Leaves are turning. Temperatures have dipped. These are sure signs—if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, at least—that Canonical's Autumn release is upon us. Things are a bit different in 2019, however. Not only is Ubuntu 19.10 nicknamed Eoan Ermine (no, I don't know how you pronounce it either), but it's the best non-LTS Ubuntu release Canonical has ever put out.
I should qualify that statement somewhat, because really, as the newest version, it had damn well better be the best Ubuntu ever. But there's more than recency bias behind the sentiment. I've been reviewing Ubuntu for 10 years now, and I was using and interacting with this distro in some form or another for another three or four years before that. After spending recent weeks with Ubuntu 19.10, I can say confidently it is quite simply the best Ubuntu Canonical has ever released.
The first reason I like 19.10 so much is that it feels insanely fast. Everyday tasks like opening applications, dragging windows, activating the search interface, and even just moving the cursor around are all noticeably faster than in 19.04. The speed boost is immediately noticeable from the minute you pop in the live CD, and it's even faster once you have 19.10 installed.
I happened to be testing a top-of-the-line MacBook around the time I first installed the 19.10 beta on my aging Lenovo x240, and it instantly made the Mac feel like a sloth. Ubuntu 19.10 ran circles around the Mac even on much, much less powerful hardware, and nothing says success during testing like software that makes old hardware feel newer. Even if that were all you got out of Ubuntu 19.10, I'd call it a win.
But as is typical of Ubuntu's October release, a number of new features that are not quite ready for prime time yet show considerable promise—those features include support for the ZFS file system. While still clearly labelled "experimental" (in all caps even), I have not had problems running 19.10 on a root partition formatted with ZFS. That's not to say that you should go try it—it is EXPERIMENTAL, after all—but it appears that what's really lacking are tools for managing and working with ZFS. Using ZFS enables some powerful backup and replication possibilities, but the tools for working with ZFS in Ubuntu remain somewhat limited for now.
But talk of the extra features can wait. Ubuntu 19.10 is so fast, it's worth digging deeper into the speed improvements and what's going on under the hood.
Like GNOME, but fast
Most improvements in 19.10 can be attributed to the latest release of GNOME 3.34, the default desktop for Ubuntu. However, GNOME 3.34 is faster largely because of work Canonical engineers put in. (As an aside, I think the current state of GNOME and the work Canonical has done to make it better are the best argument around for why Canonical made the right call when it shut down Unity.)
If you'd like to understand the finer details of what Canonical did to improve GNOME and how it did it, there's a post over on the Ubuntu Discourse board that goes into considerable detail. The biggest takeaway is that Canonical's engineers looked not for the typical "hot spots," places RAM or CPU usage spiked, but what it calls "cold spots." It wanted to find places where GNOME "was idle instead of updating the screen smoothly."
Canonical developers identified a bunch of places where this was happening. The three that jumped out at me are improvements to how Mutter refreshes, changes that transferred some work from the GPU back to the CPU, and a fix to frame lagging in Xorg. The latter is interesting because one of the things that I noticed in this release is that GNOME under Wayland did not feel dramatically faster than under Xorg the way it did for me in 19.04. I quickly lost my Wayland envy with the speed improvements in this release.
Canonical is not done improving GNOME. The project's goal for the next release is better performance on faster, modern hardware. Then in 20.10, it wants to improve performance on older, slower machines. As Canonical's Daniel Van Vugt puts it, "the future of Gnome Shell is bright and worth getting excited about."
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, because even the present is pretty bright. As primarily an i3 user, I still find GNOME Shell overkill, but in 19.10 it's fast enough that I no longer rush to uninstall it.
Listing image by Canonical / Linux
Beyond GNOME, this release sees some tweaks to Ubuntu's default "Yaru" themes. Yaru is a mix of light and dark elements, though as of 19.10 it's leaning more toward the light end of the theme spectrum. Personally I rather like the new default look. Ubuntu's mix of light and dark elements is well thought out. Updates in this release include making notifications, menus, and dialogs all share the same light skin, while the top GNOME Shell panel remains dark.
If the changes aren't to your liking, though, both a full light theme and a full dark theme are included as well. However, to change themes you'll need to install GNOME Tweak.
