Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 2nd Oct 2015 16:45 UTC

I've spent the past couple of days desperately trying to puzzle out the purpose behind Google's newly announced Nexus 5X and 6P smartphones. Unlike predecessors such as the Nexus One and Nexus 5, these phones don't have a clear reason for being, and are not in themselves terribly unique. That's led me (and others) to question Google's overall aim with the Nexus line of pure Android smartphones, and I think I've finally arrived at an answer. The Nexus program is not so much about carrier independence or purity of Android design as it is about presenting Google in an overwhelmingly positive light. In other words, Google, the ultimate ad seller, sells Nexus phones as ads for itself.

This article feels a bit like a trainwreck to me. It just doesn't make any sense. Of course Nexus devices are built specifically to put Android and Google's services on a pedestal - has anyone ever claimed otherwise? Has anyone ever seen them as anything but? The tone of the article also tries to somehow posit this as a negative thing, which I don't understand either. Some of the very best Android phones of all time have been Nexus phones, so aren't they a great thing for us consumers? What's the problem here?

Making Android profitable for Android phone makers is one of the great challenges of our time. We're all better off when we buy things from sustainable companies that we know will still be around when we have an issue months or years down the line. I wish Google would recognize that and try to do more to support Android as a whole rather than just its own good name. Nexus devices have in the past and can still serve nobler purposes than just making Google look good.

No, it's not. The goal of Android is to reach as many people as possible, and do so in a way that benefits us as consumers as much as possible. Expensive Android devices with 50% profit margins don't benefit us at all - they just allow major corporations to suck money out the economy and shadily funnel it to foreign tax havens. We benefit from access to high-quality phones at reasonable prices running Android-proper - and anything that pushes the Samsungs and HTCs of this world to do so is a huge win for consumers.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 1st Oct 2015 08:55 UTC
Mac OS X

With El Capitan released, there's one 'feature' that really needs to be highlighted - for better or worse.

System Integrity Protection (SIP, sometimes referred to as rootless) is a security feature of OS X El Capitan, the operating system by Apple Inc. It protects certain system processes, files and folders from being modified or tampered with by other processes even when executed by the root user or by a user with root privileges (sudo). Apple says that the root user can be a significant risk factor to the system's security, especially on systems with a single user account on which that user is also the administrator. System Integrity Protection is enabled by default, but can be disabled.

Here's Apple's WWDC presentation about SIP, and here's the Ars review's section about it.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 30th Sep 2015 23:45 UTC, submitted by jonsmirl

Google and Microsoft have agreed to end their long-running patent feud over smartphones and video game systems, dropping about 20 lawsuits in the U.S. and Germany.

The two companies, which didn't disclose financial terms, have been litigating over technology innovations for five years. Google's former Motorola Mobility unit had been demanding royalties on the Xbox video-gaming system, and Microsoft had sought to block Motorola mobile phones from using certain features.

If you've been paying attention, you know why this is taking place now.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 30th Sep 2015 20:10 UTC
Internet & Networking

An interesting website that lets you go back in time, to see what the island of Manhattan looked like before it was appropriated by the Dutch and turned into New Amsterdam (now New York, of course). The native forest, streams, pond - they're all gone, obviously, and quite a bit of land was 'added' to the island to accommodate the city's needs (quite fitting, considering its founders).

Have you ever wondered what New York was like before it was a city? Find out here, by navigating through the map of the city in 1609. You can find your block, explore the native landscape of today's famous landmarks, research the flora and fauna block by block, and help our team continue to rediscover 1609.

A few weeks ago, in honour of the 200 year anniversary of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, the Dutch Kadaster and Topografisch Bureau (do I really need to translate that?) launched a fantastic website showing how much The Netherlands has changed over just the past 200 years. The site shows a Google Maps-like interface containing all topographical maps of the country made over the past 200 years, so you can navigate around the country and use the timeline slider to see when changes took place. Compare the Zuiderzee area in 1815 to the same area (now IJsselmeer) today, and it's completely different (we're basically just removing all the water and reclaiming all the land to bring us back to how it was 2000 years ago).

Even at the very local level, you can find really interesting things. If you ever wanted a clear image of the absolutely devastating effect the government policy of "ruilverkaveling" (land swap) and the '70s ideals of the "malleable society" in its most literal form had on the landscape of The Netherlands (and who doesn't, right?), look no further than this 1973 map of my hometown/area. You can clearly see what it used to look like (the messy part), and the straight, ordered, boring, and artificial nothingness they turned it into. A few years later, the last remaining "old" landscape was destroyed, and now it all looks straight and orderly.

