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Updated: 5 hours 32 min ago

Microsoft publishes first Edge for macOS preview, promises to make it truly “Mac-like”

Monday 20th of May 2019 10:40:36 PM

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

One of the most important ways that Microsoft wants to make the new Chromium-based Edge different from the current EdgeHTML-based Edge is in its support for other platforms. The original Edge was, for no good reason, tied to Windows 10, meaning that Web developers on platforms such as Windows 7 or macOS had no way of testing how their pages looked, short of firing up a Windows 10 virtual machine.

The new browser is, by contrast, a cross-platform affair. The first preview builds were published for Windows 10, with versions for Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 promised soon; today, these are joined by builds for macOS.

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The macOS version resembles the Windows 10 builds that we've seen so far, but it isn't identical. Microsoft wants to be a good citizen on macOS by producing not just an application that fits the platform's standards—using the right fonts, icons, spacing, and so on—but which also adapts to Apple's unique hardware. To that end, the company is working on support for the Touch Bar found on some of Apple's portable systems, using it for media control, tab switching, or access to bookmarks. Microsoft will also work to ensure that Edge's support as a Progressive Web App host properly adopts macOS behaviors with regard to interaction with the Dock, app switcher, and Spotlight.

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Windows dual booting no longer looking likely on Pixelbooks

Wednesday 15th of May 2019 10:50:11 PM

Enlarge / Google's Pixelbook. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Just under a year ago, there were signs that Google was modifying the firmware of its Pixelbook laptop to enable dual booting into Windows 10. The firmware was updated to give the Pixelbook the ability to boot into an "Alternative OS" ("AltOS" mode). The work included references to the Windows Hardware Certification Kit (WHCK) and the Windows Hardware Lab Kit (HLK), Microsoft's testing frameworks for Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, respectively.

Google now appears to have abandoned this effort. A redditor called crosfrog noticed that AltOs mode was now deprecated (via Android Police). Pixelbooks are going to be for Chrome OS only, after all.

The dual-boot work was being done under the name Project Campfire. There appears to have been little development work on Project Campfire since last December. This suggests that Google actually decided not to bother with dual booting many months ago.

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Microsoft open sources algorithm that gives Bing some of its smarts

Wednesday 15th of May 2019 03:51:36 PM

Enlarge / The Eiffel Tower. (credit: Pedro Szekely)

Search engines today are more than just the dumb keyword matchers they used to be. You can ask a question—say, "How tall is the tower in Paris?"—and they'll tell you that the Eiffel Tower is 324 meters (1,063 feet) tall, about the same as an 81-story building. They can do this even though the question never actually names the tower.

How do they do this? As with everything else these days, they use machine learning. Machine-learning algorithms are used to build vectors—essentially, long lists of numbers—that in some sense represent their input data, whether it be text on a webpage, images, sound, or videos. Bing captures billions of these vectors for all the different kinds of media that it indexes. To search the vectors, Microsoft uses an algorithm it calls SPTAG ("Space Partition Tree and Graph"). An input query is converted into a vector, and SPTAG is used to quickly find "approximate nearest neighbors" (ANN), which is to say, vectors that are similar to the input.

This (with some amount of hand-waving) is how the Eiffel Tower question can be answered: a search for "How tall is the tower in Paris?" will be "near" pages talking about towers, Paris, and how tall things are. Such pages are almost surely going to be about the Eiffel Tower.

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Microsoft: The open source company

Friday 10th of May 2019 09:51:30 PM

Enlarge

The news from Microsoft's Build developer conference that surprised me most was that Microsoft will ship a genuine Linux kernel—GPLed, with all patches published—with Windows. That announcement was made with the announcement of Windows Terminal, a new front-end for command-line programs on Windows that will, among other things, support tabs.

Microsoft's increased involvement with open source software isn't new, as projects such as Visual Studio Code and the .NET runtime have operated as open source, community-driven projects. But this week's announcements felt a bit different.

The Linux kernel will be powering Microsoft's second generation Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). The first generation WSL contains a partial re-implementation of the Linux kernel API that uses the Windows NT kernel to perform its functionality. In choosing this approach, Microsoft avoided using any actual Linux code, and hence the company avoided the GPL license with its "viral" stipulations that would have arguably forced Microsoft to open source WSL and perhaps even parts of Windows itself.

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Windows 10 will soon ship with a full, open source, GPLed Linux kernel

Monday 6th of May 2019 08:20:20 PM

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

Earlier today, we wrote that Microsoft was going to add some big new features to the Windows Subsystem for Linux, including native support for Docker containers. It turns out that that ain't the half of it.

The current Windows Subsystem for Linux uses a Microsoft-authored kernel component that provided the same kernel API as the Linux kernel but written from scratch by Microsoft. Essentially, it translated from Linux APIs to Windows NT kernel APIs. That worked pretty well, but the current subsystem had a few shortcomings: there was no ability to use Linux drivers, in particular file system drivers. Its file system performance, layered on top of Windows' own NTFS, was often 20 times slower than a real Linux kernel. It was also a relatively old version of the kernel; it offered approximately the set of APIs that Linux 4.4 did, and that was released in 2016. Some APIs aren't implemented at all, and others are only partially implemented to meet the needs of specific applications.

