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Exploring the Future of Computing
Updated: 15 min 45 sec ago

Surface Studio review: a beautiful invader of Apple's base

Thursday 17th of November 2016 11:03:26 PM
The Verge's Surface Studio review (there's more reviews at Engadget and CNet): It's an engineering marvel of a monitor, but I really wish Microsoft sold it separately. I want to dock my Surface Book to it, or transform any laptop into a full Surface Studio. If I'm investing in a desktop PC at this kind of price then I also really want to be able to upgrade it and use it for gaming and more powerful work. I can't do either of those things with the Surface Studio. If this was a monitor with a powerful GPU in it designed to complement Microsoft's existing Surface devices and "upgrade" them, I'd probably be throwing my wallet at my screen right now. It's hard to do so knowing that I'm not getting the latest and greatest specs for that $2,999, and that's before you even consider the top model I've been testing is $4,199. That doesn't discount what Microsoft has attempted to do here. It's truly something unique and a hint of real innovation we haven't seen for some years with PCs. Others have tried to experiment, like HP's Sprout, but it's rare to see something more than just an all-in-one. Microsoft's exciting Surface Studio unveil has been compared to Apple's disappointing MacBook Pro launch, and with good reason. Many creatives I’ve spoken to about the Surface Studio have said the same thing: why isn't Apple doing this? Apple seems to be forcing creatives to choose an iPad Pro for touch and pen, but the powerful and professional apps just aren't there yet on iOS, and it's not clear if companies like Adobe are willing to rewrite their software to be just as useful on an iPad Pro. Microsoft has realized the potential in the market to reach out to creatives who feel abandoned by Apple, and it's an influential crowd that could be swayed over by devices like the Surface Studio. As awesome as the Surface Studio looks, the specs of the PC part of the equation lag behind - most of the high price is defined by the display - but I guess the biggest problem with it is that it runs Windows. The creative community has been using macOS for so long, and it's hard to leave a platform behind.

Pixel security: better, faster, stronger

Thursday 17th of November 2016 10:52:52 PM
Encryption protects your data if your phone falls into someone else's hands. The new Google Pixel and Pixel XL are encrypted by default to offer strong data protection, while maintaining a great user experience with high I/O performance and long battery life. In addition to encryption, the Pixel phones debuted running the Android Nougat release, which has even more security improvements. This blog post covers the encryption implementation on Google Pixel devices and how it improves the user experience, performance, and security of the device. These kinds of things should've been default a long time ago.

Google signs on to the .NET Foundation

Wednesday 16th of November 2016 11:57:08 PM
Microsoft is hosting its annual Connect(); developer event in New York today. With .NET being at the core of many of its efforts, including on the open-source side, it’s no surprise that the event also featured a few .NET-centric announcements, as well. For the most part, these center around the .NET Foundation, the open-source organization Microsoft established to guide the future development of the .NET Core project. As the company announced today, Google is now a member of the .NET Foundation, where it joins the likes of Red Hat, Unity, Samsung JetBrains and (of course) Microsoft in the Technical Steering Group. In addition, Samsung is bringing .NET to its Tizen platform, which it claims is installed on 50 million devices. Tizen is uses in Samsung smartwatches and TVs, among other things.

ReactOS 0.4.3 Released

Wednesday 16th of November 2016 10:05:35 PM
ReactOS 0.4.3 has been released. Notable in this release is the switching to a new winsock library that had been started several years ago by Alex Ionescu and imported into trunk by Ged Murphy. Even after it was brought in however significant work remained to be done before it could replace the old winsock library, work which Peter Hater and Andreas Maier undertook. Their effort has now reached a point wherein the team feels it is ready to supplant the original library and 0.4.3 serves as the first release to incorporate it. As the winsock library underpins effectively all network operations in user mode applications, and its improvement should be a significant boon for ReactOS' compatibility with such programs as the Good old Games (GoG) client and newer versions of the Python runtime. The changelog offers all the details, and you can download it from their website.

