Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 8th Apr 2015 22:05 UTC
Mac OS X

Apple has released updates for both OS X and iOS today. OS X 10.10.3 adds Photos as a replacement for iPhoto, while iOS 8.3 updates and adds a whole bunch of emoji.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 8th Apr 2015 22:01 UTC
Games

The day Mariina Hallikainen received a communique detailing first day sales stats for Cities: Skylines, she was very happy.

The numbers were wildly ahead of all projections. She decided to splurge on a decadent and indulgent treat.

She ordered a strawberry cream cake.

It's amazing that a small team from Finland managed to build the SimCity EA could not. Cities: Skylines is completely and utterly worth it, and the best city builder currently available, by a huge margin.

On a related note, an artist who used to work on SimCity for Maxis/EA is currently earning a decent buck through donations because he's designing a lot of additional buildings for Cities: Skyines and releasing them to the community for free. Amazing.

 



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 8th Apr 2015 21:54 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

As of April 7th 2015, there are no IBM PC emulators in the world that can run the demo properly. Unless you have the exact hardware required (see below), this demo won't run properly; in fact, it hangs or crashes emulators before it is finished. To see what 8088 MPH looks like, I direct you to the video+audio capture of the demo running on real hardware.

Impressive.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 8th Apr 2015 12:50 UTC
Apple

The first Apple Watch reviews are coming out right now. The Verge's review is incredibly detailed, and also, brutally honest: the Apple Watch has major issues right now, but it does have a lot of potential. The biggest issue highlighted by The Verge is performance, and the video review shows stuttering, loading screens, and unregistered taps on the screen.

But right now, it's disappointing to see the Watch struggle with performance. What good is a watch that makes you wait? Rendering notifications can slow everything down to a crawl. Buttons can take a couple taps to register. It feels like the Apple Watch has been deliberately pulled back in order to guarantee a full day of battery life. Improving performance is Apple's biggest challenge with the Watch, and it's clear that the company knows it.

These seem like the same issues the Moto 360 had when it first came out. Android Wear updates eventually addressed most of these issues, while also increasing its battery life, so I'm sure Apple Watch updates will do the same. Still, it's disappointing that such an expensive, high-profile device suffers from performance issues, especially since it leads to a huge problem for the Apple Watch, highlighted perfectly by Nilay Patel: "there's virtually nothing I can't do faster or better with access to a laptop or a phone".

The other major issue is one I also highlighted in my Moto 360 review and other smartwatch articles: smartwatches make you look like a jerk, and the Apple Watch is no exception.

It turns out that checking your watch over and over again is a gesture that carries a lot of cultural weight. Eventually, Sonia asks me if I need to be somewhere else. We're both embarrassed, and I've mostly just ignored everyone. This is a little too much future all at once.

I worded this in the form of the funeral test (or wedding test if you're not a cynical bastard), and it's a crucial flaw in the entire concept of a smartwatch. It is a major weakness of Android Wear, and also of the Apple Watch, made worse by the fact that, according to The Verge, notification settings simply aren't granular enough.

The Verge also discussed the Apple Watch with their fashion-focussed sister site Racked, and the responses weren't particularly positive - it looks way too much like a gadget and computer, and too little like an actual fashion accessory. Of course, there are many people who have zero issues with that (I'm assuming the majority of OSNews readers do not care), but I personally do. I have enough computers and gadgets in my life, and I want my watch to look like a watch - not a computer.

The Verge eventually concludes:

There's no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today. It is one of the most ambitious products I've ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus: it can do tiny bits of everything, instead of a few things extraordinarily well. For all of its technological marvel, the Apple Watch is still a smartwatch, and it's not clear that anyone's yet figured out what smartwatches are actually for.

It turns out that virtually everything I've said about smartwatches in the past - in my Moto 360 review as well as other smartwatch articles - remains accurate even with the introduction of the Apple Watch. It's important to note that I am not saying smartwatches are a bad idea - just that their current incarnations - be they Wear, Pebble, or Apple Watch - are the wrong answer to the wrong question. Nobody seems to have found out yet what a smartwatch is actually supposed to be.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 7th Apr 2015 19:03 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

As I'm writing this, I'm worried I'm waking up the neighbors. I'm typing these sentences on a mechanical keyboard, one of the odder and more endearing hardware trends in the tech world right now. It's the kind of keyboard everyone used 20 years ago, and that can still be found in some old-school offices that haven't upgraded their IT in a while. You know the keyboards - the ones that have tall keys and emit a sharp, high-pitched click-clack with every keypress.

