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Exploring the Future of Computing
Updated: 1 hour 16 min ago

Another year: the iPhone is still the best choice for most people

10 hours 31 min ago
Over the weekend, people with review units of the Pixel 2 XL began noticing a problem. No, not the already-known issues of muddy color and grainy textures when viewed in low-light, but one that's potentially more worrisome: screen burn-in. First reported on Twitter by Android Central's Alex Dobie, multiple people have noticed that when you look at the screen with a gray background, you can see faint outlines of the phone's navigation buttons on the bottom. You can see it below, and I can confirm I'm seeing something similar on my own review unit. The display problems of the Pixel 2 XL - due to its LG-made panel - are baffling. Google claims it's getting serious about hardware, but putting a panel in your flagship phone that isn't only sub-par when it's working, but is also showing burn-in after mere days of use, is wholly and utterly inexcusable. This is not a budget, €150 phone - this is a flagship phone with a flagship price, and consumers deserve better than this clearly garbage display. Another year, another round of flagships, another year of the iPhone simply being the best all-round option for most, normal people. For most average, normal people, the iPhone will give them an easy-to-use, secure, and updated phone with a decent resale value two to three years down the line. Additionally, Apple Stores or official Apple retailers are widespread, so you often have easy access to in-person customer service. Samsung/HTC/LG phones don't get updates - or only six months after the fact - but carry the same flagship price, often leaving their users with insecure and out of date software. The Nexus program no longer exists, and Google's Pixel phones are only available in like 2 countries, and on top of that, its flagship model has a display worse than my Palm T|X. The Android market is in a terrible state right now. Anybody who doesn't care about software and hardware the way most of us do is, years and years in, still best served by an iPhone. Depending on budget, get an iPhone 6S, 7, or 8 (forget the ridiculously overpriced iPhone X); the Android world simply doesn't have a phone that can compete with any of those three - and that's a sad state of affairs. Google has been wholly unable to address the biggest problems Android suffers from - most notably, updates - and we're way past the point where this can be excused without really scraping the bottom of the barrel of excuses. Suggesting non-nerdy, regular people get an Android phone at this point in time is simply irresponsible.

The Xerox Alto, Smalltalk, and rewriting a running GUI

11 hours 18 min ago
We succeeded in running the Smalltalk-76 language on our vintage Xerox Alto; this blog post gives a quick overview of the Smalltalk environment. One unusual feature of Smalltalk is you can view and modify the system's code while the system is running. I demonstrate this by modifying the scrollbar code on a running system. Smalltalk is a highly-influential programming language and environment that introduced the term "object-oriented programming" and was the ancestor of modern object-oriented languages. The Alto's Smalltalk environment is also notable for its creation of the graphical user interface with the desktop metaphor, icons, scrollbars, overlapping windows, popup menus and so forth. When Steve Jobs famously visited Xerox PARC, the Smalltalk GUI inspired him on how the Lisa and Macintosh should work. Be sure to read the comments after the article itself, since it includes comments and clarifications from none other than Alan Kay himself.

Puerto Rican iPhone users given access to Loon balloons

Sunday 22nd of October 2017 05:04:46 PM
Apple, AT&T, the FCC and Alphabet's X division have all put into motion efforts to give residents of Puerto Rico more cellular connectivity. Apple has been working with AT&T to extend and activate cell service for users in Puerto Rico. To improve what is a terrible connectivity situation there, it’s going to enable a provisional band of LTE that has been recently approved, but not activated in the US and Puerto Rico, where it has not been licensed. This will allow iPhones to connect to Alphabet X's Project Loon balloons in the region, which were activated today. This should allow users to send text messages and access some critical online services. It's always a welcome change of pace to see companies like this working together to help people in need. Good work, Alphabet/Google, Apple, and AT&T. Now there's a sentence you won't hear very often.

