Beware a softie bearing gifts…Microsoft giveaway?

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I make no secret of my opinion that Microsoft should never be allowed the dominance on any form factor that its enjoyed over the years on the desktop.  After many years of introducing users to Linux and indeed other alternatives, it always amazed me that such simple features of Linux that I take for granted were seen as a huge benefit by those used to a Microsoft operating system.  A solid stable experience, no need to battle malware and faster operations were but a few things that users coming from Windows mentioned when they had Linux introduced to them.

Today times are changing and despite what some might say, the traditional desktop is going.  Thats great news for choice since we have Android and even Apple products offering users the experiences they want, that’s not good news for Microsoft who have, to be fair, struggled in almost every facet of new tech.  Even the Xbox One has a derogatory name and it hasn’t been released yet.

Recently Microsoft announced that it was giving away free ebooks in multiple formats for users to download.  These ebooks – surprise, surprise for Microsoft products. Good news? Well not in my opinion.  Lets look back a few years at what Bill Gates had to say:

“They’ll get sort of addicted, and then we’ll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade.”

That was Bill Gates talking about piracy and taking Microsoft products for “free”.  Now as we see people moving away from Microsoft is so many area’s, one has to wonder if this give-away is all about getting people “addicted” again.

I don’t think Microsoft has a belief in free.  It’s actions if hidden under a banner of “free” are to lock you into an ecosystem of theirs “One Microsoft Way” or as Bill Gates said, “to get sort of addicted”

I think Microsoft knows that the new generation of customers, the ones in school or college are getting competitors products.  Microsoft in my view can see that if left unchecked very shortly Microsoft will be an afterthought – Just look at the tablet and smartphone market now, Microsoft barely registers on the scale and has to get a living from Android “licenses” and if these form-factors are the mainstream of the future as the current market stands, Microsoft has a very small and unremarkable future.

I wouldn’t recommend people accepting anything for free from Microsoft, as in my view there’s always a price to be paid.

Contact points:

Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights on

APP FOCUS: Blowtorch 1.1.3 for Android & a consideration of MUD

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Fantasy and adventure await you in a MUD, you will though have to rely on your age old skills of reading and imagination!

I am encouraged by the the release of ebook readers and their massive popularity.  As readers of this blog and listeners to the audio-cast will know, I am not a big fan of TV & Film, infact if it wasn’t for the PS3 and the once a year tradition of Doctor Who, I’d happily throw the insidious device away.  Maybe the book will start to gain more ground on the film?  You are probably wondering where I am headed with this article, but all will be revealed.

In the days when computers relied on imagination instead of overbearing fx- a concept sadly lost on many of the current generation and in the days when films were not pumped out at a rate of warp 10 to a apathetic consumer who slurp down the latest Hollywood “great” with a figurative “Please sir can I have some more?”, there was this strange pastime called reading books.  Whats that? I hear many people exclaim! Where’s the SFX? where’s the over-payed shallow actors and actresses?  Where’s the glitz and glamour? Where’s the Hollywood fat cat raking in money from a film with a plot so thin that a pondscater could not hope to walk across it without falling in?

Enough! I’ll bring this article back on track.  In the early days of home computing (and still now) the idea of a MUD was almost as an extension of the book, albeit interactive.  Think text adventure game but more open ended and the facility to play alongside other people online.  For those not old enough or those who have never played, MUD stands for Multi User Dungeon.

Essentially Blowtorch is an app that brings these MUD’s to Android in a simple to use client and doing it surprisingly well.  I’ve covered AndroMUD before on a smart-phone form factor, so with my recent purchase of a budget tablet (Arnova 10 G2 – running Gingerbread on a 10.1inch screen) I decided to see how the experience translates to the larger form factor by way of a new client to me (Blowtorch v1.1.3)

Perhaps the best thing about MUD gaming is that it covers a diverse range of genres.  For those interested in taking a look at the sheer scale available, I recommend a visit to the MUDconnector which highlights many such games actively played right now.  Think MUD games have a small user-base? At time of writing this, a very good MUD called Aardwolf has over players 400 online!

