New amplifier and speakers

Last August I decided I wanted a better solution for music in my living room. Previously I used the Audioengine A2 speakers and my TV for this, but that setup was less than ideal. The speakers were connected to the TV through the headphone jack and I used the Deezer app on the TV to stream music. As a consequence I had to turn the TV on even if I only wanted to listen to music. I couldn’t control the volume of headphone jack volume with the remote. The Deezer app was the most frustrating because it crashed all the time.

So I started looking for a good amplifier which could stream music without the need for an extra device. That amplifier had to be controlled remotely through a smartphone. Streaming the music should be done by the amplifier itself through a WiFi connection. The TV had to profit from the better sound as well and had to be connected to the amplifier. Because the Audioengine A2 speakers are too small for a living room and are active (integrated amplifier) rather than passive speakers I decided to look for new speakers as well.

These criteria quickly excluded many solutions. Many music streaming devices do not include an amplifier, so they have to be connected to active speakers or an amplifier. Some of these only allow you to stream through Bluetooth from a smartphone. The disadvantage of Bluetooth is that the battery of that smartphone will be drained more quickly. The audio quality might also be compromised when it’s transferred through Bluetooth, depending on the compression. And usually they also require an extra app, separate from the app of the streaming service.

Then I discovered Spotify Connect. This feature of Spotify allows you to pair with a supported device in the Spotify app and then command that device to stream music. Because the device establishes its own WiFi connection to Spotify, your phone only acts as a remote. This way the audio quality is untainted and my phone’s battery life barely takes a hit. Previously I didn’t want to use Spotify because a credit card was required to pay for a subscription, but they solved that by offering iDEAL. As the name suggests, Spotify Connect is a proprietary standard used only by Spotify. I don’t like this and would prefer that all the streaming services create a shared standard, but so far I haven’t seen any alternative.

After evaluating amplifiers which support Spotify Connect, I started reading the reviews by What Hi-Fi?. The availability of products in physical stores close by further restricted the choices. Stephanie and I wanted to listen to our amplifier and speakers of choice before we were going to decide what to buy. We ended up going to Audiohuis Delft because they had both the amplifier and speakers available for a test.

We decided to buy the Cambridge Audio Minx Xi amplifier (actually called a music streamer) for € 650 and the Q Acoustics Concept 20 speakers for € 500. This is the price for two speakers, but apparently stores have a convention to list the price for just one speaker. The review by What HiFi? mentioned that the speakers perform best with the pricey stands for this particular model, so we decided to get those as well. This added another € 300 to the bill.

I believe the reviewer’s claim that these stands improve the sound quality, but I question if I my ears are good enough to notice the difference. Maybe I could notice the difference in a good listening test, but I doubt I would during daily use. I figured out later that the Q Acoustics 3050 floorstanding speakers would have been an alternative. These don’t need stands of course. I see two of these can be bought for prices between € 800 and € 1000. Had I known about these before, I would have probably bought these instead. Even so, I’m very satisfied with the Concept 20 speakers.

I’m equally satisfied with the Minx Xi. It has a good combination of sound quality with usability. It looks very stylish and is relatively small compared to the traditional bulky amplifiers. It doesn’t feature a huge amount of connections which I don’t use anyway. There are only two minor disadvantages I’ve noticed. It takes twenty seconds to start up and connect to my WiFi network, I’d like to see faster startup. A HDMI input or two might have been useful next to the optical, coaxial and analog inputs.

Finally a word of warning about the cables. Audiohuis Delft advised me to get cables from QED. For two pairs of QED XT40 2,5 meter analog speaker cables we paid € 139. For the QED Performance Audio Optical and QED Performance Audio Coaxial 1 meter cables we paid € 55 each. That was a hefty price tag for just cables! I didn’t investigate quality and normal prices for audio equipment cables so we went along with the advice. Advertising on the packages touting very positive reviews by What HiFi? contributed to that. When I asked around after the purchase, I was confirmed in my suspicion that such very expensive cables were unnecessary. You’re not going to hear a difference, especially over short distances.