PC-MOS released under GPL

Saturday 21st of October 2017 09:51:13 PM
The old PC-MOS was released under the GNU GPL this Summer. From Wikipedia: PC-MOS/386 was a multi-user, computer multitasking operating system produced by The Software Link (TSL), announced at COMDEX in November 1986 for February 1987 release.[1] PC-MOS/386, a successor to PC-MOS, can run many MS-DOS software titles on the host machine or a terminal connected to it. Unlike MS-DOS, PC-MOS/386 is optimized for the Intel 80386 processor; however early versions will run on any x86 computer. The GitHub project includes a 1.44MB disk image for the latest version that will work under VirtualBox, but does not include older versions of the operating system from before it required an 80386+. The system won't work properly if you set a modern date at the boot up prompt.

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update: lots of small changes

Wednesday 18th of October 2017 10:44:41 AM
Overall, the Fall Creators Update is a nice set of improvements to Windows. Windows 10 continues to get better with each update. Its grab-bag nature continues to underscore just how Windows development has changed. As the Fluent work makes clear, Windows today is in some sense never finished. That's not something to be scared of; any piece of actively maintained, supported, updated software is in a sense "not finished." With the new approach to developing and delivering Windows, that "unfinished" nature is more overt than it used to be. I'm sure some of the semi-annual Windows updates will feel larger in scope than others, depending on how the development work is going; others will feel a bit smaller. Because so much of the ground work was laid in the Creators Update, albeit hidden from view, this feels like a smaller update. It's a list of relatively small and disjointed features, but I still really like this update. Especially the Fluent Design changes to applications are very welcome, and make Metro applications feel less... Dead? Less cold? They have more warmth now, which is definitely something missing from pre-Fluent Metro and current iOS UI design (not so much from Material Design, which is rife with colour and depth). The very, very subtle blur effect, the 'highlight' when hovering over buttons and menus, and the odd animation here and there really address the concerns of people who feel Metro takes the "flat" design trend too far to the extreme. As a sidenote, "flat" really is a terrible term, since none of these UI design styles are really flat. Fluent, Material Design, and whatever iOS has are actually anything but flat, and have far more Z-depth than anything that came before - but I digress. The emoji picker is really nice, but it baffles me why it's emoji-only; as someone with a deep, deep hatred for special character input on Windows, it baffles me that it doesn't include special characters. The new GPU panel in Task Manager is also very nice, and it feels like Edge is less flakey, too. All in all, a nice free update.

The new MacBook keyboard is ruining my life

Wednesday 18th of October 2017 10:42:40 AM
I was in the Grand Central Station Apple Store for a third time in a year, watching a progress bar slowly creep across my computer's black screen as my Genius multi-tasked helping another customer with her iPad. My computer was getting its third diagnostic test in 45 minutes. The problem was not that its logic board was failing, that its battery was dying, or that its camera didn't respond. There were no mysteriously faulty innerworkings. It was the spacebar. It was broken. And not even physically broken - it still moved and acted normally. But every time I pressed it once, it spaced twice. "Maybe it's a piece of dust," the Genius had offered. The previous times I'd been to the Apple Store for the same computer with the same problem - a misbehaving keyboard - Geniuses had said to me these exact same nonchalant words, and I had been stunned into silence, the first time because it seemed so improbable to blame such a core problem on such a small thing, and the second time because I couldn't believe the first time I was hearing this line that it was not a fluke. But this time, the third time, I was ready. "Hold on," I said. "If a single piece of dust lays the whole computer out, don't you think that's kind of a problem?" The keyboard on the MacBooks and MacBook Pros is an unmitigated disaster. In pursuit of thinness nobody else is looking for, Apple severely crippled its most important Mac product line - and that's even without taking the Touchbar into account.

DragonFlyBSD 5.0 released

Monday 16th of October 2017 09:14:39 PM
DragonFlyBSD 5.0 is the first release with preliminary boot support for HAMMER2, the project's new filesystem. Preliminary HAMMER2 support has been released into the wild as-of the 5.0 release. This support is considered EXPERIMENTAL and should generally not yet be used for production machines and important data. The boot loader will support both UFS and HAMMER2 /boot. The installer will still use a UFS /boot even for a HAMMER2 installation because the /boot partition is typically very small and HAMMER2, like HAMMER1, does not instantly free space when files are deleted or replaced.

