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Exploring the Future of Computing



Last Build Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2017 18:39:33 GMT

Copyright: Copyright 2001-2017, David Adams
 



Installing SymbOS on an emulated MSX2+

Tue, 07 Mar 2017 21:14:02 GMT

No fancy introduction or longwinded story about childhood memories, just a quick and relatively easy how-to regarding installing and running SymbOS on an emulated MSX2+. Since it's quite likely you're not aware of what SymbOS and the MSX are, I'll give you a short description of both. First, the MSX is a standardised home computing platform conceived by Microsoft Japan in the early 80s. It was quite succesful in Japan, and saw decent success in (weirdly) The Netherlands and Spain, but saw little to no adoption in the United States. I didn't have an MSX myself growing up, but a friend of mine had one, and I remember playing games on it with him when I was round 7-8 years old. SymbOS is - other than a marvellous showcase of programming expertise - a microkernel operating system with preemptive multitasking with a mouse-driven, windows-based graphical user interface. It's available for a number of Z80-based machines of the 80s - the MSX2, MSX2+, MSX TurboR, the complete Amstrad CPC 464/664/6128 range (old and new generation), and all Amstrad PCW models of the 8xxx, 9xxx, and 10 series. Installing SymbOS on an emulated MSX2+ is actually quite easy.



The elusive Palm OS 5.5 Garnet emulator for Windows/Linux

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 23:52:51 GMT

As some of you may undoubtedly know, I'm a bit of a sucker for Palm OS. These past few years, I've been busy collecting ROMs for the Palm OS emulator and simulator, making sure I have all the major Palm OS releases covered. There's really not much of a reason to do this - I have working devices which are a much better option than the emulators/simulators in most cases - other than to have a complete collection I can keep around forever. Perfection needs little evolution. From top left to bottom right, you're looking at Palm OS 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 5.3 (a Palm Zire ROM), 5.4.9 (the last released version of Palm OS available on real devices), and Palm OS 6.1.0 Cobalt (the last version of Palm OS; no 6.x device has ever been released). This is a pretty complete collection, and while it doesn't contain every released version of Palm OS, it covers the most important ones, and provides a great overview of the development of the operating system. One important version is actually missing from this screenshot: Palm OS 5.5, whose official name is actually Garnet OS 5.5. Garnet OS 5.5 was developed by ACCESS (current owner of Palm OS and the associated IP), but was never released on or for devices - its sole function was to serve as the operating system running inside the Garnet VM. Garnet VM was a virtual machine developed to allow Palm OS applications to run on the ACCESS Linux Platform, a Linux-based mobile operating system that never gained any traction; no ALP devices were ever released. As some of you may remember, Garnet VM was also released for Nokia's Maemo. I have a Nokia N900 (maybe even two) that can run Garnet VM, and while it's no longer available from ACCESS itself, it's easy to find all around the web if you know where to look. I'm not sure if my N900 is properly set up (I think it is), but it would be trivial for me to install Garnet VM on it and play with it. So, between my Palm/CLIÉ devices and all these emulators/simulators, every major Palm OS version seems covered, right? Well, no - not entirely. There's quite a few exotic devices, such as the AlphaSmart Dana, the TapWave Zodiac, or the Fossil Palm OS smartwatch, but those are disproportionately hard to come by. Setting those aside, I thought I had all my bases covered. Turns out - as is so often the case - I was wrong. On Twitter, q3hardcore asked "do you have this?" As it turns out, and entirely unbeknownst to me, ACCESS actually released the Garnet VM for Linux and Windows. After coming to the conclusion that this piece of software was entirely impossible to find online (try it), q3hardcore came to the rescue once again, and uploaded his or her copy of the package online. Questionable legality aside, I didn't have to think twice. The purpose of the Garnet VM for Linux and Windows was to allow Palm OS application developers to test their Palm OS applications to see if they would run on the Garnet VM included in the ACCESS Linux Platform, and make changes if needed. This Garnet VM is an amazing piece of technology. It's the Palm OS userland - version 5.5.0 - running on a Linux kernel running on an ARM emulator running on Windows or Linux. The ARM emulator in question is called Janeiro, and it emulates a Zylonite (PXA320) development board, revision B1. As it boots up, there's zero indication that it's running a Linux kernel - the X 'cross' appears briefly (at least, it looks like the X cross), but that's it. The major difference between the Garnet VM and the Palm OS 5.x and 6.x simulators is that while the simulators run x86 Palm OS, Garnet VM runs an ARM Palm OS userland atop an ARM Linux kernel. This means - at least, in theory - that ARM Palm OS applications should run decently well on Garnet VM, something you can't do with the Palm OS simulator, because they would need to be recompiled to x86. I say 'in theory', because the Garnet VM documentation notes that not all Palm OS libraries and components are present, and that only "well-behaved" applications are compatible. I've only had access to the Garn[...]



