Thom Holwerda Archive

Blizzard failed to make a stand for anything but China and money

Ng Wai “Blitzchung” Chung is a professional Hearthstone player who supported the protests happening in Hong Kong against China during a post-win interview for the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament on Sunday. Hearthstone publisher Blizzard Entertainment responded with a harsh punishment, banning Blitzchung from the digital card game’s esports for a year and taking his prize money from Grandmasters. Blizzard also says it will no longer work with the two casters who covered the event, who literally ducked behind their desk when Blitzchung voiced his support for Honk Kong’s protest. Usually, players are banned from Blizzard esports for cheating. But Blitzchung did not cheat. Blizzard is partially owned by the Chinese company Tencent, and the Chinese market is hugely important for the game maker – as such, it does not want to offend the Chinese government. Like the NBA, yet another American enterprise subjected to Chinese censorship.

Collapse O: bootstrap post-collapse technology

I expect our global supply chain to collapse before we reach 2030. With this collapse, we won’t be able to produce most of our electronics because it depends on a very complex supply chain that we won’t be able to achieve again for decades (ever?). Among these scavenged parts are microcontrollers, which are especially powerful but need complex tools (often computers) to program them. Computers, after a couple of decades, will break down beyond repair and we won’t be able to program microcontrollers any more. To avoid this fate, we need to have a system that can be designed from scavenged parts and program microcontrollers. We also need the generation of engineers that will follow us to be able to create new designs instead of inheriting a legacy of machines that they can’t recreate and barely maintain. This is where Collapse OS comes in. That’s one way to introduce an operating system. This is a very unique project aimed at creating an operating system that can run on microcontrollers and which can self-replicate.

macOS Catalina: the MacStories review

macOS Catalina has been reviewed, and taking over from John Siracusa’s legendary Mac OS X reviews at Ars Technica is MacStories. The Mac isn’t in crisis, but it isn’t healthy either. Waiting until the Mac is on life support isn’t viable. Instead, Apple has opted to reimagine the Mac in the context of today’s computing landscape before its survival is threatened. The solution is to tie macOS more closely to iOS and iPadOS, making it an integrated point on the continuum of Apple’s devices that respects the hardware differences of the platform but isn’t different simply for the sake of difference. Transitions are inherently messy, and so is Catalina in places. It’s a work in process that represents the first steps down a new path, not the destination itself. The destination isn’t clear yet, but Catalina’s purpose is: it’s a bridge, not an island. You know where to get Catalina, but it might be a good idea to wait a few point releases before diving in.

Apple hides Taiwan flag in Hong Kong

The change, first discovered by iOS Developer Hiraku Wang, means that users with an iOS device region set to Hong Kong will see one less flag on the emoji keyboard than if the region is set to anywhere else in the world (other than China mainland, which also hides this flag). Notably, the emoji 🇹🇼 Flag: Taiwan is still supported by iOS in Hong Kong. As of iOS 13.1.2, released last week, this is now hidden from the emoji keyboard but remains available by other means. Geopolitics on your emoji keyboard.

What the heck is Windows 10X?

If we consult years of insider whispers about Microsoft’s alleged internal strategy for Windows, many from The Verge’s own Tom Warren, there’s a simple reason why you shouldn’t care whether Windows 10X ships on just a few devices or thousands. That’s because Windows 10X is likely just a modular shell that gives the core Windows operating system a new user interface to do the tricks you see in these videos. And it all comes back to the philosophical question of what “Windows” really is now. As Tom and fellow reporters have discovered, Microsoft has been building a new Windows Core OS (WCOS) that will serve as the new modular backbone of Windows. It can be paired with a different user interface for different types of displays by adapting what Microsoft’s calling a Composable Shell, or CShell (say it out loud), to each new interface. I hope Microsoft will eventually give users the choice to switch between the various shells whenever they so desire. And if not – the community will take care of it.

Windows Phone was never on the table for Microsoft’s new Surface Duo smartphone

Those dual-screened experiences Panay describes are just as reliant on the software working well as they are on the two screens existing side by side. And that’s where Android comes in. At some point Microsoft determined that if you can’t beat them, you need to join them and try your darnedest to differentiate. It will attempt to make Microsoft apps the best Microsoft apps you can get on an Android device. When I ask him if he ever considered reviving a Windows mobile OS, Panay says no. Twice. And he says it firmly. “At the end of the day, where the applications sit today, the opportunity that people have already leaned into, that developers have already taken advantage of—it’s right there. And there’s a reality to that. To ignore that would be silly.” Of course they never considered using Windows for a mobile phone. That ship has sailed, crashed, and sunk, and the market just isn’t open to any new entrants, as the lack of response to this change.org petition illustrates.

