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Updated: 41 min 7 sec ago

Facebook to acquire Oculus

Tue, 25/03/2014 - 10:05pm
Facebook today announced that it has reached a definitive agreement to acquire Oculus VR, Inc., the leader in immersive virtual reality technology, for a total of approximately $2 billion. This includes $400 million in cash and 23.1 million shares of Facebook common stock (valued at $1.6 billion based on the average closing price of the 20 trading days preceding March 21, 2014 of $69.35 per share). The agreement also provides for an additional $300 million earn-out in cash and stock based on the achievement of certain milestones. What the heck does Facebook need this for? Great news for the Oculus men and women though.

Source code for MS-DOS 1.1, 2.0 and Word 1.1a released

Tue, 25/03/2014 - 5:17pm
The Computer History Museum announced today that it has, with permission from Microsoft Corporation, made available original source code for two historic programs: MS-DOS, the 1982 "Disk Operating System" for IBM-compatible personal computers, and Word for Windows, the 1990 Windows-based version of their word processor. Great move by Microsoft - this ensures these programs remain available for eternity.

HTC releases its new One

Tue, 25/03/2014 - 5:13pm
HTC has released the new HTC One, the updated version of the last year's best Android phone nobody bought. The Verge already has its review up, and its conclusion is exactly as you expect. There are a lot of great Android phones on the market right now, but two stand out: the Nexus 5 and the new HTC One. The Nexus 5 is Google's purest vision for Android, the One the platform's most mature and developed form. I desperately wish it took better pictures, and I'm reluctant to buy or recommend it until it does, but I like absolutely everything else. It's fast, long-lasting, does everything a phone should, and does it all with totally unparalleled class and style. From motion gestures to the Dot View case, it has genuinely new, genuinely useful features. It may not outsell Samsung and the relentless marketing sure to follow the feature-rich Galaxy S5, but HTC executives say they don't care. They say they just want to build a phone for people who like nice things. It's really hard to argue with that quality feel that last year's One had, and which this year's model improves. I think it's pretty much the only Android phone that can measure up to the iPhone in this department - and now, it also has an SD card slot.

BioWare's Manveer Heir discusses stereotypes in games at GDC

Mon, 24/03/2014 - 10:31pm
BioWare developer Manveer Heir held a passionate talk about stereotypes in videogames, for a group of developers at GDC. Heir backed up his ideas with research throughout the presentation. To begin, he cited a 2009 study, The Virual Census Representing Gender, Race and Age in Videogames, which analysed the primary and secondary characters of a large set of games and found that the elderly, children, black, hispanic and female characters were all uder-represented compared to the social makeup of the United States at the time. Heir also looked at the top 25 metacritic games of 2013. While half let players play as a woman, or an ethnic minority character, none facilitated both. I always play as a female character if the game gives me the option. In fact, if a game does not allow me to play as a female character for no discernible reason, I will not buy it. This is not some sort of holier-than-thou quest; it's just my preference. I really want game developers to move beyond the generically handsome early-thirties shaven-head five o'clock shadow American. It's boring, it's lazy, it's pandering to the lowest common denominator. This is one of the reasons why the Saints Row games have always appealed to me. Want to be a short, fat Asian woman wearing construction jeans and a fishnet halter top? Go head. Want to play as a cross-dressing thin giant with huge pink Bambi eyes and flaming red hair? No problem. Games that allow its players this kind of freedom are relatively rare, and that's a shame. Heir's speech got a lot right, however. It was an important and powerful moment this year because, ultimately, it wasn't about storming barricades or attacking individuals. It was a message from one developer to a room of developers, asking everyone to go away and raise the issue with colleagues in their respective organisations. It was a well-reasoned, well-researched and impactful, and took pains to avoid falling into some familiar traps. It wasn't a drum-banging speech for those already in complete agreement. It didn't, as these things sometimes do, reflect more on the author than the issue. The anger behind Heir's words made it an energising listen, but the speech didn't accuse or condescend, and didn't draw battle lines. That's exactly where the debate needs to go. Nothing changes if everyone digs trenches. Hopefully they take something away from this.

