Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 11th Aug 2016 22:49 UTC
Google

Update: interesting summary of the repository - "So, the stack seems to be: Dart is the language for GUI apps, Flutter provides the widgets, and Escher renders the layers."


Something intriguing: a new open source operating system from Google, Fuchsia, has found its way to Google's repositories. There's pretty much no information anywhere about this, and maybe I'm making way too much of this, but until we know more - anybody care to speculate?

There's a Fuchsia file that just reads "Pink + Purple == Fuchsia (a new Operating System)", so that's not much help. There's documentation on the kernel, Magenta, which may be of more use - it reads, among other things, "Magenta targets modern phones and modern personal computers with fast processors, non-trivial amounts of ram with arbitrary peripherals doing open ended computation." There's probably a lot more documentation in the repository, but I don't have the proper background to infer too much from what's going on.

Another very, very intriguing piece of information: it turns out several big names from the operating system industry (is that even a thing?) are involved - people who worked on NewOS, BeOS, Danger, iOS, and Palm's webOS, such as Travis Geiselbrecht and Brian Swetland.

This could be "just" a research project, or something more. Very interesting.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 11th Aug 2016 22:35 UTC, submitted by Licaon_Kter
Microsoft

Microsoft has inadvertently demonstrated the intrinsic security problem of including a universal backdoor in its software after it accidentally leaked its so-called "golden key" - which allows users to unlock any device that's supposedly protected by Secure Boot, such as phones and tablets.

The key basically allows anyone to bypass the provisions Microsoft has put in place ostensibly to prevent malicious versions of Windows from being installed, on any device running Windows 8.1 and upwards with Secure Boot enabled.

I am out of snarky remarks. Yes, it's possible.

 



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 11th Aug 2016 22:19 UTC
Games

There's a lot of words being written about the release of No Man's Sky, a long-awaited video game set in a procedurally generated universe with an effectively endless number of planets and lifeforms. The game has been in development by a relatively small team of developers for years, and the hype around the game reached epic proportions - to a point where it just became insane and crazy, with people clearly expecting way, way more of the game than it could ever deliver.

Ars has taken a look at the course of the hype train, and this is the key paragraph for me:

When Murray and Hello Games (as well as console publisher Sony) actually did show and talk about No Man's Sky, though, they were actually relatively restrained and realistic about what they were promising. Unlike Spore and Black and White - both of which saw saturation PR campaigns that promised revolutionary and industry-changing gameplay features that mostly didn't end up working out - it's hard to find many concrete promises made by No Man's Sky's developer and publisher that haven't ended up being true (with the possible exception of the multiplayer issue discussed above).

And that's all she wrote, for me. I've been following the development for this game for years, and it's always been crystal clear for me what this game would offer: collecting resources, discovering new worlds and species, expanding the basic capabilities of your ship and tools, rinse and repeat, until eventually reaching the centre of the universe. That's what the developers promised, and that's what I'm expecting tomorrow when the PC version unlocks.

All the additional hype around No Man's Sky comes from people themselves, and from stupid journalists hyping the game through the stratosphere without ever having played it. Had you stuck to what the developer and publisher have said over the course of the past number of years, instead of letting yourself get strung along the hype train by the press and Reddit, you'd know exactly what to expect tomorrow.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 10th Aug 2016 23:01 UTC
Google

Adobe Flash Player played a pivotal role in the adoption of video, gaming and animation on the Web. Today, sites typically use technologies like HTML5, giving you improved security, reduced power consumption and faster page load times. Going forward, Chrome will de-emphasize Flash in favor of HTML5. Here's what that means for you.

Today, more than 90% of Flash on the web loads behind the scenes to support things like page analytics. This kind of Flash slows you down, and starting this September, Chrome 53 will begin to block it. HTML5 is much lighter and faster, and publishers are switching over to speed up page loading and save you more battery life. You'll see an improvement in responsiveness and efficiency for many sites.