Attorney general Bill Barr will ask Zuckerberg to halt plans for end-to-end encryption across Facebook’s apps

Attorney General Bill Barr, along with officials from the United Kingdom and Australia, is set to publish an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking the company to delay plans for end-to-end encryption across its messaging services until it can guarantee the added privacy does not reduce public safety. A draft of the letter, dated Oct. 4, is set to be released alongside the announcement of a new data-sharing agreement between law enforcement in the US and the UK; it was obtained by BuzzFeed News ahead of its publication. The forces are closing in on end-to-end encryption, and with the bizarre constitutional crises both the US and the UK are experiencing, I would be even more worried about this than I’d be under normal circumstances.

Chrome for Windows on ARM is ready, but Google isn’t releasing it

I’ve heard this from multiple sources now, and it was confirmed again at yesterday’s Microsoft event, where the company announced the ARM-based Surface Pro X. What’s unclear is why Google isn’t releasing Chrome for ARM64. There seems to be some kind of disagreement between Google and one of the other companies involved (either Qualcomm or Microsoft), and last I heard, it will likely be resolved some time in the February timeframe. At this point this doesn’t seem to matter much – how many ARM Windows 10 devices are out there, really – but with Microsoft really going all-in on ARM now, it’ll really want this issue resolved quickly.

Hong Kong protest safety app banned from iOS store

Apple has banned an app that allows people in Hong Kong to keep track of protests and police activity in the city state, claiming such information is illegal. “Your app contains content – or facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity – that is not legal … specifically, the app allowed users to evade law enforcement,” the American tech giant told makers of the HKmap Live on Tuesday before pulling it. Apple has made defense of citizens’ rights a key differentiator in its technology and painted itself as a business that will stand up to unreasonable requests by the authorities who wish to use its technology to bypass current laws – in the US at least. That Cupertino chose to ban the app without discussing the issue with the app’s developers and has given a very limited, and quite possibly incorrect, explanation as to why, has infuriated many. Is anybody really surprised by this? Apple is entirely beholden to the genocidal, oppressive, totalitarian Chinese regime, and they care more about money than they do about human lives, as was recently evidenced by their entirely tone-deaf response to the iPhone 0days that were used to aid in the Uighur genocide. Insular American and European media and Apple bloggers aid in maintaining this facade, and are complicit in Apple’s unwavering support of the murderous Chinese regime. Day in day out, Apple shows its true face, and every single time, American and European media and westerners act all surprised. When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

MorphOS 3.12 released

This new version introduces brand new dual-monitor capabilities to various Powerbook laptops as well as G5 desktop systems, and features improved thermal management, fan control and dynamic CPU frequency switching, which provide increased energy efficiency and reduced noise levels. Additionally, the Helios Firewire stack has been fully integrated into the core OS and we added support for hundreds of modern printers and scanners. Furthermore, the Odyssey web browser has been upgraded and now utilizes newer and more modern components for handling connections, encryption, spell-checking, and low-level drawing operations. Plus, it features a redesigned and more adaptive user interface. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as reading through the release notes reveals a massive number of changes, improvements, and fixes. It’s definitely time to dust off my MorphOS 17″ PowerBook G4 and get this new release up and running.

Apple’s default iPhone apps give it growing edge over App Store rivals

When consumers fire up the latest iPhones for the first time in the coming weeks, they’ll find the device brimming with Apple Inc.’s home-grown apps, already installed and set as default programs. This prized status isn’t available to outside software, making it hard for some developers to compete, and that’s catching the eye of lawmakers probing potential antitrust violations in the technology industry. Aside from possible antitrust issues, it’s just a user-hostile setup designed not to bring the best possible user experience to users, but merely to boost Apple’s own applications and services. Not being able to set your own default applications and link handlers in 2019 is entirely indefensible.

