Software

Ask Slashdot: Could Linux Ever Become Fully Compatible With Windows and Mac Software? 333

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?
Google

Gmail Go, a Lightweight Version of Google's Email App, Launched on Android (techcrunch.com) 55

Google has added a notable addition to its line of "Go" edition apps -- the lightweight apps designed primarily for emerging markets -- with the launch of Gmail Go. From a report: The app, like others in the Go line, takes up less storage space on users' smartphones and makes better use of mobile data compared with the regular version of Gmail. The app also offers standard Gmail features like multiple account support, conversation view, attachments, and push notifications for new messages. It also prioritizes messages from friends and family first, while categorizing promotional and social emails in separate tabs, as Gmail does. But like other Go apps, Gmail Go doesn't consume as much storage space on the device. In fact, according to numerous reports, Gmail Go clocked in at a 9.51 MB download, and takes up roughly 25 MB of space on a device, compared with Gmail's 20.66 MB download, and 47 MB storage space.
Businesses

Searching For Lithium Deposits With Satellites (economist.com) 49

A group led by Cristian Rossi, an expert on remote sensing, is using satellites already in orbit to detect and map geological and botanical features that might betray the presence of subterranean lithium. Though satellite prospecting of this sort has been employed before, reads a new report in The Economist, to look for metals such as gold and copper, using it to search for lithium is new. From the report, which may be paywalled: The searchers are not searching blind. They know, from mining records dating from the mid-1800s, that there is lithium in Cornwall's rocks. Those records tell of underground springs containing salts of lithium -- at that time quite a recently discovered element. Back then these springs were seen, at best, as curiosities, and at worst as flooding risks, because there was then no market for the metal. Today, there is. In particular, lithium is the eponymous component of lithium-ion batteries. These power products ranging from smartphones to electric cars, and are being tested as a means of grid-scale electricity storage which could make the spread of renewable energy much easier. No surprise, then, that prices have been rising. In 2008 a tonne of lithium carbonate cost around $6,000. Now it would set you back more than $12,000.
Programming

Should GitHub Allow Username Reuse? (donatstudios.com) 84

Jesse Donat argues via Donut Studios why GitHub should never allow usernames to be valid again once they are deleted. He provides an example of a user who deleted his GitHub account and personal domain with a popular tool used for embedding data files into Go binaries. "While this is within his rights to do, this broke a dependency many people had within their projects," Donat writes. "To fix this, some users of the project recreated the account and the repository based on a fork of the project." Donat goes on to write: Allowing username reuse completely breaks any trust that what I pull is what it claims to be. What if this user had been malicious? It may have taken a while before someone actually noticed this wasn't the original user and the code was doing something more than it claimed to.

While Go's "go get" functionality is no doubt naive and just pulls the head of a repository, this is not exclusively Go's problem as this affects any package manager that runs on tags. Simply tag malicious changes beyond the current release and it would be deployed to many users likely with little actual review.

Microsoft

Why Windows Vista Ended Up Being a Mess (usejournal.com) 224

alaskana98 shares an article called "What Really Happened with Vista: An Insider's Retrospective." Ben Fathi, formerly a manager of various teams at Microsoft responsible for storage, file systems, high availability/clustering, file level network protocols, distributed file systems, and related technologies and later security, writes: Imagine supporting that same OS for a dozen years or more for a population of billions of customers, millions of companies, thousands of partners, hundreds of scenarios, and dozens of form factors -- and you'll begin to have an inkling of the support and compatibility nightmare. In hindsight, Linux has been more successful in this respect. The open source community and approach to software development is undoubtedly part of the solution. The modular and pluggable architecture of Unix/Linux is also a big architectural improvement in this respect. An organization, sooner or later, ships its org chart as its product; the Windows organization was no different. Open source doesn't have that problem...

I personally spent many years explaining to antivirus vendors why we would no longer allow them to "patch" kernel instructions and data structures in memory, why this was a security risk, and why they needed to use approved APIs going forward, that we would no longer support their legacy apps with deep hooks in the Windows kernel -- the same ones that hackers were using to attack consumer systems. Our "friends", the antivirus vendors, turned around and sued us, claiming we were blocking their livelihood and abusing our monopoly power! With friends like that, who needs enemies?