The sound quality delivered by the Minx Xi in conjunction with the Q Acoustics Concept 20 is great. I don’t have much more to say about it, I’m not an audiophile and don’t have a point of reference to compare it to. I do want to emphasize the experience and the great usability of this solution. Turn it on, open Spotify on my phone and stream. With Spotify, the choice of music is almost endless for € 10 a month. Even though it’s normal now, it still amazes me how easy it is. Not too long ago we were still working with much more expensive CD’s which are now comparatively cumbersome.

Fairphone 2 now available

The Fairphone 2 was released on 21 December 2015. I love how this phone is designed to be durable, easily repairable and open source. In my personal correspondence with their support I was also assured they don’t pay Microsoft for a licensing deal, which is good. Of course there is much more which makes this phone laudable, such as the conflict-free minerals used for its construction and the transparent supply chain, but those three advantages are my highlights.

Since Mozilla pronounced Firefox OS for smartphones dead, I’ve been looking for an alternative smartphone. Right now I’m using a Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo with Android from my employer, which I’m also allowed to use privately. I’m very uncomfortable with it, because Google loves to spy on me. So ordinary phones with Android are out of the question. The Fairphone 2 ships with stock Android by default, but fortunately Fairphone provides the Fairphone Open Source OS as an alternative. This ships without Google Mobile Services (GMS). GMS is Google’s proprietary software running on top of the open source part of Android. However, this raises questions about what life is like without GMS.

I’d have to find open source replacements for several Google apps such as Chrome, Gmail, and Maps. I guess Firefox, some alternative e-mail app and Maps.ME would be good replacements. But you will also need to find another app store, because Google Play is also a proprietary Google app. Where am I going to find the Spotify and Netflix apps then? Amazon’s Android app store maybe? But how privacy friendly are they? Are those shady websites which offer APK downloads (Android app downloads independent from an app store) safe? How will my apps update automatically?

Using Android without Google’s proprietary software will be challenging. So challenging, that I might consider an iPhone as an alternative. Like stock Android, iOS contains both open source and proprietary software, but at least Apple has more respect for their user’s privacy as far as I know.

There are also other factors I consider before deciding whether to buy the Fairphone 2 or not. A price of € 530 is a lot of money for a phone, especially if the the hardware isn’t at the top of its class. An iPhone or a Galaxy, if new from an older generation or second hand, cost less. I’ve grown quite fond of the AMOLED display in the Galaxy S5 Neo, but the Fairphone 2 is equipped with an LCD display which is inferior to both Samsung’s AMOLED displays and Apple’s LCD displays. In principle I might be able to live with the price and inferior display, because I value the ethical and social goals of the Fairphone 2. But I don’t want to spend so much money on a smartphone right now.

Before I make a choice, I need to investigate which data Google (through both the proprietary and open source Android versions) and Apple exactly collect from me, the degree to which I’m being spied upon. I need to know how user friendly it is to use Android without Google’s proprietary software. When I’ve figured that out, documented it here on this blog and have determined how to deal with the Galaxy S5 Neo provided by my employer, I will make a decision.

The Kobo Glo HD e-reader

Last year on 23 September I was given the Kobo Glo HD e-reader as a birthday gift by Stephanie. This e-reader was on my wish list because it features a high resolution for its 6 inch screen, 1,448×1,072 pixels (300 pixels per inch). Last year the were no e-readers, except those from Amazon, which had a comparable resolution.

The high resolution makes text look very sharp, almost as sharp as a real book. It’s sharp enough not to bother me; the lower resolutions of older e-readers did annoy me. The reading experience is good, pages turn reasonably fast. I did notice that in an EPUB file which features endnotes, the numbers for the endnotes affect the line distance. This is ugly; normal endnote numbers are just set in superscript and do not alter line distance. Clicking the endnote numbers for links which take you to the endnote section was also quite hard. I’m not sure if this was the fault of this particular EPUB file, or the software of the Glo HD. Another gripe I have is that it’s compulsury to set up the Kobo e-book store. It’s useless to me because I can’t (or want to) use it, for the reasons described below.

