6 best free Linux firewalls of 2017

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Asus Zenbook UX305

With the ever shrinking size of 13-inch laptops, the line that separates small laptops and Ultrabooks gets thinner every day. Laptop makers are pushing the envelope on compact systems: Lenovo unveiled its Yoga 900S, a convertible notebook thinner than the 12-inch MacBook while keeping its USB 3.0 ports. Similarly, the HP EliteBook Folio G1 is also puts the MacBook to shame with its slimmer body despite incorporating a 4K touchscreen.

However, before the MacBook and all its challengers, there was the Asus ZenBook UX305. This 13-inch Ultrabook comes with a stunningly svelte aluminum frame that is, again, thinner than the MacBook while packing a newly-added Skylake Core M processor and plenty of flash storage space. All of this might sound like the makings of an expensive compact laptop, the Asus ZenBook UX305 is actually one of the more affordable Windows 10 laptops, starting at $699 (£599, AU$1,199).

This makes the Asus ZenBook far more affordable than most premium Ultrabooks, like the glass-surfaced Acer Aspire S7. And yet, this machine is just as carefully crafted as the all-metal Samsung Ativ Book 9 Spin. Asus has once again struck the perfect balance of affordability and luxury with its latest offering.

Latest news

While the Asus ZenBook UX305 is still alive and kicking, Asus debuted the ZenBook 3 Deluxe at CES this year, effectively its new “MacBook killer” ZenBook 3 of yesteryear, albeit with a larger 14-inch display. 

It doesn’t pack in the fanless cooling system of the Asus ZenBook UX305, but for those on the prowl for a full-fledged Core i7 processor, the Asus ZenBook 3 now serves as a more updated alternative to the UX305, brushed aluminum shell and all.

With the Windows 10 Creators Update set to arrive on PCs within the next few weeks, it’s only a matter of time before Asus ZenBook UX305 users will be treated to a refreshing round of new features in the form of 3D creation tools, VR compatibility and a whole spate of gaming enhancements.

Asus Zenbook UX305

Design

You could easily mistake the Asus ZenBook UX305 for a sketchbook when holding it. It’s stunningly thin, measuring just 0.5 inches thick and weighing 2.6 pounds (1.17 kg). This makes the ZenBook one of the skinniest Windows 10 machines in existence but don’t think it’s flimsy.

The UX305 is entirely made of aluminum. The interior deck is one solid piece of metal that features an anodized and fine grit finish. By no means is the surface abrasive – rather it adds an extra bit of texture for your wrists to sit on. The underside also sports an anodized sheen, and it’s also made with a separate sheet of metal.

Asus Zenbook UX305

For a bit more style on the UX305’s screen lid, Asus went with a brushed aluminum finish. However, instead of going with the traditional straight lines, the top panel features a radial pattern that’s both attractive and conveniently draws your attention to the Asus logo in the center.

Despite the small size of this Ultrabook, the trackpad is extremely roomy and extends over a third of the laptop’s width. The trackpad almost looks comically large, but you’ll appreciate the extra space and the frictionless surface. Better yet, clicks are tactile and audible whether you’re pressing on the dedicated left and right buttons or pressing anywhere on the surface.

Similarly, the keyboard is spacious and follows the standard layout with a full-length backspace and enter key. The keys bottom out to a defined thump and spring back instantly for a responsive typing experience.

Asus Zenbook UX305 (2015)-10

Asus Zenbook UX305

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

There’s no denying the Asus ZenBook UX305 looks exactly like a MacBook Air. From the hinge, the bezel around the screen, the position of the trackpad to the recessed keyboard, you can easily see the similarities to the MacBook Air. The hinge even helps to prop up the entire book at a tiny angle – just like Apple’s ultralight notebook.

One of the few original touches Asus has added to the design are its chamfered edges, as opposed to the MacBook Air’s razor sharp sides. Otherwise, the UX305 looks like the MacBook Air after it’s gotten a nip-tuck job to make it marginally slimmer and lighter.

Asus Zenbook UX305

While the new ZenBook seems extremely derivative, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If the MacBook Air helped set the benchmark for Ultrabooks, then the UX305 has surpassed it and improved on the design.

What’s more, you also get a lot more ports too. This 13-inch laptop comes packing three USB 3.0 ports – which isn’t even available on premium laptops, like the MacBook Pro and Surface Book. There’s also an SD card reader and micro HDMI to round out the selection of ports.

First reviewed: January 2016

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this review

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Facebook 360 Debuts On Samsung Gear VR

It’s been almost two years since Facebook brought 360-degree photo and video support to its social network. Now the company has released Facebook 360, a new app for the Samsung Gear VR on the Oculus Store, to help make all of that sweet content “even more immersive and easier to discover.”

