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Best Linux desktop of 2018

Yesterday, 03:43 AM

Note: Our best Linux desktop round-up has been fully updated. This feature was first published in November 2013.

The desktop is a critical aspect of your Linux experience, providing you with a user-friendly way to interact with your computer. Unlike Windows or Mac, Linux doesn't tie you to a single desktop. Switching desktop environments is incredibly straightforward – just install a new one, log out and choose it from the login screen. You can install as many desktop environments as you like, although you can only use one at a time.

In this guide, we've rounded up seven of the most popular desktops, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. Before you dive in, however, take some time to think about what you want from your desktop.

A desktop environment is more than the wallpaper which appears when you log in. It also includes a window manager and usually a set of utilities. It may come in the form of a pre-assembled package, such as Gnome or KDE, or it may be assembled by the distro maintainer, such as CrunchBang++'s Openbox or Puppy's JWM.

Most desktops can be tweaked and skinned to look radically different, so if you like your current desktop's look but not much else, you can probably customise – or even source a special version – of another environment to keep that familiar look and feel. Even when desktop environments come as part of a pre-assembled package, they may vary between distributions. KDE, in particular, can look radically different depending on your chosen flavour of Linux.

Functionality is another key concern. What features does the desktop offer, both in terms of the desktop itself and any core apps it bundles, such as a file manager or text editor? User-friendliness is another – how easy is the desktop to use? Are items laid out logically to your liking? Do you find yourself having to perform more clicks to access the key parts of the system?

If you have an older or slower machine, also consider how responsive your chosen desktop will be. Your PC may benefit from a lightweight environment such as LXDE rather than one with many visual effects such as KDE.

Ultimately your chosen desktop environment is a matter of personal taste and what your machine can handle. Take some time to explore the options listed here. If none of these seem to fit, we've also listed a few alternatives for good measure.

LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) is a desktop environment specially designed for older machines and those with few resources. Similar to the Cinammon desktop environment, the default layout is one panel at the bottom of the screen. You can also launch applications with a menu button at the bottom-left, exactly as you would in classic versions of Microsoft Windows.  Emphasis has been placed on efficiency above all else. This is reflected in the choice of OpenBox as the default window manager.

This all makes for a fast and very memory-efficient desktop. Pixel, the desktop environment of choice for the Raspberry Pi operating system, is a modified version of LXDE. LXDE is also the desktop environment of choice for 'Lubuntu' – a lightweight version of Ubuntu. This is one of the main benefits of choosing LXDE as it's highly customisable. After installing the desktop, you can choose to install new wallpapers, icon sets and even certain desktop themes using the specially designed LXAppearance.

Other core applications designed specifically for use with LXDE are extremely efficient too. The file manager (PCMan) opens quickly and supports dual panes. You can also run commands via the ultra-lightweight LXTerminal.

As it's designed for barebones efficiency, any unnecessary features such as complex window effects or visually rich themes have been stripped away from LXDE. This may make for a rather stark desktop if you're used to environments with more features such as widgets and animations.

Verdict

Best for: Low resource use
Avoid if: You like graphical effects
Try on: Lubuntu
In a nutshell: A great desktop for older PCs

Gnome 3 is a revamped version of its predecessor (imaginatively named Gnome 2). The key user experience revolves around the new 'Gnome Shell' – the graphical part of the desktop environment. The shell does away with the old system of navigating via panels and menus in favour of a sidebar for quickly launching programs, an application 'switcher' and support for widgets.

When you arrive at the Gnome desktop, you'll see a sparse top panel – click Activities to reveal a launcher, shortcuts to all the apps on your system, and a Search box. It won't take you long to master this – ultimately one of Gnome's strengths is its user-friendliness. On the other hand, it lacks features found elsewhere, and its quest for minimalism has led to core apps like the file manager losing key functionality such as split-screen views for easy file transfers.

Gnome is highly configurable, although you'll need third-party apps such as the Gnome Tweak tool to get the most from it. It also supports shell extensions, but you can only install these through your browser, and they often break when Gnome gets a major update – other desktops handle such add-ons more adeptly.

