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'Microsoft's software is Malware'
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-11-24 17:57:22

Malware means software designed to function in ways that mistreat or harm the user. (This does not include accidental errors.) This page explains how Microsoft software is malware.

Malware and nonfree software are two different issues. The difference between free software and nonfree software is in whether the users have control of the program or vice versa. It's not directly a question of what the program does when it runs. However, in practice nonfree software is often malware, because the developer's awareness that the users would be powerless to fix any malicious functionalities tempts the developer to impose some.


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Running a mainline kernel on a cellphone
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-11-24 00:11:48

One of the biggest freedoms associated with free software is the ability to replace a program with an updated or modified version. Even so, of the many millions of people using Linux-powered phones, few are able to run a mainline kernel on those phones, even if they have the technical skills to do the replacement. The sad fact is that no mainstream phone available runs mainline kernels. A session at the 2015 Kernel Summit, led by Rob Herring, explored this problem and what might be done to address it.

This indeed a big problem, and I'm glad it's finally being picked up.

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Android Studio 2.0 preview released
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-11-24 00:06:58

One the most requested features we receive is to make app builds and deployment faster in Android Studio. Today at the Android Developer Summit, we're announcing a preview of Android Studio 2.0 featuring Instant Run that will dramatically improve your development workflow. With Android Studio 2.0, we are also including a preview of a new GPU Profiler.

Instant Run allows you to change the code of your program as it's running on your device or emulator, and if it indeed works as advertised, this should be a major boon for developers. TechCrunch claims Google's also improved the emulator in this release, and if there's one thing I know about programming for Android, it's that the emulator was absolutely terrible, so good to know they're working on it.

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Breaking the fourth wall with Minecraft
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-11-24 00:00:40

Recently I started playing Minecraft, again. I find vanilla Minecraft somewhat boring, so I always look out for modpacks. After searching for new modpacks, I stumpled upon FTB Horizons: Daybreaker. Looking at the included mods list, OpenComputers caught my eye.

As the name suggests, OpenComputers adds computers to Minecraft. Real computers! They are highly modular too. You can add peripherals, from monitors to keyboards and expansion cards that add capabilities such as graphics and network. They can also be programmed in Lua, in-game. Another type of card also exists, the Internet card which, as you can imagine, can communicate with the real-life Internet. Awesome.

It never ceases to amaze me what can be done with Minecraft.

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Lumia 950 reviews: too little, too late
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-11-20 23:40:13

The first reviews for Microsoft's latest flagship smartphones are coming in, the first device with Windows 10 for phones. This is going to be the big one, right? After several false starts and restarts, this was finally going to be it, everyone told us.

The Verge:

In the mobile world, Microsoft is way behind Google and Apple, and has what many would say is an insurmountable deficit to make up. It could have pulled out all of the stops and produced a phone that was visually impactful, wildly innovative, and truly riveting compared to anything else to make up lost ground.

The Lumia 950 is, unfortunately, none of those things. Sure, Microsoft put some newer guts in it, and Windows 10 has some interesting features, but there's nothing really here that would drive anyone but the most die hard Windows fan to buy it.

The WSJ:

It feels like the Lumia 950 is a proof of concept that might help Microsoft get momentum for its new strategy. But I can't recommend buying a $600 proof of concept. For now, your phone stays... A phone.

And Ars Technica:

If the Lumia 950 were more keenly priced then it might be easier to get excited about it. Along with its bigger brother, it fills a glaring gap in the Lumia range and does at last offer an upgrade path. For Windows Phone fans (and I am one), this phone, or its bigger brother, is much needed and very welcome. But this is not a phone that is likely to win over new converts. It does its job, and it keeps the platform ticking over. The struggle to attract new users, however, remains.

Way too little, way too late. Windows Phone is done.

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Jolla files for debt restructuring
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-11-20 15:08:53

Jolla Ltd, the mobile company from Finland today announced that its latest financing round which aimed to end in November, has been postponed and the company needs to adjust its operations accordingly. At the same time the company has filed for a debt restructuring program in Finland, to ensure the continuity of its business. Jolla will also temporarily lay off a big part of its personnel.

To anyone capable of basic pattern recognition, this does not come as a surprise. I doubt I'm getting my tablet, even though I backed it in the first hour of availability, but to be honest, I'm much more concerned about the people being "temporarily" laid off. These are all people who took an incredible risk to follow a dream, and I hope - despite the dire signs - Jolla pulls through and they can keep their jobs, or that they can easily and quickly find new jobs.

Almost two years ago, I wrote in my Jolla review:

Few devices have a history as complicated as the Jolla and Sailfish. The ten-year journey from the Nokia N770 to the Jolla was long, arduous, filled with focus shifts, mergers, and other complications. Like the nameless protagonist in The Last Resort, in order to step out of the shadows of the old world, Jolla had to leave Providence behind, traverse the Great Divide, cross the Rockies to reach the Malibu, and set sail across the Pacific to end up on the pearly white beaches of Lahaina.

However, also just like the nameless protagonist, they found that the natural beauty of Lahaina had already been framed and plasticised by hotel chains and fast food restaurants. It is in that environment that Jolla must make a stand and survive - because there's no more new frontier.

It seems like Jolla was unable to survive amidst the hotel chains and fast food restaurants of the mobile technology industry.

