If you have a curious bent – and you bought a Chromebook thinking it would be the answer to all problems, then chances are you probably gave up on that notion fairly quickly and installed a variant of GNU/Linux on it.
If so, well done. Thankfully, Daniel Berrange – a Red Hat fellow and Fedora users, posted some instructions on how to get Fedora 18 (Spherical Cow) installed on a Samsung series 3 (XE303C12) Chromebook. This is the route I decided to take, having been a Fedora user for many years. But I digress.
If you have GNU/Linux installed on a Series 3 Chromebook, you may want to remap those Google-inspired function keys that run across the top. You know, those keys with the arrows, reload, window-size/position, brightness and volume icons… Yeah. Actually, they’re function keys: F1 to F10.
A good read for how to identify what each key is can be found here, on this askubuntu post which details the xev command. xev displays the numeric keycode of the keyboard key (!) you just pressed.
Keys F1-F10 use the following keycodes:
Using xev, you can remap the function keys to something more appropriate to your environment.
To remap these keys, we now need to identify what extended functionality the XF86 multimedia keyset provides.
Given fair test conditions, everyone knows wired network connections are faster than wireless, right? How about when your wired connection crawls along at 1/5 of the speed of your wireless connection? What’s happening?Below are two CAT 5e Ethernet cables, of the type you’d typically use to connect a router to a modem, or perhaps your PC directly into your router instead of using WiFi. You might connect up other network-capable devices in your home too, such as a PVR/HDR, Blu-ray player and even your TV. In doing so, you may pick up an old Cat 5 cable “you had spare” to do the job.
Beware, that not all Cat5e is the same! If you look closely below, you’ll see that the lower, grey cable is type 568A, whereas the upper, black cable is568B. Ethernet cables come as UTP or STP (Unshielded or Shielded Twisted Pair), meaning that each pair of conductors (wires) inside the outer sheathing are twisted together. This helps cancel noise and improve transmission.
The difference between A and B is in the way these twisted pairs are paired up. If your router has N-Way negotiation on its network connections, it should be able to work around using the two different types of cable. But on my router, with N-Way negotiation, this didn’t appear to be the case.
Testing this using speedtest.net with cable type A, I got a paltry 5Mb/s down and 4Mb/s up. Over wireless, I got 20Mb/s down and 17Mb/up. It turned out that my router can’t handle type A cables very well. Using a type B, I got 44Mb/s down and 18Mb/s up. More like it!
So the next time your network is running slowly, check your cabling. Even if it’s a well-known brand (my type Acable is a Belkin Cat5e), it may be causing a drop in performance which is easily, and cheaply, corrected. H/t +Bob Beattie #networking#speedtest#cat5e
I was so happy recently to unpack my brand new Motorola RAZR HD. It’s a lovely device. Wonderfully built, with a 4.7 inch 720p screen, replete with Gorilla Glass, and backed by a rubberized kevlar weave. The aluminium strip separating the two, running around the edge of the phone, provides a premium feel.
Or, at least, this is what I was led to believe from various reviews.
In reality, what you have is a beautiful brick – with good battery life. Android 4.1.2, the operating system shipped with the phone and modified by Google/Motorola Mobility, to ensure the phone is quite unusable, provides an amazing experience – if you connect up your Google account.
The Empire Strikes Back
What happens if you don’t have a Google account, or if you’re unprepared to create one?
What happens is that the software on the phone may refuse to play nicely with other software you choose to install. Here are some examples of this obnoxiusness:
Before even seeing the home-screen, you are prompted to log into your Google account – or create a new one. You decline.
You are reassured that it’s a really good idea to create a Google account, otherwise you’ll “miss out”.
Resolutely, you continue. You get to the home screen. Then you want to install something from the Android Market (sorry, “Google Play”). You now cannot avoid creating or using a Google account.
The phone is still behaving as though you are not fully connected to Google. Therefore, your data storage is predominatly on the phone only.
However, you might want to check this in ‘Accounts and Sync’ (which we’ll get on to in a sec)
You have the option of synchronising your data off elsewhere, away from Google’s servers. The CardDAV Sync software on Google Play provides the vehicle for doing this*. You download and install it, set up the sync with your CardDAV server, and sync away.
