Software

Ask Slashdot: Could Linux Ever Become Fully Compatible With Windows and Mac Software? 331

dryriver writes: Linux has been around for a long time now. A lot of work has gone into it; it has evolved nicely and it dominates in the server space. Computer literate people with some tech skills also like to use it as their desktop OS. It's free and open source. It's not vendor-locked, full of crapware or tied to any walled garden. It's fast and efficient. But most "everyday computer users" or "casual computer buyers" still feel they have to choose either a Windows PC or an Apple device as the platform they will do their computing on. This binary choice exists largely because of very specific commercial list of programs and games available for these OSs that is not available for Linux.

Here is the question: Could Linux ever be made to become fully compatible with all Windows and Mac software? What I mean is a Linux distro that lets you successfully install/run/play just about anything significant that says "for Windows 10" or "for OSX" under Linux, without any sort of configuring or crazy emulation orgies being needed? Macs and PCs run on the exact same Intel/AMD/Nvidia hardware as Linux. Same mobos, same CPUs and GPUs, same RAM and storage devices. Could Linux ever be made to behave sufficiently like those two OSs so that a computer buyer could "go Linux" without any negative consequences like not being able to run essential Windows/Mac software at all? Or is Linux being able to behave like Windows and OSX simply not technically doable because Windows and OSX are just too damn complex to mimic successfully?
Intel

Intel Hit With More Than 30 Lawsuits Over Security Flaws (reuters.com) 94

Intel said on Friday shareholders and customers had filed 32 class action lawsuits against the company in connection with recently-disclosed security flaws in its microchips. From a report: Most of the lawsuits -- 30 -- are customer class action cases that claim that users were harmed by Intel's "actions and/or omissions" related to the flaws, which could allow hackers to steal data from computers. Intel said in a regulatory filing it was not able to estimate the potential losses that may arise out of the lawsuits. Security researchers at the start of January publicized two flaws, dubbed Spectre and Meltdown, that affected nearly every modern computing device containing chips from Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and ARM.
Power

New Silicon Chip-Based Quantum Computer Passes Major Test (gizmodo.com) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Researchers from two teams now working with Intel have reported advances in a new quantum computing architecture, called spin qubits, in a pair of papers out today. They're obviously not the full-purpose quantum computers of the future. But they've got a major selling point over other quantum computing designs. "We made these qubits in silicon chips, similar to what's used in classical computer processes," study author Thomas Watson from TU Delft in the Netherlands told me. "The hope is that by doing things this way, we can potentially scale up to larger numbers needed to perform useful quantum computing."

Today, a research group at TU Delft, called QuTech, announced that they'd successfully tested two "spin qubits." These qubits involve the interaction of two confined electrons in a silicon chip. Each electron has a property called spin, which sort of turns it into a tiny magnet, with two states: "up" and "down." The researchers control the electrons with actual cobalt magnets and microwave pulses. They measure the electron's spins by watching how nearby electric charges react to the trapped electrons' movements. Those researchers, now working in partnership with Intel, were able to perform some quantum algorithms, including the well-known Grover search algorithm (basically, they could search through a list of four things), according to their paper published today in Nature. Additionally, a team of physicists led by Jason Petta at Princeton reported in Nature that they were able to pair light particles, called photons, to corresponding electron spins. This just means that distant spin qubits might be able to talk to one another using photons, allowing for larger quantum computers.
There are some advantages to these systems. "Present-day semiconductor technology could create these spin qubits, and they would be smaller than the superconducting chips used by IBM," reports Gizmodo. "Additionally, they stay quantum longer than other systems." The drawbacks include the fact that it's very difficult to measure the spins of these qubits, and even more difficult to get them to interact with each other. UC Berkeley postdoc Sydney Schreppler also mentioned that the qubbits needed to be really close to each other.
IOS

Apple's Software 'Problem' and 'Fixing' It (learningbyshipping.com) 92

According to media reports, Apple is planning to postpone some new features for iOS and macOS this year to focus on improving reliability, stability and performance of the existing versions. Steven Sinofsky, a former President of the Windows Division, shared his insights into the significance of this development: Several important points are conflated in the broad discussion about Apple and software: Quality, pace of change, features "versus" quality, and innovation. Scanning the landscape, it is important to recognize that in total the work Apple has been doing across hardware, software, services, and even AI/ML, in total -- is breathtaking and unprecedented in scope, scale, and quality. Few companies have done so much for so long with such a high level of consistency. This all goes back to the bet on the NeXT code base and move to Intel for Mac OS plus the iPod, which began the journey to where we are today.

