Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 15th May 2017 23:08 UTC
Windows

Troy Hunt hits some nails on their heads:

If you had any version of Windows since Vista running the default Windows Update, you would have had the critical Microsoft Security Bulletin known as "MS17-010" pushed down to your PC and automatically installed. Without doing a thing, when WannaCry came along almost 2 months later, the machine was protected because the exploit it targeted had already been patched. It's because of this essential protection provided by automatic updates that those advocating for disabling the process are being labelled the IT equivalents of anti-vaxxers and whilst I don't fully agree with real world analogies like this, you can certainly see where they're coming from. As with vaccinations, patches protect the host from nasty things that the vast majority of people simply don't understand.

Great article, which also goes into Windows Update itself for a bit.

 

Written by Thom Holwerda on Mon 15th May 2017 16:18 UTC
Windows

Friday saw the largest global ransomware attack in internet history, and the world did not handle it well. We're only beginning to calculate the damage inflicted by the WannaCry program - in both dollars and lives lost from hospital downtime - but at the same time, we're also calculating blame.

There's a long list of parties responsible, including the criminals, the NSA, and the victims themselves - but the most controversial has been Microsoft itself. The attack exploited a Windows networking protocol to spread within networks, and while Microsoft released a patch nearly two months ago, it’s become painfully clear that patch didn’t reach all users. Microsoft was following the best practices for security and still left hundreds of thousands of computers vulnerable, with dire consequences. Was it good enough?

If you're still running Windows XP today and you do not pay for Microsoft's extended support, the blame for this whole thing rests solely on your shoulders - whether that be an individual still running a Windows XP production machine at home, the IT manager of a company cutting costs, or the Conservative British government purposefully underfunding the NHS with the end goal of having it collapse in on itself because they think the American healthcare model is something to aspire to.

You can pay Microsoft for support, upgrade to a secure version of Windows, or switch to a supported Linux distribution. If any one of those mean you have to fix, upgrade, or rewrite your internal software - well, deal with it, that's an investment you have to make that is part of running your business in a responsible, long-term manner. Let this attack be a lesson.

Nobody bats an eye at the idea of taking maintenance costs into account when you plan on buying a car. Tyres, oil, cleaning, scheduled check-ups, malfunctions - they're all accepted yearly expenses we all take into consideration when we visit the car dealer for either a new or a used car.

Computers are no different - they're not perfect magic boxes that never need any maintenance. Like cars, they must be cared for, maintained, upgraded, and fixed. Sometimes, such expenses are low - an oil change, new windscreen wiper rubbers. Sometimes, they are pretty expensive, such as a full tyre change and wheel alignment. And yes, after a number of years, it will be time to replace that car with a different one because the yearly maintenance costs are too high.

Computers are no different.

So no, Microsoft is not to blame for this attack. They patched this security issue two months ago, and had you been running Windows 7 (later versions were not affected) with automatic updates (as you damn well should) you would've been completely safe. Everyone else still on Windows XP without paying for extended support, or even worse, people who turn automatic updates off who was affected by this attack?

I shed no tears for you. It's your own fault.

 



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 13th May 2017 15:36 UTC
Android

It's that time of the year again: Google unveiling some initiative or whatever with the aim of improving the horrible Android update mess. None of them really panned out, but I begrudgingly have to admit that the project they just unveiled - Project Treble - has some more meat to it than the vague promises and alliances they usually peddle.

The basic gist here is that Google is splitting Android in twain, so they end up with the Android OS Framework and the vendor implementation. The latter - the part that's the reason why so many Android phones don't get updated - can remain the same across operating system updates.

Today, with no formal vendor interface, a lot of code across Android needs to be updated when a device moves to a newer version of Android.

With a stable vendor interface providing access to the hardware-specific parts of Android, device makers can choose to deliver a new Android release to consumers by just updating the Android OS framework without any additional work required from the silicon manufacturers.

