All posts by Isaac Rowe

About Isaac Rowe

I’m just this guy, you know? I am a student who is an aspiring programmer and writer. I am extremely enthusiastic about tech, specifically open source and Google products.

mystery-hp-chromebook-11-youtube

HP Chromebook 11 redesign quietly appears

Today HP appeared to make another addition to their Chromebook lineup, but without any announcement. The Chromebook in question is a new alternate  HP Chromebook 11 with the design of the HP Chromebook 14. The Hewlett-Packard Chromebook 11, which came out last winter featured a brand-new gloss white and colorfully accented design. The larger HP Chromebook 14, however, has a much more sleek, classy design and comes in models completely of one color, rather than just accents like the Chromebook 11.

The new Chromebook has the latter design, much to the surprise of Youtuber Lachlan, who discovered the alternate Chromebook 11 and posted a video of it. Apparently, Lachlan, who resides in Australia, purchased what was labelled as a “white Chromebook 11″, but  soon realized that it was not the same as the other Chromebooks 11, but rather a miniature Chromebook 14.

mystery-chromebook-11-hp
The mystery Chromebook 11

He immediately began a series of tweets about the “mystery Chromebook”, proclaiming to the world he had found an unannounced HP Chromebook. OMG! Chrome first reported that this was a HP Australia only leaked product, but now the alternate Chromebook 11 is listed on HP’s website. The mysterious Chromebook has not yet appeared on the official Google Chromebook page.

hp-chromebook-listings

In Muktware’s review of the latest HP Chromebook 14, it was found to have a more premium feel to it than other Chromebooks, like the current HP Chromebook 11. It will not be surprising if HP pursues this classy design rather than the flamboyant feel of the smaller Chromebook, although it fits the carefree spirit of Chromebooks in general. Also, this is not the first time in recent weeks HP has let Chromebook related news slip. Rumor has it that HP may release an Android-powered laptop in a form factor similar to the Chromebooks they already produce. This was also supposedly backed up by listings on their website, although the promotional material for it has been removed.

Whatever the case may be, it looks like HP is committed to tweaking new designs for its Chromebook lineup, which will be expanding again in the coming months following an announcement from Google and Intel.

My Ubunyu Unity desktop after customization.

How to customize your Ubuntu desktop in 6 steps

Ubuntu is a great Linux distribution for users who want an easy-to-use interface and is arguably the best distribution for a user new to the Linux world. Some side effects of this is that, in terms of interface and appearance, many arbitrary choices have been made for the user by Canonical, particularly in the form of the Unity desktop environment.

These are not set in stone, however. Below are a few tips on how to feel more at home in Ubuntu. For a glimpse of some of the things you can customize in Ubuntu, you can see above what my desktop looks like using Unity in Ubuntu 14.04, compared to the default setup.

Let’s break down what is needed to do this.

1. Install the Unity Tweak Tool

Before you can make any significant changes to the appearance of Ubuntu, you will have to install the Unity Tweak Tool, This is a special settings manager for the Unity desktop environment, and allows you to implement things like alternate icon sets and themes. It can be downloaded from the Ubuntu software center, or if you prefer, from the terminal with the following commands:

sudo apt-get install unity-tweak-tool

If you are using Gnome desktop environment, then you might want to try the Gnome Tweak Tool, which can also can be installed from the Ubuntu software center or with the command

sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

2. Install a GTK theme
There are many custom themes for Ubuntu, which affect the way applications and windows look. The theme I use is the Numix GTK+ theme. You can find out more about the Numix themes and icons at http://numixproject.org/ . You can install the the Numix theme by opening the terminal and entering:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:numix/ppa
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install numix-gtk-theme

To enable the theme, open the Unity Tweak Tool and select “Theme”, located under the “Appearance” header and select the theme, which should now be an option listed under “Available Themes”. This process can be repeated for any other theme, provided the repository package name is known. Many themes are available for perusal at Gnome-Look.org. One very similar set of themes to Numix are available is Moka at http://mokaproject.com/.

