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Sprinting in DC

Fri, 24/10/2014 - 18:17

For the last week I’ve been working with 230 other Ubuntu people in Washington, DC. We have sprints like this pretty frequently now and are a great way to collaborate and Get Things Done™ at high velocity.

This is the second sprint where we’ve invited some of the developers who are blazing a trail with our Core Apps project. Not everyone could make it to the sprint, and those who didn’t were certainly missed. These are people who give their own time to work on some of the featured and default apps on the Ubuntu Phone, and perhaps in the future on the converged desktop.

It’s been a busy week with discussion & planning punctuating intense hacking sessions. Once again I’m proud of the patience, professionalism and and hard work done by these guys working on bringing up our core apps project on a phone that hasn’t event shipped a single device yet!

We’ve spent much of the week discussing and resolving design issues, fixing performance bugs, crashers and platform integration issues, as well as the odd game of ‘Cards Against Humanity’ & ‘We Didn’t Playtest This At All’ in the bar afterwards.

Having 10 community developers in the same place as 200+ Canonical people accelerates things tremendously. Being able to go and sit with the SDK team allowed Robert Schroll to express his issues with the tools when developing Beru, the ebook reader. When Filippo Scognamiglio needed help with mouse and touch input, we could grab Florian Boucault and Daniel d’Andrada to provide tips. Having Renato Filho nearby to fix problems in Evolution Data Server allowed Kunal Parmar and Mihir Soni to resolve calendar issues. The list goes on.

All week we’ve been collaborating towards a common goal of high quality, beautiful, performant and stable applications for the phone today, and desktop of the future. It’s been an incredibly fun and productive week, and I’m a little sad to be heading home today. But I’m happy that we’ve had this time together to improve the free software we all care deeply about.

The relationships built up during these sprints will of course endure. We all exchange email addresses and IRC nicknames, so we can continue the conversation once the sprint is over. Development and meetings will continue beyond the sprint, in the virtual world of IRC, hangouts and mailing lists.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

XDA Developer Conference 2014

Wed, 01/10/2014 - 11:09

The XDA Developer community had its second conference last weekend, this time in Manchester, UK. We were asked to sponsor the event and were happy to do so. I went along with Daniel Holbach from the Community Team and Ondrej Kubik from the Phone Delivery Team at Canonical.

This was my first non-Ubuntu conference for a while, so it was interesting for me to meet people from so many different projects. As well as us representing Ubuntu Phone, there were guys from the Jolla project showing off SailfishOS and their handset and ports. Asa Dotzler was also there to represent Mozilla & FirefoxOS.

Daniel did a small Ubuntu app development workshop which enabled us to learn a lot from our materials and process around App Dev Schools which we’ll feed back to later sessions. Ondrej gave a talk to a packed room about hardware bring-up and porting Ubuntu to other devices. It was well receieved and explained the platform nicely. I talked about the history of Ubuntu phone and what the future might hold.

There were other sponsor booths including big names like nVidia showing off the Sheild tablet and Sony demonstrating their rather bizarre Smart EyeGlass technology. Oppo and OnePlus had plenty of devices to lust after too including giant phones with beautiful displays. I enjoyed a bunch of the talks including MediaTek making a big announcement, and demonstrating their new LinkIT One platform.

The ~200 attendees were mostly pretty geeky guys whose ages ranged from 15 to 50. There were Android developers, ROM maintainers, hardware hackers and tech enthusiasts who all seemed very friendly and open to discuss all kinds of tech subjects at every opportunity.

One thing I’d not seen at other conferences which was big at XDA:DevCon was the hardware give-aways. The organisers had obtained a lot of tech from the sponsors to give away. This ranged from phone covers through bluetooth speakers, mobile printers, hardware hacking kits through to phones, smart watches & tablets, including an Oppo Find 7, pebble watch and nVidia Sheild & controller. These were often handed out as a ‘reward’ for attendees asking good questions, or as (free) raffle prizes. It certainly kept everyone on their toes and happy! I was delighted to see an Ubuntu community member get the Oppo Find 7 I was rewarded with an Anker MP141 Portable Bluetooth Speaker during one talk for some reason