Just don’t expect to share your own 360-degree media via the app–Facebook 360 is currently limited to viewing photos and videos, sharing them to your own Timeline, and “reacting” to them with one of the network’s six canned responses. (Those being Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry.) Facebook said “more social features” will be added to the app “soon” but didn’t offer any details about what that entails or when the update will arrive.

The company said in a blog post that Facebook 360 breaks content up into four different feeds:

  • Explore: Discover some of the most interesting and popular 360 content on Facebook from media companies, organizations and individual creators.
  • Following: Experience 360 content that your friends have posted on Facebook as well as 360 content from Pages and people you follow.
  • Saved: Find all the 360 content you’ve saved from News Feed ready for you to enjoy at a more convenient time.
  • Timeline: Relive your memories in a new way through your own 360 photo and video uploads.

One of the media organizations showed off in Facebook’s promotional materials is CNNVR, the just-announced VR platform from CNN, which features work from many of the broadcaster’s news teams from around the globe. CNN said when it announced CNNVR that its 360-degree videos have been watched more than 30 million times on Facebook alone, so chances are good that the company had Facebook 360 in mind when it created CNNVR.

Not that CNN is the only one posting 360-degree content to Facebook. The company said in its announcement that more than 250 million and 1 million 360-degree photos and videos, respectively, have been published since it added support for the formats. That’s a lot of content for people to sift through; no wonder Facebook is trying to make it easier for early VR adopters to find the signal in the noise with something like Facebook 360.

The app is available now from the Oculus Store. It’s worth noting that it’s not compatible with the Oculus Rift even though Facebook owns Oculus. If you have a Gear VR, though, you can download the app today and start looking for all the 360-degree content you missed in all of Facebook’s clutter. Or, if Facebook isn’t really your thing, you can also check out some of the 360-degree videos published to the also-just-announced Vimeo 360 service.

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1&1

Founded in Germany way back in 1988, 1&1 is now Europe’s largest web hosting provider, handling a mammoth 19 million domains spanning 70,000 servers in data centres across Europe and the US. 

1&1 offers three general-purpose shared hosting plans. These start with Basic – £1 ($1.20) per month plus VAT for the first year, then £5 ($6.10) – which despite its name, has all the core functionality many buyers will need. That includes a free domain, unlimited webspace, websites or bandwidth, along with an SSL certificate, basic email (2GB mail storage only), automated installation of WordPress, Joomla, MediaWiki and many other popular apps, plus 24/7 phone support if you run into problems.

The Plus plan – priced at £4 ($4.90) a month ex VAT for the first year, £7 ($8.55) a month on renewal – improves performance by caching your site content in servers around the world, and doubling Basic’s RAM allocation from 600MB to 1.2GB. Access to 1&1’s SiteLock enables scanning your site for malware, security vulnerabilities, SSL issues and more. There’s also support for up to 500 MySQL5 databases, up from only 20 with the Basic plan. 

The Pro plan – £7 ($.8.55) a month ex VAT for the first year, £10 ($12.20) afterwards – gives you 2GB RAM, 1000 databases, a smarter CDN and extended app support.

If you’re looking for WordPress hosting then any of these plans will do, but 1&1 also offers some time-saving managed WordPress packages. These get you easier setup, preinstalled and recommended plugins, automatic security updates and improved support, all for the same price as the general plans.

There are also specialist e-commerce packages which come with custom sites, product catalogues, a shopping cart, PayPal and Amazon payment support, and more. Prices range from £60 ($73) to £585 ($710) for year one, depending on the features you need.

A 30-day money-back guarantee covers most of this, although there are one or two gotchas. In particular, you’re not covered for new domain registrations and a customer can only use the guarantee once. Check the small print here.

Account setup

Setting up your 1&1 account involves several steps, but a well-designed wizard walks you through the process and keeps it relatively painless.

Key decisions include the contract period, where you can sign up for two or three years and keep your introductory discount. For example, Basic would cost £132 ($161) plus VAT with the first year monthly payments and two annual bills, but only £108 ($132) if you pay the full price upfront.

1&1 also offers multiple add-ons – security, SEO, an extended website builder, basic eShop – with free 30-day trials.

Choose your preferred products and the company asks for detailed billing information, including your name, physical and email addresses and phone number.

After payment, an email arrives with confirmation and a copy of 1&1’s mammoth terms and conditions (almost 5,000 words). Meanwhile the website redirects you to your 1&1 Control Panel, where you’re able to view and manage your account.