This seems like a good idea, but sadly, it won't be backported to older Android versions. Treble will be part of Android O later this year (it's already available in Pixel developer previews), but existing phones won't benefit from it at all. In other words, it'll be a few years before the full effect of this project can be measured.

As a sidenote - and you guys will have to help me out on this one, since I'm not knowledgeable enough to determine this - could this mean it'll be easier to replace the Linux-based vendor implementation with something else in the future? If so, that might be something Google is potentially perhaps maybe possibly interested in.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 13th May 2017 15:21 UTC
Legal

European companies such as Spotify, Rocket Internet and Deezer have complained that online platforms - such as search engines and app stores - abuse their position as gateways to customers to promote their own services or impose imbalanced terms and conditions.

The Commission said that initial findings of an investigation launched last year showed platforms were delisting products or services without due notice, restricting access to data or not making search result rankings transparent enough.

The Commission wants to establish fair practice criteria, measures to improve transparency and a system to help to resolve disputes.

Platforms like iOS and Android are now often the primary way through which people communicate and find information, making them de facto gatekeepers of the internet. Since the internet is now an integral and crucial part of our life - paying taxes, searching for jobs, buying/maintaining crucial insurance, etc. - we can't let access to it remain in the hands of companies with consumer-hostile interests such as Apple and Google. I'm glad the EU is looking into this.

As for Apple's and Google's complaints - cry me a river.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 13th May 2017 15:15 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

The KEYone got me out of CrackBerry retirement and using a BlackBerry Smartphone again (and loving it!). I have no shortage of phones at my disposal and can reach for an iPhone or Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy whenever I want. Since picking up the KEYone, I've never felt that urge. What more can be said than that? With battery life that will last you all day and night (and well into the next day) and a smart physical keyboard that makes typing on buttons feel new school again, it's a communication-centric phone that power users will love.

The keyboard BlackBerry phones are the phones I wish were more popular, but really aren't. The Priv had QA and update issues (it's still on an old version of Android), and this one isn't exactly my personal cup of tea because I'd much rather have a slider (preferably a horizontal slider). Still, I hope these phones somehow manage to find a small, but perhaps profitable niche so they can keep throwing time and development at them.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 12th May 2017 21:13 UTC
In the News

Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are not just the largest technology companies in the world. As I've argued repeatedly in my column, they are also becoming the most powerful companies of any kind, essentially inescapable for any consumer or business that wants to participate in the modern world. But which of the Frightful Five is most unavoidable? I ponder the question in my column this week.

But what about you? If an evil monarch forced you to choose, in what order would you give up these inescapable giants of tech?

Such a simple list for me: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft. I don't use Apple products, and Amazon isn't a thing in The Netherlands so I don't use any of its products either. I do use Facebook to keep in touch with some people abroad, but that could easily be replaced by other tools. Dumping Google would mean replacing my Android phone with something else, which isn't a big deal, and while losing Google Search and Gmail would be a far bigger problem, those, too, can be overcome. YouTube is a very big deal to me - I use it every day - so I would have to learn to do without.

Surprising to some, perhaps, Microsoft would be hardest for me to ditch, because Microsoft Office is quite important to how I earn my living. OpenOffice or LibreOffice or whatever it's called is fine if the people around you also use it, but since my entire industry is 100% Office, I can't make such a switch. Windows, too, is important to me, because it's the desktop operating system I hate the least, and quite important to me gaming-wise.

This is definitely an interesting exercise!

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 12th May 2017 03:17 UTC
Amiga & AROS

Tuomas Järvensivu and Harri Salokorpi:

The 30th anniversary of Amiga inspired me to dig into Amiga programming. Back in Amiga's golden era (late '80s and early '90s) I never had the chance to try this out since despite my relentless whining my parents wouldn't get me one. Luckily later when I was studying at the uni, I managed to bargain one fine Amiga 500 specimen from the flea market at an affordable price of 20 euros.

