Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is dead … but don’t celebrate just yet

The web browser that will ship with Microsoft’s new Windows 10 operating system might not be called Internet Explorer, but reports of IE’s demise have been somewhat exaggerated.

Microsoft’s new browser – codenamed “Spartan” after the protagonist in its Halo game series – has been built from the ground up, jettisoning the underlying code from IE.

By doing so, the new browser won’t be compatible with a lot of older web software and services built specifically for IE. This will include the majority of older internal web-based applications used by businesses for admin purposes.

As a consequence IE will live on and be available on Windows 10 as well as Windows 8, 7 and Vista. Businesses that use IE today are unlikely to switch to Microsoft’s new browser any time soon.

“We will continue to make Internet Explorer available with Windows 10 for enterprises and other customers who require legacy browser support,” a Microsoft spokesperson said.

What Microsoft’s new browser, which is due for release with Windows 10 in the summer, will be called is still undecided.

“We’re now researching what the new brand, or the new name, for our browser should be in Windows 10,” said Microsoft’s head of marketing Chris Capossela speaking at the Microsoft Convergence. “We’ll continue to have Internet Explorer, but we’ll also have a new browser, which is codenamed Project Spartan. We have to name the thing.”

Whatever the browser is called (though let’s not rule out Microsoft picking “Internet Explorer 12” after all), the code change signals a big change. Microsoft’s biggest strength – legacy support for almost any and all Windows software – has also been its biggest weakness, holding it back and limiting innovation.

Ditching Internet Explorer wholesale indicates an end to that approach, which could create many headaches for users and corporate IT managers in the next few years with compatibility issues and upgrade hassles.

Apple did a similar thing when it released OS X in March 2001, which replaced OS 9. Developers were forced to rewrite their code, or their applications were forced to run in an emulator, an experience so bad it drove users away. It was a painful break, but a necessary one that stood the company in good stead for both its Mac computers, and later its iOS smartphones and tablets.

A similar move from Microsoft would be even more painful, but could put the company back on the innovating path, which would ultimately be good for users and businesses.

Taken from The Guardian.

Dyson invests $15m in technology that may double smartphone battery life

Dyson is investing $15m in a new type of battery that promises to double smartphone battery life and allow electric cars to drive over 600 miles per charge.

The British vacuum company was alerted to the University of Michigan spin-off called Sakti3, which has developed next generation solid-state technology that can store twice as much energy as traditional rechargeable batteries.

As part of the investment, Dyson has entered into a joint development agreement to commercialise Sakti3’s solid-state battery technology. The new batteries promise to store twice as much energy as today’s liquid-based lithium batteries, that are used in everything from smartphones and tablets to cars, robots, and renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines.

“Sakti3 has achieved leaps in performance, which current battery technology simply can’t,” said company founder James Dyson. “It’s these fundamental technologies – batteries, motors – that allow machines to work properly.”

Battery technology is one of the major limiting factors of portable or cordless electronic products today. While surrounding computer technologies have progressed at a staggering rate, batteries haven’t kept up, leading to user frustration and limits on what can be done.

The lithium-ion technologies used in today’s best batteries have barely progressed since their introduction in 1991 by Sony. There has been improvement in longevity and charging times, but not a great deal in terms of the amount of energy that batteries store.

Mobile electronics have been forced to choose: either be heavier and thicker, or else suffer from poor battery life, which is one of the reasons products like the iPhone rarely last longer than a day on a single charge.

Most batteries rely on a liquid mixture of reactive compounds, which store energy from the mains and release it when required through chemical reactions within the cell in the form of electricity.

Sakti3’s solid-state technology uses solid lithium electrodes instead of a liquid mix of chemicals, which doubles the amount of energy that can be stored within a battery.

The eight-year-old company claims its solid-state batteries can store over 1,000 watt hours per litre, which is almost double the best traditional lithium-ion batteries available today with an energy density of up to 620 watts per hour per litre. That increased energy density could effectively double the battery life of mobile electronics, extend the range of electric vehicles and lead to thinner and lighter technology.

The batteries also promise to be cheaper to manufacture, longer lasting and be more environmentally friendly than current lithium-ion batteries. Solid-state batteries also remove some of the safety issues around the explosive nature of liquid batteries.

Other battery technologies in development, such as sulphur-based batteries, have been held back by safety issues. The chemical reactions used to generate the electricity can be violent and corrosive, meaning that they need to be carefully contained to avoid leaks and the reaction releasing the electricity must be kept stable to avoid overheating and potentially explosive consequences.

