Subject: General Tech | October 5, 2015 - 07:01 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: physics, microsoft, Intel, Havok
Microsoft has just purchased Havok from Intel for an undisclosed price. This group develops one of the leading physics engines for video games and other software. It was used in every Halo title since Halo 2, including Halo Wars, and a fork of it drives the physics for Valve's Source Engine. It has been around since 2000, but didn't really take off until Max Payne 2 in 2003.
And the natural follow-up question for just about everything is “why?”
Hopefully this isn't bad taste...
Photo Credit: Havok via Game Developer Magazine (June 2013)
There are good reasons, though. First, Microsoft has been in the video game middleware and API business for decades. DirectX is the obvious example, but they have also created software like Games for Windows Live and Microsoft Gaming Zone. Better software drives sales for platforms, and developers can always use help accomplishing that.
Another reason could be Azure. Microsoft wants to bring cloud services to online titles, offloading some of the tasks that are insensitive to latency allows developers to lower system requirements or do more with what they have (which is especially true when consoles flatten huge install bases to a handful of specifications). If they plan to go forward with services that run on Azure or Xbox Live, then it would make sense to have middleware that's as drop-in as possible. Creating a physics engine from scratch is a bit of a hassle, but so is encouraging existing engines to use it.
It would be better to just buy someone that everyone is using. Currently, that's Havok, an open-source solution that is rarely used outside of other open-source systems, and something that's owned by NVIDIA (and probably won't leave their grip until their fingers are frigid and lifeless).
That's about all we know, though. The deal doesn't have a close date, value, or official purpose. Intel hasn't commented on the deal, only Microsoft has.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | September 29, 2015 - 03:30 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: trust, security, rant, microsoft, metadata, fud
Privacy of any nature when you utilize a device connected to the internet is quickly becoming a joke and not a very funny one. Just to name a few, Apple tracks your devices, Google scans every email you send, Lenovo actually has two programs to track your usage and of course there is Windows 10 and the data it collects and sends. Thankfully in some of these cases the programs which track and send your data can be disabled but the fact of the matter is that they are turned on by default.
The Inquirer hits the nail on the head "Money is simply a by-product of data." a fact which online sites such as Amazon and Facebook have known for a while and which software and hardware providers are now figuring out. In some cases an informed choice to share personal data is made, but this is not always true. When you share to Facebook or post your Fitbit results to the web you should be aware you are giving companies valuable data, the real question is about the data and metadata you are sharing of which you are unaware of.
Should you receive compensation for the data you provide to these companies? Should you always be able to opt out of sharing and still retain use of a particular service? Perhaps the cost of utilizing that service is sharing your data instead of money? There are a lot of questions and even a lot of different uses for this data but there is certainly no one single answer to those questions.
Microsoft have been collecting data from BSoD's for decades and Windows users have all benefited from it even though there is no opt out for sending that data. On the other hand is there a debt incurred towards Lenovo or other companies when you purchase a machine from them? Does the collection of patterns of usage benefit Lenovo users in a similar way to the data generated by a Windows BSoD or does the risk of this monitoring software being corrupted by others for nefarious purposes outweigh any possible benefits?
Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg, the Internet of Things is poised to become a nightmare for those who value their security, there are numerous exploits to track your cellphone that have nothing to do with your provider and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Just read through the Security tag here on PCPer for more examples if you have a strong stomach.
Please, take some time to think about how much you value your privacy and what data you are willing to share in exchange for products and services. Integrate that concern into your purchasing decisions, social media and internet usage. Hashtags are nice, but nothing speaks as loudly as your money; never forget that.
"MICROSOFT HAS SPOKEN out about its oft-criticised privacy policies, particularly those in the newly released Windows 10, which have provoked a spike in Bacofoil sales over its data collection policies."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Microsoft preps Azure data lake flood gates for readiness @ The Register
- BlackBerry's tactical capitulation to Google buys time – and possibly a future @ The Register
- Real-Time E-Book Editing With Calibre @ Linux.com
- 3D Printing Has Evolved Two Filament Standards @ Hack a Day
- Advertisers Already Using New iPhone Text Message Exploit @ Slashdot
- Confirmed: Android 6.0 Marshmallow rollout will begin next week @ The Inquirer
- World panics, children cry, workers sigh ... Facebook.com TITSUP @ The Register
Subject: Graphics Cards | September 26, 2015 - 09:10 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, DirectX 12, dx12, nvidia
Programming with DirectX 12 (and Vulkan, and Mantle) is a much different process than most developers are used to. The biggest change is how work is submit to the driver. Previously, engines would bind attributes to a graphics API and issue one of a handful of “draw” commands, which turns the current state of the API into a message. Drivers would play around with queuing them and manipulating them, to optimize how these orders are sent to the graphics device, but the game developer had no control over that.