I like how the essay ends. "Was it an incredibly complex product with an amazingly huge ecosystem (the largest in the world at that time)? Yup, that it was. Could we have done better? Yup, you bet... Hindsight is 20/20."
Power

Tesla To Construct 'Virtual Solar Power Plant' Using 50,000 Homes (cleantechnica.com) 199

Long-time Slashdot readers denbesten, haruchai, and Kant all submitted this story. CleanTechnica reports: Tesla and the government of South Australia have announced a stunning new project that could change how electricity is generated not only in Australia but in every country in the world. They plan to install rooftop solar system on 50,000 homes in the next four years and link them them together with grid storage facilities to create the largest virtual solar power plant in history. And here's the kicker: The rooftop solar systems will be free. The cost of the project will be recouped over time by selling the electricity generated to those who consume it.

"We will use people's homes as a way to generate energy for the South Australian grid, with participating households benefiting with significant savings in their energy bills," says South Australia's premier Jay Weatherill. "More renewable energy means cheaper power for all South Australians..." Price predicts utility bills for participating households will be slashed by 30%.

Electrek reports that the project will result in at least 650 MWh of additional energy storage capacity, and Tesla points out that "At key moments, the virtual power plant could provide as much capacity as a large gas turbine or coal power plant."
Media

Are Music CDs Dying? Best Buy Stops Selling CDs (complex.com) 295

An anonymous reader quotes Complex magazine: The future of physical music isn't looking good. According to Billboard, consumer electronics company Best Buy will no longer carry physical CDs and Target may be following suit in the near future. Best Buy notified music suppliers that they will cease selling CDs at stores beginning July 1. The move is sure to hurt the already declining sales of CDs as consumers are switching to streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal in large numbers. CD sales have already dropped by a sizable 18.5 percent in the past year, Billboard reports.
Billboard also reports Target has given an "ultimatum" to music and video suppliers. "Currently, Target takes the inventory risk by agreeing to pay for any goods it is shipped within 60 days, and must pay to ship back unsold CDs for credit... Target has demanded to music suppliers that it wants CDs to be sold on what amounts to a consignment basis..."

"If the majors don't play ball and give in to the new sale terms, it could considerably hasten the phase down of the CD format."
Sony

As Sony CEO Kaz Hirai Steps Down, the Future of Some Products Is In Question (arstechnica.com) 33

After six years with the company, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai will step down from his post on April 1, 2018. He will remain with the company as chairman, and the CEO seat will be filled by current CFO Kenichiro Yoshida. Samuel Axon reports via Ars Technica of the reputation his successor has built for making touch cuts to get back in the black: Hirai is perhaps best known to the general public for his role in the PlayStation business, which is where the majority of his background with the company lies. He was involved in developing the PlayStation's software lineup in the late '90s, and Hirai famously unveiled the PlayStation 3 before he became CEO. That unveiling might better be described as infamous: he announced the console's launch models at the extremely steep prices of $499 and $599, leading to shock and ire in the gaming community. The cheaper of those two was almost a non-starter, lacking Wi-Fi and adequate hard drive storage. That memorable blunder aside, investors in Sony have enjoyed significant gains in the six years since Hirai became CEO -- though the company has only been regaining partial ground since it fell a long way from its peak back in 2000. He has kept Sony's efforts diversified across several markets and products, from computers to Hollywood movies.

But much of the company's success under Hirai can be attributed to two things: the PlayStation division (whose profits rose by 70 percent over the holidays) and image sensors that Sony produces and sells to other companies for inclusion in various devices. Other divisions, like mobile, were de-emphasized as Hirai and Yoshida worked together to get Sony's house in order. [...] In other words, Yoshida made his mark on Sony by helping Hirai make tough calls to make major cuts to get the company on the right track. That effort is ongoing, so expect continuing changes with regards to both Sony's tech and entertainment products.

