Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 25th Nov 2015 23:14 UTC

Have you ever wondered what's inside your Macbook's charger? There's a lot more circuitry crammed into the compact power adapter than you'd expect, including a microprocessor. This charger teardown looks at the numerous components in the charger and explains how they work together to power your laptop.

Fascinating little bit of technology you don't really pay much attention to.


Linked by joekiser on Wed 25th Nov 2015 20:14 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

From the Jolla Blog:

Many of you have been rightfully asking, where did our tablet money go? Below is an analysis of it in a simple graph. Big part of the tablet project went to Sailfish OS software development (more than 50% of project costs). As I have said in earlier blogs, hardware is the easy part, software is the king (and the beast).


Overall, as I also explained in a recent TechCrunch interview, the alternative OS is a really big and challenging agenda. But I still believe it is moving ahead, yet very slowly. The primary challenge for us is that our agenda might be somewhat forward leaning, and we need to wait until the world catches up with this vision that other OSs are heavily needed to create an alternative for Android. The interest for our agenda is just now emerging. I firmly believe that companies and consumers will soon realize that the world really needs options in mobile OSs. We've already had many interesting discussions with potential new partners about using Sailfish OS in their own projects. I'm looking forward to announcing the results of these talks soon.

I wonder how the story would have been different if Sailfish OS were free software and had a strong community to aid in software development.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 24th Nov 2015 17:57 UTC

Malware means software designed to function in ways that mistreat or harm the user. (This does not include accidental errors.) This page explains how Microsoft software is malware.

Malware and nonfree software are two different issues. The difference between free software and nonfree software is in whether the users have control of the program or vice versa. It's not directly a question of what the program does when it runs. However, in practice nonfree software is often malware, because the developer's awareness that the users would be powerless to fix any malicious functionalities tempts the developer to impose some.



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 24th Nov 2015 00:11 UTC

One of the biggest freedoms associated with free software is the ability to replace a program with an updated or modified version. Even so, of the many millions of people using Linux-powered phones, few are able to run a mainline kernel on those phones, even if they have the technical skills to do the replacement. The sad fact is that no mainstream phone available runs mainline kernels. A session at the 2015 Kernel Summit, led by Rob Herring, explored this problem and what might be done to address it.

This indeed a big problem, and I'm glad it's finally being picked up.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 24th Nov 2015 00:06 UTC

One the most requested features we receive is to make app builds and deployment faster in Android Studio. Today at the Android Developer Summit, we're announcing a preview of Android Studio 2.0 featuring Instant Run that will dramatically improve your development workflow. With Android Studio 2.0, we are also including a preview of a new GPU Profiler.

Instant Run allows you to change the code of your program as it's running on your device or emulator, and if it indeed works as advertised, this should be a major boon for developers. TechCrunch claims Google's also improved the emulator in this release, and if there's one thing I know about programming for Android, it's that the emulator was absolutely terrible, so good to know they're working on it.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 24th Nov 2015 00:00 UTC

Recently I started playing Minecraft, again. I find vanilla Minecraft somewhat boring, so I always look out for modpacks. After searching for new modpacks, I stumpled upon FTB Horizons: Daybreaker. Looking at the included mods list, OpenComputers caught my eye.

As the name suggests, OpenComputers adds computers to Minecraft. Real computers! They are highly modular too. You can add peripherals, from monitors to keyboards and expansion cards that add capabilities such as graphics and network. They can also be programmed in Lua, in-game. Another type of card also exists, the Internet card which, as you can imagine, can communicate with the real-life Internet. Awesome.

It never ceases to amaze me what can be done with Minecraft.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 20th Nov 2015 23:40 UTC

The first reviews for Microsoft's latest flagship smartphones are coming in, the first device with Windows 10 for phones. This is going to be the big one, right? After several false starts and restarts, this was finally going to be it, everyone told us.