Now, the new graphics APIs are built more like command lists. Instead of bind, call, bind, call, and so forth, applications request queues to dump work into, and assemble the messages themselves. It even allows these messages to be bundled together and sent as a whole. This allows direct control over memory and the ability to distribute a lot of the command control across multiple CPU cores. Applications are only as fast as its slowest (relevant) thread, so the ability to spread work out increases actual performance.
NVIDIA has created a large list of things that developers should do, and others that they should not, to increase performance. Pretty much all of them apply equally, regardless of graphics vendor, but there are a few NVIDIA-specific comments, particularly the ones about NvAPI at the end and a few labeled notes in the “Root Signatures” category.
The tips are fairly diverse, covering everything from how to efficiently use things like command lists, to how to properly handle multiple GPUs, and even how to architect your engine itself. Even if you're not a developer, it might be interesting to look over to see how clues about what makes the API tick.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 25, 2015 - 12:32 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows phone, windows 10 mobile, Surface Pro, Skylake, microsoft band, microsoft, lumia, Intel
Earlier this month, Microsoft sent out invites to members of the press for an event to be held on October 6th at the Skylight at the Moynihan Station in New York City. Naturally, Microsoft was short on details on what exactly will be covered. The rumor mill on the Internet (surely the most reliable of sources!) is set on the idea that the event will be used to launch a slew of new hardware products and refresh its mobile and wearable product stacks.
The rumored products include at least two new Windows Phone 10 Lumia smartphones, a refreshed Microsoft Band 2, and new Surface Pro 4 tablet.
On the smartphone front, the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL both have fairly generous specifications for Windows Phone devices (running Windows 10 Mobile). The 950 sports a 5.2-inch 2560 x 1440 display, a six core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 SoC, 3GB of internal memory, 32GB of internal storage, and a 3,000 mAh battery pack.
Moving up to the 950XL allegedly gets you a larger 5.7-inch display (though it is still at the same 1440p resolution) and a faster Snapdragon 810 SoC (four Cortex A57 at up to 2GHz and four lower power A53 cores along with the Adreno 430 GPU). Oddly, the battery pack is rumored to be only slightly larger than the Lumia 950 at 3,300 mAh which may result in lower battery life thanks to the larger display and faster processor.
Both phones will also feature a 20 megapixel rear camera, a 5 megapixel front camera, an iris scanner for Windows Hello, Qi wireless charging support, and a USB Type-C port for data and charging purposes.
Further, Microsoft is reported to be launching the Microsoft Band 2, a new (and sleek looking) wearable. The band, powered by an ARM Cortex M4 SoC and two 100 mAh batteries will sport a curved display and improved ergonomic design that can be used to see notifications, track your fitness, and interact with your smartphone using the built in microphone. The Band 2 is said to be compatbile with Windows Phone, iOS, and Android operating systems and connects via Bluetooth 4.0.
Lastly, rumors are pointing towards a new Surface Pro tablet being launched at the event though there has yet to be a consensus on the (alleged) specifications. Some rumors point towards Skylake while others point at Core M (Broadwell) being the processor of choice. Personally, I am leaning towards Microsoft using one of the new mobile Skylake chips for this possible Surface Pro 4 tablet PC. Broadwell with Iris Pro graphics would be nice to see, however...
In any event, I suppose that we will just have to wait and see what comes of this event in two weeks time. I do not have much to say on the smartphone or Surface Pro fronts (except that the tablet will be expensive no matter what the hardware ends up being, heh), but I’m liking the new Microsoft Band -- if they could somehow hit a lower price point I’m sold!
What are your thoughts on the rumors--what new hardware are you expecting to be announced next month?
Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2015 - 12:58 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft
Well this is a problem. (Update, Sept 24th @ 5:30pm ET: Microsoft fixed it.)
