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Exploring the Future of Computing



Last Build Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2017 04:16:40 GMT

Copyright: Copyright 2001-2017, David Adams
 



The iPad-is-or-is-not-a-laptop-replacement

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 19:39:02 GMT

Matt Gemmell, iPad-only user: I occasionally see the phrase "laptop replacement" regarding the iPad, despite the bizarreness of both the concept and the generalisation. Intelligent people like journalists and tech pundits use it, seemingly without humorous intent, and it puzzles me. There's no such thing as a laptop replacement, and if there were, the iPad isn't meant to be one. Once you let go of the trope about an iPad replacing a laptop, take a step back, and see it as a device that is great for some but not for all, this whole discussion becomes irrelevant in a heartbeat. Just because iOS isn't the same as macOS or just because iOS is not a good fit for your general purpose computing needs does not mean that applies to everyone. While you might say iOS can't do overlapping windows and window management!, somebody who prefers the iPad for their computer needs would say why would I want to manually fiddle with all these annoying overlapping windows? For me personally, I feel like the ideal mobile general purpose computer lies somewhere halfway between the Surface Pro and the iPad Pro - which is exactly why I ordered a brand new iPad Pro 12.9" today, so that I can compare it to my Surface Pro 4 and see where, exactly, that halfway point lies and which of these two major platforms is closest to it. These are, actually, quite exciting - although not necessarily positive, see e.g. the lack of control we have over these devices - times in the world of general purpose computing.



Improvements to the Xerox Alto Mandelbrot drop runtime

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 19:28:02 GMT

Last week I wrote a Mandelbrot set program for the Xerox Alto, which took an hour to generate the fractal. The point of this project was to learn how to use the Alto's bitmapped display, not make the fastest Mandelbrot set, so I wasn't concerned that this 1970s computer took so long to run. Even so, readers had detailed suggestions form performance improvements, so I figured I should test out these ideas. The results were much better than I expected, dropping the execution time from 1 hour to 9 minutes. Articles like this are very satisfying to post, because we can all agree this is just plain awesome, no ifs or buts.



What Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods really means

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 18:43:17 GMT

There is something horrible about this little video. Why do the inhabitants of this suburban home require a recipe for pasta from a jar? Why can't they turn the lights down using their hands? If the ad were an episode of "Black Mirror", they would be clones living in a laboratory, attempting to follow the patterns of an outside world they've never seen. And yet the ad is not fantastical but descriptive. It's unsettling because it's an accurate portrayal of our new mail-order way of life, which Amazon has spent the past twenty-two years creating. Eventually, governments all over the world will have to ask themselves the question: how big and powerful will we let corporations become? The more powerful they get, and the bigger and bigger the role of money in Washington DC and Brussels, the more I believe we have already reached the point where it's time to start breaking up some of the most powerful corporations - like the oil giants, like Apple, like Google, like Amazon, and so on. These companies play such a huge role in the core foundations and functioning of our societies, that we have to start taking steps to break them up. We've done it before, and we need to start thinking about doing it again. Corporations exist to serve society - not the other way around. If, due to their sheer size and power, they become a liability, they have outlived their usefulness.



EC hits Google with record 2.42 billion EUR fine

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 10:03:54 GMT

The European Commission has fined Google €2.42 billion for breaching EU antitrust rules. Google has abused its market dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service. The company must now end the conduct within 90 days or face penalty payments of up to 5% of the average daily worldwide turnover of Alphabet, Google's parent company. The two core offences as noted by the European Comission are as follows: From 2008, Google began to implement in European markets a fundamental change in strategy to push its comparison shopping service. This strategy relied on Google's dominance in general internet search, instead of competition on the merits in comparison shopping markets: Google has systematically given prominent placement to its own comparison shopping service: when a consumer enters a query into the Google search engine in relation to which Google's comparison shopping service wants to show results, these are displayed at or near the top of the search results. Google has demoted rival comparison shopping services in its search results: rival comparison shopping services appear in Google's search results on the basis of Google's generic search algorithms. Google has included a number of criteria in these algorithms, as a result of which rival comparison shopping services are demoted. Evidence shows that even the most highly ranked rival service appears on average only on page four of Google's search results, and others appear even further down. Google's own comparison shopping service is not subject to Google's generic search algorithms, including such demotions. As a result, Google's comparison shopping service is much more visible to consumers in Google's search results, whilst rival comparison shopping services are much less visible. Much like Apple's and Ireland's illegal tax deal, fines like this can be easily avoided: respect the laws regarding doing business in the EU. I don't expect the current (or the previous, for that matter) US administration to keep these incredibly powerful tech giants in check, so I guess it's up to the EU.



