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Reviews

Review of Firefox “Fenix” for Android

Filed under
Android
Moz/FF
Reviews

Mozilla has begun a staged roll-out of its redesigned and rearchitected Firefox browser for Android (codename “Fenix”). So far, Fenix has only been released in 14 countries through the Google Play Store. Here’s my review of Mozilla’s new flagship mobile browser as a long-time user and as an extension developer.

Fenix’s user interface is minimal, but it represents a large amount of work under the hood. It’s built on GeckoView and Mozilla Android Components (MOZAC); a set of reusable components for mobile app developers that makes it easier to build a web browser based on Mozilla technology. These components are a modernization of the old codebase as well as a direct competitor to WebView — the web engine that’s built-in to Android, as well as Google’s ChromiumView.

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Pantheon Desktop Review: A Beautiful Alternative to macOS

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OS
Reviews

The Pantheon Desktop is designed specifically for elementaryOS and is considered one of the most visually appealing desktops around. It clearly draws a lot of inspiration from macOS, which makes it a great alternative for those who are looking to make the switch or who have always wanted to master that workflow. In this Pantheon Desktop review, I take a look at user experience and performance, as well as some notable features, and deciding who should use the Pantheon desktop.

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Review: Haiku R1 beta 2

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OS
OSS
Reviews

Haiku is an open-source operating system that specifically targets personal computing. Inspired by the Be Operating System (BeOS), Haiku aims to be fast, efficient, simple to use, and easy to learn. It is specifically geared toward desktop usage and maintaining a responsive desktop environment.

The Haiku project has been, to date, in perpetual development mode. Which is to say the releases to date have been labelled as being alpha or beta releases. I mention this because while the version label is R1 beta 2, the platform should probably be regarded a relatively mature project with the benefit of nearly 20 years of development behind it.

The R1 beta 2 release includes a number of new features such as improved font scaling and HiDPI support, along with the ability to work with mouse devices that offer more than three buttons. More applications have been ported and are now available through the project's software manager. The installer has mostly remained the same, however users can now exclude the installation of optional packages while setting up Haiku. New driver support has been added and there are some new options for keeping the Deskbar (a sort of combined desktop panel and system tray) out of the way.

The project's latest release is available in 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x86_64) builds. There are also builds for ARM, PowerPC, m68k, and SPARC architectures, however these builds are considered to be unsupported. I downloaded the 64-bit build which is available as a 955MB ZIP file. Unpacking the ZIP file presents us with a 1,108MB (1GB) ISO file we can write to optical media or a thumb drive.

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openSUSE 15.2 Is The Mercedes-Benz of Linux Distributions

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Reviews
SUSE

The openSUSE DVD comes with a large collection of software packages, which include the GNOME, KDE, Xfce, MATE desktops and much more. The installer will allow you to select the desktop environment you want during the installation, beside any other packages you may desire.

[...]

Overall, the openSUSE 15.2 distribution is a good release, as it ever was. We recommend upgrading to the new version or installing it on a fresh hardware if you are willing to transfer to the openSUSE world.

One can also give a word about how awesome the available documentation for openSUSE is; You can search in their wiki, for any information you desire and you’ll probably find it in no time.

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KDE Plasma Desktop review: I'm still not switching from GNOME

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KDE
GNOME
Reviews

I have to confess: I don't give KDE a fair shake. It's not because I don't believe it to be a strong take on the Linux desktop, it's just that I prefer a much more minimal desktop. Also, I was never a big fan of the old taskbar/start menu/system tray combo. I leaned more toward the GNOME way of thinking and doing things.

Recently, a reader called me out on my lack of KDE coverage, so I thought it was time to offer up my take on where KDE Plasma stands, and who might be best suited to use this open source desktop. Comparing Plasma to my usual GNOME desktop is really quite challenging, given these two desktops are night and day. It's like comparing the works of Clive Barker to that of William Gibson--they're both incredibly good at what they do, they're using the same tools to tell stories, but in very different genres.

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CrowPi2 Raspberry Pi 4 Learning Kit Review – Part 1 – Unboxing and First Boot

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Linux
Reviews

Last month, we wrote about Elecrow introducing CrowPi2 Raspberry Pi 4 laptop and electronics learning kit for its launch on Kickstarter crowdfunding website.

The company has now sent one of its kits to CNX Software for evaluation and review. I’ll start by checking out the content of the package, and boot it up, before publishing a more detailed review in a few weeks.

