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Intel's contributions in Microsoft Edge
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-05-24 21:31:56

Intel has been contributing to Chakra, the JavaScript engine for Microsoft Edge (and previously Internet Explorer), since 2012, bringing their expertise in web runtime development and JIT code generation. Recently, Intel expanded its efforts by contributing to the larger Microsoft Edge codebase, specifically focused in the areas of graphics and performance optimizations. Intel has been a major contributor to open source browser engines such as WebKit, Blink, and Gecko, and with our expanded collaboration, they are now directly contributing to the Microsoft Edge codebase to deliver an improved browsing experience for Windows 10.

While this is very interesting, instead of working with just a few partners, Microsoft should've just opened the code for their new rendering engine altogether. At this point, it makes little sense to keep this kind of important code closed.

When it comes to open source, the new Microsoft is only a little bit new.

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qboot, a minimal x86 firmware for QEMU
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-05-24 21:29:17

Enter qboot, a minimal x86 firmware that runs on QEMU and, together with a slimmed-down QEMU configuration, boots a virtual machine in 40 milliseconds on an Ivy Bridge Core i7 processor.

The code's on github.

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The first first-person shooter
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-05-24 21:26:35

The year was 1973. They were high school seniors in a work-study program with NASA, tasked with testing the limits of the Imlac PDS-1 and PDS-4 minicomputers. Their maze program flickered into life with simple wireframe graphics and few of the trappings of modern games. You could walk around in first person, looking for a way out of the maze, and that's about it. There were no objects or virtual people. Just a maze.

But Maze would evolve over the summer and the years that followed. Soon two people could occupy the maze together, connected over separate computers. Then they could shoot each other and even peek around corners. Before long, up to eight people could play in the same maze, blasting their friends across the ARPANET - a forebear to the internet. Two decades before id Software changed the game industry with Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, Colley, Palmer and MIT students Greg Thompson and Dave Lebling invented the first-person shooter.

Amazing story.

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Senate votes down USA Freedom Act
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-05-23 17:08:36

In a midnight session, the Senate has voted down the USA Freedom Act, putting one of the legal bedrocks of the NSA's bulk surveillance programs into jeopardy. The Patriot Act is set to expire at the end of the month, and the USA Freedom Act would have extended large portions of the act in modified form. Tonight's failure to arrive at a vote makes it likely that many of those powers will automatically expire, although Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) scheduled a last-minute session on May 31st for one last shot at passing the bill.

The American people won a battle today, but the war is far, far from over.

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Mozilla overhauls its smartphone plan to focus on quality, not cost
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-05-23 17:08:29

Mozilla has revamped its Firefox OS mobile software project after concluding that ultra-affordable $25 handsets aren't enough to take on the biggest powers of the smartphone world, CNET has learned.

You can make a smartphone for $35. You can't make a decent smartphone for $35. It's good Mozilla recognises this.

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Huawei launches 10kB IoT operating system
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-05-22 19:37:42

LiteOS is the world's most lightweight IoT OS. It is small in size at 10KB and supports zero configuration, auto-discovery, and auto-networking. It can be widely applied to different areas including smart homes, wearable, connected vehicles and other industries. The LiteOS helps to simplify the development of smart hardware to enhance IoT connectivity. In addition, Huawei announced that LiteOS will be opened to all developers, which enables them to quickly develop their own IoT products.

Meanwhile, Google is rumoured to be unveiling an IoT OS as well during IO.

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How Apple's court monitor became Cupertino's most wanted
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-05-22 19:25:24

Michael Bromwich was in court with the most powerful company and the top government law agency in the country when he seemed to get antsy. Apple and the United States Department of Justice had, after all, been exchanging jabs about him. “I'd like to be heard, your Honor, if I can,” he told the judge, who said they’d need to “exhaust the arguments of the main combatants” first.

Wanting to interject would be understandable, considering how long Bromwich and Apple had been putting up their dukes inside and outside of court in a bloody fight over cash and corporate power. In July 2013, Apple was found guilty of conspiring to fix market prices for ebooks. The judge in the case, Denise Cote, said there was "a clear portrait of a conscious commitment to cross a line and engage in illegal behavior." The prosecution’s case was so clear-cut, and Apple showed such little contrition, according to Cote, that it wasn’t enough to take the company’s word that it would change. To make sure Apple fell in line, she called in help.