Microsoft formally announces Visual Studio 2017

Wednesday 16th of November 2016 10:01:16 PM
Microsoft held the keynote for its Connect() developer conference today, where it announced the next version of its integrated development environment (IDE), Visual Studio 2017. The company is also offering a release candidate, which you can grab from [...] The company's latest IDE has a heavy focus on mobile cross-platform development, coming with an iOS Simulator, a feature that used to be exclusive to developing on a Mac. In addition, as accidentally spoiled earlier this week, Visual Studio for the Mac has also been released. Technically, it's Xamarin, but Microsoft is rebranding it as Visual Studio.

Samsung buys Harman for $8 billion

Wednesday 16th of November 2016 09:53:49 PM
Samsung has announced that it has acquired Harman, the company behind over 20 brands including audio companies AKG, JBL and Harman/Kardon, as well as a suite of connected car technologies. Although you're probably more familiar with Harman for their audio brands, the company earns around two thirds of its revenues from automotive-related segments where it produces telematics, security and 'embedded infotainment' solutions.

Secret backdoor in some US phones sent data to China

Tuesday 15th of November 2016 04:11:59 PM
For about $50, you can get a smartphone with a high-definition display, fast data service and, according to security contractors, a secret feature: a backdoor that sends all your text messages to China every 72 hours. Security contractors recently discovered preinstalled software in some Android phones that monitors where users go, whom they talk to and what they write in text messages. The American authorities say it is not clear whether this represents secretive data mining for advertising purposes or a Chinese government effort to collect intelligence. Through Chinese manufacturer BLU, some 120.000 BLU phones in the US were affected as well. According to BLU, the company immediately removed the offending software. The original purpose of the software was, supposedly, to aid in the detection of junk messages.

An extensible architecture for building certified concurrent kernels

Tuesday 15th of November 2016 04:04:02 PM
Complete formal verification of a non-trivial concurrent OS kernel is widely considered a grand challenge. We present a novel compositional approach for building certified concurrent OS kernels. Concurrency allows interleaved execution of kernel/user modules across different layers of abstraction. Each such layer can have a different set of observable events. We insist on formally specifying these layers and their observable events, and then verifying each kernel module at its proper abstraction level. To support certified linking with other CPUs or threads, we prove a strong contextual refinement property for every kernel function, which states that the implementation of each such function will behave like its specification under any kernel/user context with any valid interleaving. We have successfully developed a practical concurrent OS kernel and verified its (contextual) functional correctness in Coq. Our certified kernel is written in 6500 lines of C and x86 assembly and runs on stock x86 multicore machines. To our knowledge, this is the first proof of functional correctness of a complete, general-purpose concurrent OS kernel with fine-grained locking. Some light reading for your late Tuesday afternoon.