You might find that some of the software from Google updates on your phone during this time, now that it has access to the market.
All good… but, you soon come to realise that you cannot add new contacts to your chosen sync location. Take the scenario where you receive an SMS from an unknown number. You try to add the contact from the SMS, and can only do so to local storage.
Worse still, your only option to alleviate this – the only sync location you can add contacts to is – that’s right, a/your Google account.
If you delete your Google account on the phone, you then find that you cannot sync your contacts anywhere, because you cannot specify a default Contacts Store in the Contacts app.
The same is broadly true of the Calendar. If you are not sync’ed with a Google account, the only calendar you can use on the phone is the built-in phone calendar. You cannot use another, third-party calendar as the default store or synchronisation copy.
If you create calendar events on your phone without a Google account, even though you have other accounts which provide full calendar syncing capability, you will still be creating an event on the local calendar that has no synchronisation counterpart
During the course of writing this article, strangely the option appeared in my calendar to utilise alternative calendars when creating an event. We shall see if this persists..
Accounts & Sync
This section has become a total mess in Jelly Bean – especially in Motorola’s implementation.
You start at the home screen: swipe down (or across from left-to-right) to get to Settings (the cog symbol)
In Settings, you scroll down the list to the Accounts section. Hit CalDAV or CardDAV.
You are then taken to the respective app’s account information with a link to Edit account settings. Let’s hit that.
The screen scrolls again to another black screen showing the same account, the settings of which you want to change. Yet another tap on this…
.. and hey presto, you’re finally in! Here you make changes and then hit the back key.
… and then hit the back key…
… and then hit the back key…
and then you’re at Settings again, so..
… you then hit the back key…
…and you’re out! (seriously, was this actually DESIGNED?!)
Going the other way into the apps settings (sorry if this is too painful for you) you first hit the Apps shortcut:
Hit the CalDAV or CardDAV icon
You then have the option: “Add account”, or “Go to accounts & sync”. Let’s say I want to edit an account, I’d choose “go to accounts and sync”..right? I tap it.
Oh, then there’s a pop-up style interface with ALL of your sync accounts. So I have to find my CalDAV app in the sync accounts list and tap on it…
Then I can see the calendar account I want to sync. But how do I edit it? When i tap on it, it synchronises! Ahh, wait, there’s a menu/settings button (the one with three squares). I tap on that…
… and get the options “Sync now” or “Remove account”.
So, let’s get this right: to EDIT my app’s data, I go to Settings > Accounts & Sync (not to the app). And when I want to SYNC the account or DELETE it, I go to the app! That’s logical!
Android is an open source ecosystem that encourages vendors to produce lock-in experiences which are frustrating, dysfunctional and unintuitive.
And to think I was pro-android this time last week. I suppose I still have the t-shirt. The retailer will soon have the phone back, though.
*CalDAV sync and CardDAV sync are both great pieces of software that fully get my support (and have done, in the financial sense). I use them here as examples of good apps which are potentially made almost impossible to use by the restrictions imposed by Android OEMs.
It is with incredible reserve that I discuss my new Lenovo ThinkPad T420, such is my excitement. As a natural born geek, software developer and sysadmin, there is something about a ThinkPad which is “just right”.
The lure of a ThinkPad is unquestionable. It’s the promise of your best bit of code ever. It’s the idea that it’ll be with you for years; your faithful companion. It’s the reassurance of industry-leading build quality and top-spec engineering, using high quality components. But it’s more than that too. It’s an identity, a bit like that of Apple users – but thankfully in more self-respecting way. You have a ThinkPad, you join an elite. It’s everything you want.
You want this so badly that it comes as a bit of a surprise when all is not quite what it seems.
Branded accessories – one of those indulgences.
Better the devil?
As Lenovo only offer such spiffing hardware bundled with a throwaway operating system, you must suffer the wasted hours and ridiculous horseplay that ensues from such choices being made for you. We are all too familiar with this scenario… so, I’ll continue!
Here is my experience, abridged:
Unbox, connect battery, plug in power, switch on. It switches itself off. And then back on – phew!