Finally.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 9th Aug 2016 22:39 UTC
In the News

AlphaGo's surprising success points to just how much progress has been made in artificial intelligence over the last few years, after decades of frustration and setbacks often described as an "AI winter." Deep learning means that machines can increasingly teach themselves how to perform complex tasks that only a couple of years ago were thought to require the unique intelligence of humans. Self-­driving cars are already a foreseeable possibility. In the near future, systems based on deep learning will help diagnose diseases and recommend treatments.

Yet despite these impressive advances, one fundamental capability remains elusive: language. Systems like Siri and IBM's Watson can follow simple spoken or typed commands and answer basic questions, but they can't hold a conversation and have no real understanding of the words they use. If AI is to be truly transformative, this must change.

Siri, Google Now, or Cortana are more like slow and cumbersome command line interfaces than actual AIs or deep learning or whatever - they're just a shell to a very limited number of commands, a number of commands they can barely process as it is due to the terrible speech recognition.

Language is incredibly hard. I don't think most people fully realise just how complex language can be. Back when I still had a job in a local hardware store in my area and I spent several days a week among people who spoke the local dialect, my friends from towns only mere kilometres away couldn't understand me if I went full local on them. I didn't actually speak the full dialect - but growing up here and working with people in a store every day had a huge effect on the pronunciation of my Dutch, to the point where friends from out of town had no idea what I was talking about, even though we were speaking the same language and I wasn't using any special or strange words.

That breadth of pronunciation within the same language is incredibly hard to deal with for computers. Even though my town and the next town over are only about 1-2 kilometres apart, there's a distinct pronunciation difference with some words if you listen carefully to longtime residents of either town. It's relatively elementary to program a computer to recognise Standard Dutch with perfect AN pronunciation (which I can actually do if I try; my mother, who is from the area where Standard Dutch is from, speaks it naturally), but any minor variation in pronunciation or even voice can trip them all up - let alone accents, dialects, or local proverbs or fixed expressions.

The question is, then, one that we have discussed before in my article on Palm and Palm OS:

There are several key takeaways from Dimond's Stylator project, the most important of which is that it touches upon a crucial aspect of the implementation of handwriting recognition: do you create a system that tries to recognise handwriting, no matter whose handwriting it is - or, alternatively, do you ask that users learn a specific handwriting that is easier for the system to recognise? This would prove to be a question critical to Palm's success (but it'll be a while before we get to that!).

If speech recognition is going to keep sucking as much as it does, today's engineers either have to brute-force it - throw tons of power at the problem - or ask of their users that they speak Standard Dutch or whatever it's called for your language when talking to their computers.

I'm not optimistic for the coming 10-20 years.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 9th Aug 2016 22:38 UTC
Android

It's time for a new version of Android, and that means I also get to make my yearly predictions about updates. Fun times!

Now, to be sure, unless a manufacturer has already committed to updating an existing phone, these are simply (mostly) educated guesses. We base them on a company's track record, the capabilities of the phone itself, and the number of phones a company makes. It's sort of like a blogger version of reading tea leaves and calling the bookmakers. And it's fun. Even when we get it wrong it's fun.

Since we're here because we are interested in Android, and most of us like to have a little fun, let's jump right in and answer the million dollar question - will my phone get updated to Android 7 Nougat?

These articles are depressing.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th Aug 2016 23:50 UTC
Amiga & AROS

Archive.org is continuing its mission to make a whole bunch of older software available online, in your browser, through emulation, with a whole slew of Amiga software - games, mostly, but also some general software, as well as, of course, a whole bunch of demos.

The emulator in question is the Scripted Amiga Emulator, an emulator written in HTML5 and JavaScript. It's based on WinUAE and makes use of AROS' Kickstart replacement.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th Aug 2016 20:08 UTC
Internet & Networking

Fast forward to July 15, 2016 (there’s that lab journal again…) when, after receiving an email from Google asking me to indicate how exactly I would like them to use my data to customise adverts around the web, and after thinking for a bit about what kind of machine learning tricks I would be able to pull on you with 12 years of your email, I decided that I really had to make alternative plans for my little email empire.