[...] What is lost in all of this recent discussion is the nuance between features, schedule, and quality. It is like having a discussion with a financial advisor over income, risk, and growth. You don't just show up and say you want all three and get a "sure." On the other hand, this is precisely what Apple did so reliably over 20 years. But behind the scenes there is a constant discussion over balancing these three legs of the tripod. You have to have all of them but you "can't" but you have to. This is why they get paid big $.

[...] A massive project like an OS (+h/w +cloud) is like a large investment portfolio and some things will work (in market) and others won't, some things are designed to return right away, some are safe bets, some are long term investments. And some mistakes... Customers don't care about any of that and that's ok. They just look for what they care about. Each evaluates through their own lens. Apple's brilliance is in focusing mostly on two audiences -- Send-users and developers -- tending to de-emphasize the whole "techie" crowd, even IT. When you look at a feature like FaceID and trace it backwards all the way to keychain -- see how much long term thought can go into a feature and how much good work can go unnoticed (or even "fail") for years before surfacing as a big advantage. That's a long term POV AND focus. This approach is rather unique compared to other tech companies that tend to develop new things almost independent of everything else. So new things show up and look bolted on the side of what already exists. (Sure Apple can do that to, but not usually). All the while while things are being built the team is just a dev team and trying to come up with a reliable schedule and fix bug. This is just software development.

AI

Amazon Is Designing Custom AI Chips For Alexa (theverge.com) 70

According to a report (paywalled) from The Information, Amazon is designing a custom artificial intelligence chip that would power future Echo devices and improve the quality and response time of its Alexa voice assistant. "The move closely followers rivals Apple and Google, both of which have already developed and deployed custom AI hardware at various scales," reports The Verge. From the report: While Amazon is unlikely to physically produce the chips, given its lack of both fabrication experience and a manufacturing presence in China, the news does pose a risk to the businesses of companies like Nvidia and Intel. Both companies have shifted large portions of their chipmaking expertise to AI and the future of the burgeoning field, and both make money by designing and manufacturing chips for companies like Apple, Amazon, and others. Amazon, which seeks to stay competitive in the smart home hardware market and in the realm of consumer-facing AI products, has nearly 450 people with chip expertise on staff, reports The Information, thanks to key hires and acquisitions the e-commerce giant has made in the last few years. The plan is for Amazon to develop its own AI chips so Alexa-powered products in its ever-expanding Echo line can do more on-device processing, instead of having to communicate with the cloud, a process that increases response rate times.
Android

Android Wear Is Getting Killed, and It's All Qualcomm's Fault (arstechnica.com) 174

The death of Android Wear is all Qualcomm's fault, largely due to the fact that the company "has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips," writes Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo. This weekend marks the second birthday of Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC, which was announced in February 2016 and is the "least awful smartwatch SoC you can use in an Android Wear device." Since Qualcomm skipped out on an upgrade last year, and it doesn't seem like we'll get a new smartwatch chip any time soon, the entire Android Wear market will continue to suffer. From the report: In a healthy SoC market, this would be fine. Qualcomm would ignore the smartwatch SoC market, make very little money, and all the Android Wear OEMs would buy their SoCs from a chip vendor that was addressing smartwatch demand with a quality chip. The problem is, the SoC market isn't healthy at all. Qualcomm has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips. For companies like Google, LG, Huawei, Motorola, and Asus, it is absolutely crippling. There are literally zero other options in a reasonable price range (although we'd like to give a shoutout to the $1,600 Intel Atom-equipped Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45), so companies either keep shipping two-year-old Qualcomm chips or stop building smartwatches. Android Wear is not a perfect smartwatch operating system, but the primary problem with Android Wear watches is the hardware, like size, design (which is closely related to size), speed, and battery life. All of these are primarily influenced by the SoC, and there hasn't been a new option for OEMs since 2016. There are only so many ways you can wrap a screen, battery, and body around an SoC, so Android smartwatch hardware has totally stagnated. To make matters worse, the Wear 2100 wasn't even a good chip when it was new.
Intel

