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MakuluLinux Core OS Is Dressed to Impress | Reviews


By Jack M. Germain

Apr 30, 2019 5:00 AM PT

A new Linux OS gets to the core of Linux computing with a revamped desktop environment and a new way to have fun with your daily computing tasks. Developer Jacque Montague Raymer on Monday debuted the
MakuluLinux Core OS. He hopes Core becomes the crown jewel of the Series 15 release family.

MakuluLinux released the latest versions of family members
LinDoz and
Flash several months ago. While the Core entry integrates some of the features of its two cousins, it offers something new and exciting that brings MakululLinux to a higher level of usability. It adds a homegrown desktop design that turns something old into a modern Linux platform.

This story was originally published on April 10, 2018, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.

MakuluLinux is a relative Linux newcomer. Its positive reputation has been growing since 2015, thanks to a variety of desktop environments the developer adapted for better integration. Its small developer team, based in Vietnam, forged the first two desktop distributions, both efficient and productive, in a relatively short time period.

All three of the Series 15 editions — LinDoz, Flash and now Core — feature a redesign of the original Ubuntu-based LinDoz OS. First, the team revamped LinDoz’s Ubuntu foundation. Series 15 is based on a hybrid that gets its primary updates from both Debian and Makulu directly.

Serious Revamping

The new strategy is not to borrow the base from Debian or Ubuntu, as other big developers have done. Makulu’s team chose to build its own base instead.

LinDoz uses an in-house modification of the Cinnamon desktop developed by Linux Mint. Flash runs a modified version of the previously forked environment the developers designed for Flash. Series 15 is not an update of previous editions.

Both LinDoz and Flash are complete rip-and-replace builds on top of developed-in-house computing bases. The new Core OS is not an upgrade of Flash.

Instead, Core introduces some radical changes under development for the last two years. Core borrows heavily from features designed for Flash and adds even more adaptations.

For me, the most exciting eye candy that the Core edition offers is the dynamic animations that provide a new way to interact with the OS. Core does not have the classic Linux layout.

Getting the Timing Right

The debut of MakuluLinux Core was held up for more than a month while developers debated the merits of waiting for a newer, better kernel. At stake was speedier performance with a patched kernel to avoid the infamous slowdown bug caused by computer chip vulnerabilities discovered last year, said developer Raymer.

“Core is ready. However, we can already see some problems on the horizon and are not sure we should rush to release,” he told LinuxInsider last month.

The distro team gets kernel updates from the Testing Repository, which then was on the 4.18 kernel and soon would go to version 4.19. That posed a potential performance hit.

One of the upcoming 4.20 kernels that will be moving through testing repo slows down Linux by 50 percent. The kernel after that one fixes that bug, Raymer explained.

“So we are just sitting and waiting to see how the testing repo handles this,” he said. “It will be a big blow if we release now and three weeks later that kernel with the slowdown bug enters testing.”

A second dilemma added to the mix was that Raymer’s team also was busy working on an Ubuntu variant of Core.

“So there is that to consider as well,” he said. “To release now and release the Ubuntu variant later — or make use of this time and get the Ubuntu variant on par and release both.”

Good Seasonings

Core uses a combination of a Cairo-style dock for favorite applications and a spin-wheel style circular menu display. This approach is innovative and attractive.


MakuluLinux Core's innovative circular menu display.

The centerpiece of MakuluLinux Core’s innovative homegrown user interface is a spin-wheel style circular menu display.

– click image to enlarge –


The biggest difference that distinguishes the new Core OS from LinDoz and Flash is the way the Xfce desktop design works as the Core desktop. A dock along the lower right vertical edge of the screen holds system icons and notifications. This design keeps the essential system elements separate from the applications dock.

In numerous ways, Core’s new desktop design blends some of the best features found in Flash’s use of Xfce and the forked Cinnamon environment that LinDoz uses. Core especially borrows heavily from the Xfce tweaking in Flash.

Both the latest editions of LinDoz and Flash remain unique operating systems in their own right. Core has the winning recipe for a tasty change in computing platform design, however.

Adding the Cinnamon spices to Xfce boosts the new desktop’s performance. Mixing in MakuluLinux’s own special sauce bakes Core into a computing environment that is exciting and refreshing.

Change of Scenery

One of the little things that makes the three MakuluLinux distros artistically distinct is the wallpaper. The background images are stunning.

Core, Flash and LinDoz use the same Wallpaper Changer tool, but each has a unique set of scenery to display.

The wallpaper changer in Flash and LinDoz displays thumbnail views in a vertical display on the right edge of the desktop. Scrolling through them is quick and easy. One tap and the background is updated.


