Saturday, February 1, 2014

Boot up: Windows Vista 2?, Google Play v IAPs, Acer's writedown, and more

Mathematical equations You won’t BELIEVE what the sum of the series of positive integers is. Photograph:

A burst of 10 links for you to chew over, as picked by the Technology team

The Zune is a 16000 ton vessel owned by former Microsoft executive and billionaire Paul Allen. Built in 2007, The Zune was designed to withstand heavy abuse from man made stationary objects. Steven Johnson, captain of the Zune and 15 year maritime veteran said "It came out of nowhere. We are just lucky that no one got injured. There was an obvious error on behalf of the lighthouse operator."

This has gone viral, but it's fake, fake, fake. Allen doesn't own a yacht called The Zune, so it can't have crashed anywhere. (Though there is a place called Kitsap in Washington state.)

Ex-Microsoft GM Hal Berenson:

it's clear that what users wanted, and Microsoft could easily have offered, was Windows 8 with a "Tablet First" mode and a "Desktop First" mode. Then subsequent releases could have made those more nuance than reality.

The feedback on this was clear from the first appearance of the Windows 8 Developer Preview, but the Windows team's reaction was the opposite. The ability to turn on boot to desktop and the cascading start menu were removed after that preview and the feedback. Power Users saw it as pure arrogance. And while I think most were irrationally negative on the new Start Screen, and other aspects of Windows 8, the Windows team showed little sensitivity to their input.

And therein lies a key problem with Windows 8 and the development philosophy of Steven Sinofsky. The secrecy. The unwillingness to bounce things off customers early enough to make changes. A worship of schedule and process above wisdom and expertise, even if the result is the wrong thing shipped on the promised timeline. Steven will no doubt dispute this, but this is how those outside his sphere see his way of developing software. And in the case of Windows 8 it caught up with him, in a really big way.

The amount of detritus has expanded exponentially since 2007, when the Chinese intentionally destroyed one of their weather satellites. Two years later came the accidental collision of the Iridium Communications SV33 and Russian Cosmos 2251 communications satellites over Siberia. The rubble generated from those two events now accounts for one-third of all cataloged orbital rubble, according to NASA data.

Even worse, debris crashing into debris is creating even more debris, a cascading effect that began by at least 2005, says J.-C. Liou, a scientist with NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office. He estimates that five large pieces of wreckage will have to be removed every year starting in 2020 just to keep the overall amount of space debris level. "I believe that we have crossed the threshold into instability," he says, predicting a crash like the Iridium incident once every five to 10 years.

It's not just for films.

In its complaint against Apple, the FTC noted that one parent of a young Apple user reported that her daughter had spent $2,600 in the Tap Pet Hotel game from Pocket Gems. So I installed the Android version of that game on an Android tablet by downloading it free from the Google Play Store. Having previously enabled the store's password protection feature (using the Google Play app's Settings), I approved one in-app purchase of a Bunch of Treats for 99 cents, just as any soft-hearted parent might do.

As you can see below, there was no indication on the screen that I had approved anything but that 99 cent purchase.

Morphing from Doting Dad to mischievous child, I then entered the Pet Hotel unsupervised, where I spent the next 30 minutes making seven more 99 cent in-app purchases of Treats or Coins, all without any further authorization. Just tap and spend. (Sometime during that period I indulged in a spontaneous detour from the game to the Play Store and tacked on an unauthorized purchase of an unrelated app for $2.99—just because I could.) Total cost of my spending spree: $9.92.

My childlike binge came to an abrupt halt when Google Play's 30-minute time limit on unauthorized purchases kicked in, after which the Play Store once again required a password in order to buy anything.

But as he points out it could very easily have been a lot more.

