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The UniFi Dream Machine router is a great entry point for networking nerds – TechCrunch

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A few weeks ago, Ubiquiti unveiled the UniFi Dream Machine, an all-in-one networking device that for $299 combines a router, a switch with four Ethernet ports and a Wi-Fi access point. It has what Ubiquiti calls an integrated cloud key that lets you control your network.

I’ve been using the UniFi Dream Machine on my home network for the past couple of weeks, so consider this a review of the device.

Ubiquiti is a well-known networking brand. Most people are familiar with the company’s access points — those rounded antennas that you can find around schools, companies and public spaces.

But the upfront investment has always been a bit steep for personal use cases and even small companies. The UniFi Dream Machine sits perfectly in between professional gear and consumer devices. It represents a huge upgrade if you’re using the router with Wi-Fi capabilities provided by your internet service provider.

Rebundling UniFi devices

Ubiquiti has a range of routers under the AmpliFi brand for consumers who are looking for a plug-and-play solution. The company recently announced a new device with great specifications if you don’t want to mess around with networking settings.

But if you’re reading this, chances are you know that UniFi products offer some customizations that you think are lacking in consumer products.

Switching from an all-in-one networking device to a UniFi system has always been a bit complicated. The company has broken down the networking stack into different devices to offer you more control.

It means that you have to buy a Security Gateway (a router, the “brain” of the network), a switch (just like a power strip, but for Ethernet ports) and an access point (a Wi-Fi antenna). On top of that, a UniFi cloud key is an essential buy if you want to manage your network with the company’s controller software.

If you’re committed to the UniFi ecosystem, you get a great experience. You can manage each Ethernet port on your switch individually, you can control Wi-Fi settings from anywhere in the world and many, many more things. Ars Technica’s Lee Hutchinson fell down the UniFi rabbit hole and wrote a great story about his experience running professional networking gear at home.

The UniFi Dream Machine takes a different approach. It rebundles all the separate pieces that make a UniFi network come to life. You can buy the $300 UniFi Dream Machine and control every little detail of your network.

Specifications

A few words on the specifications of the UniFi Dream Machine. The pill-shaped device has an integrated security gateway, which lets you run a DHCP server, create firewall policies, take advantage of multiple VLANs and more.

In addition to the WAN port to connect your device to the internet, there are four Gigabit Ethernet ports. As for Wi-Fi, the Dream Machine supports 802.11ac Wave 2 (“Wi-Fi 5”) with a 4×4 MU-MIMO antenna — no Wi-Fi 6, unfortunately.

Behind the scene, the device uses a 1.7GHz ARM Cortex-A57 processor. It has 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage and consumes up to 26W.

Using the Dream Machine

Setting up the UniFi Dream Machine is a great experience. Ideally, you want to plug an Ethernet cable in your ISP-provided router and put it in bridge mode. This way, it’ll act as a dumb modem and let the UniFi Dream Machine do all the hard work.

After downloading the mobile app and turning on the UniFi Dream Machine, you get a popup that mimics the pairing popup of the AirPods. You can then control your network from that mobile app or use a web browser on your computer.

This is when it gets interesting.

UniFi’s controller software usually lists all the UniFi devices currently running on your network. With the UniFi Dream Machine, you get a single device. But if you expand that device, you can see a list of three separate UniFi components — a gateway, a switch and an AP.

As expected, you can control every little detail of your network. Once again, this isn’t for everyone and you will have to learn a lot of things about networking in order to optimize your setup. But if you’re a digital tinkerer, it’s a breath of fresh air.

The UniFi Dream Machine acts as the DHCP server in my home. I have renamed my devices and assigned fixed IPs to all my devices in order to find them more easily. You can see in real time the network they’re using and if they’re getting a good Wi-Fi signal.

I have also configured Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 public DNS at the network level.

There are a ton of possibilities if you care about security. I created a guest Wi-Fi network that only lets my friends access the internet. They can browse Twitter and stream Netflix shows without any issue, but they can’t access my computers on the local network.

I also created another Wi-Fi network for IoT devices, such as connected speakers, a printer and a robot vacuum. Connected devices don’t get a lot of security patches and have more vulnerabilities than a computer or a smartphone that you keep up-to-date. I assigned a different VLAN to this Wi-Fi network. VLANs let you create a partitioned network with different sets of rules.

I applied firewall rules to this VLAN so that I can control the devices from my personal devices, but they can’t initiate requests to my devices on their own. This is overkill for most people, but it’s fun that you can do that from UniFi’s controller. More details here.

When it comes to Wi-Fi, everything is customizable and performances have been stellar. I live in a small apartment, but the balcony has always been an issue. I often work from the balcony, and I’ve been using a cheap Wi-Fi extender that I found in a box of gadgets and cables.

