Category Archives: Internet

Instagram begins testing text-only posts for Stories

Instagram is testing a new feature for adding text-only slides to Stories. The feature was first spotted in December, but Instagram is now rolling it out to users in other countries.

According to The Next Web, which first spotted Type, it appears alongside the standard Live, Normal, Boomerang and Superzoom options when you create a new Story.

You can type your text onto a plain background, choose a gradient, or position the text over a photo (which will have a gradient applied so the text stands out more clearly.

Your life story

Stories, introduced in 2016, are a way to share several photos and videos from a single day without spamming your friends’ main Instagram feeds. All the pictures and clips are gathered together into a slideshow, with drawing tools for adding doodles and captions.

Instagram is working hard to develop Stories – possibly positioning them as a challenger to Snapchat. In October it added a polls feature (so you can gather votes on which delicious-looking salad you should have for lunch, for example), and in December it began letting users archive Stories so they don’t vanish forever when they expire.

Via Mashable

      

I let a machine critique my novel

Autocrit report

After letting my novel mature/fester over the Christmas break, I started the new year by putting it on a dramatic weight-loss plan. Reading the first draft in the cold light of January, there are clearly rolls of flab to be burnt away and replaced with lean, muscular prose before it’s ready to be exposed to the public. The metaphors might need toning down too.

It’s part fun, part painful. Does it really matter what that fancy hotel looks like? Nope – away it goes. Who cares about that car journey? Nobody – ditch it. Why on Earth is everyone drinking so much tea? Time to cut back.

Nit-picking with Autocrit

As a former copy editor, I like to think I have a reasonable grasp of language, but editing your own work is quite different to working on someone else’s. It’s easy to skim over your mistakes and written tics.

That’s why I decided to give Autocrit a go. Billed as “manuscript editing software for fiction writers”, it goes through your work with a red pen, highlighting potential issues with ruthless efficiency.

My initial Autocrit report. Not actually as bad as it looks, thank goodness

The software (a web app – it runs in your browser) can’t assess your story’s overall structure or tell you if your main character is an irritating wet blanket. Instead, it alerts you to issues like repeated words and phrases,

It’s by no means infallible – following all its suggestions could leave your writing sounding unnatural and, frankly, like it was written by a robot – but it can highlight some problems you’d otherwise miss. It’s up to you as the author to decide if and how to act on its suggestions.

First, you’re given an overall score based on the quality of your writing. Mine was 86.64. This is a pretty arbitrary figure – the interesting part comes when you drill down to reports on pacing and momentum, word choice and readability.

These are broken down further into categories including repeated uncommon words that might stick out in the reader’s mind, repeated phrases, sentence length and dialogue tags (particularly those other than ‘said’ and ‘asked’).

Autocrit pacing report

An Autocrit pacing report – the more wiggly, the better

The generic descriptions report helpfully pointed out that I overuse the words ‘pretty’ and ‘good’. Pretty much every paragraph – no good. However, it also slapped my wrist for overusing the bland adjective ‘nice’. With no context, it had no way of knowing I was writing about the French city Nice. Understandable.

Too much, too soon

Having thrown a chunk of my novel into Autocrit’s jaws and examining the bloodied remains, I realised it’s not yet ready for this level of savaging. You probably won’t roll with all of its suggestions, but it really pushes you to examine what you’ve written word by word.

That’s very helpful, but I’m not ready for that level of close reading yet. Only yesterday, I decided to un-kill one of my main characters. Word-by-word editing is a long way off.

The subscription fee is pretty steep (there I go again), at US$29.97 (about £20, AU$40) per month. I’ll probably come back to Autocrit once I’ve refined the overall shape of things a bit more.

For now, the robot editor’s going back in its box, red pen and all.

  • Cat Ellis has turned to technology to help write her first novel. Follow her progress in her Sculpt Fiction column.

      

The Australian Government is totally fine with the state of the NBN

It’s no secret that many people aren’t happy with the NBN right now, with reports that only one quarter of FTTN users can reach 100Mbps, resulting in some telcos offering reduced rates for their highest speed tiers.