If you don't spend much time at the desktop and want to focus on your apps, then Gnome 3 will appeal, but it's not for those who prefer a more traditional interface.

Verdict

Best for: Minimalism
Avoid if: You like to see what's going on
Try on: Fedora
In a nutshell: Less is more

Cinnamon – the official desktop for Linux Mint – is forked from Gnome 3 with the focus very much put back on the desktop user. It utilises the underlying technology of Gnome, including forked versions of its core applications to ensure that they remain more functional than the native Gnome versions.

This ensure it's able to deliver a polished desktop that's immediately recognisable, particularly to users switching from Windows, with a menu button, app shortcuts and a system tray all packed into a panel that runs along the bottom of the screen.

It's also highly configurable through a series of "spices": themes, extensions, applets and floating desklets (Cinnamon's equivalent of KDE's widgets), all of which are managed directly through its own System Settings tool.

Although Cinnamon has made great strides in souping up its performance (the most recent release uses a pre-load mechanism to start swiftly after booting, for example), its reliance on Gnome 3 means it's still relatively resource-heavy, while it has also acquired a reputation for being slightly buggy, although recent releases have steadily improved its robustness.

For our money, though, if you're looking for a polished, instantly accessible desktop that takes the best bits of Gnome and wraps them up in a traditional setting, then Cinnamon is the desktop to try.

Verdict

Best for: Hipsters
Avoid if: You have an older machine
Try on: Linux Mint
In a nutshell: A traditional desktop

If you like the idea of the traditional desktop look, but want something that'll run on slower or older machines, then Mate (pronounced ‘Ma-tay’, after the South American plant) is a potentially excellent alternative to Cinnamon. The developer website for Mate describes the project as an attempt to keep alive the classic Gnome 2 desktop. 

It's also forked from Gnome, but in this case, Mate is based on the older Gnome 2 release. This helps reduce its overheads, but you're given a choice of flavours to install, including a "core" build with little in the way of extras to bog your system down, although all the key features are still covered (including Caja – a twin-paned file manager forked from Gnome's Nautilus).

Mate opens with two panels – top and bottom – and you can add more, plus place them on either side of the screen. By default the bottom panel displays open windows while a series of menus in the top left-hand corner provides handy shortcuts to key parts of your system. Panels can also be extended via a number of additional applets, such as task launcher, power button, weather and so on.

A handy Control Centre shortcut gives you access to most system settings, including the few easily customisable parts of Mate itself (look under Appearance for options on switching and tweaking the theme). For maximum customisation, Ubuntu users might even want to try Ubuntu Mate, a specially built version designed to more seamlessly integrate with Ubuntu.

Ultimately Mate offers a reasonable compromise between the configurability of Cinnamon and the no-frills approach of lighter desktops like LXDE and Xfce – speaking of which, if Mate is still too rich for your PC's tastes, read on…

Verdict

Best for: Older computers
Avoid if: You like GTK 3
Try on: Ubuntu Mate
In a nutshell: Gnome 2 lives!

Xfce has been around since 1996 and like Gnome is based on the GTK toolkit. It's designed as a fast desktop environment which is low on system resource usage, but is rather eclipsed by LXDE, which is slightly more efficient while managing to look that bit more modern.

Nevertheless, Xfce has still got enough about it to stand apart: the main panel sits at the top of the screen by default, and we like the way its Application menu can be clicked easily from the top-left. The file manager Thunar has recently been enhanced and responds with lightning speed when opening folders or performing searches, although by default it doesn't support more advanced features such as dual panes.

There's little in the way of configurable options here, but where Xfce may win fans is with its highly customisable panels (via xfce4-panel). Right click on any panel to add more items such as a CPU monitor or mail notifier. The xfce4-panel utility also supports multiple panels, so you can have one at the bottom of the screen or on the side as a 'deskbar' if you wish. Control is granular: you can define the width, height and exact placement of each panel.

The window manager Xfwm is ultra-sleek and even includes its own compositing manager. It runs at similar speeds to other super-efficient window managers such as OpenBox, but is much more user-friendly.