MakuluLinux Core's two additional menus as alternatives to the spin-wheel menu

MakuluLinux Core has two additional menus as alternatives to the spin-wheel menu. A wallpaper changer banner display at the top makes choosing background images quick and simple.

– click image to enlarge –


Core goes one better. Its wallpaper display scrolls across the top of the screen.

Core has many new color schemes for the themes and icon sets. These themes are not the same as the ones in Flash. They use the same color schemes, but the Themes themselves are quite different. Also, Core is optimized for Virtualbox.

Optional Fine-Tuning

The settings controls let you fine-tune how Core looks and how its features behave. The animations and options come close to the degree of personalization that used to be available in the KDE environment.

If you are a power user, you can fine-tune Core to your heart’s delight. If you are not into fiddling with settings, Core’s default configurations work fine.

Core comes stuffed with Makulu toolkit applications that supplement the usual Xfce settings panels. The system tools provide yet another layer of settings.

You also get a large collection of desktop applets. To add or remove them, open the Conky Manager panel and check/uncheck your choices.

Menu Innovations

Core’s new menu system is far superior to the tired columnar-style panels that pop up from a traditional panel bar in other distros. Core provides multiple options for using menus and docks. The interface is mouse-driven with a touchscreen gesture system.

The traditional Xfce right-click menus and panel-style menus are still part of the user interface. There is much more than the right-click Xfce standard.

Put the mouse pointer into the left bottom corner to get a traditional two-column vertical menu to appear along the bottom left edge of the screen. Or press the dedicated Windows key to pop up the same Whisker-style menu in the center of the screen.

One of Core’s more radical interface innovations is the new circular menu display. Application icons and launchers for system tools appear in a spin-wheel design displaying icons for each software category.

Fly over any icon in the circular array to have the contents of that category hang in a larger circle layered over the main menu display in the center of the screen. The menu system is also hot corner-based.

You trigger the new menu along with a few custom actions by mousing into the designated screen corners. Use the Hot Corner option in System Settings to set up your choices.

Easy Transition

Another option for launching the circular menu is to pin its menu launcher to the Cairo dock. Oh yes, the dock is another replacement feature in Core. There is no panel bar at the bottom of the screen or anywhere else.


MakuluLinux Core's Cairo dock

The MakuluLinux Core Edition runs on a heavily tweaked forked Xfce environment that functions as a new style desktop. The Cairo dock at the bottom of the screen replaces the traditional bottom panel. The design includes a Web applet bar at the top, system icons in a right-side panel, and a collection of Conky widgets.

– click image to enlarge –


The Cairo dock hides at the bottom of the screen when covered by an active window. Otherwise, it sits centered at the bottom of the screen.

Slide the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen to have the dock appear. When an application is running, its icon appears on the dock. You can pin or unpin an icon to the dock to use as a frequent program launcher by right-clicking an icon showing on the dock.

Core is a marriage of old and new. The new style circular menu displays may take time to adjust and fully adapt. Transitioning is easy, though.

Unusual Xfce Effects

Core still runs the Xfce desktop, sort of. This is a new type of Xfce, however. The developer integrated transparency and glitzy animations to give Core a version of Xfce you will not find elsewhere.

It goes far beyond the original MakuluLinux fork used in the current Flash edition. The new MakuluLinux base, combined with in-house tweaks that modernize the Xfce desktop, hikes features and convenience to another level.

MakuluLinux Flash comes with Compiz OpenGL compositing manager preconfigured for on-the-fly window dressing and fancy screen displays. With 3D graphics hardware you can create fast compositing desktop effects like minimization animation. Also, you can turn the Compiz effects off or on with a single click.

Workspace Navigation

I am somewhat anal when it comes to using virtual desktops or workspaces. My workflow demands multitasking: researching, note-taking, writing, editing and creating graphics.

If moving among workspace screens is not fast, fluid and intuitive, I do not hesitate to flag a Linux distro. The key to success for me usually is anchored in keyboard shortcuts and workspace switcher applets on a bottom panel.

MakuluLinux Core changes that assessment cycle. It does have the right-click desktop menu option built into window top borders — but Core has no panel applets.


MakuluLinux Core on-screen switcher display

With no panel bar, Core has no workspace widget applet, but keyboard shortcuts and mouse movements easily launch an on-screen switcher display.


Core lacks keyboard shortcut mapping. It also does not have slide-out panels with graphical views of workspaces for point-and-click channel changing.

What Core does have might well be the best-yet solution for moving among virtual desktops. The absence of a workspace switcher applet at first seemed heretical!

