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Exploring the Future of Computing
Updated: 1 hour 55 min ago

*The peculiar case of terrible Office performance in Boot Camp*

Tuesday 15th of November 2016 12:20:25 AM
Here's a short little tip with some interesting background information. If you are running Windows on your Mac - like I'm doing on my 2015 retina MacBook Pro because macOS is far too unoptimised to run on it - and it's using an Intel graphics chip, be sure to replace Apple's own Boot Camp graphics drivers with Intel's own latest drivers. The reason why you should do this is kind of fascinating. I noticed that while Windows as a whole ran quite fast and snappy - much more so than macOS with its crappy responsiveness, FPS drops, and hangs, even after reinstallations - two applications had responsiveness issues: Chrome and Microsoft Office. With Chrome, I chalked it up to #justchromethings and moved on. With Office though, I was perplexed. The past few versions of Office, including the current one, are fast, snappy, and instant. The days where Office applications were slow and cumbersome are long gone, even on lower-end hardware like the 2015 retina MacBook Pro. However, Office applications were slow, rendering was terrible, and things like dragging and resizing Office windows was literally a slide show - and I wanted to know why. I found out that on Windows, Microsoft Office uses its own rendering pipeline (framework? I'm not really sure what the accurate terminology is here), different from both Win32 and Metro applications. As it turns out, Office does its own check of the video card and driver to determine if hardware acceleration for Office should be disabled or not. By default, hardware acceleration is automatically disabled in Office programs if certain video card and video card driver combinations are detected when you start an Office program. If hardware acceleration is automatically disabled by the program, nothing indicates that this change occurred. Well, except that Office now runs like a total dog, of course. Apparently, the Office team maintains its own list of video card/driver combinations and keeps this list a secret. The list of video card/video driver combinations that trigger this automatic disabling of hardware graphics acceleration is not documented because the list is hard-coded in the Office programs and will be constantly changing as we discover additional video combinations that cause problems in Office programs. When I ran the Intel Driver Update Utility on my retina MacBook Pro to determine if the Apple-provided Intel graphics driver was up-to-date, the tool found a newer driver, but warned me that my OEM (Apple) had modified the already-installed driver, and that I would lose those customisations. I proceeded to download the new driver anyway, only to be hit by a very peculiar dialog upon trying to install the driver Intel told me was newer than what I had installed: the installer warned my I was installing an older driver than what I had installed. So, I decided to download the latest driver (the latest beta) manually, installed it, and this fixed not just Office, but also Chrome - which I find particularly baffling (maybe Chrome maintains a similar list?). The list that the Office team maintains is not of good drivers, but of bad drivers. For Office's hardware acceleration to fail, the driver needs to be on the list. This means that the combination "Apple-modified Intel graphics driver/Iris 6100" was, at some point, added to the list, triggering the disabling of hardware acceleration for Office. The combination "Intel's own graphics driver/Iris 6100" is not on the list. There's a number of possible explanations here, and I'm not really sure which one makes the most sense. Apple cares too little about Boot Camp users to intentionally cripple the Apple-supplied Intel drivers, so that's definitely not the cause. I also don't think the Intel driver magically improved a ton in the span of just a few weeks (there's only a few weeks of difference between the two versions, but I'm not trusting version numbers here) - but maybe it did? I honestly don't know. It's Intel's beta driver that isn't even signed by Microsoft, but somehow, the Office team tested it and removed it from their list? My first instinct was to think that because Apple had modified the driver, it wasn't on Microsoft's list - but since the list is for bad drivers, that makes no sense. The most logical explanation I have right now - suggested by Steven Troughton-Smith - is that Apple changes a few things in the Intel driver to optimise Windows' battery life, which in turn tune down the performance, causing the Office team to add this specific driver/video card combination to the list. I've been keeping an eye on battery life since installing the driver, but haven't noticed much of a difference. I don't think this little tip will be useful for a lot of people, but I really enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on. Read more on this exclusive OSNews article...