The Verge:

In the mobile world, Microsoft is way behind Google and Apple, and has what many would say is an insurmountable deficit to make up. It could have pulled out all of the stops and produced a phone that was visually impactful, wildly innovative, and truly riveting compared to anything else to make up lost ground.

The Lumia 950 is, unfortunately, none of those things. Sure, Microsoft put some newer guts in it, and Windows 10 has some interesting features, but there's nothing really here that would drive anyone but the most die hard Windows fan to buy it.

The WSJ:

It feels like the Lumia 950 is a proof of concept that might help Microsoft get momentum for its new strategy. But I can't recommend buying a $600 proof of concept. For now, your phone stays... A phone.

And Ars Technica:

If the Lumia 950 were more keenly priced then it might be easier to get excited about it. Along with its bigger brother, it fills a glaring gap in the Lumia range and does at last offer an upgrade path. For Windows Phone fans (and I am one), this phone, or its bigger brother, is much needed and very welcome. But this is not a phone that is likely to win over new converts. It does its job, and it keeps the platform ticking over. The struggle to attract new users, however, remains.

Way too little, way too late. Windows Phone is done.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 20th Nov 2015 15:08 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

Jolla Ltd, the mobile company from Finland today announced that its latest financing round which aimed to end in November, has been postponed and the company needs to adjust its operations accordingly. At the same time the company has filed for a debt restructuring program in Finland, to ensure the continuity of its business. Jolla will also temporarily lay off a big part of its personnel.

To anyone capable of basic pattern recognition, this does not come as a surprise. I doubt I'm getting my tablet, even though I backed it in the first hour of availability, but to be honest, I'm much more concerned about the people being "temporarily" laid off. These are all people who took an incredible risk to follow a dream, and I hope - despite the dire signs - Jolla pulls through and they can keep their jobs, or that they can easily and quickly find new jobs.

Almost two years ago, I wrote in my Jolla review:

Few devices have a history as complicated as the Jolla and Sailfish. The ten-year journey from the Nokia N770 to the Jolla was long, arduous, filled with focus shifts, mergers, and other complications. Like the nameless protagonist in The Last Resort, in order to step out of the shadows of the old world, Jolla had to leave Providence behind, traverse the Great Divide, cross the Rockies to reach the Malibu, and set sail across the Pacific to end up on the pearly white beaches of Lahaina.

However, also just like the nameless protagonist, they found that the natural beauty of Lahaina had already been framed and plasticised by hotel chains and fast food restaurants. It is in that environment that Jolla must make a stand and survive - because there's no more new frontier.

It seems like Jolla was unable to survive amidst the hotel chains and fast food restaurants of the mobile technology industry.

Only a few days ago, my brother had a gift for me. Something special, something I know he cares about a lot. A square black box, embossed with the outline of a phone with a slide-out keyboard, and, in silver lettering, the timeless "NOKIA Nseries" and "Nokia N900". None of you know my brother - obviously - but I know just how huge of a moment this was. Up until only a few months ago, he still used his Nokia N900 as his one and only smartphone. Not as a curiosity for parlour tricks - no, as his primary, day-to-day smartphone.

His attachment and love for his N900 is something you don't see very often in technology. It's not the kind of deluded fandom you see in some other circles, but more of a "I know this device is outdated and slow and that the software isn't very modern, but it works for me". Talk to any current N900 user, and you'll get the same vibe. In fact, the N900 my brother gave to me wasn't his only one, he still has another one as back-up.

As a back-up to what? Well, after a short stint with a Nokia N9 - which I bought from him a few years ago - he went back to his N900, until a few months ago, when he finally settled on a new device, a Sony Z3 Compact. After the last few months, he finally felt comfortable enough to donate one of his N900s (but not both!). Unsurprisingly, he was always interested in Jolla and kept an eye on them, and while he certainly played with mine on occasion, it never clicked.

