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Exploring the Future of Computing
Updated: 51 min 15 sec ago

Ars reviews the Blackphone

Monday 30th of June 2014 07:56:19 PM
Ars Technica reviews the BlackPhone, a device which claims to be much more secure than other smartphones. After configuring the various pieces of Blackphone's privacy armor, it was time to check it for leaks. I connected my loaner phone to a Wi-Fi access point that was set up to perform a packet capture of my traffic, and we started to walk through the features. I also launched a few Wi-Fi attacks on the phone in an attempt to gather data from it. [...] For my last trick, I unleashed a malicious wireless access point on Blackphone, first passively listening and then actively trying to get it to connect. While I did capture the MAC address of the phone’s Wi-Fi interface passively, I was unable to get it to fall for a spoofed network or even give up the names of its trusted networks. So, we've verified it: Blackphone is pretty damn secure. A very disappointing test of the essential claim to fame of this smartphone. All Ars has done is confirm it does not leak data - something you can easily achieve on any phone. This review does not spend a single word on the baseband operating system of the device, which is a crucial part of any smartphone that we know little about. There's no indication whatsoever that the baseband operating system used by the NVIDIA chipset inside the Blackphone is in any way more secure than that of others. Unless we have a truly open baseband processor, the idea of a secure phone for heroes like Edward Snowden will always be a pipe dream. I certainly commend Blackphone's effort, but there's a hell of a lot more work to be done.

Exploring Swift using GPUImage

Monday 30th of June 2014 07:28:22 PM
Steven Troughton-Smith points to an article by Brad Larson: I always find it more effective to learn new programming concepts by building projects using them, so I decided to do the same for Apple's new Swift language. I also wanted to see how well it would interact with my open source GPUImage framework. As a result, I made GPUImage fully Swift-compatible and I've built and committed to the GitHub repository a couple of Swift sample applications. I wanted to write down some of the things that I learned when building these. It's interesting to see programmers get their hands dirty with what most likely will be the way forward for iOS developers.

Apple releases OS X 10.9.4, iOS 7.1.2, Apple TV 6.2

Monday 30th of June 2014 06:29:34 PM
Some operating system updates from Cupertino today. First up, OS X 10.9.4. This update: Fixes an issue that prevented some Macs from automatically connecting to known Wi-Fi networks Fixes issue causing the background or Apple logo to appear incorrectly on startup Improves the reliability of waking from sleep Includes Safari 7.0.5 iOS 7.1.2 has also been released. Apple has released iOS 7.1.2. This update contains bug fixes and security updates. These include an update to iBeacon connectivity and stability, data transfers for 3rd party accessories, and data protection class issues with Mail attachments. To round it all off, Apple also updated the Apple TV to version 6.2.

MorphOS 3.6 released

Sunday 29th of June 2014 09:30:45 AM
This new version can now utilize the built-in Wi-Fi hardware in all Apple systems that feature Broadcom's BCM43 chipset. In addition, MorphOS further extends its support of graphics chipsets to include AMD's R400 series by adding compatibility with Radeon X800 XT/Pro and FireGL X3 cards. Moreover, the latest version of MorphOS now enables laptop owners to define custom screen modes and provides default modes for increasingly common high resolution displays. Improving interoperability and overall convenience, MorphOS 3.6 adds a new SMBFS filesystem handler with 64-bit I/O support for easy file sharing via network storage devices, a new VNC server to control your MorphOS systems remotely or even without a display, and a Synergy client for sharing a nearby mouse and keyboard with any Linux, MacOS or Windows machine that is part of your local network and acts as a Synergy server. Seems like a pretty big update. I'm keeping my eyes open for a nice PowerBook G4 so that I can re-review MorphOS somewhere in the near future.

Metal in iOS 8: explained

Friday 27th of June 2014 05:42:21 PM
Metal. If the name sounds hardcore, it's because it's a hardcore improvement to the way games will be able to perform on iOS 8. Metal represents a much more no-nonsense approach to getting the most out of the Apple A7's gaming performance, assuring users of the iPhone 5S, iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display that their devices will continue to be top-notch game systems come this fall. Right now in iOS 7 software called OpenGL ES sits in between the game and the core hardware that runs it, translating function calls into graphics commands that are sent to the hardware. It's a lot of overhead. And iOS 8 is getting rid of a lot of it. A nice overview of Apple's Metal.

Apple to cease development of Aperture

Friday 27th of June 2014 05:00:39 PM
"With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture," an Apple spokesperson told TechCrunch. "When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS X." Apple says that it will provide compatibility updates to Aperture that allow it to run on OS X Yosemite, but will not continue to develop it. In addition, it is working with Adobe to work on a transitionary workflow for users moving to Lightroom. If your workflow depends on Aperture, you might want to start planning for its demise.