Most tech nostalgia is misplaced. As much as we pretend to pine for the gadgets of the past, you wouldn't actually want to trade in your iPhone 6 for a Nokia, or sub your Chromebook out for a Commodore 64. But these days, a dedicated group of keyboard connoisseurs is trying to resurrect the mechanical keyboard. There are now a handful of dedicated mechanical keyboard manufacturers, like Code and Rosewill, and an active subreddit exists for mechanical keyboard fans to exchange tips and reviews.

After using one for a week, I finally understand the hobbyist hype. Mechanical keyboards are loud, expensive, clunky, and cool as hell.

For the life of me, I will never understand the affinity for mechanical keyboards. I've never liked them. I want my typing to require as little force as possible, and I want my keyboard to be as flat on the table as possible, while still having each keypress have a decent 'plop'. For me, there's only one keyboard, and that's Apple's current like of aluminium chicklet non-laptop keyboards. I've been using them since they came out, and I have one or two on back-up as well in case the one I'm using now dies.

I find that the keys on mechanical keyboards require too much force to press down, which I quickly find incredibly tiring. Their travel is also quite long. They are also too 'fat', forcing me to turn my wrist in an unnatural and uncomfortable position (i.e. hands upwards).

In short, I find the current revival of mechanical keyboards mystifying.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 7th Apr 2015 18:55 UTC
Windows

Microsoft loves to use codenames and from the past few years, there are two in particular that you may recall; Blue and Threshold. With Windows 10 (Threshold) coming to market sometime this summer, Microsoft is already starting to work on the next update for the OS.

Microsoft has said multiple times that Windows will be moving at a faster cadence than in the past and they are already working on a release for 2016. The codename for the project is 'Redstone', a popular item in the recently acquired game, Minecraft.

So now we know why they acquired Mojang.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 7th Apr 2015 11:45 UTC
BeOS & Derivatives

To this very day, this BeOS demonstration video from Be, Inc. blows my mind. I'm not entirely sure about the date of the video, but since we're looking at Pentium IIs and the Intel version of the BeOS, I'm guessing we're in 1998. This means that while Windows users were barely getting by with Windows 98, and Mac users did not look at their Macs funny because otherwise Mac OS House Of Cards Edition would come crumbling down, the BeOS was doing the awesome stuff shown in the video.

Taking chronology into account, the BeOS was and is the best operating system ever made. I'm far from impartial on this one, of course, but there has never been a piece of software that generated that same sense of wonder, excitement, and exhilaration that the BeOS did. It sure wasn't perfect, but it had so much personality, such a strong identity, and even a sense of humour - the stuff we have today just can't compare. iOS and OS X are clearly designed to lock you into buying as much Apple hardware as possible. Android and Chrome OS are designed to keep you staring at Google ads for as long as possible. Windows is Windows. Linux is the same mess it's always been (I'm sorry).

None of them are about putting the consumer and technology at the centre.

When the first Haiku alpha was released, I explained how with the demise of Be, something in this industry died with it. I once had the faint, faint hope that the mobile revolution would reignite that spark of insanity, but with Apple and Google dividing and conquering this industry almost overnight, and with ARM devices being an ungodly mess of restrictions and proprietary crap, we're farther away from those glory days than we've ever been, with fewer and fewer signs of them ever returning.

The BeOS is the best example of why our industry is so utterly broken. BeOS exemplifies that the best does not win. And if the best does not win, we are being held back.

 

Linked by David Adams on Mon 6th Apr 2015 23:02 UTC
Internet & Networking I actually received a fax today, through the eFax account I've had since the late 90s and has mostly lain dormant during this century, so I found today's NYT article on the fax's enduring importance in Japan quite interesting. The tl;dr: Japanese were early adopters of fax and it's unbelievably intertwined with day-to-day operations of most businesses; the Japanese language and culture favor handwritten notes; people in Japan, demographically, are old and set in their ways.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 6th Apr 2015 22:23 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

Jimmy Maher, author of The future was here, is currently publishing an incredibly interesting series of articles titled The 68000 wars. Part 1 and part 2 have been published so far, and they're definitely worth a read.