Other bundled applications include the awesome graphical calendar app Orage, and Xfburn which can be used to author DVDs. You can also run commands via Xfce-Terminal which while being very sleek, also supports colour modes and even a dropdown interface similar to more advanced programs like Guake.

Verdict

Best for: Not too minimalist minimalism
Avoid if: You like a high level of configurability
Try on: Xubuntu
In a nutshell: Aims for simple, but not too simple

If you want to exert complete control over your desktop then KDE Plasma 5 is the desktop to choose – in some ways it's more like a framework for building your own custom desktop than an actual desktop, although version 5 does ship with sensible defaults that give you something to start from. Note that some distros still offer version 4 by default, so be prepared to source it yourself (for example, via the kubuntu-ppa/backports repository).

Once started, the world's your oyster – you're presented with a single panel at the bottom of the screen and a handy tool box button in the top right-hand corner. From here great things can be made. KDE is largely based around widgets, which can be pinned to panels or left floating on the desktop itself. A large number are provided, but you can easily download more through the desktop too.

KDE also makes use of "activities", which resemble virtual desktops, allowing you to customise your desktop for specific purposes – say when browsing the web or editing images.

KDE is unique among desktops in this roundup in being built on the Qt toolkit rather than GTK – this means it's a little more resource intensive, particularly when updating; you may also find your existing apps don't share KDE's elegant look.

As a result, those searching for a fuss-free desktop with not too many bells and whistles will be better served looking elsewhere, but if you're itching to build a desktop from scratch, then KDE should be first on your list.

Verdict

Best for: Customisation
Avoid if: You like GTK
Try on: OpenSuse
In a nutshell: Tweaker's heaven

Are you still searching for the perfect desktop? Try these alternatives…

Enlightenment

There's no way to hide the fact that Enlightenment is about eye candy. Things fade, pop and shimmer with glee any time you do anything. Some people find all these distractions and window dressing (sic) a bit too much, but for others it adds a sense of humour to their computing.

Enlightenment describes itself as a desktop shell, which means it's a desktop environment without any applications supplied. Since the styling is so different from the others (from which you'll need to take software) this means the result is a system that looks inconsistent. However, if you like desktop effects, but don't like KDE, Enlightenment may be for you.

Sugar

When Nicholas Negroponte founded One Laptop Per Child, the project kicked off with extremely limited hardware, so the developers set about creating a desktop environment that was both very light on resources and very child-friendly. Given that most of their target users had never seen a computer let alone used one before, it had to be easy to use as well.

Sugar is the result of this. It's a little too simplistic for most uses, but it's excellent for kids with its big blocky icons and a high-contrast colour scheme that make it great for their first digital steps. Try a Fedora spin here.

Openbox

We said at the outset of this article that a desktop environment is a tricky thing to define. Openbox (pictured above) is a perfect example of the reason why. A number of the other desktop environments, such as LXDE, use Openbox as a window manager. However, with some configuration, it can be turned into a desktop environment in its own right – which is what the developers of CrunchBang++ have done.

It's a stripped bare environment that perhaps has something in common with Gnome 3, though not quite to that extreme. Its minimalism has endeared it to sysadmins and hardcore users who appreciate the lack of desktop bloat.

Puppy Linux

This distro has built a desktop environment around JWM, a slim window manager that's not used in many other setups. As you may be able to guess, this is one designed to be frugal with resources. The end result is pleasant, though not spectacular, and works admirably on older hardware.

Puppy Linux is designed in the traditional fashion and does a good job of just staying out of the way. It can look a bit dated when compared to its more resource-intensive cousins, but many people find that endearing rather than annoying. Not many folks would pick this for a new machine, but it does a great job of keeping PCs running that would otherwise be scrapped.

Xmonad

If there's one desktop environment that stands out from all the others we have here it's this one. Before you start using it, it's best to forget everything you think you know about how a desktop should work. Right, have you done that?

The desktop in Xmonad is split into tiles, each of which contains an application. You can shuffle the tiles around, change their size, and focus. You can also use the mouse within the tiles, but not to sort out the desktop like you would with windows. The result looks a little peculiar, but it is surprisingly usable once you get used to the new layout.