Android without the mothership

Friday 27th of June 2014 03:36:13 PM
The success of Android has brought Linux to many millions of new users and that, in turn, has increased the development community for Linux itself. But those who value free software and privacy can be forgiven for seeing Android as a step backward in some ways; Android systems include significant amounts of proprietary software, and they report vast amounts of information back to the Google mothership. But Android is, at its heart, an open-source system, meaning that it should be possible to cast it into a more freedom- and privacy-respecting form. Your editor has spent some time working on that goal; the good news is that it is indeed possible to create a (mostly) free system on the Android platform. Meanwhile, some claim AOSP is a "featurephone" and a "barebones husk". It's always nice to see reality beat punditry.

Designer of key iOS features left Apple because of patent suits

Friday 27th of June 2014 02:51:30 PM
Chances are you've used something developed by Dutchman Bas Ording. Ording is responsible for the OS X dock (in fact, Steve Jobs hired him on the spot because Ording showed him dock magnification in 1998), the little pinheads for text selection and magnification in iOS, iOS' kinetic and bouncy scrolling, the pre-iOS 7 keyboard, and probably more. He's listed on a long list of Apple patents, including those Apple is asserting against its competitors. After about 15 years at the company as User Interface Designer, he left about a year ago for unknown reasons - until now. Speaking at a conference here in The Netherlands, and noted by Emerce (via Tweakers), Ording explains that he decided to leave Apple because he was fed up with having to appear in court. "Because my name is listed on patents, I increasingly had to appear in court cases versus HTC and Samsung," he said, "That started to annoy me. I spent more time in court than designing. Aside from that, I missed the interaction with Steve Jobs. We discussed matters every fourteen days." It's easy to forget - and I'm certainly guilty of that - that companies like Apple, in the end, consist of people like you and me, who dislike all this patent crap just as much as we do. Developers and designers working at Apple are not magically different from everyone else, and since developers almost unanimously dislike software patents, so do Apple's developers. It does make you wonder - how many more talented people have left companies like Apple and Microsoft for their patent aggression?

The microg Project

Friday 27th of June 2014 10:17:12 AM
The μg Project aims to provide a free, fully compatible replacement of the often used proprietary GAPPS package by Google. Very little information is available at this point, but I've always wondered why nobody ever tried to create open source replacements for the various Google Apps - most notably Google Play Services. This is clearly in its very early stages, but it'd be fantastic if we could one day have a drop-in replacement for Play Services, ensuring you could have a truly Google-free Android device while still being able to run applications that use the Play Services APIs.

Larry Page on privacy

Thursday 26th of June 2014 11:07:57 PM
Google CEO Larry Page on privacy issues: I'm not trying to minimize the issues. For me, I'm so excited about the possibilities to improve things for people, my worry would be the opposite. We get so worried about these things that we don't get the benefits. I think that's what's happened in health care. We've decided, through regulation largely, that data is so locked up that it can't be used to benefit people very well. Right now we don't data-mine health care data. If we did we'd probably save 100,000 lives next year. I'm very worried that the media and governments will try to stoke the people's fears and we'll end up in a state where we could benefit a lot of people but we re not able to do that. That's the likely outcome. The problem is not that people aren't open to the possible benefits from information gleamed from large piles of data. No, the problem is that both governments and companies alike have a history of abusing and/or leaking this data. In other words, the people's skepticism is entirely the industry's own fault. Introspection, Mr. Page.

Where KDE is going

Thursday 26th of June 2014 01:44:55 PM
This article explores where the KDE community currently stands and where it is going. Frameworks, Plasma, KDE e.V., Qt5, KDE Free Qt Foundation, QtAddons - you heard some of these terms and want to know what all the fuss is about? A set of articles on the Dot aims to bring some clarity in the changes and constants of the KDE community in 2014 and further. This is the first article, diving into the technical side of things: Plasma, applications and libraries. An update on where KDE stands today.