3. Install an icon set

The icons used in the screenshot are also from Numix, the Numix Circle icons. These icons can be installed by entering into the terminal the commands:

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:numix/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install numix-icon-theme-circle

To enable the icons, select “Icons” in the Unity Tweak Tool and highlight the icon set. Once again, this is possible for any of the multitudes of icon sets available. Moka also offers very nice icon sets that bring colorful, consistent design to your desktop.

4. Install Conky system monitor
Conky is a lightweight desktop system monitor. By itself, it is quite plain, but it is completely hackable, which opens the door to complete customization of the application, which can be used to display a variety of useful information. You can install Conky by with these commands

sudo apt-get install conky conky-all

You will also need to install Curl with the command

sudo apt-get install curl

The Conky theme shown in the screenshot is Harmattan, which displays time, weather and system processes in 15 different themes. To install this theme, you can download the .zip file from deviantART, then extract its contents. Move the .conky-weather folder (you may have to hit Ctrl + H to view these files) into the home folder, as well as the .conkyrc file from the folder containing the theme of your choice (the Harmattan theme is nicely organized into folders for different types of themes). There are hundreds of themes of Conky, and all you need to try them is to replace the .conkyrc file in the home folder with the .conkyrc file for that theme.

5. Install some indicator applets

There are many third-party indicator applets that you can use to monitor information on your desktop. There are applets for weather, system performance, and more. The ones I use are quite simple. Because weather and performance are already in Conky, I haven’t installed these, but you can install them by entering the following commands in the terminal:

sudo apt-get install indicator-weather
sudo apt-get install indicator-multiload

The two applets I use are the Keys Lock applet and the Touchpad controller, because my laptop does not have an indicator light for caps lock or the touchpad disable hotkey. You can install these with the commands

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:tsbarnes/indicator-keylock
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:atareao/atareao
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install indicator-keylock
sudo apt-get install touchpad-indicator

You may have to re-login to your user in order to launch these applets.

6. Get advanced with CompizConfig Settings Manager

If Unity Tweak Tool is not powerful enough for you, you can try installing the CompizConfig Settings Manager.

Warning:

CompizConfig may damage your system if the wrong settings are applied. Use with caution. You can enable settings hidden in all corners of Ubuntu, and you can install in from the Ubuntu Software Center or from the terminal with these commands:

sudo apt-get install compiz compizconfig-settings-manager compiz-fusion-plugins-extra compiz-fusion-plugins-main compiz-plugins

Your Ubuntu desktop is now supercharged! All of these steps have thousands of other options attached to them, so customizability is endless. Now go out and try them!

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How to install Sifr icon set for LibreOffice 4.2 on Ubuntu

With the recent release of the Long Term Support version for Ubuntu, “Trusty Tahr,” users were treated to the latest version of LibreOffice, the open source productivity suite that comes bundled with many Linux distributions, including Ubuntu. The packaged version of LibreOffice that exists in Ubuntu does not follow the regular release schedule of LibreOffice, as Canonical only allows security updates for packaged software between version releases of Ubuntu.

Users can install the most recent updates on their own, but without doing this they receive major software updates like LibreOffice 4.1 along with their Ubuntu update every 6 months. LibreOffice 4.2 came out some time ago, but most Ubuntu users did not see it until April, when it updated alongside Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. The update came with some nice changes, like a new launch screen, but in the Ubuntu update, it did not come with the option of an alternative icon set, like the new flat “Sifr” icons. If you would like to try out the new modern icons on your own, here is how to do that.

  1. Open the terminal (Ctrl+Alt+T) and run the following command:
    sudo apt-get install libreoffice-style-sifr
  2. Once the process has completed, head over to LibreOffice and open a document.
  3. Select “Tools” from the application menu
  4. Select “Options”
  5. Select “View” from the left-hand menu
  6. Under “Icon size and style” change the style from “Automatic” to “Sifr”
  7. Click “OK” to enjoy the new icons

Screenshot from 2014-05-08 15:33:19Screenshot from 2014-05-08 15:32:49

Congratulations! You now have a consistent, modern, and flat icon set for LibreOffice. Other icon sets may be installed in this fashion, but I recommend Sifr. Enjoy!

