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Article from Issue 193/2016

Updates on technologies, trends, and tools

Linus Torvalds Announces Linux 4.8

Linus Torvalds announced a new version of the Linux kernel with many notable new features. The two most interesting features of the Linux 4.8 release are support for Microsoft's Surface 3 touchscreen and the Raspberry Pi 3's SoC (system on chip).

Ubuntu 16.10, which is slated to be release in October, will be the first major desktop Linux distribution to use the 4.8 kernel.

However, not everything went as smoothly as expected. Torvalds noticed a nasty bug that slipped into the final release. He wrote on the mailing list: "I'm really sorry I applied that last series from Andrew [Morton] just before doing the 4.8 release, because they cause problems, and now it is in 4.8 (and that buggy crap is marked for stable too). In particular, I just got this "Kernel BUG at ./include/linux/swap.h:276" and the end result was a dead kernel."

Torvalds is not particularly happy about it and wrote that "Yes, I'm grumpy. This went in very late in the release candidates, and I had higher expectations of things coming in through Andrew. Adding random BUG_ON()s to code that clearly hasn't had sufficient testing is *not* acceptable, and it's definitely not acceptable to send that to me after rc8 unless it has gotten a *lot* of testing, which it clearly must not have had. Adding stable to the cc too to warn about this."

Torvalds' advice to seasoned kernel developer Andrew Morton is to stop taking those kinds of patches!

Google Announces Its Own Pixel Phones

Google has announced the new Pixel family of smartphones powered by the Linux-based Android operating system. Previously Google partnered with hardware vendors like HTC, LG, and Samsung to sell the Nexus range of devices. With Pixel, Google will have total control over the design and hardware components of their smartphones. Google already sells Pixel Chromebooks and the Pixel Android tablet.

There are two models of Pixel phones: The Pixel showcases a 5-inch display and the Pixel XL features a 5.5-inch display.

Both Pixel phones have identical hardware, except for display size and battery capacity. The Pixel XL showcases a 5.5-inch AMOLED QHD (2560x1440) 534ppi display, whereas the Pixel features a 5.0-inch AMOLED Full HD (1920x1080) 441ppi display. The Pixel XL comes with a 3,450mAh battery, and the Pixel comes with a 2,770mAh battery.

Both Pixel phones are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, 2.15GHz + 1.6GHz, 64-bit quad-core processor. The Pixel XL and Pixel come with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM. Both models are available in 32GB and 128GB capacities. The Pixels will be running Android 7.1 Nougat.

Google claims that the Pixel phones have the best smartphone camera. In a blog post, Google said, "Pixel has a 12.3MP camera, featuring an f/2.0 aperture and big 1.55 micron pixels to capture lots and lots of light."

One of the most interesting features of the Pixel phones is that they include the built-in Google Assistant that allows for natural conversations with Google to find answers, explore search results, and perform a large array of tasks.

The Pixel and Pixel XL are available now for pre-order.

Nextcloud Announces Raspberry Pi-Powered Home Cloud Box

Nextcloud has teamed up with Canonical and WDLabs to launch Nextcloud Box, a secure, private, self-hosted cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) platform built around a Raspberry Pi. Nextcloud Box essentially comes with a case, cables, 1TB WDLabs hard drive, and a microSD card preloaded with Ubuntu Core and Nextcloud. The Raspberry Pi 2 is not included with the box; users need to buy it separately. The box is retailing for $79 on the WD Store.

Jos Poortvliet of Nextcloud told us in an interview that the box is more or less a reference device that companies can use as a model for building and selling their own Nextcloud-based private cloud solutions. The box currently doesn't support Raspberry Pi 3, and it can't be accessed over the Internet. Poortvliet said that support for the RPi3 and remote access will be enabled in future software updates.

The most interesting feature of the Nextcloud Box is the Ubuntu Core operating system, which is designed for IoT devices and uses a transactional update model to keep the software on the device automatically updated.

WDLabs is an internal team within Western Digital that explores new ideas and possibilities.

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