Creating your site

All 1&1 hosting accounts come with access to the 1&1 Website Builder, a simple web-based site creator. Choose from an array of bundled site templates, customise the content, and drag-and-drop to add image galleries, YouTube videos, Facebook or Twitter feeds, downloads, forms, and comment boxes.

We found this easy-to-use, but the templates were a little dated and the standard service limits you to just five pages. Upgrading to 1&1 Website Builder Plus enables the creation of sites of up to 500 pages, gives you direct HTML/CSS access, more web app integration and use of a royalty-free image archive, but it’ll cost you another £5 ($6.10) a month plus VAT.

Another option is to install a CMS from the 1&1 App Centre. The company has worked to make this much easier than the usual methods – enter your site title, a few clicks and you’re done – although basic hosting users must sort out themes, extensions and updates on their own.

Experts can manually access 1&1 webspace via secure FTP, SSH and the Webspace Explorer, a browser-based file manager. None of this is difficult, but it did take us a while to find our way around the slightly cluttered interface. (Forget your cPanel or other experience, 1&1’s shared hosting panel does things its own way.)

Performance

Support is a key element of any good web host, as even experts are likely to have issues when setting up their site. There’s no way we can get a complete picture of a host’s support abilities with a one-off test, but we sample the service anyway to see how it performs for us.

We wanted to know where we could download the free NetObjects Fusion 1&1 Edition web designer included with our hosting, for instance. A quick search of 1&1’s online database led us to download instructions, but they were useless, pointing us to a section of the 1&1 Control Panel which no longer exists. How old was that page? There’s no way to tell, as unlike other services there’s no ‘created’ or ‘last reviewed’ date available.

While running tests we discovered that our server was using OpenSSL 1.0.1t, a relatively old version with security (and other) issues. Does 1&1 have a timescale for it to be updated, we wondered? We decided to put this question to the company’s support system.

Searching the Help site gave us only one hit on OpenSSL: a three-year-old article on the Heartbleed bug.

The Help pages suggested we called the company instead. We did – we sat on hold for 15 minutes – we gave up.

We tried creating an appointment for a support agent to call us. We had a 10:00-10:30 slot and received our call at 10:03. The agent was polite, but didn’t seem to know what our question was going to be, even though we’d entered it when setting up the appointment. They also didn’t display any technical knowledge, and apparently just searched their own database for any references, before giving up and saying they had no information.

We decided to live with OpenSSL as it was, set up a couple of test sites, and moved on to our performance checks.

Bitcatcha’s multi-site Server Speed Checker scored us somewhere between C+ (slightly above average) and D+ (slightly below). Our other tests returned below average results, with for example WebPageTest recording around a 0.275s wait for the ‘first byte’. Real-world testing showed no noticeable issues, though, and overall performance was acceptable for a baseline account (upgrading should get you more speed).

If the service doesn’t work for you, there’s a web option to begin the cancellation process, and this even alerts you if you’re still within the 30-day money-back guarantee period. The downside is that you must still call 1&1 to ‘activate’ cancellation. But this was a hassle-free experience for us: an 0800 number to call, it was answered in seconds, and although the agent warned us that cancellation would mean losing all our website data, he didn’t demand explanations or try to change our mind.

Final verdict

1&1 has great value plans for first-time users and plenty of more powerful products for everyone else, but unimpressive support might be an issue if you run into real difficulties.

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Bungie Reveals Record Book, Weekly Featured Raids In 'Destiny' Livestream

Last week, Bungie announced the “Age of Triumph,” the final live event for Destiny. This week, the development team shared more details via Twitch about what players should expect when the update arrives on March 28.

To commemorate the event, Bungie will release another record book, a 13-page list of achievements that you can complete for rewards. The accolades include different tasks for specific classes, Strikes, matches against other players in the Crucible, and even raids. (More on that later.) You can even finish an entire page of the book just by playing through the main campaign.

The more tasks you finish in the digital book, the faster you climb through its ranking system. Specific rank levels provide rewards in the form of emblems for your character. However, when you reach the top rank, level seven, you can claim your final reward, a shirt from Bungie with the Age of Triumph emblem and your online name emblazoned on the sleeve.

Because the event is all about remembering past content from the game, Bungie also upgraded its raid mechanic. Specifically, all raids can now be completed at the Light level of 390, which brings them all up to par in terms of difficulty. In addition, there will also be a weekly featured raid, which will include some challenges to make it even harder for players to complete.

If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also be generously compensated for completing the tougher raids. This includes the return of weapons that you could only retrieve from completing raids. There are also some new rewards, too, in the form of gear and ornaments.

