Control Panel isn’t dead yet – but the System applet is looking nervous

You may have seen dark rumors around the Web that Microsoft is about to kill off the classic Control Panel. Rest assured, friend, we were as horrified as you are—but on more careful inspection, this seems not to be the case.

That’s one of the many downsides of being at the mercy of closed operating systems like Windows or macOS – as a user, you’re not really in control, and your platform landlords can decide to remove vital functionality or features on a whim, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

If you haven’t done so yet, I’d highly suggest start looking at open source alternatives before it’s too late, because I feel the noose is only going to tighten more, not less.

The exFAT filesystem is coming to Linux – Paragon software’s not happy about it

Ars Technica reports on a story from the early 2000s 2020:

When software and operating system giant Microsoft announced its support for inclusion of the exFAT filesystem directly into the Linux kernel back in August, it didn’t get a ton of press coverage. But filesystem vendor Paragon Software clearly noticed this month’s merge of the Microsoft-approved, largely Samsung-authored version of exFAT into the VFS for-next repository, which will in turn merge into Linux 5.7—and Paragon doesn’t seem happy about it.

Yesterday, Paragon issued a press release about European gateway-modem vendor Sagemcom adopting its version of exFAT into an upcoming series of Linux-based routers. Unfortunately, it chose to preface the announcement with a stream of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Steve Ballmer’s letterhead in the 1990s.

This is some “get the facts” level of tripe. You’d think that in 2020, we’d be spared this sort of nonsense, and I’m sad I’m even spending precious bits on this one – but at least we get the name of Paragon out so you can avoid them like the plague.

AMD uses DMCA to mitigate massive GPU source code leak

AMD has filed at least two DMCA notices against Github repos that carried “stolen” source code relating to AMD’s Navi and Arden GPUs, the latter being the processor for the upcoming Xbox Series X. The person claiming responsibility for the leak informs TorrentFreak that if they doesn’t get a buyer for the remainder of the code, they will dump the whole lot online.

I’d love to hear the backstory behind this hack. For a company like AMD, such a hack must’ve been an inside job, right? While I know I shouldn’t be surprised anymore by just how lacking security can be at even the most prominent technology companies, I just can’t imagine it being very easy to get your hands on this documentation and code without some form of inside help.

MIPS Loongson 3 seeing support improvements with Linux 5.7

For those managing to get their hands on a recently released Loongson 3A4000/3B4000 or even older Loongson 3 MIPS64 processors, improving the support is on the way with the upcoming Linux 5.7 kernel.

Queued as part of the MIPS architecture work for Linux 5.7 are a number of Loongson improvements, in particular for the Loongson 3 series.

The Loongson processors are pretty much impossible to come by outside of China, and gained some fame as the platform of choice for Richard Stallman.

Apple releases macOS 10.15.4, watchOS 6.2, and iOS, iPadOS and tvOS 13.4

Apple has released macOS 10.15.4, watchOS 6.2, and iOS, iPadOS and tvOS 13.4.

Earlier today, Apple continued its tradition of updating all of its operating systems at once. The day brought major new feature releases to iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. The iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS updates are numbered 13.4, Apple Watches got watchOS 6.2, and Macs saw the release of macOS Catalina 10.15.4.

You know where to get them.

Living a Google-free life with a Huawei phone

Ever wondered what’s it like to run Android without Google’s services and applications? Well, get a Huawei device.

A smartphone UI isn’t much use without apps, of course, and here is where Huawei hits its first hurdle. Huawei has its own store called AppGallery, which it claims is the third largest in the world based on its more than 400 million monthly active users. The vast majority of those users will be in China, of course, where the Google Play Store has never been included alongside AppGallery. If you buy a Mate 30 Pro now anywhere in the world, though, AppGallery is what you get out of the box.

To be blunt, it is not great. I wouldn’t call it barren — there is support from major US companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Snap. You can’t get Chrome, of course, but Opera is there if you want something with desktop sync. But a huge amount of its content is aimed at China, with other big Western names like Facebook, Slack, Netflix, and Twitter missing, which puts the Mate 30 Pro in a more precarious app situation than even the diciest days of Windows Phone. Huawei has announced a $1 billion plan to help stock AppGallery’s shelves, but it has its work cut out.

