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Samsung stops paying protection money, Microsoft sues
By Thom Holwerda on 2014-08-01 21:40:09

Microsoft is suing yet another Android device maker - but this time it's a very different case than their usual protection money scheme. Microsoft claims that Samsung has stopped complying with a patent sharing agreement between the two companies.

After becoming the leading player in the worldwide smartphone market, Samsung decided late last year to stop complying with its agreement with Microsoft. In September 2013, after Microsoft announced it was acquiring the Nokia Devices and Services business, Samsung began using the acquisition as an excuse to breach its contract. Curiously, Samsung did not ask the court to decide whether the Nokia acquisition invalidated its contract with Microsoft, likely because it knew its position was meritless.

Interesting, if true. This is what happens when you stop paying protection money - the burly men with clubs show up.

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Mobile IE to spoof Safari to render mobile sites properly
By Thom Holwerda on 2014-08-01 18:06:39

Based on your feedback, we pursued a web experience for IE users consistent with what is available on iOS and Android devices - even where this meant we would be adding non-standard web platform features. We believe that this is a more pragmatic approach to running today's less-standardised mobile web.

Thank you, web developers, for turning mobile Safari into the new Internet Explorer. Have you people learned nothing?

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HP gives OpenVMS new life
By Thom Holwerda, submitted by Emanuele Ruffaldi on 2014-08-01 09:39:55

Hewlett-Packard has changed its direction on OpenVMS. Instead of pushing its users off the system, it has licensed OpenVMS to a new firm that plans to develop ports to the latest Itanium chips and is promising eventual support for x86 processors.

Great news for OpenVMS, and a great move by HP.

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BlackBerry Passport first look
By Thom Holwerda on 2014-07-30 22:46:18

Phone Arena has a short video up in which the BlackBerry Passport gets introduced. The unique hardware keyboard whose entire surface is also a touchpad gets demonstrated.

Typical of a BlackBerry, the Passport employs a portrait style QWERTY keyboard. However, this time around, they've minimized the layout by shrinking the row of buttons to a mere 3 - as opposed to the 4 we're normally accustomed to seeing. Additionally, numbers and punctuations aren't available through the keyboard, but they've been turned into virtual keys that sit above the top row for quick access. And during our demo, we got the chance to see the keyboard be used to scroll through web pages by lightly brushing your finger over the QWERTY.

This has been a long time coming: innovation in the hardware keyboard space. Currently, there are effectively no decent high-end smartphones with hardware keyboards, and that's a shame. I'm glad BlackBerry has the guts to go against the grain here and try to breath new life into this severely neglected form factor.

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Microsoft reveals Update 1 for Windows Phone 8.1
By Thom Holwerda on 2014-07-30 22:40:58

As expected, Microsoft is finally revealing all there is about Update 1 for Windows Phone 8.1. Known internally as GDR1 for 'general distribution release,' this update is one of two for the 8.1 operating system in 2014. The news comes out of Beijing, China where Microsoft's Joe Belfiore announced the release during his keynote, in addition to the expansion of Cortana to the UK and China.

Coming next week for Preview for Developers. If Microsoft can keep this pace of updates up, they've got something very good going. A very welcome contrast to the slow and monolithic approach the company took in the first few years of Windows Phone's existence.

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Another day, another sensationalist, unfounded security story
By Thom Holwerda on 2014-07-29 18:28:36

Dan Goodin, at Ars Technica, is writing about a security flaw in Android. It's got all the usual scary-scary language about doom and gloom, quotes from antivirus peddlers, and it wasn't long until sensationalist Apple site AppleInsider took it all one step further (relevant). So, is this a real security threat, or are we looking at sensationalism run amok?

This is the issue in a nutshell.

The Fake ID vulnerability stems from the failure of Android to verify the validity of cryptographic certificates that accompany each app installed on a device. The OS relies on the credentials when allocating special privileges that allow a handful of apps to bypass Android sandboxing. Under normal conditions, the sandbox prevents programs from accessing data belonging to other apps or to sensitive parts of the OS. Select apps, however, are permitted to break out of the sandbox. Adobe Flash in all but version 4.4, for instance, is permitted to act as a plugin for any other app installed on the phone, presumably to allow it to add animation and graphics support. Similarly, Google Wallet is permitted to access Near Field Communication hardware that processes payment information.