When, as Jolla, spiritual successor to the infamous and beloved Nokia Maemo/Harmattan family, you can't even entice someone like my brother, you know you're lost in a world where you're never going to compete with Android or iOS.

My limited edition Jolla The First One will always have a special place in my heart, and the tablet, if it ever ships to me, will certainly be one of the more prized curiosities in my collection, but I'm afraid the ship has sailed on Jolla.

It's probably in Fiji by now.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 19th Nov 2015 21:28 UTC

Much of the marketing around Apple's new iPad Pro has been centered on its ability to run professional grade software and the variety of creativity apps it supports. But for smaller developers of pro software, the iPad Pro may present more of a quandary than a new computing platform.

The reason? Despite the new tablet's processing power and capabilities, it's still running on mobile software - and developers aren't totally convinced the economic incentives exist in the App Store for iOS. In short, they feel they wouldn't be able to charge users the amounts they normally would for a version of their software that runs on a desktop.

It's a problem that exists not only around the iPad Pro, but mobile software development in general, and highlights the very real challenges that smaller software companies face when deciding which software platforms to prioritize - especially as mobile tablets and PCs converge.

This is a huge problem for closed, mobile-first devices like Apple's iPad Pro. Large companies like Adobe can run comprehensive cloud infrastructures and fund the burden of mobile development with the sales of proper software. Smaller developers, however, cannot. This problem doesn't exist on competitors like the Surface Pro, because they run a traditional, proper desktop.

After the starry eyes of the initial gold rush subsided, it became clear centralised application stores wreaked havoc in the software industry, and caused a spiraling race to the bottom. Sadly, it seems like Apple has no answer to this problem for its iPad Pro.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 18th Nov 2015 23:52 UTC

In addition, you're also going to start seeing an option to "stream" some apps you don't have installed, right from Google Search, provided you're on good Wifi. For example, with one tap on a "Stream" button next to the HotelTonight app result, you'll get a streamed version of the app, so that you can quickly and easily find what you need, and even complete a booking, just as if you were in the app itself. And if you like what you see, installing it is just a click away. This uses a new cloud-based technology that we're currently experimenting with.

This seems like a hell of a lot of work and infrastructure for something that could be solved by, uh, I don't know, installing the application?

I'm getting old.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 18th Nov 2015 23:41 UTC

With Continuum, capable Windows 10 Mobile devices will be able to act like PCs, hooking up to keyboards, mice, and monitors for a full Windows desktop experience, and Microsoft is looking into ways of expanding these capabilities. Apparently, that involves investigating the possibility of running Win32 apps from phones, according to Microsoft's Kevin Gallo during the Connect() 2015 conference.

I have two things to say about this. First, this is totally cool. The idea of having just one smartphone with me that can hook up to a display, keyboard, and mouse, and then also run proper Win32 applications (instead of crappy Metro applications) is incredibly appealing to me. I like the concept of the Surface and Continuum (the device being smart enough to adapt the UI to the current input method), but a desktop with just Metro (and yes I will keep using that name) applications is pretty much useless. It's going to need big girl applications.

Second, while cool, this is also yet another admission from Microsoft that they just can't get developers - either inside or outside - to care much about Metro and all that it entails. Microsoft would love to move everyone - users and developers alike - over to Metro, but it just isn't happening, and there's no signs that it's going to get any better in the near future. I would love for Metro to be adopted enough (and capable enough) so that it can start replacing Win32 - but it's been years now, and it's pretty clear that we're just not getting there.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 18th Nov 2015 23:34 UTC

Oppo has been putting a customized version of Android on its phones for years, but now it's letting you strip most of those customizations away. It released a nearly stock version of Android today that's basically just Android Lollipop with a few pieces of Oppo software, including its camera app, audio tools, and gesture support. The new release, which it's calling Project Spectrum, is able to be installed on its Find 7 and Find 7a phones and will be coming to other Oppo phones in the near future. Sometime early next year, Oppo plans to release an updated version for Android Marshmallow.