KB3087040 is an update from Microsoft that patches Adobe Flash Player in Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge (and other applications as we'll mention later). The add-on has been vulnerable to numerous security issues over the last several years, which is a big concern whenever an application accepts untrusted data, especially when it is developed in a language with explicit memory management. It can be as simple as forgetting the sign of an integer.
But that's not the problem -- we know Flash has holes all over that Adobe has been filling with calcified tears. No, the trouble is with Windows Update this time. On Windows 10, the update is failing to install with an error code. Workarounds exist to block the plug-in from loading, but on a program-by-program basis. Microsoft specifically mentioned Office 2007 and Office 2010 in their security advisory, which can invoke Flash through Internet Explorer even if your system's group policy to disable Flash in Internet Explorer. You really need to apply the update to be secure.
There is apparently a way to do it, too, but Microsoft has not recommended it. InfoWorld found the update's manual installer links, one for Windows 10 32-bit and the other for Windows 10 64-bit, and posted it in their article. Yes, they link to windowsupdate.com, which is an official Microsoft website.
So what should you do? I don't know. It's impossible for me to verify that InfoWorld got the correct version of the patch, because Microsoft has issued KB3087040 several times and mistakes are easy to make. It's also impossible for me to know if manually installing the patch will confuse Windows Update in the future. Both potential problems seem unlikely, though.
If you don't manually install the update before Microsoft fixes their bug, then you probably shouldn't use Internet Explorer, Edge, Office, or maybe even Windows Store apps that use Trident or Edge rendering engines.
Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2015 - 12:28 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: windows 10, pc sales, microsoft
It may seem obvious to most that giving away a free upgrade is not going to positively effect sales but apparently not so to market analysts who seem to have assumed the release of Windows 10 would boost PC sales. Most machines capable of running Windows 7 or a variety of Windows 8 can run Windows 10 without issues, with most problems arising from driver issues which can be worked around, so there was no huge rush to purchase a brand new laptop or desktop. This quarter a fall of 7.3% in sales compared to this time last year is expected, decent in comparison to last quarters fall of 9.8% but still far from good. The only increase in sales occurred in the smartphone segment, even tablet sales are down over 10%. There is good news on the horizon for new hardware does drive sales and Intel has recently released Skylake and products using the new chip have yet to reach the channel in large numbers. As the manufacturers produce more products using the new processor we should see somewhat of an increase in sales of systems though this story at The Inquirer suggests it may be 2017 before we see an increase ... perhaps some relatively good news for AMD?
"So says analyst outfit Gartner, which seems to think Microsoft's latest Windows release hasn't done much to reverse faltering PC sales, despite the software giant having gone out of its way to ensure users download it."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Only paying for Microsoft software that you use? It's coming @ The Register
- Misusing Ethernet To Kill Computer Infrastructure Dead @ Slashdot
- iOS 9 security flaw lets anyone access your photos and contacts @ The Inquirer
- New ARM CPU design center opens in Taiwan @ DigiTimes
- India's daft draft anti-encryption law torn up after world+dog points out its stupidity @ The Register
Subject: General Tech | September 22, 2015 - 01:06 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: azure, microsoft, linux
It is a strange new world we find ourselves, where part of Microsoft's Azure infrastructure will be built on Linux. Azure Cloud Switch will allow software-defined networking to be used on Azure for those who are brave enough to dabble in SDN. Microsoft will be incorporating the OpenCompute developed Switch Abstraction Interface based on Linux, as The Register points out this is likely due to a lack of similar functionality in Windows software. In this particular case Microsoft will not be reinventing the wheel but will wisely focus on improving the functionality of Azure and Azure based products such as Office 365 which they have developed in house. The 'cloud' is a strange place and it just got a little bit stranger.
"Redmond's revealed that it's built something called Azure Cloud Switch (ACS), describing it as “a cross-platform modular operating system for data center networking built on Linux” and “our foray into building our own software for running network devices like switches.”"