The package is fairly big and highlights it’s made for kids over 8 years old with close to 100 course resources and over 20 electronics modules.

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MATE Review: A Lightweight Desktop Environment for the Nostalgic

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Linux
Reviews

MATE is one of the great Linux Desktop Environments for those who are looking for something very traditional and nostalgic. It is the living descendant of one of the most popular Linux desktops, GNOME 2, and has a classic feel and approach. In this MATE review, we’ll look at the user interface, performance, and some notable features, and we’ll cover who should try MATE.

MATE feels classic when you first boot up. This makes sense, as MATE is a fork and continuation of GNOME 2, one of the most beloved Linux desktops of all time. MATE follows traditional desktop paradigms and gives you a great-looking and great-feeling interface. MATE is incredibly sharp out of the box with a great theme and icon pack. The feel is great as well, with very minimal resource usage and a fast, snappy interface. Things run well, and MATE would be a great choice for a lower-end system or those looking to remain efficient on system resources.

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Review: Artix Linux 20200125

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Reviews

This is one of the lesser known distributions but it has garnered quite a few fans in its relatively short existence. Artix Linux, from hereon Artix in short, has a reader supplied rating of 8.4 as an average of 94 opinions on DistroWatch at the time of writing, which isn't bad for a distribution that is slightly more involved in terms of technical knowledge and experience a user should possess. Not to discourage the curious and the newcomers, but it is not an install and forget type of Linux though not really that hard to use either.

Artix is a systemd-free fork of Arch Linux that grew out of the Arch-OpenRC and Manjaro-OpenRC projects joining forces to provide installable images with alternative init solutions to Arch users who were unhappy with the parent moving to systemd. In fact, Arch was one of the early adopters. While in the beginning only OpenRC might have been offered, Artix now also provides install images using the runit and s6 init software, "because PID1 must be simple, secure and stable." [1] There's great variety and choice on the download page, but only the x86_64 architecture is supported. The project provides Artix base images of 520MB each, similar to a net-install or the Arch install image, and with Cinnamon, MATE, Plasma, Xfce, LXDE and LXQt ISO files for almost every major desktop environment. They weigh in between 939MB and 1.1GB depending on your chosen flavour. The page makes it clear what to expect with these, i.e. only a basic set of applications is included to get the user started: a file manager, a media player (MPV), a network manager, a document viewer, a web browser and the graphical installer. It is then up to us to add applications and shape the system to our needs and liking.

There are also community supported images labelled community-gtk and community-qt which are much larger at 2.3GB and 2.8GB respectively.

You can get every flavour with any of the three supported init systems. Official images seem to be respun now and then. At the time of writing most stable images are dated from February 2020, with the Xfce ISO labelled 20200506 apparently released in May. Further down the page there are also weekly snapshots that I guess incorporate the latest package updates, and testing images for GNOME and i3, again for all three init systems. That's a huge library to maintain and gives us a hint of how dedicated folks behind this project are. Should you have trouble with the latest version a few older ISOs have been archived and are accessible at the bottom.

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Jussi Pakkanen: Pinebook Pro longer term usage report

Filed under
GNU
Linux
Reviews

I originally wanted to use stock Debian but at some point the Panfrost driver broke and the laptop could not start X. Eventually I gave up and switched to the default Manjaro. Its installer does not support an encrypted root file system. A laptop without an encrypted disk is not really usable as a laptop as you can't take it out of your house.

The biggest gripe is that everything feels sluggish. Alt-tabbing between Firefox and a terminal takes one second, as does switching between Firefox tabs. As an extreme example switching between channels in Slack takes five to ten seconds. It is unbearably slow. The wifi is not very good, it can't connect reliably to an access point in the next room (distance of about 5 meters). The wifi behaviour seems to be distro dependent so maybe there are some knobs to twiddle.

Video playback on browsers is not really nice. Youtube works in the default size, but fullscreen causes a massive frame rate drop. Fullscreen video playback in e.g. VLC is smooth.

Basic shell operations are sluggish too. I have a ZSH prompt that shows the Git status of the current directory. Entering in a directory that has a Git repo freezes the terminal for several seconds. Basically every time you need to get something from disk that is not already in cache leads to a noticeable delay.

The screen size and resolution scream for fractional scaling but Manjaro does not seem to provide it. Scale of 1 is a bit too small and 2 is way too big. The screen is matte, which is totally awesome, but unfortunately the colors are a bit muted and for some reason it seems a bit fuzzy. This may be because I have not used a sub-retina level laptop displays in years.