Sounds serious! Should you be worried? Is it time to stock up on canned beans and switch to a Nokia 3310? Of course, it's always time to switch to a Nokia 3310, but not really because of this "issue". Buried deep within the Ars Technica article is Google's response to the issue.

After receiving word of this vulnerability, we quickly issued a patch that was distributed to Android partners, as well as to AOSP. Google Play and Verify Apps have also been enhanced to protect users from this issue. At this time, we have scanned all applications submitted to Google Play as well as those Google has reviewed from outside of Google Play, and we have seen no evidence of attempted exploitation of this vulnerability.

First, a patch been sent to OEMs and AOSP, but with Android's abysmal update situation, this is a moot point. The crux, however, lies with Google Play and Verify Apps. These have already been updated to detect this issue, and prevent applications that try to abuse this flaw from being installed. This means two things.

First, that there are no applications in Google Play that exploit this issue. If you stick to Google Play, you're safe from this issue, period. No ifs and buts. Second, even if you install applications from outside of Google Play, you are still safe from this issue. Verify Apps is part of Play Services, and runs on every Android device from 2.3 and up. It scans every application at install and continuously during use for suspect behaviour. In this case, an application that tries to exploit this flaw will simply be blocked from installing or running.

As a sidenote, you can actually disable Verify Apps, but unlike what some people seem to think, the dialog you get about sending data to Google when trying to sideload an application has nothing to do with this (that dialog just covers sending data about the application to Google, which is not required for Verify Apps to work). To actually completely disable Verify Apps, you need to go into the Google Settings application (or the Android settings application in 4.2 and up), navigate to Security, and disable it from there.

To get back to the matter at hand: this means that every Android user with Google Play Services is 100% protected from this issue. The only way an Android user can potentially be affected by this issue is if she, one specifically allows installation from unknown sources, and two, specifically disables Verify Apps - all accompanied by several warnings. Luckily, not a single application in or outside of Google Play is currently trying to exploit this issue.

While one can expect sensationalist nonsense from a site like AppleInsider - you don't blame TMZ for reporting on a fart by Miley Cyrus; you don't blame AppleInsider for spreading sensationalist nonsense - I'm very disappointed that a respected site like Ars Technica resorts to spreading this kind of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, especially since this isn't the first time the site has done so.

Recently, it has become very clear that the security industry - antivirus peddlers and similar companies - have focussed all their attention on Android, resorting to all sorts of dirty tactics to scare unsuspecting users into buying their useless software. Since I can't stress this often enough: do not install antivirus on Android (or iOS, for that matter). It is not needed in any way, shape, or form.

This is not the first time they have tried to spread and exploit fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Back when Windows started properly shoring up its security, Microsoft released MSE, and the mass infections of the early XP days became a thing of the past, they tried to use the exact same tactics to try and scare the rapidly growing number of OS X users into buying their junk.

I advocated against this practice then (more here), and I will advocate against it now. When you come across stories like this, you can almost always assume it's FUD, whether it covers Android, OS X, or iOS. They almost always originate from antivirus peddlers, who know full well that operating system security - on both desktop and mobile - has increased so much these past decade or so that their core business model is at stake, and as such, they have to drum up the FUD. I just wish respected websites would not dance to their tunes for clicks.

And yes, you should totally get a 3310.

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Arment on 'app rot'
By Thom Holwerda on 2014-07-29 14:33:44

We've touched on this topic several times already - most recently only a few days ago: the application store model is facing some serious issues at the moment, to the heavy detriment of users and developers alike. If you don't want to take my word for it - and really, you shouldn't, as you should make up your own mind - Marco Arment has written a great summary of all the problems the application store model is facing, with a lot of quotes from other sources to come to a good overview.