Although Amiga as such is not that useful a platform to know these days, learning how to write programs for it can be very educational. Amiga as an environment is much simpler than (for instance) modern PCs. This makes learning low-level programming on it faster than on more complex environments. Although the hardware architecture is quite simple, it has some computer system design features that are still in use in modern environments as well such as DMA and interrupts. On top of being plain fun, writing assembly on Amiga teaches programming concepts that are usually hidden by higher-level languages and modern operating systems.

I've written this blog post together with Harri Salokorpi. We'll walk you through an example that creates graphics on the display with a simple animation. We both hope this blog post provides a quick start to those who want to try out programming on this legendary device. However, we're mostly going to use an emulator as a development environment, so the real device is not mandatory.

Fascinating article for those of us who can actually program.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 11th May 2017 22:13 UTC
Windows

At Microsoft's Build conference, the company showed off the Windows Fall Creators Update. This update is going to bring a number of quite interesting things to Windows - such as a number of features that let you move between applications on Windows and iOS/Android, using Microsoft's Cortana application on those platforms.

For instance, you can share your clipboard with your mobile devices, and pick up where you left off reading articles or watching videos - yes, like Apple's Continuity, but cross-platform. There's also a timeline feature which allows you to scroll back in time to see what you were watching or reading or whatever days or weeks ago. All this will be available in the Cortana application on iOS and Android, too.

Microsoft also officially unveiled its new design language for Windows applications, Fluent Design System, replacing the Metro they're using now. To be honest, it's not really replacing Metro so much as expanding it, and I think the best way to describe it is "Material Design, now with lots of blur". Fluent Design is already making its way to current Windows versions and applications through the Windows Store, but much of what Microsoft showed off today in videos is still in the concept phase.

Additionally, Microsoft shed some light on its Windows-on-ARM plans, detailing how it allows x86 code on ARM processors. You will be able to run any x86 Windows application on Windows-on-ARM, both from the Windows Store and downloaded elsewhere. The technology is an extension of Windows on Windows, which is currently used to allow 32bit applications to run on 64bit Windows (WoW64) and was also used to allow 16bit applications to run on 32bit Windows (WOW).

Lastly, Microsoft unveiled that it's working with Apple to bring iTunes to the Windows Store as a UWP-packaged Win32 application. Autodesk and SAP will bring their applications to the Windows Store as well.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 11th May 2017 21:56 UTC
Windows

One of the biggest surprises at Microsoft's Build developer conference last year was that the company was building support for the Bash shell on top of an Ubuntu-based Linux subsystem right into Windows 10. This feature launched widely with the release of the Windows 10 Anniversary update and over the course of the last few months, it built upon this project with frequent updates, but it remained Ubuntu-based. As the company announced today, though, it's now also adding support for OpenSuSE and Fedora, too.

Microsoft really wants Windows to be the platform of choice for developers. They also showed off the Xamarin Live Player, allowing you to deply iOS applications on iOS devices using Visual Studio.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 10th May 2017 12:48 UTC
Opera Software

Opera Neon, released in January, is an experimental browser that envisions the future of web browsers, similar to the way concept cars predict the future of automobiles. One of its novelties is the ability to seamlessly hop between discovering new content and chatting with friends, or even share online discoveries while browsing.

Inspired by Neon, we decided to bring those seamless transitions between chat and discoveries to the Opera browser. The result is Opera Reborn, complete with integrated popular messengers so you can keep chatting with friends without skipping a beat.

It's great to see Opera back to making interesting browsers, even if the features specified aren't exactly my thing.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 10th May 2017 08:41 UTC
BeOS & Derivatives

Haiku has been accepted into Google Summer of Code again this year, and over the past few days the project has detailed some of the areas developers will be focusing on. For instance, Vivek will be working to bring 3D hardware acceleration to Haiku:

The Mesa renderer in Haiku presently ventures into software rendering. Haiku uses software for rendering frame buffers and then writes them to the graphics hardware. The goal of my project is to port Direct Rendering Manager (DRM) Driver for i915, from the Linux kernel to Haiku with the help of DragonflyBSD's Linux Compatibility layer, so that those drivers can be later extended to add OpenGL support (Mesa3D) for hardware accelerated 3D rendering.