LXQt

So far we have explored a range of lightweight desktop environments for Linux, almost all of which use the GTK toolkit. This can cause problems for those environments based on GTK 2 as development has shifted to the newer, bulkier GTK 3.

Many people also prefer the look and feel of Qt. LXQt attempts to fill this particular gap. The current incarnation of LXQt is a culmination of the original project and code from an older project known as RazorQT. The stated goal of both projects is using the same Qt toolkit as KDE but without any bloat.

At present there aren't many bundled applications, although it does incorporate its own terminal. There are also third-party tools such as the 'lxqt_wallet' password manager which you can install after downloading the desktop environment itself.

LXQt currently doesn't come with a window manager, but the project’s Github page reassures users that it will work with any arbitrary one such as Openbox, or Xfwm4 (the window manager for Xfce). The software is still in its early stages but is certainly one to watch.

If you ask ten computer users what they want from a computer interface, you'll get ten different answers, so why should they all use the same desktop environment? The answer is simple – they shouldn't.

Because of this, we're not limiting ourselves to a single 'best desktop' because we don't think there is one, but we're not completely copping out. We're going to pick our favourite desktop in four categories: traditional, new style, tweakers and outlier. We feel this recognition of different styles of computer use has become especially important in the past couple of years as the desktop possibilities in Linux have diversified significantly.

There has always been a range of desktops, but now, more than ever before, there are a range of good desktops. Not all of them will suit everyone, but everyone, we think, will be able to find a desktop that works well for them.

For the traditionalists

We have to say that there are no bad choices in the category at the moment. Xfce, LXDE, Mate, Cinnamon and KDE are all great desktops. They all have good and bad points, but we think that most traditionalists would be happy with any of them. However, there has to be a winner, and we're picking Mate for the way it continues the Gnome 2 feel through to the present day.

For the brave new world

If you're unafraid of new and avant-garde desktops, Gnome 3, with its upgraded graphical shell, is a clear winner. Although the initial desktop seems to be stripped bare, you can easily arrange windows into separate workspaces and launch different applications. Gnome also supports switching themes and adding widgets, though not to as great an extent as KDE (see below).

For the tweakers

Let's be honest, there was only ever going to be one winner here and it's KDE. Although an honourable mention should go out to Cinnamon now that it includes desklets. Enlightenment is another option, though we feel it doesn't match KDE as a complete desktop environment. Maybe next time, KDE will have a challenger.

For the outliers

We're going to pick the desktop that adds the most to the world of desktops. That is, the one that has the most useful features that can't be done in any common environment. The winner offers a radically different way of doing things that we found surprisingly usable. In fact, we were tempted to switch. Hats off then to Xmonad (pictured above).


The best antivirus software of 2018

14 January 2018 - 05:08 AM

If you're looking for the best antivirus software in 2018 to keep you and your PC secure online, then you've come to the right place.

Even in this day and age, it is still essential to have the best antivirus software you can get your hands on installed on your PC (be it Windows or Mac), as malicious users are still coming up with ways to access you machine, be it hijackers grabbing your search page, or the latest ransomware encrypting all of your files.

If you're running Windows 10, then you may think that the built-in Windows Defender is enough to keep you safe. Sure, it's free and easy to use, but independent tests show its protection rates can be considerably lower than the leading competition. Also, by making it so widely-used, it also means that if a virus writer wants to hit as many PCs as possible, making something that evades Windows Defender will be their biggest priority.

There are free antivirus solutions that can be used with other tools to keep you protected, but they don't always provide a complete suite of antivirus software tools that the best paid-for antivirus software provides. For that reason, if you want an all-round antivirus tool that provides up-to-date protection against the latest threats, then paying for antivirus software is your best bet.

This doesn't mean you have to start spending big money, however, and we've come up with this list of the best antivirus software that features our very own price comparison tool to help you find the very best price for protection.

In a world packed with free security software, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2018's annual $39.99 fee may look expensive. Especially as this now only covers you for a single device, down from three last year.

Still, there are compensations. Bitdefender's engine is one of the most accurate and reliable around, for instance, loved by all the big independent testers.

Web filtering blocks access to malicious sites, a secure browser keeps your online financial transactions safe, and there's a password manager which auto-completes credit card details in web forms.