*The peculiar case of terrible Office performance in Boot Camp*

Tuesday 15th of November 2016 12:20:25 AM
Here's a short little tip with some interesting background information. If you are running Windows on your Mac - like I'm doing on my 2015 retina MacBook Pro because macOS is far too unoptimised to run on it - and it's using an Intel graphics chip, be sure to replace Apple's own Boot Camp graphics drivers with Intel's own latest drivers. The reason why you should do this is kind of fascinating. I noticed that while Windows as a whole ran quite fast and snappy - much more so than macOS with its crappy responsiveness, FPS drops, and hangs, even after reinstallations - two applications had responsiveness issues: Chrome and Microsoft Office. With Chrome, I chalked it up to #justchromethings and moved on. With Office though, I was perplexed. The past few versions of Office, including the current one, are fast, snappy, and instant. The days where Office applications were slow and cumbersome are long gone, even on lower-end hardware like the 2015 retina MacBook Pro. However, Office applications were slow, rendering was terrible, and things like dragging and resizing Office windows was literally a slide show - and I wanted to know why. I found out that on Windows, Microsoft Office uses its own rendering pipeline (framework? I'm not really sure what the accurate terminology is here), different from both Win32 and Metro applications. As it turns out, Office does its own check of the video card and driver to determine if hardware acceleration for Office should be disabled or not. By default, hardware acceleration is automatically disabled in Office programs if certain video card and video card driver combinations are detected when you start an Office program. If hardware acceleration is automatically disabled by the program, nothing indicates that this change occurred. Well, except that Office now runs like a total dog, of course. Apparently, the Office team maintains its own list of video card/driver combinations and keeps this list a secret. The list of video card/video driver combinations that trigger this automatic disabling of hardware graphics acceleration is not documented because the list is hard-coded in the Office programs and will be constantly changing as we discover additional video combinations that cause problems in Office programs. When I ran the Intel Driver Update Utility on my retina MacBook Pro to determine if the Apple-provided Intel graphics driver was up-to-date, the tool found a newer driver, but warned me that my OEM (Apple) had modified the already-installed driver, and that I would lose those customisations. I proceeded to download the new driver anyway, only to be hit by a very peculiar dialog upon trying to install the driver Intel told me was newer than what I had installed: the installer warned my I was installing an older driver than what I had installed. So, I decided to download the latest driver (the latest beta) manually, installed it, and this fixed not just Office, but also Chrome - which I find particularly baffling (maybe Chrome maintains a similar list?). The list that the Office team maintains is not of good drivers, but of bad drivers. For Office's hardware acceleration to fail, the driver needs to be on the list. This means that the combination "Apple-modified Intel graphics driver/Iris 6100" was, at some point, added to the list, triggering the disabling of hardware acceleration for Office. The combination "Intel's own graphics driver/Iris 6100" is not on the list. There's a number of possible explanations here, and I'm not really sure which one makes the most sense. Apple cares too little about Boot Camp users to intentionally cripple the Apple-supplied Intel drivers, so that's definitely not the cause. I also don't think the Intel driver magically improved a ton in the span of just a few weeks (there's only a few weeks of difference between the two versions, but I'm not trusting version numbers here) - but maybe it did? I honestly don't know. It's Intel's beta driver that isn't even signed by Microsoft, but somehow, the Office team tested it and removed it from their list? My first instinct was to think that because Apple had modified the driver, it wasn't on Microsoft's list - but since the list is for bad drivers, that makes no sense. The most logical explanation I have right now - suggested by Steven Troughton-Smith - is that Apple changes a few things in the Intel driver to optimise Windows' battery life, which in turn tune down the performance, causing the Office team to add this specific driver/video card combination to the list. I've been keeping an eye on battery life since installing the driver, but haven't noticed much of a difference. I don't think this little tip will be useful for a lot of people, but I really enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on. Read more on this exclusive OSNews article...

China: we will cut iPhone sales if Trump starts trade war

Monday 14th of November 2016 11:37:39 PM
China will take a tit-for-tat approach then. A batch of Boeing orders will be replaced by Airbus. US auto and iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and US soybean and maize imports will be halted. China can also limit the number of Chinese students studying in the US. Trump as a shrewd businessman will not be so naive. None of the previous presidents were bold enough to launch an all-out trade war against China. They all opted for a cautious line since it's most consistent with the overall interests of the US, and it's most acceptable to US society. That's China's state-run newspaper, threatening to hit - among others - Apple where it hurts. I don't think American companies are going to, uh, just allow Trump and his administration to carry out this promise he made to voters - one of his core promises, I might add.

Alienware on SteamOS lull: Windows 10 changed everything

Monday 14th of November 2016 10:08:29 PM
Frank Azor explains to PC Gamer why SteamOS seems to have kind of... Faded away: "Valve ran into some delays with the controller, and while that was occurring, Windows 10 was being released," Azor said. "I think Microsoft learned a very valuable lesson - a lot of valuable lessons - with Windows 8 and tried to correct those with Windows 10. It's more gamer focused, I would say. Every subsequent release has focused on gamers. Although their execution isn't perfect, it's definitely improved compared to Windows 8." He continued: "I think the need right now, for Steam Machines and for SteamOS, isn't as great as it was two years ago, and that’s contributed to the reason why the momentum has faded. We still offer SteamOS and the Steam Machine platform with the new version of the Alpha - the new Steam Machine R2 - and we still sell hundreds of units, thousands of units every month. But it's not a major initiative for us like it was two years ago because it's not necessary right now. We're in a good place with Windows." Microsoft did better with Windows 10, and lest we forget: Valve totally botched everything they could possibly botch with SteamOS.

