Sunday, 20 August 2017

CDNlion

It may be a small CDN, but the CDNlion website makes some big claims, suggesting the company offers "unlimited performance and coverage" for the "industry's lowest price".

CDNlion certainly has one of the largest networks we've seen: 124 locations in total including 39 in North America, 53 in Europe, 23 in Asia, six in Oceania, two in South America and one in Africa. That doesn't guarantee great performance – the company is powered by OnApp CDN, which isn't noted for top speeds – but it doesn't hurt, either.

The CDN supports origin pull (content is grabbed from your server when first requested) and origin push (content is automatically uploaded to the CDN when it's added to the server, or updated). You're able to create separate CDN zones for as many websites as you need, and shared SSL covers all your content for free.

Once you're set up, CDNlion offers load balancing to optimize performance. Auto-failover ensures your content is served even during hardware failure, and DDoS protection shields you from attackers.

Pricing

CDNlion pricing is based on the amount of data you go through. This varies between regions, starting at a reasonable $49 (£39) per terabyte for North America and Europe ($0.0049 per GB), ranging up to $119 (£95) in Asia, $199 (£160) in Australia and an eye-watering $699 (£559) in Africa.

The company offers access to "more exclusive locations for better load time" at extra cost: $69 (£55) per terabyte in North America and Europe, $199 (£160) in Asia. It's good to have options, although this also indicates the regular servers aren't going to give you the best performance.

The good news here is there are no extra charges for requests or using HTTPS rather than HTTP.

The not-so-good news is there's a minimum payment of $39 (£31). At least your credits never expire, and you only have to pay again when your balance is running low.

A very limited free trial gives you 7 days and 20GB of data to sample the service. That's not going to allow serious performance testing, but it's enough to help you understand how the service works and the options available.

Setup

To access the CDNlion trial you must first create a user account. There are no great surprises here and you don't have to provide too many details: just your name, email address and country. Submit the form, confirm your email address and you're taken directly to the CDNlion console.

The website opens at the 'Add a new Resource' screen where you're able to choose from three CDN types: HTTP, Video on Demand or Video Streaming.

We opted for HTTP and were prompted to enter our origin (www.mydomain.com) and preferred CDN domain (cdn.mydomain.com).

There's an 'Enable SSL' feature, but this only supports shared SSL using the r.worldssl.net domain – the site doesn't offer a custom SSL option.

We created our CDN and headed off to the Settings dialog, where we were hoping to find more advanced tweaks. Unfortunately, there were only four new settings available, which is poor even by the standards of OnApp-powered CDNs.

Cache Expiry Time enables setting the length of time files are stored in the cache before checking for updates. Disable Indexing blocks search engine bots from accessing the site. Hotlink Policy can prevent unauthorized sites linking to your content.

Finally, there's the clumsily-named 'Not Ignore Set Cookie'. Was the double negative a mistake, we wondered? Apparently not: checking that setting will cache cookies, clearing it ignores them.

We explored the rest of the console in a desperate search for something exciting – but unfortunately had no luck in that quest. Simple prefetching enables preloading the CDN with files so they're ready for the first user request, and purging deletes specified files or the entire cache. A small Statistics page gives you basic feedback on your traffic – and that's about it.

Checking the Support site confirmed the lack of functionality, with short and very limited articles on setting up the basics, and a few brief pieces on integrating the service with WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, PrestaShop and cPanel. Even these were presented in a simple ‘do this, do that’ form, with no real depth.

This kind of stripped-back service might not be an issue for everyone. If you only need the CDN basics – accelerating a simple WordPress site, maybe – CDNlion will get the job done. But if you want to use custom SSL, redirect HTTP traffic to HTTPS, choose how query strings are handled, control compression, play with headers or do anything faintly advanced, the service is going to be a huge disappointment.

Performance

Comparing CDN speeds in any meaningful way is extremely difficult as there are so many issues to consider: the web applications you're running, the size of files you're caching, how often they're updated, the location and spread of your visitors. A service that works well for a European blog might not deliver at all for an Indian download site or an American video streaming service.

The best option is to forget the complexities and concentrate on a simple metric: HTTP request query time. It's only one figure, but it's a good basis for comparison, and Cedexis gives easy access to the results for multiple CDNs based on billions of real user tests.

CDNlion uses OnApp CDN rather than its own servers, so doesn't appear in the Cedexis data. We decided to look at OnApp CDN performance instead, and compare it alongside three other services: Cloudflare ranked second in the speed rankings during our tests, Cloudfront was 10th, and Leaseweb was 20th.