I do have one tiny niggle with part 1 - it's a very tiny niggle that in no way detracts from the pleasure of reading these articles, but my heritage demands I point it out.

The Amiga was stuck in the past way of doing things, thus marking the end of an era as well as the beginning of one. It was the punctuation mark at the end of the wild-and-wooly first decade of the American PC, the last time an American company would dare to release a brand new machine that was completely incompatible with what had come before.

No.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 6th Apr 2015 20:47 UTC
Apple

With the Apple Watch' launch upon us, it's become a bit of a thing to drudge up old internet comments from back when the iPhone was released, and act all smug about how random internet commenters were wrong. Just for fun, I decided to go back into our own extensive archives, and take a look at what we at OSNews had to say when the iPhone was released.

The actual post covering the keynote contains no judgement calls, but a few hours later, Eugenia posted a lengthy analysis of the then-new device. She concluded:

Overall, I think that this product will sell well though and it will bring many new customers to Cingular/AT&T. It won't displace Nokia or Motorola, but it will find a niche of its own. And remember, being "successful" in the phone market does not mean that Apple must get 80% of that market share just like they currently have with the iPod. In the phone market, having a 5% share means more iPhones sold than iPods! I am confident that Apple not only will achieve this, but it will push the whole smartphone market to take over the plain feature-phone market.

The future is convergence, the future is bright!

While Apple (and more so in their specific case, Android) did eventually displace Nokia and Motorola, her conclusion seems pretty spot on - worldwide, Apple holds about 15% of the smartphone market, and that's more, more, more than enough for the company to be crazy super unimaginably successful. And, of course, smartphones are (or have) taken over from feature phones.

I had to dig pretty deep into the comments on the first few iPhone articles to try and find my own analysis - and I came up short. I did stumble upon a few comments from me complaining about the lack of tactile feedback and not being able to operate a touchscreen device without looking at it, and I still stand by those - coming from Palm OS and PocketPC, I knew just how cumbersome using a touch device is while, I don't know, on a bike, because you have to look at them to use them. This bothers me to this day, and it's one of the reasons I'm so excited about Apple's Force Touch technology.

In any case, we also ran a review of the first iPhone, written by OSNews' publisher David Adams. His conclusion:

The iPhone is a great device, that, despite the shortcomings I've cataloged here is a more elegant, usable, and arguably more useful tool than anything else on the market. Over the next year, Apple is likely to make many improvements via software updates, and the subsequent versions are sure to contain new features that make the early adopters quickly eBay their G1 iPhones. Apple has a huge opportunity here to totally dominate the largest and most important segment of the high tech industry, but they will fail to reach their full potential if they don't pay close attention to their customers' needs and put their users first. I hope someone at Apple is reading this, and that they steal all my ideas. If they'd like to hire me as a consultant, my fees are very reasonable.

With the power of hindsight, this seems pretty spot-on, too.

All this being said, it'll be interesting to see what's going to happen with the Apple Watch. One prediction I'm reasonably sure of: it will be a successful product in the countries where Apple's iPhone is doing well - the UK and Ireland, North America, Japan, Australia, and China. Different people will have different perceptions of the word "successful", but we can be reasonable sure that in its first year, the Apple Watch will sell in the millions in these countries alone (I would guess 15-20 million).

Outside of these countries, it will be a much harder sell, for reasons we all understand - you need an iPhone for the Apple Watch, so in countries with fewer iPhones, the Apple Watch won't be a big deal at all. Of course, there's always the possibility of the Apple Watch converting non-iOS users to iOS, but I don't think that number will be very substantial.

The big hurdle to overcome for the Apple Watch is the same hurdle that seems to plague both the Pebble and Android Wear, as well as other wearables: the drawer. It seems many wearables take only a few weeks to end up in the proverbial drawer once the user forgets to charge it one night, doesn't put it on, eventually putting it away in a drawer. If the Apple Watch can overcome this problem, it could be a hit. I don't think it will ever achieve iPhone or iPad status, but it will continue to bring in a steady stream of money.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 6th Apr 2015 18:04 UTC
Microsoft

Over the Easter weekend, a little company called Microsoft turned 40. Bill Gates sent a letter to all Microsoft employees, and The Verge posted it online

In the coming years, Microsoft has the opportunity to reach even more people and organizations around the world. Technology is still out of reach for many people, because it is complex or expensive, or they simply do not have access. So I hope you will think about what you can do to make the power of technology accessible to everyone, to connect people to each other, and make personal computing available everywhere even as the very notion of what a PC delivers makes its way into all devices.