Microsoft announces Windows 10X, Android-powered Surface Duo, and more

Microsoft held its Surface hardware event today, and there’s quite a few surprising things they announced. Let’s start with the least interesting, which are updates all across its Surface Pro and Surface Laptop lines. You know, newer processors, design changes, that sort of stuff. Most interesting is probably that the new 15″ Surface Laptop model comes not with an Intel processor, but an AMD Ryzen chip AMD and Microsoft worked on together. But the real new thing with the Laptop 3 is the 15-inch model. Not only is it larger — it has a 15-inch screen and weighs 3.4 pounds — but it also has a brand-new processor for Microsoft’s Surface computers. The new chip is an AMD-based Surface Edition of the Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7, with an extra core on the graphics processor over the standard Ryzen chips. It can be paired with up to 32GB of RAM, which is 16 more than the maximum you can get in the 13-inch model. Oddly, the storage options top out at 512GB. (The 13-inch model can be equipped with up to 1TB of storage.) Microsoft opted for AMD’s Ryzen processors because the company rightfully assumed that on 15″ laptops, people are more likely to do graphics-intensive work than on a smaller 13″ display. It’s also, of course, a huge boost for AMD, and a deserved one for all the amazing progress the company has achieved these past few years. As a very important and interesting sidenote – Microsoft highlighted the serviceability of its new Surface Laptops, but showing on-stage how by removing four screws, you can remove the entire top cover (where the keyboard rests) to access every internal component of the laptop. This is normal for larger, bulkier, and thicker laptops, but it’s quite rare to see it touted as a selling point for such a thin and light laptop. The processor inside the 15″ Surface Laptop is not the only processor Microsoft co-engineered with a partner. Microsoft unveiled the Surface Pro X, an ARM-based Surface Pro that runs on a processor Microsoft worked on together with Qualcomm. The new SQ1 processor is a custom Qualcomm processor that runs at 7W to offer great performance. The new Microsoft SQ1 processor pushes 2 teraflops of graphics processing power, and is the fastest Qualcomm processor ever created for a PC. There is also a new AI engine that can enable new class of Windows applications on the new Surface Pro X. On the connectivity front, you have got two USB-C ports and Surface Connect port. Microsoft also mentioned that the new Surface X has removable hard drive. Moving on, we get to the two most interesting announcements. Before we get into these, I want to stress that these two devices won’t ship until the 2020 holiday season, so we’re talking about early announcements here. The reason for these early announcements will become clear – these are devices that would greatly benefit from 3rd party developer support. First, the Surface Neo is a dual-screen device that looks very similar to Microsoft’s older Courier concept. It has two 9″ screen connected by a hinge, and it’s running on an as-of-yet unreleased Intel processor. Like most Surface devices, there’s an intricate hinge that allows the Surface Neo to switch into a variety of modes and the typical high build quality you’d expect from Microsoft’s hardware. There’s also a clever Bluetooth keyboard that flips, slides, and locks into place with magnets, which can be stowed and secured to the rear of the device. There’s even a new Surface Slim Pen that attaches magnetically, and it’s the same stylus Microsoft is using on the new Surface Pro X. To make the magic between two displays work, the Neo runs on Windows 10X, which is the same as any other Windows 10 version except for the shell – desktop environment, if you will, in Windows parlance – which is designed specifically for dual-screen use. The UI automatically morphs and adapts to various ways of using and holding the device, including showing a trackpad above of beloew the Bluetooth hardware keyboard when it’s magnetically attached on top of the ‘bottom’ display when in laptop mode. Windows 10X allows you to run classic Win32 applications, but they will be run inside containers, and the operating system will update seamlessly in the background. It seems like Windows 10X might be the containerise-Win32-version of Windows we’ve been talking about for more than a decade now. Developers who want to make more optimal use of the dual-screen configuration will need to developer specifically for the form factor, which explains why they’re announcing it and Windows 10X ahead of time. As my girlfriend and I were watching the Surface event, I walked into my office, opened a drawer, and took out my pristine day-one purchase Surface RT, in its original box and wrapping, and showed it to her, just to illustrate that any time Microsoft makes hardware with versions of Windows that aren’t real Windows, I get a little apprehensive. Second, there’s the long-awaited Surface phone, which you’re not supposed to call a phone. It’s the Surface Duo, and at first glance, it looks exactly like a smaller version of the Surface Neo. However, upon closer inspection of the software, you quickly realise the Duo isn’t running Windows – it’s running Android. Yes, Microsoft worked together with Google to develop a unique Android phone, complete with Google Play Services and everything else you come to expect from an Android phone, albeit with the software is heavily skinned to look like Windows 10X. This means that a year from now, Microsoft will be selling a device running Google Android, powered by a Linux kernel – a consumer hardware device from Microsoft based on Linux. I know the world has changed, but this realisation still blew my mind. These are some solid device announcements from Microsoft, and throughout the event, the sense of confidence from the presenters was palpable. There was subtle jab after jab

EU brings in ‘right to repair’ rules for appliances

Household appliances will become easier to repair thanks to new standards being adopted across the European Union. From 2021, firms will have to make appliances longer-lasting, and they will have to supply spare parts for machines for up to 10 years. The rules apply to lighting, washing machines, dishwashers and fridges. Decent start, but we still have a long road ahead of us on this issue.

Windows Virtual Desktop is now generally available worldwide

Today, we’re excited to announce that Windows Virtual Desktop is now generally available worldwide. Windows Virtual Desktop is the only service that delivers simplified management, a multi-session Windows 10 experience, optimizations for Office 365 ProPlus, and support for Windows Server Remote Desktop Services (RDS) desktops and apps. With Windows Virtual Desktop, you can deploy and scale your Windows desktops and apps on Azure in minutes. Among other things, you can use this to run virtualised instances of Windows 7 on Azure, where Windows 7 will get free Extended Security Updates until January 2023. This can be a great tool for maintaining access to legacy Windows 7 applications.