Microsoft shows off its Fluent Design changes to Windows 10

Monday 16th of October 2017 10:47:04 AM
All of the new design changes to Windows 10 are demonstrated in a new video from Microsoft. It’s a good showcase of how subtle the changes are, but it doesn’t tease much for the future. Microsoft’s Fluent Design System is designed to be the true successor to Microsoft's Metro design, and will appear across apps and services on Windows, iOS, and Android. Microsoft is focusing on light, depth, motion, material, and scale for its Fluent Design, with animations that make the design feel like it's moving during interactions in Windows. Like Metro applications before them, these Fluent applications look really nice, but it's all for naught. Microsoft showed off its redesigned Outlook application for Windows (and macOS), and guess what? It's a Win32 application. If not even Microsoft itself is interested in making Metro/Fluent applications, why should anyone else? Microsoft's approach to Metro/Fluent has been baffling from day one, and it doesn't seem like anything's changing any time soon. They made really great Metro Office applications, but then proceed to hide them from the Windows Store behind the "mobile" tag, and artificially cripple them by not allowing you to open more than one document per Office application. Even when Microsoft does make great Metro/Fluent applications, they artificially cripple them. I have no idea what Microsoft is doing, and I don't blame developers for giving them the finger. They are telling an unreliable, unfocused, unclear, and chaotic developer story, and any developer worth her salt wouldn't touch the Windows Store/Metro/Fluent with a ten-foot pole.

Where is Haiku R1?

Saturday 14th of October 2017 01:24:31 PM
With all the infrastructure changes and improvements, paired with the bug fixes in our master Haiku branch, we are slowly and steadily moving towards the R1 Beta 1 release which will live in its own R1(!) branch. R1 Beta 1 installations should slowly roll towards the final R1 release via package updates. R1 Beta 1 is going to be a big step towards our first stable release. The exact dates are still not solid. I know we have been saying "soon" for quite a while... But soon. ...

ChrysaLisp: an assembler/C-Script/Lisp 64bit OS

Saturday 14th of October 2017 01:09:47 PM
Assembler/C-Script/Lisp 64 bit OS. MIMD, multi CPU, multi threaded, multi core, multi user. Runs on OSX or Linux for x64, PI64 Linux for Aarch64. Will move to bare metal eventually but it's useful for now to run hosted while experimenting. When time allows I will be doing a VM boot image for UniKernel type appliances and a WebAssembly target to play around within the browser. Allows modelling of various network topologies with point to point links. Each CPU in the network is modelled as a separate host process, point to point links use shared memory to simulate CPU to CPU, point to point, bi directional connections. There is no global bus based networking on purpose.

What nobody told me about the Netherlands

Saturday 14th of October 2017 01:08:08 PM
Some years ago, already working in 'active transport', and seeking to deepen my understanding around urban design, I took the opportunity to take a family holiday for a week in the Netherlands. Among many many reactions to the experience, one big one I experienced was simply surprise that nobody had told me about most of the amazing things I'd see. I've been meaning simply to write a list of these amazing things for years now. Unfortunately I'm not all that sure that there is any way to convey the 'amazingness' to those who haven't visited. The Netherlands is one of the most - if not the most - densely populated western countries, which forced urban planners to get creative. Growing up and living in The Netherlands it's easy to take for granted just how good we are at traffic and urban design. That is, until you take a trip abroad to pretty much any other country - even our beloved neighbours like Germany or Belgium - and realise just how terrible everyone else is at properly segmenting and protecting cyclists and pedestrians, even in densely populated and tightly packed cities. Urban design is a fascinating subject, and once you start paying attention to it here in The Netherlands, you'll discover an endless array of affordances to protect cyclists, pedestrians, and cars (yes!), while also creating neighbourhoods that usually have only one entry/exit point for cars so they can't be used for through traffic, all designed with the goal of corralling cars away from where people actually live. I often wonder - will this make The Netherlands a haven for self-driving cars, or a hell?