Simple clean interface allows for a great MUD experience on Tablet or mobile.

Blowtorch is happy played with either the tablet in portrait or Landscape orientation, although the latter provides the better experience since lines end when they should rather than being prematurely cut off and wrapped around on the next line.

As you would expect, a press on the input box will bring up the touch keyboard.  Blowtorch offers support for programmable and readily available on screen buttons and anyone who has played a MUD before will appreciate the need for shortcuts et al.

Setting up the server on which you play is very simple and theres every conceivable function available for experience MUD players too.

Blowtorch is free and hardly pushes any tablets hardware in terms of demand on the system.  Whilst this article is primarily about the Android platform, you will find MUD clients of various shapes and sizes on literally any platform/OS you can think of.

Whatever your platform, I hope you will give consideration to taking a look at the world of MUD.  Fed up with the dumbing down of Warcraft or Elderscrolls? – there are some stat heavy MUD’s out there which will please even the most demanding of stat crazy rpg’rs!  From sci-fi to swords and dragons, Batman to Bart Simpson – there’s a MUD game to suit everyone’s interest!  And you can find a diverse range of them under the spotlight at MudConnector.

A few years back I covered another MUD client (AndroMUD) which I found was ideally suited to a small screen (in this case an HTC Hero/Desire) you can read that article here:

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Skype: tim.openbytes

Pearltrees – A link sharing service – rediscover the web!

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The beginnings of my "tree". Check out the links at the end to see the WIP or better yet, sign up yourself!

There are times when you are surprised by the most unlikely sources.  After spending years heckling BBCclick, they finally highlight a service which was not merely old news served up in traditional wishy-washy BBC style.

The service which I am going to be looking at for this article was PearlTrees.

Pearltrees is probably best described as a bookmarks/links sharing service where you can take the gems that you’ve discovered and expose them to other users interested in the same topics as you.

Currently still in beta, the service appears remarkably mature and with more than 200,000 active users, it appears that Pearltrees has made a good start having managed to raise around $5m from various sources/sponsors too.  Theres news of an iPad app coming soon and its going to be very interesting how this service develops on the desktop and translates to smart phones.

Quoted from their blog:

Pearltrees is a social curation tool. Its lets you organize, discover and share the stuff you like on the web. Use Pearltrees to keep at hand the contents you find everyday on the web, to discover new contents from people who share your interests and to drive them through your web.

The concept of Pearltrees was invented by Patrice Lamothe. François Rocaboy, Nicolas Cynober, Samuel Tissier, Alain Cohen and Julien Wallen joined him  to found Broceliand, the company responsible for designing, implementing and operating Pearltrees.


BBCclick merely skimmed over the features, but there are many benefits to sharing your links in this way.  Firstly your links are displayed in a graphical tree courtesy of its Flash base, you can have subsections from your “root” and comprehensively organize your links into precise categories, this UI is clean and intuitive, giving a fluid experience as your actions and search results glide around the page – But Pearltrees doesn’t stop there:

The ability to search keywords, enables you to find other users who share the same interests as you and for example a search for “linux” had numerous users trees sliding into your screen all ready to be expanded and explored. Your links (or pearls) can be moved around your tree by drag and drop, with an additional holding area for the links you have not yet organized.

Adding one of your links gives statistics on that particular url, showing how many times its been visited on your profile, but maybe more importantly who else has that particular link in their tree.  This enables you to instantly find other users who will probably share the same interests as you and undoubtedly discovered relevant sites you have never heard of.

There are so many other features on offer – the potential to collaborate on “trees”, the ability to share within Facebook or Twitter (as well as present your tree as a “standalone” page for those who have no Pearltrees account)  You can also comment on others trees/pearls as well as provide your own commentary explaining your organization of sections on your particular tree.