Intel Replaces its Buggy Fix for Skylake PCs (zdnet.com) 57

Intel has released new microcode to address the stability and reboot issues on systems after installing its initial mitigations for Variant 2 of the Meltdown and Spectre attacks. From a report: The stability issues caused by Intel's microcode updates resulted in Lenovo, HP, and Dell halting their deployment of BIOS updates last month as Intel worked to resolve the problems. Intel initially said unexpected reboots were only seen on Broadwell and Haswell chips, but later admitted newer Skylake architecture chips were also affected. Microsoft also said it had also seen Intel's updates cause data loss or corruption in some cases.
Google

Google Enables Pixel Visual Core For Better Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp Photos (theverge.com) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's Pixel Visual Core, the hidden image-processing chip inside the Pixel 2 family of phones, is getting an update today that lets it work its machine learning magic in third-party apps. Already enabled via Android 8.1 for the Pixel 2's main camera app, the Visual Core is now going to be operational within any other camera app that employs the relevant Google APIs. That means your Instagram photography and Snapchat Stories will get the benefit of the same improvements in processing speed and efficiency. I have been using a Google Pixel 2 XL since before the Android 8.1 update that initially flipped the Visual Core to being active, and I can't say I've noticed a huge difference in the speed or operation of the camera. It was sterling before 8.1, and it's been the same since. But the way Google explains it, the Visual Core is likely to be more helpful and impressive in third-party apps because it will allow the company to run its proprietary HDR+ algorithm in those other apps: "Pixel Visual Core is built to do heavy-lifting image processing while using less power, which saves battery. That means we're able to use that additional computing power to improve the quality of your pictures by running the HDR+ algorithm."
Intel

A Look at Vaunt, Intel's Smart Glasses That Use Retinal Projection To Put a Display in Your Eyeball (theverge.com) 106

Chipmaker Intel is eyeing the smart glasses market, too. The Verge was invited to the company's lab where it got to play with Vaunt, a prototype of the company's smart glasses. The Vaunt looks very much like a normal pair of glasses, and uses retinal projection to put a display in your eyeball. The Verge: The most important parts of Intel's new Vaunt smart glasses are the pieces that were left out. There is no camera to creep people out, no button to push, no gesture area to swipe, no glowing LCD screen, no weird arm floating in front of the lens, no speaker, and no microphone (for now). From the outside, the Vaunt glasses look just like eyeglasses. When you're wearing them, you see a stream of information on what looks like a screen -- but it's actually being projected onto your retina.
Security

Malware Exploiting Spectre, Meltdown CPU Flaws Emerges (securityweek.com) 84

wiredmikey quotes SecurityWeek: Researchers have discovered more than 130 malware samples designed to exploit the recently disclosed Spectre and Meltdown CPU vulnerabilities. While a majority of the samples appear to be in the testing phase, we could soon start seeing attacks... On Wednesday, antivirus testing firm AV-TEST told SecurityWeek that it has obtained 139 samples from various sources, including researchers, testers and antivirus companies... Fortinet, which also analyzed many of the samples, confirmed that a majority of them were based on available proof of concept code. Andreas Marx, CEO of AV-TEST, believes different groups are working on the PoC exploits to determine if they can be used for some purpose. "Most likely, malicious purposes at some point," he said.
Windows

Microsoft Is Now Selling a Surface Laptop With An Intel Core m3 Processor For $799 (windowscentral.com) 108

Microsoft has begun offering a lower specced Surface laptop running Windows 10 S and an Intel Core m3 processor. It's priced at $799, compared to the standard model's $999 price, and is only available in the platinum color configuration. Windows Central reports: The Intel Core m3 spec is paired with 4GB of RAM and 128GB Storage. This is definitely not a high-end model of the Surface Laptop, but it's still a premium one, with the same Alcantara fabric and high-quality display found on other Surface Laptop SKUs. Microsoft offers an Intel Core m3 model of the Surface Pro priced at $799 also, however that SKU doesn't come bundled with a keyboard or pen. At least with the Surface Laptop, you're getting a keyboard and trackpad in the box, so perhaps the Intel Core m3 Laptop is going to be the better choice for many. If you're looking for a straight laptop by Microsoft, that is. Some other specs include a 2256 x 1504 resolution display, Intel HD graphics 615, 720p webcam with Windows Hello face-authentication, Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio Premium, one full-size USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, headphone jack and Surface Connect port. The device measures in a 12.13 inches x 8.79 inches x 0.57 inches and weighs 2.76 pounds.
Businesses