NES Classic joins the "can it run Linux" club

Monday 14th of November 2016 10:01:21 PM
Ars Technica: A lucky few were able to secure and purchase the new NES Classic Edition when it launched on Friday, but not every buyer is playing games on it. The hacking community has pounced upon the device to see what the little box can do, and you know what that means: installing Linux. Or, at least, your own Linux kernel. The NES Classic Edition already runs on Linux, and Nintendo has complied with open source license rules by offering downloads of the tiny hardware's Linux source files. While a few enterprising hackers have posted about connecting a serial cable to the motherboard and trying to install their own kernels, one Japanese hacker pulled it off - and posted a guide explaining how he did so (if you really care, he also posted the entire bootlog from his first successful boot). I still really kind of want to build my own little machine that can emulate classic consoles. One of those project that's actually not too hard to do these days.

Microsoft brings Visual Studio to the Mac

Monday 14th of November 2016 12:05:07 PM
At Connect(); in November, Microsoft is launching a preview of Visual Studio for Mac. This is an exciting development, evolving the mobile-centric Xamarin Studio IDE into a true mobile-first, cloud-first development tool for .NET and C#, and bringing the Visual Studio development experience to the Mac.

Writing a Windows 3 emulator

Sunday 13th of November 2016 11:43:59 PM
We all know the feeling. You just want to use some of your favourite 16bit Windows applications, only to realise that since you moved to 64bit, Windows no longer runs them. This gets me every time, probably 4-5 times a day. Every time I'm like - there's got to be a better way than firing up my old 386 laptop, or running an entire Windows 3.x VM just to get my daily fix of Skifree. Right? I jest, of course, but when Brad Robinson's partner, Jen, wanted to play some old 16bit Windows games, he did actually want to create a less frustrating user experience. So, he decided to write a Windows 3 emulator. The basic idea is to write a program that can read a 16-bit Windows executable file, run it on an emulated CPU and map any 16-bit API calls that it makes onto the x64 equivalents. The emulator itself isn't available just yet, but his series of articles on Medium detailing its development are fascinating reads.

Darling is still trying to run macOS software on Linux

Sunday 13th of November 2016 11:43:52 PM
Darling, the project to bring macOS binaries to Linux, is still active. After a period of inactivity, the project has picked up speed, according to Darling is still progressing but in its latest state can not run any macOS GUI applications but rather only basic command-line apps with both 32-bit and 64-bit capabilities. From the Darling Shell there is support for working with DMG images and even using Apple's Xcode toolchain for compiling basic "Hello World!" type applications for macOS and running from a Linux system.

"Android: choice at every turn"

Saturday 12th of November 2016 10:32:42 PM
A few days ago, Google filed its official response to the EU antritrust investigation into Android. The company details its main arguments on the Android Blog, and it's definitely worth a read. The blog post is remarkably open about one of Android's main shortcomings - fragmentation. To manage this challenge, we work with hardware makers to establish a minimum level of compatibility among Android devices. Critically, we give phone makers wide latitude to build devices that go above that baseline, which is why you see such a varied universe of Android devices. That's the key: our voluntary compatibility agreements enable variety while giving developers confidence to create apps that run seamlessly across thousands of different phones and tablets. This balance stimulates competition between Android devices as well as between Android and Apple's iPhone. Android's compatibility rules help minimize fragmentation and sustain a healthy ecosystem for developers. Ninety-four percent of respondents who answered questions on fragmentation in a Commission market survey said that it harms the Android platform. Developers worry about it, and our competitors with proprietary platforms (who don't face the same risk) regularly criticize us for it. The Commission's proposal risks making fragmentation worse, hurting the Android platform and mobile phone competition. The whole post is worth a read. As I've said before - I'm glad the EU keeps these large companies on their toes, but the accusations regarding Android seem way off base to me. In the end, market regulation needs to benefit consumers, not harm them - and it's easy to see how fragmenting Android into incompatible Samsung, Sony, HTC, and Google Androids would definitely harm consumers and developers alike. I think there's a lot more fodder to be found looking at the relationship between companies like Samsung and Apple on the one hand, and carriers on the other. On top of that, the EU could've invested a lot more effort into fostering alternative platforms, instead of letting Microsoft ruin Nokia and run it into the ground (speaking of places where there's fodder to be found). Nobody wants the proverbial Android N.

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