Written by Thom Holwerda on Wed 17th Jun 2015 13:51 UTC
Windows Windows is an old and complex operating system. It's been around for a very long time, and while it's been continuously updated and altered, and parts are removed or replaced all the time, the operating system still houses quite a few tools, utilities, and assets that haven't been updated or replaced in a long, long time. Most of these are hidden in deep nooks and crannies, and you rarely encounter them, unless you start hunting for them.

Most. But not all.

There's one utility that I need to use quite often that, seemingly, hasn't been updated - at least, not considerably - since at least Windows 95, or possibly even Windows 3.x. Using this utility is an exercise in pure frustration, riddled as it is with terrible user interface design and behaviour that never should have shipped as part of any serious software product.

This is the story of the dreaded Character Map. I'll first explain just how bad it really is, after which I'll dive into the little application's history, to try and find out why, exactly, it is as bad as it is. It turns out that the Character Map - or charmap.exe - seems to exist in a sort-of Windows build limbo, and has been stuck there since the days Microsoft scrapped Longhorn, and started over.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 16th Jun 2015 20:52 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

Sailfish OS 1.1.6 has been released. The biggest new feature is probably the private browsing mode, but it's also got a host of other new features, bug fixes, and improvements. I would guess this is one of the last 1.x releases, since the tablet, whicvh ships with Sailfish OS 2.x, should be shipping this month.

 



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 16th Jun 2015 18:01 UTC
In the News

Thomas van Linge's colorful, detailed maps showing which parties control which parts of Iraq, Libya and Syria are a hit whenever he posts them on Twitter. They have been cited on news stories in the Huffington Post, Lebanon's Daily Star and Vox, as well as on the University of Texas at Austin's website. But van Linge isn't a policy expert and he's never been to the region: In fact, he’s just a Dutch high school student who tracks the war on social media.

Quite amazing (van Linge's work, obviously - not the subject matter!).

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 15th Jun 2015 23:34 UTC
Mac OS X

Looking across the updates in El Capitan, the story is clear: Apple is making life way better for people who live in its ecosystem. But if you don't live in Apple's garden, the benefits are less clear. Yes, it's faster and there are bugfixes all around, but to take advantage of Apple's updates you really need to use Apple's apps.

I just want El Capitan's Metal and Aero Snap. That name is horrible, though.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 15th Jun 2015 23:31 UTC
Games

It's Day 0 of E3 2015. This is the time when all the giants of popular gaming make their big announcements, competing for your attention and future gaming dollars. Today is also a big day for YouTube, which doesn't make games, but will soon be introducing a dedicated YouTube Gaming service. It too will be competing for the attention of millions.

The goals of YouTube Gaming are as grand as YouTube itself. Google wants its new website and app to become "the biggest community of gamers on the web" and the destination for live-streamed game video, whether it comes from professional tournaments or amateurs playing just for fun. If that sounds exactly like Twitch, that's because it is. Having lost out to Amazon in the pursuit to acquire Twitch last summer, Google has spent the past year building up its own alternative, and that's what we have to look forward to in the coming weeks.

YouTube is well-positioned to compete with Twitch, since most streamers upload the VODs to YouTube anyway. Why not have it all in one place?

In any event, yet another case of competition breeding product improvements.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 15th Jun 2015 23:26 UTC, submitted by toralux
Google

One of the big complaints about Chrome currently is that it's a battery hog, especially on Mac where Safari seems to do better.

The team has been working on addressing this; here are some cases that have recently been improved on trunk.

I'm glad Google is taking this matter seriously.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 15th Jun 2015 21:21 UTC, submitted by Chrille
Hardware, Embedded Systems

A 30-year-old computer that has run day and night for decades is what controls the heat and air conditioning at 19 Grand Rapids Public Schools.

The Commodore Amiga was new to GRPS in the early 1980s and it has been working tirelessly ever since. GRPS Maintenance Supervisor Tim Hopkins said that the computer was purchased with money from an energy bond in the 1980s. It replaced a computer that was "about the size of a refrigerator."