With regards to the EPUB market, I think the DRM is still deterring people from buying e-books. I’ve said it before: DRM can be okay if implemented in a way which doesn’t bother the customer. Such as the Steam service for buying video games. For e-books I need to Adobe Digital Editions to place DRM-protected EPUB files on my ereader. But… Digital Editions is not available for Linux. Since Linux is the only thing I use, I’m pretty much restricted to free titles from Project Gutenberg. Of course there are a lot of good classics to download there, but it’s very strange that e-book vendors make it impossible for me to buy their products. And no, I’m not going to use a Windows PC at work for this. Even if used Windows or Mac OS privately, I wouldn’t want to download extra software which makes the experience more inconvenient just for the DRM.

The publishers should think about using watermarks or some other kind of friendly DRM, or maybe no DRM at all. They are almost driving people to use illegal sources for acquiring e-books. Kill off Digital Editions, please.

Review of the Panasonic TX-L42E6EW LCD TV

When I moved to my new apartment (more on that in the following post in a minute) I needed a TV. I didn’t want to spend much, but the TV still needed to provide a good image quality. After reading this review and considering the other options, I decided to buy the Panasonic TX-L42E6EW LCD TV for € 490. Having considered the competitors, I think this Panasonic model is one of the best choices in this price range. But another factor which influenced my decision is that Panasonic has a plan to adopt Firefox OS for their TV’s, which earned them significant goodwill with me. A photo of the TV is seen in the following post.

I chose a 42 inch model because the combination of that size with the distance from my couch allows the benefit of full HD to become visible. A larger TV would have been too dominant in the room. I think the white color of the TV blends nicely into the white wall and matches with the white Audioengine A2 speakers. I’m not really bothered by the supposed lower quality of the TV’s integrated speakers, but I got a separate speaker set because I also use my TV to stream music from Deezer. This way I don’t need a separate device to stream music, which would cost more money and consume more electricity.

I barely watch TV channels, so I didn’t bother with getting a subscription to receive them. The only thing I like to watch frequently is the TV news of the Dutch public broadcasting service, but I do that on my PC. For films and TV series I watch Netflix on my TV for just € 8 a month. So all I need is the Internet connection. With Tele2’s VDSL2 I get an excellent speed of 50/5Mb/s down/up for just € 10 a month (in the first year, in the second year it will be € 30). I actually measured 8,95 Mb/s down and 5,45 Mb/s up with the Speedtest website, but  I’m really satisfied with the fast upload speed. It allows me to upload large photos to Flickr quickly.

I’m satisfied with the TV, but it does have some issues. Downright stupid is that the headphone volume is separate from the main volume, and that the integrated speakers still keep playing when I connect with the headphone input. Obviously they should be muted, why would you connect a headphone otherwise? In my case I don’t connect a headphone but the Audioengine A2 speakers, as far as I know the headphone input is the only way to connect them (RCA cables don’t work). Because the remote control can only change the main volume I have to walk over to the speakers and change the volume by hand.

Three other issues are that you can’t design your own home screen without the live TV widget, which would be useful because I don’t have a TV subscription. Some of the smart TV apps require that you have a VIERA Connect account if you want to use them, even if they are free, which is silly. I would also like to a button to turn of the panel while the TV remains turned on so that energy is conserved when it’s streaming music.

Couch and Panasonic TX-L42E6EW LCD TV

Review of the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate keyboard

With my new computer I also ordered a Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate keyboard for € 83. Why so expensive you might ask? Because this is a mechanical keyboard. I admit it’s a luxury and in my experience so far it doesn’t really offer a significantly better typing experience. The difference is minor, but I appreciate it. Compared with a standard rubber dome switch keyboard the Cherry MX Brown mechanical switches in this keyboard require very little force to be pressed. This does allow you to type slightly faster, even though I don’t gain much because I only use my two index fingers to type. Compared to the other types of Cherry MX switches, the brown switches occupy the middle ground and are suitable for both gaming and typing.

Maybe an even more important motive for me to buy this keyboard is that it seems to be more durable. My previous keyboard was a Logitech UltraX Flat, which had rubber dome switches and laptop style keys. Nice keyboard, but when you want to clean it and pull off the keys you have to be very careful not to destroy the key press mechanism. Putting them back on is a challenge too. This QuickFire Ultimate comes with a key puller and allows for easier removal which is certainly not destructive. I still have to try this though because I didn’t need to clean it so far.