OnApp's results were poor in North America and Europe, with the service clearly behind our other test services. But OnApp's number of locations made a real difference in other parts of the world, and it hit first place in Asia, and second in Oceania, Africa and South America.

Keep in mind that these figures relate to the full OnApp network. CDNlion only uses a small proportion of these servers, and charges a premium price for the best locations, so its regular accounts won't see this level of speed increase. Still, there's obvious potential here, and if your website audience is outside of Europe and North America, CDNlion may be able to deliver decent performance.

Final verdict

Horribly basic, short on configuration options and overpriced for an OnApp service, CDNlion won't appeal to most people. Beginners will get more from a free Cloudflare account, and KeyCDN offers much more power for a lower cost.



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Saturday, 19 August 2017

Moto Z2 Force Review

Our comprehensive review of the Motorola Moto Z2 Force. For $750 off-contract, the Moto Z2 Force features a 5.5" P-OLED display with a QHD resolution, Snapdragon 835 chipset with 4GB RAM, dual 12-megapixel camera sensors, 2730mAh battery, and Android 7.1 Nougat. How do you think this smartphone compares to the competition?



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Is it time for 64GB to be the new standard entry-level storage option?

iPhone capacity

It may or may not come as a surprise to you to learn that last year was the first year that Apple officially killed off the entry-level 16GB iPhone. While most other manufacturers – when it comes to flagships, anyway – had long since moved on to offering 32GB in their entry-level devices, Apple kept insisting on offering 16GB iPhones, despite bumping up the next two tiers to 64 and 128GB of storage. This gave off the illusion that buyers would be getting a “really good deal” by spending $100 more on the middle and top tier models, which was true. It was a good deal compared to the stunted base 16GB model.

But that’s in the past. Apple finally moved beyond that last year with 32, 128, and 256GB of storage offered in the iPhone 7. With the next generation iPhone on the horizon, I started to wonder: Will Apple stick with 32GB this year, or will they bump it up to 64GB instead?

To me, it seems equally as unlikely as it is likely. As much as I like Apple products, the company isn’t exactly known for being keen on change, and they already made a change last year to internal storage. That doesn’t happen very often. On the other hand, the next iPhone is said to make some radical design changes anyway, so it also doesn’t seem too outlandish to think that perhaps Apple might be willing to bump up the base storage as well.

It isn’t just about Apple, though. More manufacturers appear to be bumping up their base storage to 64GB, including the OnePlus 5 and the new Nokia 8. However, finding a 64GB base is still a rarity. Is it time to put the pressure on manufacturers to raise the bar once again? I think so.

Personally, I still have a hard time using up 32GB of storage. Throughout most of 2016 I used 32GB models of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, and never had a need to use the microSD card that it supported. However, I only owned those phones for a little over a year. Had I held on to them for as long as they would last, or even if I just used one instead of switching, I would have eventually had to utilize the microSD card. Admittedly, I was cutting it close with the Edge.

I would say that phones without microSD card support – like the iPhone, which has never supported them – have a dire need to raise the entry-level storage to 64GB. At least with the Galaxy S7 I had the option to use microSD, so I never felt pressured regarding my phone’s dwindling storage space because there was a simple solution to expand it. Not only that, but most people don’t upgrade as often as I do, so using up 32GB of storage would be nothing over the course of a couple of years. Back when I realized that I was stretching 16GB too thin too quickly, it was inconvenient to offload all of my photos on my computer or into the cloud just to make more room for photos or music or whatever. I have no doubt that this will soon be (if not already) the case for 32GB of storage.

With so many apps, high quality cameras, and continuously growing number of reasons to use our smartphones, the only direction to go is up. Raising the base to 64GB of storage is bound to happen sooner or later, of course, but it would be nice for it to be the former.

Readers, what are your thoughts on storage for entry-level smartphones? Is 32GB still sufficient enough for your needs, or do you think it’s time to raise the bar? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!



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Leaseweb

Leaseweb is an enterprise-level high-end CDN which is also just about accessible to regular business and professional users – the minimum cost is €49 ($58, £45) a month.

The company runs a large network featuring 36 points of presence (POPs) strategically positioned across North America, Europe and Asia. Bandwidth capacity is a mammoth 5.5Tbps and there's peering with more than 2,000 ISPs to keep your data running smoothly.