A good iOS developer is not necessarily a good Android developer

Mon, 24/03/2014 - 10:57am
Fantastic article about design on Android by Cennydd Bowles, design lead at Twitter. Android design is indeed more difficult than iOS design in that it offers fewer constraints. But any skilled designer can handle that with a bit of effort. My uncharitable interpretation for this class of responses is simple laziness, and if Android forces designers to drop a pixel-perfect mentality and adopt approaches that suit a diverse world, then that’s no bad thing. The evidence is out there for all to see. Android developers - developers who are Android-focused instead of iOS-focused - come up with absolutely beautiful Android applications all the time. I have no doubt that it's harder to do so on Android than it is on iOS, but the cold and harsh truth is that there are also a hell of a lot more Android users and devices out there. If your iOS application requires two full-time developers, is it really fair to expect your Android application to require the same, even though the user base is four to five times as large? A translation consisting of 3000 words takes me about a work day. A translation of 12000 words takes me four work days. None of my clients expects me to translate 12000 words in the same amount of time as 3000 words without a serious degradation in quality. Bowles also dives into the argument that Android users are less willing to pay than iOS users. Socially, excluding Android users seems almost prejudicial. Unlike Android is difficult, this isn't about about mere convenience; it's a value judgment on who is worth designing for. Put uncharitably, the root issue is "Android users are poor". If you are an iOS developer, and you port your Android application over as a side-project, is it really so surprising that Android users aren't buying your application? Could it simply be that your potentially poor iOS-to-Android port simply isn't even worth paying for? If you do not develop and design with Android's strengths in mind, Android users won't be as willing to pay as your iOS users, the platform whose strengths you do develop and design for. I translate English into Dutch, and since this is my speciality, I'm pretty good at it and my clients are willing to pay good money for my services. I could also translate German into Dutch, but since my German isn't nearly as good as my English, my clients aren't going to pay for it. I can translate German into Dutch just fine, but the quality will be far less than my English-to-Dutch translations. Even then, Android's userbase is far larger than iOS', so even if only 50% of your Android users pay, and 100% of your iOS users (unlikely figures), Android still provides a more worthwhile revenue stream. Still, the core issue is that Android is a different platform and ecosystem than iOS, with different strengths and weaknesses, and as such, requires different talents and mindsets. Translating English is different than translating German. I realise that. Developers should realise the same, and understand that being a good iOS developer does not make you a good Android developer - or vice versa.

ATM operators eye Linux as alternative to Windows XP

Sun, 23/03/2014 - 10:58pm
Some financial services companies are looking to migrate their ATM fleets from Windows to Linux in a bid to have better control over hardware and software upgrade cycles. Pushing them in that direction apparently is Microsoft's decision to end support for Windows XP on April 8, said David Tente, executive director, USA, of the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA). "There is some heartburn in the industry" over Microsoft's end-of-support decision, Tente said. Say what you want about Microsoft, but when it comes to clear and well-communicated support cycles, they belong at the very top. This is the ATMIA's own fault for not properly getting ready for the future even though XP's EOL has been known years and years in advance, and has even been extended a few times.

Surfing the modern web with ancient browsers

Sat, 22/03/2014 - 11:05pm
I spend a fair amount of time working with legacy operating systems. Apart from being obsolete themselves they suffer from a common problem - the web browsers are simply unusable on a present day Internet. You start by getting JavaScript error on google.com and it only gets worse once you go further. Try going to microsoft.com with IE 1.5 or qnx.com with the last version of Voyager. This just doesn't work. With rapid progression of web standards, the situation will only be getting worse in time. Something had to be done. This is some really cool stuff.

Welcome to the next generation of Helios

Fri, 21/03/2014 - 10:58pm
This is a project for breathing new live in Helios, an OS from the 90's. Helios was developed by the (now defunct) company called Perihelion Ltd., mainly targeting the INMOS Transputer but later adding other CPUs like the ARM series or TMS320c4x DSPs when INMOS' decline became clear. The project's website has more details.

Revelations of NSA spying cost US tech companies

Fri, 21/03/2014 - 4:56pm
Microsoft has lost customers, including the government of Brazil. IBM is spending more than a billion dollars to build data centers overseas to reassure foreign customers that their information is safe from prying eyes in the United States government. And tech companies abroad, from Europe to South America, say they are gaining customers that are shunning United States providers, suspicious because of the revelations by Edward J. Snowden that tied these providers to the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance program. Right. Because, as we all know, European governments did not fully comply with the US spying programs, nor have they similar programs of their own. High time some smart company develops a very simple and straightforward 'personal cloud'; a simple, large box with loads of storage that you dump in the basement somewhere, with pre-configured email, internet storage, and so on. Also offer the ability to have multiple of these things tied to the same account for data duplication, so you can, say, dump one of them at a trusted friend's home. Make it platform-agnostic and encrypted, et voila. Doesn't sound like something that's terribly hard to do.