Only a few days ago, my brother had a gift for me. Something special, something I know he cares about a lot. A square black box, embossed with the outline of a phone with a slide-out keyboard, and, in silver lettering, the timeless "NOKIA Nseries" and "Nokia N900". None of you know my brother - obviously - but I know just how huge of a moment this was. Up until only a few months ago, he still used his Nokia N900 as his one and only smartphone. Not as a curiosity for parlour tricks - no, as his primary, day-to-day smartphone.

His attachment and love for his N900 is something you don't see very often in technology. It's not the kind of deluded fandom you see in some other circles, but more of a "I know this device is outdated and slow and that the software isn't very modern, but it works for me". Talk to any current N900 user, and you'll get the same vibe. In fact, the N900 my brother gave to me wasn't his only one, he still has another one as back-up.

As a back-up to what? Well, after a short stint with a Nokia N9 - which I bought from him a few years ago - he went back to his N900, until a few months ago, when he finally settled on a new device, a Sony Z3 Compact. After the last few months, he finally felt comfortable enough to donate one of his N900s (but not both!). Unsurprisingly, he was always interested in Jolla and kept an eye on them, and while he certainly played with mine on occasion, it never clicked.

When, as Jolla, spiritual successor to the infamous and beloved Nokia Maemo/Harmattan family, you can't even entice someone like my brother, you know you're lost in a world where you're never going to compete with Android or iOS.

My limited edition Jolla The First One will always have a special place in my heart, and the tablet, if it ever ships to me, will certainly be one of the more prized curiosities in my collection, but I'm afraid the ship has sailed on Jolla.

It's probably in Fiji by now.

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The iPad Pro has an App Store problem
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-11-19 21:28:18

Much of the marketing around Apple's new iPad Pro has been centered on its ability to run professional grade software and the variety of creativity apps it supports. But for smaller developers of pro software, the iPad Pro may present more of a quandary than a new computing platform.

The reason? Despite the new tablet's processing power and capabilities, it's still running on mobile software - and developers aren't totally convinced the economic incentives exist in the App Store for iOS. In short, they feel they wouldn't be able to charge users the amounts they normally would for a version of their software that runs on a desktop.

It's a problem that exists not only around the iPad Pro, but mobile software development in general, and highlights the very real challenges that smaller software companies face when deciding which software platforms to prioritize - especially as mobile tablets and PCs converge.

This is a huge problem for closed, mobile-first devices like Apple's iPad Pro. Large companies like Adobe can run comprehensive cloud infrastructures and fund the burden of mobile development with the sales of proper software. Smaller developers, however, cannot. This problem doesn't exist on competitors like the Surface Pro, because they run a traditional, proper desktop.

After the starry eyes of the initial gold rush subsided, it became clear centralised application stores wreaked havoc in the software industry, and caused a spiraling race to the bottom. Sadly, it seems like Apple has no answer to this problem for its iPad Pro.

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Google starts streaming some Android applications
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-11-18 23:52:37

In addition, you're also going to start seeing an option to "stream" some apps you don't have installed, right from Google Search, provided you're on good Wifi. For example, with one tap on a "Stream" button next to the HotelTonight app result, you'll get a streamed version of the app, so that you can quickly and easily find what you need, and even complete a booking, just as if you were in the app itself. And if you like what you see, installing it is just a click away. This uses a new cloud-based technology that we're currently experimenting with.

This seems like a hell of a lot of work and infrastructure for something that could be solved by, uh, I don't know, installing the application?

I'm getting old.

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Microsoft investigating Win32 support for Continuum
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-11-18 23:41:50

With Continuum, capable Windows 10 Mobile devices will be able to act like PCs, hooking up to keyboards, mice, and monitors for a full Windows desktop experience, and Microsoft is looking into ways of expanding these capabilities. Apparently, that involves investigating the possibility of running Win32 apps from phones, according to Microsoft's Kevin Gallo during the Connect() 2015 conference.

I have two things to say about this. First, this is totally cool. The idea of having just one smartphone with me that can hook up to a display, keyboard, and mouse, and then also run proper Win32 applications (instead of crappy Metro applications) is incredibly appealing to me. I like the concept of the Surface and Continuum (the device being smart enough to adapt the UI to the current input method), but a desktop with just Metro (and yes I will keep using that name) applications is pretty much useless. It's going to need big girl applications.

Second, while cool, this is also yet another admission from Microsoft that they just can't get developers - either inside or outside - to care much about Metro and all that it entails. Microsoft would love to move everyone - users and developers alike - over to Metro, but it just isn't happening, and there's no signs that it's going to get any better in the near future. I would love for Metro to be adopted enough (and capable enough) so that it can start replacing Win32 - but it's been years now, and it's pretty clear that we're just not getting there.

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Oppo starts offering near-stock Android
By Thom Holwerda on 2015-11-18 23:34:51

Oppo has been putting a customized version of Android on its phones for years, but now it's letting you strip most of those customizations away. It released a nearly stock version of Android today that's basically just Android Lollipop with a few pieces of Oppo software, including its camera app, audio tools, and gesture support. The new release, which it's calling Project Spectrum, is able to be installed on its Find 7 and Find 7a phones and will be coming to other Oppo phones in the near future. Sometime early next year, Oppo plans to release an updated version for Android Marshmallow.

More and more manufacturers seem to be getting the message: users want stock Android, because stock Android is better than whatever crap OEMs can come up with. A good development, obviously, but it still doesn't address Android'd biggest weakness: updates.

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