The Australian Government however, doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong, having mostly dismissed a report from the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network released in September last year in its official response to the matter.

“The Government is disappointed that after considering 191 submissions; holding 15 public hearings; receiving testimony from 179 witnesses; and undertaking three site visits, the Committee’s majority report and recommendations indicates a failure to understand the fundamentals of the NBN.”

The comprehensive Joint Standing Committee report detailed a number of problems currently facing the NBN, and also offered some suggestions that could potentially help alleviate some of these issues.

Many of the suggestions were met with a “The Government does not support this recommendation” response, including one which would see the Government “direct and enable NBN to complete as much as possible of the remaining fixed line network using FTTC (fibre to the curb) at a minimum (or FTTP), and require NBN to produce a costed plan and timetable under which that would be achieved.”

To this, the Government also said that it “remains committed to the Multi Technology Mix (MTM), which will see rollout of fast broadband as soon as possible, at affordable prices and at least cost to tax payers.”

It wasn’t all bad news however – the Government did support some recommendations “in principle”, including one to “ensure by appropriate regulation that end users are informed of, or can easily access and are directed to, clear information about the maximum attainable layer 2 speed of their NBN infrastructure/service on a per premises basis.”

  • Image credit: Adult Swim

      

YouTube’s new ad policy appeases advertisers but hurts small channels

YouTube has been trying to clean up its act in the wake of a scandal that began after popular YouTuber Logan Paul showed footage of a suicide victim in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest, but in the process, it’s sacrificing its reputation as a place where small channels can earn cash.

For better or for worse, the latest effort is aimed at appeasing advertisers who wish to avoid accusations that they’re funding problematic users such as Paul.

As so often happens, though, it’s the little folks who are getting hurt in the process.

Last night Paul Muret, Google’s VP of display, video and analytics, announced that only channels with at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch-time over the last 12 months would be eligible for earning money from the ads displayed on the site.

Previously, channels merely had to have 10,000 total page views to qualify for the YouTube Partner Program.

Muret does his best to emphasize that “size alone is not enough to determine if a channel if suitable for advertising,” and he adds that Google will also consider factors such as “audience engagement and creator behavior” in determining eligibility.

Even so, Google makes it clear that smaller channels simply aren’t worth the time for the tech giant, as the post goes on to say that the YouTube channels left standing in the wake of the changes “represent more than 95% of YouTube’s reach for advertisers.”

If you’re planning on making it big on YouTube in this age of increased video-focused content, in other words, you need to get big quick or go home.

YouTube’s decision seems especially harsh considering that Logan Paul has almost 16 million subscribers, and small channel owners throughout YouTube and other social media platforms like Twitter are pointing out that they’re the ones paying for his inappropriate posts.

A lot to handle

In some ways, though, the move makes some sense. Google also says in the announcement that it will start manually vetting the channels for its Google Preferred Program for the most popular channels, and that process will undoubtedly take more time than the previous model.

Considering that YouTube is one of the world’s most popular websites, the new rules significantly lessen the amount of content that will have to be analyzed directly.

Beyond that, YouTube says that it will introduce a “three-tier suitability system” at some point in the coming months that will give advertisers greater control over where their ads appear.

Something clearly needed to be done, but with this solution, are we losing too much in the process?

      

Best Linux remote desktop clients: Top 5 RDC in 2018

This article was provided to TechRadar by Linux Format, the number one magazine to boost your knowledge on Linux, open source developments, distro releases and much more. It appeared in issue 220, published February 2017. Subscribe to the print or digital version of Linux Format here.

SSH has been the staple remote access tool for system administrators from day one. Admins use SSH to mount remote directories, backup remote servers, spring-clean remote databases, and even forward X11 connections. The popularity of single-board computers, such as the Raspberry Pi, has introduced SSH into the parlance of everyday desktop users as well.

While SSH is useful for securely accessing one-off applications, it’s usually overkill, especially if you aren’t concerned about the network’s security. There are times when you need to remotely access the complete desktop session rather than just a single application. You may want to guide the person on the other end through installing software or want to tweak settings on a Windows machine from the comfort of your Linux desktop yourself.