Microsoft unveils DirectX 12

Thu, 20/03/2014 - 11:15pm
DirectX 12 introduces the next version of Direct3D, the graphics API at the heart of DirectX. Direct3D is one of the most critical pieces of a game or game engine, and we've redesigned it to be faster and more efficient than ever before. Direct3D 12 enables richer scenes, more objects, and full utilization of modern GPU hardware. And it isn’t just for high-end gaming PCs either - Direct3D 12 works across all the Microsoft devices you care about. From phones and tablets, to laptops and desktops, and, of course, Xbox One, Direct3D 12 is the API you've been waiting for. It's great that DirectX works across "phones and tablets, to laptops and desktops, and, of course, Xbox One", but an important adjective is missing here: Windows. With Microsoft playing little to no role in smartphone and tablets, and the desktop/laptop market being on hold, how much of a plus is DirectX on phones and tablets, really? Doesn't Windows Phone's and Windows 8 Metro's reliance on it only make it harder for game developers and houses to port their iOS and Android games over?

Don't use Microsoft's web mail to receive Microsoft leaks

Thu, 20/03/2014 - 11:10pm
One of the revelations in this week's case of a Microsoft worker who leaked pre-release Windows 8 software was that Microsoft accessed the Hotmail account of the blogger to whom the data was leaked. And it did so without a court order. Well, it turns out Microsoft was apparently within its rights to do so, having explicitly carved out the right to access communications to protect its own intellectual property. Yahoo and Google have similar clauses.

Tech giants knew of NSA data collection, NSA's top lawyer insists

Thu, 20/03/2014 - 8:01pm
Asked during a Wednesday hearing of the US government's institutional privacy watchdog if collection under the law, known as Section 702 or the Fisa Amendments Act, occurred with the "full knowledge and assistance of any company from which information is obtained," De replied: "Yes." When the Guardian and the Washington Post broke the Prism story in June, thanks to documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, nearly all the companies listed as participating in the program - Yahoo, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL - claimed they did not know about a surveillance practice described as giving NSA vast access to their customers' data. Some, like Apple, said they had "never heard" the term Prism. So, the companies most likely lied. What a surprise.

Oppo Find 7 packs 2560x1440 display

Wed, 19/03/2014 - 11:00pm
Early last year, Oppo was (one of?) the first company to ship a phone with a full HD display, on its Find 5. I bought one, and it became one of my favourite smartphones - a small Chinese company building phones with top-notch build quality, high-end (at the time) specifications, packaged in a distinctive and minimalist design. A new year, and a new barrier to break - Oppo announced the successor to the Find 5 today. They call it the Find 7, and it ups the display game to crazy levels: it packs a 5.5" 2560x1440 (!) display, the first of its kind on a phone (again, it could be one of the first). I honestly have no idea if it makes any sense whatsoever to have such a crazy display on a phone. Will it really make a noticeable difference over current full HD displays? I doubt it. It further boasts a 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB RAM, and a 3000mAh battery. There's also a Find 7 'lite', which has a more traditional 1080p display, a slightly slower processor, and 2GB RAM. Unlike the Find 5, the Find 7 has a two features which I know will appeal to many OSNews readers: a removable battery and an SD card slot. Both of these features were added after requests from users. Design-wise, the Find 7 loses some of the straightforward simplicity that I like so much about the Find 5; the phone is busier and messier, and the version with the crazy display has this fake carbon weave on the back that crosses into Samsung-tacky territory. The fancy elongated notification LED at the bottom is a nice touch, though. All in all, the Find 7 is yet another noteworthy product from a Chinese manufacturer, and further proof of my conviction: Samsung, HTC, and other established players should be worried. I don't think Apple will care much, but Android manufacturers should take note.

Oculus, Sony lead virtual reality push

Wed, 19/03/2014 - 8:10pm
The second version of the Oculus Rift development kit is similar to the Crystal Cove prototype in terms of features, but the fit and finish is much closer to what we’re likely to see in the retail virtual reality headset. Also, last night: The VR system is currently codenamed Project Morpheus, and will work with PlayStation 4. While still in prototype form, Yoshida says that Morpheus is the "culmination of our work over the last three years to realize our vision of VR for games, and to push the boundaries of play." The headset uses a 1080p LCD, offers a 90-degree field of view, and will integrate with the PlayStation Camera for tracking and PlayStation Move for motion control. It connects via HDMI and USB; while the current prototype uses a 5-meter cable, Sony would like to make it wireless. The company says the headset doesn't put weight on your nose or cheeks, and its design allows for airflow without the lenses fogging up. I'm not particularly interested in this - it feels like the Pong days of VR. Give this 10-15 years, though, and I'm sure the headsets will not be the size of refrigerators. The future looks quite interesting. Science, onwards to the holodeck!