Microsoft is making it difficult to create local accounts in Windows 10

Windows admins have options to create local or Microsoft Accounts when it comes to the operating system. The initial setup after installation pushes the Microsoft Account option but it was possible up until now to create to a local account instead. Microsoft has made it more and more difficult to create local accounts during initial setup and discouraged users to do so. A report on Reddit suggests that Microsoft has made it more difficult to create local accounts during first run. The user reported that no option to create a local user account was presented during first run on the system Windows 10 was set up on. While there’s nebulous ways to make the local account option reappear, this is clearly designed to push people to online Microsoft account. I personally use an online Microsoft account since I find it easier to manage my various machines, but removing or hiding the option to use a local account is just a user-hostile dick move.

Text rendering hates you

Rendering text, how hard could it be? As it turns out, incredibly hard! To my knowledge, literally no system renders text “perfectly”. It’s all best-effort, although some efforts are more important than others. Text rendering is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder, and often preferences revolve around what people are used to more than anything else. Still, displays with higher and higher DPI have taken some of the guesswork out of text rendering, but that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park now.

AltStore is an alternative iOS App Store with a built-in Nintendo emulator

Riley Testut, an iOS app developer who has for years worked on mobile video game emulation, just released a project that has the potential to shake up the entire iOS ecosystem. He calls it AltStore, and it’s an alternative to Apple’s App Store that distributes software Testut says may “push the boundaries of iOS.” In particular, it supports Testut’s own Nintendo emulator, called Delta, which will let anyone with an iPhone or iPad play Super Mario and other classics. Also, it doesn’t require you jailbreak your iOS device. Anyone can download AltStore right now. I definitely appreciate the work put into this, and it seems quite slick and usable. It’s been in the works for years, and in a blog post, Testut explains in more detail how it all works. AltStore is a fully native, sandboxed iOS application that allows you to sideload apps by essentially “tricking” your phone into thinking it’s installing apps that you made yourself, when really they can be any apps whatsoever. Since this is an actually supported installation method by Apple, it’s far less fragile than other distribution methods in the past. Similarly, since there’s no single enterprise certificate to revoke (because technically every user now has their own developer certificate using this process), Apple can’t simply shut it down with the press of a button like they have with some 3rd party app stores (until they receive a new certificate in a week or so, of course). To bypass several restrictions put in place by Apple to limit the use of this developer feature, you need to run an AltServer on your PC or Mac, which bypasses these restrictions and pushes new applications to your device using WiFi. It’s quite clever. While I don’t share The Verge’s rather optimistic view that this “has the potential to shake up the entire iOS ecosystem”, it does seem like a very simple and easy way to bring iOS a few steps closer to Android when it comes to being a full, complete operating system.

Apple’s use of Swift in iOS 13

Swift was introduced at Apple’s 2014 WWDC and it is interesting to measure Apple’s own use of Swift in iOS over the years. iOS 9 released in 2015 included a single application written with Swift: Calculator. Since then the number of applications using Swift in iOS has grown each year with iOS 10.1, iOS 11.1 and iOS 12.0. Now that iOS 13.1 is available, let’s measure how many applications are using Swift this year. Apple is clearly increasing its usage of Swift, and dogfooding it properly around its mobile operating system. That should give developers confidence to use Swift themselves.

More improvements for Android on entry-level phones

Google has detailed some of the new features of the Go edition of Android 10, the version of Android designed specifically for lower-end devices. First, this new release helps you switch between apps faster and in a memory-efficient way. Speed and reliability are also enhanced—apps now launch 10 percent faster than they did on Android 9 (Go edition). Encryption underpins our digital security, as it protects your data even if your device falls into the wrong hands. That’s why Android 10 (Go edition) includes a new form of encryption, built by Google for entry-level smartphones, called Adiantum. Up until now, not all entry-level smartphones were able to encrypt data without affecting device performance. Encryption on every Android phone, regardless of specifications, is a huge deal. Good move.

Google wins case as court rules “right to be forgotten” is EU-only

The Internet is forever, we tell social media users: be careful what you put online, because you can’t ever take it back off. And while that’s gospel for US users, there’s some nuance to that dictum across the Atlantic. In Europe, individuals have a right to be forgotten and can request that information about themselves be taken down—but only, a court has now ruled, within Europe. The Court of Justice of the European Union, the EU’s highest court, issued a ruling today finding that there is no obligation under EU law for a search service to carry out a valid European de-listing request globally. I think this is a logical, common-sense ruling. I’m not entirely sure what to make of the right to be forgotten, since I can see valid uses for it, but it’s also very open to abuse, and one has to wonder just how effective it really is.