The CDN supports unlimited zones, and can be used on as many domains as necessary. Pre-fetch functionality ensures large files are cached for the first request, a purge feature removes them on demand, and there's a stack of header-modifying, cookie handling and cache management tools to customize the CDN to suit your needs.

Security features start with free shared SSL, and support for custom certificates. Access control features enable blocking requests by IP, domain, country or referrer (hotlink protection). Secure token URL support helps you manage assets which may be downloaded by authorized users only – so for example you can wall off paid content – and DDoS protection keeps you safe from hacking attacks.

Real-time reports keep you up-to-date on CDN and website performance, and detailed analytics cover bandwidth, traffic, cache hit/miss results and HTTP status codes.

Leaseweb also offers its own object storage platform to store your content. It's S3-compatible so works with many tools and technologies out of the box.

24/7 support is included in the price, and the website says there's "direct contact with our developer team by email or phone". No outsourcing here, it seems, and that works for us.

Pricing

Leaseweb is a quality service aimed mostly at demanding enterprise users. One plan gives you a Petabyte of traffic (1000TB) and 1TB storage, for example, for €4500 ($5,280, £4,100) a month.

Fortunately, there's a baseline subscription which might appeal to smaller businesses. A 2TB plan gives you all the same CDN and security features as its big brother, but can be yours for a more manageable €49 ($58, £45) a month. If you'll use most of that bandwidth, it's actually a good deal – a service like Amazon Cloudfront could cost at least three times as much.

There's nothing else to pay beyond this monthly rate, at least for the basic service (extras, like storage, cost more). There's no extra charge for data from some regions, and no premium for HTTPS traffic. Leaseweb doesn't put an artificial limit on the number of domains it supports, either – you can set up as many individual CDN resources as you need.

Leaseweb is still a relatively expensive service for low bandwidth users, but fortunately there's a free trial to help you see how it could work for you. The trial lasts for 30 days according to the website, although we were told 46 days when we signed up. Whatever the truth, there's more than enough time to get a feel for Leaseweb’s abilities.

Setup

Signing up for the Leaseweb trial requires providing all your contact details: name, email address, physical address and phone number. The website states that you'll be called by phone to confirm your details, too, which is a little more intrusive than we would like.

We filled in the form, clicked Submit, and the website told us that a customer representative would be in touch shortly by phone to confirm our information. That 'shortly' seemed unlikely as we had signed up on a Sunday evening, and a follow-up email explained that sales office hours are 8:30am to 5:30pm, Monday to Friday only.

We keep our mobile numbers private, so handed over a landline number instead, which proved a mistake this time. We were out for only 30 minutes the next day, but that's when Leaseweb called, and it wasn't until the following morning that we could finally take the call and authenticate the account. You're less likely to have these problems if you're providing a mobile number, or calling from a business where there's always someone around, but it's still a more inconvenient signup process than you'll normally get elsewhere.

Was it worth the wait? Well, yes. The Leaseweb console made a positive impression right away with its well-designed opening screen. A world map highlights your traffic, a top 10 of countries tells you where your visitors are coming from, there's live stats on bandwidth use and cache hits, and a zoomable chart of monthly traffic.

Creating your first CDN zone is a two-step process. It starts by specifying your origin. This can be a normal 'Simple' server over HTTP or HTTPS, or an S3 (or compatible) object storage account.

Setting up a regular server can be as simple as providing its URL, but you can also set the CDN cache timeout, add custom origin HTTP headers, and optionally set a username and password to enable basic HTTP authentication.

The second step is to set up a pull zone (the CDN grabs content from the origin) or push zone (you upload content to the CDN first). We opted for a pull zone, and were presented with five options: 'Site Acceleration' (set up your domain on the CDN), 'Small Files' (sites with small graphics, scripts, CSS), 'Large Files' (sites with archives, downloads, more), 'Video on Demand' and 'Live Streaming'. Select whatever best represents your website and needs, then Leaseweb optimizes its settings accordingly, which is much easier than having to figure them out for yourself.

Of course there are also plenty of tweaks available for anyone who wants to take low-level control of the service. Some are familiar: set GZip compression, block selected countries, ignore or cache cookies, redirect HTTP traffic to HTTPS, decide how to handle URLs with query strings. Others are more unusual and interesting. You can set the cache-control header, choose how long to cache 404 responses (if at all), add or remove specified HTTP headers, ignore or cache Vary headers, and more. There's way more control than you'll get with many other services.