More and more manufacturers seem to be getting the message: users want stock Android, because stock Android is better than whatever crap OEMs can come up with. A good development, obviously, but it still doesn't address Android'd biggest weakness: updates.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 18th Nov 2015 01:01 UTC

Enough time has passed that I feel safe blogging about my prior project here at Microsoft, "Midori". In the months to come, I'll publish a dozen-or-so articles covering the most interesting aspects of this project, and my key take-aways.

Midori was a research/incubation project to explore ways of innovating throughout Microsoft's software stack. This spanned all aspects, including the programming language, compilers, OS, its services, applications, and the overall programming models. We had a heavy bias towards cloud, concurrency, and safety. The project included novel "cultural" approaches too, being 100% developers and very code-focused, looking more like the Microsoft of today and hopefully tomorrow, than it did the Microsoft of 8 years ago when the project began.

The first two articles have already been published. This looks like it's going to be an excellent series.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 17th Nov 2015 20:05 UTC, submitted by xylifyx
OSNews, Generic OSes

MINIX3 now has support for live update and rerandomization of its system services. These features are based on LLVM bitcode compilation and instrumentation in combination with various run-time extensions. Live update and rerandomization support is currently fully functional, although still in an experimental state, not enabled by default, and available for x86 only. This document describes the basic idea, provides instructions on how to enable and use the functionality, provides more in-depth information for developers, and lists open issues and further reading material.

A very detailed look at this piece of MINIX3 functionality.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 17th Nov 2015 20:03 UTC

The NES was the most popular game console of its time, and rightfully so. From the minds of Nintendo engineers, programmers and audio experts came some of the best video games ever made. Unfortunately, some of these great games cannot be played on your Raspberry Pi favorite emulator due to the incompatibility of the Zapper gun and modern digital monitors. None of us can forget the fun that Duckhunt brought. The game came as standard issue with all NES systems, so we've all played it. But its nostalgia is currently entombed by a technological quirk that has yet to be solved.

From one hacker to another - this can no longer be tolerated. First, we're going to learn how the Zapper works and why it doesn't work with digital displays. Then we're going to fix it.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 17th Nov 2015 00:49 UTC

I've dropped the codename "Vienna" before on our weekly podcast and in the forums, but these renders are the first real look we've had at the design. Vienna ditches the Priv's slider in favor of the iconic BlackBerry layout, with a front-facing physical keyboard that is always present. The keyboard looks to be of the same size and design as that of the Priv's, but it's hard to tell simply based off of the renders alone.

They're really going all-in on building Android devices with physical keyboards, and you know what? In this mobile landscape of boring sameness and nothingness, these devices are a huge breath of fresh air.

Successful or no, good work. Now all we need is a horizontal slider!


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 17th Nov 2015 00:47 UTC

If you look too closely, the old proof set artwork is pretty ugly, certainly nothing we could use if we wanted to build a larger museum exhibit, say 3x4 feet, or import the mask artwork into a PCB layout package to build a giant, working circuit board. The old artwork just wasn't going to cut it. So McNerney took a pair of high-resolution photomicrographs (kindly donated by reverse engineer extraordinaire, Christopher Tarnovski), and set out to trace every wire, transistor, resistor, and capacitor using Adobe Illustrator. Just hours before the 44th anniversary, he finished tracing the first, complete draft of the mask set artwork. The next step is to verify it against the schematics and try it out in simulation.

Amazing work.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 16th Nov 2015 21:42 UTC
Internet & Networking

How unsurprising:

At a Center for Strategic & International Studies talk today, CIA Director John Brennan renewed one of the government's favorite lies about spying: that mass surveillance has been successful in stopping a bunch of mysterious threats while it is simultaneously too ineffective to stop real attacks, because of privacy advocates and whistleblowers.