Microsoft breaches Dutch data protection law with Windows 10

Saturday 14th of October 2017 12:44:26 PM
Microsoft breaches the Dutch data protection law by processing personal data of people that use the Windows 10 operating system on their computers. This is the conclusion of the Dutch Data Protection Authority (DPA) after its investigation of Windows 10 Home and Pro. Microsoft does not clearly inform users about the type of data it uses, and for which purpose. Also, people cannot provide valid consent for the processing of their personal data, because of the approach used by Microsoft. The company does not clearly inform users that it continuously collects personal data about the usage of apps and web surfing behaviour through its web browser Edge, when the default settings are used. Microsoft has indicated that it wants to end all violations. If this is not the case, the Dutch DPA can decide to impose a sanction on Microsoft. Kind of weird how Microsoft is found to be breaking the law, but they don't get punished for it; only if they refuse to stop breaking the law will they be fined. Interesting.

Samsung CEO to resign citing 'unprecedented crisis'

Friday 13th of October 2017 09:38:30 AM
Kwon Oh-hyun, Samsung Electronics' CEO, vice chairman, and the head of its hugely successful components business, has announced his resignation. He will step down from the CEO role, as well as his positions on the board and as CEO of Samsung Display, in March 2018. "It is something I had been thinking long and hard about for quite some time. It has not been an easy decision, but I feel I can no longer put it off," Kwon said in a letter sent to employees. "As we are confronted with unprecedented crisis inside out, I believe that time has now come for the company start anew, with a new spirit and young leadership to better respond to challenges arising from the rapidly changing IT industry." The unnamed "crisis" in Kwon's letter no doubt includes the imprisonment of Lee Jae-yong, the de facto leader of the entire Samsung group, on corruption charges. While Lee didn't take a hands-on role in Samsung Electronics' regular business, Kwon's resignation is the first sign that the scandal could have a major impact on the company's operations and culture. South Korea are a bunch of amateurs. Everybody knows real freedom-loving countries legalise corruption and rebrand it as Lobbying™ so that companies like Apple, Google, and others can legally bribe politicians and buy political favours without fear of being imprisoned. Get with the program, South Korea.

Sailfish 2.1.2 released

Thursday 12th of October 2017 09:31:06 PM
This update, 2.1.2 alias Kiiminkijoki, fixes dozens of bugs reported by our community and adds many improvements. It makes the new Dropbox service interface available and improves some security features. 2.1.2 also contains the basic support for Sony Xperia X devices for development purposes (available for a limited user group only). This might be the first release I've seen which contains a feature or fix that isn't coming to the original Jolla Phone - namely, the updated Android support. The original Jolla Phone was released in December 2014, so that's not a hugely terrible run.

TwinKick: dual Kickstart boot via floppy for Amiga 1000

Thursday 12th of October 2017 09:19:43 PM
A "new" piece of software, quietly created 15 years ago, that allows Amiga 1000 users to load their Kickstart 1.3 or 3.1 (or "morph" between the two on a soft reset after loading 3.1) off a single disk has been discovered. The software is called TwinKick and is downloadable via Aminet. The linked post includes detailed instructions on how to create this disk. Being able to switch between the two Kickstarts is pretty incredible. Although seeing 3.1 load onto a Amiga 1000 - off a floppy - is pretty mind blowing by itself.

KDE Plasma 5.11 released

Tuesday 10th of October 2017 11:49:28 PM
Today KDE publishes this autumn's Plasma feature release, KDE Plasma 5.11. Plasma 5.11 brings a redesigned settings app, improved notifications, a more powerful task manager. Plasma 5.11 is the first release to contain the new "Vault", a system to allow the user to encrypt and open sets of documents in a secure and user-friendly way, making Plasma an excellent choice for people dealing with private and confidential information. This screenshot of the new Vault feature with a selection in a selection because you like selections is just so KDE - and I mean that in a teasing, loving way.

Disabling the Intel Management Engine

Tuesday 10th of October 2017 11:45:15 PM
The Intel Management Engine ('IME' or 'ME') is an out-of-band co-processor integrated in all post-2006 Intel-CPU-based PCs. It has full network and memory access and runs proprietary, signed, closed-source software at ring -2, independently of the BIOS, main CPU and platform operating system - a fact which many regard as an unacceptable security risk (particularly given that at least one remotely exploitable security hole has already been reported). In this mini-guide, I'll run through the process of disabling the IME on your target PC. Apparently, the IME co-processor runs... MINIX 3. That is incredibly fascinating. This means every post-2006 Intel PC runs MINIX.