A standard Purge option removes all or specified content from the cache. The website promises 'instant purge', but the control panel is more vague, just saying that requests will be processed 'as fast as possible' and that 'delays up to 15 minutes may occur'.

A Statistics menu extends the front page figures with even more graphs and charts. There are sections covering traffic (Bandwidth, 95th Percentile, Traffic Volume, Geographic Distribution, Hits), visitors (Unique, Operating Systems, Browsers), the top 20 files and file types, cache performance and HTTP status codes.

A CDN manual is on hand for emergencies. It's adequate and covers the basics, but that's about it. Fortunately there's 24/7 support available via email, with telephone support available in the US, Germany and the Netherlands.

Performance

Understanding how a CDN performs is extremely difficult as there are so many possible metrics. You could measure video streaming, large downloads or WordPress acceleration and get different results each time, even before you factor in the location of your visitors.

One simple option is to compare CDN response times at CDNPerf. It's just a single figure and you shouldn't treat it as a definitive verdict, but you can get a basic idea of what a service can do.

At the time of this review Leaseweb ranked 20th out of 24 for worldwide response times. Other big names weren't far away – Bitgravity was 18th, Highwinds 19th – but this is still a little disappointing.

The worldwide figure is an average, and sometimes services rate significantly higher in particular continents or countries. Leaseweb’s continent rankings were relatively consistent at 18th to 22nd, but it does do far better in some countries. The service is equal first in its Netherlands home, for instance, and it scores well in a few other countries.

Leaseweb’s speeds don't look great on this simple metric, then, but it's not the only measure of a CDN. If you'll use Leaseweb’s more advanced features, the service may still be worth a look.

Final verdict

Leaseweb is a professional CDN stuffed with features and it’s endlessly tweakable via an excellent web console. The high price and poor response times make it difficult to recommend, but if you need this level of functionality we'd suggest you try it anyway.



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Friday, 18 August 2017

Google begins showing video previews in Android search results

Google app Android

Google has announced that a notable change is coming to its mobile search results.

The Google app for Android and Chrome on Android will now show video previews when video results show up in the video carousel of search results. These look a bit like GIFs, giving you a preview of what the video is like without you having to tap the Play button.

Google video previews search results Android

Google says that by default, video previews will only play over Wi-Fi, which is a good decision to help conserve peoples’ data usage. You can enable previews over cellular and opt out of video previews completely by going into the settings menu in the Google app or in Chrome for Android.

These video previews will begin appearing today, August 18th, and will roll out more widely next week.



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Samsung Galaxy Note 8 leaks continue with new images and pre-order info

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 photos leak

We’re now just a few days out from Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 event, and the leaks are coming fast and furious.

First up, some images that claim to show the Galaxy Note 8 hardware have leaked on Weibo. This device looks similar to the one that appeared in some render leaks recently, complete with a large display, slim bezels, and curved edges. Around back there’s a dual rear camera setup with a fingerprint to the right of it.

Meanwhile, Evan Blass reports that Samsung will begin taking pre-orders for the Galaxy Note 8 on August 24th, with a launch happening September 15th. He adds that Note 8 pre-orders in the U.S. will come with a 256GB microSD card and the buyer’s choice of either a convertible wireless charger or 360-degree camera, while European pre-order customers will get a DeX dock.

Finally, Ausdroid has posted what it says is a sales brochure for the Galaxy Note 8. There’s not really any new information about the device revealed within, but it does back up several of the Note 8’s rumored specs, including a 6.3-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED Infinity Display, dual rear cameras with 2x optical zoom, an iris scanner, and IP68 water and dust resistance.

Samsung is holding an event on August 23rd, and the company is widely expected to announce the Galaxy Note 8 there. Based on everything we’ve seen so far, are you thinking about buying the Note 8?



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CDNsun

CDNsun is a Czech content delivery network which offers a wide range of features for a budget price.

Network size doesn't tell you much on its own, but it's hard not to be impressed by CDNsun's 70+ locations. With 32 in Europe, 23 in North and South America and 17 in Oceania, you're getting access to more than twice the POPs of some of the competition.

The service supports multiple CDN types: origin pull (content is hosted on your server and grabbed when required), origin push (content is hosted with CDNsun), live video streamed from your site, or live video streamed from CDNsun.

There's free shared SSL support on CDSun's *.r.worldssl.net domain. The company can provide a free custom Let's Encrypt SSL certificate to cover your own domain, or you can use a custom certificate of your own, and in all cases CDNsun enables it for free.