Somehow FastMail came up and in one of those impulsive LET'S WASTE SOME TIME manoeuvres, I pressed the big red MIGRATE button!

The rest of this post is my mini-review of the FastMail service after almost 3 weeks of intensive use.

I'm pretty sure at least some of you are contemplating a similar migration, away from companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple, to something else.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th Aug 2016 18:42 UTC
Apple

So, is Apple doomed? Of course not. As John Gruber says, "Any conversation that uses that word is in silly la-la land." With Macs, iPads, and software applications and services, Apple isn’t a one-trick pony like BlackBerry, to use an example cited by those most freaked out about the recent iPhone slowdown. It recorded $50.6 billion in sales during that "disappointing" quarter, more than the combined revenue of Google parent Alphabet ($20.3 billion) and Amazon ($29.1 billion) over the same period. Its $10.5 billion in profits outpaced not just the combination of Alphabet ($4.2 billion) and Amazon ($513 million) but also Facebook ($1.5 billion) and Microsoft ($3.8 billion).

"I don't read all the coverage on Apple that there is," Cook tells me a few days after my lunch with Cue and Federighi. "The way that I look at that is, I really know the truth." And he's ready to talk about it.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 6th Aug 2016 01:36 UTC
Graphics, User Interfaces

Can you spot the differences with the messages above? The left side has a few more capital letters than the right side. Big O, little o. Who cares, right?

Well, if you write for an app or website, you should care. A little thing like capitalization can actually be a big deal. Capitalization affects readability, comprehension, and usability. It even impacts how people view your brand.

While there are some more objective arguments to be made, most arguments for and against either title case or sentence case mostly come down to whatever you're used to - what you grew up with. Title case looks entirely ridiculous and confusing to me, and makes dialog boxes, text, and other things much harder to read than when it's in sentence case.

The reason? We don't use title case in Dutch. Everything is sentence case. In English, it's mostly a case of preference, and either case type is fine as long as you're consistent.

Interestingly enough, Apple - generally considered the poster child for title case - actually localises its choice for case type. When you run Apple software in, say, Dutch - it doesn't use title case at all, opting for sentence case instead, because that's the norm in Dutch.

Title case also appears to be on its way out - generally, while pre-internet publications use title case, publications originating from the internet generally use sentence case. I wouldn't be surprised to see title case fall into disuse almost entirely over the coming decades in English - including at Apple. There's going to be an inflection point where title case will simply look incredibly out of place in English, as younger generations grow up on new publications that do not use it.

Title case is old - very old - probably because lowercase evolved out of uppercase, and over the centuries, we've been slowly pushing uppercase letters to perform very specific functions in text. Capitals have become an integral and core part of punctuation rules in every (?) language using on the Latin, Greek (?), and Cyrillic (?) scripts, and while there is some variation here and there - e.g. German holding on to capitalising every single noun, not just proper nouns - there's a remarkable consistency between them.

I'm fairly certain English' title case is the odd-one out, and as the internet continues to break down barriers between cultures and languages, title case will eventually disappear from English, too.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 3rd Aug 2016 23:26 UTC
BSD and Darwin derivatives

DragonFly version 4.6 brings more updates to accelerated video for both i915 and radeon users, home-grown support for NVMe controllers, preliminary EFI support, improvements in SMP and networking performance under heavy load, and a full range of binary packages.

 

Written by Thom Holwerda on Tue 2nd Aug 2016 21:28 UTC
Windows

The Windows 10 Anniversary Update was released earlier this evening, and I dutifully installed it so that I could write about any oddities that might pop up. Well, a number of oddities have popped up, and they're bad - really bad. The Anniversary Update does some really shady stuff during installation that it doesn't inform you of at all until after the fact.