Note: Sifr theme is already available for Arch Linux users, just select it from ‘View’ option as mentioned above.

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New Intel powered Chromebooks to feature Bay Trail chipset

A plethora of new Intel-powered Chrome OS devices were announces at a press conference hosted Wednesday by tech giant Google and chip manufacturer Intel. The event, which featured Caesar Sengupta from Google, and Navin Shenoy, vice president and general manager of mobile computing at Intel, announced, among other things, Chromebooks powered by Intel’s low-energy Bay Trail chipset, which will enable the lightweight computers running the Linux-based, web-centric operating system from Google to reportedly have 11 hours of battery life. Other devices announced include Intel’s Haswell and Core i3 chips.

The Chrome OS devices powered by the Celeron Bay Trail-M chipset include computers from manufacturers Acer Asus, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, LG, and Toshiba. ASUS will be producing an 11-inch C200 Chromebook and 13-inch ASUS C300 Chromebook. The upcoming refresh of the existing Acer Chromebook and Toshiba Chromebook will feature the Bay Trail chip, and Lenovo’s recently announced Chromebooks, including the new 11e YOGA will utilize this chip as well.

Other devices will run the chipmaker’s Core i3 processors, including the Dell Chromebook 11 for a yet-unknown cost, and the Acer C720 Chromebook, coming for $349 late this summer.

The newest addition to the Chrome OS family is the LG Chromebase had new details released as well, it is now known that the all-in-one Chrome OS desktop will be available on May 26 for $349 and will run on the Intel Haswell processor. The upcoming HP Chromebox use this processor, and will be available in June, it was announced.

This event marks a monumental shift in manufacturers attitudes towards Google’s Chrome OS, with more and more PC makers previously devoted to making Windows-powered units now producing Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, and Chromebases. Intel’s cooperation with Google will make these devices more powerful than ever, and surely more alluring to consumers looking for an inexpensive, lightweight laptop or desktop.

Source: Google Chrome Blog, CNET

edward-snowden-1100x620

Tails, Edward Snowden’s Linux distro of choice, leaves beta

The Amnesic Incognito Live System (Tails, for short), a Linux-based operating system purposed “to preserve your privacy and anonymity”, has left beta and is now available as version 1.0. The operating system is best known for being the operating system of choice for users who seek out anonymity on the internet, such as Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Administration. Wired reports that Snowden prefers this software, while the NSA sees this as a security threat, along with the anonymous browser Tor.

Tails is intended to be used off of a bootable USB or a live disc, so any computer available can be made temporarily secure. This works by not allowing the operating system to save anything to the computer’s hard disc, and force it to run entirely off the RAM memory. Many lightweight Linux distributions already allow for this, but Tails is never intended to be installed on the hard drive as to ensure complete “amnesia.”  Specific documents can be saved to the hard drive with explicit user action, but by default nothing is saved, and software is included to encrypt all external drives.

Tails sends all its online request through Tor, which routes traffic to servers hosted all around the world to ensure anonymity. It also claims security through its roots in Debian distribution, arguably an already secure build of Linux, which in turn is secure in theory and in practice. Tails warns of some issues that it cannot defend against, such as certain espionage attacks that the NSA might employ as well as the fact that institutions such as internet security providers can tell you are using specialized tools like Tor. To prevent the conspicuous signs of the operating system in public places, Tails can employ “Windows Camouflage” to divert attention.

So if you’re a government whistle-blower, undercover investigator, or just really care about privacy, Tails version 1.0 is now available for download to enhance your anonymity.

 

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Google, Intel to make Chromebook announcement on May 6

Tech giant Google and chip-maker company Intel are set to make an announcement regarding Chrome OS at a press conference on May 6. Intel-made Haswell processors are already in many of Google’s Chromebooks, and recently manufacturer Acer added a Intel Core i3 powered Chromebook to the growing lineup of laptops. It is unclear what will be announced, but after the press invite was sent out on Wednesday, rumors abound.