Windows 7 starts up and completes its install process. You are prompted to answer a few questions along the way:
Do you wish to use Norton to protect your PC? I choose No.
It prompts again: “Are you really, really sure you don’t want to use Norton???”. I really, really confirm that yes, I don’t want to use Norton, thanks all the same.
Further into the installer, you are prompted to accept the Windows EULA (end user licence agreement). At the same point, you are also prompted to accept the Lenovo warranty terms. You cannot proceed if you choose only one. I imagine that this is another Microsoft “initiative”, a bit like Restricted Boot, which attempts to force people (through fear, usually) into sticking with Windows.
Finally, it finishes setting up Win7 and loads up the desktop. On the offchance that there is a warranty issue, I decide to make a backup using Windows Backup. Unbelievably, the Windows partition (C drive) contains 26.39GB of data. WHAT??!! This is a freshly installed operating system. How on earth can it consist of so much… bloat?! There is also a system partition (1.6GB, of which 900MB or so is used) and a Lenovo recovery partition (17GB, of which 9GB is used). So, I have 36GB of disk space used up for a fresh install of Win7, plus some Lenovo utilities and Google Chrome (installed by default – the only good software choice made by Lenovo so far). Hesitantly, I begin the backup process to Verbatim DVD+R discs.
3 hours later, now on the 4th disc, the back-up process fails. The error given is unspecific. I now have a collection of 4 shiny new drinks coasters.
I dig into the Lenovo software and find that I can install “Rescue and Recovery” software, presumably from the Lenovo recovery partition into Win7. I install it, which takes about 4-5 mins on this core i7 2640 machine.
Oh, wait a sec, what’s that? Some pop-up just appeared above the clock in the right hand corner. Something about Norton doing something, was that? Oh, it’s gone. So, despite being really, really clear that I did NOT want Norton installed on my machine, er, there it is. Installed on my machine. Poor Lenovo, poor. And it gets better.
Creating recovery media fails. Classic.
I fire up R and R and find the option: Create Recovery Media. This looks more promising. I fire it up, stick in a DVD+R (still have 6 left, hopefully that’s enough..). It starts off, “extracting files”. And then stops, and fails. Apparently, in this instance, I may be able to expect Lenovo to ship me out some recovery CDs.
Not to be
So far, any reasonable, sane person would not feel very confident using Win7 on this machine. The dream probably wouldn’t be shattered, but clearly the software configuration is dysfunctional, ignoring user preferences and showing some worrying reliability issues out of the box.
Luckily, being part of an elite means that you don’t follow the masses. The throwaway software, bundled with the machine, is designed for people who don’t, won’t or can’t think. It’s also designed for those who blythely accept it, probably “because it’s safer”. Well, luckily for Windows users it must be a lot safer now that Norton is installed, regardless of your wishes! Phew!
Fedora 16 live CD, running on this T420.
The alternative, as always, is to not accept what you are given. Instead, seek a better solution that you can feel confident in. For this ThinkPad T420, the better solution is GNU/Linux, Fedora 16 flavour.
I recently upgraded to Fedora 15 on my netbook (a Samsung N130). For a while I used Ubuntu 10.04 (nice and quick, reliable wireless, good battery), then 10.10 (bit slower, still reliable, reasonable battery) and then 11.04 (sadly a bit more sappy towards the battery and – subjectively- more laggy too).
But saying that, I like Ubuntu 11.04 in many ways. I think Unity is good, despite much antipathy towards it elsewhere on t’internet, and the intregration of social networking, media player, messaging and so on makes for a pretty swish experience. One problem that started plaguing it on my netbook, however, was that wireless became increasingly unreliable. Sometimes I’d have to reboot multiple times to get a conneciton to my Access Point. Connecting to wireless when coming out of standby never worked, period.
The netbook contains a Realtek RTL8192e wireless chip – a problem in Linux due to Realtek not really pushing development as proactively as possible into the Linux kernel.
So, what to do?
If you’re reading this then you’re probably thinking you have two options: 1) Struggle for an eternity to get the native Linux driver working properly, or 2) Install ndis-wrapper, download the Windows driver binaries and use that instead.