An excellent anti-phishing module alerts you to malicious links in your search engine results, and blocks access to dangerous sites.

There are one or two issues – it grabs more resources than average, and might conflict with some programs – but Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2018 is still a likeable package which offers excellent detection rates, great performance, and more than enough bonus features to justify the price.

Alternatively, you can purchase the Total Security 2018 edition for not much more. It adds a firewall, parental control, antispam, file encryption and more, and covers up to five PCs, Macs and Android devices (iOS is ‘coming soon’).

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If you judge an antivirus on the length of its feature list, ESET NOD32 Antivirus 2018 Edition might be a disappointment. There’s no firewall, password manager, file shredder, vulnerability scanner or any of the bundled extras you'll often find elsewhere.

This doesn't mean the package is short on power, it's just more focused on the antivirus fundamentals. ESET NOD32 Antivirus 2018 Edition comes with real-time malware protection, an anti-ransomware layer, exploit protection, URL filtering to block malicious websites, and modules to prevent attacks using PowerShell and malicious scripts.

A Device Control module limits the risk of infection from other devices by controlling access to USB sticks, external hard drives, optical storage media, even devices connecting by Bluetooth and FireWire. It's an unusual extra, but could make a difference if others are regularly plugging devices into your PC.

ESET NOD32 Antivirus 2018 Edition isn't aimed at beginners. The interface is clumsy sometimes, some features are very advanced, and even the Help isn't always exactly helpful.

Experienced users will appreciate ESET’s power and configurability, though. Above-average protection does a good job of keeping you safe, and a lightweight design ensures the package won't slow you down.

One of the new features in the 2018 Edition is the UEFI Scanner which protects you from threats that attack your PC before Windows has even started.

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F-Secure Antivirus SAFE is a great collection of antivirus software tools, and while it's a bit more expensive than some of the other antivirus software on this best of list, the amount of features you get makes the cost worthwhile.

With F-Secure Antivirus SAFE, you get the brilliant antivirus software from F-Secure, along with banking protection for safe online shopping, family safety tools and a device finder that lets you track your lost Android or iOS device, and if needs be remotely lock or delete it as well.

The package typically receives maximum marks for protection from AV-Test, and generally scores highly with AV-Comparatives, too. They also say it can generate significantly more false positives than most of the competition, but how that affects you will vary depending on how you use your computer.

The interface is a major plus. It's extremely easy to use, lightweight, and for the most part you can just leave the app alone to look after your PC. The program has minimal effect on your system performance, and if you do need to intervene then you can generally solve any issues in a couple of clicks.

In 2018, F-Secure Anti-Virus SAFE remains an appealing package: fast, lightweight, and able to run alongside many other security tools without conflict. 

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Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2018 is a stripped-back security package which focuses on the core security essentials: web filtering blocks dangerous URLs, an accurate antivirus engine detects and removes threats, smart monitoring technologies track and reverse malicious actions, and that's about it.

Fortunately, what you do get works well. Very, very well. We've consistently found Kaspersky to be amongst the best at blocking malware, and removing it from an infected system, plus it's regularly top-rated at sites like AV-Comparatives.

The program is easy to use, too. A well-designed interface has just the right number of buttons and options – not too basic, but not complicated or intimidating, either – and there are plenty of on-screen instructions to explain how everything works. Even a beginner will be at home right away.

If you just need accurate, reliable and consistent malware protection, Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2018 will serve you well.

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Norton AntiVirus Basic 2018 is a top quality malware hunter which can automatically protect your PC all on its own, but also offers plenty of tweaks, options and settings for those who need them, making it one of the best antivirus software suites in 2018.

A handy URL blocker keeps you away from malicious websites, for instance. If that misses something, an excellent file reputation service recognises suspect downloads immediately. And if malware still finds a way through, intelligent behaviour monitoring kills it at the first sign of trouble.

If you're a more hands-on type, you can easily run scans on demand. Maybe set up and save custom scans to check just the areas you need. Even schedule them to run at a particular time, but only if your system is idle, and it's not running on battery power.