The trackpad's motion detector is rubbish at slow speeds. There is a firmware update that makes it better but it's still not great. According to the forums someone has already reverse engineered the trackpad and created an unofficial firmware that is better. I have not tried it. Manjaro does not provide a way to disable tap-to-click (a.k.a. the stupidest UI misfeature ever invented including the emojibar) which is maddening. This is not a hardware issue, though, as e.g. Debian's Gnome does provide this functionality. The keyboard is okayish, but sometimes detects keypresses twice, which is also annoying.

For light development work the setup is almost usable. I wrote a simple 3D model viewer app using Qt Creator and it was surprisingly smooth all round, the 3D drivers worked reliably and so on. Unfortunately invoking the compiler was again sluggish (this was C++, though, so some is expected). Even simple files that compile instantly on x86_64 took seconds to build.

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Kevin Fenzi: pinephone: initial thoughts

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Reviews
Gadgets

I ordered one of the ubports editions of the pine64 pinephone and after a small amount of playing around with it, I’d like to share my thoughts.

First a little background. I’m very big on open source for many many reasons. I use Fedora rawhide for my laptop day to day and in general try and use free software wherever else I can. My phone has been a annoyance to me for many years now. Being completely closed source, apple/i-phones are right out for me, which basically just leaves android. Now you might think “Thats great, android is open source”, but it’s really not. While the source is indeed available, development is done by google in secret and dumped into the open after release. This means you don’t get a lot of the advantages of open source for android. Other forks/projects do take that android source and clean it up and make it nice, but they too are at the mercy of upstream that may change things in a new release drastically, leaving them to try and catch up for months after a new release. I’ve been using /e/ on my trusty one plus 3t for the last 3-4 years. They are based off lineageos and ‘de-google’ things from there. I’ve never found myself very excited by it, they too are trapped by the android development all taking place elsewhere. I’ve looked at other possible software, but they all have their issues.

3 or so years ago, Librem announced they were going to make a phone that was as open as they could make it, with high end specs. As far as I know some few batches have been made/distributed, but it’s still not a realized product. As part of this push however, software was created that could run on most normal linux distributions that could handle phone specific workflows. See https://source.puri.sm/Librem5 for a long list.

Fast forward to late last year: The pine64 folks, who have made a number of aarch64 based products successfully announced the pine phone. They produced a prototype like developer version and then, early this year announced the ubports version (some $’s of each phone would go to the ubports folks), cost: $150. The ubports version sold out and they have now announced a postmarketos version, also with a usb-c “dock”, more memory and a circut board fix to allow usb-c to work right. cost: $200 with dock, or $150 without.

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5 tips for making documentation a priority in open source projects

Open source software is now mainstream; long gone are the days when open source projects attracted developers alone. Nowadays, users across numerous industries are active consumers of open source software, and you can't expect everyone to know how to use the software just by reading the code. Even for developers (including those with plenty of experience in other open source projects), good documentation serves as a valuable onboarding tool when people join a community. People who are interested in contributing to a project often start by working on documentation to get familiar with the project, the community, and the community workflow. Read more

5 reasons to run Kubernetes on your Raspberry Pi homelab

There's a saying about the cloud, and it goes something like this: The cloud is just somebody else's computer. While the cloud is actually more complex than that (it's a lot of computers), there's a lot of truth to the sentiment. When you move to the cloud, you're moving data and services and computing power to an entity you don't own or fully control. On the one hand, this frees you from having to perform administrative tasks you don't want to do, but, on the other hand, it could mean you no longer control your own computer. This is why the open source world likes to talk about an open hybrid cloud, a model that allows you to choose your own infrastructure, select your own OS, and orchestrate your workloads as you see fit. However, if you don't happen to have an open hybrid cloud available to you, you can create your own—either to help you learn how the cloud works or to serve your local network. Read more

today's howtos and leftovers

  • Linux commands for user management
  • CONSOOM All Your PODCASTS From Your Terminal With Castero
  • Install Blender 3D on Debian 10 (Buster)
  • Things To Do After Installing openSUSE Leap 15.2
  • GSoC Reports: Fuzzing Rumpkernel Syscalls, Part 2

    I have been working on Fuzzing Rumpkernel Syscalls. This blogpost details the work I have done during my second coding period.