Other projects include bringing Harfbuzz support to Haiku, building a Haiku preferences pane (blasphemy to an old BeOS user such as myself, but entirely a 100% good idea for normal people), developing a calendar application, and adding Btrfs write support.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 10th May 2017 08:31 UTC
Internet & Networking

Every year, the internet gets a little less fair. The corporations that run it get a little bigger, their power grows more concentrated, and a bit of their idealism gives way to ruthless pragmatism.

And if Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, gets his way, the hegemons are likely to grow only larger and more powerful.

This column is nominally about network neutrality, the often sleep-inducing debate about the rules that broadband companies like Comcast and AT&T must follow when managing their networks. But really, this is a story about ballooning corporate power.

John Oliver has a great video about the fight for net neutrality in the United States, and set up a website that makes it easy to send comments to the FCC to compel them to maintain net neutrality.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 9th May 2017 22:45 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

Micah Singleton:

The past few years haven't been great for the luxury watch market. Economic downturns, currency devaluations, and the development of the smartwatch - once poised to be the next major tech sector following the smartphone and tablet - helped usher in two years of declines in sales and profits for the Swiss watch industry. The common narrative was that the watch industry was being killed by smartwatches and was ultimately doomed. But much like the introduction of quartz watches in the '70s, which nearly decimated the luxury watch market, Switzerland rebounded and is now growing once again.

It was kind of cute to see 20-something Apple bloggers predict the end of mechanical watches because of Apple's wrist calculator.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 9th May 2017 18:13 UTC
Windows

The arguments are well-worn, and we've been hearing them ever since Apple opened the App Store for the iPhone. Windows 10 S blocks the execution of any program that wasn't downloaded from the Windows Store. Arbitrary downloaded apps, or even apps with physical install media, are forbidden, a move that on the one hand prevents running malware but on the other blocks the use of most Windows software. Windows Store apps include both tightly sandboxed apps, built using the Universal Windows Platform, and lightly restricted Win32 apps that have been packaged for the Store using the Desktop App converter, formerly known as Project Centennial.

This positions Microsoft as a gatekeeper - although its criteria for entry within the store is for the most part not stringent, it does reserve the right to remove software that it deems undesirable - and means that the vast majority of extant Windows software can't be used. This means that PC mainstays, from Adobe Photoshop to Valve's Steam, can't be used on Windows 10 S. It also means that Windows 10 S systems can't be used to develop new Windows software. Should you want to run this kind of software, you'll need to upgrade to the full Windows 10 Pro for $50.

Aside from the obvious and entirely valid moral arguments against locked-down computers, there's also a huge psychological one specific to Windows 10 S: it's taking something away that we used to have. Comparisons to iOS or Android are, therefore, off.

I'm not a fan of locked-down, application store-only devices, because the companies patrolling these stores don't just do it for security and quality reasons, but also for anti-competitive and puritan reasons. They will block perceived competitive threats, and since they're American companies, they will throw gigantic fits over nudity while allowing gratuitous violence like it's no big deal. These application and digital content stores export (to us) outdated American ideas about sex and nudity and impose them upon their users.

I know why Microsoft is hiding the switch behind a $50 upgrade to Windows 10 Pro - to discourage people from actually upgrading, therefore trapping more people into the Windows Store - but like with Android, this switch should be standard and free to flick back and forth at will.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th May 2017 17:05 UTC
Google

Ars Technica has an article with screenshots about a new development in Fuchsia, Google's research (maybe?) operating system. The project has a very basic and barebones graphical user interface now.

The home screen is a giant vertically scrolling list. In the center you'll see a (placeholder) profile picture, the date, a city name, and a battery icon. Above the are "Story" cards - basically Recent Apps - and below it is a scrolling list of suggestions, sort of like a Google Now placeholder. Leave the main screen and you'll see a Fuchsia "home" button pop up on the bottom of the screen, which is just a single white circle.