First, the Anniversary Update reinstalls Skype "for you", even if you had it uninstalled earlier, which in and of itself is a blatant disregard for users - I uninstalled it for a reason, and I'd like Microsoft to respect that. That in and of itself is bad enough, but here's the kicker: during installation, Microsoft also automatically logs you into Skype, so that possible Skype contacts can just start calling or messaging you - again, without ever asking for the user's consent.

Imagine my surprise when I open that useless Metro notification center thing - whose button now sits in the bottom right of the task bar, right of the clock, even, and is unremovable - and see that Skype is now installed, and that I'm logged in. This is a blatant disregard for users, and I'm sure tons of users will be unpleasantly surprised to see Microsoft forcing Skype down their throats.

There was an even bigger surprise, though: during installation of the Anniversary Update, Microsoft apparently flags Classic Shell - a popular Start menu replacement that gives Windows 10 a customisable Start menu that doesn't suck - as incompatible with the Anniversary Update, and just straight-up deletes hides it from your computer - again, without ever notifying you beforehand or asking you for your permission.

Update: actually, the application isn't removed entirely - it's still there in the Program Files folder, but it's entirely scrapped from search results and the Start menu. Effectively, for most users, that's identical to removing it. What an incredibly odd and user-hostile way of dealing with this. You can see how the wording in the screenshot below is confusing regarding the removing vs. hiding issue.

Classic Shell released an update to fix the compatibility issue detected, so I hope my settings are still there somewhere, because it'd suck having to redo all of them because Microsoft just randomly deleted a program from my computer hid a program, without informing me or asking me for my permission. It could've just disabled the program, prevented it from running - why delete hide it entirely? Are they that desperate to try and get me to use their terrible excuse for a Start menu?

So, just in case you're about to install this update - Microsoft will force Skype down your throat, and may randomly delete hide programs from your computer without asking for your permission.

Have fun.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 2nd Aug 2016 14:53 UTC
Windows

Ars' take on the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, due out today.

For now, the Anniversary Update is an incremental update that makes Windows 10 incrementally better. For Windows 10, the decision to upgrade is obvious, and in many cases, there's no decision to be made. In fact, home users will be getting it whether they like it or not. They shouldn't fear this; if nothing else the revised Start menu layout makes the upgrade worthwhile.

But the decision for Windows 7 and 8.1 users is rather different now than it was a year ago. A year ago, upgrading to Windows 10 was an easy decision to make, because the upgrade was zero cost. Unless upgrading was absolutely impossible (due to an incompatibility or being particularly wedded to Media Center), then upgrading was the obvious thing to do. Windows 10 is a better operating system than those two, especially for $0.

I'm pretty sure there's loads of people who'd much rather hold on to Windows 7, for a multitude of reasons, but that's just me.

Honestly, I've been out of the loop on this whole Anniversary Update, mostly because Windows (and OS X and desktop Linux for that matter) just isn't very exciting. Windows got exciting with 8, which, while deeply flawed and inherently broken, at least represented some form of progress from what had come before to something new, but in Windows 8, that "something new" - Metro - was incomplete, buggy, slow, broken, and effectively useless.

We're Fiona knows how many years down the line now, and it's still an incomplete, buggy, slow, broken, and effectively useless mess. There's not a single Metro application that's worthy of anyone's time, and there's a better - albeit less attractive-looking, at times - Win32 alternative in virtually every instance. This leaves Windows 10 as a Windows 7 where you need to turn a whole bunch of useless crap off or hide it to make it work properly.

It's far from ideal, and the idea many bloggers are peddling - that Windows 10 is a must-have upgrade over Windows 7 - seems rooted more in a sense of "the shiny" than actual merit.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 2nd Aug 2016 14:46 UTC
Windows

Last year, we announced that beginning with the release of Windows 10, all new Windows 10 kernel mode drivers must be submitted to the Windows Hardware Developer Center Dashboard portal (Dev Portal) to be digitally signed by Microsoft. However, due to technical and ecosystem readiness issues, this was not enforced by Windows Code Integrity and remained only a policy statement.

