March 20, 2011

Looking To Buy an ebook Reader?

eBook ReadersThe last time Tech Tips looked at eBook Readers in 2008, it was more for the purpose of checking out just what eBook readers were – a sort of primer. Now in 2011, eBooks and eBooks readers have gotten a tremendous boost thanks to the likes of Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad. It certainly looks like not only are eBooks here to stay, but they now have a tremendous following and look to be the wave of the future. In this Tech Tip we’ll look at some practical aspects of choosing a reader that fits your needs.

Dedicated Reader or App (or both)?

eBook ReadersWhile having a dedicated eBook reader is cool – what could be cooler than adding an e-book reader app to your Smart Phone or Tablet? All the major players in the eBook market have apps available for free download for multiple platforms. This means that you can start getting into the eBook game right this second on your device of choice!

An example of an eReader app is the one made by Amazon – the free Kindle Reading App – available for your iPhone, Windows PC, Mac, BlackBerry, iPad, Android, and Windows 7 Phone. You can not only download the app without owning an actual Kindle eBook reader, but you can download and install to each device. Not only that, but the Kindle app will sync what you are reading across all platforms that you’ve installed it on (for example – you can start reading an eBook eBook Readerson your iPad, resume it on your iPhone, resume it again on your MAC and then finish it off on your Kindle eBook reader).

Trying the app out first is also a cool way to see if eBooks are for you before you splurge for a dedicated reader. And who knows, particularly if you have a tablet, the app on your device may be just be all you need as an eReader. Some eBook manufacturers have taken notice as some readers like the new Nook Color from Barnes & Noble and the Pandigital Novel are actually tablets that have the Barnes & Noble eBook app installed (note that Pandigital recently unlocked the Novel so that it is now a full fledged tablet as well as an eBook reader).

E Ink™ or LCD?

eBook ReadersIf you do decide on an dedicated eBook reader, one of the first things you are confronted with is whether to get an LCD or an E Ink based reader. Not only do LCD readers typically have a backlight that helps viewing in dim situations, but they also are usually color and oftentimes are touchscreens as well. Some of the drawbacks are they tend to have a much poorer battery life than their E Ink counterparts, tend to weigh more and have problems being read in bright sunlight.

eBook ReadersE Ink readers are typically much lighter than LCD readers; can be easily viewed outdoors and have a phenomenal battery life. Some of the drawbacks of E Ink are poor contrast (especially on first generation E Ink); it displays in gray scale (most noticeable, again, on the first generation) and its lack of a backlight. The second generation E Ink (dubbed E Ink Pearl) offered better contrast while the newly introduced color E Ink Triton shows some of the progress and promises that E Ink technology offers for the near future.

Looking To Buy an eBook Reader? – Here are Some Features to Look Out For:

1) How does the reader connect to the “book store”? Do you need to plug it into a PC? Does it have built in Wi-Fi or even 3G?

2) What kind of “book store” is available for the reader? How easy is it to use? How many and what kinds of titles are available? Are subscriptions to magazines and newspapers available?

eBook Readers3) Can you easily read other formats not in the “official” eBook reader format? For example, will it read common document formats such as PDF, DOC, TXT or even HTML formats? Can it handle the DRM (Digital Rights Management) formats well? Is there an easy way to convert to the format if it can’t handle the file type? For example, an eReader won’t help you if you plan to use it for DRM protected PDF version of a textbook if it can’t “read” that format and there is no way to convert it over to a format that it “can read”.

4) Does it do “extra” things such as play music? View videos? View photos?

5) How much storage is on it? Is the storage expandable? How fast does it work? Is it easy to use? How durable is it? What do other people think of the device (professional reviews as well customer feedback reviews are often helpful).

6) Is it widely enough adopted so that I can be assured that it won’t become obsolete in the near future? Can I get accessories for it?

In conclusion

As eBook readers continue to progress and become more widely used, it is very evident that this is the trend of the future. With the prices dropping and cheap eBook readers becoming available as well as the thousands of eBook titles available – it seems that if you haven’t already jumped on board – now is the time if you are looking to buy an eBook reader to pick one up (or download the reader app) and get caught with the wave of the eBook Reader future!

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March 3, 2011

10 obscure Linux distributions (and why you should know about them)

March 3, 2011, 1:20 PM PST

Takeaway: Linux distributions come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re aimed at addressing every conceivable need. Jack Wallen introduces a few you may not have heard of that might be worth a look.