Big Backing For 'Universal Stylus' Campaign (bbc.com) 87

Google has backed an effort to standardise touch-screen styluses so they can be used on many devices. From a report: The Universal Stylus Initiative (USI) was launched, in 2015, to encourage companies to produce styluses that work on rivals' products Dell, Intel, Lenovo, LG and graphics tablet-maker Wacom have all backed the project. However, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung have not. One expert suggested the big brands would keep their proprietary pens. Styluses designed to work with modern touch-screen devices and graphics tablets usually contain sensors to detect pressure, movement and orientation of the pen.
Intel

Samsung Surpasses Intel To Become the World's Largest Chipmaker (bloomberg.com) 87

Samsung Electronics just knocked Intel off its perch as the world's biggest chipmaker by revenue, a spot the U.S. company has held since 1992. From a report: On Tuesday, Samsung reported 2017 chip sales of $69 billion, blowing past Intel's $63 billion from last year. The switch underlines how Samsung has transformed itself from a maker of cheap televisions into a pervasive supplier of key components in smartphones and other modern computing devices. It's also a testament to the growth of memory chips, Samsung's main market.

Intel, whose processors are the heart of about 90 percent of the world's computers, didn't have a bad year. Sales grew 6 percent. Success in computers is no longer enough, though. Memory chips, a market Intel only recently got back into, are now crucial parts of smartphones, which easily outsell PCs these days. Memory chips are also finding their way into a range of new devices such as cars. One of the ironies of Samsungâ(TM)s success in memory is that itâ(TM)s a business Intel created in the 1960s.

Desktops (Apple)

Apple Could Use ARM Coprocessors for Three Updated Mac Models (techcrunch.com) 119

According to a Bloomberg report, Apple could be working on three new Mac models for this year. From a report: All three of them could feature an ARM coprocessor to improve security. Apple isn't switching to ARM chipsets altogether. There will still be an Intel CPU in every Mac, but with a second ARM processor. Currently, the MacBook Pro features a T1 chip while the iMac Pro features a T2 chip. On the MacBook Pro, the ARM coprocessor handles the Touch ID sensor and the Touch Bar. This way, your fingerprint is never stored on your laptop's SSD drive -- it remains on the T1 secure enclave. The Intel CPU only gets a positive response when a fingerprint is validated. The iMac Pro goes one step further and uses the T2 to replace many discrete controllers. The T2 controls your stereo speakers, your internal microphone, the fans, the camera and internal storage.
Intel

Intel Told Chinese Firms of Meltdown Flaws Before the US Government (engadget.com) 134

According to The Wall Street Journal, Intel initially told a handful of customers about the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, including Chinese tech companies like Alibaba and Lenovo, before the U.S. government. As a result, the Chinese government could have theoretically exploited the holes to intercept data before patches were available. Engadget reports: An Intel spokesman wouldn't detail who the company had informed, but said that the company couldn't notify everyone (including U.S. officials) in time because Meltdown and Spectre had been revealed early. Lenovo said the information was protected by a non-disclosure agreement. Alibaba has suggested that any accusations of sharing info with the Chinese government was "speculative and baseless," but this doesn't rule out officials intercepting details without Alibaba's knowledge. There's no immediate evidence to suggest that China has taken advantage of the flaws, but that's not the point -- it's that the U.S. government could have helped coordinate disclosures to ensure that enough companies had fixes in place.
Open Source

Linus Finally Releases Linux 4.15 Kernel, Blames Intel For Delay (phoronix.com) 55

An anonymous reader writes: Linus Torvalds has released Linux 4.15 following the lengthy development cycle due to the Spectre v2 and Meltdown CPU vulnerability mitigation work. This update comes with many kernel improvements including RISC-V architecture support, AMDGPU Display Code support, Intel Coffee Lake graphics support, and many other improvements.
"This obviously was not a pleasant release cycle, with the whole meltdown/spectre thing coming in in the middle of the cycle and not really gelling with our normal release cycle," Linus writes. "The extra two weeks were obviously mainly due to that whole timing issue... [T]he news cycle notwithstanding, the bulk of the 4.15 work is all the regular plodding 'boring' stuff. And I mean that in the best possible way. It may not be glamorous and get the headlines, but it's the bread and butter of kernel development, and is in many ways the really important stuff.

