Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 20th Jun 2014 19:30 UTC
Legal

The problem, at root, is that the courts are confused about the nature of software. The courts have repeatedly said that mathematical algorithms can't be patented. But many judges also seem to believe that some software is worthy of patent protection. The problem is that "software" and "mathematical algorithm" are two terms for the same thing. Until the courts understand that, the laws regarding software patents are going to be incoherent.

If you ever find yourself arguing with someone who supports software patents - just link to this article by Timothy B. Lee. An excellent and concise look at where software patents come from, the inability of courts to understand software, and why the Supreme Court of the United States seems so hesitant to reaffirm its own rulings about the intrinsic inability to patent software. Key passage:

One reason the courts might hesitate to do this [put an end to software patents] is that it would be a big blow to the bottom lines of some of the biggest companies in America. Such a ruling would have invalidated thousands of dubious software patents held by trolls, but it also would have invalidated Amazon.com's infamous 1-click patent, the "data detectors" patent Apple used to sue Samsung, and Google's patent on its search ranking algorithm. Invalidating software patents would have wiped billions of dollars off the balance sheets of some of America's largest technology companies. The Supreme Court generally tries to avoid making waves, and those would have been some very big waves.

And there you have it. Large American technology companies want to have their cake and eat too - they supposedly support patent reform, but only reform that weakens the position of small players (which happens to include non-practicing entities) while strengthening their own positions.

Lee ends with the simile that I have used on numerous occasions in the past - one that perfectly sums up the inherent ridiculousness of patenting software:

The mathematical ideas in software, like the literary ideas in novels, are part of society's common intellectual heritage. Neither should be eligible for patent protection.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 20th Jun 2014 18:22 UTC
General Development

I gave a talk in 2007 that explained 8088 Corruption in detail, and in that talk I explained that displaying FMV using CGA in graphics mode would be impossible. This is because CGA graphics mode uses 8x the amount of video memory that 8088 Corruption was handling. Even a simple calculation assuming 24fps video reveals that the amount of data needing to be updated per second (24fps * 16KB = 384KB/s) is outside of the IBM PC's capability: CGA RAM can only be changed at a rate of 240KB/s, and most hard drives of the era operate at roughly 90KB/s. It sure felt impossible, so that's why I said it.

Then I thought about the problem for 7 years.

This is amazing. I also have no idea under which category to file this, but I settled for this one.

 



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 20th Jun 2014 00:52 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

BlackBerry is preparing to release what may be its weirdest smartphone ever. This year it's already launched the Z3, and soon that will be joined by the BlackBerry Classic - an obvious throwback to the company's glory days. But there's another product making its way through the pipeline as well, and it's a lot more blocky. BlackBerry is calling its third phone planned for fiscal year 2015 the Passport. We've never seen anything quite like it, and we'll let you decide whether that's a good or bad thing.

You know what? I kind of like this thing. It's crazy, unconventional, and it certainly has charm. I'm very curious if I will ever manage to get to handle one - I have yet to even see a BlackBerry 10 device to begin with, sadly.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 19th Jun 2014 23:59 UTC
Legal

The US Supreme Court has made it ever so slightly harder to patent software.

The patent claimed a method of hedging against counter-party risk, which is a fancy word for the risk that you make a deal with someone and later he doesn't uphold his end of the bargain. The Supreme Court unanimously held that you can't patent an abstract concept like this merely by stating that the hedging should be done on a computer. This kind of abstract patent is depressingly common in the software industry, and the CLS ruling will cause lower courts to take a harder look at them.

It's a small victory, but hey, I take whatever I can. Sadly, the SCOTUS also states that "many computer-implemented claims" are still eligible for patent protection, without actually explaining which claims. So, while appending "on a computer" to an obvious abstract concept does not make it patentable, the actual concept of patenting software is still very much allowed.

