Tag Archives: Review

gOS Space and myMiniPC: Bling-Enabled Desktop for Myspace

The 100+ million “average joe” Myspace users are about to get mind blowing eye-gasm with the brand new myMiniPC with gOS Space 2.9 – and I’m not talking about some spicy profile pictures. Combining the Avant Window Navigator dock and Compiz Fusion 3D effects is going to provide a desktop experience generations beyond what Redmond’s latest offering in a slim form factor 1.5 inches tall and a mere two pounds.

When I spoke with David Liu about the product, he said, “I enjoy tackling these giant companies that I feel symbolize a huge population of average joes.” Six months after launching the gPC in Wal*Mart in front of 140+ million shoppers for a price the couldn’t refuse, now he’s leveraging freely available content on sites like YouTube, Flickr, Pandora and many others with the myMiniPC.

The icons on the left side of the dock are Myspace, News, Photos, Videos, Music, TV, Tools, and Fun. On the right side, four brand new Myspace Apps are featured: Mood, Clock, Graffiti, and Quotes – one app for each face of the desktop cube.

Myspace icons range from Blogs to Music and everything in between, for users to quickly navigate around the site or launch new instances of Firefox. Stuffy news agencies like BBC or CNN have been replaced with links to popular blogs such as Perez Hilton, TMZ and Valleywag.

Flickr and Photobucket populate the Photos icon along with three others. The videos icon has a whopping nine options: Daily Motion, Google Video, Meta Cafe, MyspaceTV, Revver, Veoh, Vimeo, and YouTube. I could go on all day about how much is a single click away – if you’re interested in more information, feel free to browse the screenshot gallery below, or simply watch my video about gOS on YouTube with a short demo.

The logic behind building an operating system out of web applications quickly becomes obvious as you go down the dock viewing each category. These companies have banked billions of dollars by using content created by their users. Making that content easily accessible is the key to providing a channel surfing experience for the web.

With tax refunds just around the corner, the $499 price on the myMiniPC is perfect. gOS Spaces 2.9 should be available soon, I urge you to test it out and tell your friends who are on Myspace about it. Got a suggestion, question or comment? Go ahead and Ask Dave yourself – I’m sure he’ll be happy to oblige your request. Here are some specs, screen shots and video of gOS Space 2.9 for your viewing pleasure.

myMiniPC specs:
• Intel® Pentium® Dual-Core Mobile Processor T2130 (1MB L2 Cache, 1.86GHz, 533MHz)
• 512MB DDR2 667 SDRAM
• 120GB Hard Disk Drive
• DVD+/-RW
• Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator GMA950
• Realtek ALC268 High-Definition Audio
• (4) USB 2.0 ports
• (1) IEEE 1394
• (1) 10/100/1000 Ethernet Port
• (1) DVI-I Port
• (1) S-Video Port
• (1) 4-in1 Media Card Reader
• (1) Headphone/Line-Out Port and (2) Microphone/Line-In Port



Review: Four GPS Software Packages for Linux

I picked up a new Pharos iGPS-500 GPS Receiver from Newegg.com earlier this week for under 60 bones. When I opened it up, found out exactly how absolutely TINY it is. The “Actual Size” denotation on the box is slightly misleading fraudulent. Although the GPS portion of the device is small, the USB to serial adapter that plugs into the GPS unit doubles the “Actual Size in Real Life,” that the marketing droids happily ignored.

That minor quibble aside, I don’t really care how big it is. It could be the size of a banana phone and I would still use it – as long as it was able to find my current location and do it quickly. This USB GPS unit claims to be one of the fastest GPS units out there, sporting the new Sirf III (or SiRFstar III) chipset.
Pharos PB010 USB iGPS-500 GPS Receiver
According to Wikipedia the Sirf III chipset inside this Pharos iGPS-500 is capable of acquiring and maintaining a signal lock in urban or densely covered forest environments. This is great news for me personally, since I’m always lugging around a laptop when I go hiking in the forest.

It is pretty quick to lock onto a location when I’m inside. In fact, I have yet to do any driving tests with it yet (too busy compiling this article) although I’m sure it’ll work just fine. With this particular model, you can even purchase a Bluetooth adapter for it after the fact and use it with something other than a computer – some smartphones have GPS software available and will work just fine with a Bluetooth connection. Pretty rad, if I do say so myself.