The GUI is called Armadillo, and Hotfixit.net has instructions on how to build it, and a video of it in action.

Google still hasn't said anything about Fuchsia's purpose or intended goal, but Travis Geiselbrecht did state in IRC that it isn't a toy, and it isn't a 20% project. At this point, the safest bet is to just call it a research operating system, but of course, it's exciting to imagine this brand new open source operating system having a bigger role to play.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th May 2017 14:25 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

Back when this machine was just a crowdfunding project, we got a few submissions about it. Since we generally do not link to crowdfunding projects before they're, you know, actually available products (for obvious reasons), I never did anything with them. Now, though, the GPD Pocket is out and about, and it seems to be a pretty amazing tiny laptop we really have to talk about, because it's adorable and remarkably capable.

It's an all-aluminium Windows 10/Linux laptop with a 7" 1920x1200 IPS display with 323 ppi, the top-of-the-line Intel Atom x7-Z8750 1.6Ghz quad-core processor, 8GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 405, and a 128GB SSD. It has a chicklet-style keyboard, a little nub mouse pointer, and can be ordered with either Linux or Windows. It has decent battery life too - they claim 12 hours. According to reviews, it seems to be ticking all the right boxes, making it an actually decent product to buy. IT's $469 on IndieGoGo right now, and the retail price will be $599.

I've always wanted such a tiny laptop, but most of the time they were ugly plastic pieces of garbage that barely got by. This seems to be the first one that isn't actually a bad product (save for the terrible product descriptions on their website), and I'm definitely intrigued. Is there a market for machines like this?

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 5th May 2017 19:30 UTC
Games

Ars Technica's Kyle Orland:

In the nearly 18 months since a CD-ROM-based "Nintendo PlayStation" prototype was first found in an estate sale, emulator makers and homebrew programmers have created a facsimile of what CD-based games would look like on an SNES. Efforts by hacker Ben Heck to get that kind of software actually working on the one-of-a-kind hardware, though, had been stymied by problems getting the CD-ROM drive to talk to the system.

Those problems are now a thing of the past.

In a newly posted video, Heck lays out how the system's CD-ROM drive suddenly started sending valid data to the system literally overnight. "I was working on this yesterday and the CD-ROM wasn't even detecting the disc," Heck says in the video. "I came in this morning and jiggled the cables around and got ready to work on it some more, and all of a sudden it works... did a magic elf come in overnight?"

I'm a sucker for exotic game hardware.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 4th May 2017 23:46 UTC
Apple

Long before the iPhone or even the Mac, Apple was a handful of people working in an industry that was only just beginning to take the idea of personal computing seriously. In the earliest days of those early days, Steves Wozniak and Jobs made their first device together: the Apple I. Few of these were sold, and fewer still survive - but the Living Computers museum in Seattle managed to get three. And one of them was Jobs' personal machine.

If I ever go to the US again, visiting some of the great computer museums is definitely high on the list. I'd love to actually see an Apple I - especially Steve Jobs' - in real life.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 4th May 2017 23:42 UTC
Intel

Last month, Intel's new naming scheme for its Xeon processors leaked. Instead of E3, E5, and E7 branding, the chips would be given metallic names, from Bronze at the bottom-end through Silver and Gold to Platinum at the top. Today, the company made this new branding official as part of a larger shake-up of its Xeon platform.

The next generation of Xeons, due to arrive this summer, will make up what Intel calls the "Xeon Scalable Processor Family." This explains the change in core naming that is accompanying the new branding; the SP suffix is replacing the E, EP, and EX suffixes used in previous-generation Xeons.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 4th May 2017 23:38 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

No company has done as much damage to the perceived value of software, and the sustainability of being an independent developer, as Apple.

Not that other companies wouldn't have done the same thing - they would have. It's just that Apple was the successful one.

It's resolutely the fault of us as consumers, and it's actively encouraged by the App Store.