Before the update’s release on March 28, Bungie will host two more livestream events. Next week, the team will talk about the new weekly events, or “rituals.” The week after that, the final event will cover the overall sandbox update to the game.

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Premiere League gets Kodi piracy court order

The Premier League has secured a court order to help tackle rights-infringing video streams of football matches via so-called Kodi set-top boxes.

The order gives the league the means to have computer servers used to power the streams blocked.

Until now, it could only go after individual video streams which were relatively easy to re-establish at different links.

A spokesman said it could now target pirates in a “precise manner”.

“For the first time this will enable the Premier League to disrupt and prevent the illegal streaming of our matches via IPTV, so-called Kodi, boxes,” he added.

Football fans are urged instead to get a Sky Sports or BT Sport subscription, or watch games at a venue that pays for access.

‘Pirating epidemic’

The Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) declared that the use of Kodi software to watch pirated streams was becoming an “epidemic” last September.

Since then, there have been several arrests of people selling set-top boxes pre-installed with both Kodi software and additional third-party add-ons that make it possible to watch copyright-infringing film and TV streams.

According to a recent survey commissioned by the security firm Irdeto, Kodi boxes are particularly prevalent in the UK.

It reported that 11% of Brits that admitted to watching pirated streams in a survey said they did so via a Kodi box.

Doing so is not thought to be illegal.

“Accessing premium paid-for content without a subscription is considered by the industry as unlawful access, although streaming something online, rather than downloading a file, is likely to be exempt from copyright laws,” Derbyshire County Council trading standards officers recently said.


What are Kodi boxes?

Kodi is free software, built by volunteers, that is designed to bring videos, music, games and photographs together in one easy-to-use application.

Some shops sell set-top boxes and TV sticks known as Kodi boxes, preloaded with the software.

The developers behind Kodi say their software does not contain any content of its own and is designed to play legally owned media or content “freely available” on the internet.

However, the software can be modified with third-party add-ons that provide access to pirated copies of films and TV series, or provide free access to subscription television channels.

“Streaming boxes have steadily increased in popularity in recent years,” said Ernesto van der Sar, from the news site Torrentfreak.

“Most use the entirely legal Kodi software, but some are augmented with illegal third-party add-ons.

“Nowadays people often prefer to stream pirated content instead of using traditional torrent sites.”


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Microsoft Surface Pro 4

There’s no doubt in our minds that the Surface Pro 3 was a success. In fact, with its flagship tablet, Microsoft went so far as to inspire its manufacturing partners to make their own award winning 2-in-1s in a similar vein. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that when the next iteration rolled out, the Surface Pro 4 made only slight revisions over its predecessor. But we’re not complaining.

The slimmer form factor and increased display size do wonders for the Surface Pro 4. Even the Type Cover keyboard has seen subtle changes. While it may not seem like much on the surface (ha), Microsoft Devices team lead Panos Panay and company have written a love letter with the Surface Pro 4 to their long-time supporters who’ve taken the time to issue feedback along the way.

It’s further evidence that Microsoft is listening, and its response is stellar.

Recent developments

Although it’s starting to show its age, Microsoft hasn’t quit when it comes to the Surface Pro 4, even if the company has apparently decided to drop its predecessor altogether.

And, while you still have until June to install the Anniversary Update without issue, it’s been confirmed that the Windows 10 Creators Update is expected to touch down within “a matter of weeks.” 

As was confirmed in a recent statement by Microsoft and published by Softpedia, the Creators Update will land on the Surface Pro 4 and its full-blown Windows 10 desktop counterparts before it strikes mobile, meaning whenever it comes, it ought to be soon.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

Design and display

Perhaps the most obvious way in which this year’s Surface Pro model is iterative is its looks. The same all-magnesium, unibody casing is still here, though the “Surface” logo has been replaced in favor of Microsoft’s new logo in chrome.

Microsoft managed to up the device’s screen size by a few hairs, from the 2014 model’s straight 12 inches to this year’s 12.3 inches, without affecting its footprint at all. That is, unless you count the Redmond firm shaving over half a millimeter off of its thickness, from 9.1mm to 8.4mm this year – all while maintaining support for full-fat mobile processors.

How did they do it?

For one, Microsoft’s product team decided it was time the capacitive Windows button said goodbye, especially with Windows 10 providing easy access to the Start menu, thus the extra room for that three tenths of an inch.

Secondly, the team managed to bring the display’s optical stack – the series of sensors, diodes and pixels beneath the glass – even closer to the glass this time around, a key point of Microsoft’s trademarked PixelSense screen technology. This helped the firm bring the slate’s thickness down by half a millimeter.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

The idea here is to bring the sensor elements of the touchscreen as close to your finger or Surface Pen as possible, and it works awfully well. The display is incredibly responsive to touch, and the further sensitivity it brings to the stylus experience is huge. In tandem with the new Surface Pen, the screen detects 1,024 levels of pressure, even during a single stroke.