My panic quickly subsided when I discovered that all I had to do was point the mouse pointer on the desktop and press and hold the button wheel or the middle button. Other options include pressing the CTRL + left/right arrow keys. Or pressing the left and right touchpad buttons. Perhaps the handiest of all solutions to navigating around multiple workspaces is finger gestures on the screen or touchpad.

Handy Features

I can think of only a small handful of Linux distros that have Web applets built in. The feature is starting to gain attraction as a result of users liking the connection shortcut icons in Android and Chrome-based OSes.

Raymer borrowed the Web applets feature from an earlier distro he developed called “LeThe.” In Core, it is built into the Web Apps bar and is a handy feature.

Web applets are activated and deactivated easily with a single click. You can access the shortcut for the Web Applets toolbar from the bottom panel or in the settings manager.

Core comes with a few pre-set URLs mapped to icons. It is easy to configure additional Web app launch icons.

These Web applets do add to memory usage and are not recommended for use on systems with low memory. The developer recommends enabling this feature only on systems with at least 4 GB RAM available.

This lets you go directly to a frequently visited Internet spot without the baggage of using a full-featured Web browser. You can have a Web browser open and use the Web apps independently.

Smooth Installation

Like LinDoz and Flash, Core uses the Calamares installer. Core replicated the hassle-free installation I enjoyed when testing the earlier MakuluLinux offerings.

To its credit, the developers added updated scripts to ensure that Core installs smoothly. Core’s new ISO format has a fully working second update patch script that will allow the developer to patch any botched packages that come through the Debian repository.

Bucking a trend of Linux developers retiring 32-bit distro releases, Core will be available for both — 64-bit now and 32-bit systems soon. That makes it an ideal Linux platform for aging computers.

Raymer released the 64-bit version on Monday, but the 32-bit version is not yet ready. It will be released in a few weeks — most likely toward the end of February.

Quick Facelift

Core supports a facelift feature that eliminates the need to reinstall completely when an update goes wrong. This facelift script lets users reset the desktop to its current look and feel.

At the initial log in, the routine asks users to select a default Window Border and a GTK Color scheme. This is a repeat of the booting process when the DVD boots the host computer in a live session.

You can change your selections easily in the settings panel under the theme manager. This new feature is unique. The display changes color depending on which GTK theme is selected.

Bottom Line

I have charted the progress of Core’s development through sometimes daily ISO releases over the last few months. I can attest to the near constant revisions and design tweaks Raymer has applied.

The more I used Core, the better choice it became over its LinDoz and Flash kin. That, of course, is purely a personal observation. But the features I loved in the other two MakuluLinux options either were even better when integrated into Core, or were surpassed by the Core-only innovations.

MakuluLinux Core’s rebuilt Xfce desktop is so well tweaked it looks and feels like something new.

Given the amount of forking Raymer did to Xfce, he could call the desktop something new. For me, referring to it as “the new Core desktop” makes perfect sense.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please
email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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Microsoft’s Edge Goes With the Chromium Flow | Developers


By Jack M. Germain

Apr 10, 2019 5:00 AM PT

Microsoft on Monday released the first Dev and Canary channel builds of the next version of Microsoft Edge, which is based on the Chromium open source project.

The company last year revealed that it was reworking its Edge browser to be based on Chromium. Now the latest developments are ready for early testers and adopters on several versions of Windows and macOS. So far, however, no support is available for Linux.

The new Microsoft Edge builds are available through preview channels called “Microsoft Edge Insider Channels.” The first two Microsoft Edge Insider Channels,
Canary and
Dev, are available for all supported versions of Windows 10, with more platforms coming soon.

Microsoft will update the Canary channel daily and the Dev channel weekly. You can install the new Edge builds from multiple channels side-by-side for testing. Each has its own separate icon and name.

Microsoft uses the Canary channel to validate bug fixes and test brand new features. The Canary channel offers the bleeding-edge, newest builds. The Dev channel build has undergone slightly more testing but is still relatively fresh.

The Dev channel offers the best build of the week from the Canary channel based on user feedback, automated test results, performance metrics and telemetry. It provides the latest development version of Microsoft Edge as a daily driver.

The company later will introduce Beta and Stable channels to provide significantly more stable releases. Those more developed releases will give Enterprises and IT Pros lead time to start piloting the next version of Microsoft Edge.

Microsoft will not change the existing installed version of Microsoft Edge yet. It will continue to work side by side with the builds from any of the Microsoft Edge Insider Channels.

The browser upgrade is not likely to draw more users to the retooled Edge browser than dedicated Microsoft customers, suggested Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“That is especially true since Microsoft is disabling many of the functions integrated with Google apps and tools,” he told LinuxInsider.