I'm still not sure if Microsoft's positive contributions outweigh its negative ones. Sure, they played a vital role in making computers popular and affordable, but at the same time, they've illegally harmed the competition - and thus the advancement of the entire industry - and played a huge role in strengthening one of the biggest threats the industry faces today: patents.

Tough call.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 6th Apr 2015 17:56 UTC
Google

The Hisense Chromebook isn't going to win any awards, but at a certain point you have to ask yourself what you could possibly expect for $149. It provides a good, basic experience that doesn't feel as slow as some past ARM Chromebooks have. To get a significantly better machine - Haswell or Broadwell processor, 4GB of RAM, and much-improved battery life - you're looking at a $249 or $299 computer. That's a pretty big price hike if cost is what's most important to you.

The biggest downside to either of the $149 Chromebooks might be their retailer exclusivity. Schools and businesses buy lots of Chromebooks, and they usually need to deal with more established OEMs with better support options. For any individual looking for a cheap Chromebook, though, you could do a lot worse.

Perfect machine for schools. Easy to maintain, and quite cheap.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 6th Apr 2015 17:50 UTC
Google

As more people watch more high-quality videos across more screens, we need video formats that provide better resolution without increasing bandwidth usage. That’s why we started encoding YouTube videos in VP9, the open-source codec that brings HD and even 4K (2160p) quality at half the bandwidth used by other known codecs.

VP9 is the most efficient video compression codec in widespread use today. In the last year alone, YouTube users have already watched more than 25 billion hours of VP9 video, billions of which would not have been played in HD without VP9's bandwidth benefits. And with more of our device partners adopting VP9, we wanted to give you a primer on the technology.

Good. We don't want yet another closed, user-hostile codec.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 3rd Apr 2015 23:07 UTC
BeOS & Derivatives

Even though Haiku may be considered a hobby project, it's been in use professionally for a while now, by BeOS mainstay Tunetracker Systems. Recently, it also launched a Haiku distribution, which in turn also forms the base for their own products. In the most recent monthly activity report, the Haiku project mentioned that another company is planning on using Haiku in one of its products.

izcorp is another company is planning to use Haiku in a commercial product. Their line of studio recording systems is currently running BeOS and Zeta, but they are working on an update to Haiku. Ithamar is working with them to get their hardware fully supported, and the changes will be upstreamed to Haiku in the coming weeks. This includes several fixes to the USB stack, the intel_extreme driver, and there could be more to come.

The activity reports details a large number of the commits from last month, so it's definitely worth a read if you want to know what's up with Haiku.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 3rd Apr 2015 22:51 UTC
Android

Google's convergence of Chrome and Android is taking a big step forward this week. After launching a limited App Runtime for Chrome (ARC) back in September, Google is expanding its beta project to allow Android apps to run on Windows, OS X, and Linux. It's an early experiment designed primarily for developers, but anyone can now download an APK of an existing Android app and launch it on a Windows / Linux PC, Mac, or Chromebook.

Still not particularly user friendly in its setup, but it seems to work quite well. I'm very interested to see where Google is taking this.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 3rd Apr 2015 22:50 UTC
In the News

You may not have heard of Baotou, but the mines and factories here help to keep our modern lives ticking. It is one of the world's biggest suppliers of "rare earth" minerals. These elements can be found in everything from magnets in wind turbines and electric car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs. In 2009 China produced 95% of the world's supply of these elements, and it's estimated that the Bayan Obo mines just north of Baotou contain 70% of the world's reserves. But, as we would discover, at what cost?

Disturbing.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 2nd Apr 2015 22:45 UTC
Windows

"WHAT are you on? The 'fuck Windows' strategy?" Back in the late 1990s, when Bill Gates was still Microsoft's boss, any employee who had the temerity to suggest something that could possibly weaken the firm's flagship operating system was sure to earn his wrath. Even after Steve Ballmer took over from Mr Gates in 2000, that remained the incontestable law at the company's headquarters in Redmond, in Washington state. Everything Microsoft did had to strengthen Windows, to make it ever more crushingly dominant. Many of the company's best innovations were killed because of this "strategy tax", as it was known internally.

