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Exploring the Future of Computing
Updated: 58 min 10 sec ago

Apple unveils macOS Sierra

Monday 13th of June 2016 10:49:18 PM
Moving on from iOS 10, we get to OS X, and the biggest news is the forthcoming death of HFS+, but before we get there, Apple made it official: OS X is now macOS, causing millions of slightly peculiar people like myself to twitch every time we have to type it out. It should, of course, be called Mac OS, but maybe that's why I'm a sad, lonely translator, and Apple has so much money it can buy, like, I don't know, Belgium. macOS Sierra (10.12? We don't yet know) will be coming this fall. With that out of the way: Apple announced a brand new file system. You'd think big news like this would be front and centre during the keynote, but I guess not everybody gets bug-eyed by the supposed brutal murder of HFS+. In any event, the new Apple file system is called Apple File System - because, you know, Apple is for creative snowflakes - and it's been designed to scale from the Apple Watch all the way up to Mac OS macOS (this is not going to work out). Since I'm by far not qualified enough to tell you the details, I'll direct you to Ars, where they've got a good overview of what APFS is all about, or you can dive straight into Apple's technical documentation. For the rest, macOS was pretty under-served at WWDC, as expected. Siri is coming to the Mac, and there's things like a universal clipboard that works across devices, and Apple states that every application can be tabbed now - basically all multi-window applications can be tabbed, without developer input. I'm kind of curious how this will work in practice. Lastly, Apple is making it first steps towards macOS treating the file system like iOS does it (i.e., pretending it doesn't exist), by using iCloud to automatically sync your desktop and documents folder. All optional now, but you can expect this to expand and eventually be mandatory, and cover all user-facing files. One final tidbit: the Mac App Store has been effectively declared dead - all the APIs that were previously only available to MAS applications, are now available to everyone. And nobody shed a tear. As always, there's more, but this is the highlight reel.

Apple unveils iOS 10

Monday 13th of June 2016 09:50:53 PM
While I was watching Belgium vs. Italy, Apple did its whole WWDC thing, so time for some serious catch-up here on OSNews. Amidst all the frustrations caused by Belgium's terrible play (still better than my own country, because we didn't even qualify!), sideways glances at Twitter made it clear there was some awesome stuff taking place at WWDC, and since I'm trying this new thing where I'm not writing a mega keynote story, let's chop it up a bit and look at the most interesting things in separate items. Let's start with iOS 10. First, while technically a small thing, it will cause millions of iOS users to heave a sigh of relief: starting with iOS 10, Apple will let you remove all the craptastic crapware that's been accumulating in iOS over the years. No more 'crapware' folder on every iPhone, but a glorious little red jiggling X. It's taken them way too long, but for me it's probably the most welcome change in iOS at WWDC. Apple also redesigned the lock screen, giving it the ability to display rich notifications, so you can interact with the notifications without opening the applications they belong to. They also introduced lock screen widgets. ESPN, for example, allows you to watch highlight videos without even opening the application. Siri's also been improved, and most notably, has been opened up to third parties. This mean you can now tell Siri to send a message through WhatsApp, or order a car through Uber. The number of supported applications is still relatively small, but this will surely rise in the near future. Siri's contextually aware too, now, so it looks at your location, calendar contents, contact information, and so on. There's way more going on, of course, but nothing else really jumped out at me.

USB-C and Lightning headphones aren't great news for everyone

Friday 10th of June 2016 12:25:49 PM
The 3.5mm port is dying - at least when it comes to smartphones. If the persistent Lightning headphone rumor wasn't enough to persuade you, the fact that Motorola beat Apple to the punch should be. Motorola's new Moto Z and Moto Z Force don't have that familiar circular hole for your cans to plug into, and it now seems inevitable that almost every phone within a few years will forgo the port in favor of a single socket for both charging and using headphones. This is a change that few people actually want. It's driven entirely by the makers of our phones and their desire to ditch what they view as an unnecessary port. It's all about control. You can't put DRM on a 3.5mm jack, but you can do so on a digital port or wireless connection. Imagine only Beats headphones being certified to pull the best quality audio out of an iPhone, protected through Apple DRM. You know it's going to happen.

