About this page...

Each section below contains our personal experience with each item. They are merely first impressions to determine suitability & viability. No official testing process is undertaken. That is NOT the purpose of this page. These thoughts are our own as to how the product would benefit our in-house usage and/or our clients. Readers are strongly encouraged to check out the multitude of other websites that are much more in depth. Reviews may be edited and updated as necessary to reflect our experience.

NOTE: This page will soon be categorized into separate pages for easier viewing.
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SYNOLOGY DS723+ NAS Mini-Review

(Network Attached Storage solution for home and small business)

Updated 01/19/2024

Recommended

DISCOVERY
My nearly 10 year old NAS in the office was on its last legs and needed to be replaced.
I read various reviews online and determiend that the NAS units from Synology had the features that would work the best for my needs.
Synology has both home and business models ranging from 2 bay to 24 and beyond.
In my case, I'm more interested in features and operational speed than capacity.
The Synology DSM723+ won the selection.

INSTALLATION
The equipment hookup is simple. Just connect one or both of the ethernet jacks to your network. Optionally you can install a 10GB NIC for faster transfer speeds.
I installed a pair of 4TB drives that I had on hand and cofigured for simple mirroring.
Eventually the plan is to replace those with 12 TB drives (or larger) in the future.
A 1 TB Samsung NVME drive was installed as a cache drive to improve performance. There is also a slot for a second NVME if desired.

PLEX APP (IN USE)
This NAS is capabable of running a Plex media server and does it quite well.
It's a single click installation but you will need to configure Plex itself.

SYNOLOGY DOCKER CONTAINER MANAGER APP (IN USE)
Synology has a custom version of Docker that will allow a user to virtualize any of hundreds of applications. I successfully used it to run a Pi-Hole.
Docker is a single click installation but you will need to configure.
Please reference the Docker and Pi-Hole sections found on this page for separate mini-reviews of these apps.

IPERF3 APP (IN USE)
This simple app runs under Synology Docker Container manager and is used to monitor the performance of the NAS.
It has the capability to monitor CPU usage, network bandwidth, and memory usage in real time.
It is somewhat similar to using the performance monitor within Windows.
It's something that you would only use for occaisional monitoring or troubleshooting and not leave it running 24/7.
On the downside, it does NOT monitor disk activity.
The app duplicates the Resource Monitor thats already a part of the DSM software.

SYNOLOGY DHCP SERVER APP (REMOVED)
This NAS is capabable of running a DHCP server.
It has the standard settings that you would expect to find.
The server DOES allow the configuration of DHCP options which is a welcome adddition.
The Synology DHCP server will support a Proxy server via a WPAD.DAT configuration file.
Unfortunately, I was unable to get SYNOLOGY DHCP to work successfully in conjunction with my Pi-Hole. I went back to using the DHCP on the Pi-Hole.

SYNOLOGY PROXY SERVER APP (REMOVED)
This NAS is capabable of running a Proxy server.
The app itself installs with a single click and has very little configuration.
However, you will need to edit your DHCP server to make use of the Proxy.
#1 The DHCP found in most consumer routers lacks the option to specify a proxy.
#2 The DHCP found in Pihole also lacks the option to specify a proxy.
#3 Windows server does support DHCP via option #6.
#4 Synology DHCP will support the Proxy via a WPAD.DAT configuration file.
NOTE: We have NOT been successfull in getting the Synology Proxy server working. More testing is planned and this review will be updated.


OOMA Mini-Review

(Low-cost VOIP solution for home and small business)

Updated 9/20/2023

Recommended

DISCOVERY
I had been using VOIP services via Comcast. My goal was to reduce the monthly bill. There were a few different services available so i settled on OOMA as it was available in my area-code. Additionaly, I could port my existing business phone number from Comcast to OOMA.

INSTALLATION
The equipment hookup is simple. Just connect it to your Internet service via wi-fi or Ethernet. After that go t o the OOMA website with your user account and go from there.
You can use your existiung telephones or purchase an OOMA phone. It took about a week to get my number ported over.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Ooma works like any other telephone but offers additional features.
Call quality is great!
Voice mail can be accessed 3 different ways. 1) Via email, 2) via the button on the OOMA device, and 3) via webpage. (My favorite!)
Using the web page will give you the option to block telemarketers and other unwanted calls. They will go directly to voicemail and never bother you again.
NOTE: If you lose power, the OOMA system wont work unless you have some sort of battery backup in place for your network devices (Modem, Router, Ooma device etc..)