On the whole I found the conference to be an incredibly friendly, well organised event. There was plenty of food and drink at break times and coffee and snacks in between with relaxing beers in the evening. A great conference which I’d certainly go to again.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Dillinger – The HTML5 Markdown Editor

Sat, 09/08/2014 - 11:55

I thought I loved markdown. I thought Dillinger (an HTML5 Markdown editor) looked remarkable. So I downloaded and installed it on an Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS server:

git clone https://github.com/joemccann/dillinger.git dillinger cd dillinger npm i -d mkdir -p public/files/{md,html,pdf} sudo apt-get install nodejs ln -s /usr/bin/nodejs /usr/bin/node npm install express npm install phantomjs cd dillinger node app

It looks beautiful and works perfectly and even includes the ability to export to PDF. But it seems that, for me at least, markdown without Vim just isn’t the same.

Shame that.


Categories: LUG Community Blogs

The department of dirty

Thu, 24/07/2014 - 10:03

I quite like the Open Rights Group‘s new campaign against internet filtering

The Department of Dirty is working with internet and mobile companies to stop the dirty internet. We are committed to protecting children and adults from online filth such as:

  • Talk to Frank: This government website tries to educate young people about drugs. We all know what ‘education’ means, don’t we? Blocked by Three.
  • Girl Guides Essex: They say, ‘guiding is about acquiring skills for life’. We say, why would young girls need skills? Blocked by BT.
  • South London Refugee Association: This charity aims to relieve poverty and distress. Not on our watch they don’t. Blocked by BT, EE, Sky and VirginMedia
We need you to help us take a stand against blogs, charities and education websites, all of which are being blocked [1]. It’s time to stop this sick filth. Together, we can clean up the internet.www.departmentofdirty.co.uk
Categories: LUG Community Blogs

HP 255 G1 Laptop with Ubuntu

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 13:08

At work I needed a cheap laptop for a computer-illiterate user. Giving them Windows, would have meant that they would have had to keep up-to-date with Windows Updates, with all the potential issues that would cause, along with the need for malware protection. It would also have pushed up the cost, a laptop capable of pushing Windows along reasonably decently, would have cost a few hundred pounds at least.

Generally I would just have purchased a low-end Lenovo laptop and installed Ubuntu onto it, but I was aware that Ebuyer had recently launched an HP255 G1 Laptop with Ubuntu pre-installed for £219.99 inc. vat (just £183 if you can reclaim the VAT).

Buying pre-installed with Ubuntu afforded me the comfort of knowing that everything would work. Whilst Ubuntu generally does install very easily, there are sometimes hassles in getting some of the function buttons working, for brightness, volume etc. Knowing that these issues would all be sorted, along with saving me the time in having to install Ubuntu, seemed an attractive proposition.

Unboxing

My first impressions were good, the laptop comes with a laptop case and the laptop itself looks smart enough for a budget machine. An Ubuntu sticker, instead of the usual Windows sticker, was welcome, although the two sticky marks where previous stickers had been removed were less so. Still, at least they had been removed.

Whilst we are on the subject of Windows’ remnants – the Getting Started leaflet was for Windows 8 rather than Ubuntu. Most Ubuntu users won’t care, but this is a poor attention to detail and, if this laptop is to appeal to the mass market, then it may cause confusion.

First Boot

Booting up the laptop for the first time gave me an “Essential First Boot Set-up is being performed. Please wait.” message. I did wait and for quite a considerable time – probably a not dissimilar time to installing Ubuntu from scratch; I couldn’t help but suspect that was precisely what was happening. Eventually I was presented with a EULA from HP, which I had no choice but to accept or choose to re-install from scratch. Finally I was presented with an Ubuntu introduction, which I confess I skipped; suffice to say the new user was welcomed to Ubuntu with spinny things.

The first thing to note is that this is Ubuntu 12.04, the previous LTS (Long Term Support release). This will be supported until 2017, but it is a shame that it didn’t have the latest LTS release – Ubuntu 14.04. Users may of course choose to upgrade.

Secondly, the wireless was slow to detect the wireless access points on the network. Eventually I decided to restart network-manager, but just as I was about to do so, it suddenly sprang into life and displayed all the local access points. Once connected, it will re-connect quickly enough, but it does seem to take a while to scan new networks. Or perhaps I am just too impatient.

