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Exploring the Future of Computing
Updated: 46 min 17 sec ago

Amazon invests in Andy Rubin's Essential

Wednesday 9th of August 2017 09:41:45 PM
It's being reported by the Wall Street Journal that Amazon is among the companies which contributed to Essentials $300 million coffers. They also reveal that Best Buy and Amazon will be retail partners for the upcoming phone launch. The best bit of news, though, comes in the form of a set of dates. Although we still have no idea when the phone will launch (Essential has now very much overshot its 'end of the month' June prediction), Essential president Niccolo de Masi says, "I will give you an exact date in a week." Those are some serious investors for Andy Rubin's new devices company.

"The best phone you can buy right now"

Monday 7th of August 2017 08:29:35 PM
The Verge does this thing where they list what they consider to be the best laptop or phone or whatever, and they state the Samsung Galaxy S8 is the best phone for most people. Samsung's Galaxy S8/S8 Plus is the best phone for most people. It's available across all four US carriers and unlocked. It has the best display on any smartphone right now, a head-turning, premium design, a top-of-the-line camera, reliable battery life, and fast performance. Thanks to Samsung's popularity and the support of all four carriers, the S8 also has plenty of accessories, from cases to battery packs to wireless chargers, available to it. You can definitely make a case for the S8 being the best phone for most people, but personally, I still consider the iPhone to be the best, safest choice for most non-geeky people. Personally, I prefer Android, and for my personal use, iOS on the iPhone is an exercise in frustration - but iOS provides a more consistent, all-around phone experience that remains fairly static from phone to phone, it's a little simpler to grasp than Android, and Apple has an excellent support system in many countries that's far better than Samsung's hands-off let-the-reseller-handle-it approach. I wonder - what do any of you consider the best phone for most people? If one of your non-geeky family members seeks your advice, which phone do you suggest they get? The Verge named the Surface Laptop the best laptop, which I find a baffling choice. It's new and unproven, so we have no idea how it'll hold up over the next few years. An odd choice for sure.

Android 8.0 gets "streaming OS updates"

Monday 7th of August 2017 08:16:57 PM
When you get that "out of space" error message during an update, you're only "out of space" on the user storage partition, which is just being used as a temporary download spot before the update is applied to the system partition. Starting with Android 8.0, the A/B system partition setup is being upgraded with a "streaming updates" feature. Update data will arrive from the Internet directly to the offline system partition, written block by block, in a ready-to-boot state. Instead of needing ~1GB of free space, Google will be bypassing user storage almost entirely, needing only ~100KB worth of free space for some metadata. I promise not to make some snide remark about Android's update mess.

Thermal paste round-up: 85 products tested

Monday 7th of August 2017 08:14:39 PM
Several years ago, we published a round-up of thermal pastes that started with Thermal Paste Comparison, Part One: Applying Grease And More and concluded with Thermal Paste Comparison, Part Two: 39 Products Get Tested. Since it's so hot outside (at least in our U.S. labs), we're trying to cool so many new CPUs and GPUs, and readers keep asking for it, we decided to combine and update those stories, adding a range of new thermal pastes and pads. Thermal paste and how to apply it are probably more divisive than anything else in technology. So many different methods, old wives' tales, folklore, and god knows what else.