# wget http://www.dirk-hoeschen.de/temp/rtl819Xe.tar.gz (or my link, above) # tar xfz rtl819Xe.tar.gz # cd rtl819Xe
Then, again as root: # ./install.sh (this step compiles the driver and loads the resultant kernel module)
Because Linux loads drivers (modules) dynamically, the device is brought up immediately.
My wireless card was then recognised and visible in Network Manager. My access point was recognised and easy to connect to. I have noticed that negotiation times are a bit longer than before, but I can confirm that after a little testing I can now put my netbook into standby, then awaken it and hey presto! my wireless reconnects automatically. This is not a fringe use case; I for one am very glad this works as it should now.
Unlike the ubuntu post, I didn’t download the latest sources to compile. I just went with the files in the archive. If you have difficulties, it may be worth investigating this – YMMV.
Although Fedora 15 was a pain to start off with, due to this issue, I found that once sorted it’s now becoming a real joy to use. The extended battery life is really something to behold too – I’m getting a 20-30% increase in operating time now (up to 4 hours instead of 3 on Ubuntu 11.04).
Hope this helps someone out there. If not, you may still want to follow some ndis-wrapper instructions – this might be a better alternative for you.
Boy, I am always amazed at the breadth of stuff that goes on weekly, surrounding people’s preferred operating systems, new hardware press releases and so on. For me, it’s one of the best things about the internet: constant information from all corners of the globe, seeking an audience and advocate elsewhere.
So, this week there has been loads of stuff which caught my attention, only a short list of which I have time to share. First things first, Ars Technica : a constantly vibrant source of interesting news out there in the technosphere. Featured in its hallowed pages was the title “ARM’s Eagle has landed: meet the A15“. Indeedy, ARM is developing more processor chips which are beginning to compete with the likes of Intel’s Atom and AMD’s lesser-known Geode.
The exciting thing here is that a third player is entering the midst of a traditionally two-horse race: GPU/CPU design and manufacture (AKA AMD vs Intel). Similarly to the console race of 2007-ish, a third player getting involved (in the console war, this being Microsoft‘s XBox 360) does great things for the market and the larger picture. Who would have thought, against the mighty 360 or PS3, that the Wii would have competed so well?
We’ll see how this plays out in a different way with chip manufacturers though but, as with most of these things, the early adopters of SmartBooks (Netbooks with phone capabilities, typically powered by ARM processors) will likely be Business types and Linux users who aren’t just taken in by the big names.
The Apple is finally ripening Finally. Sense at Apple. Well, some at least. Developers are creative, resourceful individuals. So throwing down the gauntlet by restricting their development languages was kind of a draconian, hard-line gesture by a company pimping itself as cool and trendy. Sorry Fanbois, but it was a bit Microsofty, actually. Which is actually unfair to Microsoft, as they are generally far less restrictive about this (as this list of programming languages illustrates..). Then again, 99.4% of malware is aimed at Windows users.
But back to Apple, this Ars story describes the change in stance at Cappuccino.
How nice of them to open up their policy as well as opening up their iOS 4.1 BootROM in the same week! In case anyone thinks I have a grudge against Apple, far from it. This vulnerabilityintended feature clearly demonstrates that Apple are committed to opening up their systems and allowing users to fully use what they have purchased. Brilliant!
Oh, but then there are still situations which make you wonder. Like the stealthy Apple OS-X update that kept “fanbois strangely silent“… I’m not sure I would have described Apple’d products as a “mutant virus“, but their loyal customers’ thinking probably is. But then, Apple build fashion statements, not computers.
Open systems continue to gather pace
There’s an interesting article at O’Reilly on debunking the 1% myth. The 1% myth is the idea, forever purported by some in the industry, that Linux only has 1% of desktop market share. Succinctly put, as there is no way of actually measuring this accurately, it’s a false claim (as the article details).
With my large hands, it must be as ergonomic and accommodating as possible.
Preferably without Windows. What’s the point of paying for something I won’t use?
Linux must work well on it.
As light & small as possible.
