Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Windows 10’s “Sets” tabbed windows will never see the light of day

April 23rd, 2019
Microsoft's inspiration, evidently.

Enlarge / Microsoft's inspiration, evidently. (credit: Jerry / Flickr)

For two periods last year, those using preview builds of Windows 10 could access to a feature called Sets: a tabbed interface that was eventually to allow tabs to be put in the titlebar of just about any window. These tabs would allow both multiple copies of the same application to be combined—a tabbed Explorer or Command Prompt, say—and multiple disparate windows to be grouped—combining, say, a browser window containing research with the Word window. However, both times the feature was enabled only for a few weeks, so Microsoft could gather data, before disabling it. Sets aren't in the Windows 10 May 2019 update.

It seems now that Sets are unlikely to ever materialize. Rich Turner, who oversees Microsoft's revamping of the Windows command-line infrastructure and the Windows Subsystem for Linux tweeted that the interface "is no more." Having everything tabbed everywhere isn't going to happen. Adding tabs specifically for command-line windows is, however, "high on [Microsoft's] to do list."

There was initially some confusion that the tweet might have meant that some other system-wide approach to tabs was going to be used. But Turner clarified today that the command-line tabs will be purpose-built for command-line windows, not a general feature for the entire operating system.

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Posted in browser, Chromium, EDGE, microsoft, Open Source, sets, tabs, Tech, user interface, Windows | Comments (0)

Google cuts the Pixel 3 price in half for Project Fi’s birthday

April 22nd, 2019

We're on the lookout for the mid-range Pixel, which is expected to bring some of Google's flagship smartphone goodness to a lower price range. If you;'re in the market for a device like that, why not skip the mid-ranger and just buy the full flagship smartphone? Today only, Google is running an exceptional deal on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL: they're available for half price as a way to celebrate Google Fi's birthday. So instead of $800 for the Pixel 3, you can pick up Google's smaller flagship for $400. The bigger Pixel 3 XL drops from $1,000 (for the 128GB version) to $500.

Buying the Pixel 3 for half price does come with some caveats. First, it's through the Project Fi site, and the terms of the deal say you have to "activate" the phone with Google Fi. Fi doesn't have a contract though, so assuming you use 0GB of data, that just means you'll be on the hook for one month of $20 service. The deal is good until 11:59pm PT today only (April 22) or while supplies last. It is only open to US residents.

We've complained about the limited amount of RAM in the Pixel 3 and 3 X and the idea that it's not competitive in price or design with devices like the OnePlus 6T. For half-price, though, this sale represents a pretty sweet deal. You're getting a great stock Android device with the fastest Android updates that will arrive until October 2021. It has one of the best mobile cameras on Earth, and if you're the crazy type that likes to play with beta builds of Android, the Pixel 3 gives you the earliest access. This is the lowest price we've ever seen for the device, so it seems hard to go wrong with a purchase here.

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Microsoft engineer complains that company is biased against white men

April 22nd, 2019
Microsoft engineer complains that company is biased against white men

Enlarge (credit: Rory Finneren)

Some Microsoft employees are criticizing the company's efforts to increase hiring from under-represented demographics to make its staff more diverse, according to messages leaked to Quartz.

Threads started by an as-yet unnamed female program manager and posted on the internal Yammer message board in January and April assert that white and Asian men are being penalized or overlooked because of hiring practices that reward managers for hiring people outside of those groups. (Quartz hasn't named the employee who is apparently identified in the messages.) Further, the employee questions the value of diversity at all: "Many women simply aren't cut out for the corporate rat race, so to speak, and that's not because of 'the patriarchy,' it's because men and women aren't identical." She follows up that it is "established fact" that the "specific types of thought process and problem solving required for engineering of all kinds (software or otherwise) are simply less prevalent among women," and that women simply aren't interested in engineering jobs.

Established fact?

Of course, these claims seemingly ignore troves of evidence showing how bias seeps into hiring and the workplace. Research has shown merely having a male name produces a more positive assessment of a job application, having a male presenter produces more positive reactions to pitches, and that managers skew their judgement criteria so as to favor men. Software developers who don't happen to be white and male are paid less than white men, and women, unlike men, are viewed negatively when they attempt to negotiate higher pay.

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Posted in diversity, equality, google, James Damore, microsoft, outreach, Policy, Tech | Comments (0)

After the Galaxy Fold breaks in the hands of reviewers, Samsung delays launch

April 22nd, 2019

The $2,000 Samsung Galaxy Fold was slated to come out April 26 in the US. It was supposed to be a triumph of Samsung's display technology—a product years in the making that would redefine the smartphone. Instead, it's being delayed. A report from The Wall Street Journal says the phone has been delayed until "at least next month." The report cites "people familiar with the matter" and says that the original launch plans were changed due to "problems with phones being used by reviewers."