*The lack of multilingual affordances in modern software*

Sunday 6th of August 2017 08:52:19 PM
Before I link you to the story this item is actually about, I want to tell you about one of my biggest frustrations with computer hardware and software. It's something that I have to work around every single day, and its consequences bother me almost every few minutes. Hardware and software have no idea how to handle people who lead multilingual lives. Like hundreds of millions of people, I speak and understand several languages, but on top of that, I use two languages every single day: Dutch and English. I switch between these two all the time, often even multiple times a minute when juggling multiple friends, clients, work-related material, entertainment, and so on. I might be writing an e-mail to a client in English, work on a translation in Dutch, WhatsApp with a friend in English, and write a Facebook post in Dutch - switching between all of these. Software has no idea what to do with this. The most operating systems like Windows and OS X can do is offer a small icon somewhere tucked away to manually switch input languages, which is incredibly cumbersome and just wholly impractical to perform every time you have to switch languages. It gets even worse on mobile operating systems, which are heavy on the autocorrect (I cannot type on a touchscreen), so if my input method is still set to English while I'm typing something in Dutch, it gets autocorrected into meaningless garbage (it's only recently that both Android and iOS at least offer some form of true multilingual input). It's even worse when it comes to these voice assistants the entire technology industry is trying to ram down our throats, like Google Assistant or Apple's Siri. Do you know what you need to do to switch voice assistant input language on an Apple Watch or Android Wear device? Are you ready for it? You need to perform a full wipe and set up the device as new. Since my use of Dutch and English is split about 50/50 - or maybe 60/40 - the end result is that for about 50% of the time, I cannot use any of these devices to reply to an e-mail or write a text message. While Android Wear 2.0 has a keyboard and handwriting recognition, I have no idea how to change the input language for those input methods. Even if I could by tapping around - the point of these things is that you can use them without having to look away from whatever you're doing (e.g. cycling). And just in case you think this kind of multilingual use is rare or an edge case: just in the United States alone, dozens of millions of people speak both Spanish and English every single day. This is not an edge case. This is not a peculiarity. This is daily reality for possibly hundreds of millions of people all over the world. There's countless other daily irritations that arise from this inability of software to deal with multilingual use (Win32 vs. Metro vs. Chrome vs. Office vs. etc., which all have their own input language switching mechanisms I manually have to keep track of), but the point I want to make is the following. Because software has no idea how to deal with multilingual use, I know for a fact that very few of the engineers working on Windows or Office or iOS or WatchOS or Android or whatever lead multilingual lives, because any person who uses multiple languages every single day would be able to spot these problems within 15 minutes of use. If the manager responsible for WatchOS led a multilingual life, or had a bunch of people on his team that led multilingual lives, WatchOS would've never been released without the ability to easily switch Siri input language. Despite what some low-level Googler claims in his rambling manifesto of idiocy, diversity matters. Or, as ex-Googler Yonatan Zunger puts it way more eloquently: Engineering is not the art of building devices; it's the art of fixing problems. Devices are a means, not an end. Fixing problems means first of all understanding them - and since the whole purpose of the things we do is to fix problems in the outside world, problems involving people, that means that understanding people, and the ways in which they will interact with your system, is fundamental to every step of building a system. If, at this point in time, you still don't understand the importance of diversity when developing products, you are beyond help, and have no place on any product development team. Read more on this exclusive OSNews article...

Apollo Vampire V4 announced

Saturday 5th of August 2017 07:12:30 PM
A new Apollo accelerator board has been released. What are these? 
Apollo Accelerators is an Amiga Classic accelerator board product line. It uses the Apollo core which is a code compatible Motorola M68K and ColdFire processor but is 3 to 4 time faster than the fastest 68060 at time. It also brings Amiga Classic near to Amiga NG by bringing digital video with millions of colours. The Vampire V4 improves upon its predecessors in numerous ways. As always, the Amiga community always manages to keep their own computers relevant and up-to-date, if even for just a small group of users. Amazing.

How old are operating systems?

Tuesday 1st of August 2017 11:09:59 PM
Today, it hit me that iOS is already ten years old. I consider iOS a relatively new and fresh operating system, but can we really say that at ten years old? In order to figure that out, I quickly threw together a little graph to visualise the age of both current and deprecated operating systems to get a better look at the age of operating systems. It counts operating system age in terms of years from initial public release (excluding beta or preview releases) to the last release (in case of deprecated operating systems) or until today (in case of operating systems still in active development). I've included mainly popular, successful, consumer-oriented operating systems, leaving out more server or embedded oriented operating systems (such as UNIX and QNX), which tend to have vastly different needs and development cycles. As far as the nomenclature goes, Windows 9x includes everything from Windows 1.0 to Windows ME, and Mac OS covers System 1 through Mac OS 9.2.2. Windows CE is currently called Windows Embedded Compact, but its line also includes Windows Phone 7, Windows Mobile, and Windows PocketPC. Red indicates the operating system is no longer being developed, whereas green means it's still under active development. The only question mark in this regard is Windows CE; its latest release is Embedded Compact 2013 in 2013, and while I think it's still in development, I'm not entirely sure. This graph isn't a scientifically accurate, well-researched, quotable piece of information - it takes many shortcuts and brushes several questions aside for brevity's sake. For instance, looking at the last official release doesn't always make sense, such as with Windows Service Packs or Mac OS X point releases, and I haven't even been entirely consistent with these anyway. On top of that, the graph doesn't take months or weeks into account, and just counts everything in terms of years. Linux shouldn't technically be included at all (since it's just a kernel), and you can conceivably argue that, for instance, Mac OS X is older than its initial release in the form of 10.0 since it's so heavily based on NEXTSTEP. Amiga OS is also a bit of a stretch, since its development pace is slow and has even died down completely on several occasions. You could maybe possibly argue that BeOS is still in active development in the form of Haiku, but I consider Haiku a reimplementation, and not a continuation. In any event, I originally wasn't planning on doing anything with this, but I figured I might as well publish it here since it's an interesting overview.