As detailed above, the big news in GNOME 3.34 is the speed boost, but it also has a handful of new features worth noting. Two of the best new features are in the main search view and in the application overview section. Here you can now group applications into folders, making it easier to organize and find frequently used apps. Creating a folder works just like it does on mobile OSes—drag one app icon onto another and a folder will automatically be created.
In a related feature, you can now order the types of results shown in GNOME's global search feature. To do so, head to the Search panel in settings where you can now, in addition to turning items on and off, drag and drop to reorder them. For example, if you want files to always be the first results that show, just drag the files option to the top of the settings list.
ZFS and the kernel
The Ubuntu 19.10 installer includes an option to format the root drive using the Z file system, better known as ZFS. Again, this support is labelled "experimental" (ALL CAPS), and it bears heeding this warning. Do not format your root disk to ZFS on production hardware. I went ahead and formatted a root drive with ZFS on a machine I have to return anyway, and I have had no problems as of this writing (which, frankly, is amazing). But if Canonical changes some implementation detail between now and whenever ZFS support is declared stable, that data could be lost. So to say it once more: don't use it now. Long-term, having kernel-level support for ZFS is a huge deal, not the least because Canonical thinks the license allows for it.
Ubuntu has been working on ZFS support for quite a few years now. It started with file-based ZFS in 15.10, which drew on the work of the ZFS On Linux project. Later, that support was extended to ZFS for containers in Ubuntu 16.10. Having used ZFS for my LXC containers for nearly a year now with no problems, I can say that Canonical's handling of the ZFS implementation details makes using ZFS with LXC/LXD no different from using any other file system.
Fedora and other distros also have good support for ZFS, but most distros have thus far not included kernel level support. One reason may be that ZFS is licensed under the Common Development and Distribution License, which some claim is incompatible with the GNU General Public License. Canonical and others have disagreed, but Canonical is one of the first to actually ship with ZFS in the kernel. Ubuntu 19.10 adds support for ZFS as the root file system, and the release offers tools to create and partition a ZFS file system layout directly from the installer.
If you're not familiar with ZFS, you may be wondering why you should care. It's possible you shouldn't. There's nothing wrong with ext4, the default file system used by Ubuntu (and nearly every other distro). ZFS, however, enables some powerful tools that you wouldn't have access to otherwise, including pooled storage, disk snapshots, data integrity verification, and a good bit more. A full background on ZFS is beyond the scope of an Ubuntu update review, but for those of us using Ubuntu as a workstation, the two biggest wins ZFS offers are probably pooled storage and disk snapshots.
Because ZFS acts as both a file system and volume manager, it can create a file system that spans multiple hard drives (this is a "pool" in ZFS parlance). How many disks can you pool? Fun fact, Oracle has done the math, and fully populating a 128-bit ZFS storage pool would require more energy than boiling the oceans. Which is to say, ZFS has large datasets covered.
The disk snapshots feature is more useful on your root partition. Imagine for a moment you have root formatted to ZFS and snapshots enabled. You install an update that breaks some piece of software you rely on. No problem, you can just roll back the file system to a prior state, effectively wiping the update. This is where Ubuntu is headed, but it's not there yet. Getting ZFS on the root file system is easy (though, say it with me… EXPERIMENTAL), but there aren't really any tools yet to manage and take advantage of ZFS's features. If, however, Canonical can bundle a nice GUI for interacting with and managing ZFS, it's going to have an edge over the competition, especially in the enterRead More – Source
Apple Christmas sales surge to $111bn amid pandemic
Apple sales have hit another record, as families loaded up on the firm’s latest phones, laptops and gadgets during the Christmas period.
Sales in the last three months of 2020 hit more than $111bn (£81bn) – up 21% from the prior year.
The gains come as the pandemic pushes more activity online, fuelling demand for new technology.
Apple now counts more than 1.65 billion active devices globally, including more than 1 billion iPhones.
Apple’s gains follow the release of its new iPhone 12 suite of phones, which executives said had convinced a record number of people to switch to the company or upgrade from older models.
The firm said growth in China – where the pandemic has already loosened its grip on the economy – was particularly strong, helped in part by demand for phones compatible with new 5G networks.
Sales in the firm’s greater China region, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan, jumped 57%. In Europe, sales roles 17%, and they rose 11% in the Americas.
“The products are doing very well all around the world,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer. “As we look ahead into the March quarter, we’re very optimistic.”
Analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said he thought the firm was just at the beginning of a “super-cycle” as Apple devotees finally trade in old phones, coinciding with upgrades to telecommunications networks.
“With 5G now in the cards and roughly 40% of its ‘golden jewel’ iPhone installed base not upgrading their phones in the last 3.5 years, [Apple chief Tim] Cook & Co have the stage set for a renaissance of growth,” he wrote.
Big Tech is having an exceptionally lucrative pandemic.
It’s hard not to be wowed by some of these figures.
That Apple recorded more than $100bn in sales in just three months is simply astonishing.
Facebook figures are also well up on where they were last year.
As other companies have struggled to survive, Big Tech has flourished.
There are other reasons for some of these incredible figures. Certainly it seems iPhone enthusiasts were holding out for the new 5G enabled iPhone12.
But it’s not just Apple and Facebook, all of the massive tech companies are having a bumper year.
Covid-19 means people are spending more time indoors – buying things online, watching things online and chatting online.
Perhaps then it’s no surprise that these companies are posting record breaking figures.
But others point to these figures as yet more evidence that Big Tech has become too big to fail.
These figures are impressive. But they also attract the attention of politicians who are increasingly asking difficult questions – like are these tech mega companies operating in a market that is fair and with enough competition?
Facebook Apple feud
Apple said profits in the quarter reached nearly $28.8bn, up 29% compared with the same quarter last year.
The gains seen by technology firms like Apple contrast with losses hitting many other economic sectors, as the virus restricts activity and keeps shoppers at home.
Other tech firms, such as Microsoft and Facebook, have also enjoyed strong growth.
Facebook on Wednesday said increased online shopping during the pandemic helped lift ad revenue in the quarter by 30%.
The number of people active on its apps – which also include WhatsApp and Instagram – also rose to 2.6 billion daily, up 15% compared to 2019.
It said ad spending could slow as the Covid crisis relaxes and shopper appetite returns for services like travel rather than products.
It also warned that plans by Apple to change how it shares user data could weigh on growth.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55835504
The Spanish YouTuber who made €1 million in a week
“YouTube needs people to spend all day watching videos,” says Romuald Fons, an entrepreneur and YouTuber, with 721,000 subscribers to his channel on how to get websites rated in Google’s top search results.
Fons, 43, from Barcelona, knows all about YouTube. He spent two years maneuvering his channel into position and analyzing other channels to see what works best. His most viral video wasn’t even related to digital marketing – it was about how he got a six-pack in six months. “It was an experiment,” he explains to EL PAÍS from his office in Barcelona’s Poblenou neighborhood.
In December, he put all his advice in a course called CreceTube, which he sold for a week for €700 as a special introductory offer. Around 1,500 people bought it, according to the documents Fons showed to EL PAÍS, earning him over €1 million in seven days.
Attention-harvesting algorithms that promote extreme viral and extreme content are the subject of growing controversy. YouTube is one of the main platforms accused of pushing users into ever more radical political positions by promoting increasingly outrageous videos to keep them hooked.
But this is not Fons’ field of concern. “YouTube’s algorithms can be hacked,” he says. “It’s not like Google [YouTube and Google are owned by the same company, Alphabet]. Google has to show the user what they want to find because otherwise, they will stop using it. YouTube promotes clickbait [content designed to drive traffic to a website] in an extreme way.”
His course is for people who are starting out on YouTube and want to grow their audience. It includes tricks with names like SEOshock, Instaclick and SEOcreto to improve video content and rankings – if you type “YouTube course” into Google and YouTube, Fons’ videos are in the top results. “I’ve bought every course there is and I explain things that have never been explained,” he says. “We explain how to use Google so you know what type of content to create.” Among the comments on the course, there are, of course, users who think it’s a scam, and have created their own YouTube videos with their own explanations. But Fons is unfazed: “Clickbait is what you have to do,” he says.
Neither is Fons concerned about the Spanish YouTubers who make off to Andorra for tax reasons. “It’s not my place to give my opinion on what they do,” he says. “I am not strictly a YouTuber. I am an entrepreneur who has a YouTube channel. It is different. In my case, the money coming in is part of the business. I generate wealth in Spain and will continue to be taxed here. I don’t have that option [to go to a tax haven]. If I wanted to do that I would have to take advantage of legal loopholes and I’m not going to.”