There can be problems with some of the browser extensions. The bundled Norton Identity Safe is a capable password manager when it's running properly, but we've found the Chrome version sometimes stops working for no apparent reason. We've seen plenty of reviewers reporting similar problems, so there does seem to be a real issue here.

Still, you don't have to use Identity Safe at all, and Norton AntiVirus Basic's main functions deliver on all fronts: it's easy to use, has the configuration options experts need, comes highly rated by the testing labs, and is carefully designed to have the least possible impact on your system performance.

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Real-time malware detection, speedy cloud-based scanning, URL filtering to block malicious websites: Panda Antivirus Pro has all the goodies you'd expect from the best antivirus software.

That's just the start. A simple two-way firewall helps to keep your system secure. An application control system can define exactly what runs on your PC, stopping even some brand new and undiscovered malware. A virtual keyboard helps you enter confidential data without it being intercepted by keyloggers. There's even a tool to build a bootable USB rescue disc, ready to remove even the most stubborn threats.

Some of these bonus features are relatively basic. The Panda firewall does its job and can make you more secure, for instance, but it doesn't compete with the standalone firewall competition. Experienced network users will probably want more.

The simplicity does at least keep everything very easy to use. Options are organised in a straightforward Windows 10-like interface, with all the main modules just a click or two away. Even the firewall doesn't need to know anything more than your current network location: Home, Work or Public Place.

There's not a lot of Panda test results from the independent labs around right now, but the figures we've seen show the company delivers above average protection, and overall Panda Antivirus Pro does a good job of keeping malware at bay.

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Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security is a capable antivirus package that's simple to use with above average antispam and an effective ‘Folder Shield’ module to block ransomware.

How good is it? The top testing labs all rate it highly for protection, although there's some disagreement on the details. In particular, AV-Comparatives says it gives a high number of false positives, which could be a real nuisance. But AV-Test reports high levels of accuracy and no issues with false positives at all.

If there's a problem here, it's likely to be performance impact. PassMark's March 2017 Performance report assessed 15 security products on various performance-related benchmarks, and Trend Micro came bottom of the list.

Our experiences with the product are a little more favourable: protection levels appear similar to Bitdefender, false positives are only marginally higher, and it doesn't slow down our system noticeably more than anything else.

We'd recommending running the trial for its full 30 days before you buy, then, to see if you notice any problems. But if you're unaffected, its high levels of detection and excellent bonus features make Trend Micro a good choice.

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Just about every antivirus tool claims to be ‘lightweight’, but Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is the only one to really deliver on this front. Installation takes seconds, the program files barely grab 2MB of your hard drive, RAM footprint is tiny, and there are no bulky signature updates to tie up your bandwidth.

There's no compromise on features, though. Along with the core antivirus protection, there's smart behaviour monitoring, accurate real-time antiphishing, a firewall and network connection monitor, enhanced anti-ransomware, and other interesting extras.

It's not easy to compare Webroot's accuracy with the competition, as the big testing labs rarely evaluate the company's products. But when they are reviewed, they generally score well, and our own tests show solid and reliable protection.

There's a lot to like about SecureAnywhere AntiVirus, and Webroot's 70-day 100% money-back guarantee suggests it's confident in the product, too. If you're tired of overly complicated and bloated antivirus engines, Webroot must be on your shortlist.

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The best cryptocurrency mining software 2018

13 January 2018 - 01:30 AM

If you've decided to take the plunge and have bought your own Bitcoin (BTC) mining hardware or mining rig, your next step is to connect to a mining 'pool'. This allows you to share your machine's resources over the internet and receive a portion of the mining profits in return.

There are a number of programs available to help manage your crypto-mining. In this guide, we've explored five of the most popular. If you're an experienced computer user, you may prefer to install the free operating system Linux and make use of one of the text-only programs such as CGminer.

If you prefer to keep things simple and are sticking with Windows 10, mining clients with a GUI such as MultiMiner may suit you better.

Before getting started, if you want to be sure a mining program will work with your particular device or operating system, the Bitcoin Wiki has a very helpful list.