I unplugged the Wi-Fi extender and tried to connect to the UniFi Dream Machine. I get better performance, even if I reduce Wi-Fi transmit power to medium.

These are just a few examples of things you can do with the UniFi Dream Machine. I feel like I’m still underusing the device (you can connect via SSH and control everything from the terminal), but I wouldn’t consider going back to an entry-level router with Wi-Fi capabilities.

Targeting prosumers

The UniFi Dream Machine is the networking device I didn’t know I wanted. I’ll never have hundreds of Wi-Fi devices connected to my home network. I don’t need a dozen Ethernet ports. And yet, I want to be in control of my network. If you miss Apple’s AirPort Extreme or if you’re a networking nerd, you should consider the UniFi Dream Machine.

Small businesses and shops often make some poor decisions at the beginning of the company. A cheap Wi-Fi router on Amazon doesn’t cut it when your business scales. The Dream Machine can be a good entry point, as you’ll be able to build upon that base device.

But if you think you have bigger needs, don’t try to run a big network from a UniFi Dream Machine. Ubiquiti sells some great rackable devices that will give you a lot more flexibility. The UniFi Dream Machine is a constrained machine after all. That’s what makes it both not good enough for enterprise customers and great for prosumers.



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Google enables end-to-end encryption for Android’s default SMS/RCS app

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Enlarge / If you and your chatting partner are both on Google Messages and both have RCS enabled, you’ll see these lock icons to show that encryption is on.

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Google has announced that end-to-end encryption is rolling out to users of Google Messages, Android’s default SMS and RCS app. The feature has been in testing for months, and now it’s coming to everyone.

Encryption in Google Messages works only if both users are on the service. Both users must also be in a 1:1 chat (no group chats allowed), and they both must have RCS turned on. RCS was supposed to be a replacement for SMS—an on-by-default, carrier-driven text messaging standard. RCS was cooked up in 2008, and it adds 2008-level features to carrier messaging, like user presence, typing status, read receipts, and location sharing.

Text messaging used to be a cash cow for carriers, but with the advent of unlimited texting and the commoditization of carrier messaging, there’s no clear revenue motivation for carriers to release RCS. The result is that the RCS rollout has amounted to nothing but false promises and delays. The carriers nixed a joint venture called the “Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative” in April, pretty much killing any hopes that RCS will ever hit SMS-like ubiquity. Apple executives have also indicated internally that they view easy messaging with Android as a threat to iOS ecosystem lock-in, so it would take a significant change of heart for Apple to support RCS.

The result is that Google is the biggest player that cares about RCS, and in 2019, the company started pushing its own carrier-independent RCS system. Users can dig into the Google Messages app settings and turn on “Chat features,” which refers to Google’s version of RCS. It works if both users have turned on the checkbox, but again, the original goal of a ubiquitous SMS replacement seems to have been lost. This makes Google RCS a bit like any other over-the-top messaging service—but tied to the slow and out-of-date RCS protocol. For instance, end-to-end encryption isn’t part of the RCS spec. Since it’s something Google is adding on top of RCS and it’s done in software, both users need to be on Google Messages. Other clients aren’t supported.

Google released a whitepaper detailing the feature’s implementation, and there aren’t too many surprises. The company uses the Signal protocol for encryption, just like Signal, Whatsapp, and Facebook Messenger. The Google Messages web app works fine since it still relies on an (encrypted) local connection to your phone to send messages. Encrypted messages on Wear OS are not supported yet but will be at some point (hopefully in time for that big revamp). Even though the message text is encrypted, third parties can still see metadata like sent and received phone numbers, timestamps, and approximate message sizes.

If you and your messaging partner have all the settings right, you’ll see lock icons next to the send button and the “message sent” status.

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Apple’s podcast subscriptions went live today—with a 30 percent cut

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As previously announced in April, Apple has today launched its new Podcasts Subscriptions feature on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. The system allows users to subscribe to podcasts (or groups of podcasts called Channels) for extra perks.

Perks can include early access to episodes, as well as ad-free listening. Some shows may offer bonus content for subscribers as well. You can subscribe to a podcast with just one button using Apple’s payment system.

Podcast creators can charge whatever they please, with the minimum subscription fee being $0.49 per month. Apple takes 30 percent of that amount for the first year, but if a subscriber remains active beyond 12 months, Apple switches to taking just 15 percent of that subscription fee.

Fortunately, Apple doesn’t have any rules against additional ways to monetize podcasts that offer these subscriptions, such as asking listeners to also back a Patreon.