Either 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it', or, 'why is a school in the US not using newer, more modern technology?'.

 

Written by Thom Holwerda on Fri 12th Jun 2015 10:37 UTC
Android

When Android Wear came out over the course of last year, Google promised that the young, new platform would receive updates "early and often". While it wasn't said with so many words, it's easy to read between the lines: Google was going to make sure Android Wear users wouldn't face the same headaches as Android users when it comes to updates. Wear would be a more tightly controlled platform, built in such a way that updates could go straight to users' devices without meddling from carriers or roadblocks thrown up by crappy customisations.

Fast forward to June 2015, and Google has recently released Android Wear 5.1.1, which, despite its humble version number increase over 5.0.1, is a pretty significant update to the smartwatch platform. It enables WiFi on devices that support it, adds new ways to interact with your watch, and makes it easier to launch applications. All in all, it looks like a great update.

Sadly, I can only go by what others have told me, despite owning the poster Android Wear device - the Moto 360.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 12th Jun 2015 07:26 UTC
Apple

I tend not to link to podcasts - I don't like podcasts and prefer good ol' text - but this one is pretty great.

Recorded in front of a live audience at Mezzanine in San Francisco, John Gruber is joined by Phil Schiller to discuss the news from WWDC: OS X 10.11 El Capitan, iOS 9, the new native app SDK for Apple Watch, Apple Music, and the 2004 American League Championship series.

It's a bit feelgood, of course, but it's still totally worth it. Schiller and Gruber hit it off on this one, and there's some great stories in there.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 12th Jun 2015 06:32 UTC
Android

But internally, Android One was seen as an attempt to avoid another China, where Android is popular but comes without Google's services. It was also a hedge against the rising power of Facebook, which is becoming, in many parts of the developing world, the gateway to the Web.

So far, it has done neither. And the audacious hardware program has been anything but.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 11th Jun 2015 07:51 UTC
Apple

Most web users tolerate ads; many web users hate advertising with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. There are many good reasons that users dislike ads (they’re bad for performance, security, and privacy) as well as less universal, more arguable grievances (e.g. annoyance factor, disagreement about the value exchange for ad-funded services, etc).

Apple, a company that makes ~80%ish of their revenue from iOS-based products, recently announced that iOS 9 will ship with a compelling ad-filtering API for the Safari browser.

A brilliant move by Apple to force news providers (the rich ones, at least) to move to creating applications or join its Flipboard clone.

Apple's Flipboard clone uses Apple's own iAds, of course, which cannot be blocked at all.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 10th Jun 2015 21:40 UTC
Windows

Users of DOS or older versions of Windows will have invariably stumbled upon a quirk of Windows' handling of file names at some point. File names which are longer than 8 characters, have an extension other than 3 character long, or aren't upper-case and alphanumeric, are (in some situations) truncated to an ugly shorter version which contains a tilde (~) in it somewhere. For example, 5+6 June Report.doc will be turned into 5_6JUN~1.DOC. This is relic of the limitations brought about by older versions of FAT used in DOS and older versions of pre-NT Windows.

So far, nothing new. This article, however, delves deeper into a special aspect of this relic: a built-in checksum function that, up until now, was undocumented.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 10th Jun 2015 10:44 UTC
Google

A detailed article about how Google transformed itself from scoffing at design, to embracing it.

Such attention to detail used to be Apple's thing. Today, that distinction falls to Google. Unveiled last year, Material Design - Google's evolving design language for phones, tablets, and desktop - offers relentless consistency in interactions; invisible rules that govern everything, so that every app feels familiar; and beauty in the service of function. It's why so many designers will tell you, as they've told me, "I just like Android better." Whereas iOS is still inching along without improving much, Google is creating a coherent, unified language that easily scales across phones, with enough flexibility to jump to watches and cars. "It's not even about composing a UI in one place," says Nicholas Jitkoff, who helped lead the creation of Material Design. "It's about composing interactions from one device to the next."