This is where remote desktop software comes in handy. Using these nifty little applications you can remotely access and operate a computer over the network from all sorts of devices. There are various protocols and while the clients we’ll cover in this article support multiple ones, we’ll focus on Virtual Network Computing (VNC) which is amongst the most popular.

Specifically, we’re going to evaluate and compare five clients: RealVNC, Remmina, TigerVNC, TightVNC and Vinagre.

How we tested

A remote desktop sharing session involves a server and a client. The server component is installed on the remote machine that you want to access and the client is installed on the local machine or even on a mobile device such as a tablet. For this feature, we’ll use three servers – the RealVNC server built into a Raspberry Pi, the default Vino server in Ubuntu and TigerVNC server for accessing Windows PCs.

A good remote desktop client should be responsive, and as such we’ve rated responsive clients higher than those which do a wonderful job of replicating the remote desktop in true colour but take ages to register clicks and key presses. We’ll also keep an eye out for any related features that are included, such as the ability to encrypt connections. The clients and servers are also all running inside our network connected via Wi-Fi.

So, without further ado, let’s move on and compare these clients across a broad range of aspects – from available features, to the interface, multimedia capabilities and more – before we round things off with our final verdict.

Nate Drake also contributed updates to this article

All the clients in this article are rather equally matched in terms of features. That said, Remmina and Vinagre are the only ones that can sniff and discover a VNC server running on the network. Additionally, Vinagre can tunnel VNC connections through SSH and enables you to easily take screenshots of the remote machines.

However, with RealVNC and Remmina you can manually tweak the quality of the connection to make good use of the available bandwidth. Best of all Remmina lets you alter the colour depth of the remote desktop on the fly. The application encrypts VNC connections with the AES256 algorithm and also offers a button to send all keyboard commands to the remote server.

TigerVNC and TightVNC are both very similar since the former is a fork of the latter. TigerVNC uses TLS encryption by default. While the application encrypts traffic, it cannot verify the identity of the server. However, TigerVNC supports various other encryption schemes, such as X509Vnc, that do allow this.

Furthermore, TigerVNC offers users controls to manually tweak the encoding and colour level and a couple of other parameters depending on the available bandwidth. You can also use it to create view-only sessions and run a full-screen session on the guest. TightVNC offers pretty much the same features as TigerVNC, but some distinguishing features like the ability to transfer files are available only to Windows users.

Sound is not supported by any of the clients. Only RealVNC has the ability to transfer files. However, the file transfer feature along with several others such as the ability to exchange instant messages with the person on the VNC server are available only when you connect to a RealVNC server, e.g. the one pre-installed on Raspbian for the Raspberry Pi.

Furthermore, the client only encrypts connections to the RealVNC server (now known as VNC Connect). The client allows multiple sessions and can run sessions full-screen and scale the remote display to fit the current window on the client computer. It can also remember remote access credentials so you don’t have to enter them each time which is a definite plus, especially if you need to remotely manage a handful of machines. Simply double click on a machine from the RealVNC window to connect automatically.

Verdict

  • RealVNC: 4/5
  • Remmina: 4/5
  • TigerVNC: 3/5
  • TightVNC: 3/5
  • Vinagre: 3/5

If you’re a fan of using multimedia on your remote desktop, we suggest you give TightVNC a miss. Using the default settings you can perform simple actions like viewing PDFs but videos are barely watchable and games which rely on rapid keyboard presses such as snake4 performed horribly, with a delay of over two seconds.

Remmina performed better and games were playable without any delay even at the best quality on the remote Ubuntu server. However, we couldn’t watch video playback at any quality setting. At the lowest quality level the video was less jerky but the colours were wrong. At the other end of the quality setting the colours were perfect but the video skipped frames. The application could also easily scroll through lightweight PDFs at best quality, while scrolling through PDFs worked best at lower quality levels.