Google unveils Android L, new design language

Wednesday 25th of June 2014 07:50:33 PM
So, the Google I/O keynote just finished, so I guess it's time to start summarising the most important announcements so we can go on to discuss them to death. Google announced a lot today - and most of it focused on Android. They detailed the next version of Android, dubbed the L release, which brings biggest visual overhaul of the platform since Honeycomb. Google calls it Material Design, and it covers every aspect from Google - from Android to web. Material Design covers both how the user interface looks and how it behaves - with entirely new animations, dynamic shadows, and Z-depth. It is accompanied by loads of new APIs - both on Android and for the web - to make all these new transitions and Z-depth as easy as possible to code, and to ensure it always runs at 60 FPS (both on Android and on the web). Material Design covers all screen sizes - from round watches to big televisions. There's a stylised video and a website laden with designer talk, and The Verge has the Android screenshots to show it off. Still images don't do the subtle animations and transitions any justice, but as you can see, if you've used Google Now you already have a very basic idea of where Google is going with this. The transitions, Z-depth, and dynamic shadows counter the lifelessness and coldness that are inherent to modern 'flat' design, making it feel livelier and warmer. It feels like it sits somewhere between the neon garishness of iOS 7/8 and the starkness of Metro. While the focus was on the visual redesign, Android L will bring more to the table. One personal favourite of mine is a completely redesigned application switcher, which now resembles the card stack already in use by Chrome for Android, and displays Chrome tabs as individual applications. I've always found the current application switcher in Android to be cumbersome, and often very slow and choppy. This one looks very, very smooth on a Nexus 5. Another huge change for Android is the definitive switch from Dalvik to ART, Android's new runtime. You've been able to use it for a while now, and I'm sure some of you already were, but Android L will run exclusively on ARt. It'll improve performance and all that, but it's also ready for 64bit, and supports ARM, x86, and MIPS. For developers - literally nothing changes. They won't have to change a single line of code to be ART-compatible. Google showed off more features, such as battery life improvements and better notifications, but these were definitely the most prominent. The Android L SDK and developer images for the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 (2013) will be available tomorrow, and the final release will take place in autumn. As for when you can get it on your phone - this is Android, so all bets are off, of course. Nexus devices will het it first, custom ROMs will follow shortly after that, and those of you running stock Samsung, HTC, etc. ROMs are at the OEM's mercy. HTC has promised to begin rolling out Android L to the HTC One flagships within 90 days after Google drops the code, but OEMs have broken these kinds of promises before. Google also shed much more light on Android Wear, but there was little here we didn't already know. The LG and Samsung Android Wear devices will be available in Google Play starting today, but the much more awesome Moto 360 will only become available later this summer. Google also unveiled Android Auto (whatever) and Android TV (I'm sure it will take off this time). While the Moto 360 is quite interesting because of its round display and just how awesome it looks, the rest of these devices and platforms aren't particularly exciting to me. The good thing for developers is that all these platforms have SDKs available starting today, and a single APK can cover all of them. Moving on to Chrome, Google dropped the inevitable bombshell: Android applications can now run in windows on Chrome OS. On top of that, there will be a lot of integration between Android and Chrome OS to bridge the gap between the two. The latter looks very similar to what Apple is doing with Yosemite and iOS 8, and is a very welcome addition to the Chrome OS platform. In fact, these two additions - especially Android applications on Chrome OS - actually make me interested in trying out Chrome OS. The last announcement I want to touch upon is the first major announcement during the keynote: Android One. This is a new initiative in which Google creates a reference platform for entry-level devices that smaller OEMs in developing countries can use to build devices and sell them at prices below $100. These devices will ship with stock Android, but carriers can install localised applications. Luckily, though, users will be able to uninstall those. The cherry on top: Google will be solely responsible for updating these devices, meaning they will always be running the latest Android release. This was a very interesting keynote, and especially the Android stuff consisted of solid, welcome improvements to the platform. I'm very excited about the new design, since we're not just looking at a coat of paint, but also new behaviour and the APIs and developer tools to back it up. In 2012, Patrick Gibson wrote down a remark by one of his friends: "Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services". Now that we know what iOS 8 and Android L will look like - it sure looks like this remark has come full circle.

The death of the Urdu script

Wednesday 25th of June 2014 03:37:17 PM
Way back in 2009, I wrote about a few specific cases in which computers led to (subtle) changes in the Dutch language. While the changes highlighted in that article were subtle and not particularly substantial, there are cases around the world where computing threatens much more than a few subtle, barely noticeable features of a language. This article is a bit too politicised for my taste, but if you set that aside and focus on its linguistic and technological aspects, it's quite, quite fascinating. Urdu is traditionally written in a Perso-Arabic script called nastaliq, a flowy and ornate and hanging script. But when rendered on the web and on smartphones and the entire gamut of digital devices at our disposal, Urdu is getting depicted in naskh, an angular and rather stodgy script that comes from Arabic. And those that don’t like it can go write in Western letters. It'd be fantastic if Microsoft, Google, and Apple could include proper support for nastaliq into their products. It's one thing to see Dutch embrace a new method of displaying direct quotes under the influences of computers, but to see an entire form of script threatened is another.

Linux dominates supercomputers as never before

Tuesday 24th of June 2014 10:06:47 PM
In the latest contest, not only did Linux dominate, but Linux showed that is slowly pushing out all its competitors. In the June 2014 Top 500 supercomputer list, the top open-source operating system set a new high with 485 systems out of the fastest 500 running Linux. In other words 97 percent of the fastest computers in the world are based on Linux. With numbers like this, it's easy to forget that this project started with the words "just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu". This hobby now dominates almost every field of computing - from mobile to supercomputing.

LG webOS TV emulator

Tuesday 24th of June 2014 09:56:46 PM
Ever wanted to try LG's webOS for smart televisions, but without buying an LG TV? Fret not, as LG has the answer for you - there's an emulator in the SDK. You can download the SDK from here, and opt to only install the emulator. This is clearly geared towards developers, so there's not a whole lot you can do once you load up the emulator (a VirtualBox image), but for those of you interested in webOS development this is very interesting.