One theory is that a new Chromebook Pixel will be announced, as the current model utilizes a Intel Core i5, the most powerful of any Chromebook. The Pixel hasn’t been changed since its release last February, and it could be time for Google to refresh its crown jewel, high-end Chromebook. Another collaboration with Intel could bring more power to the Chromebook line and make Chromebooks more appealing for resource-hungry users.

Another possible announcement is a special chipset from the manufacturer to power the long-rumored Chrome OS tablet. Many people were expecting a Chrome OS tablet announcement at the Acer event yesterday, but the biggest news remains the Acer Chromebook powered by the Intel Core i5, and the tablet hopes remain unfulfilled by Google’s manufacturer partners. Intel offers some higher powered chips for Windows tablets, and perhaps this may be the long-awaited coming of the Chrome OS tablet.

No one yet know what the event, which will feature Caesar Sengupta from Google, and Navin Shenoy, vice president and general manager of mobile computing at Intel, has in store for the future of Chrome OS and the Chromebook hardware.

Acer-C7-Chromebook--lid-chrome-logo

Chrome OS getting support to control movable camera

Chrome OS may be getting the necessary tools to control a movable camera, according to a recent post by Chromium developer François Beaufort from Google. He explains that an API is in the works to provide apps for Chrome OS with the ability to control what is known as a PTZ Camera“. PTZ stands for pan, tilt, and zoom which are the primary movements for cameras such as ones used for surveillance, and other instances where the camera must be controlled remotely. This could open the door for home-monitoring apps for the Chromebooks, advanced video conferencing, or controls for a drone camera . 

Beaufort also adds that the API will not be limited to controlling one device at a time; it will be able to connect the Chromebook to as many cameras as are available. This will help Chrome OS make a move into more fields of work, like amateur videography, as more and more apps make robust work like video editing possible for Chromebooks.

Home surveillance is likely going to be the biggest draw that the apps that might use this API will provide. Having a Chromebook that can access the security systems of a home from anywhere in the world with an internet connection would surely be an alluring possibility, if developed. There are plenty of native iOS and Android apps, even Mac and Windows programs, that harness the power of the connected world for various home security companies, but there are no options for Chromebook users.

An especially apt device for this is the Chromebox, currently marketed as a solution for business video conferencing. Not only would complete control of the camera enhance this experience, the Chromebox could become a central hub for home security automations, and could be stashed anywhere due to its small form factor. Of course, you don’t necessarily need a Chrome OS device to do this, a Raspberry Pi and some DIY know-how will do just fine.

Once in the hands of developers, there are lots of applications the API could be used for. Chrome OS would benefit greatly if tools like these catch on with developers, by gaining more ways to be used for real-life work, rather than just being a “glorified browser”, as some might have it. You can see the code for the API here.

Source: François Beaufort (Google+)

Firefox

Firefox “Australis” redesign goes stable in version 29

Version 29 of Mozilla’s Firefox web browser went stable on Tuesday, showcasing a new design, deemed “Australis” that has been testing in the Firefox Nightly beta channel since November. Among the most noticeable features of this new design are the curved tabs and the Firefox Menu (similar to Chrome’s “hotdog menu“), which make for a much sleeker look, albeit a look much like its competitor browser, Google Chrome.

The idle tabs are now transparent, allowing for better use of themes, and there are some smart touches, including the absence of a forward button, that is, until you actually go back a page, in which it appears at your disposal. The design principles are in line with what can be seen in Firefox OS, and Mozilla seems to be looking to unify its browser on all form factors.  

The design also streamlines the menu customization, add-on management, and Firefox Sync sign-in. The menu customization is quite handy, and allows you to organize browser buttons and functions on the toolbar, as well as add-ons. The add-on manager is now right in the menu, an improvement over previous releases where the most readily available access was through the Mozilla Firefox Start Page. Firefox Sync works much like the signing in with a Google account on Chrome: all bookmarks, passwords, history, and preferences are synced between devices that have been signed into, whether it be a phone or a computer.