Most of OSNews' readers will scoff at this article, because they consider "design" to be a dirty word. They're Pine.

This was Google. And this was Larry Page, a man who, when asked by one designer what Google's aesthetic was, responded, "Pine." That is, a command-line email system common during Page's college years, whose main draw was its speed.

Page's answer spoke to a philosophy that still dominates in the minds of many engineers: That the best design is no design at all, because speed is the only metric that matters. Adding anything charming to a computer interface simply slowed down. For many years, that made sense. In the dawn of computing, and the dawn of the internet, it didn’t matter of the computer spat out something ugly, so long as it spat out something as soon as you asked. This was a version of the so-called two second rule, formulated in the 1970s: If a computer didn't respond within that time frame, humans naturally drifted away. For a computer to actually augment your mind, it had to respond almost instantaneously.

As far as design languages go, Material Design is quite minimalist, yet still retains the depth and the kind of information required to easily grasp what things do, where things go, and where things are coming from. It borrows heavily from Metro - as does every modern design - but improves upon it by the heavier use of the Z-axis and subtle animations to understand where things are going and where they're coming from. The clear colours make it easy to identify what you're doing and where you are. It's welcoming, without being overbearing.

Contrast this with the Aero-like iOS 7/8 design, with its are-these-buttons-or-just-labels-or-perhaps-an-input-field, endless use of transparency and blurriness for no particular reason, and just an overall sense of chaos, and the differences couldn't be more stark. I find iOS overwhelming, unclear, unfocused, messy, inconsistent; every application is different and implements its own rules, buttons, and design. On Android 5.x, thanks to Material Design, I never feel lost. I never have to learn yet another new set of icons or interactions.

Matias Duarte is, quite clearly, the leading voice in UI design right now. Microsoft set the current trend, Google perfected it, and Apple just made stuff flat and blurry with no sense of purpose or direction. Before Material Design, I could've easily been swayed towards iOS. Now, though?

No way.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 9th Jun 2015 23:17 UTC
Apple

An important bit of news from WWDC that deserves its own news item: you no longer need to be a licensed developer (i.e., paying) to test your applications on your own devices.

Xcode 7 and Swift now make it easier for everyone to build apps and run them directly on their Apple devices. Simply sign in with your Apple ID, and turn your idea into an app that you can touch on your iPad, iPhone, or Apple Watch. Download Xcode 7 beta and try it yourself today. Program membership is not required.

Of course, to distribute them, you still need to pay up.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 9th Jun 2015 13:25 UTC
Apple

Seconds later, deGrasse Tyson turned out to be the least of the problem. Apple also trots out McKinsey's James Manyika in the video, who starts off his quote with a phrase that should never be heard at tech conferences: "If you think the industrial revolution was transformational..."

I wasn't in San Francisco for WWDC, but I can only imagine the crowd at the keynote either fell silent or started howling uncontrollably as he finished that sentence: "...the App Store is way bigger."

It requires a special kind of chutzpah to compare any innovation to the industrial revolution. But to actually suggest that a collection of apps - a million or so fart soundboards, greedy casual games, and programs that help you get through you email a fraction faster - is anywhere close to the industrial revolution is beyond delusional.

I'm glad I wasn't the only one who did a triple-take when this was said in Apple's App Store video last night. If this is truly how Apple feels about its contributions to the world - and everything points in the direction that it does - then the company has lost all sense of perspective and has transcended its usual playful arrogance towards full-on insanity.

Very disappointed in Neil deGrasse Tyson, too, for making similarly outrageous claims in this video.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 9th Jun 2015 07:16 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes

TempleOS is somewhat of a legend in the operating system community. Its sole author, Terry A. Davis, has spent the past 12 years attempting to create a new operating from scratch. Terry explains that God has instructed him to construct a temple, a 640x480 covenant of perfection. Unfortunately Terry also suffers from schizophrenia, and has a tendency to appear on various programming forums with a burst of strange, paranoid, and often racist comments. He is frequently banned from most forums.