The peculiar case of terrible Office performance in Boot Camp

Tue, 15 Nov 2016 00:20:25 GMT

Here's a short little tip with some interesting background information. If you are running Windows on your Mac - like I'm doing on my 2015 retina MacBook Pro because macOS is far too unoptimised to run on it - and it's using an Intel graphics chip, be sure to replace Apple's own Boot Camp graphics drivers with Intel's own latest drivers. The reason why you should do this is kind of fascinating. I noticed that while Windows as a whole ran quite fast and snappy - much more so than macOS with its crappy responsiveness, FPS drops, and hangs, even after reinstallations - two applications had responsiveness issues: Chrome and Microsoft Office. With Chrome, I chalked it up to #justchromethings and moved on. With Office though, I was perplexed. The past few versions of Office, including the current one, are fast, snappy, and instant. The days where Office applications were slow and cumbersome are long gone, even on lower-end hardware like the 2015 retina MacBook Pro. However, Office applications were slow, rendering was terrible, and things like dragging and resizing Office windows was literally a slide show - and I wanted to know why. I found out that on Windows, Microsoft Office uses its own rendering pipeline (framework? I'm not really sure what the accurate terminology is here), different from both Win32 and Metro applications. As it turns out, Office does its own check of the video card and driver to determine if hardware acceleration for Office should be disabled or not. By default, hardware acceleration is automatically disabled in Office programs if certain video card and video card driver combinations are detected when you start an Office program. If hardware acceleration is automatically disabled by the program, nothing indicates that this change occurred. Well, except that Office now runs like a total dog, of course. Apparently, the Office team maintains its own list of video card/driver combinations and keeps this list a secret. The list of video card/video driver combinations that trigger this automatic disabling of hardware graphics acceleration is not documented because the list is hard-coded in the Office programs and will be constantly changing as we discover additional video combinations that cause problems in Office programs. When I ran the Intel Driver Update Utility on my retina MacBook Pro to determine if the Apple-provided Intel graphics driver was up-to-date, the tool found a newer driver, but warned me that my OEM (Apple) had modified the already-installed driver, and that I would lose those customisations. I proceeded to download the new driver anyway, only to be hit by a very peculiar dialog upon trying to install the driver Intel told me was newer than what I had installed: the installer warned my I was installing an older driver than what I had installed. So, I decided to download the latest driver (the latest beta) manually, installed it, and this fixed not just Office, but also Chrome - which I find particularly baffling (maybe Chrome maintains a similar list?). The list that the Office team maintains is not of good drivers, but of bad drivers. For Office's hardware acceleration to fail, the driver needs to be on the list. This means that the combination "Apple-modified Intel graphics driver/Iris 6100" was, at some point, added to the list, triggering the disabling of hardware acceleration for Office. The combination "Intel's own graphics driver/Iris 6100" is not on the list. There's a number of possible explanations here, and I'm not really sure which one makes the most sense. Apple cares too little about Boot Camp users to intentionally cripple the Apple-supplied Intel drivers, so that's definitely not the cause. I also don't think the Intel driver magically improved a ton in the span of just a few weeks (there's only a few weeks of difference between the two versions, but I'm not trusting version numbers here) - but maybe it did? I honestly don't know. It's Intel's beta driver that isn't even signed by Microsoft, but somehow, the[...]