Now, let’s talk pixels. Even though it really didn’t have to, Microsoft went and boosted the Surface Pro’s resolution from 2,160 x 1,440 (216 ppi, or pixels per inch) in the old model to 2,736 x 1,824. That makes for a huge 267 ppi put forth by the Surface Pro 4, which blows its main rival, the MacBook Air (128 ppi for the 13-inch), out of the water and narrowly edges out Apple’s new, 12.9-inch iPad Pro at 264 ppi.

Screen

But more importantly, the new screen proves to be far more luminous and more color accurate than the Surface Pro 3 display at all brightness levels, as you can clearly see. That’s bound to be a key selling point for creative folks, namely artists and designers that have yet to leave the Wacom tablet and calibrated monitor combo behind.

For the rest of us, it simply means more realistic-looking movies and more vibrant photos and games. However, considering Microsoft kept to its rare 3:2 aspect ratio to best emulate the notepad experience for the stylus users, you’ll see even thicker black bars sandwiching your favorite films in 16:9 – and even more so for those in 21:9, or widescreen format.

It’s a fair concern for folks that watch plenty of movies and TV on a tablet. But fear not, workers, for you’re the very reason Microsoft made this decision. The 3:2 aspect ratio is wider and shorter than 4:3, but taller and slightly more narrow than 16:9, the most common aspect ratio for TV and desktop (and laptop) screens today. The result is a middle ground between the two that is ideal for both photo and design or drafting work, wherein 3:2 is much more common, as well as getting computational work done, given the extra vertical space.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

Surface Pen and Type Cover

To best make use of that extra space, Microsoft has given its Surface Pen and Type Cover accessories some serious upgrades. In addition to the aforementioned 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, the new-and-included Surface Pen is redesigned to feel more like a pencil. The stylus now has one flat side, as if a Number 2 pencil had all but two of its angles rounded off.

The reason for this is two fold. For one, this stylus is even more comfortable to hold than the last as a result – your index finger rests just above the main function button on the flat end. Secondly, this surface (no pun intended) is coated with thin, powerful strip magnets that allow it to cling onto the tablet’s left side. The age of stylus loops is over.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

The Pen also sports a new, and actually functional, eraser button up top that not only does what it says on the tin, but offers up three unique use cases. In addition to opening OneNote with a single press, the button now takes a screenshot and then opens OneNote with a double press. Finally, a long press summons Cortana to answer to your every whim.

Microsoft seems to have expertly weighted the Surface Pen to make it feel not much heavier than your average clickable pen, despite all of the tech inside. Plus, now that Microsoft offers additional pen tips right out of the box only sweetens the pot.

Suface Pen

Coupled with Microsoft’s PixelSense display, the duo makes for the best stylus experience I’ve had on a tablet yet for as little as I’m wont to use it. Now, I’m no artist or designer, but between the superb palm detection and the accuracy and nuance of the Pen tracking, the Surface Pro 4 looks to have Microsoft’s best shot at luring in that crowd yet.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

Sorry, artsy folk, but these improvements almost pale in comparison with the Redmond firm’s new-and-still-not-included Type Cover. This time around, Microsoft managed to greatly widen the spacing between the keys for a chiclet-style approach. What this does is make keeping track of which keys your fingers are on by feel much easier, and it allows for each key to be individually backlit.

The new Type Cover is also slightly thicker and far more rigid than before, allowing for deeper key travel and punchier feedback – not to mention a sturdier, quieter surface to type on – that brings it so much closer to the true laptop keyboard. Panay’s team also managed to widen the touchpad and coat it in glass rather than plastic.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

These two huge improvements make a world of difference in answering the question of whether Microsoft’s tablet can replace your laptop. The Surface Pro 3’s keyboard cover was excruciatingly close to honestly providing a laptop-level typing experience. Now, the new Type Cover has all but closed that gap.

Microsoft upgraded the Surface Pro 4’s Type Cover with biometric functionality. The Surface Pro 4 Type Cover with Fingerprint ID has gone on sale in the US and Australia at a cost of £135 (around $192 or AUS$258). The new keyboard cover, which is only available in black, uses Windows Hello to login to the Surface with a fingertip press. The scanner can also authorise app purchases from the Windows Store, and because the keyboard is backwards compatible, it can be used with the Surface Pro 3 too.

First reviewed: October 2015

Kane Fulton and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this review

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