Meanwhile, in the UK, Cameron is using the Paris attacks to further his totalitarian agenda of mass state surveillance in the UK:

Some politicians in the UK are calling for the government to hurry new surveillance laws into power following deadly terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday. Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said that the Investigatory Powers Bill - which was unveiled in draft form two weeks ago - should be "expedited" and put into action "as soon as possible," rather than by the end of 2016.

The UK prime minister David Cameron expressed similar concerns on BBC radio this morning, saying that the government should "look at the timetable" of the legislation. He also announced that the UK would hire 1,900 new security and intelligence staff at MI5, MI6, and GCHQ (an increase of 15 percent) in order to "respond to the increasing international terrorist threat." Cameron added that the attacks in France, which killed 129 people and wounded more than 300, "could happen here."

France already has these draconian mass surveillance laws. Sadly, they didn't prevent the attack.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 16th Nov 2015 21:33 UTC

All that said, right now, it seems that choosing SteamOS over a Windows box means sacrificing a significant amount of performance on many (if not most) graphically intensive 3D games. That's a pretty big cost to bear, considering that Alienware sells its Windows-powered, console-style Alpha boxes at prices that are only $50 more expensive than identically outfitted SteamOS machines. That's not to mention the fact that Steam on Windows currently has thousands of games that aren't on SteamOS - including most AAA recent releases -while SteamOS has no similar exclusives to recommend it over Windows.

Hopefully, Valve and other Linux developers can continue improving SteamOS performance to the point where high-end games can be expected to at least run comparably between Linux and Windows. Until then, though, it's hard to recommend a SteamOS box to anyone who wants to get the best graphical performance out of their PC hardware.

This shouldn't be surprising to anyone. Windows and DirectX clearly reign supreme, with graphics card vendors focusing most - if not all - of their driver development on that platform.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 14th Nov 2015 14:40 UTC

An absolute must-read from Don Norman and Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini, two absolute heavyweights in the field of usability. On top of that, Tognazzini was heavily involved in the development of the early interface guidelines at Apple, which gives him a unique perspective on the matter.

The products, especially those built on iOS, Apple's operating system for mobile devices, no longer follow the well-known, well-established principles of design that Apple developed several decades ago. These principles, based on experimental science as well as common sense, opened up the power of computing to several generations, establishing Apple's well-deserved reputation for understandability and ease of use. Alas, Apple has abandoned many of these principles. True, Apple's design guidelines for developers for both iOS and the Mac OS X still pay token homage to the principles, but, inside Apple, many of the principles are no longer practiced at all. Apple has lost its way, driven by concern for style and appearance at the expense of understandability and usage.

Apple is destroying design. Worse, it is revitalizing the old belief that design is only about making things look pretty. No, not so! Design is a way of thinking, of determining people’s true, underlying needs, and then delivering products and services that help them. Design combines an understanding of people, technology, society, and business. The production of beautiful objects is only one small component of modern design: Designers today work on such problems as the design of cities, of transportation systems, of health care. Apple is reinforcing the old, discredited idea that the designer's sole job is to make things beautiful, even at the expense of providing the right functions, aiding understandability, and ensuring ease of use.

The problem Apple is facing - as has been explained to me by people who are in the know about these matters - is that the people originally responsible for usability at Apple, including those responsible for the first multitouch interface of the first iPhone, are no longer at Apple. The company currently doesn't have an overarching philosophy when it comes to user interface design, leading to the problems described in detail in this article. The software side of Apple lacks its own Ive, if you will.

And boy, does it show. I bought an iPhone 6S (the pink one, 64GB) a couple of weeks ago, and while I don't want to reveal too much from my review, I'm appalled at just how unfocused, chaotic, messy, inconsistent, and hard to use iOS has become. This article articulates really well where the main problems lie.

It's easy to look at Apple's massive profits and the quality of its hardware and miss the abysmal state of Apple's software. They've got a lot of work to do - and they really need the right people to get there.