ships with a libre kernel and no non-free packages.

If the download options sound complicated then that is because they are complicated. It doesn't help that the download section on the Sparky website is poorly designed. The pages feature long lists with links to dozens of ISOs and virtually no information to help you pick a suitable image. Worse, what little information is available is ambiguous. Various pages on the Sparky website state that the distro uses Debian's Testing branch while it is in fact built on all three Debian branches. Also, the download page suggests that the Stable editions are recommended - the link to the Stable ISOs is listed first and features an icon of a computer with a green monitor. The Rolling ISOs use the same icon with a red monitor, while the Development branch uses the colour black.

While trying to decide which version of Sparky to install I made the following table, which might make the available flavours a little easier to digest.

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A look at Arch Linux based Antergos

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Reviews

So, I’ve mentioned a few times for my love of Arch Linux and Manjaro, but there is another player in the mix that deserves due diligence, and has actually won over my personal use vote as well; Antergos.

The main difference between Antergos and Manjaro is updates and repositories. Manjaro holds updates for further testing, Antergos does not, and Antergos uses the Arch repos directly.

That said, when you are finished installing Antergos, you are essentially left with an Arch Linux system that has a few extra bells and whistles installed, where as Manjaro is Manjaro, based on Arch. This is over-simplifying, but the essential core difference.

Antergos can be downloaded from the homepage, and comes in either a minimal ISO or a live ISO. Both are graphically bootable and use graphical installers, it’s just that one will allow you to boot into a live system and try things first, the other will not.

The installation tool is very simple to use, and anyone with prior installation experience will have absolutely no problems using it.

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Also: Arch Linux Ends Support for 32-Bit Systems

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  • SUNY math professor makes the case for free and open educational resources
    The open educational resources (OER) movement has been gaining momentum over the past few years, as educators—from kindergarten classes to graduate schools—turn to free and open source educational content to counter the high cost of textbooks. Over the past year, the pace has accelerated. In 2017, OERs were a featured topic at the high-profile SXSW EDU Conference and Festival. Also last year, New York State generated a lot of excitement when it made an $8 million investment in developing OERs, with the goal of lowering the costs of college education in the state. David Usinski, a math and computer science professor and assistant chair of developmental education at the State University of New York's Erie Community College, is an advocate of OER content in the classroom. Before he joined SUNY Erie's staff in 2007, he spent a few years working for the Erie County public school system as a technology staff developer, training teachers how to infuse technology into the classroom.

Mozilla: Wireless Innovation for a Networked Society, New AirMozilla Audience Demo, Firefox Telemetry

  • Net Neutrality, NSF and Mozilla's WINS Challenge Winners, openSUSE Updates and More
    The National Science Foundation and Mozilla recently announced the first round of winners from their Wireless Innovation for a Networked Society (WINS) challenges—$2 million in prizes for "big ideas to connect the unconnected across the US". According to the press release, the winners "are building mesh networks, solar-powered Wi-Fi, and network infrastructure that fits inside a single backpack" and that the common denominator for all of them is "they're affordable, scalable, open-source and secure."
  • New AirMozilla Audience Demo
    The legacy AirMozilla platform will be decommissioned later this year. The reasons for the change are multiple; however, the urgency of the change is driven by deprecated support of both the complex back-end infrastructure by IT and the user interface by Firefox engineering teams in 2016. Additional reasons include a complex user workflow resulting in a poor user experience, no self-service model, poor usability metrics and a lack of integrated, required features.
  • Perplexing Graphs: The Case of the 0KB Virtual Memory Allocations
    Every Monday and Thursday around 3pm I check dev-telemetry-alerts to see if there have been any changes detected in the distribution of any of the 1500-or-so pieces of anonymous usage statistics we record in Firefox using Firefox Telemetry.

Games: All Walls Must Fall, Tales of Maj'Eyal

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    This isometric tactical RPG blends in sci-fi, a Cold War that never ended and lots of spirited action. It’s powered by Unreal Engine 4 and has good Linux support.
  • Non-Linux FOSS: Tales of Maj'Eyal
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KDE and GNOME: KDE Discover, Okular, Librsvg, and Phone's UI Shell

  • This week in Discover, part 7
    The quest to make Discover the most-loved Linux app store continues at Warp 9 speed! You may laugh, but it’s happening! Mark my words, in a year Discover will be a beloved crown jewel of the KDE experience.
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  • Librsvg's continuous integration pipeline
    With the pre-built images, and caching of Rust artifacts, Jordan was able to reduce the time for the "test on every commit" builds from around 20 minutes, to little under 4 minutes in the current iteration. This will get even faster if the builds start using ccache and parallel builds from GNU make. Currently we have a problem in that tests are failing on 32-bit builds, and haven't had a chance to investigate the root cause. Hopefully we can add 32-bit jobs to the CI pipeline to catch this breakage as soon as possible.
  • Design report #3: designing the UI Shell, part 2
    Peter has been quite busy thinking about the most ergonomic mobile gestures and came up with a complete UI shell design. While the last design report was describing the design of the lock screen and the home screen, we will discuss here about navigating within the different features of the shell.