This was all done to maximise agricultural production and make it easier for local, provincial and the national government to initiate new construction projects. It also allowed water management engineers to completely redesign our water management, which is kind of important in the western half of the country, since it consists almost entirely out of polders.

I love how computers and the web can bring the old and the new together like this, and visualise so well something you otherwise would never be able to get this clear an image of.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 30th Sep 2015 19:35 UTC

Microsoft said a highly suspicious Windows update that was delivered to customers around the world was the result of a test that wasn't correctly implemented.

"We incorrectly published a test update and are in the process of removing it," a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to Ars. The message included no other information.

The explanation came more than 12 hours after people around the world began receiving the software bulletin through the official Windows Update, raising widespread speculation that Microsoft's automatic patching mechanism was broken or, worse, had been compromised to attack end users. Fortunately, now that Microsoft has finally weighed in, that worst-case scenario can be ruled out.

I'd be terrified if I had seen this.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 30th Sep 2015 19:33 UTC
Mac OS X

All the reviews are already published, but today, Apple also actually, you know, released OS X El Capitan.

OS X El Capitan, the latest version of the Mac operating system, builds on the groundbreaking features and beautiful design introduced in OS X Yosemite, refining the experience and improving performance in lots of ways that you’ll enjoy everyday.

Y'all know where to get it!


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 29th Sep 2015 22:52 UTC
Mac OS X

Sadly no longer written by John Siracusa, but still a good read: Ars' Max OS X El Capitan review.

Really, this is the first time in several years that iOS and OS X have felt like they've gotten (and needed) the same amount of attention from Apple - both get to spend a release in the slow lane as Apple puts its marketing muscle behind newer platforms like the Apple Watch and the new Apple TV. Like iOS 9 (and Mountain Lion, and Snow Leopard), El Capitan is about refinement. Yosemite's big statement was "This is what OS X looks like now." El Capitan's is a relatively meek "Hey, I have a couple neat tricks to show you."


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 29th Sep 2015 22:50 UTC

They all got leaked, so you probably knew everything going in, but today, Google unveiled its new Nexus phones, two new Chromecasts, and the Pixel C. The Nexus 5X is built by LG and really looks and feels like a Nexus 5 successor (sadly not available in the colour of my Nexus 5: orange-red-I-still-don't-know-oh-my-god-my-eyes-are-burning). Its bigger sister, the Nexus 6P, features an all-metal construction, a larger display with far more pixels, and a better camera - in fact, this could very well be the first Nexus with a camera that doesn't suck.

They both sport fingerprint sensors, big batteries, and, of course, run Android 6.0 Marshmallow (Android 6.0 will be released for other Nexus devices over the coming weeks). The 16GB Nexus 5X is available for $379, while the 32GB Nexus 6P starts at $499. You can opt for more storage, too, if you wish. They'll be available in October.

The Pixel C was a bit of a surprise to me, but apparently, it was also leaked, so the rest of the world wasn't as surprised as I was. It's a really premium 10.2" Android tablet, with a magnetically detachable keyboard - yes, my friends, after Apple, this is Google's stab at a Surface clone. Thanks to the clever keyboard, this is, actually, the Android 'PC' I've always wanted - I know there are tons of Android laptops and convertibles out there, but I refuse to buy non-Nexus for obvious reasons.

Sadly, though, it doesn't seem like there's any special software work being done on Android to facilitate the more laptop-like design of the Pixel C. While Apple made sure to copy Metro's multiwindow implementation verbatim for its own Surface clone, Google doesn't seem to have done so for the Pixel C. There's no side-by-side stuff, no multiple windows, nothing. Some groundwork for multiwindow was laid in Marshmallow, but it was nowhere near final state and probably won't make it to Android until a future release.

Speaking of future releases: the Pixel C will be getting updates every six weeks. Yes. An Android device with updates every six weeks. It'll set you back $499 for just the tablet, and the Bluetooth, magnetic keyboard, which is charged inductively via the tablet itself and can run on a single charge for two months, will set you back another $149. It'll be available later this year.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 28th Sep 2015 23:22 UTC

Customer Match is a new product designed to help you reach your highest-value customers on Google Search, YouTube, and Gmail - when it matters most. Customer Match allows you to upload a list of email addresses, which can be matched to signed-in users on Google in a secure and privacy-safe way. From there, you can build campaigns and ads specifically designed to reach your audience.