Whilst Pearltrees seems to want to distance itself from being a social networking site (akin to Facebook et al) you do have features there for messaging/comment and maybe last (but certainly not least) you have the facility to export your data by way of an rdf file.

Pearltrees is certainly a service to recommend, I find myself exploring the web in a way that I haven’t done for many years when a search would reveal fewer, more relevant hits.  The main advantage comes from the fact that you are going to discover great sites which other users are recommending that would otherwise have probably been lost in the thousands of results that you get back from an average Google search – let’s be honest, how many people when searching Google would go past more than about 10 pages of hits? it’s these sites which may go unnoticed by many.

Pearltrees – the fly in the ointment?

The service (whilst the tech is still in beta) is very complete and Ive only had a handful of errors with the software which have been easily resolved with a quick refresh.  The take up of users is apparently very healthy and the amount/relevance of results gleamed from a search is very good and certainly manageable.

So what’s the fly in the ointment? The slightly concerning feature of Pearltrees is that you are free to post your favorite links and with that freedom comes links to BT Trackers, NZB indexers, filelockers et al.  You would have had to have been off the net completely not to notice the clamping down by both the private sector firms hitting these services with a campaign of lobbying and court actions.  How long before Pearltrees comes under the eyes of these “people” and radically alters its service in order to hold off a legal action?

I’m also sure that the question will be raised as to what is being done with all these profile in terms of their link preferences, but at least for the time being this seems to have been answered in their policies section:

As a media, Pearltrees wants to get as large an audience as possible. We have many appealing ideas to generate revenues but we are holding off on implementation until at least 2012.


So that is Pearltrees, certainly an interesting and exciting service.  One can only hope that it continues in the same ethos that it started, the only other concern will be, if it is hit by mass adoption of mainstream user will its usefulness for discovering excellent little known sites be just as difficult as it is with say a Google search now?  Time will tell.

You can sign up for Pearltrees at:

and if you are interested in seeing my WIP tree, you can keep an eye on it here:;

Tim (Goblin)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights, #techbytes on

CREATIVE COMMONS: Oleg Serkov / Countdown

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Its not often I designate an entire post to CC artists,  I believe the last time I did that was Jono Bacon and Severed Fifth.  Oleg Serkov is one of my more recent discoveries and his album had a track featured at the end of Episode 23 of the TechBytes show.

So how to describe Oleg Serkov?  Russian born guitarist, his first album (featured here) is Epoch Symbol which saw a release in 2009.  Its a non-vocal, Joe Satriani affair with 12 tracks of both heavy and melodic music.  My personal favourite would be LEO, but theres something here for everyone and one of the best place to hear this (and other) great CC work is to visit Jamendo. or visit Oleg’s homepage here:

More Satch/Steve Via instrumental electric guitar, this time courtesy of the band Countdown. I featured “Chur” in episode 28 of the TechBytes show.  The album Break Rise Blowing can be found here:

The point of this article is not only to introduce you to two great talents, but hope if you haven’t already, check out the great material available under a creative common license.  I do wonder why anyone bothers with “mainstream” rubbish, the real talent is on places like Jamendo and these are but two examples.

Three creative commons tracks that you have to download!

1. Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame – Pornophonique

2. Beating Heart – Severed Fifth

3. L.E.O – Oleg Serkov

Goblin – /

You can also contact me on Skype: tim.openbytes

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Entanglement – Browser based HTML5 fun!

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Free and addictive fun on the Chrome store courtesy of Entanglement!

Ive always maintained that there is a market for those simple, addictive games on any platform.  You might be waiting for a download to finish, an email to come through or a message to pop up in IRC.  Whatever it is though there are always a few minutes of void to fill and this is where the traditional “little game” comes into its own.  On the Linux desktop I think users are sick to death of solitaire or mine sweeper and Entanglement fills that slot nicely.