Starting with new installations of Windows 10, version 1607, the previously defined driver signing rules will be enforced by the Operating System, and Windows 10, version 1607 will not load any new kernel mode drivers which are not signed by the Dev Portal. OS signing enforcement is only for new OS installations; systems upgraded from an earlier OS to Windows 10, version 1607 will not be affected by this change.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 2nd Aug 2016 14:44 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

Tomorrow [ed. note: today] Samsung will announce the Galaxy Note 7, actually the sixth main entry in its popular series of gigantic, stylus-equipped phones. The Note line usually builds on the Galaxy S series, applying Samsung's latest technologies to a larger canvas; with the S7 and S7 Edge setting an impressive precedent, expectations for this year's model will be high.

How will Samsung match them? Kim Gae-youn might have an idea. He's the man who heads up smartphone planning at Samsung, making the calls about what goes into each model and how they're positioned in the market. I spoke with him at Samsung's headquarters in Suwon, South Korea just after the release of the S7, and he had a lot to say about exactly how the company goes about making its decisions - from screen size, to software customization, to the amount of bloatware.

 

Linked by Anonymous on Tue 2nd Aug 2016 10:58 UTC
Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu

Canonical has been talking about making Ubuntu on tablets and phones a reality now for several years, and in recent months we have finally seen a few devices come on the market. A review of the Meizu Pro 5, a Ubuntu-powered smart phone that is compatible with North American 4G networks, appeared on DistroWatch.The article covers how Ubuntu compares to Android and explores the differences between traditional apps vs Ubuntu scopes:

Scopes are a slightly unusual concept in the smart phone market, but I grew to appreciate the idea. What eventually gave me the "a-ha" moment when it came to scopes was when I realised scopes are for looking at information and apps for doing things. Scopes are always on, always waiting in the background to provide us with small bits of data. Applications are for performing tasks. A scope will tell me what is on my calendar for the day, an application will create new appointments. A scope will tell me who called me recently while an app will place a new call.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 2nd Aug 2016 10:58 UTC
Android

According to multiple reliable sources, we believe that Google plans to debut a brand-new launcher for Nexus devices some time in the near future, likely on its 2016 Nexus (if they are Nexuses) smartphones Marlin and Sailfish.

That unremovable date widget is an absolutely dreadful idea. Luckily though, this is Android, so you can replace it with whatever launcher you want.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 30th Jul 2016 12:37 UTC
Apple

If you're going to tell me "normal people" don't do those tasks, please don't. Quilters run blogs. Salespeople create presentations. And non-techie writers send revisions to editors. It's us nerds who insist that iOS solves the "problem" of normal people who don't understand the file system putting all their files on the desktop. But the desktop acts as shared document storage, which is something it turns out normal people sometimes need, and iOS does not solve that problem. Lecture me about the virtues of containers all you want, but there is no world in which having to use Dropbox as a temporary storage medium is a step forward.

This is a great article, and it hits the nail on the head so hard, the nail's probably in Fiji by now. The only people going iPad-only are bloggers writing "I went iPad-only"-posts, and people who are trying to prove a point. Neither of them constitute a market.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 30th Jul 2016 12:20 UTC
Android

Android relies heavily on the Linux kernel for enforcement of its security model. To better protect the kernel, we've enabled a number of mechanisms within Android. At a high level these protections are grouped into two categories - memory protections and attack surface reduction.

 

Linked by Telfon on Sat 30th Jul 2016 12:19 UTC
General Development

The goal was to publish source code to a GPU that is register compatible with the late 90's era Number Nine "Ticket To Ride IV" GPU. Although the project didn't meet its funding goal, the person behind it later published the code on github.

Despite the fact that this is an older design, it has lots of stuff that is worth studying. It's interesting to compare this design to the VideoCore GPU that I walked through in a previous post. While there are some fundamental differences, there are surprising number of functions that are similar, which shows how modern GPUs evolved from earlier ones.

A walkthrough of the GPLGPU as well as some history and backstory of the Number Nine "Ticket To Ride IV" GPU.