Website used Zillow photos to mock bad design; Zillow may sue

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 09:13:10 GMT

Cyrus Farivar, for Ars: An architecture blogger has temporarily disabled her website, McMansionHell.com, after receiving a demand letter from Zillow and posting it on Twitter. On Monday, Zillow threatened to sue Kate Wagner, saying that that she was violating its terms of use, copyright law, and possibly the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act because she took images from the company's website without permission. However, on each of her posts, she acknowledged that the images came from Zillow and were posted under the fair use doctrine, as she was providing (often humorous) commentary on various architectural styles. Her website was featured on the design podcast 99% Invisible in October 2016. Confusingly, Zillow does not even own the images in question. Instead, Zillow licenses them from the rights holders. As such, it remains unclear why the company would have standing to bring a lawsuit against Wagner. Her website is incredibly entertaining, and you'd think such use of photos falls squarely under fair use. It sucks that she had to shutdown her website, and I'm hoping Zillow loses this case hard.



Apple releases first beta of iOS 11 to public beta testers

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 09:07:15 GMT

Apple today released the first public beta of iOS 11 to its public beta testing group, allowing non-developers to download and test the update ahead of its fall release. iOS 11 has been available for developers since June 5, and the first public beta corresponds with the second developer beta. iOS 11 is a huge step forward for iPads as a general purpose computing device, but there are still steps to be taken - changing default applications is a big one, as is mouse support so you don't have to touch the screen for every little thing you need to do. And, of course: Xcode for iOS, which seems like an inevitability at this point. Somewhere halfway between the Surface Pro and the iPad Pro lies the ideal mobile computer. Apple made a huge stride towards that perfect middle ground with iOS 11. Update: The Verge has a good overview of what's new in iOS .



Nintendo unveils SNES Classic, doesn't include Chrono Trigger

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 18:30:07 GMT

Nintendo has revealed details for the SNES Classic. The standalone mini console will feature 21 games, including Super Mario World, Earthbound, Super Mario Kart, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. But the most surprising inclusion is Star Fox 2, the unreleased sequel to the original Star Fox for SNES. No Chrono Trigger. Why would I buy a SNES if I can't play the best game ever made on it? This is a baffling, dealbreaking omission.



32TB of Windows 10 beta builds, driver source code leaked

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 20:35:47 GMT

Seeing "Windows 10 source code leaked!" headlines or tweets? Not so fast - while there was a leak, it wasn't anything particularly interesting. The only truly interesting bit is this, as explained by Ars' Peter Bright: The leak is also described as containing a source code package named the "Shared Source Kit." This is a package of source code for things like the USB, storage, and Wi-Fi stacks, and the Plug-and-Play system. It isn't the core operating system code (part of which leaked in 2004) but rather contains those parts of the driver stack that third parties have to interact most intimately with. Microsoft routinely gives access to the source code of a wide variety of parts of Windows to academic institutions, certain enterprise customers, and, of course, hardware makers - which is what the above mentioned source code package refers to. While interesting, it seems unlikely this leak is of any significance to anyone.



Google to stop scanning e-mail for ads

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 20:27:22 GMT

Google is stopping one of the most controversial advertising formats: ads inside Gmail that scan users' email contents. The decision didn't come from Google's ad team, but from its cloud unit, which is angling to sign up more corporate customers. Alphabet Inc.'s Google Cloud sells a package of office software, called G Suite, that competes with market leader Microsoft Corp. Paying Gmail users never received the email-scanning ads like the free version of the program, but some business customers were confused by the distinction and its privacy implications, said Diane Greene, Google's senior vice president of cloud. "What we're going to do is make it unambiguous," she said. Good move, and in the current climate, Google really couldn't continue this practice - automated algorithms or no.



Jolla's summer 2017 update

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 20:21:05 GMT

Jolla's CEO Sami Pienimäki: We have positive progress and major future business potential with Sailfish openings e.g. in China and Russia. While these projects are big and take time, they're developing steadily and we expect them to grow into sizable businesses for us overtime. These two are now our key customers but the projects are in early phase and our revenues are tight.  At the same time realizing this opportunity requires significant R&D investments from our licensing customers and Jolla. Meanwhile, as Russia and China are progressing, we also have good traction with other new potential licensing customers in different regions. Good discussions are ongoing, and we’re waiting eagerly to get to share those with you. And yes, they're still going to at some point maybe possibly start the refunding process for the tablet. My Jolla Tablet spent about 5 minutes outside of the box, since there's not much you can actually do with it.