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.
Iphone

Apple Begins Selling Refurbished iPhone 7 and 7 Plus Models (macrumors.com) 75

Apple today has added refurbished iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus models to its online store for the first time in the United States. MacRumors reports: iPhone 7 models are available in all three storage capacities, including 32GB for $499, 128GB for $589, and 256GB for $679, reflecting savings of 10 percent off Apple's current prices for brand new models. All five colors are currently in stock, including Black, Jet Black, Silver, Gold, and Rose Gold. iPhone 7 Plus models with 32GB or 128GB of storage are available for $599 and $689 respectively, which is also 10 percent off. There are no 256GB models in stock. Available colors include Black, Gold, and Rose Gold. Apple says all refurbished iPhone models are thoroughly inspected, tested, cleaned, and repackaged with a new white box and all manuals and accessories. Apple also installs a new battery and replaces the outer shell, making it nearly impossible to distinguish between a refurbished and brand new iPhone. Any refurbished iPhone model comes with Apple's standard one-year warranty effective on the date the device is delivered. The warranty can be extended to up to two years from the original purchase date with AppleCare+, at a cost of $129 for the iPhone 7 and $149 for the iPhone 7 Plus in the United States.
Data Storage

Backblaze Hard Drive Stats for 2017 (backblaze.com) 93

BackBlaze is back with its hard drive reliability report. From the blog post: Beginning in April 2013, Backblaze has recorded and saved daily hard drive statistics from the drives in our data centers. Each entry consists of the date, manufacturer, model, serial number, status (operational or failed), and all of the SMART attributes reported by that drive. As of the end of 2017, there are about 88 million entries totaling 23 GB of data. At the end of 2017 we had 93,240 spinning hard drives. Of that number, there were 1,935 boot drives and 91,305 data drives. This post looks at the hard drive statistics of the data drives we monitor. We'll review the stats for Q4 2017, all of 2017, and the lifetime statistics for all of the drives Backblaze has used in our cloud storage data centers since we started keeping track.
Science

Hoping That Sucking CO2 From the Air Will Fix the Climate? Good Luck (easac.eu) 316

From a study published on Thursday by scientists on the European Academies Science Advisory Council: Senior scientists from across Europe have evaluated the potential contribution of negative emission technologies (NETs) to allow humanity to meet the Paris Agreement's targets of avoiding dangerous climate change. They find that NETs have "limited realistic potential" to halt increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at the scale envisioned in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios. This new report finds that none of the NETs has the potential to deliver carbon removals at the gigaton (Gt) scale and at the rate of deployment envisaged by the IPCC, including reforestation, afforestation, carbon-friendly agriculture, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCs), enhanced weathering, ocean fertilisation, or direct air capture and carbon storage (DACCs).
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.
Power

Giant Tesla Battery In Australia Earns A Million Bucks In a Few Days (electrek.co) 222

Long-time Slashdot reader drinkypoo writes: Last week, Neoen's and Tesla's massive battery was paid up to $1000/MWh to charge itself and now it could have earned up to 1 million AUD in the last few days by selling the power back to the grid to cover a coal plant outage. Unlike other forms of power storage, battery systems can be switched between states (charging, discharging, or idle) effectively instantly, which permits a stabilizing effect on the grid.
"What we are seeing here," writes Fred Lambert at Electrek.co, "is the Powerpack system enabling Neoen to sell electricity at up to $14,000 AUD per MWh and charging itself at almost no cost during overproduction."
United States

A 15-Year-Old Convinced Verizon He Was the Head of the CIA (newsweek.com) 143

schwit1 shares an interesting story. Newsweek reports: A British teenager managed to obtain access to sensitive U.S. plans about intelligence operations in different Middle East countries by acting as former CIA Director John Brennan, a court heard on Friday. Kane Gamble, 18, researched Brennan and used the information he gathered to speak to an internet company and persuade call handlers to give him access to the spy chief's email inbox in 2015. He pretended to be both a Verizon employee and Brennan to access Brennan's internet account.

Astonishingly, Gamble managed to gain access to Brennan's emails and his addressbook, as well as his iCloud storage. He even managed to remotely access the iPad of Brennan's wife... Gamble, aged 15 at the time, also persuaded a helpdesk at the FBI that he was the then deputy director Mark Giuliano... In October 2017, Gamble pleaded guilty to 10 charges, including eight charges of "performing a function with intent to secure unauthorized access" to the computers and two of "unauthorized modification of computer material."