Logical Next Step

Microsoft’s decision to adopt the Chromium open source project in the development of its new Edge browser on the desktop is a logical step in the company’s efforts to become more embedded with open source technology. The Edge browser has been struggling.

The new development road map is based on a microservices/componentized approach, according to the company. Microsoft’s goal is to create better Web compatibility for its customers. It also aims to reduce fragmentation of the Web for all Web developers.

Rebuilding the Edge browser around Chromium reinforces Microsoft’s commitment to open source. Its software engineers have started making contributions back to Chromium in areas involving accessibility, touch and ARM64.

The company plans to continue working within the existing Chromium project rather than creating a parallel project. The Microsoft team is working directly with the teams at Google.

It’s not likely that Microsoft’s increased involvement with open source will give the company any competitive edge, King observed.

“I expect them to function much as any contributor. It’s less of an issue today than it would be if Steve Ballmer were still Microsoft’s CEO,” he said.

Other Good Options Lacking

Microsoft was faced with one of those “if you can’t beat them, join them” situations, according to King. That might have figured into the Chromium decision.

“As a technology comes to dominate online functions and interactions, developers focus on optimizing sites and apps for it. To ensure that customers have optimum online experiences, vendors adopt those dominant technologies,” he pointed out.

That is the current situation with Chromium. Ironically enough, Microsoft once was in a similar situation with its Internet Explorer technology, King recalled.

Rebuilding the Edge browser on Chromium is a great move on Microsoft’s part, said Cody Swann, CEO of
Gunner Technology.

“This is going to be a huge cost saver for Microsoft,” he told LinuxInsider. The company “can basically reassign or release a ton of engineers who were given to a losing effort to begin with.”

Revised Technology

The Edge browser will differ in several key areas from the existing open source Chromium project that Google initially developed. Most of the heavy-duty differences will be hidden under the hood.

On the technical underbelly, Microsoft is working on replacing its EdgeHTML rendering engine with Chromium’s Blink. Microsoft also is replacing its Chakra JavaScript engine with Chromium’s V8.

Microsoft is replacing or turning off more than 50 Chromium services in Edge. Some of these include Google-specific services like Google Now, Google Pay, Google Cloud Messaging, Chrome OS device management and Chrome Cleanup. Others involve existing Chromium functions such as ad blocking, spellcheck, speech input and Android app password sync.

In shifting from Google-based services to its own ecosystem, Microsoft is building into its new Edge browser support for MSA (Microsoft Accounts) and Azure Active Directory identities for authentication/single sign-in.

Microsoft also is integrating other Microsoft-based services, such as Bing Search; Windows Defender SmartScreen for phishing and malware protection; Microsoft Activity Feed Service for synchronizing data across Edge preview builds and across Edge on iOS and Android; and Microsoft News.

Bringing More to the Edge

Microsoft plans to build support for PlayReady DRM into its new Edge browser platform. Edge supports both PlayReady and Widevine.

Also in the works are additional services integration and single sign-on capabilities that presumably will support a widening deployment of Microsoft-based offerings.

Microsoft is planning to build in more than just cosmetic design changes to the Chromium browser, however. The intent is to avoid giving the new Edge a distinctively Chromium look and feel.

However, company officials have said the user interface will not be a priority until further along in the process.

Pros and Cons

On the plus side, users typically have better experiences with optimized tools and applications. On the negative, the situation entrusts a lot of power to individual companies, noted King.

“Sites that are not optimized for dominant tech also tend to perform relatively poorly compared to those that are. That results in a two-tier Web of sorts, which is one of the reasons Mozilla developed Firefox,” he said.

There is no downside to Microsoft switching to the Chromium platform in Swann’s view.

“Microsoft has been dying a slow death in the browser wars since Firefox was released,” he said, “and they’re basically just throwing in the towel.”


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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MythTV 30.0 Released With Front-End Support For Select Android TV Devices


MULTIMEDIA --

It’s been a while since last having anything major to report on MythTV, the once very common HTPC software for open-source DVR/PVR needs albeit less so these days given all the Internet streaming and on-demand video platforms. This month the project released MythTV 30.0 as their newest feature release.

The headlining feature for MythTV 30.0 is support for running the Myth front-end on select Android TV devices. The initially supported devices include the likes of the NVIDIA Shield and Amazon Fire TV, but the package isn’t to be found in any app stores thus MythTV 30 needs to be side-loaded onto supported Android devices.

The MythTV 30.0 release also has a number of front-end and GUI fixes, the front-end setup now has settings for HDMI CEC, a variety of video playback fixes (including work to address a number of Raspberry Pi bugs), VA-API video acceleration optimizations/improvements, and many other changes.