VSCode Mini-Review

(Code editor for programmers)

Updated 12/17/2023

Recommended

DISCOVERY
Researched and watched YouTube Videos to determine a good code editor.
VSCode by Microsoft was by far and away the #1 recommendation anywhere I looked. This choice was a simple one.

INSTALLATION
The software can be downloaded from the VS Code website. It install on Windows 10 just like anything else.
There was nothing special required and it could not be easier.
Installing the Linux version is slighty more challenging, depending on your distro.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
This editor appears a bit overwhelming at first because it has so many features. It's actually quite slick!
VSCode somewhat resembles an old editor back in the DOS days called Multi-Edit.
The left-hand side shows your working folder with the various files withing your project.
The center and largest pane (editor) is tabbed and contains the whatever file(s) you have opened for coding.
On the far-right is a narrow pane that indicates your relative position in the current file.
I picked the dark color scheme as it seems to be easier on my eyes when coding for long periods of time.

HTML & CSS (EXTENSIONS)
This extension has everything you need for working on web pages.
Everything is color coded, which makes things easier to read and understand.
The syntax checker will show your mistakes in red to prevent simple errors.
FOR EXAMPLE: HTML tags are checked to confirm that both the opening and closing tag are present.

PYTHON (EXTENSION)
Everything you need to code in Python is in this extension.
All code is color coded, which makes things easier to read and understand.
The syntax checker will show any mistakes in red to prevent simple errors.
Code can be debugged and executed.

REMOTE EXPLORER & REMOTE SSH (EXTENSIONS)
These two extensions allow you to connect to other computers or virtual machines to perform remote work.
I used it with a pair of VM's to make a simple Python automation script that would run software updates and OS updates.

SFTP/FTP (EXTENSION)
This extension allows a person to connect via Secure FTP to another computer such as a web-server.
A simple configuration file contains the login information.
You are able to sync the entire website with your local copy or upload individal files as you work on them.


Python Mini-Review

(Easy to learn programming language)

Updated 6/16/2023

Recommended

DISCOVERY
Researched and watched YouTube Videos to determine a new language that is in high demand.
Java was quickly ruled out because major browsers such as Chrome and Edge no longer support it.
Python is a newer language that looks relatively easy to learn.
Programmers that are already familiar with the various flavors of C or Java should be able to pickup on Python easily.

INSTALLATION
In my case, the software was actually a free extension within VSCode and it installs in seconds.
(See the VSCode section above)
Python and VSCode complement each other nicely and both work on Windows and Linux.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
I have just begun to scratch the surface of this language.
I come from a C background, so I am able to read Python code and follow the examples.
I was able to write a quick automation script in an afternoon that would connect to both real and virtual Linux machines to update the OS and software.


Pi-Hole Mini-Review

(Internet ad-blocker, web filter, with DHCP & DNS server capability)

Updated 12/18/2023

Recommended

DISCOVERY
My goal was to filter internet traffic such as ads and unwanted tracking telemetry.
I came across Pi-Hole a webpage so I decided to research it further.
It sounded like a cool and EXTREMELY useful project.
There are a number of website pages that contain step by step instructions.
The Pi-Hole website has the files you'll need to get started.

INSTALLATION
Pi-Hole was originally intended to be installed on a Raspberry Pi but just about any hardware with a Linux operating system will work.
The choice of distro is up to the person performing the installation.
I initially picked Rasberry PI OS, but I have also used Mint OS and a Docker Container. Each one was installed on different hardware.
You will need to make a choice as to how you want to set it up, and download the appropriate installer.
The installation process is a script that downloads the rest and does everthing you need to get started.
The Pi-hole software not only filters advertising, but it can be optionally configured to include DHCP and DNS.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
It's great software that simply runs quietly in the background.
Knowledge of Linux, DHCP & DNS is highly recommended.
Figuring out what to whitelist can sometimes be challenging. (Google searches help with this task.)
I have this running in my homelab and it has significaly reduced unwanted internet traffic while increasing security and privacy.

BLACKLISTS
I am using approximately 35 separate blacklists on my Pi-hole which collectively block over 700k sites.
There are lists for Smart TV's, Crypto, Malware, Streaming services, Phishing, Adult, Ad servers and more.
It's a good idea to run the list update function on a periodic basis to pickup any additions.