Apple's silence in China sets a dangerous precedent

Tuesday 1st of August 2017 09:25:31 AM
Farhad Manjoo, in The New York Times:
 A year ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation made an extraordinary demand of Apple. To get inside a dead terrorist's iPhone, law enforcement officials wanted the company to create a hackable version of the software that runs all iPhones. To many legal experts, it wasn't obvious that Apple had a winning case against the request. But facing great legal and political opposition, Apple took a stand anyway. Timothy D. Cook, Apple's chief executive, argued that the company had a financial and moral duty to protect its users' privacy and security. He made clear that Apple would obey American law - but only after trying to shape the law. The fight paid off. On the eve of a courtroom showdown, the F.B.I. rescinded its request. It is worth underlining this point: When Apple took a public stand for its users' liberty and privacy, the American government blinked. Yet in China over the weekend, when faced with a broad demand by the Chinese internet authority, it was Apple that blinked. Apple openly and publicly buts heads with the US government but not with the Chinese government because of one very simple reason: Apple is more dependent on, and beholden to, China than on and to the US. Virtually everything Apple sells is made in China, and Apple has nowhere else to go. For a company that always tries to strive for control, it really low-waged itself into a corner.

*Right and wrong*

Tuesday 1st of August 2017 12:35:22 AM
Earlier today, John Gruber linked to this piece, and I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the superior orders defense. Gruber later followed up with a more detailed article, and wondered what I think Apple should do. Too many people reacting to this story think that it's about Apple deciding to acquiesce to this particular demand regarding VPN apps. It's not. The real issues are two-fold: Should Apple being doing business in China at all? Should the App Store remain the only way to install apps on iOS devices? Neither of these are simple topics, and I would (and am about to) argue that neither question has a clear-cut "this is the right thing to do" answer. Nonsense. In both of these cases, it's very "clear-cut" what "the right thing to do" is. No. No. Since the App Store question is obvious - my computer, my rules, my software, get out - let's move on to the China question. The only reason this issue is supposedly not "clear-cut" is because we live in a society that values money over people. People like John Gruber argue that Google's advertising practices and data collection are bad and evil, but in one breath argue that it's okay for Apple to buddy up to totalitarian regimes like the ones in China or Saudi-Arabia that have complete and utter disregard for human rights because it's good for Apple. You can certainly make that argument - and each and every one of us uses products that either depend on or are made in totalitarian regimes - but don't try to justify it or claim there's no clear right and wrong here. Collaborating with such regimes is clearly wrong, period. No ifs, buts, or maybes, and by buying products made in China or by putting Saudi-Arabian oil in our cars we are all complicit, whether we like it or not. We like to make it seem as if right and wrong are cloudy, nebulous concepts, but in reality, they rarely are. The only thing that's cloudy and nebulous is our own cognitive dissonance and the twisting, contorting, and justifying we - as a society - do to solve it. Read more on this exclusive OSNews article...

The history of the IBM PC, part two: the DOS empire strikes

Monday 31st of July 2017 09:54:56 PM
Since I abused the first part in Ars' two-parter on the history of the IBM PC for my own selfish purposes, it's only fair to use the publication of part two to actually talk about the subject matter at hand. In November 1979, Microsoft's frequent partner Seattle Computer Products released a standalone Intel 8086 motherboard for hardcore hobbyists and computer manufacturers looking to experiment with this new and very powerful CPU. The 8086 was closely related to the 8088 that IBM chose for the PC; the latter was a cost-reduced version of the former, an 8-bit/16-bit hybrid chip rather than a pure 16-bit like the 8086. IBM opted for the less powerful 8088 partly to control costs, but also to allow the use of certain hardware that required the 8-bit external data bus found on the 8088. But perhaps the biggest consideration stemmed, as happens so often, from the marketing department rather than engineering. The 8086 was such a powerful chip that an IBM PC so equipped might convince some customers to choose it in lieu of IBM's own larger systems; IBM wanted to take business from other PC manufacturers, not from their own other divisions. The IBM PC and its compatibles changed the computing landscape more than any other platform, and to this day it remains the archetype of what people think of when they think of "computer". While the archetypal computer is surely changing into a laptop or even a smartphone, they've got a long way to go before they push the PC out of the collective consciousness as the "default" computer.