If you're starting from scratch, CDNsun can provide a custom SAN Cloud SSL certificate for a standard $660 (£530) a year plus a one-off installation fee of $39 (£31).

The service provides several ways to protect your content. You can block everyone but a few trusted domains from hotlinking to your files. There's support for restricting requests by country and IP address. URL Signing is a token authentication feature which ensures only requests with a valid token are allowed access, handy for paid content. You can even password-protect some or all your resources.

If you've ever used another CDN, you'll recognise many of the other settings. You can set your cache expiry time, set your origin protocol and port (HTTPS, HTTP, 80/443), choose how to handle query strings and cookies, block crawlers and more.

Reports include real-time stats, details on your cache utilization (cache hits, origin hits, cache hit ratio) and HTTP status codes. Raw logs are also available via FTP, FTPS, SFTP and RSYNC priced from $2 a month per CDN.

Wowza-powered video streaming automatically transcodes your content to work with multiple protocols, including RTMP/RTMPE (Flash), HLS (Apple, Android, HTML5 players), RTSP, MSS (Windows Phone, Silverlight players) and HDS (HTML5 players).

If you're interested in the video side, CDsun has many options and features to help. Check out the excellent website article for guidance.

Pricing

CDNsun Business, the company's baseline plan, appealed to us immediately as it has no monthly fee and no minimum traffic level. You get all the same features that enterprise customers benefit from, and the sole restriction is the plan 'only' supports up to 10 websites (high-end accounts can go up to 50).

Pricing can be complicated as every POP – not just every region – has its own charge for data transfer. Prices range from $0.03 in some areas of Europe, up to $0.27 in South Africa.

Fortunately, CDNsun offers a calculator to give you some estimates. It suggested 1TB of data transfer spread 50/50 between Europe and North America might cost around $49 (£39), for example, or a very reasonable $0.049 per GB.

Even when we reallocated transfers to be 60% from the more expensive Asia and South America, the cost was around $97 (£78) or $0.0097 per GB. That's more expensive than some – KeyCDN charges a flat rate of $0.04 anywhere in the world – but significantly better than Cloudfront and many others, especially as there's no extra charge for requests or HTTPS.

Upgrading to a higher bandwidth plan gives you support for more sites, and marginally cuts the per-GB cost.

All plans come with 20GB storage for free. After that, prices range from $5 (£4) per month for 50GB to $169 (£135) for a giant 2TB.

There are other potential costs for video streaming or premium SSL, but CDNsun doesn't hide these away. They're all listed on a single Pricing page, with calculators where necessary to help you figure out the costs.

CDNsun offers a free trial to help you check out the service. This essentially means they credit your account with $2 (£1.60) of traffic, worth around 40GB of traffic at best, so it's not exactly generous. Still, it's enough to get a feel for the product, and with no monthly fee you can run extra tests at minimal cost.

Setup

Tired of companies demanding endless personal details when you sign up for something? CDNsun takes a much simpler approach. Fill in one small form with your company name and email address, choose your time zone, click Submit and an email arrives moments later with your login details.

We clicked the email link, entered our allocated password and were taken directly to the CDNsun console. This looks a little intimidating, at least initially, as it's so crammed with options: twelve tabs down the left-hand side (New Service, Settings, Locations, Storage, PPoints, Media, Certs, and more), four at the top (Reports, Services, Billing, Help). Even the opening ‘Create a new Service’ dialog has multiple tabs for Pull, Push, Live, VOD, VOD Push and Live.

Look more closely, though, and interface works very well. At a minimum, you can create a service by entering a CDN and origin domain (cdn.mydomain.com and www.mydomain.com). Every CDN type has a brief but clear description of what it does, and the interface also has pointers to information you need to understand. ('Looking for CDN with SSL support? Please read this first.')

Click an Advanced Settings button and you're able to browse and tweak a wide range of options: cache expiry time, query string and cookie handling, hotlinking policy, geofiltering, traffic limiting and more.

Just as you'd expect from a panel labelled ‘Advanced...’, there are plenty of technical features. They're better arranged and presented than you'll see with most CDNs, though, and every settings box has a tooltip with genuinely helpful details.

After service creation, a 'CDN Service How-To' page displays your allocated CDN domain, which will look something like '252720767.r.CDNsun.net'. There's some helpful guidance (with examples) on how to change your website links to point to the CDN, as well as a content checker and CURL tool to check the status of CDN content (that's what we call thorough).