MythTV 30.0 saw more than 500 commits over the past year and a half of development. More details on the changes to find with this big update via the MythTV.org Wiki.


How to Use a VPN for Safer Online Shopping | E-Commerce


With the holidays fast approaching, are you looking to buy presents online?

The holiday season has become synonymous with online shopping. This isn’t really surprising as physical stores usually attract crowds of deal hunters. This often conjures up images of throngs of people waiting in line outside the store, some even camping out. This activity is tolerable for some and even fun for others. However, for many others, it’s not worth the hassle.

Why would it be, when there are perfectly legitimate and convenient alternatives online?

Well, for one thing, many people shop online without first thinking about their security. Most people are led to believe — or want to believe — that all e-commerce sites are secure. This isn’t completely true. With so much personal and financial information being exchanged, online shoppers aren’t the only ones enjoying the holiday rush — cybercriminals are too!

Still, it’s possible to add security to your e-commerce transactions by using a virtual private network. A VPN can help you enjoy your online shopping experience without worrying about falling prey to cybercriminals.

The Cybercrime Problem

First, here are some of the pressing reasons for securing e-commerce transactions in the first place.

As you know, e-commerce stores usually require you to register with their site in order to enjoy their services. This involves trusting them with your personal information, usernames, passwords, and credit card details — information that you’d rather did not fall into the wrong hands.

The thing is, cybercriminals know this fact. They will descend to any depth just to get their hands on such information. How exactly do they do this?

KRACK Attacks

A
KRACK (key reinstallation attack) is a severe replay attack on the WiFi Protected Access protocol that secures WiFi connections.

An attacker gradually matches encrypted packets seen before and learns the full keychain used to encrypt the traffic by repeatedly resetting the nonce transmitted in the third step of the WPA2 handshake. This attack works against all modern WiFi networks.

Simply put, KRACK attacks can intercept sent data by infiltrating your WiFi connection, no matter which major platform you’re on (Microsoft Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, OpenBSD and others). These attacks require the attacker to be within the range of the WiFi connection they’re trying to infiltrate, which means they might lurk somewhere near or inside your home, office or school.

MitM Attacks

In a
MitM (Man-in-the-Middle) attack, the attacker secretly relays and possibly alters the communication between two parties who believe they are directly communicating with each other.

This attack can succeed only when the attacker can impersonate each endpoint to the other’s satisfaction, delivering results as expected from the legitimate ends.

In the context of e-commerce transactions, these attacks are done on unprotected WiFi networks like the ones you find in airports, hotels and coffee shops. This is actually one of the reasons I often suggest that people stay away from public WiFi unless they’re packing some security software.

With this type of attack, you never know if the person sipping coffee at the next table is simply checking up on social media accounts or is actually sifting through the data being sent by other patrons.

Rogue Networks

Imagine yourself going to a downtown hotel to visit a friend. You wait in the lobby and decide to connect to the hotel WiFi while you wait. You find that there seem to be two networks with the same name, so you connect to the one with the stronger signal.

STOP! You may be connecting to a rogue network.

Rogue networks are ones that impersonate legitimate networks to lure unsuspecting users into logging in. This usually is done by setting up near a public WiFi network and then copying that network’s name, or making it appear that it’s an extension of the legitimate network.

The main problem with this is that you never know who set up the rogue network or what data is vulnerable to monitoring and recording.

The Green Padlock’s Trustworthiness

Now, you may have heard that HTTPS sites can give you the security you need while you visiting them. Most, if not all, e-commerce sites are certified and will have a green padlock and an “HTTPS” prefixing their URL to reassure visitors that their transactions are safe and encrypted.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, HTTPS, is a variant of the standard HTTP Web transfer protocol, which adds a layer of security on the data in transit through a secure socket layer (SSL) or transport layer security (TLS) protocol connection, according to
Malwarebytes.

The thing is, just because your connection to a site is encrypted doesn’t automatically make the site safe. Bad actors actually
can forge SSL certificates and make it appear that their site is safe. Even worse,
anyone can get an SSL certificate — even cybercriminals. The certificate authority simply needs to verify the site owner’s identity and that’s it — the owner gets an SSL certificate.

Now, bringing it all back, I’m not saying that all sites with green padlocks are unsafe. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t rely solely on the presence of these green padlocks to keep your transactions safe.

A VPN Can Provide Security

I’m now getting to the meat of the matter: using a VPN to secure your e-commerce transactions.

