Opera Adds Built In VPN and Ad Blocking To Web Browser

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | October 28, 2016 - 12:46 AM |
Tagged: editorial, web browser, vpn, Privacy, Opera, Blink

It has been some time since I last looked at Opera, and while I used to be a big fan of the alternative web browser my interest waned around the time that they abandoned their own engine to become (what I felt) yet another Chrome (Webkit) clone. Specifically, it looks like the last version I tested out was 12.10. Well, last month Opera released version 40 with just enough of a twist to pique my interest once again: the inclusion of a free built-in VPN.

Opera 41 Built In VPN.png

I (finally) got around to testing out the new browser today, and it works fairly well. While setting the default to share usage data is not ideal, offering to enable the ad blocker after installation is a good touch. The VPN feature is a bit more tucked away than I would like but still accessible enough from the settings menu. Further, once it is enabled, it is easy to turn it off and on using the icon in the search/address bar.

According to Opera, the built-in VPN (virtual private network) comes courtesy of SurfEasy – a company that Opera acquired last year. SurfEasy uses OpenVPN and 256-bit encryption and also lauds itself on being a no-log VPN (they do not maintain logs tracking users' usage). Opera is not currently imposing any restrictions on the free VPN built into Opera with bandwith and data usage not being capped. Not bad for a free offering! For comparison, I've used the free version of ProXPN on occasion (public Wi-Fi mostly), and while the VPN is for the entire PC (not just the browser like in Opera's case) they heavily throttle the download speeds to entice you to pay (heh).

In a quick test, I got the following results:

  Ping (ms) Download (Mbps) Upload (Mbps)
No VPN 13 90.26 12.14
Opera VPN 108 89.72 12.06
ProXPN Basic 38 1.74 11.19

Considering the exit point was much further away (SpeedTest chose a Kansas test server, and it looks like the VPN server may have been in Houston, TX), the performance was not bad. Download and Upload speeds were only slightly slower, but (as expected) the ping was much higher.

Opera offers five locations for its free VPN: Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Singapore, and the United States.

Users can enable the VPN by browsing to opera://settings and clicking on Privacy & Security in the left hand list then checking the box next to "Enable VPN."

On another note, the included ad blocker seemed to work well (it apparently has already blocked 86 ads even though I only hit up a couple sites!). My only complaint here is that it does not make it as easy as AdBlock Plus to block/unblock specific elements (or if there is a way it's not intuitive). It is only a minor complaint though, and not really relevant for the majority of users.

I am by no means a browser benchmarker, but it feels fast enough when switching between tabs and loading websites. Fortunately, Michael Muchmore and Max Eddy put Opera through its paces and compiled the benchmark results from several synthetic tests if you are into the nitty-gritty numbers. From their data it appears that Opera is not the fastest, but by no means a slouch. The one test it fell hard on was the Unity WebGL benchmark, though it was not the only browser to do so (Opera, Chrome, and Vivaldi were all close with FireFox and Edge getting the top scores).

Other features of Opera 40 (41 in my case) include a personalized newsfeed that can be fed with any user-supplied RSS feeds, a new battery saver mode, hardware accelerated pop-out videos, Chromecast support, and a number of under the hood performance and memory optimizations (especially with more than 10 tabs open).

I am going to keep it installed and may switch back to using Opera as my daily browser. It looks like it has come a long way since Opera 12 and while it is similar to Chrome under the hood, Opera is doing enough to set itself apart that it may be worth looking into further.

What are your thoughts on Opera 41? 

Source: Opera

AT&T Will Start Enforcing U-Verse Data Caps, Charging Extra For Unlimited Data

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | March 30, 2016 - 08:00 AM |
Tagged: U-Verse, opinion, isp, Internet, FTTN, FTTH, editorial, data cap, AT%26T

AT&T U-Verse internet users will soon feel the pain of the company's old school DSL users in the form of enforced data caps and overage charges for exceeding new caps. In a blog post yesterday, AT&T announced plans to roll out new data usage caps for U-Verse users as well as a ('Comcastic') $30 per month option for unlimited data use.

Starting on May 23, 2016 AT&T U-Verse (VDSL2 and Gigapower/Fiber) customers will see an increase to their usage allowance based on their speed tier. Currently, U-Verse FTTN customer have a 250 GB cap regardless of speed tier while FTTH customers in its Gigapower markets have a higher 500 GB cap. These caps were soft caps and not enforced meaning that customers were not charged anything for going over them. That will soon change, and all U-Verse customers will be charged for going over their cap at a rate of $10 for every 50 GB over the cap. (e.g. Even if you use only 1 GB over the cap, you will still be charged the full $10 fee.).

ATTUverse2WireRG.jpg

The new U-Verse caps (also listed in the chart below) range from 300 GB for speeds up to 6 Mbps and 600 GB for everything up to its bonded pair 75 Mbps tier. At the top end, customers lucky enough to get fiber to the home and speed plans up to 1 Gbps will have a 1 TB cap.