Entanglement is available for free in the Chrome store and it a tile based game that runs in the browser where the aim is to make your line as long as you can by piecing together track for it to follow.  The game ends when your line either hits the side of the board or the center tile.   You get extra points if your line passes through already placed tiles.

Set to a calming, dreamy track, Entanglement is fiendishly addictive with the “one more go” feeling present every time you think you are done playing it.

I hope you are able to follow my description of gameplay, but probably the best way is to get yourself over to the site and try for yourself.  I would wholeheartedly recommend this title and possibly a suggestion for inclusion in the hybrid cloud distro Peppermint which I wrote this review using.

Goblin – /

You can also contact me on Skype: tim.openbytes

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Netrunner 2 – Blacklight – A new release!

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A switch to KDE from Gnome by the Netrunner team. A speedy distro with the "out of the box" functionality we have come to expect from a Ubuntu derived distro.

Regular readers to Openbytes may remember the coverage we gave to Netrunner.   The first release “Albedo” impressed with its speed and its removal of Mono, which for some is not seen as the “gift to the world” its touted as being.   If you want a recap you can read that review here. The tradition and ethos continues with this latest release “Backlight” so it was only due to me being away from home that I didn’t manage to download a copy on its official release day (26th June 2010)

The first major change for Backlight is it’s switch from Gnome to KDE. However it still does come packaged with a few Gnome apps, including Nautilus and Synaptic.  I will discuss this change later in the review as we first look at some of the packages you can expect to see packaged as default with Backlight.  What also now stands out is that the .iso comes in at just over 1gb, where previously it was 774mb.


I hate using the term “out of the box” for two reasons, firstly because I cannot assume everyone will have the same experience as me (good or bad) and also with the diversity of specs on users rigs, there will bound to be issues for some, this is true regardless if you use Windows, BSD or Linux.   The other reason for not liking the term “out of the box” is because Linux is at a position now where that is expected as standard.  There are a few distro’s that cater for the “fiddler” but I think its fair to say that most distro’s (both established and new) have the primary goal to get you up and running with as little fuss as possible.

Ive been using Linux for many years and can count on my left hand the amount of distro’s where after much persistance, the distro simply failed.  With so many distro’s being derived from established and mature brands, a “bad release” is certainly not common and from experience of years installing Windows and Linux systems for a variety of reasons, I can say Ive had less trouble with Linux than Windows.

Hardware proprietary drivers were identified and installed without issue.


Netrunner uses ext4 and at the present that is my file system of choice.  Netrunner also has Gnome compatibility so all my favorite Gnome apps should run without flaw.

Perhaps the unique point of Netrunner is KDE 4.4.2 and I expect there will be many people who want to get their hands on this. KDE is though currently in 4.4.5 which was released on 30th June.

Firefox 3.6.3 is the default browser here and you also have Java and Flash also installed as default.  Other packages include (taken from Website)

  • OpenOffice Software Suite 3.2
  • VLC (with codecs)
  • Thunderbird
  • WINE 1.42
  • GIMP
  • Audacious
  • Pidgin
  • Vuze

Theres the standard selection of play once games which don’t particularly need a mention and Im personally of the opinion that they need not be there at all.  Quassel 0.6.1 (in addition to Pigeon) provides IRC, not my personal choice, however Quassel is a solid enough IRC client.


The switch to KDE (4.4) came as a surprise to me.  I was very happy with the Gnome offering of Netrunner and thought it was an excellent grounding for future versions.  I’ve never been a fan of KDE, whilst many users rave about the DE, Ive often said that I don’t feel in control with it, it feels plastic and is far too Vistaesque for my liking.  Maybe I subconsciously yearn for an XP type DE or maybe it goes back further to Workbench 1.3, but my DE of choice has always been Gnome with a top+bottom taskbar and the more traditional menus.  It’s worth noting that whilst the taskbar and desktop are obviously KDE, the menu systems have a very Gnome look to them.  Is this an intention by the devs to please both KDE and Gnome users?  Maybe, although I don’t keep ontop of the latest KDE releases so I’ll stand corrected if its the default setting for the new version.