Similarly, you can easily scroll through PDFs and perform regular desktop tasks with RealVNC. You can get more mileage from your Pi using the experimental hardware acceleration mode which allows you to run applications such as Minecraft Pi, and watch videos with the built-in omxplayer, without any issues.

TigerVNC and Vinagre delivered the best performance. You can use either application to play games without any delays even at the best video quality setting. Video playback was also surprisingly good and we could easily scroll through all sorts of PDFs at the best quality.

Verdict

  • RealVNC: 4/5
  • Remmina: 3/5
  • TigerVNC: 4/5
  • TightVNC: 2/5
  • Vinagre: 4/5

There are several facets to the usability aspect of the client. First up is the interface for establishing the connection to the server. To score points for usability, the client has to offer the right number of features to define the connection without inundating the user with a sea of toggles and checkboxes.

Also, the client’s role doesn’t end when the connection is established. The post-connection interface plays a crucial role in helping you interact with the remote desktop. In this article, we’ll only rate applications based on the accessibility of post-connection features. The fact that some applications offer more controls than others, once the connection has been established, will be compared in a separate section.

We’ll break this slide down into mini-reviews of the interface and user experience, starting with…

RealVNC

You’ll have to define a new connection before connecting with the RealVNC client by manually entering the IP address of your VNC server. You can then either use the default settings or tweak them from the New Connection window. The General and Options tabs list common parameters while the Expert tab lets experienced campaigners modify the default values of various parameters. You can access these options during an active connection either by using the hidden menu at the top of the connection window or by pressing the F8 key.

By default, the RealVNC client also saves screenshots for connections. During an active connection the client also gives you the option to transfer files to and from the remote server and exchange instant messages. However, these options will only work when connected to a RealVNC server.

Score: 3/5

Remmina

Before you can establish a connection, Remmina asks you to create a profile to define parameters for the connection. At the very least, you’ll have to select a protocol from a drop-down list and enter the server’s IP address. Optionally, you can define other parameters that vary depending on the protocol being used, e.g. for VNC connections, you can optionally choose the colour depth and quality of the connection as well as encryption. You also get checkboxes to toggle some quick settings like starting a simple View Only session and disabling encryption etc.

Remmina has an intuitive tabbed interface that enables you to manage multiple remote desktop sessions from a single window. There are a bunch of buttons for common tasks such as switching to full-screen mode or to the scaled mode in case the remote desktop doesn’t fit.

Score: 3/5

TigerVNC

TigerVNC has a rather straightforward interface. However, unlike some of the other clients in this feature, it lacks the ability to automatically sniff VNC servers on the network and you’ll have to manually enter the IP address of the remote VNC server to establish a connection. While the default options work for most users, various connection parameters can be customised.

Besides the options to choose the encoding, colour and compression levels for the connection, you can also elect to only view the remote computer screen. Furthermore, TigerVNC enables you to share the clipboard with the remote VNC server and the application also makes it possible to choose the remote session screen size.

Score: 3/5

TightVNC

TightVNC is the only software in this feature to use a Java viewer. It also uses a simple textbox interface similar to TigerVNC’s. You’ll have to manually enter the IP address of the remote VNC server since the client cannot detect VNC servers running on the network. Again, you can either connect with the default option or customise any of the available settings. However, TightVNC lists all of the available options in one window unlike TigerVNC’s tabbed interface.

The differences between the two continue once a connection has been established: While TigerVNC uses a hidden menu, the TightVNC viewer lists a row of buttons at the top of the interface, and you can use these to customise any of the parameters for the connections – as well as sending various special keys to the remote VNC server.

Score: 3/5

Vinagre

Vinagre has a minimal interface that’s very much like Remmina. However, there aren’t nearly as many advanced options behind Remmina’s simple GUI. To connect all you need to do is pick a protocol from the pull-down list and enter the IP address of the remote VNC server. What makes Vinagre more intuitive and user friendly than Remmina is the very helpful Find button that hunts for active servers on the local network.