China: we will cut iPhone sales if Trump starts trade war

Monday 14th of November 2016 11:37:39 PM
China will take a tit-for-tat approach then. A batch of Boeing orders will be replaced by Airbus. US auto and iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and US soybean and maize imports will be halted. China can also limit the number of Chinese students studying in the US. Trump as a shrewd businessman will not be so naive. None of the previous presidents were bold enough to launch an all-out trade war against China. They all opted for a cautious line since it's most consistent with the overall interests of the US, and it's most acceptable to US society. That's China's state-run newspaper, threatening to hit - among others - Apple where it hurts. I don't think American companies are going to, uh, just allow Trump and his administration to carry out this promise he made to voters - one of his core promises, I might add.

Alienware on SteamOS lull: Windows 10 changed everything

Monday 14th of November 2016 10:08:29 PM
Frank Azor explains to PC Gamer why SteamOS seems to have kind of... Faded away: "Valve ran into some delays with the controller, and while that was occurring, Windows 10 was being released," Azor said. "I think Microsoft learned a very valuable lesson - a lot of valuable lessons - with Windows 8 and tried to correct those with Windows 10. It's more gamer focused, I would say. Every subsequent release has focused on gamers. Although their execution isn't perfect, it's definitely improved compared to Windows 8." He continued: "I think the need right now, for Steam Machines and for SteamOS, isn't as great as it was two years ago, and that’s contributed to the reason why the momentum has faded. We still offer SteamOS and the Steam Machine platform with the new version of the Alpha - the new Steam Machine R2 - and we still sell hundreds of units, thousands of units every month. But it's not a major initiative for us like it was two years ago because it's not necessary right now. We're in a good place with Windows." Microsoft did better with Windows 10, and lest we forget: Valve totally botched everything they could possibly botch with SteamOS.

NES Classic joins the "can it run Linux" club

Monday 14th of November 2016 10:01:21 PM
Ars Technica: A lucky few were able to secure and purchase the new NES Classic Edition when it launched on Friday, but not every buyer is playing games on it. The hacking community has pounced upon the device to see what the little box can do, and you know what that means: installing Linux. Or, at least, your own Linux kernel. The NES Classic Edition already runs on Linux, and Nintendo has complied with open source license rules by offering downloads of the tiny hardware's Linux source files. While a few enterprising hackers have posted about connecting a serial cable to the motherboard and trying to install their own kernels, one Japanese hacker pulled it off - and posted a guide explaining how he did so (if you really care, he also posted the entire bootlog from his first successful boot). I still really kind of want to build my own little machine that can emulate classic consoles. One of those project that's actually not too hard to do these days.

Microsoft brings Visual Studio to the Mac

Monday 14th of November 2016 12:05:07 PM
At Connect(); in November, Microsoft is launching a preview of Visual Studio for Mac. This is an exciting development, evolving the mobile-centric Xamarin Studio IDE into a true mobile-first, cloud-first development tool for .NET and C#, and bringing the Visual Studio development experience to the Mac.

Writing a Windows 3 emulator

Sunday 13th of November 2016 11:43:59 PM
We all know the feeling. You just want to use some of your favourite 16bit Windows applications, only to realise that since you moved to 64bit, Windows no longer runs them. This gets me every time, probably 4-5 times a day. Every time I'm like - there's got to be a better way than firing up my old 386 laptop, or running an entire Windows 3.x VM just to get my daily fix of Skifree. Right? I jest, of course, but when Brad Robinson's partner, Jen, wanted to play some old 16bit Windows games, he did actually want to create a less frustrating user experience. So, he decided to write a Windows 3 emulator. The basic idea is to write a program that can read a 16-bit Windows executable file, run it on an emulated CPU and map any 16-bit API calls that it makes onto the x64 equivalents. The emulator itself isn't available just yet, but his series of articles on Medium detailing its development are fascinating reads.

Darling is still trying to run macOS software on Linux

Sunday 13th of November 2016 11:43:52 PM
Darling, the project to bring macOS binaries to Linux, is still active. After a period of inactivity, the project has picked up speed, according to phoronix.com. Darling is still progressing but in its latest state can not run any macOS GUI applications but rather only basic command-line apps with both 32-bit and 64-bit capabilities. From the Darling Shell there is support for working with DMG images and even using Apple's Xcode toolchain for compiling basic "Hello World!" type applications for macOS and running from a Linux system.