Even if the SCOTUS had completely abolished software patents, however, we still would have to deal with them for more than a decade - existing software patents would not magically vanish, and would still require lengthy and expensive court cases to be invalidated. Something bullies like Microsoft and Apple can afford easily, while many others cannot.

Sorry for not putting a smile on your face, but reality is reality. Sadly.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 19th Jun 2014 15:28 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

Well, this is interesting. Nokia - and with that I mean the Nokia Microsoft did not buy, but which remained in Finland - has just unveiled its very own Android launcher.

At Nokia we've been thinking about ways to make smartphones easier to use, and there’s one problem we've thought about a lot; how to find stuff right when you need it. Today, people have an average of 48 apps on their phones, and that number is growing. When you add in contacts, web content, and tasks, it's easy to see how tricky our devices have become to use.

[...]

Finding the right app or contact - your Ace of Spades - constantly changes depending on where you are, what you're doing, and what time of day it is. We're introducing a pre-beta version of the Z Launcher to help change this.

They're only distributing it outside of the Play Store for now, and only to a limited set of devices, so it'll be hard to get your hands on it - this is clearly a case of testing the waters. Very interesting to see what this will grow into, or where this came from. Is this, perhaps, the remnant of what Nokia really wanted to do with Android?

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 19th Jun 2014 09:58 UTC
Google

Ever since we first saw ART appear alongside the release of Android 4.4 KitKat, we all knew that it would eventually replace the aging and relatively inefficient Dalvik runtime compiler. Well folks, the time is now upon us, as commits made late last night to the AOSP master branch show Dalvik getting the axe and ART being set as the default.

Should deliver some decent performance improvements. I tried switching to ART months ago but ran into problems with some applications not working properly. Has the situation improved? Are any of you using ART?

 

Linked by Adam S on Wed 18th Jun 2014 18:22 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

At long last, Amazon.com has entered the mobile phone market, as expected. The impressively spec'ed "Fire Phone" stacks up with a 4.7" Gorilla Glass display, a 2.2Ghz CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a 13 Megapixel camera with f/2.0 aperture, certainly very competitive with today's Android flagships. Amazon has, quite wisely, included a number of hardware and software features and services that set it apart from the competition. The Fire Phone also boasts unlimited cloud storage of photos.

The Fire Phone has stereo speakers and a hardware camera button that help it stand out from the crowd. Prime customers? You all get the motherlode of content, so you'll be testing those speakers with access to a million songs recently made available via Amazon Prime Music. And if you're not a Prime member? Gotcha covered! You get one year of Prime for free (existing Prime users are extended a year).

Amazon has included their now-trademark Mayday Button, which provides 24/7 support. While this may seem unnecessary, take for example iOS 8, where there are literally dozens of new features to potentially confuse a user, or Android, where major version jumps change the entire UI of the phone. A dedicated support mechanism is a novel and likely welcome addition to the smart phone lineup.

A new service called Firefly that, much like Shazam, can not only listen, but "see." Optical recognition can help you identify (and subsequently purchase) books, TV shows, movies, games, music, and products. And the best part? There's an API for third parties to tie into it. This is going to be a very interesting feature.

Dynamic Perspective is billed by Amazon as "A custom-designed sensor system that responds to how you hold, view, and move your phone." It looks pretty amazing, and appears to give you not only standard gyroscopic control, but also a unique Z-axis subject distance, making for some very interesting effects and system responses to twisting, tilting, and peeking. You can read more about this feature and get the SDK on the Fire Phone developer's page.

The Fire Phone is available today for pre-order and is exclusive to AT&T, where it is free with AT&T Next, $199 on contract, or $649 off-contract.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 18th Jun 2014 09:31 UTC
Microsoft

Why in the world is Microsoft (through an agency) trying pay bloggers to write about Internet Explorer? Do people still do this? And given my position on paid posts, why would they think I'd be willing to participate?

This is just layers of stupid.