Also much like Remmina, you get optional checkboxes to start a full-screen session, a view-only or a scaled window. You also have the ability to select a colour depth from 24-bit true colour to 3-bit ultra-low colour, plus you can also enable JPEG compression if you have the resources to bear the processing overhead. On the downside, you can’t change the quality settings of an active connection.

Score: 3/5

TightVNC won’t be much help if you’re new to VNC. The website has a single PDF guide on getting started for Windows users. It’s easy to see from this – and the handful of screenshots – that this is a product mainly aimed at Windows users. If you need dedicated tech support, you can also pay for an annual subscription.

TigerVNC isn’t much better. There’s next to no documentation on the website with just HTML versions of the main pages of the various utilities. The website also points to the project’s three mailing lists – one of which is meant for resolving user queries as well as the TigerVNC forum.

Vinagre is a little better with pointers to the project’s IRC channel along with a Bugzilla page and the lead developer’s email address on the project’s homepage at Gnome.org. The client has a Help section that will familiarise users with the key features and basic operations. You can also discover more information about its features and usage on external sources such as the Ubuntu wiki.

Similarly, Remmina’s website lists the features of the main client along with those that are added via plugins. There’s also a handful of screenshots, a barebones FAQ, and a slightly more extensive Wiki which all answer some of the commonly asked questions on usage.

Verdict

  • RealVNC: 5/5
  • Remmina: 3/5
  • TigerVNC: 2/5
  • TightVNC: 2/5
  • Vinagre: 2/5

VNC isn’t the only protocol in town for accessing the remote desktop and you can use a few applications in this feature to connect to other ones. However, RealVNC, TightVNC and TigerVNC only support the VNC protocol. Both TigerVNC and TightVNC have a server as well but the latest version of the TightVNC server is only available for Windows, and along with the desktop client, the version for Linux is for an older, unmaintained incarnation.

Similarly, RealVNC only supports the VNC protocol which it can tunnel over SSH, but it’s the only client in this feature that has its own dedicated branded clients for the Android and iOS mobile platforms.

However, GlavSoft, the developer of TightVNC, has created the app Remote Ripple for use with its VNC servers both for Android and iOS.

Unlike some of the other clients, RealVNC has a multiplatform server component and works best when its own clients are paired with the server.

Vinagre by contrast can connect using the SPICE, RDP and SSH protocols as well as VNC. The client doesn’t run on any other platform besides the Linux desktop and neither does it have any clients for mobile platforms. It also has no server component of its own but works best when paired with the default VNC server for Gnome, Vino.

Similarly, in addition to VNC, Remmina supports other common protocols for accessing remote desktops including SSH, RDP, XDMCP and NX. It too doesn’t have a server of its own, nor any clients for mobile platforms.

Verdict

  • RealVNC: 4/5
  • Remmina: 3/5
  • TigerVNC: 2/5
  • TightVNC: 1/5
  • Vinagre: 3/5

Some of the applications in this feature offer several tweakable options to help you get the most out of your connection. Some, like TigerVNC, TightVNC and Vinagre, don’t offer any real configurable parameters besides the ones that are available during an active connection. For what it’s worth though, TigerVNC enables you to save configuration information for individual connections into separate files that can be loaded on subsequent connection, or from a different client computer.

The TightVNC interface makes passing VNC connections via SSH tunnels very straightforward. Similarly, you can use Vinagre to enable JPEG compression if the VNC server supports it. The application also enables you to specify the colour depth to be used for the connection.

In contrast, both Remmina and RealVNC offer a good amount of control over the respective application’s behaviour. Remmina houses default remote connection settings under its Preferences window. Here you’ll find options to tweak some auto-save settings for the connections, and define custom hotkeys for common tasks. You can also alter a few aspects of the client’s behaviour and define a list of resolutions for the remote desktop.

RealVNC allows you to change several aspects of the viewer. You can share the printer on your local machine as the default printer on the remote VNC server which is a very useful feature. Security conscious users will also appreciate the privacy options where you can set a master password for the viewer to protect it from unauthorised use. The Preferences window in RealVNC also gives you access to the Expert parameters to tweak the server’s behaviour.