  • Holger Levsen: DebConf7

    DebConf7 was also special because it had a very special night venue, which was in an ex-church in a rather normal building, operated as sort of community center or some such, while the old church interior was still very much visible as in everything new was build around the old stuff. And while the night venue was cool, it also ment we (video team) had no access to our machines over night (or for much of the evening), because we had to leave the university over night and the networking situation didn't allow remote access with the bandwidth needed to do anything video. The night venue had some very simple house rules, like don't rearrange stuff, don't break stuff, don't fix stuff and just a few little more and of course we broke them in the best possible way: Toresbe with the help of people I don't remember fixed the organ, which was broken for decades. And so the house sounded in some very nice new old tune and I think everybody was happy we broke that rule.

Programming Leftovers

  • Podcast: COBOL development on the mainframe

    Nic reached out when COBOL hit the news this spring to get some background on what COBOL is good for historically, and where it lives in the modern infrastructure stack. I was able to talk about the basics of COBOL and the COBOL standard, strengths today in concert with the latest mainframes, and how COBOL back-end code is now being integrated into front ends via intermediary databases and data-interchange formats like JSON, which COBOL natively supports.

  • What I learned while teaching C programming on YouTube

    The act of breaking something down in order to teach it to others can be a great way to reacquaint yourself with some old concepts and, in many cases, gain new insights. I have a YouTube channel where I demonstrate FreeDOS programs and show off classic DOS applications and games. The channel has a small following, so I tend to explore the topics directly suggested by my audience. When several subscribers asked if I could do more videos about programming, I decided to launch a new video series to teach C programming. I learned a lot from teaching C, and in the process, I came across some meaningful takeaways I think others will appreciate. Make a plan For my day job, I lead training and workshops to help new and emerging IT leaders develop new skills. Outside of regular work, I also enjoy teaching as an adjunct professor. So I'm very comfortable constructing a course outline and designing a curriculum. That's where I started. If you want to teach a subject effectively, you can't just wing it. Start by writing an outline of what topics you want to cover and figure out how each new topic will build on the previous ones. The "building block" method of adding new knowledge is key to an effective training program.

  • Google's Flutter 1.20 framework is out: VS Code extension and mobile autofill support
  • Google Engineers Propose "Machine Function Splitter" For Faster Performance

    Google engineers have been working on the Machine Function Splitter as their means of making binaries up to a few percent faster thanks to this compiler-based approach. They are now seeking to upstream the Machine Function Splitter into LLVM. The Machine Function Splitter is a code generation optimization pass for splitting code functions into hot and cold parts. They are doing this stemming from research that in roughly half of code functions that more than 50% of the code bytes are never executed but generally loaded into the CPU's data cache.

  • Modernize network function development with this Rust-based framework

    The world of networking has undergone monumental shifts over the past decade, particularly in the ongoing move from specialized hardware into software defined network functions (NFV) for data plane1 and packet processing. While the transition to software has fashioned the rise of SDN (Software-defined networking) and programmable networks, new challenges have arisen in making these functions flexible, efficient, easier to use, and fast (i.e. little to no performance overhead). Our team at Comcast wanted to both leverage what the network does best, especially with regards to its transport capacity and routing mechanisms, while also being able to develop network programs through a modern software lens—stressing testing, swift iteration, and deployment. So, with these goals in mind, we developed Capsule, a new framework for network function development, written in Rust, inspired by Berkeley's NetBricks research, and built-on Intel's Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK).

  • This Week in Rust 350
  • Firefox extended tracking protection

    This Mozilla Security Blog entry describes the new redirect-tracking protections soon to be provided by the Firefox browser.

  • Karl Dubost: Browser developer tools timeline

    I was reading In a Land Before Dev Tools by Amber, and I thought, Oh here missing in the history the beautifully chiseled Opera Dragonfly and F12 for Internet Explorer. So let's see what are all the things I myself didn't know.

  • Daniel Stenberg: Upcoming Webinar: curl: How to Make Your First Code Contribution

    Abstract: curl is a wildly popular and well-used open source tool and library, and is the result of more than 2,200 named contributors helping out. Over 800 individuals wrote at least one commit so far. In this presentation, curl’s lead developer Daniel Stenberg talks about how any developer can proceed in order to get their first code contribution submitted and ultimately landed in the curl git repository. Approach to code and commits, style, editing, pull-requests, using github etc. After you’ve seen this, you’ll know how to easily submit your improvement to curl and potentially end up running in ten billion installations world-wide.