A bigger problem is that even if you can get popular applications installed, they often won’t work properly because the device lacks the Google Mobile Services. It’s an incredibly hard situation for Huawei to be in.

Chrome phasing out support for user agent

Google announced its decision to drop support for the User-Agent string in its Chrome browser. Instead, Chrome will offer a new API called Client Hints that will give the user greater control over which information is shared with websites.

We’ve talked about this earlier this year, but I want to highlight it again since it’s very important this initiative doesn’t devolve into Google and Chrome shoving this alternative down the web’s throat. Deprecating user agent strings is a good thing, but only if the replacement is a collective effort supported by everyone.

Apple just killed offline web apps while purporting to protect your privacy [updated: not really]

Update: the WebKit blog post has been updated with a clarification:

Web applications added to the home screen are not part of Safari and thus have their own counter of days of use. Their days of use will match actual use of the web application which resets the timer. We do not expect the first-party in such a web application to have its website data deleted.

That’s definitely a relief, and good thing they cleared this up.

Original continues below:

On the face of it, WebKit’s announcement yesterday titled Full Third-Party Cookie Blocking and More sounds like something I would wholeheartedly welcome. Unfortunately, I can’t because the “and more” bit effectively kills off Offline Web Apps and, with it, the chance to have privacy-respecting apps like the prototype I was exploring earlier in the year based on DAT.

Block all third-party cookies, yes, by all means. But deleting all local storage (including Indexed DB, etc.) after 7 days effectively blocks any future decentralised apps using the browser (client side) as a trusted replication node in a peer-to-peer network. And that’s a huge blow to the future of privacy.

I’m sure that’s entirely a coincidence for a company that wants to force everyone to use their App Store, the open web be damned.

Apple CarPlay, Android Auto distract drivers more than pot, alcohol, says study

When Apple CarPlay and Android Auto first started rolling out, initial evidence suggested these technologies held promise to reduce distracted driving. These systems funneled the most important features from our phones onto the infotainment screen, curbing motorists’ desire to reach for their handhelds.

Yet, it looks like these mirroring technologies may not be nearly as safe as initially hoped. A new study from the UK’s IAM Roadsmart, an independent road safety organization, paints a far bleaker picture. The stark findings showed that drivers using one of the smartphone mirroring systems in a car displayed reaction times slower than someone who’d used cannabis. In fact, these motorists’ reaction times were five times slower than someone driving with the legal limit of alcohol in their system.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone with more than two braincells to rub together. These systems are based on touch screen technology, and touchscreens without any tactility are simply not suited for use while operating a motor vehicle. Touchscreens are far more distracting than plain old tactile buttons in a fixed order that you learn over time and can feel, and it blows my mind that no safety regulations heavily curtailing their use to parked situations has been enacted just yet.

The Counterpoint program launcher

The Counterpoint program launcher was supplied with the Amstrad PC5086 and other Amstrad PCs from that era. It acts as a user-friendly front end, replacing the full GUIs (Windows 2.0, or GEM) supplied with previous models.

The Amstrad-branded version opens with a warning that it should only be used on Amstrad computers. However it appears to run successfully in non-Amstrad environments, such as the virtual machine used to make these screenshots.

I love discovering user interfaces I’ve never known about this before, and this one fits the bill just right. Wild UI experimentation was the norm during the late ’80s and early ’90s, before we all settled on what we’re all using now. Digging into the past and learning from even relatively obscure footnotes such as these is fascinating.

Android 11 Preview 2 hands-on: more polish and a new install method

It came out much later in March than we expected, but yesterday Google launched the second developer preview for Android 11, the next big version of Android due out at the end of the year. Despite the coronavirus disrupting just about every part of normal life, Google posted the same schedule it did with Preview 1, indicating that the plan is still to have a preview release every month.

Anyway, here are the important new things in this release.

As always, an excellent look at the new features by Ars. We’re still early on in Android 11’s development cycle, though, so everything is still very much subject to change.

Microsoft teases new File Explorer, Start Menu for Windows 10

We have seen earlier that Microsoft’s designers are working on a new Start Menu for Windows 10 (not Windows 10X) and now Panos Panay has posted a video celebrating 1 billion Windows 10 installations which appears to confirm that the changes and more are on the way.