That would turn out to be Bromwich, a bearded, bespectacled attorney appointed by the court to be Apple’s corporate monitor for two years, a job made to ensure Apple complied with court rulings.

You rarely hear much about this kind of stuff. It seems like it's not a wise move by Apple to go against the grain of the courts this much, but then again, what do I know.

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iOS 9 & OS X 10.11 to bring 'quality' focus
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-05-22 19:17:38

For the first time in several years, Apple is changing up its annual iOS and OS X upgrade cycle by limiting new feature additions in favor of a "big focus on quality," according to multiple sources familiar with the company's operating system development plans. We first reported in February that iOS 9, codenamed "Monarch," would heavily feature under-the-hood optimizations, and we've now learned that Apple is taking the same approach with OS X 10.11, codenamed "Gala." Sources have revealed additional new details on how Apple will optimize the new operating systems for improved stability and performance, add several new security features, and make important changes to its Swift programming tools for developers.

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'On the Apple Watch interaction model and the digital crown'
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-05-22 13:12:14

Setting aside the absurdity of longtime Apple users arguing in favour of this kind of almost impenetrable complexity, John Gruber's recent piece on the behaviour of the button inside the Apple Watch's crown is telling.

Here's a better way to think about it - and without thinking about it, the reason why I think most people aren't frustrated or confused by the crown button after a week or so. It's best to think of Apple Watch as having two modes: watch mode, and app mode.

You do not need to understand this to use the watch. Most Apple Watch owners will never really think about this. But this idea of two modes is central to understanding the design of the overall interaction model.

The UI complexity problem of the Apple Watch stems from two sets of overlapping user interface elements: applications/glances and the homescreen/watch face (which are both, in turn, overlapped by the communications application and its dedicated button). For reasons that I do not understand (okay I totally understand why), the designers of the Apple Watch UI couldn't say no and couldn't make any decisions, leading to the clusterfrick of a UI it has now.

What puzzles me the most is that untangling this mess would not have been complicated - just copy the iPhone. Homescreen with application icons, and a (centered!) crown to act as a home button. Bam, done. Everything else is needless complexity, especially on such a small device you're not supposed to stare at for longer than a few seconds at a time anyway.

Gruber's piece is telling, because as a longtime Apple user, you should never need that many words to explain something that could be as elementary as the homescreen/home button combination of the iPhone. Needing this many words should raise all kinds of red flags that it's just not intuitive.

There're several reasons why it's easier to pick up an iPhone than an Android device, and the simplicity of its homescreen/home button is a big one.

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AMD: Nvidia GameWorks "sabotaged" Witcher 3 performance
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-05-20 23:38:17

While AMD seems to have made up with Slightly Mad Studios, at least if this tweet from Taylor is anything to go by, the company is facing yet another supposedly GameWorks-related struggle with CD Projekt Red's freshly released RPG The Witcher 3. The game makes use of several GameWorks technologies, most notably HBAO+ and HairWorks. The latter, which adds tens of thousands of tessellated hair strands to characters, dramatically decreases frame rate performance on AMD graphics cards, sometimes by as much as 50 percent.

I got bitten by this just the other day. I'm currently enjoying my time with The Witcher III - go out and buy it, it's worth your money - but the first few hours of the game were troubled with lots of stutter and sudden framerate drops. I was stumped, because the drops didn't occur out in the open world, but only when the head of the player - a guy named Geralt - came close to the camera, or was in focus in a cutscene. It didn't make any sense, since I have one of the fancier Radeon R9 270X models, which should handle the game at the highest settings just fine.

It wasn't until a friend said "uh, you've got NVIDIA HairWorks turned off, right?" Turns out, it was set to "Geralt only". Turning it off completely solved all performance problems. It simply hadn't registered with me that this feature is pretty much entirely tied to NVIDIA cards.

While I would prefer all these technologies to be open, the cold and harsh truth is that in this case, they give NVIDIA an edge, and I don't blame them for keeping them closed - we're not talking crucial communication protocols or internet standards, but an API to render hair. I do blame the developers of The Witcher for not warning me about this. Better yet: automatically disable and/or hide NVIDIA-specific options for Radeon owners altogether. It seems like a no-brainer to prevent disgruntled consumers. Not a big deal - but still.

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