Verdict

  • RealVNC: 4/5
  • Remmina: 3/5
  • TigerVNC: 2/5
  • TightVNC: 2/5
  • Vinagre: 2/5

During an active remote desktop session, you can ask Vinagre to stop sending keyboard and mouse input to the remote desktop to turn it into a view-only session. Vinagre’s interface also includes a keyboard shortcut to send (Ctrl+Alt+Del) and another to take a screenshot. You can also bookmark an active connection for quick access on subsequent connections, but you can’t alter the colour depth during an active connection.

RealVNC is a little better as it enables you to tweak some connection options via a dedicated window. Like some of its peers, RealVNC uses a panel for accessing features such as the file transfer and chat which hides itself when not in use. Alternatively, you can press the F8 key to display these options. Expert users can alter aspects of the VNC connection by going to the Expert tab.

The other three clients all allow you to change the encoding and colour format on the fly. TightVNC includes a toolbar at the top of the window with buttons to send keys such as Alt and Ctrl to the remote server. You can also disable clipboard transfer and alter how the mouse cursor is traced, and the shape of the local cursor.

As with RealVNC, you can press the F8 key in an active session in TigerVNC to bring up a menu for viewing connection data and toggling the Ctrl and Alt special keys. You can also change the colour level and encoding of the connection and convert the session into a view-only one.

Finally, Remmina has a tabbed interface for managing multiple remote sessions from a single window. When connected, there are buttons for common tasks, such as switching to full-screen or scaled mode. You can also change the quality of the connection on the fly and send keyboard commands to the remote desktop.

Verdict

  • RealVNC: 3/5
  • Remmina: 4/5
  • TigerVNC: 4/5
  • TightVNC: 4/5
  • Vinagre: 2/5

Rating applications with very similar features and capabilities is never an easy task. Instead of picking an outright winner, we have tried to work our way to the top by a process of elimination. TightVNC is the first to rule itself out as the Java-based client feels out of place on the Linux desktop – even more so as its corresponding server is available for Windows only.

Next up are Remmina and Vinagre which are very similar in that they both offer support for multiple protocols besides VNC, and don’t require specific server software. Vinagre just gets the job done without much ado and performs surprisingly well. However, the client doesn’t offer the same flexibility as the others during an active session which is a shame.

Similarly, Remmina scores decently in the performance department and gives you the flexibility to change connection quality settings on the fly. The client supports the widest range of protocols and will connect to all kinds of remote desktop servers. Remmina doesn’t have its own server software, but you can use it for all sorts of remote connections to all kinds of servers. Sadly, Remmina lacks some extra functionality that you get with other clients such as the ability to transfer files.

If transferring files is imperative to your remote access, then there’s no better option than RealVNC. The client performs decently with other servers but works best when paired with its own. We recommend it for remotely accessing all kinds of graphical work on the Pi, especially if you use Raspbian, as the server software now comes preinstalled.

That leaves us with TigerVNC. The client performs well irrespective of what type of VNC server is at the other end. Its only downside is a lack of mobile clients and the fact it doesn’t allow you to copy files. This said, ferrying files and instant messages aren’t the primary functions of a VNC. TigerVNC’s open source credentials, intuitive interface, and exemplary performance during an active connection make it a very capable VNC client for all kinds of remote desktop tasks.

1st Place: TigerVNC – its open source credentials and performance are its hallmark.

Overall score: 5/5

Web: www.tigervnc.org

2nd Place: RealVNC – the go-to solution for remote desktop access on the Raspberry Pi.

Overall score: 4/5

Web: www.realvnc.com

3rd Place: Remmina – multi-protocol remote desktop client that performs well.

Overall score: 3/5

Web: www.remmina.org/wp

4th Place: Vinagre – a multiple-protocol client that lacks the control offered by its peers.

Overall score: 3/5

Web: http://bit.ly/ProjectVinagre

5th Place: TightVNC – its biggest turn off is the focus on those Windows platforms.

