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.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 28th Jul 2016 22:26 UTC
Apple

Dan Dodge, the founder and former chief executive officer of QNX, the operating system developer that BlackBerry acquired in 2010, joined Apple earlier this year, the people said. He is part of a team headed by Bob Mansfield, who, since taking over leadership of the cars initiative - dubbed Project Titan - has heralded a shift in strategy, according to a person familiar with the plan.

The initiative is now prioritizing the development of an autonomous driving system, though it's not abandoning efforts to design its own vehicle. That leaves options open should the company eventually decide to partner with or acquire an established car maker, rather than build a car itself. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

This whole thing of Apple designing, building, and selling a car still seems so extreme to me - it feels like jumping the shark, really - but at the same time, it could just as well be the genius move that prolongs Apple's winning streak for decades to come. I have far too little insight into the car industry to say anything meaningful here, but it does fascinate me that a technology company like Apple is presumably entering the car market.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 28th Jul 2016 22:22 UTC
Apple

In the months leading up to the announcement of the new Apple TV box last year, there were multiple reports that said the company was also working on a streaming TV service as a way to entice cord-cutters and "cord-nevers" into its ecosystem. Those reports suggested that the service would include some 25 channels and cost $30 or $40 a month, and it would stream live content as well as offer a Netflix-esque back catalog of shows on demand.

But it never came to pass. When the new Apple TV launched, Apple pushed apps as the future of TV rather than an all-in-one service. A new report from the Wall Street Journal today says that Apple's negotiating tactics were to blame and that the service didn't come to pass in part because Apple was offering too little money and making too many demands.

The source article is behind a paywall, so hence the link to the Ars story instead. You can try and use this link through Google to get the source article.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 28th Jul 2016 17:52 UTC
Internet & Networking

Ars Technica talks about dark patterns:

Everyone has been there. So in 2010, London-based UX designer Harry Brignull decided he'd document it. Brignull’s website, darkpatterns.org, offers plenty of examples of deliberately confusing or deceptive user interfaces. These dark patterns trick unsuspecting users into a gamut of actions: setting up recurring payments, purchasing items surreptitiously added to a shopping cart, or spamming all contacts through prechecked forms on Facebook games.

I can't recall ever falling for a dark pattern, but I see these things everywhere - a sure sign that whatever company, website, or whatever, you're dealing with is not worthy of your time.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 27th Jul 2016 22:43 UTC
Apple

"iPhone has become one of the most important, world-changing and successful products in history. It's become more than a constant companion. iPhone is truly an essential part of our daily life and enables much of what we do throughout the day," said Cook. "Last week we passed another major milestone when we sold the billionth iPhone. We never set out to make the most, but we've always set out to make the best products that make a difference. Thank you to everyone at Apple for helping change the world every day."

There's a lot you can say about Apple and the iPhone - but you can't say the device didn't cause a revolution in computing. This is a major milestone, and I'd like to congratulate all the men and women involved in the iPhone's inception and further development. Apple is more than just the corporate facade and Tim Cook and Steve Jobs. There's thousands of men and women working there, and this is a major achievement for them.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 26th Jul 2016 22:08 UTC
Mac OS X

Nicholas W. Howard:

Wander into almost any online forum or article comment section about a controversial announcement from Apple Inc. and you will almost certainly hear a variation of this sentence: "Apple has gone downhill since Steve Jobs died." The sentence slithers around vaguely; it never seems to specify how, or in what ways, Apple has gone downhill. I agree, nonetheless, that it has. Whether or not Steve Jobs's absence caused the decline (though I suspect it did), I grow frustrated as I watch each software update further erode one pillar of Apple's formerly astronomical greatness.

No: I am not referring to their software's stability, important and perhaps worsening with time as it may be. I walk a different tightrope. The design-community-approved articles pertaining to an "Apple software decline" focus on bugs (see Marco Arment, Glenn Fleishman, Russell Ivanovic) or even lunge for their shields to claim that Apple has no such software problems (see Jim Lynch), with the glaring exception of this thoughtful and much-needed lament by Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini. The article you are about to read will address the same unsung subject as Norman and Tognazzini's article: the design, not the engineering, of Apple's graphical user interfaces. But where their article is general, I have harvested specific example after specific example of the user interface decline of (the now-former) OS X.

A great article with which I wholeheartedly agree - but my agreement comes with a twist.

Where Howard seems to regard the purest form of the Aqua graphical user interface as the bar for the decline, I consider the bar to be what is now referred to as the Classic graphical user interface, but which is actually named Platinum, which reached its zenith in Mac OS 9.

Platinum in Mac OS 9 was elegant, clear, memorable, focused, and pleasant. Forget OS 9's multitude of structural problems - it was a terribly designed house of cards that would crumble if you looked at it funny - and just focus on the UI, in which elements are clearly marked, there's tons of useful but not annoying visual feedback, and a rare sense of spatiality to it all.