The Scott Forstall interview

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 22:46:26 GMT

The Computer History Museum organised an interview with Scott Forstall, led by John Markoff. Forstall led the iPhone operating system (now iOS) team for the iPhone and the iPad from their inception, and was a close friend and confidant of Steve Jobs. He was ousted by Tim Cook, supposedly because Forstall was a challenger to Cook's position and power inside the company. On top of that, much like Steve Jobs, Forstall supposedly wasn't the easiest person to get along with, and Cook wanted a more harmonious Apple. Ever since his departure from Apple, Forstall has been silent. This interview is the first time he's opened up about his long, long tenure at first NeXT (where he was hired on the spot by Steve Jobs himself) and then Apple, and quite honestly, I didn't really know what to expect. It turns out that if you close your eyes while listening to Forstall speak, it's almost like you're hearing Steve Jobs. The man is charming, well-spoken, has a thoughtful or funny reply to every question, sprinkles it with a touching or heartwarming story or anecdote - all the while showing a deep understanding of what made Apple's products great without having to resort to technical details or PR-approved talking points. As the interview ended and I pondered the whole thing, it just became so very clear why Cook would want to get rid of Forstall as quickly as he could. Can you imagine a boring bean counter like Cook sharing the stage with a man who so closely resembles and feels like Steve Jobs? It might very well be the case that a Jobs-like figure like Forstall would not have yielded the kinds of immense financial success Apple has enjoyed under Cook, but I can't help but shake the feeling that an Apple with Forstall at the helm - or even just an Apple with Forstall, period - would be a more exciting, a more innovative, a more boundary-pushing Apple. We'll most likely never know. Then again... It wouldn't be the first time someone gets ousted from Apple, only to return when the time is right.



Trump administration approves social media checks

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 22:46:08 GMT

The Trump administration has rolled out a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants worldwide that asks for social media handles for the last five years and biographical information going back 15 years. [...] Under the new procedures, consular officials can request all prior passport numbers, five years' worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history. [...] While the new questions are voluntary, the form says failure to provide the information may delay or prevent the processing of an individual visa application. This surely won't affect the countless incredibly smart scientists and engineers wanting to work in the US and contribute to the US economy.



Atari CEO confirms Atari is working on a new game console

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 19:26:54 GMT

Atari CEO Fred Chesnais told GamesBeat in an exclusive interview that his fabled video game company is working on a new game console. In doing so, the New York company might be cashing in on the popularity of retro games and Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition, which turned out to be surprisingly popular for providing a method to easily play old games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda in HD on a TV. [...] Chesnais declined to describe a lot of details about the console. But he said it is based on PC technology. He said Atari is still working on the design and will reveal it at a later date. It seems extremely unlikely that this will be a console in the Xbox, Playstation, or Switch sense, but if it's based on PC technology, it won't be some rebranded Android tablet either. I wasn't an Atari kid when I was young - PC and Nintendo all the way - so I have no sense of nostalgia for the company, but I'm still intrigued.



My Ubuntu for mobile devices post mortem analysis

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:07:44 GMT

Now that Ubuntu phones and tablets are gone, I would like to offer my thoughts on why I personally think the project failed and what one may learn from it. To recapitulate my involvement in the project: I had been using Ubuntu Touch on a Nexus 7 on an on-and-off-basis between its announcement in 2013 and December 2014, started working on Click apps in December 2014, started writing the 15-part “Hacking Ubuntu Touch” blog post series about system internals in January 2015, became an Ubuntu Phone Insider, got a Meizu MX4 from Canonical, organized and sponsored the UbuContest app development contest, worked on bug reports and apps until about April 2016, and then sold off/converted all my remaining devices in mid-2016. So I think I can offer some thoughts about the project, its challenges and where we could have done better. Excellent and detailed explanation of why Ubuntu Phone failed.



Leaked recording: Inside Apple's global war on leakers

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:07:34 GMT

In what is surely the greatest bit of irony in the tech industry this week, a recording of an internal Apple briefing on countering leaking has leaked. Tons of interesting insight in the article covering the recording, but this bit jumped out at me, because I never put two and two together in this regard: Apple's Chinese workers have plenty of incentive to leak or smuggle parts. "A lot, like 99.9 percent, of these folks are good people who are coming to a place that has a job, they're gonna make money, and they're gonna go back and start a business in their province or they're gonna do something else with it, support their family," Rice says. "But there's a whole slew of folks that can be tempted because what happens if I offer you, say, three months' salary?' In some cases we've seen up to a year's worth of salary being rewarded for stealing product out of the factory." Apple workers on the production line make approximately $350 a month, not including overtime, according to a 2016 report from China Labor Watch. It never dawned on me that leaks could be the result of underpaid factory workers.