"Go forth and play with it, things actually look pretty good despite everything. And obviously this also means that the merge window for 4.16 is open... Hopefully we'll have a _normal_ and entirely boring release cycle for 4.16. Because boring really is good."
Intel

Microsoft Issues Windows Out-of-Band Update That Disables Spectre Mitigations (bleepingcomputer.com) 90

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: Microsoft has issued on Saturday an emergency out-of-band Windows update that disables patches for the Spectre Variant 2 bug (CVE-2017-5715). The update -- KB4078130 -- targets Windows 7 (SP1), Windows 8.1, all versions of Windows 10, and all supported Windows Server distributions. Microsoft shipped mitigations for the Meltdown and Spectre bugs on January 3. The company said it decided to disable mitigations for the Spectre Variant 2 bug after Intel publicly admitted that the microcode updates it developed for this bug caused "higher than expected reboots and other unpredictable system behavior" that led to "data loss or corruption."

HP, Dell, and Red Hat took previous steps during the past week.

"We are also offering a new option -- available for advanced users on impacted devices -- to manually disable and enable the mitigation against Spectre Variant 2 (CVE 2017-5715) independently via registry setting changes..." Microsoft writes.

"We recommend Windows customers, when appropriate, reenable the mitigation against CVE-2017-5715 when Intel reports that this unpredictable system behavior has been resolved for your device. "
Government

Dutch Intelligence Agents Watched Russia Hack the DNC (volkskrant.nl) 358

Long-time Slashdot readers Agilulf, Sara Chan, and wiredmikey -- plus an anonymous reader -- all submitted the same story. Agilulf writes: Dutch hackers from AIVD (their intelligence agency) infiltrated Russian hackers, had access to their CCTV system, and followed them for more than a year, watched their attack on the DNC, provided the proof to the U.S. intelligence community that Russia was behind those hacks and the stolen emails, and were disappointed with the response from the U.S.
The Dutch agents also watched Russian agents breach a non-classified network at the U.S. State Department in 2014, where the Russians then sent a phishing email to the White House, successfully stole login credentials, and then accessed email from embassies and diplomats.

"Three American intelligence services state with 'high confidence' that the Kremlin was behind the attack on the Democratic Party," according to the article, which adds that that certainty "is derived from the AIVD hackers having had access to the office-like space in the center of Moscow for years."
Intel

Intel Plans To Release Chips That Have Built-in Meltdown and Spectre Protections Later This Year (businessinsider.com) 154

Intel plans to release chips that have built-in protections against the Spectre and Meltdown attacks later this year, company CEO Brian Krzanich said during company's quarterly earnings call this week. From a report: The company has "assigned some of our very best minds" to work on addressing the vulnerability that's exploited by those attacks, Krzanich said on a conference call following Intel's quarterly earnings announcement. That will result in "silicon-based" changes to the company's future chips, he said. "We've been working around clock" to address the vulnerability and attacks, Krzanich said. But, he added, "we're acutely aware we have more to do."
HP

Dell and HP Advise All Their Customers To Not Install Spectre BIOS Updates (bleepingcomputer.com) 88

An anonymous reader writes: The Spectre and Meltdown mess continues with Dell now recommending their customers to not install the BIOS updates that are supposed to resolve the Spectre (Variant 2) vulnerabilities. These updates have been causing numerous problems for users including performance issues, boot issues, reboot issues, and general system stability. Due to this, Dell EMC has updated its knowledgebase article with a statement advising customers to not install the BIOS update and to potentially rollback to the previous BIOS if their computers are exhibiting "unpredictable system behavior". ZDNet reports that HP too has issued a similar advisory. The computer manufacturer pulled its softpaqs BIOS updates with Intel's patches from its website, and said it would be releasing a BIOS update with a previous version of Intel's microcode on Thursday.

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