The new Moto Z is a simpler take on the modular phone

Friday 10th of June 2016 12:14:55 PM
If LG and Google's Ara didn't get you excited about modularized smartphones, perhaps Lenovo's new Moto Z line will. The Moto Z, which was announced today and will be available in two forms on Verizon this summer before heading to the rest of the world in the fall, has a new system for accessory add-ons called Moto Mods. The Mods attach to the back of the phone via magnets and provide a new look, improved audio, a projector, or other extra features. I guess this is the new thing thrown to see at the wall if it sticks. I see more potential in Ara's take on modular smartphones than the kind of stuff LG and Motorola is doing, which feels a bit tacked-on and limited.

OS X to be rebranded as 'macOS'

Thursday 9th of June 2016 05:59:23 AM
It's widely expected at this point that Apple will rebrand Mac OS X to simply 'macOS' next week at WWDC, but hidden in today's announcements regarding the App Store was yet another hint at the change. In a FAQ from on the iTunes Connect website, Apple mistakenly refers to Mac OS X as 'macOS,' again prematurely hinting at the change. I like dropping the X, but I really dislike Apple's terrible use of case. iOS is horrible enough, but tvOS, watchOS and macOS look absolutely dreadful, each a stumbling block in any sentence they appear in. Nobody with any sense of style or legibility would abuse case like that. Not at all unlike those people who style it as 'OSnews' instead of the obviously correct and only way to style it, namely 'OSNews'. Yes, this is an internal struggle over here, and yes, this stuff matters.

App Store 2.0

Wednesday 8th of June 2016 09:23:37 PM
Apple's annual conference for developers, which kicks off next Monday, is normally when the company previews its newest software for iOS and Mac OS X. But this year's WWDC isn't just about new operating systems: starting next week and continuing throughout the fall, Apple will begin rolling out new incentives for developers in its App Store, including a new revenue-share model and the introduction of search ads in its iOS App Store. In a rare pre-WWDC sit-down interview with The Verge, Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said that Apple would soon alter its revenue-sharing model for apps. While the well-known 70/30 split will remain, developers who are able to maintain a subscription with a customer longer than a year will see Apple's cut drop down to 15 percent. The option to sell subscriptions will also be available to all developers instead of just a few kinds of apps. "Now we're going to open up to all categories," Schiller says, "and that includes games, which is a huge category." As much as I applaud Apple for trying to do something about the terrible state of their application store, I don't think any of this will provide the answer. If people are unwilling to spend a euro on an application, the solution clearly is not to ask them to pay a euro a month. No, these changes feel far more like trying to increase the revenue for the big, established players, further drowning out the few interesting indie developers that remain. Back when the gold rush in mobile development was still in full swing, I was mocked for suggesting the model simply wasn't tenable, and was wreaking havoc among the indie development scene. I do feel at least a little bit of vindication that finally, finally, Apple seems to agree with me that their application store model is broken. Great scoop for The Verge and Lauren Goode, by the way.

Firefox 48 beta, release, and E10S

Wednesday 8th of June 2016 09:18:12 PM
In the next few days, Firefox 48 Beta becomes available. If all goes well in our beta testing, we're about 6 weeks away from shipping the first phase of E10S to Firefox release users with the launch of Firefox 48 on August 2nd. E10S is short for "Electrolysis". Similar to how chemists can use the technique called electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, we're using project Electrolysis to split Firefox into a UI process and a content process. Splitting UI from content means that when a web page is devouring your computer's processor, your tabs and buttons and menus won't lock up too.

Windows Subsystem for Linux syscalls

Wednesday 8th of June 2016 08:49:33 PM
WSL executes unmodified Linux ELF64 binaries by emulating a Linux kernel interface on top of the Windows NT kernel. One of the kernel interfaces that it exposes are system calls (syscalls). This post will dive into how syscalls are handled in WSL. Exactly what it says on the tin.