All is changing with Windows Subsystem for Linux 2. Instead of emulating the Linux kernel APIs on the NT kernel, WSL 2 is going to run a full Linux kernel in a lightweight virtual machine. This kernel will be trimmed down and tailored to this particular use case, with stripped-down hardware support (since it will defer to the host Windows OS for that) and faster booting.

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Microsoft’s plan for Edge: Integrated IE compatibility, better privacy

Monday 6th of May 2019 04:27:20 PM

Microsoft has outlined its plans for the next stage of development for the new Chromium-based Edge browser, and those plans include a trio of new features.

The first is a big nod to enterprise customers: a built-in Internet Explorer mode. Chrome has a number of extensions that accomplish much the same thing—they create a new tab in the browser and use the Internet Explorer 11 engine, rather than the Chrome engine, to draw that tab. For Edge, this capability will be built in.

The integrated Internet Explorer tab can be used to provide compatibility for legacy Web applications.

Enterprises can already create a compatibility list, the Enterprise Mode Site List, which the current Edge browser uses to know which (internal, line-of-business) sites should be shown in Internet Explorer 11. The new Edge will use this same list to determine when to use Internet Explorer.

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Developers love Python and TypeScript, get paid for Clojure, and aren’t using blockchain

Wednesday 10th of April 2019 07:44:58 PM

Stack Overflow's annual developer survey was published this week, giving an insight into the skills, experience, and opinions of a wide slice of the developer community. Since its launch in 2008, Stack Overflow has become an essential developer tool, offering copy/paste solutions to an ever-growing number of programming problems.

The Stack Overflow survey is particularly interesting, as Stack Overflow does not focus on any one kind of developer or development; is used by professionals, students, and hobbyists alike; and has substantial use across Europe, North America, and Asia, with respectable representation from South America, Africa, and Oceania. As such, it gives a view of the software development industry as a whole, across all fields and disciplines.

To the surprise of nobody, Web technology remains top of the usage chart: some 67.8 percent of developers use JavaScript, giving it the number one position; and 63.5 percent use HTML and CSS in second place. SQL once again takes the third slot, at 54.4 percent. The first change relative to last year's survey comes at the fourth spot, with Python pushing Java into fifth place and Bash/shell scripting into sixth. C#, PHP, and C++ retain their same relative ordering at the seventh, eighth, and ninth slots.

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Hands-on: First public previews of Chromium-based Edge are now out

Monday 8th of April 2019 04:25:34 PM

Enlarge / There's really no difference between how the Ars front page looks in Edge and Chrome.

Microsoft's switch to using the Chromium engine to power its Edge browser was announced in December last year, and the first public preview build is out now. Canary builds, updated daily, and Dev builds, updated weekly, are available for Windows 10. Versions for other operating systems and a beta that's updated every six weeks are promised to be coming soon.

Chromium is the open source browser project run by Google. It includes the Blink rendering engine (Google's fork of Apple's WebKit), V8 JavaScript engine, Google's software-based sandboxing, and the browser user interface. Google builds on Chromium for its Chrome browser, and a number of third-party browsers, including Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave, also use Chromium.

As a result, every Chromium browser offers more or less the same performance and Web compatibility. Indeed, this is a big part of why Microsoft made the switch: the company had grown tired of updating its own EdgeHTML engine to ensure it behaved identically to Chrome and is now offering Chrome-equivalent behavior in the most direct way possible. I've been using a version 74 build (which is a little out of date at this point) for the last week, and I have yet to see any difference between Edge and Chromium Dev when it comes to displaying Web pages. In principle, a page could treat Edge differently (it reports its identity as a rather ugly "Edg/74.1.96.14"; I'm presuming the misspelling is an attempt to ensure it isn't identified as a variation of the current Edge browser), but in general there's little reason to do so.

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Visual Studio 2019 goes live with C++, Python shared editing

Tuesday 2nd of April 2019 04:00:51 PM

Enlarge / OK, so Visual Studio's always gonna look like Visual Studio. But the eagle-eyed will spot a few differences. There's the menus-in-title bar at the top. There's the message "No issues found" in the status bar, showing that background code analysis has found no problems with my code. Bottom left, to the left of the "Ready" text, is the new background task status indicator that provides more information about things like scanning code to build IntelliSense information. There's a (not visible) GitHub tab in the Solution Explorer panel that's used for the new Pull Request integration. And, of course, there's the Live Share button top right.

A new version of Microsoft's integrated development environment (IDE) goes live today with the release of Visual Studio 2019 and its cousin Visual Studio 2019 for Mac.

Visual Studio is in a bit of a strange position, and it would be fair for developers to ask why this branded release even exists. Visual Studio 2017 has received nine point releases and countless patch releases since its release two years ago. Each of these releases has brought a mix of new features and bug fixes, and for Visual Studio users, the experience feels comparable to that of, say, Google Chrome, where each new version brings a steady flow of incrementally improved features and fixes.

Live Share C++ coding, with Visual Studio 2019 on the left, Visual Studio Code on the right. (credit: Microsoft)

Indeed, this iterative, incremental model is the one that Microsoft is pushing (and using) for services such as Azure DevOps and is comparable to the continuous development we see for Office 365, which is updated monthly, and the free and open source Visual Studio Code, which also has monthly iterations. With this development process in place, one wonders why we'd bother with "Visual Studio 2019" at all; let's just have "Visual Studio" and keep on updating it forever.

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