Samsung was suspiciously protective of the Galaxy Fold in the run-up to launch. It was announced alongside the Galaxy S10 in February, but while the S10 was put on display to be touched and tapped, the Galaxy Fold was only shown in a glass box. It wasn't until last week that people outside of Samsung were finally able to try the Galaxy Fold, when Samsung handed out review units to select members of the press. There were always durability concerns about the folding display, but when devices in the hands of reviewers sometimes lasted a single day before the displays died, the alarm bells started ringing.

The report from the Journal says, "The new rollout is expected in the coming weeks, though a firm date has yet to be determined." Apparently Samsung has flagged the current hinge design as one of the issues causing an early death. "Though the company’s internal investigation remains ongoing, the Galaxy Fold phone’s reported issues stem from problems affecting the handset’s hinge and extra pressure applied to the internal screen," the report says.

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Galaxy S10+ review: Too many compromises for the sky-high price

April 22nd, 2019

Samsung's flagship Galaxy S smartphone line is back with the Galaxy S10 and S10+. Since the launch of the Galaxy S8 in 2017, Samsung has stuck with the same basic design for two years across four major devices: the S8, Note8, S9, and Note9. The Galaxy S10 firmly fits into the Galaxy S8 family tree, but with new display and fingerprint technology, the S10 represents the biggest design upgrade since that release in 2017.

As usual, Samsung is gunning for the title of "spec-sheet champion" with the Galaxy S10, and the company is turning in devices with bigger displays, bigger batteries, faster SoCs, more RAM, and more storage. This is one of the first devices that gives us a look at the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC, and it's also one of the first devices with "Wi-Fi 6," aka 802.11ax support. The S10 is also the first device with a Qualcomm-made ultrasonic fingerprint reader, and it features Samsung's new "hole-punch" display tech for the camera cutout. If all that's not enough for you, the Galaxy S10+ can hit even more stratospherically high configurations—and prices—that would rival some laptops, topping out at 12GB of RAM and 1TB of storage for a whopping $1,600.

We reviewed the bigger Galaxy S10+, where even the base configuration results in a $1,000 smartphone. And if spending that much cash, we're not really in the mood for the kinds of excuses and compromises that would be acceptable at a lower price point. When a device manufacturer turns up with sky-high prices like this, it's only fair to go in with sky-high expectations.

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Posted in Features, Tech | Comments (0)

New automation features are coming to macOS in Shortcuts—but not for every app

April 19th, 2019
A few examples of "Shortcuts" that can be applied to Siri with iOS 12.

Enlarge / A few examples of "Shortcuts" that can be applied to Siri with iOS 12. (credit: Apple)

According to a report at 9to5mac citing people familiar with Apple’s plans, several iOS features will come to the Mac in macOS 10.15.

First and foremost among these is Shortcuts, the automation application that Apple built out of its acquisition of Workflow. The app, support for which was introduced in iOS 12, allows iPhone and iPad users to define steps for their devices to perform when they deliver certain user-definable Siri voice commands, tap user-created home screen icons, and so on.

Shortcuts is tightly integrated with Siri, and it was positioned by Apple as a way to make Siri much more powerful than it has been previously. Third-party app developers could develop their own Shortcuts and accompanying Siri commands that could be accessed across the operating system.

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Posted in apple, Automator, iOS, MacOS, screen time, shortcuts, Siri, Tech, WWDC, WWDC 2019 | Comments (0)

Get a look at Android’s browser and search ballots for the EU

April 19th, 2019

Last year the European Commission ruled that Google had illegally used Android to dominate search. Last month the European Commission gave Google feedback that bundling Chrome with the OS was also frowned upon. This week Google is implementing actual software changes to Android. The company has created a Windows-style ballot system which will encourage users to actively pick alternative browsers and search engines.

Google outlines the new ballot system in a post on its official blog. Pictures show two new setup screens in Android, one shows the currently installed search engine (usually Google Search) and offers to install alternatives like DuckDuckGo and Qwant. The second screen shows the currently installed browser (Chrome) and offers alternatives like Firefox and Edge.

Rather than make these screens part of setup that would be shown to new users only, Google says "These new screens will be displayed the first time a user opens Google Play after receiving an upcoming update." The browser and search pages each show five apps total, including any apps that are already installed. Google notes that the app selection will vary by country, and that new apps "will be included based on their popularity and shown in a random order." There's also going to be a new prompt in Google Chrome, which will encourage users to pick a search engine.