A virtual private network, or VPN, is software that routes your connection through a server or servers and hides your online activity by encrypting your data and masking your true IP address with a different one.

Once you activate the client, the VPN will encrypt your data, even before it reaches the network provider. This is better understood if you have basic knowledge of how online searches work.

Let’s say that you’re looking to buy some scented candles to give as emergency gifts. You open your browser and type in “scented holiday candles” and press “search.”

Once you do, your browser will send a query containing your search words. This query first goes through a network provider (your ISP or the owner of the WiFi network you’ve connected to), which can monitor and record the contents of these queries.

After going through the network provider, your query is sent to a DNS (domain name system) server that searches its databanks for the proper IP address corresponding to your query. If the DNS server can’t find the proper IP address, it forwards your query until the proper IP address is found.

The problem with this is that the contents of your query consist of easily readable plain text. This means that hackers or your ISP are able to view and record the information contained therein. If that information is your name, username, password, credit card information, or banking credentials, they’re in danger of being viewed or stolen.

These queries also can be traced (by hackers or your ISP) back to your IP address which usually is traceable to your personal identity. This is how bad actors infiltrating your connection can discover what you’re doing online.

So, with a VPN active, your online transactions and private information will get an extra layer of protection through encryption and IP address masking.

When discussing VPNs, it’s always important to consider the protocols they use. These protocols determine the security level and connection speed. As of this moment, there are five major VPN protocols:

  1. PPTP (Point-To-Point Tunneling Protocol)

    PPTP is one of the oldest protocols still in use today. It originally was designed by Microsoft. The good thing about this protocol is that it still works on old computers. It’s a part of the Windows operating system, and it’s easy to set up. The problem is, by today’s standards, it’s not the most secure. You wouldn’t want a VPN provider that offers this protocol alone.

  2. L2TP/IPsec (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol)

    L2TP/IPsec is a combination of PPTP and Cisco’s L2F protocol. On paper, this protocol’s concept actually is quite sound: It uses keys to establish a secure connection on each end of your data tunnel. The problem is in the execution, which isn’t very safe.

    While the addition of the IPsec protocol does improve security a bit, there are still reports of
    NSA’s alleged ability to crack this protocol and see what’s being transmitted. Whether the rumors are true or not, the fact that there’s a debate at all should be enough of a warning to anyone relying on this protocol.

  3. SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol)

    SSTP is another protocol that traces its roots to Microsoft. It establishes its connection by utilizing SSL/TLS encryption which is the de facto standard for modern day Web encryption. SSL and TLS utilize setups built on symmetric-key cryptography in which only the two parties involved in the transfer can decode the data within. Overall, SSTP is a very secure protocol.

  4. IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange, Version 2)

    IKEv2 is yet another Microsoft-built protocol. It’s simply a tunneling protocol with a secure key exchange session. Although it is an iteration of Microsoft’s previous protocols, it actually provides you with some of the best security. It requires pairing with IPSec to gain encryption and authentication, which is what most mobile VPNs use because it works well while your VPN reconnects during those brief times of connection loss or network switching.

    Unfortunately, there is also
    strong evidence that the NSA is spying on mobile users using this protocol.

  5. OpenVPN

    This takes what’s best in the above protocols and does away with most of the flaws. It’s an open source protocol based on SSL/TLS, and it is one of the fastest and most secure protocols today. It protects your data by using, among other things, the nigh-unbreakable AES-256 bit key encryption with 2048-bit RSA authentication, and a 160-bit SHA1 hash algorithm.

    One notable flaw it does have is its susceptibility to
    VORACLE attacks, but most VPNs already have solved this problem. Overall, it’s still the most versatile and secure protocol out there.

About Free VPNs and Jurisdictions

Now you’ve learned about the risks you may face with your e-commerce transactions and how you can avoid those risks by using a VPN with the right protocol. However, you may have heard rumors about VPNs not being as safe as they seem to be.

These rumors are partly true.

Not all VPNs can be trusted. There are VPNs that purport to be “free forever” while
you’re actually paying with your personal information. Needless to say, you should avoid these types of VPNs and instead look for trustworthy
VPN services.

Another rumor you may have heard is that trusting VPN companies with your personal data is just as bad as trusting your data to your ISP. This is only true for VPNs that log your data and are situated in a jurisdiction under any of the 14-eyes countries. This is why you should look into your VPN’s logging and privacy policy, as well as the country it is situated in.

In Conclusion

Buying online for the holidays can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience if your transactions are secure. Protect your private information from KRACK, MitM, and rogue networks by using a VPN to encrypt your data and hide your IP address.