Getting it working in Ubuntu Hardy required a bit of research. The information I found assumes a pretty high level of knowledge, and there’s not any centralized location for getting GPS units working that I could find.

Hardware Installation:
I plugged in the unit, and ran dmesg | grep tty to make sure it was detected:

usb 2-2: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0

This means the device is available at /dev/ttyUSB0 – pretty simple.

Installing software:
I’m testing four different GPS software suites for Linux: GPS Drive, Roadnav, Navit and VIking. GPS Drive and Viking are right in the Ubuntu repository. Roadnav has a debian package available on their website that worked quite well. Last but not least there’s Navit, which requires installing from source. I’m assuming that the person reading this wants to test out all four software suites. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s best to test out each platform before settling on a choice.

# apt-get install gpsd python-gps gpsdrive viking gpsd-clients libgps-dev libgtk2.0-dev glutg3-dev libcegui-mk2-dev libxmu-dev libsdl-dev libpcre3-dev libspeechd-dev libtiff-dev libdevil-dev build-essential subversion automake


Now that we’ve got all the software we need to get any of the four programs working, making sure the device works with gpsd is a good starting point. gpsd is an abstraction layer between a compatible device and the mapping software. If your device works with gpsd, you’ll be all set. The reason we need gpsd is because there’s no standard for communication for GPS units. Each company has their own way of doing things. Magellan, DeLorme and Garmin never got together to create an open standard for communication and gpsd is the savior that converts each different GPS protocol into something each piece of mapping software can understand easily.

$ gpsd -N -n -D 2 /dev/ttyUSB0
gpsd: launching (Version 2.36)
gpsd: listening on port gpsd
gpsd: successfully connected to the DBUS system bus
gpsd: running with effective group ID 0
gpsd: running with effective user ID 0
gpsd: opening GPS data source at ‘/dev/ttyUSB1′
gpsd: speed 9600, 8N1
gpsd: garmin_gps not active.
gpsd: gpsd_activate(1): opened GPS (5)
gpsd: client (0) connect on fd 6
gpsd: client(0) turned on raw mode
gpsd: speed 4800, 8N1

Looking good. Let’s make sure that gpsprof can access it.

$ gpsprof -f cycle
gpsprof: looking for fix…first fix in 0.42sec, gathering samples……(27.42 sec) done.
Cycle report Fri Apr 4 04:07:49 2008, Generic NMEA, 4800N1, cycle 1s
The sentence set emitted by this GPS is: GSA RMC GGA GSV
GSA: is emitted once a second.
RMC: is probably emitted once a second.
GGA: is emitted once a second.
GSV: is emitted once every 5 seconds.
Send cycle is once per second.

If all is well with gpsd and gpsprof, we’re all set and ready to rock and roll.

I tested out GPS Drive first – it’s right in the Ubuntu repositories. GPS Drive works fine right out of the box. The maps it uses are fairly good, but could be higher resolution. For an application that’s got “Drive” in the name, it’s got a not-so-driver-friendly interface, and the routing portion is klunky. Otherwise, it’s a nice basic application that has a cool indicator in the status bar for how many GPS signals it’s caught onto.

Next, I downloaded Roadnav‘s debian installer for Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon 7.10 from their website and installed it, had no problems running in 8.04. Roadnav has a really slick looking 3D view. It’s got a pleasing interface, and is suitable for a lower resolution screen. Directions and route finding are dismal at best. I would say that it’s pretty average in most ways – nothing sticks out as great except the 3D viewport.