Today the rules are different in Redmond. The new boss who took over last year, Satya Nadella (pictured, centre, with Mr Gates to the left and Mr Ballmer on the right), recoils when he hears the term "strategy tax" and says he now tells his staff simply to "build stuff that people like".

Microsoft seems to be making a lot of interesting moves lately that never would've happened under Gates/Balmer. Office on iOS/Android devices is great, and Windows 10 is shaping up to address everything that was wrong not just with Windows 8, but also with everything that came before. It's clear Microsoft is finally embracing its new APIs and Metro environment properly, relegating the 'classic' Windows elements to the legacy bin.

The big question in that regard: Metro Explorer shell. It's clear they're working on it, but will it come in time for Windows 10, or will it be pushed to Windows 11?

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 2nd Apr 2015 22:40 UTC
Games

I recently created my own NES emulator. I did it mostly for fun and to learn about how the NES worked. I learned some interesting things, so I wrote this article to share. There is a lot of documentation already out there, so this is just meant to highlight some interesting tidbits.

Quite interesting.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 2nd Apr 2015 17:47 UTC
Android

Google has published a 44-page report on Android security in 2014.

It's lengthy, so if you've only got a minute, we pulled out a few of the key findings here:

  • Over 1 billion devices are protected with Google Play which conducts 200 million security scans of devices per day.
  • Fewer than 1% of Android devices had a Potentially Harmful App (PHA) installed in 2014. Fewer than 0.15% of devices that only install from Google Play had a PHA installed.
  • The overall worldwide rate of Potentially Harmful Application (PHA) installs decreased by nearly 50% between Q1 and Q4 2014.
  • SafetyNet checks over 400 million connections per day for potential SSL issues.
  • Android and Android partners responded to 79 externally reported security issues, and over 25,000 applications in Google Play were updated following security notifications from Google Play.

Not bad. If only all smartphone operating system vendors were this open and detailed with their security data.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 2nd Apr 2015 16:44 UTC
Apple

A fluff piece, but still an interesting read about the origins of the Apple Watch. Two parts stand out to me. First:

Along the way, the Apple team landed upon the Watch's raison d'être. It came down to this: Your phone is ruining your life. Like the rest of us, Ive, Lynch, Dye, and everyone at Apple are subject to the tyranny of the buzz - the constant checking, the long list of nagging notifications. "We're so connected, kind of ever-presently, with technology now," Lynch says. "People are carrying their phones with them and looking at the screen so much." They've glared down their noses at those who bury themselves in their phones at the dinner table and then absentmindedly thrust hands into their own pockets at every ding or buzz. "People want that level of engagement," Lynch says. "But how do we provide it in a way that's a little more human, a little more in the moment when you're with somebody?"

This makes zero sense to me. If your phone is indeed ruining your life, how is adding another tiny, finnicky screen on your wrist going to help? All it does is add another step between seeing a notification and acting upon it. Instead of staring at just your phone's screen, you'll be staring at both your phone's and your watch's screen. The watch will invariably suck for acting upon notifications (tiny screen, low battery, voice recognition will fail), forcing you to take out your much more usable phone anyway... At which point you might as well take care of everything while on your phone. You'll be back at square one.

There are still interesting use cases for a smartwatch, but saving you from notification overload is not one of them.

Second:

The goal was to free people from their phones, so it is perhaps ironic that the first working Watch prototype was an iPhone rigged with a Velcro strap. "A very nicely designed Velcro strap," Lynch is careful to add.

From the very beginning, I said that the Apple Watch looked a lot like a tiny iPhone strapped to your wrist - unlike Android Wear, which was designed from the ground-up for the wrist (not to a lot of success, might I add, but still). The fact that the Apple Watch literally started out as an iPhone strapped to your wrist is telling, and explains why the device seems to be so convoluted and complex.

Apple has a far better track record making stuff people want, so there's a considerable chance this is exactly what people want, but not once while using my Moto 360 I thought to myself "if only this thing was even more complicated and convoluted, than I would not want to ditch this thing in a drawer!".