This combination of TempleOS's amateurish approach and Terry's unfortunate outbursts have resulted in TempleOS being often regarded as something to be mocked, ignored, or forgotten. Many people have done some or all of those things, and it's understandable why.

You really have no excuse to not read this article.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 9th Jun 2015 07:06 UTC
Apple

With WWDC still underway, there's a lot more news than what made it in yesterday's article. First and foremost, Apple announced watchOS 2.0, which will bring native applications to the platform, as well as a feature called Time Travel that works much the same way as the timeline UI on the new Pebbles. It allows you to scroll into the future to see the upcoming appointments, the weather, and so on.

Apple is also merging its various developer programs. Instead of having to buy access to iOS and OS X separately, a single $99 fee will now net you access to iOS, OS X, and watchOS. Tangentially related: CarPlay now allows car makers to create applications that expand what CarPlay can do; e.g. control the climate control, radio, and other in-car features.

Apple also announced its new music streaming service, called Apple Music, which will be available for iOS, Windows, and Android. Speaking of Android - Apple has also made an Android application to help switchers move from Android to iOS.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th Jun 2015 20:04 UTC
Talk, Rumors, X Versus Y

Over the past few weeks - following an important-but-barbed talk from Apple CEO Tim Cook - the rhetoric has turned to privacy and security and data and how only products you pay for are good and any sort of free services are inherently bad and basically whore out what's left of your post-Snowden soul.

It's an important discussion to have. And one we'll continue to have. But it's not one-sided. It's not binary.

And, actually, it's interesting to see how the rhetoric has changed recently.

Ouch.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th Jun 2015 18:18 UTC
Apple It's time for Apple's WWDC, and its keynote. It's currently underway, and much like Google's I/O keynote and the introduction of Android M, we're looking at a lot of catch-up. Both the new OS X and iOS releases are getting new features taken directly from the competition.

OS X 10.11 will be named El Capitan, and among its major new features are the ability to snap windows side-by-side, and in case you're wondering how it works, just look at Windows 7 and later. It's a direct copy of the Aero Snap functionality, and I'm really glad Apple finally got around to copying this excellent Windows feature. I use it so often on Windows, I really, really miss it on any platform that doesn't have it.

Safari, too, fired up the photocopier, and this time around, Chrome's the obvious target. Safari in El Capitan is getting pinned sites, which is a useful Chrome feature that allows you to keep your favourite sites open all the time. Safari is also copying another great Chrome feature: the little indicator that tells you which tab is producing audio. As a Safari user on my retina MacBook Pro (Chrome is a battery hog on OS X), I am incredibly happy with these new features.

Apple is also bringing its Metal graphics API to from iOS to OS X, and Apple really focused on gaming when it comes to this one. I'm still not entirely sure who uses or even cares about gaming on OS X, but for those of you that do - this is surely great news. As has become the norm for OS X, El Capitan will be free, and will ship this fall. A public beta will be released in July.

Moving on, the major new features in OS 9 are also catch-up features, this time to Android, of course. The biggest one is Proactive, Apple's Google Now competitor. It offers similar functionality to Google Now, including reading your email to notify you of invitations and the like. Unlike Google, however, all the 'intelligent' stuff happens on the device itself - not on Apple's servers.

We'll have to see how well it works - if Proactive works just as well as Google Now, without requiring the kind of information Google claims it needs, Apple's got a winner on its hands. If it sucks, it will be a validation of Google's approach.

As a sidenote, I've never actualy really used Google Now. It does not work for me at all because my GMail account is a Google Apps account, which Google Now doesn't work with (yes, paying Google customers cannot use Google Now). It led to a fun situation when my friends and I were on vacation in the US, in October 2014. Google Now on their iPhones worked perfectly fine, bringing up boarding passes and relevant travel information, whereas my Nexus 5, a Google phone running Google software on a Google operating system, just showed me the weather back home. When I found out why, I turned off Google Now.