Overall score: 2/5

Web: http://tightvnc.net

There are several other remote desktop clients and solutions that you can use besides those we’ve discussed. While we’ve only covered the most popular and actively developed VNC clients, there are other alternatives such KDE’s Krdc, TurboVNC, and x11vnc. Also as previously noted, VNC isn’t the only remote desktop protocol in town. Another popular one is the proprietary protocol NoMachine NX.

If you aren’t averse to proprietary solutions there’s also the TeamViewer client and Google’s Chrome Remote Desktop tool.

Veyon (‘virtual eye on networks’) is also an open source solution for remotely accessing, controlling and managing classroom computers using VNC’s RFB protocol.

If you care more about security than sheer nippiness then you can just enable X11 forwarding over SSH. This will display only one application at a time.

      

Free Lightroom alternative Darktable comes to Windows

Darktable – a powerful open source raw image editor previously only available for Linux and macOS – has arrived on Windows.

This is particularly good news if you’ve been put off by Adobe’s decision to move all its creative apps, including raw image processor Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC, to a cloud-first subscription service with users’ photos stored on the company’s web servers.

Darktable offers many of the same features as Lightroom, and is designed for organizing images and processing raw files. All edits are non-destructive, so you can revert to the original file at any time, and GPU-acceleration means your images are processed quickly.

It contains 61 modules for different tasks, including:

  • Tone (levels, curves, lightness and tone mapping)
  • Color (saturation, selective color modification and color profile management)
  • Correction (dithering, sharpening, liquify and spot removal)
  • Artistic effects (watermaking, split processing and graduated density)

New features

Darktable for Windows is a new addition, but the Linux and macOS versions have received updates too.

Darktable 2.4 includes a new module for haze removal, undo support for masks and more intelligent grouping of undo steps, support for Fujifilm compressed RAF files and much more. See the full release notes.

      

The Surface Book 2 is finally in India

Microsoft today announced that from February continuing through to April, both the Surface Book 2 13.5-inch and 15-inch flavours will be rolling out to India, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the following countries: Bahrain, China, Hong Kong, Italy, Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Taiwan, and Thailand.

The hybrid hasn’t previously been on sale in these territories, and pricing is still to be confirmed.

The 15-inch model features an 8th-gen Core i7 processor alongside a more powerful GPU than you’ll get in the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 – it runs with a GeForce GTX 1060 with 6GB of video memory (as opposed to a GTX 1050 with 2GB of video RAM).

Previously, the bigger and beefier 15-inch convertible had only been launched in the US, but pre-orders are about to go live in the UK and Australia, as well as in Canada and Ireland, alongside the following nations: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland.

So there’s more pixel-shifting power here, which is just as well as the display of the 15-inch version has a resolution of 3,240 x 2,160 compared to the smaller Surface Book 2’s 3,000 x 2,000 (but because it’s a bigger screen, it actually has a slightly lower pixel density – although this is a very minor difference and nothing you’d actually notice).

Those who want to partake in a spot of gaming on the move will also appreciate that the 15-inch Surface Book sequel has built-in wireless connectivity for an Xbox One controller.

Another benefit of the bigger Surface Book 2 is a beefier battery, with our testing showing that the 15-inch machine lasts for 7 hours and 40 minutes in PCMark 8 Home’s battery benchmark, with the 13.5-inch model running for just shy of 6 hours (still very respectable).

      

Has the bubble burst? Bitcoin now worth ‘only’ $10,000

Has the Bitcoin bubble burst? That’s the question a lot of people have been asking recently, and with renewed vigor today, given that the virtual currency has taken a massive tumble – indeed, it has just dipped below the $10,000 (£7,250) mark, almost half of the peak it reached last month.

Around mid-December, Bitcoin hit highs of around $19,500 (£14,130), but as Neowin reports, it has just briefly dipped below $10,000, before recovering slightly to stand a little under $10,300 at the time of writing.

The cryptocurrency has seen a meteoric rise lately, and only last October, it was worth around $6,000 (£4,350). Go back to September 2017, and it was ‘only’ worth just over $4,000 (£2,900).

So given that it increased almost fivefold in terms of value in around two and a half months through to mid-December, it’s hardly surprising that we’re seeing some major volatility on the down-slope.