All the keys also have a red backlight which can optionally be activated. It’s a nice gimmick, but I never use it. I can touch type – with two index fingers –and my bedroom is adequately lit when it’s dark, so I don’t see the point in having a backlit keyboard. It might be useful for a laptop if you’re outside at night though. I’d prefer having no backlight at all and a lower purchase price instead. The keyboard is marketed towards gamers and that’s probably why it has the fancy name and the “Quick Fire” on the space bar, but I would have preferred a slightly more formal look. But this keyboard was the one of the cheapest mechanical keyboards and the only one I could find with Cherry MX Brown switches for such a price, so that’s why I bought it anyway.

One disadvantage is that it didn’t work at all when an OS wasn’t booted yet – i.e. in GRUB and the BIOS – on my older PC. My older PC had a Gigabyte P35-DS3L motherboard, but my latest PC doesn’t have this issue.

It was hard for me to justify spending € 83 on a keyboard, but in the end the fact that I use my keyboard every day convinced me. If this one can last many years and last longer than a rubber dome switch keyboard, it will be money well spent. I wouldn’t spend more than € 100 though.

Review of the Bitfenix Raider enclosure

For some months now I’ve got a new PC. I’m quite satisfied with the performance: the Samsung 840 EVO 120 GB solid state disk is really fast, it starts Fedora Linux within a few seconds. The be quiet! Straight Power E9 450 Watt power supply powers the Nvidia GeForce 770 GTX video card without problems when I run demanding video games, even though Nvidia itself says a 600 Watt power supply is the minimum.  They probably take low quality power supplies into account. The maximum power consumption I’ve measured is 265 Watt, so I’m fine.

The enclosure is controversial for me however. Originally I ordered a Cooler Master Silencio 352 enclosure which can only accommodate smaller micro-ATX motherboards. The webstore were I bought my hardware fouled up and sent me a ATX-motherboard instead of a micro-ATX motherboard, so I decided to return that enclosure and buy a larger ATX enclosure. I was in a hurry and quickly ordered the Bitfenix Raider because I knew it was a good choice in this category. It’s not a bad choice, but I think I would have preferred one of Cooler Master’s larger Silencio enclosures which can house ATX motherboards.

The Bitfenix Raider has good looks, offers enough room for cable management and a large video card like the GTX 770. But my main complaint with it is that it doesn’t have an option to cover the top intake opening. You could optionally place a fan there, but I don’t need it. Without a cover, dust will easily enter the enclosure, defeating the purpose of the dust filters for the power supply intake fan on the bottom and the fans on the front. I solved this by fixing a piece of black cardboard over the hole with adhesive tape, but I think an appropriate cover should have been shipped with the Raider. Cooler Master does include covers.

My other complaint is the manual. It describes the screws included with the Raider on the first page, but it turns out two pairs of screws look very much alike, even though they are used for different purposes. I confused some of these different screws, which could have been avoided if the manual had images of the screws to help me distinguish them. For example the black thumb screws used externally for the side panels of the Raider, and the black thumb screws which are used internally for fixing disk drives.

My review of the Geeksphone Peak with Firefox OS

I wrote in September that I had pre-ordered the Geeksphone Peak+ with Firefox OS and why I did so. Unfortunately the Peak+ was delayed and in October it turned out the delay would be longer than expected. At that point Geeksphone offered those who had pre-ordered the Peak+ to send them the original Peak instead, which had become available again.

Because I didn’t want to wait much longer, I accepted this offer. I received my Peak the next day on 22 October, after it was shipped from Spain to my address in the Netherlands in less than 24 hours. I also got a refund because the Peak had a lower price. Initially I was disappointed in Geeksphone’s communication of the delay. I learned about the delay through the order status on their website rather than an e-mail which they could have sent, but the way the handled this restored my trust in them.