Marshmallow is in use on 10.1% of all Android devices

Tuesday 7th of June 2016 08:10:24 PM
Google's data shows that Marshmallow actually claimed 10.1% of all Android installs, based on data collected on June 6. The previous Android version, Lollipop, went down slightly from 35.6% in May to 35.4%, but it is still the version of Android with the most installs. Pathetic. Are you men and women tired of me bringing this up all the time yet? Yes? Good. Expect more. Until Google gets its act together, I will keep talking about this.

Altering the deal: why Tony Fadell left Nest - and Alphabet

Tuesday 7th of June 2016 08:05:06 PM
Last Friday's news that Nest CEO Tony Fadell would be leaving the company he founded with Matt Rogers and stepping into an "advisory" role seemed like the culmination of months of stories about Nest’s demanding culture - particularly the frank displeasure of former Dropcam CEO Greg Duffy, who openly regretted selling his company to Nest. These reports have largely focused on Fadell, whose management style has been polarizing. But another dynamic playing out may have been even more important, according to interviews with insiders: Google's restructuring into Alphabet last year, which placed new financial pressures on Nest to perform that some say limited its ability to innovate. I've never really been able to form an opinion on Nest's products - they seem kind of interesting, but I just don't see myself paying that much for a thermostat or a fire alarm.

A new theory explains how consciousness evolved

Tuesday 7th of June 2016 06:51:46 AM
Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has been the grand unifying theory of biology. Yet one of our most important biological traits, consciousness, is rarely studied in the context of evolution. Theories of consciousness come from religion, from philosophy, from cognitive science, but not so much from evolutionary biology. Maybe that's why so few theories have been able to tackle basic questions such as: What is the adaptive value of consciousness? When did it evolve and what animals have it? The Attention Schema Theory (AST), developed over the past five years, may be able to answer those questions. The theory suggests that consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing any nervous system: Too much information constantly flows in to be fully processed. The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence. If the theory is right - and that has yet to be determined - then consciousness evolved gradually over the past half billion years and is present in a range of vertebrate species. I know this really isn't what you'd generally expect to be posted here, but the concept of consciousness - one of a small set of words in the English language I cannot spell from the top of my head without making errors - is one of those things that, when you think too deeply about it, you enter into a realm of thinking that can get deeply uncomfortable and distressing, like thinking about what's outside the universe or what "existed" "before" (quotes intentional) the big bang. Personally, I'm one of those insufferable people who ascribes the entire concept of consciousness to the specific arrangement of neurons and related tissue in our brain and wider nervous system - I don't accept religion or some other specific magical thing that makes us humans (and dolphins? And chimpansees? And whatever else has some level of consciousness?) more special than any other animal in terms of consciousness. I also don't like the controversial concept of splitting consciousness up into an easy and a hard problem, because to me, that just opens the door to maintaining the religious idea that humans are somehow more special than other animals - sure, science has made it clear some other animals have easy consciousness, but humans are still special because we are the only ones with hard consciousness. It reeks of an artificial cutoff point created to maintain some semblance of uniqueness for homo sapiens sapiens so we can feel good about ourselves. You can take the whole concept of consciousness in every which way, and one of my recent favourites is CGP Grey's video The Trouble With Transporters, which, among other tings, poses the question - if you interrupt your consciousness by being teleported or going to sleep, are you really the same person when you rematerialise or wake up? Have fun!