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Office 2016 for Windows 10 arrives with cloud-first sway, and Sway @ The Inquirer
- Shattered Skype slowly staggers to its feet after 15-HOUR outage outrage @ The Register
- Microsoft starts to fix Start Menu in new Windows 10 preview @ The Register
- Mapin: Candy Crush Trojan horse threat hits Android @ The Inquirer
- Get to Know the Elementary OS Freya Firewall Tool @ Linux.com
- Design and Print a Passive Speaker for Your Phone @ MAKE:Blog
- 5 Fantastic Tabletop Gaming Props You Can Print @ MAKE:Blog
- Samsung announces first customer-facing M2 SSD drive and it's wicked-fast @ The Inquirer
- Rikomagic V5 4k Android TV Stick Review @ NikKTech
- Netgear Powerline 1200 PLP1200 Adapter Set Review @ NikKTech
- Apple iPhones, iPads BRICKED by iOS 9's 'slide-to-upgrade' bug @ The Register
- iOS9 Review @ Hardware Secrets
Subject: General Tech | September 19, 2015 - 08:28 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, linux
Azure Cloud Switch is an operating system, which is based on Linux, that Microsoft has created for their data centers. This software will be installed on their network appliances, such as switches, to let them control the features that their data centers require. It also helps them interface hardware together, since they now control the software stack regardless of hardware vendor.
This is naturally making tech websites doodle on their calendars as the company uses Windows for just about everything. While basing a portion of their infrastructure in Linux is a sign that Microsoft is embracing open source, this is not the first time. Back in 2003, which is not a Linux-friendly year for the company, Microsoft used Linux-based infrastructure from Akamai to provide DDoS and malware protection. It worked. They have even been attributed as a top contributor to the Linux kernel in the past.
The OS is internal to Microsoft, but it is in affiliation with the Open Compute Project. I'm not sure if we will ever see the OS or its full source publicly.
Subject: General Tech | September 19, 2015 - 07:29 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, xbox, pc gaming
The Xbox App for Windows 10 was touted as a major feature before launch, but you barely hear about it after. I will occasionally get a notification that I can record game footage, or a little pop-up after pressing the center button of my 360 controller. Other than that, I barely notice that it exists. A lot of the functionality is useful to manage their Xbox One or Xbox Live Gamertag (do they even call it that anymore?) but PC gamers barely have a reason to open it. Granted, I expect Microsoft hopes that will change after enough Xbox-aware games for Windows 10 hit market. It's early days.
Some currently use it though, and it has just received an update for them. Version 9.9.16003.00000 has added four new features, two of which implement automatic updates for friends and their activity feeds. The button to refresh is still present, which is always nice in case something goes wrong, but it shouldn't need to be pressed as the app should be pulling notifications from Microsoft's servers on its own.
The other two features are more interesting.
The Xbox App now supports “Console text entry”. This feature allows Xbox One users to type into the console's search boxes “and more” using Windows 10 devices, and, more importantly, their keyboards or keypads. A chat pad is being launched for the console soon, which plugs into the controller to give it a QWERTY keyboard, but supporting laptops is definitely nice.
The last feature is “Game progress comparison”. In the Achievements panel, you are able to click on the “compare” button to line up your achievement history next to your friends. As it turns out, Ryan has a higher score than me in Halo 3. That just won't do.
Microsoft has also announced that they will be providing a Beta app in the future, which will arrive later this month. You can pick it up from the Windows Store when it becomes available, if you want.
Subject: General Tech | September 19, 2015 - 05:05 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10
As we approach the first major update to Windows 10, Microsoft has released another build to Fast Ring users. Oddly enough, Slow Ring users have not received a single build yet, and rumors have the release scheduled for the October / November time frame. This build is bigger than some previous ones that we've seen, addressing issues from the Start Menu, Edge, Tablet Mode, first-party apps, and more.
The headlining feature is an option to increase the number of tiles that are available on Start. Currently, you are allowed to have 512 tiles, but a switch will bump that up to 2048. This will obviously help users who have a lot of different applications, but I personally find myself using Search a lot more. I would like to see Microsoft support multiple instances of the same application, so you can select between common command-line arguments without having tiles on your desktop, bringing Search and Start to parity with it.
Object RTC in Microsoft Edge is interesting from a developer perspective, though. This standard allows real-time audio and video communication, which is commonly used for applications like video conferencing -- but that is not even its most important application. The base standard, Web RTC, allows websites to create network sockets, including peer to peer. Mozilla created a game, BananaBread, which uses this -- not for audio or video chat -- but for multiplayer synchronization without a server (except to connect the initial handshake). Unfortunately, implementations that I've used is also hostile to networks without UPnP support... maybe Microsoft will push that in a good direction.
Build 10547 is available now for Fast Ring users from Windows Update.