The Peak smartphone

I think the hardware is very adequate for a phone which is sold for € 150. I haven’t compared it with the Android phones at the same price point, but if I look at the Samsung Galaxy S4 of my brother or my dad’s iPhone 4 I don’t get the feeling my phone is deficient. Sure, the Galaxy and the iPhone cost over three times as much and have better hardware, but I’m satisfied with it.

But there are a few things which I would have liked to see differently. The iPhone 4 for example measures 115,2 by 58,6 by 9,3 mm and has a 3,5 inch screen with a resolution of 640 by 960 pixels. The Peak measures 133,6 by 66 by 8,9 mm and has 4,3 inch screen with a resolution of 540 by 960 pixels. I like how the iPhone 4 fits in my pant’s pocket, but the slightly larger Peak is a bit more noticeable. I would have preferred the iPhone 4’s slightly more compact dimensions and higher amount of pixels per inch.

When I took off the Peak’s back cover to place the battery and SIM card I feared I would break it, but it’s sturdy enough. The quality of the enclosure won’t win awards either, but it’s good enough for me. What worries me more is that the Peak only gets half of the full reception quality in my home, while my former dumb phone would always get full reception quality. However, in practice I’ve never experienced problems with the reception during phone calls.

The Firefox OS software

Version 1.1 of Firefox OS does the basics right and I haven’t seen it crash. However, being an operating system in its infancy, it doesn’t have much good apps. For example, Here Maps which is included by default doesn’t have turn-by-turn navigation. EverNav does, but if you want to use it you to have log in, which is something I don’t want. I’m surprised no one has built a good map app based on OpenStreetMap yet. It would have been useful if a flashlight app and an app for taking notes were included by default, but they aren’t available yet either.

I often use the 9292 website, which is popular for planning trips with the Dutch public transport. Because Firefox OS hasn’t been introduced in the Netherlands yet it’s unsurprising they don’t have an app for Firefox OS. This isn’t an issue as a Firefox app doesn’t need to be much more than a simple manifest file which redirects to a mobile website. Unfortunately 9292 doesn’t detect the Firefox OS user agent and redirect you to their mobile website like it does for Android smartphones. You can visit the mobile website manually and than add it as a favorite to your home screen, but it doesn’t display 100% correctly in Firefox. And the favicon used for the home screen uses a very low resolution, so it’s not a pretty sight. I’ve already sent them a message to inform them of these problems.

I intend to build my use of the phone around ownCloud, which would allow me store my calendar and contact data with my own web host. This way, I don’t need to use services like Google Calendar and the big companies can’t poke their noses into my personal data. GNOME also supports synchronization with ownCloud, which allow me to work easily with the same data on my PC, laptop and smartphone.

It’s already possible to synchronize the calendar with ownCloud if you follow these instructions (in French). However, synchronizing the contacts with ownCloud using CardDAV is not yet possible though, all Firefox OS offers at time is synchronization with Facebook.

This and other issues I’ve noticed have been filed at Mozilla’s bug tracker, of which the first two were filed by others and the last four by me:

  • Bug 859306 – Sync contacts with carddav
  • Bug 901218 – [Peak] Back camera does not take photos in full resolution : 1.2M instead of 8M pixels
  • Bug 934092 – can’t set locale separately from language
  • Bug 934094 – “order by last name” setting doesn’t take surname prefix into account
  • Bug 934097 – alarm doesn’t trigger when the Peak smartphone is turned off
  • Bug 934099 – Firefox OS doesn’t use delta updates
  • Bug 934115 – m.9292.nl website displays two arrows in a drop down menu

The first bug is most important to me. If it’s also important to you, you might want to vote for the bug report.

The Dell XPS 13 is now available with Ubuntu

After almost a year since it was announced, the Dell XPS 13 ultrabook is finally available with Ubuntu in the Netherlands. Including VAT, it would cost € 1330. On my job at an ICT service desk I’ve had the opportunity to use both the XPS 13 and the comparable Samsung NP900X3C. The A05NL version of the Samsung starts at € 1000 at the moment. Both are very nice laptops indeed.