Fons’ main global competitor is the Briton Neil Patel, who has 100,000 more subscribers than Fons but fewer total views despite having posted more videos. Forty percent of Fons’ audience is in Latin America – YouTube provides YouTubers with this kind of data in the form of graphs. “It has one that shows the average retention of all YouTube videos of the same length as yours,” he says. “If your video is above average, it promotes you.”
Rags to riches
Fons’ recent success is the latest step forward in a long, and not always successful, career in digital marketing that started in earnest in 2013 when he decided to specialize in search engine optimization (SEO) – the name given to strategies to increase website traffic from search engines. Today SEO is a basic tool for most companies with digital interests: businesses that do not appear on page one of Google’s results, do not exist. Now, as Fons points out, the coronavirus pandemic has meant that even long-established businesses have had to close their doors if they have failed to devise a digital strategy.
In January 2013, Fons did nothing but create websites in order to get them to show up in Google searches, place ads on them and attract hits. The first month, he created 10 websites and made €2.48. He could be forgiven for feeling discouraged.
But, the self-taught Fons plowed on. In order to learn which criteria Google rewarded in its results, he ended up creating 1,430 websites. Each one had something different. “I was seeing which ones worked well and which ones didn’t,” he says. “I started to create my own positioning strategy.”
The choice of sites was not random. He looked for the ones that had the most searches and paid the most for ad clicks: “Paella, Inem courses [courses run by the National Institute of Employment], outlets,” he says. “For recipes, I had the 220 keywords with the most traffic: mojitos, baked chicken….” Fons wrote the content for each page and used Adsense, a Google tool, to fill the pages with ads. When someone clicked, Fons earned money. Within a year, he was earning €1,500 a month. In 2016, three years after starting out, he was making more than €18,000 a month.
Put like that, it sounds easy, but Fons scarcely made €1,300 in the whole of 2013. At the time, he was living in Spain’s Valencia region and was making a living by writing texts at night for €4 each for the website, Fiber.
Fons’ story is typical of a tech entrepreneur – he’s had several failures, has fully committed to getting better at what he does, has made a video that leads to something new and has put in long working hours. His first failure was as a student and musician. After enrolling to study architecture, he left university to go on a six-year tour as a singer of a band called Rembrandt42, which is still on the music-streaming site Spotify. He met his ex-wife during a concert and, subsequently settled down to a job at a family-run water treatment company. “We were cleaning legionella tanks,” he recalls.
But Fons had big dreams. “I wanted to do like [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg and blow things apart,” he says. First, he created a social network for collectors, called Nakoko. “It wasn’t much of a start-up,” he says. “It was just me putting all my work and money into it. I went totally broke.” After that, he tried to set up a Spanish eBay, called lovende. “I got even more broke,” he says. “When I couldn’t even afford to pay for my son’s optional vaccinations, everything changed. They cost €80 and I didn’t have the money. That’s when I stopped blaming others.”
During this period, he had, however, learned something about SEO and digital marketing. Then he saw a video of entrepreneur Pat Flynn, who was earning passive income from Google. “I thought, if this guy can do it, so can I,” he says.
“Companies would call me and ask me why I was being ranked above them,” he says. “That’s when I set up the agency.” After two years of quietly carving his own niche, he began to make a name for himself. Now, his business BIGSEO Agency, has a staff of 41. Each client pays him more than €30,000 a year for his services. In 2020, his company had a turnover of €4 million.
Thanks to his own personal journey, Fons has been able to observe the evolution of SEO. Google has always aimed to be the gateway to the internet. If the search engine didn’t work well, users would not be using the site millions of times a day. According to Fons, typing in the keywords is no longer enough. Google should also know whether someone searching for Nike sneakers wants to buy a pair for running or is an Air Jordan collector. “It’s about understanding the user’s intent even if the keyword isn’t there,” he says. “Whether the search is for boilers or cheap flights, the question is – what’s the problem?” Google will reward whichever website knows how to answer this best. “Getting customers for boilers is no longer about positioning ‘boiler service’ in Google,” he clarifies.
As a YouTuber, Fons has been a public figure with an impact on thousands of people. His community of followers is called Marketing Furious and they have a Facebook page with 75,000 members. That has also led him to address mental health issues that members of his community are increasingly open about. “Our brains are not wired to absorb thousands of opinions about us a day,” he says. “YouTuber El Rubius is under brutal pressure. But over a thousand people have paid me more than €700 to teach them something. The pressure is cranked up. Your subconscious gets the better of you. You think you’re strong and you can do it, but you can’t.” Fons has also encountered angry followers out and about. “When you have millions of views, anything can happen,” he says. “Think of a full Barça [soccer] stadium; 100,000 people. I’m sure there are 10 that are nuts.”