When using a VPN, remember to choose the most secure protocol available, and beware of free VPNs or those that log your data while inside 14-eyes jurisdictions.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to more secure e-commerce transactions.


John Mason, an avid privacy advocate, is founder of
TheBestVPN and serves as its chief researcher.





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Deepin Builds a Better Linux Desktop | Reviews


By Jack M. Germain

Dec 5, 2018 1:01 PM PT

Deepin Builds a Better Linux Desktop

Deepin 15.8, released last month, is loaded with more efficient layout tweaks that give the distribution greater functionality and maturity.

Deepin, based in China, shed its Ubuntu base when with the 2015 release of version 15, which favored Debian Linux. That brought numerous subtle changes in the code base and software roots. Ubuntu Linux itself is based on Debian.

The chief distinguishing factor that accounts for Deepin’s growing popularity is its homegrown Deepin Desktop Environment (DDE). One of the more modern desktop environments, it is one of the first Linux distros to take advantage of HTML 5 technology.

Coinciding with the base affiliation change, the developers, Deepin Technology, slightly changed the distro’s name. What was “Deepin Linux” is now “deepin.” That subtle rebranding is an attempt to differentiate previous releases named “Deepin,” “Linux Deepin” and “Hiweed GNU/Linux.”

Regardless of whether the name is rendered as “deepin” or “Deepin Linux,” this distro offers users an eloquent, modern-themed Linux OS. It is easy to use and comes with high-quality software developed in-house.

Desktop Differences

The Deepin Desktop is offered in a widening assortment of popular Linux desktops, but the best user experience is found in this distro.

Other distros running the Deepin Desktop miss much of the unique integration you get in Deepin Linux. DDE elsewhere usually lacks much of the optimization and special optimized software available through the Deepin software store.

Often, you get the software versions provided by the distro you are running. The Linux distros offering the Deepin Desktop are Archlinux, Manjaro, Ubuntu, Gentoo, Fedora, Puppy Linux, SparkyLinux, Antergos, Pardus and openSuse.

Growing Pains Over

I have reviewed earlier versions of Deepin Linux along with other distros running the Deepin Desktop Environment. This latest version is awesome.

Any new desktop environment is a work in progress. DDE started out with lofty goals but mediocre execution. The Deepin desktop is now well designed and very functional.

Desktop shells largely are valued for how simple they are to use and how functional they are for a user’s productivity. For me, the Cinnamon and the Xfce desktops get high marks for both.

DDE offers a third favorite option. I like its modern design. Using it is intuitive. A user guide presentation runs when you first load the desktop. It is very helpful in getting started.

DDE does not yet have every power user feature I would like to see included, but it is packed with enough personalization tweaks and design improvements to make it a very workable alternative.

Digging Into Deepin’s Design

The Deepin Desktop design is snazzy yet simple to use. Add its homegrown applications, and you get an operating system that is tailored to the average user.

The new desktop screen is prettier and less cluttered. Annoying desklets, like a weather module and volume sliders, are gone — either removed or relocated.

I really like the new docking tray and boot theme. In-house developed applications have been a key ingredient in Deepin’s growing popularity. This latest release has some 30 improved native applications that should bring a more beautiful and efficient experience.

Another strong point in Deepin’s design is the new collapsible dock tray. Deepin uses a dock bar instead of the traditional bottom bar. When the dock is set in the macOS-style mode, a button appears that toggles a new dock tray element — embed tray icons in the dock.

The Dock offers a choice of fashion or efficient modes. Fashion mode adds a hide/show button in the dock tray. Click it to hide the icons in tray area and save the dock space. The power button is separated from the tray area to reduce the clicks and avoid function confusion.

In the Efficient mode, the right corner is set to show desktop. The previous ‘Show Desktop’ icon disappears.

Beyond Gnome

At first glance, you might think that DDE is a remake of the refashioned GNOME 3 desktop design. Looks can be deceiving. Click the first icon at the left end of the dock bar to open the applications menu.

That is what starts to look like GNOME — or Android. You see a full-screen spread of rows of applications. Click the second icon to see the multitasking view, aka “virtual workspaces.” In DDE that panel drops down from the top center of the screen, unlike GNOME’s right screen panel.


Deepin multitasking feature thumbnails of virtual workspaces

Deepin’s multitasking feature shows thumbnails of virtual workspaces via a display panel that hides along the top edge of the screen. The main view displays mini images of open windows on the current workspace.


Deepin lets you set a different background image for each virtual workspace These display in the panel view as well. You can drag a running application’s mini image from the multitasking view to another workspace. You also can right-click on the top window border of a displayed app to move it to another virtual workspace.