Clicking the 'Custom Setup' tab explains how to use CNAME records to set up a custom domain (cdn.myname.com), and again provides practical examples of how you can update your website to use the CDN.

Moving on to the main console, a Locations tab displays all the CDNsun locations you're willing to use. If you don't want to use more costly POPs, they can be disabled with a click. This works individually, not just by region, so for example you could disable the two most expensive Australian POPs, but keep the cheapest to still give users some benefit.

A 'Storages' tab enables creating a CDNsun-hosted account for storing some of your files. You can set this up with a click, the site displays the hostname, username and password, and you can upload content via FTP, FTPS, SFTP, RSYNC or the API. It's quick, easy, and as you get 20GB of storage for free, well worth doing. Place some of your larger static files here and you'll reduce the load and bandwidth costs for your origin server.

A Tools section allows prefetching files so they're immediately available for their first request, as well as purging specific objects or the entire cache.

There are some unusual but welcome tools to help you troubleshoot problems. You can check whether your DNS settings have propagated, see if specific files are included within the CDN, or compare content on CDN edge services to make sure they're in sync. You probably won't need these features very often – maybe you'll never use them at all – but it's still good to see a company that thinks ahead and goes to such lengths to help you out.

There's a lot to like here, then, but CDNsun's standout feature is probably its in-depth documentation. While other CDNs might give you a couple of lines on a feature like 'HTTP pseudo-streaming', CDNsun provides a detailed 600-word description on what it is, where it's set, how it works, gives you multiple usage examples, tells you about compatible players, points you to a page where you can test your setup, and has links to other related documents.

Maybe you just want to know how to integrate CDNsun with your CMS or website application? CDNsun has almost 40 tutorials including everything from a comprehensive WordPress guide to expert-level advice on streaming video via FFmpeg.

It's a very impressive collection of documents which tramples all over the best efforts of many competitors. If support matters to you, spend a moment browsing the CDNsun knowledgebase to see what's on offer.

Performance

Figuring out which is the fastest CDN for your website can be a real challenge, as there are so many points to consider. Do you have a simple static website, are you using WordPress, maybe streaming video? What type and size of files are you caching, how often are they updated, where are your visitors located?

Normally we would try to compare a simple metric like HTTP response time at CDNPerf, but as CDNsun doesn't yet appear on the list, there's no data to examine.

Falling back on general impressions, CDNsun's large network should improve speeds, particularly in Oceania and other areas which aren't well served by most providers. The service doesn't have the image compression, Brotli support or other extras that might further reduce file size and accelerate performance. But on the plus side, CDNsun's array of configuration options and settings (and the excellent documentation explaining them) should help you get the very best out of the network.

On balance, we think it's likely most people will get decent performance from the service. There's no way to say for sure, but the free trial and pay-as-you-go pricing means that you can test CDNsun's capabilities for very little outlay.

Final verdict

An appealing service with loads of features, a stack of configuration options, and some of the most comprehensive documentation you'll find anywhere. A must-see for anyone who's looking for more than the CDN basics.



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SoftMaker FreeOffice

SoftMaker FreeOffice is a free Microsoft Office alternative available for Windows and Linux, with a companion app for Android devices.

SoftMaker FreeOffice offers effortless editing of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. It can also export files in EPUB and PDF export.

FreeOffice contains three apps: TextMaker for documents, PlanMaker for spreadsheets and Presentations for slideshows. You don’t get every feature in the free version – tabbed browsing and the thesaurus are saved for the paid-for product, for example – but all the basics of everyday office work are covered very well indeed.

User experience

Before you can download SoftMaker FreeOffice, you'll be prompted to enter your name, country and email address. You'll then be sent a free registration code, though it isn't actually necessary to enter this in order to start using the software.

Once you start using it, you'll find SoftMaker FreeOffice fast and user-friendly. It looks very similar to older editions of Microsoft Office) and provides almost seamless compatibility with Microsoft Office files from 1997 onwards. It supports the same OpenDocument format used by LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice too.

SoftMaker FreeOffice can create PDFs too – something that can be a bit of a pain on Windows normally – and the spreadsheet app is happy doing database tasks as well as crunching numbers.

It's a shame that the thesaurus is only available in the premium version, but there have to be some concessions. SoftMaker FreeOffice doesn't offer quite the same breadth of tools as LibreOffice either (there's no tool for mathematical formulae or diagrams, for example), but it's otherwise a superb free suite that will serve you extremely well.

You might also like



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