Fons is focused on video survival in an era when the apps TikTok and Instagram Reels are taking off. In his favor, his old videos keep popping up at the top of digital marketing searches. “On the other networks, you make a video and after eight hours no one sees it,” he says. “You can reach an audience, but turning it into a business is another matter. TikTok is all about short attention spans.”
Google suspends ‘free speech’ app Parler
Google has suspended “free speech” social network Parler from its Play Store over its failure to remove “egregious content”.
Parler styles itself as “unbiased” social media and has proved popular with people banned from Twitter.
But Google said the app had failed to remove posts inciting violence.
Apple has also warned Parler it will remove the app from its App Store if it does not comply with its content-moderation requirements.
On Parler, the app’s chief executive John Matze said: “We won’t cave to politically motivated companies and those authoritarians who hate free speech!”
Launched in 2018, Parler has proved particularly popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives. Such groups have frequently accused Twitter and Facebook of unfairly censoring their views.
While Mr Trump himself is not a user, the platform already features several high-profile contributors following earlier bursts of growth in 2020.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz boasts 4.9 million followers on the platform, while Fox News host Sean Hannity has about seven million.
It briefly became the most-downloaded app in the United States after the US election, following a clampdown on the spread of election misinformation by Twitter and Facebook.
However, both Apple and Google have said the app fails to comply with content-moderation requirements.
Analysis: Necessary or draconian action?
By Shayan Sardarizadeh, BBC Monitoring
For months, Parler has been one of the most popular social media platforms for right-wing users.
As major platforms began taking action against viral conspiracy theories, disinformation and the harassment of election workers and officials in the aftermath of the US presidential vote, the app became more popular with elements of the fringe far-right.
This turned the network into a right-wing echo chamber, almost entirely populated by users fixated on revealing examples of election fraud and posting messages in support of attempts to overturn the election outcome.
In the days preceding the Capitol riots, the tone of discussion on the app became significantly more violent, with some users openly discussing ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory by Congress.
Unsubstantiated allegations and defamatory claims against a number of senior US figures such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice-President Mike Pence were rife on the app.
Google and Apple say they are taking necessary action to ensure violent rhetoric is not promoted on their platforms.
However, to those increasingly concerned about freedom of speech and expression on online platforms, it represents another example of draconian action by major tech companies which threatens internet freedom.
This is a debate which is certain to continue beyond the Trump presidency.
In a statement, Google confirmed it had suspended Parler from its Play Store, saying: “Our longstanding policies require that apps displaying user-generated content have moderation policies and enforcement that removes egregious content like posts that incite violence.
“In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”
Apple has warned Parler it will be removed from the App Store on Saturday in a letter published by Buzzfeed News.
It said it had seen “accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate” the attacks on the US Capitol on 6 January.
Mr Matze said Parler had “no way to organise anything” and pointed out that Facebook groups and events had been used to organise action.
But Apple said: “Our investigation has found that Parler is not effectively moderating and removing content that encourages illegal activity and poses a serious risk to the health and safety of users in direct violation of your own terms of service.”
“We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.”
In a related development, Google has kicked Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast off YouTube, saying it had repeatedly violated the platform’s rules.
The ex-White House aide’s channel had more than 300,000 subscribers.
“In accordance with our strikes system, we have terminated Steve Bannon’s channel ‘War room’ and one associated channel for repeatedly violating our Community Guidelines,” Google said in a statement.
“Any channel posting new videos with misleading content that alleges widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election in violation of our policies will receive a strike, a penalty which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming. Channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period will be permanently removed from YouTube.”
The action was taken shortly after the channel posted an interview with Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in which he blamed the Democrats for the rioting on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
One anti-misinformation group said the action was long overdue after “months of Steve Bannon calling for revolution and violence”.
“The truth is YouTube should have taken down Steve Bannon’s account a long time ago and they shouldn’t rely on the labour of extremism researchers to moderate the content on their platform,” said Madeline Peltz, Senior Researcher at Media Matters for America.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55598887
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