Next, we’re taking a look at Navit. If you’re a new Linux user or otherwise technophobic, Avert your eyes and skip on down to the next software package, or just go down to the nearest 7-11 and pickup a hardcopy map. It’ll be easier and definitely faster. Navit doesn’t come with any maps by default, nor does it allow downloading maps from the web automatically, which is a huge disadvantage. Here’s the compile instructions for Navit on Ubuntu – should work in both 7.10 and 8.04… watch out for that first step – it’s a doozy!

wget http://superb-east.dl.sourceforge.net/sourceforge/navit/navit-0.0.4.tar.gz
wget http://superb-west.dl.sourceforge.net/sourceforge/quesoglc/quesoglc-0.7.1.tar.gz
svn co http://libgarmin.svn.sourceforge.net/svnroot/libgarmin/libgarmin/dev libgarmin
tar -xzvf navit-0.0.4.tar.gz
tar -xzvf quesoglc-0.7.1.tar.gz
cd quesoglc-0.7.1 && ./configure –prefix=/usr
sudo make && sudo make install
cd../libgarmin && ./autosh.sh
sudo make && sudo make install
sudo make && sudo make install

I added libgarmin support in those instructions – just in case you’ve got a Garmin GPS you’re working with – can’t hurt to have extra support just in case. :) Navit doesn’t come with maps, other than the developers’ hometown of Munich that gets downloaded during the compile process. We probably don’t need a map of Munich, so I went and downloaded a free online US state map of Utah. Navit does a pretty nifty thing here – it can use three different types of maps: OpenStreetMaps, Grosser Reiseplaner (Eurpean), and Garmin. OpenStreetMaps is a free offering for the USA, so that’s what I’ll be using. So now that we’ve got it Navit compiled, there’s one step left – configuration. Probably harder than copy and pasting stuff in, but if you want to get it working, have at it:
Create a folder to store Navit configuration settings:
mkdir ~/.navit
The Utah Map I downloaded from the above link was bzipped, used this command to extract:
bunzip2 Utah.bz2
To parse the map into a format usable by Navit, use the osm2navit tool and copy the resulting file into our configuration directory:
cat Utah.osm | osm2navit ~/.navit/Utah.bin && cp Utah.bin ~/.navit
Configure Navit properly for our location:
mkdir ~/.navit && cp ~/navit-0.0.4/src/navit.xml ~/.navit
The Navit webiste suggests visiting an online mapping application to get your current latitude and longitude so that Navit will startup centered on your general location. I find it’s a little bit easier to Google for “latitude longitude cityname”
Open up navit.xml in the editor of your choice.
Around line 16 you’ll see this:

<navit center=”4808 N 1134 E” zoom=”256″ tracking=”1″ cursor=”1″ orientation=”0″>

I changed the center part to this to point it at Salt Lake City, Utah

center=”4071 N -111 W”

Around line 66 you’ll see the following:

<map type=”binfile” enabled=”yes” data=”$NAVIT_SHAREDIR/maps/osm_bbox_11.3,47.9,11.7,48.2.bin”/>

I changed that line to reflect the map file location:

<map type=”binfile” enabled=”yes” data=”~/.navit/Utah.bin” />

And…. Done! launch navit and you should have maps for your location (assuming you downloaded something other than Utah maps) and it should be centered on your location (assuming you properly wrote in your latitude and longitude). Hot damn. Navit is great and all, but I’m not quite sure it’s ready. It needs some spit shine and polish before I would recommend using it.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a brilliant peice of software aptly named Viking. Historically speaking, Vikings are considered an extinct society of explorers and conquerors hailing from Minnesota who wear purple and yellow uniforms.

Viking – the software – is fantastic. It’s the only program tested today that will download Google Map tiles automagically to render a map. This solves the problem of having bad maps. You can even go as far as downloading maps and saving them to your hard drive. This shatters the Terms of Service for Google Maps in at least two ways:

The Service may not be used for or with real time route guidance (including without limitation, turn-by-turn route guidance and other routing that is enabled through the use of a sensor)
You may not use Google Maps in a manner which gives you or any other person access to mass downloads or bulk feeds of numerical latitude and longitude coordinates.

Sorry Google! However, this violation doesn’t quite stop me from recommending Viking. It’s got some neat features such as multiple map layers, all three types of maps from Google (Street, Hybrid, and Satellite) as well as the ability to import data from GPS units that have built-in tracking functions. Also it has a routing function that pulls waypoint data from Google. I didn’t find myself wishing for any features from another GPS package – I think it’s the best free offering available for the general purpose of tracking where you are and easily getting good directions – as long as you have an internet connection.

I’ve read many opinions from varying biases that say GPS software for Linux is not up to par with software developed for Windows or Mac.  I would have to disagree – Viking does what I need and does it well. Did I miss any free GPS software for Linux that should have been included here? Please let me know via email, comments, or twitter.