There’s finally hopefully going to be a modern replacement for Explorer, and context menus seem to be modern and thus consistent too. The already mentioned updated Stert menu is coming, too.

Announcing DirectX 12 Ultimate

From the team that has brought PC and Console gamers the latest in graphics innovation for nearly 25 years, we are beyond pleased to bring gamers DirectX 12 Ultimate, the culmination of the best graphics technology we’ve ever introduced in an unprecedented alignment between PC and Xbox Series X.

When gamers purchase PC graphics hardware with the DX12 Ultimate logo or an Xbox Series X, they can do so with the confidence that their hardware is guaranteed to support ALL next generation graphics hardware features, including DirectX Raytracing, Variable Rate Shading, Mesh Shaders and Sampler Feedback. This mark of quality ensures stellar “future-proof” feature support for next generation games!

That’s some Vista-era name right there.

Inside PlayStation 5: the specs and the tech that deliver Sony’s next-gen vision

Sony has broken its silence. PlayStation 5 specifications are now out in the open with system architect Mark Cerny delivering a deep dive presentation into the nature of the new hardware and the ways in which we should expect a true generational leap over PlayStation 4. Digital Foundry had the chance to watch the lecture a couple of days ahead of time and had the opportunity to talk to Cerny in more depth afterwards about the nature of the custom PlayStation hardware and the philosophy behind its design.

And just as with the Xbox Series X, specifications are meaningless without the games to back them up.

Apple releases iOS, iPadOS 13.4 with cursor support, new iPad Pro with touchpad

Apple today released the golden master version of iOS and iPadOS 13.4, the latest major updates to the iOS 13 operating system that was released in September. The iOS and ‌iPadOS‌ 13.4 GMs come after a little over a month of beta testing.

The biggest new feature – which is accompanied by new iPad Pro devices and a keyboard with trackpad – is mouse support in iPadOS. The cool thing here is that Apple’s iOS cursor – a dot, so not an arrow – is a thing of marvel, and it does some really neat tricks that you won’t find anywhere else.

When you hover over a tappable button, the pointer disappears and instead you get a hover-state highlight around the button. Hover over an app icon in the Dock or on your homescreen, and instead of seeing the mouse pointer on top of the icon, you see a highlight around the icon, much like the way icons are popped on tvOS. When text editing, the cursor changes to an I-beam, of course, but it’s an all-new I-beam cursor, not the one you get in iOS while using the on-screen keyboard as a virtual trackpad (after a tap-and-hold on the spacebar or two-finger tap-and-drag on the key area). This new I-beam cursor is smart. It adjusts to the size of the text you’re editing — if you’re editing 16-point text you’ll get a smaller cursor; if you’re editing 48-point text you’ll get a larger cursor. (Lo these 35+ years after the original Macintosh, it suddenly strikes me as a bit silly that the I-beam cursor stays small even when editing very large text.) The new iPadOS I-beam cursor also is aware of where lines are in text fields, and “snaps” to the line.

There seem to be a lot of small little niceties here that seem so obvious once you see them in action. It’s really cool stuff, and I can’t wait to try it out.

Marvell cranks up cores and clocks with “Triton” ThunderX3

Arm server chip upstart Ampere Computing made a big splash with its 80-core “Quicksilver” Altra processor two weeks ago, and Marvell, which is the volume leader in Arm server chips with its “Vulcan” ThunderX2 processors (largely inherited from its acquisition of Broadcom’s Arm server chip assets), is hitting back with some revelations about its future “Triton” ThunderX3 chip and its roadmap out beyond that.

Competition in the ARM server space is really heating up.

Google halts Chrome and Chrome OS releases to ensure stability during pandemic

Due to adjusted work schedules at this time, we are pausing upcoming Chrome and Chrome OS releases. Our primary objectives are to ensure they continue to be stable, secure, and work reliably for anyone who depends on them. We’ll continue to prioritize any updates related to security, which will be included in Chrome 80.

Basically, Google wants to ensure the stability of Chrome and Chrome OS now that a lot of people are working from home due to the pandemic. Good call.