But how does that compare to other laptops, in particular my Acer TravelMate TimeLine 8371 which still serves me nicely? In the end of 2009 I paid € 532 for the Acer, minus € 70 for the Windows Vista Business license refund and plus the € 187 for the Intel X25-M 80 GB SSD it set me back € 649 total. Obviously there is a large difference in price, but what’s the justification for the much higher cost of of the Dell and Samsung?

Notebookcheck reviewed both the Acer, the Dell and the Samsung, albeit in slightly different configurations than I’ve seen. The key differences for me are that the Dell and Samsung have much higher resolutions: 1920 by 1080 pixels and 1600 by 900 pixels respectively. The Acer has 1366 by 768 pixels, and all three have a 13.3 inch monitor. The lower resolution of the Acer is by no means annoying to me, but I’d appreciate more. Another key difference is the weight: 1.73, 1.4 and 1.19 kilo for the Acer, Dell and Samsung respectively. If you take a laptop with you on holiday in a backpack filled with clothes like me, the difference in weight is notable. Both the Dell and the Samsung also have more durable enclosures than the Acer.

The Dell and Samsung have much faster CPU’s, more RAM, larger SSD’s. The only downside is that the Dell has no ethernet port at all and the Samsung requires an adapter, because both laptops are too thin for a full port. The Dell has DisplayPort and the Samsung has a VGA connector requiring an adapter which is not included. The Acer does have a normal VGA connector and only the Samsung and the Acer have a card reader.

I think I like the Samsung most. Even though the limited connectivity is a downside – Samsung should include a DisplayPort connector too and include adapters for VGA and HDMI – I don’t think it’s a big problem. However, the Samsung shoves Windows 8 down my throat, and I’m not so eager to go through all the trouble to get a refund for the Windows license. Choices, choices! For now I think I’ll keep using my Acer until it’s spent, by that time there will be better hardware in the form of Intel’s “Shark Bay” platform.

I also wouldn’t mind less powerful CPU’s so the price could be lowered. All I want is a laptop which is portable, with a monitor size between 11 and 13.3 inch, a keyboard (no tablets for me), a long battery life and a low price. That might happen in the form of Intel’s “Bay Trail” platform for its Atom architecture. Of course, some competition from AMD would be much appreciated.

The Lenovo ThinkPad L530 laptop

Recently my brother was looking to buy a new laptop. He moved out of my parent’s house recently and wanted to replace his PC with a laptop to use both privately and for his job. He wanted a 15 inch laptop because his work involved some traveling, so a larger desktop replacement was not desirable. But he didn’t want a smaller laptop either because he wanted a large screen. The only game he plays is League of Legends, which can be handled adequately by the integrated graphics chip in recent processors.

Considerations

Nowadays you can get 15 inch laptops for little more than € 300, but if you buy cheaply, you pay dearly. Most of those cheap laptops have relatively low display resolutions (with 1366 by 768 pixels being most common) and because they’re meant for consumers they almost always have glossy displays. Build quality often isn’t good either.

That’s why it’s smart to buy more expensive laptops which are more sturdy, often the models intended for business customers. These also have matte displays, which don’t turn into a mirror if there’s a lot of sunlight. But most importantly, if you’re willing to pay a premium, you can get a high-resolution display of 1600 by 900 pixels or even more. Quite a difference in screen real estate.

The choice for the L530

A few weeks ago, one of the cheapest 15 inch laptops available in the Netherlands with a 1600 by 900 pixels display resolution was the Lenovo ThinkPad L530 for € 752. Even though this is “budget” in terms of ThinkPads and this model has an ordinary plastic case, the reputation these laptops have for good build quality still stands. And it has a matte screen. As an added bonus it also came with Windows 7 instead of the disaster that is Windows 8. My brother was discouraged by the high price compared to the usual low-end consumer notebooks, but I managed to convince him.

I won’t review the laptop in detail because that has already been done by NotebookCheck. Like they say, you shouldn’t expect it to be as sturdy as the premium ThinkPads with its plastic case, but it’s certainly a good deal for € 752. After buying and unboxing the L530 however, we were surprised to find out that the touchpad had a problem: the mouse cursor moved like a person stuck in quicksand.