Galen Gruman:

Cisco still had Windows ties even in its Web apps, as many were written explicitly for Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 and its ActiveX language for client-server app interaction. Microsoft never brought ActiveX to the Mac, and it had dropped IE for the Mac previously. That was one reason for IT's aversion to the Mac years ago, and why later it told Mac users to run IE in a virtual desktop, forcing the use of a hybrid OS X-Windows environment. That didn't please Mac users. "A common UI imposed over a chosen device breaks the whole reason people get what they wanted in the first place."

But then came the iPad, which didn't support ActiveX and couldn't run native virtualization apps as OS X could. Cisco saw strong value in tablets, so it made the significant effort to rework its Web apps to be platform-independent, meaning dropping ties to ActiveX and IE6. As a byproduct of that iPad enablement, Cisco's Web apps could run on Macs and many other platforms (such as Linux, which is now a supported PC choice for employees, in addition to Windows PCs and Macs).

Getting rid of ActiveX and IE6 probably provided more security too.

To speed up Acer's corporate transformation, the company's Board of Directors approved to write-off losses of NT$1.3B (US$44M) in raw materials inventory and other costs which will be reported in the Q4'13 financial results. This latest write-off will help optimize the company's operational management. Taking immediate action, Acer will formulate its product strategy with more caution and implement precise production planning and inventory control. Senior executives have also taken voluntary salary cuts of 30% from January to share responsibility.

The Q4'13 financial results are: consolidated revenues of NT$86.7B (US$2.89B) declining by 5.9% quarter-on-quarter, operating loss of NT$8.22B (US$274.39M), after-tax loss of NT$-7.63B (US$-254.79M), and EPS of NT$-2.8…

Acer acknowledges missteps in the past on resource allocation, and the over-expectation of ultrabooks and notebooks with touch panel. Although the products were leading in design they did not accurately fulfill market needs.

Translation: people aren't buying ultrabooks or touch-panel PCs.

Nexus 5 running stock KitKat 4.4. There is no way to make web pages in Android WebView wrap text properly as there was in all previous versions of WebView.

There are a lot of annoyed people on the thread. Google's response is that it is "working as intended". What with the removal of per-app privacy settings and the loss of text reflow, Android's 4.4 "KitKat" update seems to be making some people sick.

Steve Sinofsky (yes, him):

There are dozens of examples of disruptive technologies and products. And the reactions (or inactions) of incumbents are legendary. One example that illustrates this point would be the introduction of the "PC as a server." This has all of the hallmarks of disruption. The first customers to begin to use PCs as servers — for application workloads such as file sharing, or early client/server development — ran into incredible challenges relative to the mini/mainframe computing model. While new PCs were far more flexible and less expensive, they lacked the reliability, horsepower and tooling to supplant existing models. Those in the mini/mainframe world could remain comfortable observing the lack of those traits, almost dismissing PC servers as not "real servers," while they continued on their path further distancing themselves from the capabilities of PC servers, refining their products and businesses for a growing base of customers. PCs as servers were simply toys.

Something about that "not real X" line is familiar, as is the "simply toys" one. A long post; watch out for the Star Trek reference.

Google hopes that a wave of Chrome-powered netbooks set for release this fall will hasten that day, and its designers are already sketching out the next generation of Chrome OS devices, including touchscreen tablets.

Google vice president Sundar Pichai contends that having an iTunes-like app store is unnecessary, because desktop software is just about dead. "In the past 10 years, we've seen almost no new major native applications," he says, ticking off the few exceptions: Skype, iTunes, Google Desktop, and the Firefox and Chrome browsers. "We are betting on the fact that all the user will need are advanced Web apps." (Pichai acknowledges that the Web can't currently handle powerful games but says that new technologies like Native Client and HTML5 will fix that problem.)

He forgot Spotify and Dropbox. Anyhoooo, that was March 2010. Anyone remember seeing those ChromeOS netbooks? (Treat yourself to the comments on the piece for far-sighted wisdom too.)

Ever heard of Grandi's Series? Here's a physicist at the University of Nottingham showing you a completely counterintuitive result which emerges from a little wrangling of infinite series. (It's a reference value in string theory too.)

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