Unboxing the Asus Eee PC and First Impressions

Supporting companies that offer Linux support or Linux-based products is extremely important for the alternative operating system to succeed in the retail arena. This alone is the most compelling reason why I decided to buy an Asus Eee PC.

This isn’t a new phenomenon for myself, buying Linux supported video games solely for the reason that they support Linux has become my new hobby.

Ever since the diminutive laptop was announced at Computex in Taipei, June 2007, the idea of having a small laptop for school, coffee shops and elsewhere has been lingering in my mind for quite some time, and finally I’ve found the perfect device.
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Seven Different Linux/BSD Firewalls Reviewed

Did you know more than 500 million computers in the United States have been disposed of in the last 10 years?

That’s approximately 2 computers per person! One of the best ways to re-purpose an old computer is to install a Linux or FreeBSD firewall distribution, and use it to run your personal, home office, or small office network is one way to keep “obsolete” technology from ever reaching a landfill.

Help the environment by reusing an old computer as a firewall. It will protect your computer from internet worms, save you time, money and most importantly – improve your internet experience as a whole.

Fact: A wireless router at an electronics store that can cost in excess of $100 is actually slower than any computer made in the last decade. Really! Most routers off the shelf at a store only have a 200MHz processor and 16MB of RAM.

By today’s standards, the 500MHz computer that’s been running quietly in my closet for the past 3 years is beyond obsolete. More than ten generations of processors have come and gone since this computer rolled off the assembly line.

Keep that wallet in your pocket, don’t be a sucker and spend lots of money on a slow, horrifically overpriced home networking product. There’s a good reason why companies like Linksys (a division of Cisco), Netgear and D-Link are worth multi-billions of dollars and continue to climb. Consumer spending on products with home network connections will reach over 17 billion dollars this year.

Here’s the criteria each platform is graded on:

  • Installation & Configuration
  • SSH
  • VPN
  • Graphical Interface
    • Ease of Use
    • Functionality
    • Style
  • Extensibility (Add-ons, Plugins, etc)
  • Speed Testing

Each item in the list is given a value of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), then averaged to obtain the final score.

hp_vectra2.pngThe testing platform we are using today is an HP Vectra slimline PC. Considering the computer was FREE (as in beer) after a company upgraded their workstations, the specifications are nothing to scoff at.

  • Pentium III 500 MHz
  • 192MB of RAM
  • 1GB Transcend disk-on-chip IDE module
  • Dual 100Mbps NICs

We’re taking a look at no less than seven different firewall products today:

Firewall Graph

I’d like to draw your attention to the size column. Size is NOT everything (that’s what she said) when it comes to firewall distributions. Wireless routers that may run your home or office network right now pack a ton of functionality into a package as small as 2 megabytes. FreeBSD, Redhat, and Debian are the building blocks for these home networking appliance distributions.

Let’s take a look at each one in more detail.

ClarkConnect Clark Connect Logois a BEAST – in a good way. It’s really hungry for a faster processor than I can throw at it. The list of features really blow everything out of the water. It’s not just a router or firewall platform, it’s like someone asked themselves a question: “What is EVERYTHING a small office could EVER need in a networking server?” ClarkConnect provides three different robust VPN connectivity solutions using IPSec, PPTP, OpenVPN, along with web proxy and web filtering. Additionally, it provides an SSH server, Quality of Service (QoS) filtering for common P2P applications, Intrusion Detection, and much, much more including email server, file, print, database and web serving. Not to mention a fairly comprehensive group ware suite, which has calendar, contact, tasks lists, and provides a paid option for using Microsoft Outlook Connector to allow everything to go right into Microsoft Office Outlook.

ClarkConnect is certainly a jack of all trades. Doing everything is great, but how well does ClarkConnect do it? On the testbed, installation was easy, and had an informative installation progress screen. The first time running through the installer, there was a problem with not having enough disk space. After rebooting and trying again, I chose to utilize Disk Druid, a partitioning program – instead of the auto-partition mode. Everything worked just fine after that. I believe the problem lies with the testbed – 1GB of space is not alot to work with, but fortunately they provide a manual partitioning method. It also prompts to create a GRUB (bootup) password, so that if the device is physically compromised, it would be more difficult for someone to maliciously (or accidentally) make changes to the system.