Internet Tier New Data Caps Overage Charges
AT&T DSL (all speeds) 150 GB $10 per 50GB
AT&T U-Verse (768 Kbps – 6 Mbps) 300 GB $10 per 50GB
AT&T U-Verse (12 Mbps – 75Mbps) 600 GB $10 per 50GB
AT&T U-Verse FTTH (100 Mbps – 1 Gbps)  1 TB $10 per 50GB

Uverse customers that expect to use more than 500 GB over their data cap ($100 is the maximum overage charge) or that simply prefer not to worry about tracking their data usage can opt to pay an additional $30 monthly fee to be exempt from their data cap.

It's not all bad news though. General wisdom has always been that U-Verse customers subscribed to both internet and TV would be exempt from the caps even if AT&T started to enforce them. This is not changing. U-Verse customers subscribed to U-Verse TV (IPTV) or Direct TV on a double play package with U-Verse internet will officially be exempt from the cap and will get the $30/month unlimited data option for free.

AT&T DSL users continue to be left behind here as they will not receive an increase in their 150 GB data allowance, and from the wording of the blog post it appears that they will further be left out of the $30 per month unlimited data option (which would have actually been a very welcome change for them).

Karl Bode over at DSLReports adds a bit of interesting history in mentioning that originally AT&T stated that U-Verse users would not be subject to a hard data cap because of the improved network architecture and its "greater capacity" versus the old school CO-fed DSL lines. With the acquisition of Direct TV and the way that AT&T has been heavily pushing Direct TV and pushing customers away from its IPTV U-Verse TV service, it actually seems like a perfect time to not enforce data caps since customers going with its Direct TV satellite TV would free up a great deal of bandwidth on the VDSL2 wireline network for internet!

This recent move is very reminiscent of Comcast's as it "trials" data caps and overages in certain markets as well as having it's own extra monthly charge for unlimited data use. Considering the relatively miniscule cost to deliver this data versus the monthly service charges, these new unlimited options really seem more about seeking profit than any increased costs especially since customers have effectively had unlimited data this whole time and will soon be charged for the same service they've possibly been using for years. I will give AT&T some credit for implementing more realistic data caps and bumping everyone up based on speed tiers (something Comcast should adopt if they are set on having caps). Also, letting Internet+TV customers keep unlimited data is a good thing, even if it is only there to encourage people not to cut the cord.

The final bit of good news is that existing U-Verse customers will have approximately four months before they will be charged for going over their data caps. AT&T claims that they will only begin charging for overages on the third billing cycle, giving customers at least two 'free' months of overages. Users can opt to switch between unlimited and capped options at will, even in the middle of a billing cycle, and the company will send as many as seven email reminders at various data usage points as they approach the cap in the first two months as a warning to the overages.

This is a lot to take in, but there is still plenty of time to figure out how the changes will affect you. 

Are you a U-Verse or AT&T DSL user? What do you think about the new data caps for U-Verse users and the $30/month unlimited data option?

Source: AT&T

Happy Fun Time with Electronic Arts

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | October 1, 2012 - 01:36 PM |
Tagged: editorial, ea, battlefield 3

You know, I used to love Electronic Arts.  There was a time in my younger days where seeing their name emblazoned on a PC game box as I wandered the aisles of Electronics Boutique was all I needed to see to buy it.  I can still remember the scrolling colors through the big "E C A" on my Commodore 64 as I anxiously waited for Bards Tale or Racing Destruction set to load.  Ah...the good old days.

01_ECA_Loading.jpg

Sadly, that warm and fuzzy feeling is long gone, and over the years I've come to dislike just about everything about EA and what they've become.  My most recent foray into the mess that is EA has killed any nostalgia I had for them.  Let's walk through the fun.

I love the BattleField series of games, and have been an avid fan of them ever since the days of BF 1942.  Some of my best memories of LAN parties were BF 1942.  Whether it was driving like mad in a Jeep from one end of Wake Island to the other to try to stop a flag capture, or jumping into a T-34 in Kursk, it was about as much fun as I can recall having with a video game.  Over the years I've picked up most of the BF incarnations and when Battlefield 3 came out, I picked up a copy on release day for my XBox.  I generally like playing games on PC's over consoles, especially First Person Shooters, but I had a few friends that were playing on XBox and we all wanted to jump in and play together.  Even though I'm awful using the controller to play, we had a blast, but after a few months we stopped playing.

02_BF3_XBox_Cover.jpg

Fast forward to the other day and the PcPer crew decides they want to play BF3 after the recent podcast.  I definitely can't pass up the option to get in on some Battlefield goodness, so even though I've already forked over $60 for the game and another $20 for the first expansion pack to EA on my XBox, I'm stuck with having to buy another copy of the game, just so I can play on a different platform.  Off to Amazon and another $35 funnels into EA's coffers.  Two hours and a 10 GB download later the install starts and up comes...