"Android: choice at every turn"

Saturday 12th of November 2016 10:32:42 PM
A few days ago, Google filed its official response to the EU antritrust investigation into Android. The company details its main arguments on the Android Blog, and it's definitely worth a read. The blog post is remarkably open about one of Android's main shortcomings - fragmentation. To manage this challenge, we work with hardware makers to establish a minimum level of compatibility among Android devices. Critically, we give phone makers wide latitude to build devices that go above that baseline, which is why you see such a varied universe of Android devices. That's the key: our voluntary compatibility agreements enable variety while giving developers confidence to create apps that run seamlessly across thousands of different phones and tablets. This balance stimulates competition between Android devices as well as between Android and Apple's iPhone. Android's compatibility rules help minimize fragmentation and sustain a healthy ecosystem for developers. Ninety-four percent of respondents who answered questions on fragmentation in a Commission market survey said that it harms the Android platform. Developers worry about it, and our competitors with proprietary platforms (who don't face the same risk) regularly criticize us for it. The Commission's proposal risks making fragmentation worse, hurting the Android platform and mobile phone competition. The whole post is worth a read. As I've said before - I'm glad the EU keeps these large companies on their toes, but the accusations regarding Android seem way off base to me. In the end, market regulation needs to benefit consumers, not harm them - and it's easy to see how fragmenting Android into incompatible Samsung, Sony, HTC, and Google Androids would definitely harm consumers and developers alike. I think there's a lot more fodder to be found looking at the relationship between companies like Samsung and Apple on the one hand, and carriers on the other. On top of that, the EU could've invested a lot more effort into fostering alternative platforms, instead of letting Microsoft ruin Nokia and run it into the ground (speaking of places where there's fodder to be found). Nobody wants the proverbial Android N.

*On the role of social media in presidential elections*

Thursday 10th of November 2016 11:13:57 PM
With the US presidential elections right behind us, there's been a lot of talk about the role platforms like Facebook and Twitter have in our modern discourse. Last week, it was revealed that teens in Macedonia earns thousands of dollars each month by posting patently false stories about the elections on Facebook and getting them to go viral. With Facebook being a major source of news for a lot of people, such false stories can certainly impact people's voting behaviour. In a statement to TechCrunch, Facebook responded to the criticism that the company isn't doing enough to stop this kind of thing. The statement in full reads: We take misinformation on Facebook very seriously. We value authentic communication, and hear consistently from those who use Facebook that they prefer not to see misinformation. In Newsfeed we use various signals based on community feedback to determine which posts are likely to contain inaccurate information, and reduce their distribution. In Trending we look at a variety of signals to help make sure the topics being shown are reflective of real-world events, and take additional steps to prevent false or misleading content from appearing. Despite these efforts we understand there's so much more we need to do, and that is why it's important that we keep improving our ability to detect misinformation. We're committed to continuing to work on this issue and improve the experiences on our platform. This is an incredibly complex issue. First, Facebook is a private entity, and has no legal obligation to be the arbiter of truth, save for complying with court orders during, say, a defamation or libel lawsuit by a wronged party. If someone posts a false story that Clinton kicked a puppy or that Trump punched a kitten, but none of the parties involved take any steps, Facebook is under no obligation - other than perhaps one of morality - to remove or prevent such stories from being posted. Second, what, exactly, is truth? While it's easy to say that "the earth is flat" is false and misinformation, how do you classify stories of rape and sexual assault allegations levelled at a president-elect - and everything in between? What if you shove your false stories in a book, build a fancy building, slap a tax exempt status on it, and call it a religion? There's countless "legitimate" ways in which people sell lies and nonsense to literally billions of people, and we deem that completely normal and acceptable. Where do you draw the line, and more importantly, who draws that line? Third, how, exactly, do we propose handling these kinds of bans? Spreading news stories online is incredibly easy, and I doubt even Facebook itself could truly 'stop' a story from spreading on its platform. Is Facebook supposed to pass every post and comment through its own Department of Truth? Fourth, isn't spreading information - even false information - a basic human need that you can't suppress? Each and every one of us spreads misinformation at one or more points in our lives - we gossip, we think we saw something, we misinterpreted someone's actions, you name it. Sure, platforms like Facebook can potentially amplify said misinformation uncontrollably, but do we really want to put a blanket moratorium on "misinformation", seeing as how difficult it it is to define the term? We are only now coming to grips with the realities of social media elections, but as a politics nerd, I'd be remiss if I didn't raise my hand and reminded you of an eerily similar situation the US political world found itself in in the aftermath of the 26 September, 1960 debate between sitting vice president Nixon and a relatively unknown senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. It was the first televised debate in US history. While people who listened to the debate on the radio declared Nixon the winner, people who watched the debate on television declared Kennedy the winner. While Nixon appeared sickly and sweaty, Kennedy looked fresh, calm, and confident. The visual impact was massive, and it changed the course of the elections. Televised debates are completely normal now, and every presidential candidate needs to be prepared for them - but up until 1960, it wasn't a factor at all. Social media will be no different. Four years from now, when Tulsi Gabbard heads the Democratic ticket (you heard it here first - mark my words) versus incumbent Trump, both candidates will have a far better grasp on social media and how to use them than Clinton and Trump did this year. Read more on this exclusive OSNews article...