Configuration was an overall negative experience. It got confusing, not to mention frustrating. A small business owner who doesn’t know much about networking or computers, would be best to consider hiring a professional to do the initial installation, or paying for a yearly support contract from the vendor, or for a single incident. An interesting feature ClarkConnect leverages very well during configuration stages is a graphical interface to the system. Every other firewall reviewed here either has a very sparse text-mode or console configuration. ClarkConnect wants to make it easier. Just point and click to configure the system, which is nice – but it does not contain all of the features as the text-mode configuration tool which is also provided.

The Web Graphical Interface is easy to use. Items are categorized in a logical fashion and it doesn’t take much hunting to find something you want, if you don’t know where exactly it is in the menu. Style-wise, ClarkConnect is the only option in this roundup that provides a theme switcher – it is possible to use a very slick, visually appealing interface, or with a few clicks, just change to another theme which is less eye-candy, but probably more familiar to most people who have configured a wireless router in the past.

Many companies, like ClarkConnect, release a “community” version as well as a paid version which includes more features and support options, add-ons such as email and virus scanning is available on a subscription basis, and with so many features to start out with you might not need anything else to help to run a small business.




Consider IPCopIPCop Logo to be the baseline for features, usability and extensibility. The installation CD is simple, but employs a non-linear configuration that some may have difficulty using the first time around. A nice touch is including MemTest86 on the CD and including that as an option on the initial bootup. The program will systematically test your RAM and determine if there is a fault, and as a computer gets older, the likelihood of that happening becomes more of a reality.

The auto-partitioner worked great, unfortunately the installation procedure does have one glaringly obvious flaw. When the setup routine attempts to detect network cards, it cycles through every single network card that is supported. After the first card is detected, it prompts you to set that as the “GREEN” interface, also known as the LAN. Once it’s found the first NIC and assigned it to LAN, you can’t change it to “RED” or as the WAN interface. Mildly annoying, but thankfully the workaround is pretty simple, just reboot and start it again.

The web-based configuration tool is absolutely simple. Setting up SSH is just a checkbox away. VPN support is focused on a solution to provide IPCop-to-IPCop connectivity, but an OpenVPN add-on exists. Speaking of addons, there is a HUGE modding community devoted to adding features into IPCop. The webGUI style is in a word, tacky. It’s a good thing that it can be easily modified. A few changes to colors and background images later, it looks much, much better. Functionality-wise, IPCop makes it easy to forward ports, but does keep a few ports to itself that you cannot utilize, such as port 222 for SSH. Printing is not an option. I haven’t been able to find any 3rd party modification that allows print serving. The graphs are simplistic, yet very informative.

monowallmonowall.png is by far, the smallest of the bunch. The entire thing is contained in a measly 8 MB CD image! monowall is first and foremost, a routing platform. Nothing more, nothing less. The distribution comes in two flavors, either for embedded systems or for regular PCs. Installation the first time around may be difficult for a beginner, since it refers to network cards by their FreeBSD driver name, instead of something a human can easily interpret. Which is easier to understand: “fxp0″ or “Intel Pro 10/100+”? Why not provide both peices of information to the user?

VPN is well supported with both IPSec and PPTP options. SSH access can be enabled by a 3rd party add-on. Print serving is unsupported. The configuration page for monowall uses K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) to great effect. It’s brain-dead simple to set things up. However, two things stand out as being somewhat awkward, those being static DHCP and advanced settings. Otherwise, it’s fantastic. Ever had P2P traffic slow down your internet surfing? Check one single box in the GUI, and instantly you have over 20 different protocols that are instantly filtered using QoS to make your internet surfing experience as pleasant as possible.

Add-ons are not easy to incorporate, and require modification of the ISO image, but monowall is not designed to be anything more than a router and firewall. Extra features like a wireless AP feature that can be used with the captive portal function, Wake on LAN interface, and probably the smallest feature I could point out – the uptime is printed on the console when rebooting. Small things like that show an extremely polished software platform that delivers.



pfSensepfSense Logo is a hybrid of sorts, that has multiple sources for it’s major components. It was originally derived from monowall, but uses OpenBSD’s ported Packet Filter, a package management system to provide an integrated extensibility to the platform and Alternate Queuing (ALTQ) from FreeBSD. This Frankenstein is no slouch when it comes to performance, features and usability.