When my brother read the review on NotebookCheck again, he noticed they had also experienced a “major problem with the touchpad’s responsiveness”. They assumed this problem was restricted to their test laptop. Curiously, I couldn’t find anyone else experiencing the same problem on the Internet. It was time to contact Lenovo and get them to fix the laptop.

Lenovo technical support

The first impression wasn’t so positive. We had to sign a form to give them permission to re-install Windows 7 if necessary and some other trivial matters, but this form had many Dutch grammar and spelling errors. I still remember my ordeal with Acer’s helpdesk, but expected Lenovo to do better. Apart from the form though, Lenovo did its job properly: when the laptop was returned the touchpad worked fine.

Only the reparation report raises some eyebrows. It claims they replaced the display and the “kbd (keyboard?) bezel”. I have no idea what those have to do with the touchpad.

News summary, May 2012

This is a summary of various news which caught my attention during the last month.

Games

  • Valve’s Steam, Left 4 Dead 2 and probably some of their other games will be ported to Linux. This is great news, I love you Valve!
  • CD Projekt RED released a free upgrade to the Enhanced Edition of The Witcher 2 which provides 10 GB (!) of new content. Other developers such as Electronic Arts are run by people who care most about making money, but this developer is run by true artists who want to deliver a great game besides making money.
  • The long-awaited Black Mesa: Source mod is still alive. I was disappointed in the lack of news but recently they have started communicating again. According to an interview (part one and two) the reason for the delay is that they have very high standards for their work and weren’t satisfied with the game yet. I’m looking so much forward to the final product.
  • Another free game made by volunteers is Wing Commander Saga. It has been released recently and looks quite impressive, I haven’t tried it yet.

Hardware

Dell is working on Project Sputnik which aims to produce a laptop for developers. It’s based on Dell’s XPS 13 ultrabook and Ubuntu 12.04. This is great news, because the two companies that I know of which ship notebooks with Linux – System76 and ZaReason – don’t offer ultrabooks. The smallest they have to offer are 14 inch models weighing two kilos. Also, I appreciate the design of the XPS 13 more, the only disadvantages are the glossy screen and the lack of an Ethernet port.

As I wrote on this weblog earlier, under Linux my Acer TravelMate Timeline 8371 initially didn’t have suspend working. It still consumes more power and its fan turns noisy much more frequently than if Windows were used. It would be great if Dell’s laptop would have everything working out of the box. However, I have one important requirement: it should work just as well with other Linux distributions as it does with Ubuntu. That means there should be no special software or drivers tailored to make everything work with the Ubuntu version shipped with the laptop. If they can realize that, count me in.

Software

We have a choice of two open source Linux-based operating systems for smartphones, Android and more recently Tizen (which has not been shipped with any smartphone yet). Fortunately Mozilla has introduced a new contender: Boot to Gecko (B2G). While Android is open source in name, I feel that Google exercises too much control over Android and has become too powerful. I don’t trust them with the personal data they gather from me.

Mozilla on the contrary is a party which I do trust. B2G has more credit for openness and has a great vision behind it which distinguishes it from the competition. Additionally, B2G is far less demanding on the hardware, so it could run on much cheaper smartphones. I can’t wait to get my hands on a smartphone which uses B2G.

Additionally, if you buy an Android phone you contribute to Microsoft’s profit because they are extorting manufacturers of Android smartphones with patent threats. I don’t want to pay for a smartphone if even one cent of the manufacturers income is spent on royalty payments to that immoral company. Motorola, which has been acquired by Google recently, is fighting back. In May Microsoft won a legal case against Motorola because Motorola infringed on one of Microsoft’s patents on generating meeting requests from a mobile phone. Read the parent’s description to see how ridiculous and trivial this patent is. Once again I’m glad we don’t have software patents in the EU.

Politics

  • The Netherlands is the second country in the world to adopt net neutrality. I consider this very important for freedom on the Internet and I praise our politicians who decided to impose it.
  • As I wrote in my second to last post, I was worried that the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy isn’t protective enough of freedom and privacy, especially on the net. Thankfully I’ve been proven wrong now that they voted in favor (article in Dutch) of canning ACTA.