DHCP
The DHCP server within the Pi-Hole is somewhat basic but performs as expected.
It lacks the ability to specify additional options that are sometimes needed.
There is no ability to specify a proxy server, NTP server, WINS etc...
This may be a limiting factor in some use cases.

USE CASE
Pi-Hole would be intended for a home or small business. (Perhaps, no more than a dozen users.)
Performance and capacity would be determined by what hardware your using and the speed of the network connection.
Pi-hole contains roughly 60% of the features of a much more expensive Barracuda web-filter.
It lacks the daily updates and some of the reporting features of the Barracuda.
Larger businesses should go with a Barracuda to support higher bandwidth and additional features.


OBS Mini-Review

(Free video capture software)

Updated 12/09/2023

Recommended

DISCOVERY
There aren't many choices in this category.
Everyone seems to use OBS (software) or an ElGato capture card (hardware).

INSTALLATION
The Linux version is available as a package within various Linux distros and as a Flatpack.
Installation is one click, it downloads and your ready to go.
The Windows version is available from the OBS website.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
I have just begun to work with this software so my thoughts are far from comprehensive.
The first task is to determined your inputs such as screen capture, cameras & audio.
After a few minutes I was able to create some simple game captures without too much trouble.
I did some experimenting with capturing the webcam so I could see myself in the corner (picture in picture mode).
Please keep in mind that the OBS software will need to run along with whatever application your trying to capture.
You will receive better results on faster hardware. Dual monitors are strongly recommended.


Synology Docker Container Manager Mini-Review

(This is a version of Docker intended for use on a Synology NAS)

Updated 12/09/2023

Recommended

DISCOVERY
The Synology NAS hardware allows a user to virtualize software in addition to simply acting as a file server.
The ability to virtualize is one of the main reasons I picked Synology Model 723+ for my office.
My goal is to run Pi-Hole using Docker to eliminate the use of a separate desktop.
This saves space, electricity and there is less to maintain.

INSTALLATION
Once the NAS is already installed on the network, login to DSM and open Package Manager.
Search for and Select Docker Container Manager and choose install.
It's that easy!
Online documentation is available on configuration of the container based on what application you intend to use.
You may have as many containers as you like and are only limited by the capabilities of the hardware.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
I have only installed and configured Docker Container Manager one time.
It was most straight forward as I used some excellent that I found online.
The results were great and I have no complaints or issues.
Once installed and configured, you really don't do anything else with it other than the occaisional update.


Raspberry PI OS (a.k.a. 'Raspi') Mini-Review

(Slim version of Linux intended for use with a Raspberry Pi hardware)

Updated 11/04/2023

It's OK

DISCOVERY
The Pi-Hole website recommends using Raspberry PI OS as the operating system when using Raspberry Pi hardware.
The Raspberry Pi OS a slimmed down variant of Debian.

INSTALLATION (2 Installations)
NOTE: Actual Rasberry Pi hardware was not available at the time of review.
Downloaded the newest ISO file for Raspi.
Installed Raspi (1) on a Hyper-V virtual machine from ISO as a learning process.
Located and acquired an old i3 HP desktop (Free)
Desktop had no memory or drive.
Installed 8 gig of memory salvaged from another dead desktop.
Installed a new 512G SSD.
I used Belana Etcher to create a bootable thumb drive from the ISO.
Install Raspi (2) from the thumb drive onto the i3 desktop.
Performance is more than sufficient!
The processor could be upgraded with a used one from eBay that fits the same socket if desired.

SAMBA SUPPORT
The ability to connect to SMB based file shares is already installed! There is nothing to configure.
However, the network does NOT appear when browsing.
You must pull down the (not so obvious) GO menu and select NETWORK.

SOFTWARE
I installed Raspi for the sole purpose of utilizing Pi-Hole software.
I have it on a headless machine that I access remotely via SSH.
I connect via SSH to run a Python script to keep everything updated.
NOTE: SAMBA is much more difficult to install and configure and will prove difficult for beginners.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS OF RASPBERRY PI OS:
This OS is not really intended to be a daily driver.
It's very stripped down and meant to run things like pi-holes, home automation, small DIY NAS units etc...
The difficulties configuring SAMBA file access is concerning.
If you wan't to use Linux for a daily driver, Mint would be a better choice. (see below)


Mint OS (Cinnamon) Mini-Review

(Full featured Linux distro intended for ease of use)

Updated 11/04/2023

Recommended

DISCOVERY
Researched and watched YouTube Videos to determine what distros might be worth exploring.
Mint OS was high on the list based on the recommendations found on multiple websites and on YouTube.