DB-19: resurrecting an obsolete connector

Monday 6th of June 2016 08:00:22 PM
We're sticking with our impromptu theme of old hardware for another item, this time around about the DB-19 connector, which is pretty much impossible to buy anywhere - until perseverance, hard work, and smart thinking solved the problem. This is a happy story about the power of global communication and manufacturing resources in today's world. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, then you've certainly heard me whine and moan about how impossible it is to find the obscure DB-19 disk connector used on vintage Macintosh and Apple II computers (and some NeXT and Atari computers too). Nobody has made these connectors for decades. [...] But just as I was getting discouraged, good luck arrived in the form of several other people who were also interested in DB-19 connectors! The NeXT and Atari communities were also suffering from a DB-19 shortage, as well as others in the vintage Apple community, and at least one electronics parts supplier too. After more than a year of struggling to make manufacturing work economically, I was able to arrange a "group buy" in less than a week. Now let's do this thing! I love success stories like this one.

A decades old C64 bug discovered

Monday 6th of June 2016 07:49:14 PM
One of the tricks you can do on the C64 involves manipulating the video chip into reading the graphics data at an offset from where it's usually located. This allows you to scroll the display horizontally, and the trick is called VSP for Variable Screen Position. However, some machines crash when you attempt this, and the reason for that has always been a mystery. Not anymore. Fascinating.

The ECHO IV home computer: 50 years later

Thursday 2nd of June 2016 08:41:21 PM
This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of a home computer built and operated more than a decade before 'official' home computers arrived on the scene. Yes, before the 'trinity' of the Apple II, the Commodore PET and the Radio Shack TRS-80 - all introduced in 1977 - Jim Sutherland, a quiet engineer and family man in Pittsburgh, was building a computer system on his own for his family. Sutherland configured this new computer system to control many aspects of his home with his wife and children as active users. It truly was a home computer - that is, the house itself was part of the computer and its use was integrated into the family's daily routines. "It is not easy to be a pioneer - but oh, it is fascinating! I would not trade one moment, even the worst moment, for all the riches in the world." (Elizabeth Blackwell).

Microsoft's upgrade deceptions are undermining Windows 10

Thursday 2nd of June 2016 08:37:27 PM
Last week, Microsoft silently changed Get Windows 10 yet again. And this time, it has gone beyond the social engineering scheme that has been fooling people into inadvertently upgrading to Windows 10 for months. This time, it actually changed the behavior of the window that appears so that if you click the "Close" window box, you are actually agreeing to the upgrade. Without you knowing what just happened. Previously, closing this window would correctly signal that you do not want the upgrade. So Microsoft didn't change the wording in the window. It didn't make an "Upgrade now" button bigger, or a non-existent "don't ever upgrade" button smaller. It pulled a switcheroonie. It's like going out to your car in the morning and discovering that the gas pedal now applies the brakes, while the brake pedal washes the windshield. Have a fun commute! Insanity. No better than those web ads that use dialogs to prevent you from closing them. In fact - this is probably even worse.

Police are filing warrants for Android's vast store of location data

Wednesday 1st of June 2016 10:40:29 PM
It's not clear whether either of the public warrants were filled. No Google-based evidence was presented in Graham's trial, and the other suspect plead guilty before a full case could be presented. Still, there's no evidence of a legal challenge to either warrant. There's also reason to think the investigators' legal tactic would have been successful, since Google's policy is to comply with lawful warrants for location data. While the warrants are still rare, police appear to be catching on to the powerful new tactic, which allows them to collect a wealth of information on the movements and activities of Android users, available as soon as there's probable cause to search. Odd that this is news to anyone - and especially odd that police are seemingly only now catching on to this. I, myself, find this a fun and useful feature - especially while travelling - and since you can turn it off completely, I personally have little trouble with it, and I have fully considered the pros and cons of using this feature. That being said - the average user won't know a lot about this feature and won't weigh the options, leaving them exposed to potential warrants. I wonder if there's a way Google could ever set this up in a way that doesn't potentially expose the data to police, much like end-to-end encryption does for instant messaging, while the data still remains useful for targeted advertising (Google's bread and butter). Would it be possible to develop a system where only computers have access to the data for targeted advertising, without human intervention? Fully automated and closed? If not, Google might want to reconsider this avenue of targeted advertising - which would mostly be for PR reasons, since carriers still have very comparable - if slightly lower-resolution - data.