When you subscribe to a podcast, its show page will have a “Subscriber Edition” label on it. You can also trial subscriptions to participating podcasts to see if they’re worth actually paying for. The length of time these trial subscriptions last varies, but it seems to usually be a few days or as long as a week.

Channels are basically podcast bundles curated by someone. Channels aren’t limited to podcasts using Apple’s new subscriptions offerings, though. When you follow more than one channel, a new “My Channels” section will appear in the Listen Now tab of the Podcasts app. Initiating a paid subscription to a channel gives you subscriber status with all its member podcasts.

Podcasts Subscriptions will be available in 170 countries and regions on devices running iOS 14.6, iPadOS 14.6, and macOS 11.4 or later.

Listing image by Apple

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Make way for Windows 11? Windows 10 end-of-life is October 2025

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Enlarge / Please show your retired operating system the respect it deserves, with a proper Viking funeral.

A new Windows visual refresh, code-named Sun Valley. is on the way this summer. Until recently, we’ve assumed that this update would simply bring a new look for Windows 10 21H2—the major release of Windows 10 in the second half of 2021—but new information in the form of posted end-of-life (EOL) dates for Windows 10 and a leaked screenshot of something purporting to be “Windows 11 Pro” heavily imply that serious changes are on the way.

Windows 10 EOL in 2025

Rumors of Sun Valley being “Windows 11” have been circulating for months—but until recently, we didn’t put much stock in them. Windows 10 was intended to be Windows as a Service—a radical departure from the prior era of new, major Windows releases every three years or so. It seemed likely that Sun Valley’s “sweeping visual rejuvenation” would result in Windows 10 21H2 looking very different from Windows 10 21H1. Why fix what’s not broken?

The first strong indication that bigger things may be coming landed last week from a Microsoft-published EOL notice for Windows 10. “Windows 10 Home and Pro”—no codenames, no minor version numbers—is now listed as retiring on October 14, 2025. “Retiring” is a part of the Modern Lifecycle Policy and means that the retired product leaves support entirely; this does not follow the old Fixed Lifecycle Policy with “mainstream” and “extended” support. Retired is retired—hit the pasture.

As Windows Central points out, the retirement date isn’t entirely a new phenomenon—Microsoft initially launched the operating system with “mainstream support” through October 2020 and “extended support” through October 2025, the same five-/10-year-support period it provides for server and enterprise operating systems. What has changed is the way Microsoft talks about that end of support—there was no retirement date for Windows 10 as a whole shown on the home-and-pro life cycle page until recently.

There isn’t any real question about the end of life at this point—Microsoft has published it, and we have no reason to think it won’t happen. The interesting questions revolve around what comes next and when it will happen.

Windows 11 in 2021?

We’ve been seeing rumors about Sun Valley being a new Windows 11 for a few months—and until Microsoft posted a fresh EOL for Windows 10, we were skeptical. Windows 10 has been touted as “Windows as a Service” with no real expiration date for some time now, and there was no real reason to expect anything different.

The end-of-life date for Windows 10 as an entire operating system changes that—and it’s backed up by leaked screenshots of a Windows build claiming to be “Windows 11 Pro” which showed up today on Baidu. The new build is visually similar to the canceled Windows 10X, and its screenshots appear legitimate. (The Verge says it can “confirm they are genuine,” with no details as to how.)

What does a new version of Windows mean for me?

For now, it’s unclear what a new “Windows 11” means for end users—there are no guarantees that existing Windows 10 licenses will allow the use of Windows 11, let alone an in-place upgrade. We also have no concrete idea about when new releases of Windows 10 will cease, when the first Windows 11 will be available, or what costs will be.

We do have an educated guess or two, though—Microsoft’s generous upgrade policies from Windows 7 to Windows 10 (you can still upgrade for free today!) strongly imply a similar policy for 11, which Microsoft will presumably be keen to get users on. We also don’t expect under-the-hood changes as sweeping as the ones which took place between 7 and 10. In all likelihood, in-place upgrades will be available.

We’d also like to point out that the consumer support cycle for Windows 10 is short. For example, Windows 10 21H1—the most current build—is only supported through December 2022. That’s a roughly 18-month lifecycle, and there are no extended support policies for consumer Windows anymore. When it leaves support, you’re expected to upgrade to the next version if you want to continue getting support and bugfixes.

We may or may not see a Windows 10 21H2 or even a Windows 10 22H1. But we don’t expect to see a new Windows 10 build past 2023 at the latest since that would imply the need to support 10 past its October 2025 retirement date.

More details are on the way

If you find the lack of concrete detail here frustrating, you’re not alone. Fortunately, the wait won’t be long—Microsoft’s What’s Next for Windows digital event is coming June 24, and we expect plenty of screenshots, news, and more detailed upgrade guidance at that time.

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