Linux has more flavors than (Mountain Dew + Gatorade)*Baskin Robbins. Of course, some of those distributions are far more valuable than others. But besides the Ubuntus, Fedoras, Linux Mints, PCLinuxOSes, and OpenSuSEs, which versions are actually worth your time? Believe it or not, worthy Linux distributions are not limited to the big guns. There are plenty of obscure distributions worth looking at. Here are a few lesser-known Linux distributions that could have a positive effect on your life in one way or another.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Damn Vulnerable Linux

Damn Vulnerable Linux is exactly what it sounds like. According to the Web site, “Damn Vulnerable Linux (DVL) is everything a good Linux distribution isn’t. Its developers have spent hours stuffing it with broken, ill-configured, outdated, and exploitable software that makes it vulnerable to attacks.” What value would such a distribution hold? Training. The idea behind this distribution is to train Linux admins. And what better way to train someone than to hand them a broken distribution to fix? With older/broken versions of Apache, MySQL, PHP, FTP, and SSH, your admins in training will have their hands full.

2: CAINE Linux

CAINE Linux might be one of the niftiest of the niche Linux distributions. CAINE stands for Computer Aided INvestigative Environment. Basically, it’s CIS Linux designed for digital forensics. CAINE includes TheSleuthKit, Autopsy Forensic Browser, stenography tools, and plenty of tools for wiping hard drives. This distribution also includes a semi-automated tool for the compilation of the final report on a digital forensics investigation.

3: Zeroshell

Zeroshell is an interesting Linux distribution aimed at embedded systems — specifically, networking hardware. It’s administrated through a Web interface and can provide all networking services required for a LAN. With Zeroshell, you can set up Failover, RADIUS, Captive Portal, Quality of Service management, HTTP Proxy, Wireless Access Point, Host-to-LAN VPN, LAN-to-LAN VPN, Routing with Static or Dynamic IP Addressing, and much more.

4: Parted Magic

Parted Magic is similar to the Gparted Live CD, only it adds a few more tools (such as Clonezille, TestDisk, Partimage, Trucrypt, G4L, SuperGrubDisk, and ddrescue). This type of tool is ideal for managing partitions as well as troubleshooting drives and various issues. This particular Linux distribution works on x86 hardware and requires 256MB of RAM to operate in. Parted Magic can work with the following partition types: ext2, ext3, ext4, fat16, fat32, hfs, hfs+, jfs, linux-swap, ntfs, reiserfs, reiser4, and xfs.

5: Tiny Core

Tiny Core is exactly what the name implies. It’s a tiny Linux distribution, coming in at under 10 MB (with a GUI included). But don’t think Tiny Core is limited to tiny tasks. Once it’s installed, you can begin adding the applications you need. But by default, you will have a minimal X desktop with networking. Tiny Core is based on Tiny X, Busybox, Fltk, and the 2.6 kernel.

6: CAELinux

CAELinux focuses on computer aided engineering. It’s based on open source titles like Salome, Code_Aster, and OpenFOAM. CAELinux is an Ubuntu-based distribution that can simulate physics involving nonlinear thermo-mechanics, coupled fluid-structure dynamics, seismic/nonlinear explicit dynamics, contacts, visco-plasticity, fluid dynamics, heat exchange, convection heat transfer and radiation, and electro dynamics. This distribution offers a wiki with plenty of documentation for each application.

7: Musix

Musix is a Knoppix-Debian distribution aimed at artistic and educational uses in the field of music. It’s a live CD, so it can be run without installation. The two applications that draw the most attention on this distribution are Rosegarden and Ardour. Between these two applications, you will have everything you need for music composition and recording. You will also find tools like Inkscape, Blender for 3D animation, and Cinelerra for video editing.


SLAMPP is a slackware-based Live distribution that is truly a one-stop-shop for system server needs. With this distribution running, you are ready with HTTP, FTP, DHCP, DNS, and many more servers. And this can all be achieved without even installing the distribution! That’s right. By using a live DVD, you can have all of those servers up and running in no time. SLAMPP is the “instant home server” distribution.

9: Ubuntu Christian Edition

Ubuntu Christian Edition is, as its name implies, an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution geared toward the Christian faith. This distribution includes a plethora of faith-based software (such as Xiphos, OpenSong, and E-Sword, along with tools for parental controls.

10: Ubuntu Satanic Edition

From its name, you might think Ubuntu Satanic Edition is a converse distribution to Ubuntu Christian Edition. It’s not. According to the Web site, USE “brings together the best free software and free metal music on one CD.” The “Undead CD” is based on Ubuntu 10.04 and includes all the standard software, along with a mélange of typically dark, heavy metal-esque themes, as well as a full 50-minute album of the best Creative Commons-licensed metal music. What else does USE offer that standard Ubuntu doesn’t? Nothing more than some serious attitude that will ensure your fellow workers know who rocks harder!

Your picks

If you know Linux, you know there are thousands of distributions out there. The list goes on, and it continues to grow every day. Have you come across an obscure Linux distribution that offers either much-needed functionality or something cool to see or try? If so, share with your fellow TechRepublic members.
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