Yes, people still do this. It's always hard to prove, but when you see the same (sometimes word-for-word) pro-Apple, pro-Microsoft, or pro-Google comments show up on multiple sites from different users in a timespan of a few hours or days, you know the coffee ain't pure.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 18th Jun 2014 08:58 UTC
In the News

Nokia paid millions of euros to a blackmailer to protect an encryption key of the Symbian phones. The extortion took place around the end of the year 2007.

The National Bureau of Investigation confirms that the case is still unsolved.

This is very interesting. Aside from the obvious illegal nature of it all, it's quite a clever crime, and the perpetrators were never caught. This makes me wonder if something similar could happen to the mobile operating systems of today.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 18th Jun 2014 08:51 UTC
Privacy, Security, Encryption

A Chinese no-name Galaxy S4 knock-off allegedly comes pre-loaded with spyware:

For the first time ever, the experts at the German security vendor have discovered a smartphone that comes with extensive spyware straight from the factory. The malware is disguised as the Google Play Store and is part of the pre-installed Android apps. The spyware runs in the background and cannot be detected by users. Unbeknownst to the user, the smartphone sends personal data to a server located in China and is able to covertly install additional applications.

The news comes from a security firm, so take it with a grain of salt, but still - this is exactly the kind of stuff legitimate Chinese manufacturers really do not want.

 

Linked by diegocg on Tue 17th Jun 2014 19:18 UTC
Linux

Linux kernel 3.15 has been released. This release resumes much faster in systems with hard disks, it adds support for cross-renaming two files atomically, it adds new fallocate(2) modes that allow to remove the range of a file or set it to zero, it adds a new file locking API, the memory management adapts better to working set size changes, it improves FUSE write performance, it adds support for the LZ4 algorithm in the zram memory compressor, it allows to load 64-bit kernels from 32-bit EFI firmware, it adds support for x86 AVX-512 vector instructions; it also adds new drivers; and many other small improvements. Here's the full list of changes.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 16th Jun 2014 20:13 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes

KnightOS [github] is a third-party Operating System for Texas Instruments z80 calculators. It offers many features over the stock OS, including multitasking and a tree-based filesystem, delivered in a Unix-like environment. KnightOS is written entirely in z80 assembly, with a purpose-built toolchain. Additionally, the KnightOS kernel is standalone, and you can use it as the basis for your own powerful operating systems.

Alternative for this alternative: GlassOS.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 16th Jun 2014 08:34 UTC
Google

To prevent any more of Android's past from being lost to the annals of history, we did what needed to be done. This is 20+ versions of Android, seven devices, and lots and lots of screenshots cobbled together in one space. This is The History of Android, from the very first public builds to the newest version of KitKat.

Very detailed, and a fun read.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 16th Jun 2014 08:32 UTC
Microsoft

A list of hundreds of patents that Microsoft believes entitle it to royalties over Android phones, and perhaps smartphones in general, has been published on a Chinese language website.

The patents Microsoft plans to wield against Android describe a range of technologies. They include lots of technologies developed at Microsoft, as well as patents that Microsoft acquired by participating in the Rockstar Consortium, which spent $4.5 billion on patents that were auctioned off after the Nortel bankruptcy.

These are the secret patents Microsoft's patent mafia uses as a club to beat other companies into paying protection money.

 

Written by Adam S on Thu 12th Jun 2014 23:36 UTC
Android

I am taking the plunge and moving from an iPhone to an Android device. I've been waiting a long time for Android to get to the point that it was fast and responsive enough, with a big enough application warehouse, wide enough support, and a smooth enough experience, to support me. Android is maturing with a consistent, system-wide look-and-feel, almost every major service now has an Android app as the counterpart to its iOS-first experience, and has a bright future with wearables, home automation, and more.