The keyboard has also been improved - and now does what every other smartphone platform has done for years: when you press shift, the keycaps will reflect the state. If you put two fingers on the keyboard, you can user them to move the selection cursor - a great feature that appears to be iPad-only for now. Apple is also introducing a new news application to iOS, which is basically a Flipboard copy.

The big new iOS feature is iPad-only: multitasking. If you've ever used Windows 8 on a tablet, you know how this works. Swiping in from the side, splitscreen view - we've all been here before. It literally works and looks exactly like Windows 8. Again - this is great. A lot was wrong with Windows 8's Metro UI for tablets, but its tablet multitasking is absolutely great and fantastic. I'm really glad Apple copied it, and it's high-time Android will do the same (in fact, there's early support for it in Android M).

So, much like Google's I/O keynote and Android M specifically, OS X El Capitan and iOS 9 are all about catching up to a number of stand-out features from the competition, so I can repeat here what I said then: another example of how competition between the major platforms makes both of them better - consumers, win.

Unlike Android, though, there's no update elephant in the room here. In fact, Apple has heard the complaints about the iOS 8 update being too big for iPhones with little storage, so iOS 9 is only 1.4GB in size. A great move, and it will ensure that every eligible device will be getting iOS 9. In addition, Apple isn't dropping any device with iOS 9 - if it runs iOS 8, it'll run iOS 9.

All in all, a great keynote with lots of awesome new features, but nothing we haven't seen before. Every single day, iOS and Android become ever more interchangeable. As consumers, the more these companies copy each other's great ideas, the more awesome features our platforms of choice will get.

I'll leave you with two final notes. First, Swift will be released as open source. Second, Apple had women up on stage to present new features for the very first time. It was about time.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 6th Jun 2015 20:57 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

But it's also super depressing, because it's just another example of how the rise of streaming media has brought crazy digital rights management back into our lives. We've completely traded convenience for ecosystem lock-in, and it sucks.

Right now, the Echo can play music from Amazon's Prime Music service, Pandora, and whatever random music I've uploaded to my Amazon cloud locker. This means that the music selection is pretty bad! I stopped buying music around the time I started using Spotify, so I don't have much new stuff to upload, and Prime Music has a fairly thin catalog compared to Spotify. Basically this thing can play my 2000s-era iTunes collection at me, which means I'm listening Wilco and The Clash way more than I have in the past few years. Is that good? It might be good.

Patel has a point - the rise of all these streaming music services has completely undone the end of DRM in the music industry. It's most likely entirely unrelated, but Steve Jobs' scathing letter condemning the use of DRM is no longer available on Apple's website - just as Apple is rumoured to launch its own streaming music service.

The same has happened in IM, chat, messaging, or whatever you want to call it. It's 2015, and I have five messaging applications on my smartphone - WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Google Messenger, Hangouts, Skype - and I also use iMessage occasionally (on OS X) because some of my friends are locked into it and don't want to use something else. These companies - Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook - are actively and consciously making the choice to make the lives of their customers as difficult as possible.

If these companies really cared about their customers - as they always claim they do - they would've come together and used or developed a proper open standard for messaging. Instead, we get Facebook (through WhatsApp) banning users for using 3rd party WhatsApp clients on Sailfish, or we have Apple making grandiose promises about turning FaceTime into an open standard, but then backtracking once they realise they can frustrate and lock-in consumers by keeping it closed. Google, meanwhile, seems to have no idea what it's doing at all, flipflopping left and right (Hangouts? Messenger? What's it going to be, Google?). Skype is Skype.

Now that iOS and Android (and to a lesser degree, Windows Phone) are entirely and wholly interchangeable, companies are looking for other ways to lock their consumers into their platforms - and much like in music, the companies are placing their own interests above that of their consumers.