Self-driving car technology will change more than your car

Thu, 18 Aug 2016 22:21:39 GMT

Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved. Google, widely regarded as the leader in the field, has been testing its fleet for several years, and Tesla Motors offers Autopilot, essentially a souped-up cruise control that drives the car on the highway. Earlier this week, Ford announced plans for an autonomous ride-sharing service. But none of these companies has yet brought a self-driving car-sharing service to market. Uber's Pittsburgh fleet, which will be supervised by humans in the driver's seat for the time being, consists of specially modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. Volvo Cars has so far delivered a handful of vehicles out of a total of 100 due by the end of the year. The two companies signed a pact earlier this year to spend $300 million to develop a fully autonomous car that will be ready for the road by 2021. The robotisation of transportation - personal, professional, commercial, and industrial - will be one of the most far-reaching and uprooting developments in recent human history. Transportation is a relatively large part of the workforce, and over the coming decades, many of those jobs will disappear - putting a huge strain on the economy and society. On top of that, car ownership will start to slow down, and since automated cars will make more efficient use of available road surface, we'll eventually get to the point where we need to rethink our entire infrastructure and the way we design our living space - only 60-70 years after the last time we completely rethought our living space. We've talked about this before, but The Netherlands completely redesigned (at least the western half of) the country for two things: one, to maximise agricultural production, and two, to prepare the environment for mass car ownership. We succeeded at the former (The Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agricultural products, after the US, but before Germany - despite our tiny surface area), but we only partially succeeded at the latter (traffic jams are a huge problem all over the country). As an aside: when I say "redesigned the country", I literally mean that the entire map was redrawn. This map should illustrate really well what the Dutch government, the agricultural sector, and industry agreed upon to do; the 'messy' part is the swampy, irregularly shaped way it used to look, while the straight and clean part is what they turned it into. Gone are the irregularly shaped, inefficient patches of farmland only navigable on foot and in boats, and in their place we got large, patches of land, easily reachable by newly drawn roads to make way for cars and trucks (still countless waterways though; they are crucial for making sure the entire western half of the country doesn't flood). My parents and grandparents lived through this massive redesign, and according to them, it's very difficult to overstate just how massive the undertaking really was. It's unlikely said redesign will be undone on a massive, regional scale, but at the local level, I can foresee countless pro-car infrastructure and landscaping changes being undone because it's simply not needed anymore. For instance, many towns in my area - including my own - used to have a waterway (like so) running alongside their Main Street (generally 'Dorpsstraat' in Dutch), but in order for a Main Street to be ready for cars, people had to walk elsewhere; the waterways were often filled up and turned into footpaths or sidewalks, so cars could drive on Main Street. Over the coming decades, I can definitely see such changes being undone in certain places - especially more tourist-oriented towns such as my own. With fewer and fewer cars on the roads, we can start giving space back to people, and while this may not be a big[...]



Microsoft spams Android notification tray with Office ads

Tue, 24 May 2016 22:52:19 GMT

Update: it happened again today. Here's the ad, and here's the "proof" it's coming from Word (when you long-press the notification and tap 'i'). It's been a bit of a running theme lately: advertising in (mobile) operating systems. Today, I was surprised by what I consider a new low, involving incompetence on both Microsoft's and Google's end. This new low has been eating away at me all day. Let's give a bit of background first. On my smartphone, a Nexus 6P, I have Word, Excel, and PowerPoint installed. I have these installed for my work - I run my translation company, and when new work comes in through e-mail when I'm out and about, I like being able to quickly look at a document before accepting it. Microsoft Office for Android fulfills this role for me. This means I don't actually use them very often - maybe a few times a week. Imagine my surprise, then, when this happened. Yes, I'm linking to the full screenshot in its full, glorious, Nexus 6P 1440x2560 brilliance. I have a few questions. First, why is Microsoft sending me an advertisement in my notification tray? Second, why is Word sending me an advertisement for Excel? Third, why is this allowed by Google, even though the Play Store rules prohibit it? Fourth A, why is Microsoft sending me advertisements for products I already have installed? Fourth B, why is Microsoft sending me advertisements for products I already use? Fourth C, why is Microsoft sending me advertisements for products I already pay for because I have an Office 365 subscription? Fifth, who in their right mind at Microsoft thought this was not a 100%, utterly, completely, deeply, ridiculously, unequivocally, endlessly, exquisitely invasive, stupid, aggravating, off-putting, infuriating, and pointless thing to do? I know both Android and iOS suffer from scummy applications abusing the notification tray for advertising, and I know both Google and Apple have rules that prohibit this that they do not enforce, but I didn't think I'd run into it because... Well, I use only proper, honest applications, right? I don't use the scummy ones? I pay for my applications? Right? I think it's time to start enforcing these rules. Oh, and Microsoft? I haven't forgotten about BeOS. It's not like you have a lot of goodwill to mess around with here.



Self-driving Cars: User Interface Will Be The Key To Success

Thu, 03 Mar 2016 16:15:16 GMT

Volvo recently conducted a survey and asked consumers about their perceptions of self-driving cars. The question that stood out to me was whether a car company like Volvo or a technology company (Google, unnamed) was best positioned to bring safe self-driving cars to the market. Volvo was obviously fishing for a particular answer, and while they certainly have a vaunted reputation for technical innovation in the service of safety, I'm afraid I can't go along with the answer they're hoping for, partially because safety is only part of the story. In my opinion, no car company working alone is going to be able to produce a self-driving car with the kind of usability that consumers will expect. And for self-driving cars, usability is just as important as safety. In fact, they're inseparable.



Implementing Mutexes in the QNX Neutrino Realtime OS

Thu, 18 Feb 2016 19:27:26 GMT

A mutex is a common type of lock used to serialize concurrent access by multiple threads to shared resources. While support for POSIX mutexes in the QNX Neutrino Realtime OS dates back to the early days of the system, this area of the code has seen considerable changes in the last couple of years.