Installation uses the same monowall device naming system which is clunky, and also does not provide the entire name of the device. Once installed, the console has several options, one of those which is a program called “pfTop”, if you’ve ever needed to be able to view where most of your network bandwidth is being used from a console, now you can very easily.

The web GUI is absolutely fantastic. It’s got initial setup & traffic shaping wizards, a captive portal, load balancer (nice!), OLSR (ad-hoc wireless AP mode), Wake on LAN wizard, different selectable themes for the GUI, OpenVPN, IPSec, and PPTP VPN are all included by default, failover, and packet capturing!

Wizards for traffic shaping and initial setup – not anything new, almost any router you can buy today has them, but when you see them for the first time included in a firewall distribution, it’s great to see changes that make a product easier to use. No other firewall we’ve looked at has three different VPN options.






SmoothWall’sSmoothwall Logo installation is simplistic, and the GREEN/RED interface descriptions are an easy idea to grasp. One of the best features is a Java SSH client that runs right in the web interface – slick. Smoothwall’s VPN is designed to connect multiple Smoothwalls to each other, but IPSec is supported fully, and addons can be found for other VPN implementations.

The web interface is easy to navigate. This is the only product to provide a Java SSH client that runs right in the WebGUI – very nice. The real-time traffic graphs are a great addition. Add-ons for Smoothwall 3.0 are plentiful and usually easy to install, if you can think of it, it probably exists. my.smoothwall is integrated into the web configuration tool, and provides some basic integration into the smoothwall website. Free services like dynamic DNS are available, along with paid features as well.

The IM proxy is the best I’ve seen. Once it’s enabled, every incoming and outgoing IM conversation is logged. After opening up a few channels in IRC – in real-time – it’s possible to view any conversation going through the firewall. MSN, AIM, and other protocols are supported as well. It’s a big-brother feature, but if you want to monitor who you children are talking to, or for whatever reason, I can see it being an invaluable resource to monitor what is going on in a network you control. It would almost be easier to keep track of conversations using the logging tool in Smoothwall instead of multiple instant messenger clients.





Endian and Gibraltar are not included in the final results due to not finishing testing.

EndianEndian Logo “is very easy to install, use and manage, without losing its flexibility.” I had a completely different experience. Although Endian is only 106 MB and would easily fit within the 1GB limitation of our testbed, installation failed at 96% – reporting that there was not enough space on the drive.

The installer for Endian has hard-coded values for the suplementary filesystems /var and swap. There is no minimum system requirements listed on their website that I can find, and I checked online for solutions to this problem. The best solution provided was to install Endian to another hard drive, resize the partitions to fit on the smaller disk, then copy it back using an disk imaging software. That workaround does not constitute “easy to install” by any stretch of the imagination.

GibraltarGibraltar Logo is a close match to every other distribution we’ve looked at so far, with a few nice touches. Their website says that they have the following feature at first look, seems pretty kickass: “Anonymisation Gateway: The Gibraltar Anonymisation Gateway makes your overall network traffic anonymous and it makes sure you can surf in the internet anonymously.”

To activate the firewall you must obtain a license key (for free) from their website. Unfortunately, that feature on Gibraltar’s site does not appear to be working properly. I’ve tried multiple times to request a key, and it said one was on it’s way – but never arrived. About a day later I requested a key once again, and was informed that a key already exists for my email address. Not good. Right before publishing this article I finally received a key via email, and it appears that the license key process is not automated, unfortunately. We’ll take a look at it next time around.


The scoring system gives equal favor to the following categories: Setup, WebGui, Extensibility, and Speed Testing. Each of the distributions passed the speed test with flying colors, with less than 5% margin between highest and lowest scores. It’s difficult to assign arbitrary numbers to reach a score, and I’ve attempted to provide a good metric for which someone can go by to determine which is best for them.

Overall Score

In the end, pfSense is ultimately the best choice overall and provides the best value of all we have looked at today.