Spooky stories

As for reasons behind the big drop, investors in the virtual currency have been spooked by stories emanating from Asia, including rumors that South Korea might ban the trading of cryptocurrency – although this won’t happen, the country has since clarified, at least not in the near future – and that China could also look towards a ban.

And of course the fall in value itself has provoked sell-offs as folks get more nervous watching the Bitcoin diminish.

Bitcoin isn’t the only cryptocurrency to be getting hammered – this is happening across the board, or at least with most of the popular virtual currencies. For example, Ethereum has also dropped to around the $900 (£650) mark, when at the weekend it stood at well over $1,400 (£1,000).

      

The 15-inch Surface Book 2 is now available to order in UK and Australia

The larger and more powerful 15-inch version of Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 will be available to pre-order in the UK and Australia today, along with 15 other countries – and a further 17 markets will see the release of both sizes of the 2-in-1 for the first time.

Previously, the bigger and beefier 15-inch convertible had only been launched in the US, but pre-orders are about to go live in the UK and Australia, as well as in Canada and Ireland, alongside the following nations: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland.

The 15-inch model features an 8th-gen Core i7 processor alongside a more powerful GPU than you’ll get in the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 – it runs with a GeForce GTX 1060 with 6GB of video memory (as opposed to a GTX 1050 with 2GB of video RAM).

So there’s more pixel-shifting power here, which is just as well as the display of the 15-inch version has a resolution of 3,240 x 2,160 compared to the smaller Surface Book 2’s 3,000 x 2,000 (but because it’s a bigger screen, it actually has a slightly lower pixel density – although this is a very minor difference and nothing you’d actually notice).

Those who want to partake in a spot of gaming on the move will also appreciate that the 15-inch Surface Book sequel has built-in wireless connectivity for an Xbox One controller.

Another benefit of the bigger Surface Book 2 is a beefier battery, with our testing showing that the 15-inch machine lasts for 7 hours and 40 minutes in PCMark 8 Home’s battery benchmark, with the 13.5-inch model running for just shy of 6 hours (still very respectable).

Pricey proposition

The larger convertible will start at £2,349 (around AU$4,060) for the base machine with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, rising to £2,749 (AU$4,750) if you want 512GB of storage, and £3,149 (AU$5,440) for the 1TB model.

You do pay for that power, then, given that the 13.5-inch variant starts at £1,499 (AU$2,590).

Microsoft also announced that from February continuing through to April, both the Surface Book 2 13.5-inch and 15-inch flavours will be rolling out to India, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the following countries: Bahrain, China, Hong Kong, Italy, Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Taiwan, and Thailand.

The hybrid hasn’t previously been on sale in these territories, and pricing is still to be confirmed.

  • One of Microsoft’s Surface hybrids makes our best laptops list

      

NBN Co concedes only one quarter of FTTN users can reach 100Mbps

The twisting saga that is the National Broadband Network rollout continues, with NBN Co admitting to a parliamentary committee that only one in four fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) connections will be capable of hitting the advertised top speeds of 100Mbps.

The revelation is contrary to what was announced way back in 2015, when the then chief architect of the NBN project said that “most end users” on an FTTN line during trials were “getting wholesale speeds of 100Mbps”.

By mid-2017, it was revealed that only 32% of FTTN connections could achieve speeds of 75Mbps or more.

It’s been less than a week since reports emerged that the 100Mbps speed tier could be scrapped in the future, as Australians have shied away from these more-expensive top-tier plans. Add to that the controversial nature of the FTTN lines – it uses fibre up to a neighbourhood node, with copper completing the circuit to local premises’ – adds to the fracas that is the continuing headache of Australian broadband in 2018.

That said, on completion of the rollout – currently scheduled for 2020 – all fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), fibre-to-the-basement (FTTB) and fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) connections should be capable of achieving 100Mbps… well, if the whole tier doesn’t face the chopping block by then.

Customers connected to the NBN via hybrid fibre-coax (HFC) should also be able to hit 100Mbps download speeds.