Genode 16.05 features revised API, Rust, and huge driver update

Wednesday 1st of June 2016 08:54:38 PM
The Genode project has released the version 16.05 of the operating-system framework. The new version comes with a fundamentally reworked component API, basic support for the Rust programming language, new ACPI infrastructure, and upgraded device drivers for Intel wireless, Intel graphics, audio, and USB. The Genode API and the programming styles for developing components evolved over the years. Being born out of the L4 community, the sole reliance on synchronous inter-component communication was deeply ingrained in the developer's mindset when the project was started ten years ago. It took the project a few years to overcome this misconception and embrace asynchronous communication primitives. Most modern Genode components use a mix of both synchronous and asynchronous inter-component interactions. At the API level, however, the two forms of communication remained to exist side by side instead of being integrated in one holistic design. With respect to programming styles, the project underwent a similar evolution. Coming from C-programming background, many parts of the original API resembled a C-ish programming style such as the prominent use of pointers, format strings, side effects via global function calls, or integer error codes. Over the years, however, the expressiveness of the C++ language got fully embraced and the programming style evolved towards functional programming. Today, most modern Genode components are designed as single-threaded state machines, triggered only by signals and RPC requests originating from other components. There are almost no dynamic memory allocations. If so, allocations are not anonymous but accounted to a specific allocator. State is explicitly passed as arguments, not captured in the form of globally accessible objects. Thanks to this style, certain classes of bugs such as race conditions or memory leaks are greatly alleviated by design. Genode 16.05 cultivates the modern style of Genode components in the form of a fundamentally revised API. The new API is less complex, much safer, and easier to reason about. To account for this profound change, the release documentation is accompanied by a new edition of the "Genode Foundations" book (PDF). The second major focus of the current release is the updated arsenal of device drivers. All drivers ported from Linux were upgraded to the Linux kernel 4.4.3. Specifically, the drivers are the Intel wireless stack, the Intel graphics driver, the USB driver, and the TCP/IP stack. Thereby, Genode users are able to leverage the same drivers as up-to-date Linux distributions but with each driver being encapsulated in a dedicated protection domain. The audio driver, which originates from OpenBSD, received an update to OpenBSD 5.9. The device drivers are complemented with new infrastructure that makes ACPI platform controlling and monitoring features available to Genode users. Further highlights are the added ability to use the Rust programming language in Genode components and the enhanced support for using the GNU debugger on top of the NOVA microhypervisor. Details about all improvements and API changes are provided by the extensive release documentation of version 16.05.

OS/2 resurrected: Blue Lion becomes ArcaOS

Tuesday 31st of May 2016 09:20:17 PM
When the Blue Lion project was announced at the American WarpStock in October 2015, the name was only temporary. Following the close of events at WarpStock Europe, Arca Noae managing member Lewis Rosenthal noted in an interview that the final product name for the new OS/2 distribution is ArcaOS 5.0. The significance of the version number relates to IBM OS/2 4.52 - the last maintenance release of the platform released by IBM in 2001. ArcaOS 5.0 is expected to be released in the fourth quarter of 2016, but Blue Lion remains as a code name, in much the same way "Wily Werewolf" is the code name of Ubuntu 15.10. ArcaOS is a sort-of continuation of eComStation, since it's founded by several eCS developers who felt eCS had ground to a halt.

Microsoft stop spamming Android users with notification tray ads

Tuesday 31st of May 2016 09:14:03 PM
Remember the story about Microsoft spamming the Android notification tray with ads for applications I had already installed? BetaNews talked to Microsoft about this, the company first said this: Our team is actively investigating the occurrences of these notifications. However, after BetaNews pressed on, Microsoft changed its tune and said this a few days later: Microsoft is deeply committed to ensuring that we maintain the best possible experience for our customers in addition to complying with all applicable policies. We have taken the action to turn off these notifications. This update will be reflected in the coming days. Well, I guess I indirectly actually did something useful.

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