It seems Chrome has the upper hand on this, as it also offers an iOS app and Chromebooks to sync, in addition to the Android, Windows, Mac, and Linux browsers that Firefox offers as well. In terms of technical development, the latest release is also an improvement. The stable version of Firefox now offers WebRTC, a web feature created by Google and Mozilla, supported in Chrome since version 25, but only in Firefox Nightly until now. The protocol enables plugin-free video chat and file sharing between browsers.

The browser also boasts special JavaScript enhancements for plugin free games (plugin free being consistent with Mozilla’s stated goal of an “open web”), Web Audio API implementation, and developer tools for Firefox OS debugging. [youtube id=”bEw7VdZ_CZw”]The release may gain some negative reception due to its uncanny resemblance to Google Chrome, but the latest Firefox has its own feel.

It looks and feels fresh, an may bring momentum to a browser that has been slipping lately in favor of Chrome.

Source: Mozilla

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Rumor: HP set to introduce a 14-inch Android notebook

The market for lightweight notebooks may get a lot messier in the coming weeks as Notebook Italia reports that HP is planning to release a 14-inch touchscreen laptop running Android, Google’s mobile operating system for phones and tablets (and now wearables), rather than its Chrome OS operating system for lightweight notebooks. Notebook Italia claims to have found a demo video and promotional pictures tucked away on HP’s website. The videos have since been removed, but some screen grabs of the video are still up.

Source: Notebook Italia

The notebook in the video features a bright, colorful, ultralight design not entirely unlike that of the HP Chromebook 14, the other laptop of the same size from the manufacturer running Google’s other operating system, which hit store shelves back in November. It also allegedly contains a 2GB memory Nvidia Tegra quad-core processor, 16GB of storage, Beats Audio, and a SIM card port for HP Datapass, capable of providing the laptop with 3G cellular connection.

The most interesting aspect of this laptop is not the design, or the features, or the price, but the choice of operation system. The Slatebook is set to run Android, possibly 4.2 Jelly Bean, which is an odd twist considering that HP offers 11″ and 14″ Chromebooks, 10″ Slate Android tablets, and the Slatebook two-in-one Android tablet.

This makes for one of the first “Androidbooks”, not a tablet, or even a hybrid, but a dedicated laptop running Android in a PC-form factor. While Chrome OS is intended for lightweight PCs and Android is intended for mobile devices, the line is increasingly blurred by this unconfirmed announcement and other rumors concerning a Chrome OS tablet.

What will the future hold for the two operating systems from Google? Will Chrome OS get cannibalized by its bigger brother, Android? Likely not, but only time will tell.

Source: Notebook Italia

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Web app icons getting refreshed on Chrome OS

Hosted Web apps, sites that are pinned as an application in Chrome OS or Chrome, may be getting a new look. According to OMG! Chrome, the change, which may come soon in a developer channel update for Chrome OS and the Chrome desktop browser, is intended to beautify icons for Web apps that don’t specify a favicon large enough to avoid being pixelated, especially in places like the Chrome OS taskbar (In case you were wondering, the favicon is the little picture next to the webpage title in the tab, or in the address bar of some other, older browsers).

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Image: Sebastien Gabriel, from OMG! Chrome

The alternative icons work in a way that produces an image remarkably similar to the default profile avatar on Gmail for users who haven’t selected a profile picture for their Google account. If the site doesn’t have a nice, scalable icon, like apple-touch-icon (the attribute that makes a website bookmark look like an app on an iPhone or iPad), the new icon will seem formed by a rounded rectangle (or a squircleif you want to call it that), filled with the dominant color of the favicon and stamped with the first letter of the icon title.

This ensures that all sites will have a high-resolution icon, even if they don’t have a quality icon of their own. Android may also employ this technique for homescreen shortcuts. It seems that the new system will not affect hosted apps that already provide Chrome with a high-quality icon, but for the ones that don’t, we don’t have to deal with pixelated icons for Chrome desktop shortcuts in Linux or Windows, or on the Chrome OS app launcher. It appears this information was provided to OMG! Chrome by Sebastien Gabriel, a designer for Google Chrome and Chrome OS, thought this was not clearly stated.

Source: OMG! Chrome

Image: Sebastien Gabriel