I certainly won't be the first person to change ecosystems entirely. Several have done it before, some looking for change or claim freedom, some aiming to save money, some because someone prompted them, some think they may be conforming by going with the ever-stylish Apple. I am doing it for this reason: for me, Android is now a better platform than iOS.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 11th Jun 2014 20:54 UTC
Google

Quantum Paper is the overarching name for a new, unified design framework intended to make experiences consistent across all platforms. According to information available to us, it represents Google's effort to both create (with Google apps) and encourage consistent, beautiful design that delights across all platforms. Quantum Paper is a hugely ambitious project, looking to unify and codify paradigms for visual, motion, and interaction design across all platforms, including web, Android, and iOS.

Google I/O is going to be very, very interesting.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 11th Jun 2014 14:03 UTC
Mac OS X

HFS+ lost a total of 28 files over the course of 6 years.

Most of the corrupted files are completely unreadable. The JPEGs typically decode partially, up to the point of failure. So if you're lucky, you may get most of the image except the bottom part. The raw .CR2 files usually turn out to be totally unreadable: either completely black or having a large color overlay on significant portions of the photo. Most of these shots are not so important, but a handful of them are. One of the CR2 files in particular, is a very good picture of my son when he was a baby. I printed and framed that photo, so I am glad that I did not lose the original.

If you're keeping all your files and backups on HFS+ volumes, you're doing it wrong.

HFS+ is a weird vestigial pre-OS X leftover that, for some reason, Apple just does not replace. Apple tends to be relentless when it comes to moving on from past code, but HFS+ just refuses to die. As John Siracusa, long-time critic of HFS+, stated way back in 2011:

I would have certainly welcomed ZFS with open arms, but I was equally confident that Apple could create its own file system suited to its particular needs. That confidence remains, but the ZFS distraction may have added years to the timetable.

Three years later, and still nothing, and with Yosemite also shipping with HFS+, it'll take another 1-2 years before we possibly see a new, modern, non-crappy filesystem for OS X. Decades from now, books will be written about this saga.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 10th Jun 2014 19:52 UTC
Google

This system worked fairly well. If an app changed its permission needs, you’d be notified, and could choose whether to accept the update. With the most recent Play Store update, however, users are not told about certain permission changes if they don’t result in the addition of permissions to a new group. Given the sheer breadth of permissions a group now covers, this effectively leaves Android with only 13 permissions. An application can quietly update itself in future, to grant itself access to further permissions within a group, with the user left none the wiser.

Once an app is granted an individual permission within a group, that application has the ability to add any other permissions from the group in a future update, without users being notified of the change.

Oh Google.

Optimist view: Google I/O will bring changes to the permission system wherein the above makes sense. Pessimist view: Google is monumentally stupid.

I'm not an optimist.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 10th Jun 2014 19:42 UTC
Apple

Remember this? Turns out there was more to this rumour than we thought. As Steven Troughton-Smith notes (and yes, you can trust him):

So... just in case there was any doubt left... iOS 8's SpringBoard has code to run two apps side-by-side. 1/4 size, 1/2 size, or 3/4 size

With Apple pushing developers to use Auto Layout as hard as they can, we can pretty much assume that yes, multiwindow is coming to iOS. Note, though, that this is not a Windows 8 or Samsung or whatever feature - multiwindow is as old as the graphical user interface itself. It will be a great addition to future iOS releases, and I can't wait until Android implements multiwindow as well.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 9th Jun 2014 22:33 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

It's a holiday in The Netherlands today, so I'm a bit late with this, but Jolla has released another Sailfish update today, and it's a big one. The headline feature of the new update is that it enables the phone's 4G support for all countries. So, if you have 4G, your Jolla phone will now use it. The hardware was obviously available from the beginning, but it was never enabled until now.

Aside from 4G, this update packs a whole lot more - most importantly, it fixes a major annoyance with the Sailfish browser. The browser did not keep its tab contents in memory, so each time you switched to a tab, the page had to be reloaded. This has now been addressed, and tabs stay in memory properly.

These are just two of the many, many improvements, new features, and bug fixes in this update. Us Sailfish users know where to get it.