Review: Commander One Finder Alternative

Mon, 26 Oct 2015 14:00:00 GMT

For all of the strengths of OS X, two of the complaints recycled year after year are the aged filesystem, HFS+, with its lack of file integrity, and the file manager, the Finder. While replacing HFS+ remains out of our reach, an alternative to the Finder for day-to-day tasks has been achievable for some time. Enter "Commander One," a dual-pane file manager that seeks to fill in the holes that the Finder has famously left. Let's dig in and see what Commander One has to offer.



Is it the future yet? A week with the Apple Watch

Thu, 18 Jun 2015 16:26:29 GMT

I bought an Apple Watch, and I've been wearing it for about two weeks. I'm a notorious mobile computing fanatic and early adopter. How does it hold up to real-world use? How does it compare to the hype? Let's get this out of the way: I've been waiting for an Apple Watch for a long time. While a lot of people were quick to dismiss the whole idea, I've been on board with the idea of a wrist-mounted companion to a smartphone since I first started using a smartphone. I never bought a Pebble or any of the other first generation smart watches, largely because I've been around the block long enough to know that it's hard to be an early adopter, but partially because I wanted to wait and see what Apple would come up with.



The peculiar history of the Windows Character Map

Wed, 17 Jun 2015 13:51:38 GMT

Windows is an old and complex operating system. It's been around for a very long time, and while it's been continuously updated and altered, and parts are removed or replaced all the time, the operating system still houses quite a few tools, utilities, and assets that haven't been updated or replaced in a long, long time. Most of these are hidden in deep nooks and crannies, and you rarely encounter them, unless you start hunting for them. Most. But not all. There's one utility that I need to use quite often that, seemingly, hasn't been updated - at least, not considerably - since at least Windows 95, or possibly even Windows 3.x. Using this utility is an exercise in pure frustration, riddled as it is with terrible user interface design and behaviour that never should have shipped as part of any serious software product. This is the story of the dreaded Character Map. I'll first explain just how bad it really is, after which I'll dive into the little application's history, to try and find out why, exactly, it is as bad as it is. It turns out that the Character Map - or charmap.exe - seems to exist in a sort-of Windows build limbo, and has been stuck there since the days Microsoft scrapped Longhorn, and started over.



Review: Moto 360, Android Wear

Thu, 08 Jan 2015 20:15:11 GMT

Early December 2014, I bought the Moto 360 with Android Wear. As someone who loves both watches and technology, it seems like a great time to jump into the world of smartwatches, and see if it has evolved beyond the bulky '80s stuff that has come before. I'll first give you a concise history of smartwatches, after which I will dive into Wear and the 360 themselves.



iOS 8 Jailbreak Report

Tue, 11 Nov 2014 17:39:00 GMT

Over the weekend, Pangu released their iOS jailbreak for the Mac, which is the capstone on a weeks-long journey of incremental releases that brought the wonders of non-Apple-approved software to iDevice users bit by bit according to their level of tinkering devotion. Last week, after an aborted attempt, I managed to jailbreak my iPhone 5S, and though I'm still dealing with some of my favorite tweaks not having been updated to work with the new OS, I'm pretty happy with the update, and I can recommend it for most users. Read more, for the rest.



A Week with the OnePlus One

Tue, 24 Jun 2014 07:41:10 GMT

The OnePlus One is among the most talked-about phones these days. Both because of its high-end features and affordable price, making it one of the flagship models of 2014, but also because it's... impossible to get one. These are my first impressions of the device so far.



Xfce 4.10: Simple, Fast, Reliable

Sat, 07 Jun 2014 00:53:40 GMT

Over the past several years, mobile devices have greatly influenced user interfaces. That's great for handheld users but leaves those of us who rely on laptops and desktops in the lurch. Windows 8, Ubuntu Unity, and GNOME have all radically changed in ways that leave personal computer users scratching their heads. One user interface completely avoided this controversy: Xfce. This review takes a quick look at Xfce today. Who is this product for? Who should pass it by?



Palm OS Simulator: run x86 Palm OS on Windows

Tue, 03 Jun 2014 18:24:40 GMT

My love and appreciation for Palm OS is somewhat obvious around these parts, culminating in the detailed Palm OS retrospective I wrote a little over a year ago. I consider Palm OS to be the shoulders on which all subsequent mobile operating systems are built, and I believe it would do the current technology press and users a world of good if they acquainted themselves with this prescient masterpiece. That being said, with Palm OS being old and dead, the only way to experience it is to get your hands on a real device on eBay or its local equivalent in your country of residence. If you go down this route - which I strongly advise everyone to at least look into - try and go for the ultimate Palm device, the Palm T|X. It's the most advanced PDA Palm ever built, and you can pry mine from my cold, dead hands. Sadly, not everyone has the disposable income, time, will, desire, or any combination thereof, to go out and buy real hardware just to play with a dead operating system and all the hardships that come with it. Since I still want to spread the word of Palm OS, I've been looking into an alternative - namely, the Palm OS Simulator.