Ubuntu then prompted to run some updates, but the updates failed, as “91.189.88.153” was said to be unreachable, even though it was ping-able. The address is owned by Canonical, but whether this was a momentary server error, or some misconfiguration on the laptop, I have no idea.

This would have been a major stumbling block for a new Ubuntu user. Running apt-get update and apt-get dist-upgrade worked fine, typing Ctrl+Alt+t to bring up the terminal and then typing:

$ sudo apt-get update $ sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

I notice that this referenced an HP-specific repository doubtless equipped with hardware specific packages:

http://oem.archive.canonical.com/updates/ precise-oem.sp1 public http://hp.archive.canonical.com/updates precise-stella-anaheim public

I assume that adding this latter repository would be a good idea if purchasing a Windows version of this laptop and installing Ubuntu.

Hardware

This is a typical chunky laptop.  But, if you were expecting a sleek Air-like laptop for £220, then you need to take a reality shower. What it is, is a good-looking, well-made, traditional laptop from a quality manufacturer. At this price, that really should be enough.

Ubuntu “System Details” reveals that this is running an “AMD E1-1500 APU with Radeon HD Graphics x 2″, running 64-bit with a 724GB drive and 3.5GiB RAM. That would appear to be a lower spec processor than is typically available on-line for an HP 255 G1 running Windows; which generally seem to have 1.75Ghz processors (albeit at twice the price).

The great news was that, as expected, all the buttons worked. So what? Well, it may seem like a trivial matter whether, for example, pressing Fn10 increases the volume or not, but I think many of us have the experience of spending inordinate amounts of time trying to get such things to work properly. And buttons that don’t work, continue to irritate until the day you say goodbye to that machine. The fact that everything works as it should is enormously important and is the primary reason why buying Ubuntu pre-installed is such a big deal.

The keyboard and trackpad seem perfectly good enough to me, certainly much better than on my Novatech ultrabook; although not everyone seems to like them. In particular, it is good to have a light on the caps lock key.

I have not tested battery life, but, as this is usually the first thing to suffer in an entry-level machine, I would not hope for much beyond a couple of hours.

For other details on hardware, please refer to the product information and read more reviews here.

Performance

Booting up takes around 45 seconds and a further 20 seconds to reach the desktop. That is quite a long time these days for Ubuntu, but fast enough I would imagine for most users and considerably faster than it takes Windows to reach a usable state, at least in my experience.

Being that bit slower to boot, Suspend becomes more important: Closing the lid suspended the laptop and opening it again brought up the lock screen password prompt almost immediately. Repeated use showed this to work reliably.

As to system performance, well frankly this is not a fast laptop. Click on Chromium, post boot, and it takes about 9 seconds to load; LibreOffice takes about 6 seconds to load. Even loading System Settings takes a second or two. Once you’ve run them once, after each boot, they will load again in less than half the time. Despite the slow performance, it is always perfectly usable, and is absolutely fine for email and web-browsing applications.

The other thing to remember is that this will be the performance you should be able to expect throughout its life – i.e. it will not slow down even more as it gets older. Windows users typically expect their computers to slow down over time, largely because of the different way in which system and application settings are stored in Windows. Ubuntu does not suffer from this problem, meaning that a 5-year-old Ubuntu installation should be working as fast as it did when it was first installed.

Conclusions

I struggle to think of what else you could buy that provides a full desktop experience for £220. And it isn’t even some cheap unbranded laptop from the developing world. Sure, it isn’t the fastest laptop around, but it is perfectly fast enough for web, email and office documents. And the fact that you can expect it to continue working, with few, if any, worries about viruses, makes it ideal for many users. It certainly deserves to be a success for HP, Ubuntu and Ebuyer.

But, whilst this low-price, low-power combination was ideal for me on this occasion, it is a shame that there are no other choices available pre-installed with Ubuntu. I wonder how many newcomers to Ubuntu will come with the belief that Ubuntu is slow, when in reality it is the low-end hardware that is to blame?

Please HP, Ubuntu and Ebuyer – give us more choice.

And Lenovo, please take note – you just lost a sale.

For more reviews please visit Reevo.


Categories: LUG Community Blogs