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Microsoft buys Express Logic, adds a third operating system to its IoT range

April 18th, 2019
Different-colored rolls of thread are lined next to each other.

Enlarge / Multi-threading. (credit: Jamie Golden / Flickr)

Not content with having a Windows-based Internet of Things platform (Windows 10 IoT) and a Linux-based Internet of Things platform (Azure Sphere), Microsoft has added a third option. The company has announced that it has bought Express Logic and its ThreadX real-time operating system for an undisclosed sum.

Real-time operating systems (RTOSes) differ from more conventional platforms in their predictability. With an RTOS, a developer can guarantee that, for example, interrupt handling or switching from one process to another takes a known, bounded amount of time. This gives applications strong guarantees that they'll be able to respond in time to hardware events, timers, or other things that might make an application want to use the CPU. This predictability is essential for control applications; for example, ThreadX was used in NASA's Deep Impact mission that hurled a large object at a comet. ThreadX was also used in the iPhone 4's cellular radio controller, and ThreadX is embedded in the firmware of many Wi-Fi devices. These tasks need the determinism of an RTOS because there are timing constraints on how quickly they need to respond.

Linux can be built with various options to offer more predictable behavior and so can address some similar scenarios. But ThreadX has another big advantage up its sleeve: it's tiny. A minimal ThreadX installation takes 2,000 bytes of storage and needs 1KB of RAM, far less than Linux can use. By way of comparison, Microsoft's Sphere hardware (which uses a custom-designed ARM processor with various security features embedded) has 4MB of RAM for applications and 16MB of storage. There are an estimated 6.2 billion deployments of ThreadX running on several dozen different kinds of processor or microcontroller.

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Posted in azure, azure sphere, express logic, Internet of things, microsoft, RTOS, Tech | Comments (0)

Facebook is working on an AI voice assistant similar to Alexa, Google Assistant

April 18th, 2019
Facebook's Portal+ smart display.

Enlarge / Along with video chatting through Facebook Messenger, both Portal devices have built-in Amazon Alexa. (credit: Facebook)

Facebook is working on developing an AI voice assistant similar in functionality to Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri, according to a report from CNBC and a later statement from a Facebook representative.

The CNBC report, which cites "several people familiar with the matter," says the project has been ongoing since early 2018 in the company's offices in Redmond, Washington. The endeavor is led by Ira Snyder, whose listed title on LinkedIn is "Director, AR/VR and Facebook Assistant at Facebook." Facebook Assistant may be the name of the project. CNBC writes that Facebook has been reaching out to vendors in the smart-speaker supply chain, suggesting that Portal may only be the first of many smart devices the company makes.

When contacted for comment, Facebook sent a statement to Reuters, The Verge, and others, saying: "We are working to develop voice and AI assistant technologies that may work across our family of AR/VR products including Portal, Oculus, and future products."

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Posted in AI, alexa, Facebook, Facebook M, Facebook Portal, Google Assistant, Siri, Smart Speaker, Tech, voice assistant | Comments (0)

Amazon and Google settle feud, bring YouTube back to Fire TV devices

April 18th, 2019
The Fire TV Cube is a small Fire TV with an Echo Dot baked into it. It has a shiny black finish around the sides, with a matte black top.

Enlarge / The Fire TV Cube is a small Fire TV with an Echo Dot baked into it. It has a shiny black finish around the sides, with a matte black top. (credit: Jeff Dunn)

Feuding tech giants Amazon and Google have come to an agreement on their streaming services. After over a year of absence, the official YouTube app will return to Amazon Fire TV devices and Fire TV Edition smart TVs. Google pulled the video streaming app in early 2018 after it could not strike a deal with the online retail giant surrounding the availability of its products and services.

According to reports at the time, Google was unhappy with Amazon because the retailer didn't sell a number of its products, including Chromecast and Google Home devices. The two companies couldn't strike a business deal that pleased both parties, so Google removed the official YouTube app from Fire TV devices at the start of 2018. This came after Google also revoked YouTube access on Amazon's Echo Show devices, citing a "broken user experience."

In the time since YouTube left Fire TVs, users have been able to access the site using browsers. But that experience isn't the most user-friendly, so the real losers in this situation were YouTube lovers that owned Fire TV devices.

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Posted in amazon, chromecast, google, Prime, prime video, streaming, Tech, YouTube, youtube TV | Comments (0)