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DragonFly BSD 4.8 released
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-03-27 23:30:39

DragonFly version 4.8 brings EFI boot support in the installer, further speed improvements in the kernel, a new NVMe driver, a new eMMC driver, and Intel video driver updates.

A ton of changes in this release.

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Apple releases iOS 10.3, macOS Sierra 10.12.4
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-03-27 20:03:34

Apple has released iOS 10.3, which brings with it a major change you should really, really be aware of before you install this update.

iOS 10.3 introduces a new Apple File System (APFS), which is installed when an iOS device is updated. APFS is optimized for flash/SSD storage and includes improved support for encryption. Other features include snapshots for freezing the state of a file system (better for backups), space sharing, and better space efficiency, all of which should result in a more stable platform. Customers updating to iOS 10.3 should first make a backup given that the update installs a new file system.

While everything should work out just fine with this update, I'd take additional precautions to make sure all your important data is properly backed up.

In addition, Apple also released macOS Sierra 10.12.4, which introduces Night Shift to the Mac.

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When women stopped coding
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-03-27 19:57:53

Modern computer science is dominated by men. But it hasn't always been this way.

A lot of computing pioneers - the people who programmed the first digital computers - were women. And for decades, the number of women studying computer science was growing faster than the number of men. But in 1984, something changed. The percentage of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged, even as the share of women in other technical and professional fields kept rising.

What happened?

An older article from 2014 that - sadly - just refuses to become irrelevant.

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Fashion companies embrace Android Wear
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-03-27 19:01:32

March has been a particularly fecund time for new Android Wear watch announcements, though unlike previous years, the brands behind these devices are almost all from the fashion and luxury spheres of business. Tag Heuer, Montblanc, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel, Emporio Armani, Michael Kors, and Movado are just some of the well known names announcing Wear 2.0 smartwatches. This wave of new products is symptomatic of a broader trend in the tech industry: one where a high degree of component and software integration has made it almost trivial to launch a new tech product, whether or not you're actually a tech company.

Maybe this is the right strategy for Android Wear. I've definitely seen some nice Wear 2.0 devices for later this year, and we wouldn't have this much variety if Google had kept Wear 2.0 close to its chest, much like what Apple does with the Apple Watch. If you don't like a square watch - and which sane person does? - you're out of luck on Apple's side of things.

That being said, none of these have actually come out yet, so I'm not holding my breath on any of them being any good. All I want is an understated, simple smartwatch that doesn't have all this useless garbage like NFC, Wi-Fi, or LTE sucking up battery. I have my eyes on the LG Watch Style for exactly that reason, but they don't sell it in The Netherlands.

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Remember Zip disks? These election departments do
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-03-24 00:27:01

You may recall that a couple of years ago we ran a piece talking about how Ada County, the most populous county in Idaho, was desperately looking for Zip disks and drives to help keep its aging voting machines running.

As it turns out, Ada County isn't alone. Apparently a lot of counties are in the same boat.

Once, while buying a PowerMac G4 from someone (factory-equipped with an internal Zip drive), I stumbled upon his huge collection of external Zip drives and disks, which he promptly handed over as a gift. Other than playing with them out of idle curiosity, I never used them for anything.

Instead of disposing of them years later, I guess I should've sent those 15 or so external Zip drives and 30-odd disks as emergency foreign aid to America. Underfunding democracy seems like a terrible idea.

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Secret colours of the Commodore 64
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-03-24 00:21:07

This was freaky. When you owned any 8-bit computer, you became intimately familiar with its colour scheme. This simple photograph blew my mind. That blue colour just wasn't possible.

According to the caption, by presenting two colours to the eye and alternating them quickly enough, a whole new colour emerged. What would this new, secret colour look like on your crappy early-90s CRT television? The screenshot was only a hint. Would it glow? Would it flicker?

Twenty-six years later, I found out the answer.

This article is all about colour switching on the Commodore 64. There are interactive examples to play with below. I haven't found anything else on the topic, so it's possible this is the only resource on the subject.

It's amazing what talented programmers can eke out of old 8bit machines.

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Maybe Android tablet apps will be better this year
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-03-23 00:38:43

There's a new Android tablet you can go and buy, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3. Here's our review of it, where Jake notes that apps freeze if they're not in the foreground. Which is a good reminder: Android apps on tablets have never really been very good. They usually end up feeling like stretched-out phone apps.

Things have gotten better in the past couple years, but it's still a problem. In fact, it has always been a problem. I wonder if anybody ever told Google that it was a problem and it should try to do a better job incentivizing developers to make apps that work better on tablets.

Oh, wait, somebody has.

Brutal, but true.

Devil's advocate take: since tablets don't matter, do tablet apps really matter?

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Update on HTML5 video for Netflix
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-03-22 22:42:00

About four years ago, we shared our plans for playing premium video in HTML5, replacing Silverlight and eliminating the extra step of installing and updating browser plug-ins.  

Since then, we have launched HTML5 video on Chrome OS, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, Firefox, and Edge on all supported operating systems.  And though we do not officially support Linux, Chrome playback has worked on that platform since late 2014.  Starting today, users of Firefox can also enjoy Netflix on Linux. This marks a huge milestone for us and our partners, including Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Mozilla that helped make it possible.

It wasn't that long ago we barely dared to imagine HTML5 video taking over from Flash and Silverlight.

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Google releases Android O Developer Preview
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-03-21 23:27:03

Google has released the first Developer Preview for Android O, which is probably going to be released somewhere in the Fall. There's a lot changes in this one, but the biggest one is probably the limits Android O is going to place on applications running in the background.

Building on the work we began in Nougat, Android O puts a big priority on improving a user's battery life and the device's interactive performance. To make this possible, we've put additional automatic limits on what apps can do in the background, in three main areas: implicit broadcasts, background services, and location updates. These changes will make it easier to create apps that have minimal impact on a user's device and battery. Background limits represent a significant change in Android, so we want every developer to get familiar with them. Check out the documentation on background execution limits and background location limits for details.

There's more - improvements in keyboard navigation, Navigation Channels for managing notifications, picture-in-picture on smartphones, wide-gamut colour support for applications, several new Java 8 features, and more. A big one for audio people: Sony has contributed a lot of work to audio in Android O, adding the LDAC wireless audio codec.

It's available on the usual Nexus devices.

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Nintendo approached Cyanogen for the Switch's OS
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-03-21 23:14:21

In the early life of the Nintendo Switch, when it was still codenamed Nintendo NX, there were a lot of rumors floating around about the device. We saw a console with an oval shape and a screen that seemed built into the buttons and rumors that the new device would run Android as its operating system.

While the product we have today resembles nothing of those early prototypes, it looks like the Android rumor may not have been far off. Cyanogen's Kirt McMaster tweeted early this morning to say that Nintendo had approached him about designing a custom Android-based operating system for their new console, but he had some choice words for the company.

Add this to the list of terrible business decisions by Cyanogen and its CEO.

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