The Almighty Buck

How a PhD Student Unlocked 1 Bitcoin Hidden In DNA (vice.com) 58

dmoberhaus writes: A 26-year-old Belgian PhD student named Sander Wuytz recently solved a 3-year-old puzzle that had locked the private key to 1 Bitcoin in a strand of synthetic DNA. Motherboard spoke with the student about how they managed to crack the puzzle, just days before it was set to expire. From the report: "As detailed by Nick Goldman, a researcher at the European Bioinformatics Institute, in his pioneering Nature paper on DNA storage, to encode information into DNA you take a text or binary file and rewrite it in base-3 (so rather than just ones and zeroes, there are zeroes, ones, and twos). This is then used to encode the data in the building blocks of life, the four nucleobases cytosine, thymine, adenine and guanine. As Wuyts explained to me, coding the data as nucleobases depended upon which nucleobase came before. So, for instance, if the previous base was adenine and the next pieces of data is a 0, it is coded as cytosine. If the next piece of data is a 1, it's coded as guanine, and so on. After the data is encoded as synthetic DNA fragments, these fragments are used to identify and read the actual files stored in the DNA. In the case of the Bitcoin challenge, there were a total of nine files contained in the DNA fragments. The files were encrypted with a keystream, which is a random series of characters that is included with the actual plain text message to obfuscate its meaning. The keystream code had been provided by Goldman in a document explaining the competition.

After running the code, Wuyts was able to combine the DNA fragments in the correct order to form one long piece of DNA. After working out some technical kinks, Wuyts was able to convert the DNA sequence into plain text, revealing the private key and unlocking the bitcoin (as well as some artefacts, including a drawing of James Joyce and the logo for the European Bioinformatics Institute). He had cracked the puzzle just five days before it was set to expire."

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.
Open Source

'Is It Time For Open Processors?' (lwn.net) 179

Linux kernel developer (and LWN.net co-founder) Jonathan Corbet recently posted an essay with a tantalizing title: "Is it time for open processors?" He cited several "serious initiatives", including the OpenPOWER effort, OpenSPARC, and OpenRISC, adding that "much of the momentum" appears to be with the RISC-V architecture. An anonymous reader quotes LWN.net: The [RISC-V] project is primarily focused on the instruction-set architecture, rather than on specific implementations, but free hardware designs do exist. Western Digital recently announced that it will be using RISC-V processors in its storage products, a decision that could lead to the shipment of RISC-V by the billion. There is a development kit available for those who would like to play with this processor and a number of designs for cores are available... RISC-V seems to have quite a bit of commercial support behind it -- the RISC-V Foundation has a long list of members. It seems likely that this architecture will continue to progress for some time.
Here's some of the reasons that Corbet argues open souce hardware "would certainly offer some benefits, but it would be no panacea."
Portables (Apple)

10 Years of the MacBook Air (theverge.com) 152

Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air. "Apple's Macworld 2008 was a special one, taking place just days after the annual Consumer Electronics Show had ended and Bill Gates bid farewell to Microsoft," The Verge recalls. "Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by removing it from a tiny paper office envelope, and the crowd was audibly shocked at just how small and thin it was..." From the report: At the time, rivals had thin and light laptops on the market, but they were all around an inch thick, weighed 3 pounds, and had 8- or 11-inch displays. Most didn't even have full-size keyboards, but Apple managed to create a MacBook Air with a wedge shape so that the thickest part was still thinner than the thinnest part of the Sony TZ Series -- one of the thinnest laptops back in 2008. It was a remarkable feat of engineering, and it signaled a new era for laptops. Apple ditched the CD drive and a range of ports on the thin MacBook Air, and the company introduced a multi-touch trackpad and SSD storage. There was a single USB 2.0 port, alongside a micro-DVI port and a headphone jack. It was minimal, but the price was not. Apple's base MacBook Air cost $1,799 at the time, an expensive laptop even by today's standards.
Businesses

Dropbox Files Confidentially For IPO (bloomberg.com) 20

Dropbox, the file-sharing private company valued at $10 billion, has filed confidentially for a U.S. initial public offering. From the report: Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. will lead the potential listing, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the filing wasn't public. Dropbox is talking to other banks this month to fill additional roles on the IPO, the people said. The company is aiming to list in the first half of this year, one of the people said. Dropbox could be one of the biggest U.S. enterprise technology companies to list domestically in recent years.

Dropbox is likely to tout its biggest investment in recent years: its own cloud. It's spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build data centers and mostly wean itself off of Amazon.com Inc.'s servers, a rare feat for a software business with hundreds of millions of users. That's made it easier for Dropbox to cut costs while speeding file transfers, Chief Operating Officer Dennis Woodside said in an interview last year.

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