Microsoft finally admits Windows Phone is dead

Monday 9th of October 2017 07:44:19 PM
In a series of tweets, Microsoft's Joe Belfiore has revealed that the software giant is no longer developing new features or hardware for Windows 10 Mobile. While Windows Phone fans had hoped Microsoft would update the platform with new features, it's now clear the operating system has been placed into servicing mode, with just bug fixes and security updates for existing users. I was a first adopter of Windows Phone 7 - so much so I imported a device from the US during launch week. It was an amazing operating system to use, and I loved it. Soon, however, it became clear Microsoft was unable to attract developers to the platform, and even those applications that did make it weren't particularly good - not even the ones written by Microsoft itself, which were often simple HTML-based apps, which simply weren't good advocates for the platform. As a Windows Phone user, you were always scraping the very bottom of the barrel when it came to applications. To make matters worse, the move to Windows NT with Windows Phone 8 was a disaster. Existing phones weren't updated, and instead, only got an entirely pointless Windows Phone 7.8 update. This didn't do anything to enamour users to the platform, which makes it all the more weird when Microsoft did it again when Windows Phone 10 was released. In any event, Windows Phone 8 did mature over its short lifetime, gaining many features other platforms had had for ages. Sadly, the application situation never improved, and to this day, the Windows Store is a ghost town. It really sucks that Windows Phone became a victim of blatant mismanagement and market forces, because I still love the operating system and its unique UI. One day, I'll have to sit down and write the counterpart to my Palm retrospective, covering the entire PocketPC/Windows Mobile/Windows Phone era. It's been a wild ride.

Reverse engineering the macOS High Sierra supplemental update

Monday 9th of October 2017 07:26:19 PM
Reported by Matheus Mariano, a Brazilian software developer, a programming error was discovered in Apple’s most recent operating system, High Sierra, that exposed passwords of encrypted volumes as password hints. A serious bug that quickly made the headlines in technology websites everywhere. Apple was prompt to provide macOS High Sierra Supplemental Update to customers via the App Store, and ensured that every distribution of High Sierra in their servers included this update. I decided to apply a binary diffing technique to the update to learn more about the root cause of this bug and hypothesize about how the defect could have been prevented.

On notches, chins, and foreheads

Saturday 7th of October 2017 07:55:15 PM
Joshua Topolsky: The "notch" on the new iPhone X is not just strange, interesting, or even odd - it is bad. It is bad design, and as a result, bad for the user experience. The justification for the notch (the new Face ID tech, which lets you unlock the device just by looking at it) could have easily been accomplished with no visual break in the display. Yet here is this awkward blind spot cradled by two blobs of actual screenspace. [...] Plenty has been written about the mind-numbing, face-palming, irritating stupidity of the notch. And yet, I can't stop thinking about it. I would love to say that this awful design compromise is an anomaly for Apple. But it would be more accurate to describe it as the norm. Apple really, really wants you to "embrace the notch" and consider it a design element. With the home button gone, the iPhone X lost the iconic shape we've come to expect from iPhones, and to set a recognisable shape for the iPhone for the next decade, Apple chose the notch, and decided to embrace it. The goal of the industry is clearly to move to truly fullscreen displays; no notches like the Essential phone or the iPhone X, and no thin chins and foreheads like the Galaxy S8 or the LG V30. With Apple trying to build a visual brand around the notch, we're going to be inundated with article after article explaining how the notch is great design, how it's a good idea, how it actually makes a lot of sense to have the notch because of [insert pseudoscience], how it is the pinnacle of design. And all those articles will look entirely foolish once Android phones start moving to true fullscreen with under-display cameras and sensors in a few years from now, after which Apple will drag its feet, only to eventually move to true fullscreen displays 2-3 years later, at which point the authors of the aforementioned articles will do a complete 180 overnight, as if the notch never happened. Notches and chins and foreheads are necessary imperfections due to technological limitations on the way to fullscreen perfection. Pretending they are not will only make you look foolish five years from now.