Aqua has always been too candy cane for me, and it's only gone downhill from there for Apple - iOS and Mac OS today are dreadfully bland and void of character, and this article does a decent job illustrating it.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 26th Jul 2016 22:00 UTC
Apple

Apple sold 40.4 million iPhones during the quarter, down from 47.5 million a year earlier, while Mac sales were 4.25 million units, down from from 4.8 million units in the year-ago quarter. iPad sales were also down once again, falling to 9.95 million from 10.9 million.

If the rumours are right and the next iPhone is indeed another minor spec bump, Apple is in for a rough year. With "rough" meaning "making incredible amounts of money, just a little less than they'd hoped, but still more than can be comprehended on a day-to-day basis".

I wish I had Apple's rough quarters.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 25th Jul 2016 22:57 UTC
Android

Steve Kondik, founder of CyanogenMod (the community ROM) and Cyanogen Inc. (the company):

CyanogenMod is something that works. Perhaps it doesn't need to "go big" to work. I'm still wildly inspired by the idea of a platform which forces participation. Whether it's the choice to hack your phone to bits and figure out how to install the damn thing to begin with, learning what's possible afterwards, or just having the confidence of being in control, it still serves an important role which hasn't been filled outside of the custom ROM community. Cyanogen Inc (including myself) will still be sponsoring the project and will continue to have an active role in it's development. Contrary to popular belief, we are not "pivoting to apps" nor are we shelving CM. We'll have additional information on the Inc site soon.

Good news for CyanogenMod (the ROM), but communications in the vein of "the company is not going down, honest!" usually precede the company going down.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 25th Jul 2016 22:53 UTC
Windows

The final build of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update is build 14393. The update, which provides a range of new features and improvements, represents Microsoft's last big push to get Windows 7 and 8.1 users to upgrade to Windows 10.

The update is available right now to those who have opted in to the Windows Insider program, and it will be pushed out to Windows 10 users on the current branch on August 2. The free upgrade offer from Windows 7 and 8.1 to Windows 10, however, ends on July 29, leaving Microsoft hoping that the promise of the new update will be enough to get people to make the switch.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I doubt many Windows 7/8 users here who haven't upgraded yet will be wooed by this new update.

If you're still running Windows XP, you're irresponsible and you should update to 7/8/10 or Linux immediately.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 25th Jul 2016 14:43 UTC
Games

As another installment in a somewhat ongoing series on obscure console history, let's talk about the expansion port on the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES. In case you've never turned over your NES: there's a little door underneath your NES, which covers up a small raised piece of plastic that's (relatively) easily removable. Underneath the raised piece of plastic sits an expansion port on the NES' motherboard. That's my NES, and since I've already taken it apart to look at what's under the raised cover, I had no need to remove it.

Common wisdom is that the NES expansion port was never actually used for anything, but that's not actually true. Modeled after the Family Computer Network System for the Japanese version of the NES (the Famicom), through which the NES could display weather, stock information, partake in gambling, and so on, the Minnesota State Lottery and Nintendo tried to bring a similar device to the United States:

The three parties planned to sign up 10,000 homes for the trial, and while Nintendo handed out free modems, in an even sweeter deal, Minnesota also handed out free NES consoles to those involved who didn't already have one.

For a monthly subscription fee of $10 (remember, that's 1991 money), users would also get a special cartridge for the NES that let them access the lottery, after which they could play every game that month, right up to and including the big jackpots.

The program ultimately flopped and never made it to the official production or availability stages, and since Nintendo never tried to do anything with the expansion port after this initial test, it would remain unused for the entirety of the NES' lifespan. Today, though, you can buy a homebrew expansion board that taps into the port.

I've been reading up a lot on these kinds of stories, so if you have anything interesting - feel free to submit it. Since I grew up with Nintendo (and PC), that's where the focus has been so far, so I'd be quite interested in stories about competing companies such as Sega or Atari.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 23rd Jul 2016 00:14 UTC
Android

We're hearing from multiple sources that Cyanogen Inc. is in the midst of laying off a significant portion of its workforce around the world today. The layoffs most heavily impact the open source arm of the Android ROM-gone-startup, which may be eliminated entirely (not CyanogenMod itself, just the people at Cyanogen Inc. who work on the open source side).

[...]

We have been told by several sources [ed. note: confirmed by Re/code] that the company plans to undergo some sort of major strategic shift, with one claiming that this involves a "pivot" to "apps."

Quoting myself, early this year: "Don't buy into Cyanogen. Just don't."

Cyanogen, Inc. has been misleading, grandiose, megalomaniac. I wish the people who got laid off all the best in the troubling weeks and months ahead, but I shed no tear for the megalomaniac, misleading, and arrogant way this company conducted its business.