So I have this crazy, revolutionary idea that could change everything. You ready? You sitting tight?

I'd pay for Google services to not have ads and tracking.

Here's some water for the shock.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 28th Sep 2015 23:10 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

When was the last time that you used a floppy disk? While still used as the save icon in modern software packages like Microsoft's Office suite, it's unusual to see one out in the wild. Given that a typical floppy disk offers up a minuscule 1.44MB of space - not even enough to house a three-minute pop song in MP3 format - there's seemingly no reason for these disks to stay in circulation.

But while the average user might not have any cause to use a floppy disk, there are those out there who can't settle for anything else. They're in dire need of the disks, which most manufacturers have stopped producing. The floppy disk might seem like something better left in the 1990s. Instead it's a product that's alive and well in the 21st century.

When my friends and I were in the US late last year, we got into an accident with our rental car - an old and kind Canadian lady rear-ended us while doing 110kph on the I-89 near the town of Lebanon, New Hampshire. The accident was entirely her fault, so she accepted all responsibility, the state trooper made an incident report, and sent us on our way to the nearest Avis office so we could get a new car, because the car's rear end was all mangled up. We were a bit shaken up, but luckily, nobody got hurt, and the Canadian lady bought us a bottle of maple syrup, and I bought a cheesy Vermont baseball cap to commemorate our grand adventure of meeting a state trooper.

In any event, it turned out the nearest Avis office was at the Lebanon Municipal Airport, an absolutely amazing place that seemed frozen in time - a tiny airport with an adorable terminal and sliding doors leading straight to the runway. Mildly condescending adjectives like 'adorable', 'quaint', 'cute', and 'darling' don't do this place justice. In the terminal, while we waited for one of two airport employees present to fill out some paperwork, I noticed something remarkable: there, in the middle of the terminal, next to an old soda machine, sat an old TTY, a Minicom IV.

Much like the TTY, the answer to the question of old technology lingering around is always the same: because it works.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 28th Sep 2015 23:09 UTC

Microsoft posted a blog post today about Windows 10's data collection and privacy, and Ars Technica's Peter Bright dissected it.

The second category is personalization data, the things Windows - and especially Cortana - knows regarding what your handwriting looks like, what your voice sounds like, which sports teams you follow, and so on. Nothing is changing here. Microsoft says that users are in control, but our own testing suggests that the situation is murkier. Even when set to use the most private settings, there is unexpected communication between Windows 10 and Microsoft. We continue to advocate settings that are both clearer and stricter in their effect.

Microsoft's got a trust problem.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 27th Sep 2015 22:45 UTC

AnandTech's conclusion:

It's probably not surprising to hear that iOS 9 is better than iOS 8. On the iPhone I think iOS 9 brings along many smaller improvements throughout the OS, along with new APIs that developers can implement to improve the user experience. There are definitely some big changes such as the addition of Apple News and Transit in Apple Maps, but these are again just strengthening the core services of iOS rather than adding incredible new abilities and features. iOS 9 is definitely a huge release for the iPad though, and because I've been limited to Apple's own applications I've only been able to scratch the surface of what capabilities the new multitasking features can enable. I think the iPad definitely deserved a major release that focused on it though, and it's clear that Apple has had many of these changes in the pipeline for quite some time now.

In the end, iOS 9 offers something new and great for all iOS users, and particularly those who use an iPad. With Apple expanding their portfolio of iOS devices and implementing new features like 3D Touch there are a number of directions they could go in with future releases of iOS, and only time will tell which direction they choose.

Seems like a great release all around, but I don't think there's anything in there that will make people jump ship - in that sense, it's a lot like Android M.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 27th Sep 2015 22:42 UTC

When Windows 10 was first announced, one of the first questions was would this upgrade be available for Windows RT devices running on ARM based platforms. The answer was no, but Microsoft said that it would bring some of the functionality of Windows 10 to Windows RT users though an update sometime after Windows 10 shipped. Apparently that day was yesterday, as Microsoft pushed out patch KB3033055 which enables the Windows 10 style Start Menu in Windows RT.