A2osX: multitasking operating system for the Apple IIe

Sunday 30th of July 2017 10:40:32 PM
A2osX is a cooperative, event-driven multitasking kernel (meaning it is applications that are responsible to give back control to kernel). Its principal goal is to collect all "genius" 65c02 pieces of code ever written here and there, concentrated in the same environment (including IP Stack & HTTPD/TELNETD..., GUI & graphical tools...). "Complete working place", no needing any more to reboot to switch between tons of diskettes! A2osX is designed to work on any "stock" 128k Apple //e, with no additional hardware. The Apple II turned 40 this year and it still has a lot of life left in it.

Building an 8-bit breadboard computer

Sunday 30th of July 2017 08:58:44 PM
Ben Eater has built his own 8-bit computer, and documented the process. I built a programmable 8-bit computer from scratch on breadboards using only simple logic gates. I documented the whole project in a series of YouTube videos and on this web site.

Apple removes apps that help Chinese evade censorship

Sunday 30th of July 2017 08:56:11 PM
China appears to have received help on Saturday from an unlikely source in its fight against tools that help users evade its Great Firewall of internet censorship: Apple. Software made by foreign companies to help users skirt the country's system of internet filters has vanished from Apple's app store on the mainland. Profit over people is entirely normal for large corporations like Apple. They rarely choose the other way around.

AMD Ryzen 3 1300X and 1200 CPU review: Zen on a budget

Friday 28th of July 2017 07:49:15 PM
So far all the products launched with Zen have aimed at the upper echelons of the PC market, covering mainstream, enthusiasts and enterprise customers - areas with high average selling prices to which a significant number of column inches are written. But the volume segment, key for metrics such as market share, are in the entry level products. So far the AMD Zen core, and the octo-core Zeppelin silicon design, has been battling on the high-end. With Ryzen 3, it comes to play in the budget market. AnandTech's review and benchmarks of the new low-end Ryzen 3 processors.

My $169 development Chromebook

Friday 28th of July 2017 07:44:59 PM
In the last year while talking to respected security-focused engineers & developers, I've come to fully appreciate Google's Chrome OS design. The architecture benefited from a modern view of threat modeling and real-world attacks. For example, Trusted Platform Module (TPM) hardware chips are built into every Chromebook and deeply incorporated into the OS. The design documents go into some detail on the specific protections that TPM provides, particularly around critical encryption functions. I also learned that Chromebook is the daily driver for many of Google's own senior developers and security engineers. In short, the combination of the underlying Chromebook hardware with the OS architecture makes for a pretty compelling secure development environment. [...] It's pretty neat to consider the possibility of pre-travel "power washing" (resetting everything clean to factory settings) on an inexpensive Chromebook and later securely restore over the air once at my destination. Since there is a wide range in Chromebook prices, the engineering challenge here was to find something powerful enough to comfortably use exclusively for several days of coding, writing, and presenting, but also cheap enough that should it get lost/stolen/damaged, I wouldn't lose too much sleep. The threat model here does not include recovery from physical tampering; if the machine were somehow confiscated or otherwise out of my custody, I could treat it as a burner and move on. Interesting guide on how to turn an inexpensive Chromebook into a burner developer device safe for international travel.

GNUSTEP live CD 2.5 released

Wednesday 26th of July 2017 08:56:11 PM
After almost 8 years (we talked about it, of course), a new version of the GNUSTEP live CD has been released - version 2.5, for amd64. The live CD is based on Debian 9, has low hardware requirements, and uses Linux 4.9 with compressed RAM and no systemd. The live CD is a very easy and non-destructive way of testing out and playing with GNUSTEP, a free software implementation of OPENSTEP. It's been a long, long time since I got to use our glorious *STEP database category. Isn't that one beautiful icon?

FreeBSD 11.1 released

Wednesday 26th of July 2017 02:24:40 PM
FreeBSD 11.1 has been released, and as you can tell by the version number, it's a point release. The release announcement, release notes, and errata are available for your perusal. FreeBSD users already know full well how to upgrade - they're probably already running it - and newcomers can go to the download page to download the proper ISO.

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