Clicking the gear icon on the Dock bar slides out the settings panel from the right edge of the screen. The left vertical border of this panel holds a column of icons, one for each settings category.


Deepin Desktop slide-out control panel

The Deepin Desktop has a slide-out control panel that makes finding settings effortless. It uses a dock bar instead of a traditional panel at the bottom of the screen.


Click a vertical icon to open a settings display for the selected category. Or you can click in the panel and scroll down or up for a continuous scrolling through all settings.

Stuffed With Software

Deepin-specific applications separate this distro from most others. The developer has an impressive inventory of in-house generated applications. This release expands that inventory with more new titles and revamps of many others.

Here is a brief selection of what Deepin provides:

  • Deepin File Manager has a new Recent bookmark in its sidebar. The latest release also offers an optional dark theme.
  • Deepin Boot Maker has a simple interface to make a deepin boot disk easily.
  • Deepin Editor is a lightweight text editor with some customized functions for composing text and writing code.
  • Deepin File Manager is an optimized revision with added features.
  • Deepin Font Installer is a new tool for adding/removing font files with simplified operations. It shows font information, such as style, type, version, copyright and description.
  • Deepin Repair is another new tool to fix some issues in Deepin quickly, including hard disk detecting, disk cleaning, DPKG repairing, boot repairing, privilege repairing and password reset.
  • Deepin’s Graphics and Driver Manager app is introduced in this release. It includes graphics card hardware detection, graphics driver installation, graphics driver solution switching, graphics driver automatic recovery, and other functions.
  • Deepin Clone is yet another new tool that makes it safe and easy to backup and restore the system. It supports to clone, backup and restore disk or partition. It works with Deepin Recovery to fix the boot, partition and other problems.

The community-sponsored software store offers about a thousand applications. Also available is a new Deepin Store.

Deepin Store is a high-quality application store to display, download, install, review and rate applications. It includes the selections of popular apps, new updates and hot topics. It supports one-click installing, updating and uninstalling.

Getting It May Be Troublesome

One of the great advantages of many Linux distros is the ability to test the distro in a live session. This lets you try out the distro without making any changes to your hard drive.

Unless you have a spare computer to perform a full installation for testing, not being able to run a live session is very risky. Glitches happen when installing something untried.

That is an issue with Deepin Linux. The ISO does not boot into a live session. It is strictly for installations only.

However, you can download a special boot tool to allow you to install a live-session-capable version of this release to a USB drive. Look for the live session download option on the download page.

However, you also will have to download the installation ISO. That poses yet another inconvenience.

Time Factor Fail

The download time directly from the Deepin website is horrendously slow. Download times posted take as long as 18 hours. I checked back numerous times with no faster delivery times.

A better option is to use one of the streaming mirror sites. The download times are literally minutes instead of hours.

You will find these alternative download sites at the bottom center of the download screen. Hover your mouse pointer over the half-dozen symbols and look at the URL displayed.

Tip: You’ll only find the installation ISO on these secondary download sites. The boot tool is available only from the Deepin website.

Installing It

The installation routine is modern and classy. The process is GUI-based (graphical user interface) rather than text-based or command line-based.

The installer moves right into the desktop environment with a blurred version of its desktop wallpaper overlayed with centered, translucent menus. This creates a pleasant visual effect.


Deepin installer screen

The Deepin installer is a class act. It has a smooth progression of setup steps displayed against a blurred background image of the Deepin Desktop Environment. It provides an easy guide that new Linux users can follow with confidence.


The next screen presents a mandatory End-User Agreement. Its wordiness seems to exceed the usual open source licensing requirements.

It is lengthy to read and has numerous references to intellectual property. Ho-hum! Just scroll to the bottom of the display window to activate the ACCEPT tab to continue the installation process.

Unlike other Linux installation routines, Deepin Linux does not test for an Internet connection. You can install it without an online connection.

Bottom Line

Deepin Linux 15.8 is a solid performer. The developers have not yet provided language support for many languages. This limits who can use this distro.

In Deepin’s earlier years, the only available languages were Chinese and a few related dialects plus English. This latest release has expanded that list to a dozen or so.

In the English language version, it is annoying to see Chinese words and phrases in some of the system displays and software store catalogs. I assume that issue may exist in other language releases of Deepin as well.

Unless you are used to distro hopping, save yourself from the pain of trial-and-error usage discovery. Deepin is easy to operate. However, if you are not familiar with most things Linux, do yourself a big favor and first familiarize yourself with the Deepin Manual that comes with the preinstalled applications.

If security concerns you, especially when using an operating system from a foreign developer, use the full disk encryption feature now available with this release.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please
email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.





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