Announcing Rust 1.13

Thursday 10th of November 2016 11:11:15 PM
The 1.13 release includes several extensions to the language, including the long-awaited ? operator, improvements to compile times, minor feature additions to cargo and the standard library. This release also includes many small enhancements to documentation and error reporting, by many contributors, that are not individually mentioned in the release notes.

The updated Surface Book is a big, powerful brute of a laptop

Thursday 10th of November 2016 10:33:05 PM
If you were hoping that this new Surface Book would be a complete overhaul, you'll have to keep waiting. It is quite truly a midlife cycle spec refresh and nothing more. Most people will probably be just fine with one of the less expensive Surface Books, which haven’t been updated, but if you want to pony up to the top of the line, that top is slightly higher than before. The question now is do you plunk down $3,000 for this ultimate Surface Book, or do you wait for the inevitable Surface Book 2 that will likely come next year? If you have a Surface Book already, it doesn't make much sense to upgrade this soon into its lifespan. And there is certainly a good argument to be made to wait for the Microsoft's next revision, which will likely have Intel's seventh-generation processor. But if you can't wait, and you're looking for the ultimate Windows laptop, it's hard to look past Microsoft's latest Surface Book. I doubt Microsoft sells a lot of these Surface Books - in fact, I think they're only available in like 3 countries - but they probably serve more as a halo device for the Surface Pro. Still, looks like a really nice, if a very, very expensive, laptop.

Microsoft's updated Surface Book is a big, powerful brute of a laptop

Thursday 10th of November 2016 10:33:05 PM
If you were hoping that this new Surface Book would be a complete overhaul, you'll have to keep waiting. It is quite truly a midlife cycle spec refresh and nothing more. Most people will probably be just fine with one of the less expensive Surface Books, which haven’t been updated, but if you want to pony up to the top of the line, that top is slightly higher than before. The question now is do you plunk down $3,000 for this ultimate Surface Book, or do you wait for the inevitable Surface Book 2 that will likely come next year? If you have a Surface Book already, it doesn't make much sense to upgrade this soon into its lifespan. And there is certainly a good argument to be made to wait for the Microsoft's next revision, which will likely have Intel's seventh-generation processor. But if you can't wait, and you're looking for the ultimate Windows laptop, it's hard to look past Microsoft's latest Surface Book. I doubt Microsoft sells a lot of these Surface Books - in fact, I think they're only available in like 3 countries - but they probably serve more as a halo device for the Surface Pro. Still, looks like a really nice, if a very, very expensive, laptop.