INSTALLATION (2 Installations)
Downloaded the newest ISO file for Mint.
Installed Mint (1) on a Hyper-V virtual machine from ISO for a quick review and comparison with other distros.
Located and acquired an old i3 HP desktop (Free)
Desktop had no memory or drive.
Installed 8 gig of memory salvaged from another dead desktop.
Installed a new 512G SSD.
I used Belana Etcher to create a bootable thumb drive from the ISO.
Install Mint (2) from the thumb drive onto the i3 desktop.
Performance is quite decent.
The processor could be upgraded with a used one from eBay that fits the same socket.

PRINTER DRIVER
Mint auto detected the Brother Laser AIO printer on the network.
No driver install was necessary. Printing simply worked.
NOTE: I have NOT attempted to use the scanner.

WI-FI
No initial Wi-Fi connectivity.
Tried a TPLINK EXTERNAL USB Wi-Fi: No luck finding a driver.
Eventually gave up.
My second try was to Locate and installed TPLINK internal Wi-Fi card. This worked first try and was recognized by the OS.
Lesson: Installing Wi-Fi is easy if you have Linux drivers for your Wi-Fi card.

SAMBA SUPPORT
Installs easily via the command line using instructions provided online. Works as expected.

SOFTWARE
Installed various apps from the software manager including: OBS, VLC, LibreOffice, VSCode, Steam, Minecraft, Mahjongg etc.…
My goal is to work with and use the command line (terminal) as much as possible to gain experience.
The Linux command line is vastly different than Windows.
The basic process at this point is to Google and YouTube to search for the answers I need and learn as I go along.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS OF MINT CINNAMON:
Mint is the easiest Linux distro I have tested to this point.
Setup was just as fast if not faster than a Windows 10 installation.
Operation is quite similar to Windows and therefore good for beginner Linux users.
All in all, MINT continues to be my best experience in the Linux world.

OVERALL IMPRESSION OF LINUX IN GENERAL:
System requirements for Linux distros are much smaller than that of Windows. It's a great way to repurpose older Windows machines.
Linux appears to be very reliable. I have yet to experience a system crash. It just works.
Some software is available on both Windows and Linux and it works and looks identical.
Linux is a different world! - Finding software to do what you want takes some exploring as there seems to be less software available.
Once you find the software you need, then you have another learning curve.
At this time, I don't feel confident that I would make the switch from Windows to ANY version of Linux as a daily driver.

SIDE NOTE:
As a beginner Linux user, I have been compilig a list of notes for Linux that answer basic questions. It contains items I had to lookup along with the solution for each item. I may include some of this information in a PDF file once I verify everything and refine the wording.


Ubuntu GNOME & CINNAMON Mini-Reviews

(Full featured Linux distro)

Updated 11/16/2023

It's OK

DISCOVERY
I researched and watched YouTube Videos to determine what distros might be worth exploring.
Ubuntu was high on the list based on the recommendations found on multiple websites and on YouTube.
Ubuntu has the largest community support of any Linux distro.

INSTALLATION
Downloaded the newest ISO file for Ubuntu GNOME and Ubuntu CINNAMON.
   GNOME has the taskbard on the left side and discourages having icons on the desktop.
   Cinnamon has the taskbar on the bottom like Windows and allows icons on the desktop.
Both versions were installed as Hyper-V virtual machines for a quick review and comparison with other distros.

PRINTER DRIVER
Ubuntu auto detected the Brother Laser AIO printer on the network.
No driver install was necessary. Printing simply worked.
NOTE: I have NOT attempted to use the scanner.

WI-FI
This was not tested as I only installed Ubuntu as a virtual machine.

SAMBA SUPPORT
Installs easily via the command line using instructions provided on the Ubuntu website.
Works as expected.

SOFTWARE
No problems to report.
Several programs were installed and worked as expected.

OVERALL IMPRESSION OF UBUNTU (GNOME)
Setup was just as fast if not faster than a Windows 10 installation.
I had a difficult time navigating the default GNOME desktop as its significantly different than Windows. It seems clumsy with a taskbar on the left.
I'm NOT saying its bad, it's just not for me.

OVERALL IMPRESSION OF UBUNTU (CINNAMON)
Setup was just as fast if not faster than a Windows 10 installation.
The Cinnamon version is a HUGE improvement and better for people transitioning from Windows.
It's still not for me.