03_Origin_Setup.jpg

Ugh...Origin...really?  I can understand why EA wants its own online game distribution system, but c'mon!  I already have a ton of games through Steam and everything works without a hitch.  Origin is a mess and I've had nothing but problems with it in the past.  I dislike using it so much that I won't buy a game if I know I have to install and use Origin to play.

But I digress.  I've already thrown another $35 at EA and we're going to play tonight, so I guess I'll just deal with it.  Hoping to fire it up and get my keybindings setup and a little bit of practice in I double click on the BF3 icon and a browser window opens.  What in the heck?  A browser?  Where's the game?  I close the browser figuring something is wrong, double click on the game icon again and up pops the browser.  Jeezalou.  I struggle for a few minutes trying to remember my ID and password for EA's site and when I finally do get in I'm looking at my stats page for my soldier.  My soldier on the XBox.  Clicking through the menus I vainly try to find a button that will let me launch the game when I notice a little drop down arrow under my Soldier name that says "BF3 XBOX".  Click on that and there's "BF3 PC".  Seriously?  I have to start over and lose all my unlocks?  My google-fu finds that there's no way to merge the two, because apparently EA doesn't understand the concept of a shared database.

Regardless, I eventually find a button labeled "Quick Match" and here we go...

04_Quick_Launch_Button.jpg

<Click>

05_Browser_Error.jpg

Holy batsnots, seriously?  In this day and age, I can't play a AAA title video game on my PC because my default browser is 64-bit?  Good lord!  I really don't want to change my default browser just to play this game, so I end up having to fire up a 32 bit version of Internet Explorer, copy and paste the link into that just so I can try to launch the game.  Error message doesn't pop up, but now I apparently need a few plugins.  At this point I had to replace my keyboard as the head bashing knocked a few keys off.  Once I get all the plugins installed I click on the "Quick Match" button again and...

Waiting...

Waiting...

Still waiting...

Continue reading our editorial on the pains of Battlefield 3 on the PC...

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

I say let the world go to hell

… but I should always have my tea. (Notes From Underground, 1864)

You can praise video games as art to justify its impact on your life – but do you really consider it art?

VidGameArtLogo.png

Best before the servers are taken down, because you're probably not playing it after.

Art allows the author to express their humanity and permits the user to consider that perspective. We become cultured when we experiment with and to some extent understand difficult human nature problems. Ideas are transmitted about topics which we cannot otherwise understand. We are affected positively as humans in society when these issues are raised in a safe medium.

Video games, unlike most other mediums, encourage the user to coat the creation with their own expressions. The player can influence the content through their dialogue and decision-tree choices. The player can accomplish challenges in their own unique way and talk about it over the water cooler. The player can also embed their own content as a direct form of expression. The medium will also mature as we further learn how to leverage interactivity to open a dialogue for these artistic topics in completely new ways and not necessarily in a single direction.

Consciously or otherwise – users will express themselves.

With all of the potential for art that the medium allows it is a shame that – time and time again – the industry and its users neuter its artistic capabilities in the name of greed, simplicity, or merely fear.

Care to guess where I am headed? Buckle in.

Author:
Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer:

Introduction, Low-Power Computing Was Never Enjoyable

deadatom1.jpg

It was nearly five years ago that ASUS announced the first Eee PC model at Computex. That October the first production version of what would to be called a netbook, the ASUS Eee PC 4G, was released. The press latched on to the little Eee PC, making it the new darling of the computer industry. It was small, it was inexpensive, and it was unlike anything on the market.

Even so, the original Eee PC was a bit of a dead end. It used an Intel Celeron processor that was not suited for the application. It consumed too much power and took up a significant portion of the netbook’s production cost. If Intel’s Celeron had remained the only option for netbooks they probably would not have made the leap from press darling to mainstream consumer device.

It turned out that Intel (perhaps unintentionally) had the solution – Atom. Originally built with hopes that it might power “mobile Internet devices” it proved to be the netbook’s savior. It allowed vendors to squeeze out cheap netbooks with Windows and a proper hard drive.

At the time, Atom and the netbook seemed promising. Sales were great – consumers loved the cute, pint-sized, affordable computers. In 2009 netbook sales jumped by over 160% quarter-over-quarter while laptops staggered along with single-digit growth. The buzz quickly jumped to other products, spawning nettops, media centers and low-power all-in-one-PCs. There seemed to be nothing an Atom powered computer could not do.

Fast forward. Earlier this year, PC World ran an article asking if netbooks are dead. U.S. sales peaked in the first quarter of 2010 and have been nose-diving since then, and while some interest remains in the other markets, only central Europe and Latin America have held steady. It appears the star that burned brightest has indeed burned the quickest. 

But why?

Continue reading our editorial on the problems with low power x86 processors...