Apple's App Store design is a big part of the problem. The dominance and prominence of "top lists" stratifies the top 0.02% so far above everyone else that the entire ecosystem is encouraged to design for a theoretical top-list placement that, by definition, won't happen to 99.98% of them. Top lists reward apps that get people to download them, regardless of quality or long-term use, so that's what most developers optimize for. Profits at the top are so massive that the promise alone attracts vast floods of spam, sleaziness, clones, and ripoffs.

Quality, sustainability, and updates are almost irrelevant to App Store success and usually aren't rewarded as much as we think they should be, and that's mostly the fault of Apple's lazy reliance on top lists instead of more editorial selections and better search.

And:

As the economics get tighter, it becomes much harder to support the lavish treatment that developers have given apps in the past, such as full-time staffs, offices, pixel-perfect custom designs of every screen, frequent free updates, and completely different iPhone and iPad interfaces.

The application store model is under serious pressure.

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seL4 microkernel released as open source
By Thom Holwerda on 2014-07-29 08:34:52

General Dynamics C4 Systems and NICTA are pleased to announce the open sourcing of seL4, the world's first operating-system kernel with an end-to-end proof of implementation correctness and security enforcement. It is still the world's most highly-assured OS.

And here's the code.

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Tizen: hope springs eternal
By Thom Holwerda on 2014-07-28 14:39:54

The technology press and bloggers really seem to have no idea what to make of Tizen. First, it was a huge, credible threat to Android (*), but now that even people who really, really, really want to see Android in trouble can no longer maintain that Tizen is a serious threat, it's now apparently magically a sign of Samsung's weakness. Or, if you believe Reuters, it's a sign of... Both? Or something?

Samsung Electronics Co. suffered another blow to its efforts to cut the dependency of its smartphone business on Google Inc.'s Android operating system, postponing the launch of a new model that runs on its own Tizen software.

The news is the latest disappointment for the Korean giant which is trying to defend its position as the world's largest maker of smartphones from the twin challenges of Apple Inc. AAPL and, at the other end of the market range, Chinese companies such as Huawei, ZTE and Xiaomi.

Of course, those of us who have even a minute understanding of what it takes to create a successful and viable operating system and platform know full well just how unrealistic it is to see Tizen as anything but a fringe experiment that will, in all likelihood, never bear any fruit. You can ask BlackBerry and Microsoft just how hard it is to create, introduce, maintain, and grow a mobile platform in the current Android-iOS duopoly.

I would love for Tizen to be a success, but the cold and harsh truth of this world is that all evidence - both historical and current - points towards it not making any headway whatsoever in smartphones and tablets. Tizen may very well play a role in Samsung's more embedded efforts - like TVs - but don't expect it on any serious phone any time soon, let alone it being a threat to iOS, Android, Windows Phone or even BB10.

However, I want Tizen to be a success not because of some hand-wringing desire to see iOS or Android or Google or Samsung stumble and fall. No, I want it to be a success because the market - and thus consumers - always benefit from choice. The more platforms compete for that precious space in your pockets, the better all of them will become. Without Android, iOS would still be stuck at the level of version 2. Without Windows Phone, Android would still look like a cartoon. Potential other platforms would push the big three to even greater heights.

I've made my desire to buy a Tizen device very clear. Not because I believe it will change the world or because I consider it an "Android killer", but because I believe diversity in the marketplace benefits us all - whether we're an iOS, Android, or BeOS user.

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Nokia X Software Platform 1.2 update released
By Thom Holwerda on 2014-07-28 10:47:36

Nokia has released the first major software update for the Nokia X series of devices.

Key features of the update include:

  • Enjoy improved ease of use with the new app switcher - switch easily between open apps, or close apps with a single tap.
  • Instant access to your mail, calendar, and notes with Outlook.com and OneNote.
  • Updated Nokia Store - new design to help you find content more easily, and better integration with third-party stores.
  • New scrollable widgets, call reject with a message, contact search in the dialler, automatic uploading to OneDrive, and local calendar support.
  • General performance and usability improvements.

Could very well be the last.

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