CGMiner has been around for over six years and is coded in C, meaning it’s compatible with almost all operating systems. It works via a simple command line interface and supports multiple mining pools and devices. It's primarily designed to be used with hardware mining devices but can make use of any GPUs connected to your machine as well.

On first run, CGMiner will ask you to enter the URL, username and password (if necessary) for your mining pool, and it will automatically detect any hardware you have connected such as an ASIC device. 

Although you have to work with CGMiner via the command line, the layout is very easy on the eye: mining devices are listed at the top and you can use simple keyboard commands to change your settings (e.g. to enable verbose mode or detect new hardware).

During our tests using CGMiner 4.9.2 on Windows 10, we found that Windows Defender and our antivirus software tried to block the download. This may be because hackers using their own versions of this program could secretly install CGMiner on someone else's machine to mine for their own benefit. You can configure your system to make an exception for CGMiner if you wish, or use the Linux version.

The Bitminter Mining Pool has been around since 2011, and as one of the longest-running and most reliable services out there, it's perhaps unsurprising that its creator Geir Hansen has also produced an excellent mining client too.

The Bitminter client has an extremely clear graphical interface and can work with GPUs and external ASIC devices equally well. A simple dial on the left displays your hashrate in MH/s. Simply click 'Engine Start' to begin mining.

You can check progress at any time by reviewing the 'Stats' section which lists vital info such as the number of proofs of work accepted/rejected by the server, as well as the time spent working. You can reset these values at any time.

The Bitminter client also has a text console at the bottom of the window which provides you with updates such as when a device is connected, or when it has successfully connected to a mining pool.

The software has been designed for use only with Bitminter's mining pool. This means you'll need to create an account via the website. You also need to be happy with the location of Bitminter's servers (US and Europe), as well as the way in which the company shares mining rewards.

BFGMiner is based upon the aforementioned CGMiner, but is designed specifically for ASIC mining hardware. The client is also compatible with FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) devices and can be configured to work with some graphics cards – but it's unlikely you'll make a profit from these.

As BFGMiner has a narrow focus, it has more features to allow you to tinker with mining devices, such as overclocking and using a remote interface. It also monitors the temperature of most devices and can connect to multiple mining pools. Furthermore, BFGMiner will stop connecting to unreachable pools, saving you precious system resources.

The interface is text-based, but as with CGminer, options are very clearly laid out. You can make use of hotkeys to perform routine tasks such as monitoring pools, identifying devices and enabling extra features.

Besides offering a simple text interface and an arsenal of features, BFGMiner is available for Windows and all major flavors of Linux. BFGminer can be installed on a Raspberry Pi, too, as part of the free Minera operating system.

MultiMiner is a graphical frontend for BFGMiner. As such it has many powerful features but is also much kinder to newcomers.

When you first install and launch Multiminer, the application will guide you through the process of entering your pool information, using helpful tooltips to explain potentially unfamiliar terms.

After setup is complete, MultiMiner will automatically scan for mining devices and list their details in a helpful table, such as the pool used and average hash power. Most importantly, the client will also display your daily projected profit with your current mining hardware.

You can use the 'Pools' tabs to connect to multiple pools if you wish. The 'Strategies' section provides an easy way for you to choose how you want to mine: for instance you can choose to mine automatically based on which coin is most profitable, or choose to mine coins with low difficulty.

During setup the software developer requests that you send 1% of your profits to his wallet as a way of saying thank you for creating this awesome mining software. This is entirely voluntary – you can enable/disable this from within the app in the 'Perks' section.

Multiminer is cross-platform but you need to install additional software to get it working on macOS and Linux.

EasyMiner serves as a graphical frontend for the mining programs CGminer and CPUMiner. On first run, EasyMiner enters 'MoneyMaker' mode which allows you to automatically create a paper Litecoin wallet and start mining right away with a private pool. As convenient as this is, it's unlikely to generate much profit at the current difficulty rate.

The dashboard has a neatly laid out interface to allow you to configure mining pools, amend network settings and view your wallet. You can also use the settings feature to enable ASIC hardware such as an Antminer. This done, simply click 'Start Mining' to begin.