Microsoft to add virtual touchpad to Windows 10

Wednesday 9th of November 2016 09:30:00 PM
You can now drive content on a second display from your tablet without ever having to attach a mouse. The virtual touchpad lets you do more with a tablet and a second screen - just connect to another monitor, PC, or TV, go to Action Center and tap on the "Project" Quick Action to extend your screen. Use it just like you would a physical touchpad to control content on the connected screen. To enable it, press and hold on the taskbar and select "Show touchpad button". A touchpad icon will now appear in the notification area (just like Windows Ink Workspace does), and tapping on it will bring it up the virtual touchpad. Fun little feature.

After protest, Lenovo adds Linux compatibility to Yoga 900/900S

Wednesday 9th of November 2016 07:21:54 PM
Lenovo created a stir when it said the Yoga 900 and 900S hybrids would work only with Windows, not Linux. The company has now changed its stance, bringing Linux support to those PCs. The PC maker earlier this month issued a BIOS update so Linux can be loaded on Yoga 900, 900S and IdeaPad 710 models. The BIOS update adds an AHCI (Advance Host Controller Interface) SATA controller mode so users can load Linux on the laptops. This is a Linux-only BIOS, meaning it should be used only by those who want to load the OS. If you want to continue with Windows, do not load the firmware. "This BIOS is not intended to be used on machines running Windows operating systems," Lenovo said. Still not an ideal solution, but at least they're listening.

Software development behind China's Great Firewall

Wednesday 9th of November 2016 06:42:02 PM
If you've ever been to mainland China, chances are you're familiar with the Great Firewall, the country's all-encompassing internet censorship apparatus. You know the despair of not being able to open Facebook, the pain of going mute on Twitter. But with a good VPN, you can magic many of these inconveniences away - at least temporarily. For software developers based in China, however, it's not that simple. You're not just censored from certain websites. Basic building blocks that you use for product development are suddenly beyond your reach. With software services and libraries spread across the globe, China's internet sovereignty can be a real pain in the ass. Something I've never really put much thought into.

Google's plan to make Android updates suck less

Wednesday 9th of November 2016 03:55:24 PM
We have a theory: "Android Extensions" is a plan to bring the easily updatable app model to the AOSP APIs. Like Google Play Services, we think this app will be a bundle of API shims that Google can update whenever it wants. The difference is that everything in Play Services is a closed-source Google API, while "Android Extensions" would be collections of fresh AOSP code delivered directly to your device via the Play Store. The CDD's stipulation that OEMs "MUST preload the AOSP implementation" is telling. It says that 1) this is AOSP code, and 2) OEMs aren't allowed to "customize" it. If Ars' assumptions are correct, this looks like a decent step forward - assuming it pans out, of course. Clever, too.

Android Auto: now available in every car

Tuesday 8th of November 2016 12:14:45 PM
But we know there are millions of older cars on the road that are not compatible with Android Auto, and many don't have a screen at all. We wanted to bring the same connected experience to these drivers too. So today we're excited to introduce a whole new way to use Android Auto: right on your phone screen! This update allows anyone with an Android phone (running 5.0 or later) to use a driver friendly interface to access the key stuff you need on the road - directions, music, communications - without the distraction of things that aren't essential while driving. It's not the UI of a phone that causes the distraction; it's the act of communicating with people not in your car that causes the distraction. Don't use messaging or calling applications while driving. You are a danger to others and yourself, no matter how hard people always protest that "it doesn't apply to them". You can slap large touch targets on a dangerous activity, like Apple and Google do, but that doesn't make it any less inherently and deeply dangerous. You are toying with lives.

Whatever happened to Japanese laptops?

Tuesday 8th of November 2016 12:10:45 PM
A few weeks ago I noticed some foreign exchange students at my university who were huddled around a Panasonic laptop. This wasn't one of the Toughbook models that are sold in the US, but a newer Japanese model. Seeing this rare laptop out in the wild combined with the recent wailing and gnashing of teeth concerning the MacBook Pro piqued my interest in the current Japanese PC market. It really feels like the Japanese electronics industry lost most of its appeal and cachet, with the sector now being lead by American and Chinese companies. I love the design of the Panasonic laptop, though.

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