Given that nearly all early (pre dual core) netbooks are based on Intel’s Atom / 945 mobile chipset, most of the above criteria were already met. Ergonomically, I’d read that each netbook had its foibles, so this point was moot. The battery life was, for me, the deciding factor, which is why I chose a Samsung N130: the only model in the discounted range which ships with a 6-cell battery. In ideal circumstances, this will last 6 hours.
Order process, shipping, packing and unpacking
The Argos outlet on eBay accepted only PayPal payments, but this didn’t matter to me. The purchase process was as painless as you could expect. I ordered the unit on a Friday morning. On a Monday morning, at my office, it arrived courtesy of a cheery DHL delivery chap. No complaints so far!
The packing itself was as you’d expect: satisfactory for the job, with nothing much else to note. Unboxing the unit was a quick affair, and before long I had a shiny netbook on my desk. Considering this unit is classed as “refurbished”, I could see absolutely no defect or mark on it whatsoever. I would have been very happy were this brand new.
Plugging in, powering on, first impressions
When unpacking the device, I was impressed with the general feel of it. The plastic shell feels robust and the lid action is smooth. Instead of a clasp, the lid clamps to the base by means (I’m guessing) of a magnet arrangement, which has a lovely feel about it. Furthermore, Fedora behaves as expected, going straight into standby when the lid is closed.
The weight of the unit was good too. Before I put the battery in, that is. After that, the weight felt subjectively like it had more than doubled, which would put some people off I’d imagine. However, it’s hardly as heavy as my laptop so by my standards it’s still very light. A positive effect of the battery unit is in providing more stability while on a desk, and more resistance to the motion of closing/opening the lid. All together, it works well.
Along the front, left of the touchpad, are 5 LEDs. I question the value of having an “on” LED in addition to a “charging” LED, but these are tiny devices so power consumption is likely to be equally tiny. Besides, if unplugged, the charging LED isn’t illuminated. Again, another moot point.
The feel of the keyboard is good. There isn’t a compromise in terms of key press action, although to fit in a full QWERTY keyboard, some compromises in layout have had to take place. As you can see, the hash (#)/tilde and right square-bracket/brace keys are squashed in, but the compromise is acceptable.
Fedora installation and general usage
I use Fedora, CentOS and Red Hat in my day job, so for me it’s the architecture that I prefer due to familiarity (which, in this case, has not yet bred contempt!).
Using the usblive-creator tool in F13 on my laptop, I was able to set up a USB drive with a Fedora 12 live CD image, ready to boot and install on the netbook. I’d opted for F12 because I’ve had issues with mobile broadband on F13 that worked fine on F12, and mobility is the primary goal here. A quick change to the boot order in the BIOS and it was good to go.
I was surprised how quickly the installation completed. After having read about Atoms generally being slow processors, I’d expected an unhealthy dose of lethargy when installing the OS. The first boot wasn’t particularly tardy either (and this is running on a 160GB Toshiba hard drive with Fedora’s default encrypted LVM set up). It’s comparable to my HP laptop (2007 model) with a Turion TL-60 (@2GHz) w/4GiB RAM (@667MHz). In usage, though, it’s somewhat slower than the AMD laptop, taking considerably longer to load up Firefox (with half as many extensions, too).
As hoped, my Huawei E270 mobile broadband dongle worked straight away. I was also pleased that the webcam worked with no effort whatsoever (screenshot shows Cheese; ’nuff said)! So, what doesn’t work straight away?
Brightness controls on the keyboard. Probably fixed easily by identifying the char code generated with the keystroke and binding it to the dim/brightening function in GConf (he says, having no real clue..)
Wireless. I believe a Broadcom 4312 is under the bonnet, so this shouldn’t be a hard fix with a quick visit to linuxwireless.org.
Some things I haven’t tested yet, like monitor switching and the built-in microphone. But everything else seems to work fine.
A bit more on ergnomics
It has taken me a little while to get used to the layout of the keyboard and touchpad. A problem I am overcoming slowly is that the touchpad’s two buttons are actually a single, rocker-style button. It sits flush to the surface of the base, and this lack of tactile feel I find awkward. I often find my thumb in the wrong position, mistakenly pressing on the bottom of the touchpad rather than the left button. The pointer then jumps across the screen instead of clicking on the intended widget. A small but annoying issue.