KALI LINUX Mini-Review

(Linux distro intended for Penetration Testing)

Updated 12/13/2023

It's OK

DISCOVERY
Kali Linux is a specialized distro intended for hacking and penetration testing.
It includes quite a few built in penetration tools to perform these tasks.
It's essentially ready to go upon installation without having to install additional software.

INSTALLATION
Kali can be downloaded as an ISO or as a pre-made virtual machine (Hyper-V, VMWare, & Virtual Box).
I picked Hyper-V which includes a VHDX file, batch file and PowerShell script to complete the install in seconds.
Presumably the other VM downloads would install just as easily.
Use the ISO file if you want more control over the install or if your installing onto a desktop.

PRINTER DRIVER
Kali did NOT detect any printers.
I have not had a chance to remedy this issue.

WI-FI
This was not tested, as I only installed Kali as a Hyper-V virtual machine.

SAMBA SUPPORT
Kali does not appear to have SAMBA installed by default.
It can be installed via the command line in the exact same way as on Mint and probably other distros.
There doesn't appear to be a way to browse the network once installed. Clicking on Windows Network does nothing. There is no option on the pull down menus.
The solution is to manually type the SMB: share information and then bookmark it.

SOFTWARE
There does NOT appear to be a software manager like the ones found in mant other Linux distros.
No additional software was installed or and nothing has been tested, as of the initial install.
I will update this review as I explore it more.

OVERALL IMPRESSION OF KALI (XFCE)
Setup of the pre-made VM only took a few minutes.
Kali is aimed at users with hacking & penetration testing skills.
It really isn't meant to be used by the casual or novice user.
I had a difficult time navigating the default XFCE desktop as its significantly different than Windows. It seems clumsy with a taskbar on the top.
I'm NOT saying its bad, it's just not for me.


Debian v12 Mini-Review

Updated 12/09/2023

Not recommended

DISCOVERY
I researched and watched YouTube Videos to determine what distros might be worth exploring.
Debian was high on the list based on the recommendations found on multiple websites and on YouTube.
Debian is well known for its stability at the expense of NOT having the latest features.

INSTALLATION
Downloaded the newest ISO file for Debian 12.
Installed Debian on a Hyper-V virtual machine from ISO for a quick review and comparison with other distros.

PRINTER DRIVER
Debian auto detected the Brother Laser AIO printer on the network.
No driver install was necessary. Printing simply worked.
NOTE: I have NOT attempted to use the scanner.

WI-FI
This was not tested as I only installed Debian as a virtual machine.

SAMBA SUPPORT
The ability to connect to SMB based file shares is already installed! There is nothing to configure.
This is the easist SAMBA implementation yet!

SUDO PROBLEM:
Apparently the default installation of Debian doesn't grant SUDO access, preventing installation of ANYTHING.
All attempts to gain SUDO access have failed.
Web searches were no help. (I tried instructions from 6 different websites).
I need to spend more time figuring it out.
How is a novice user supposed to get this to work if its that difficult?
Perhaps I did the installaion incorrectly??

SOFTWARE
Untested. (Unable to get SUDO access)

OVERALL IMPRESSION OF DEBIAN v12:
Setup was just as fast if not faster than a Windows 10 installation.
The installation has a few questions that may be intimidating to novice users.
I had a difficult time navigating the desktop as the default GNOME style desktop significantly different than Windows. Debian seems extremely clumsy and things are hard to find.
Debian is not for a novice user like myself.


Other Linux Distros Tested

Updated 12/09/2023

POP! OS
Intended to be used as a gaming environment and easy graphics drivers.
Unable to install in a Hyper-V environment after multiple (6) attempts.
This OS will require testing on dedicated hardware.

ZORIN OS
Intended for users switching from Windows.
Unable to install in a Hyper-V environment after multiple (5) attempts.
This OS will require testing on dedicated hardware.

RETRO-PI OS
This is a console game playuers dream!
This emulator allows a person to play thousands of console games from over 2 dozen different consoles.
It includes support for, Atari, Coleco, Sega, Nintendo, PlayStation, XBox, Commodore, Amiga & more.
I installed it on an older HP desktop with 8 Gig of memory and an SSD.
Install was easy, but I haven't had the chance to do much with it yet.
Retro-Pi will require some type of game controller. I use a newer XBOX controller with bluetooth.