EasyMiner includes a console which informs you of the progress of CGminer (cgminer.exe) and CPUMiner (minerd.exe), which by default are used to mine Bitcoin and Litecoin respectively. There doesn't seem to be an easy way to switch off CPUMiner if you're only interested in Bitcoin.

During our tests on Windows 10, Avast Antivirus also automatically removed both the main EasyMiner program and CPUMiner, as malicious hackers have previously installed their own versions of these programs on other people's machines to mine coins for themselves as part of a botnet.

If you're interested in EasyMiner but don't want to deal with antivirus alerts, the program will work on Ubuntu Linux using Wine (see here for more info).

Top image credit: Targaryen (Wikimedia Commons)


Windows 10 preview beefs up do-not-disturb feature and sharpens Edge browser

12 January 2018 - 04:43 AM

Microsoft has pushed out a new preview build of Windows 10 to fast ring testers containing quite a number of changes, including work on the operating system’s do-not-disturb feature, and further tinkering with the Edge browser.

Build 17074 beefs up the Quiet Hours feature which, when turned on, prevents the user from being interrupted because they’re busy working hard (or perhaps gaming hard), only allowing notifications to come through from ‘important’ contacts or apps (and blocking the rest).

With the new preview build, you can set your own schedule for when Quiet Hours kicks in – and customize the relevant priority list to make sure notifications from important sources always get through.

Quiet Hours also engages automatically when you are playing a full-screen game, or when you’re duplicating your display (so that you won’t be interrupted during a presentation). These are certainly nifty added touches.

Windows 10 Quiet Hours

Edging forward

Microsoft has made another bunch of improvements to the Edge browser, including an overhauled Hub view that displays more content, and is more intuitive to use.

Edge has also got the ability to save and auto-fill credit (or debit) card details on website payment forms, with Microsoft noting that card information is securely saved (if you request the browser to do so). Also, the CVV security number on the rear of the card is never saved.

Furthermore, reading ebooks in Edge – as well as PDF files and web pages in Reading View – has been much improved with new Fluent Design elements introduced to improve aesthetics and generally streamline the experience. It’s now possible to enjoy ebooks or Reading View pages in full-screen, too.

Microsoft also modified the Start menu to show links to the Documents and Pictures folders by default.

Nearly-there-share

The Near Share feature that allows you to easily wirelessly share files between PCs in close proximity – it’s basically Microsoft’s take on Apple’s AirDrop – has also been worked upon to make it more reliable. If you found this feature too flaky before, Microsoft is urging you to try it again in this new build. 

There are a ton of other tweaks and adjustments in Build 17074 of Windows 10, like the ability to write with a stylus directly into a text field in the UI, so you can scribble straight into a search bar (which is enlarged when you tap on it with your pen to make writing inside it easier – as some of those interface bars can be pretty small).

For the full exhaustive rundown of changes, along with potential issues affecting this build, see Microsoft’s blog post.

Speaking of issues, note that this preview build has been blocked for PCs running older AMD processors. This is because it contains some further tweaks in terms of defending against Meltdown and Spectre, and the patches against these critical bugs have been known to cause boot failure in some machines running older AMD chips.


Facebook Messenger Kids arrives on Amazon Fire tablets

11 January 2018 - 08:23 AM

Facebook Messenger Kids is now available on the US Amazon Appstore for Amazon Fire tablets.

Facebook Messenger Kids is specially designed for children under 13, who are too young to have their own Facebook account. 

It lets them send messages and hold video calls with a list of contacts approved by their parents.

Cool for kids

Parents must download the app to their kid's phone, authenticate the device with their own Facebook account, and set up a profile with the child's full name. Contacts can only be added to the app via Facebook itself, so it's up to parents to decide who their kids can speak to.

If a child wants to speak to one of their classmates, for example, their parents have to link the two Messenger Kids accounts on Facebook itself. The connection has to be mutually agreed before the kids can start talking.

Adult friends and family members can use the regular Facebook Messenger to chat with youngsters on Facebook Messenger Kids, provided the link has been approved by the parents.

Facebook Messenger Kids accounts aren't publicly searchable, and the app doesn't display ads or gather data for advertisers.

A version of the app for Android devices is expected at the end of January.

Via TechCrunch