Also, the keyboard is great to use while typing (as I do here, writing this review on the N130) but for cursor positioning it can become more tricky. Hitting CTRL-End to position the cursor at the end of some text, for example, is now CTRL-Fn-PgDn(End), given the multi-function aspect of the PgDn(End) key. Likewise, the cursor keys are just a shade on the small side. But these are minor complaints in the overall picture.
Taking into account the annoyances, weighing them against the needs of the many… I would have to have to award this machine 8/10. At £150 (incl VAT) + £4 postage, it has exceeded my expectations. Sure, it’s not perfect, but the price, utility and solid build get my vote. I would recommend one for a partner, friend or colleague….. maybe even a parent 😉
Oh, there is one thing about it that I couldn’t understand. There was this sticker on the top which made no sense (“Designed for Windows XP”). Surely you design an operating system for target hardware and not the other way around..? Well, regardless, I think the new location for the sticker makes much more sense. 🙂
Well, thank the heavens. It finally happened. Google saved the web.
The Register reports that Google has released the VP8 video codec which it gained last year through its $124M acquisition of web video business, On2.
On2 have been producing video codecs for years. It open sourced VP3 around 2003, if memory serves, which then became the basis for the Theora codec; the preferred choice of the open source community. Theora is a royalty- and patent-free codec that many open source advocates – myself included – have promoted the use of due to its free nature (free as in freedom… but that’s another issue).
However, as Steve Jobs recently hinted that a patent pools was being established to destroy Theora (and ultimately line his pockets further), Google have done just what Microsoft and Apple probably feared. Pulled the rug out.
So, all YouTube video will be re-encoded to use VP8 rather than H.264 (the proprietary codec supported by Apple and Microsoft), and browser builders Mozilla and Opera have already come out in support of it. As has Adobe. And, of course, Chrome will support it too.
And VP8, being open source and royalty-free, can also be supported by Microsoft and Apple. All source code and documentation is available on line, so there really is no excuse not to support it.
Well Apple-lovers, you sure do choose interesting products. Like the iPod; a “revolutionary” portable audio player, being probably the first to have a non-replaceable battery. I might be wrong, having done no research on the subject, but this was enough to turn me off. Let alone the insistence of using iTunes.
Or the iPad; the computer-but-not-a-computer consumer device that let’s you do anything you want with your media. So long as it is on Apple’s terms. I don’t get why someone as apparently intellectual as Stephen Frygets so excited about it. Yes, it’s so exciting, in fact, that I’d go immediately to iPad.com and check it out!
The iPad. I mean, for goodness sake, it’s a laptop without a keyboard, but with potentially harmful restrictions, a proprietary operating system and about as much appeal as a colonoscopy. According to Fry, it also has no “multitasking, still no Adobe Flash. No camera, no GPS”. But it does have a touch-screen and 3D desktop effects… Perhaps that’s why the Free Software Foundation dropped “Freedom” Fry’s video from their homepage: who’d want to appear as hypocritical as that?
And then there’s the iPhone. This is the biggy. Apple are using typical Microsoft-like tactics here. Make an “irresistable” upgrade, probably for free or very cheap, and subtly attach some conditions to it. This time, as exposed in Giorgio Sironi’s blog post, The Apple of Sin, the condition is that you must only develop iPhone applications in languages prescribed to you by Apple.
The reasons, given by Giorgio, are pretty clear: Apple want to kill any chance of Flash appearing on the iPhone, else it might be inconsistent with the new iPad policy.
So, Mac users, be aware that your choice of platform may well come to haunt you in a year or two, when Apple extends this anti-Flash policy to OS X. There is one nice aspect of this, though: Apple might just force Adobe to open-source Flash. Then will follow a review-and-embrace process, where Flash gains recognition as an open standard.
Then we’ll see if Apple is embracing open standards as it “seems” to be with its current policies. If not, then you’ll get more choice of hardware and software if you choose Windows. And even more if you opt for Linux and, not only would that be cheaper, you would also retain your right to choose what you do with it.
Sorry about that. 😉