KDE 4.4.2 on Netrunner and its menu's which look rather similar to Gnome. A great thing for people like me who were less than impressed with KDE style.

With that in mind though the distro is excellent, speedy and simple to install (thanks to its Ubuntu origins) with very little fuss “out of the box”.  As I remarked previously, theres very little to find fault in Netrunner, although I still stand by the original comment that the name of this distro undersells its true potential.  When I was informed of this new release by email, I instantly thought of a net kiosk distro (since Ive looked at many distro’s since the original review)   Of course Netrunner is far from being a net kiosk package (although it will play very nicely on a netbook or limited spec machine) and also think the title since “Netrunner” implies something more net/cloud orientated, which compared to say Peppermint, its not.  Netrunner has menu links to Twitter and other online services, but instead of providing these services through Prism, they merely open up a new instance of Firefox (if one is not open, or simply open in a tab).  One has to ask the question, are they really needed? and if so could these shortcuts not simply be in a favorites menu within Firefox, rather than taking a desktop submenu up? – Only you can be the judge of that.

The choice of Firefox is not my preferred package although FF is great.  I would have liked to have seen Netrunner “thinking outside the box” and default packaging Chromium (or another alternative).  When you have so many Ubuntu based distro’s, its my opinion that you need something to set it aside from the rest so as it give it an identity. – Please don’t take that as a negative comment, as its a solid release and certainly worthy of a recommendation.

Netrunner prides itself on the complete removal of Mono and Blacklight is no exception in that continued ethos.  Despite implication (by some) to the contrary, Mono is not an essential package and I would expect many people who don’t have an interest in either Mono or the debate about it would ever notice it’s absence from Netrunner – unless of course they were fans of Gbrainy!???! in which case they will be devastated!  What the removal of the Mono packages does do is free up space to include more popular products and that can only be a good thing.

Ive mixed views about the increased iso size, although for most people 1gb is not a large download, although it does push it over that 1gb psychological threshold, which may make some consider it large.

Has Netrunner changed my view of KDE?  No.  Whilst I had absolutely no issues with the KDE implementation in Netrunner, I just don’t like it.  As for a distro Netrunner Blacklight does impress, users should find the “out of the box compat” of Ubuntu (and Netrunner is based off Kubuntu 10.04 I believe) and should enjoy the wealth of software that is available through the software manager.

I would recommend Netrunner to any user whose preference is KDE and I hope that as Netrunner matures we get to see an even more unique distro emerge so that nobody can suggest it’s “just another Ubuntu derived distro” – as I say its not and its a great piece of work by people dedicated to bringing you a user-friendly, out of the box, Mono free distro.


Netrunner homepage:

TechRights article:

Goblin –

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Man of the People – Another show proves free content is great for everyone!

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Our hapless hero in Man of the People! Its funny and you'll certainly be able to relate it to politicians whatever country you live in! (Image source:

After my coverage of some great free TV available online by producers who want to share their work with you, I recieved an email drawing my attention to Man of the People.  A mockumentary which is described as:

This is a new mockumentary about a man born with a silver foot in his mouth, his smart-but-shy Campaign Manager, their rag-tag staff, and a longshot campaign to be the next Mayor of NYC.

I don’t want to spoil the episodes by giving a summary of the storyline, but what I will say is that it is superbly acted and even for a non-uk citizen its very funny, with much of it putting me in mind of the “Gordon Brown” moments we saw in our general election this year.

As I said before with the release of Pioneer One we are beginning to see a new type of distribution method for material that looks, sounds and feels like a mainstream title you could expect on TV.

I do though have some suggestions to the team behind Man of The People. Firstly they should consider not just offering the material on YouTube. VODO would be a good choice to reach a wider audience, as would putting the episodes onto a Bittorrent tracker.

So get yourself over to the homepage and check out this great show!

Goblin –

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.