I'm sure my Surface RT is brimming with excitement. In storage. Somewhere. I don't even know.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 27th Sep 2015 22:40 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

Yesterday at the Maker Faire in New York, we had a chance to check out the Rephone, a clever little project that comprises a bunch of modules that let you cobble together your own tiny little cell phone. Actually, making a cute little cardboard-encased phone is the least interesting thing aboutt the Rephone kit. The group behind it, Seeed Studio, has made dozens of modules and an SDK that enables you to build out nearly any sort of cellular-based gadget you can imagine. They've strapped it on a dog collar so you can locate your dog (or just call him to come home). They've strapped it to a kite to provide you with real-time telemetry. They've strapped it to a door, a lamp, and (uh), a table.

Really cool stuff.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 27th Sep 2015 22:38 UTC

Together, we will make it easy for Baidu customers to upgrade to Windows 10 and we will deliver a custom experience for customers in China, providing local browsing and search experiences. will become the default homepage and search for the Microsoft Edge browser in Windows 10. Baidu's new Windows 10 distribution channel, Baidu "Windows 10 Express" will make it easy for Chinese Internet users to download an official Windows 10 experience. Additionally, Baidu will deliver Universal Windows Applications for Search, Video, Cloud and Maps for Windows 10.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 25th Sep 2015 22:59 UTC

Google Inc. is back under U.S. antitrust scrutiny as officials ask whether the tech giant stifled competitors' access to its Android mobile-operating system, said two people familiar with the matter.

The Federal Trade Commission reached an agreement with the Justice Department to spearhead an investigation of Google’s Android business, the people said. FTC officials have met with technology company representatives who say Google gives priority to its own services on the Android platform, while restricting others, added the people, who asked for anonymity because the matter is confidential.

We all know who these "technology company representatives" are. Remember "Fair"search?

That being said, the more investigations into technology giants, the better.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 25th Sep 2015 20:24 UTC
Internet & Networking

Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people's online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs.

The mass surveillance operation - code-named KARMA POLICE - was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. It was just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom's electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.

Severed pig's head.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 25th Sep 2015 18:54 UTC

Google doesn't hold a monopoly over the entire smartphone market, and it doesn't have the same level of influence globally. But in the two areas where its Android operations have aroused regulatory scrutiny, the United States and Europe, Google enjoys a practical stranglehold over the mobile operating system market - thanks to Apple's non-participation and Microsoft's chronic failure to compete. It's arguable that other tech giants, such as Apple and Amazon, are better subjects for antitrust investigations, but US and European authorities are right to at least consider the circumstances of Google's relationship with its hardware partners.

I don't know if Google has a monopoly over the phone market - and neither do you, because the laws regarding monopolies are ambiguous, incredibly complex, and differ per jurisdiction and sometimes even per sector - but I do know that as far as I can tell, Google isn't blocking anyone from shipping Windows Phone devices, nor is it stopping developers from publishing applications for other platforms or even in other Android application stores, nor does it stop anyone from taking Android's code and building something that competes with it (see China and Amazon, for instance).

In fact, we should thank Google for building and releasing Android, because without it, iOS would've evolved a lot slower, we'd have less choice, and we could've even been stuck with just iOS and something from Microsoft - much like on the desktop.

That being said - I'm always in favour of keeping very close tabs on powerful companies like this, and in my view, the Microsofts, Googles, and Apples of this world should always be kept an eye on. Better yet, in an ideal world, all code in our computers and mobile phones should be open - from operating system to firmware - because of how crucial they've become to our society, but alas, that will never happen because reasons.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 24th Sep 2015 20:53 UTC

Eyeo is now reaching out to developers of other ad-blocking tools to cut deals that allow certain ads to pass ads through their filters, too, in exchange for payment. Mr. Murphy said he has taken Eyeo up on its offer, and plans to implement an option within his app whereby “acceptable” ads will be displayed to users. The feature will be switched on by default, Mr. Murphy said, and he will receive a flat monthly fee from Eyeo in return. Mr. Murphy declined to disclose the fee, but said he expects to make less money from Eyeo’s payments than from sales of the app itself.

So, they sell their ad-blocker in the App Store, and then double-dip by also effectively allowing ad brokers to sell ads to him. Kind of scummy.


Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 24th Sep 2015 15:40 UTC

Microsoft Windows is the dominant operating system in China, but the government is trying to encourage homegrown replacements. The most popular one is called NeoKylin. We gave it a whirl to see how the hottest China-made OS looks and feels.

Exactly what you'd expect.