As most batteries are used in close proximity to the body, such as a smartphone kept in a pocket, tough safety regulations are in place.

Ann Marie Sastry, founder and chief executive of Sakti3, said that the agreement with Dyson will allow the company to bring its technology to the mass market.

“There is a great deal of knowledge and passion on both sides, and Dyson’s engineering team has the capability and the track record to scale up new ideas and make them a commercial reality,” she said.

The investment from Dyson guarantees that the new battery technology will appear first in Dyson products, including new versions of its cordless machines and robotic vacuum cleaners. But the applications for the technology go far beyond cleaning products.

One of the major factors holding back electric cars is so-called “range anxiety”. The best electric cars can only manage around 300 miles on battery power before requiring recharging, which can take over an hour even on the fastest chargers. Batteries with twice the capacity could help alleviate such range issues and make electric vehicles a viable alternative to fossil fuel-powered cars.

Electric car company Tesla, which has also been investing heavily in battery technology, recently announced the launch of a home battery pack. The batteries will be used to store energy generated by solar panels and other renewable sources powering homes overnight and helping reduce electrical costs and carbon footprints.

Taken from The Guardian.

BBC Micro Bit will complement Raspberry Pi not compete with it

The BBC’s new Micro Bit programmable device is designed to complement computers like the Raspberry Pi rather than compete with them, according to people involved with the project.

The broadcaster is planning to give one million units of the device away in the autumn as part of its Make It Digital initiative, including one for every child in year seven of the British education system – ie 11-12 year-olds.

The BBC hopes that the Micro Bit will get children interested in programming in the same way that its BBC Micro computer did in the 1980s, although the new device is being pitched as a gateway to more complex computers.

“It’s an entry-level device that will enable kids to code and program, and if they enjoy that, clearly they’ll move on to devices like the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi,” games industry veteran Ian Livingstone told the Guardian at the BBC’s Make It Digital launch, where the Micro Bit was unveiled.

“It will actually be very compatible with Raspberry Pi. That’s a full applications processor-based device that runs Linux, with the next one running Windows 10. The Micro Bit is an embedded software platform, so it doesn’t run a full operating system,” added Gary Atkinson, director of emerging technologies at Arm, which is one of the hardware companies involved in the project.
Coding at school: a parent’s guide to England’s new computing curriculum
Read more
That simplicity is a deliberate move, with hopes children will relish the process of writing code – either in a text-based editor or a graphical user interface like Scratch or Blockly – then compiling it and running it on the Micro Bit.

“There has been a lot of effort in the industry to abstract away the complexities of how you build something. An SDK from Apple allows you to build an app for an iPhone, but you have no idea: all you’re doing is basically calling APIs within the phone. ‘I want a reading from the GPS’ and so on,” said Atkinson.

“In an embedded environment, you literally have to make those calls. Yes, you can simplify it with some object programming, but what’s really exciting about this is that kids will get real-time feedback on what they’re doing.”

For now, exact details of the Micro Bit hardware are being kept under wraps, with the device still officially at “prototype” stage. It will sport a 5×5 LED display that can be used to scroll letters and flash, among other features.

“It’s going to be small enough and light enough that it will fasten to clothing. And one of the key capabilities that will be in the final device compared to the prototype is Bluetooth LE,” said Atkinson.

“The kids can do their main programming at school – they might have written a piece of code to scroll text and make the lights flash – but then you can imagine them being on the bus on the way home and reprogramming it from their mobile phone over Bluetooth to send messages from the back of the bus.”

Isn’t a technology for children to flash messages at one another on the bus ripe for… misuse? “Potentially, but we’re not promoting that,” laughed Atkinson. “There will be a lot of social interaction around it.”

Giving a million programmable devices away to 11-12 year-olds is one thing, but ensuring teachers are prepared to help them make the most of it quite another.

One of the criticisms of the recently-introduced computing curriculum in England has been that teachers who had no experience in programming (or teaching it) may have needed more time to prepare and train, and more resources to use in the classroom.

“There will be materials to add to the curriculum, teachers will be trained, and there will be all sorts of training materials and tutorials for a choice of development environments depending on your aptitude and interest, whether your journey is teacher-led or for independent study,” said Atkinson.

Livingstone, whose Next Gen report in 2011 was one of the driving forces towards the new curriculum, agreed. “A lot of ICT teachers do not know how to teach the new curriculum, so I would hope that they would facilitate group learning, activities, set up a code club,” he said.

“Learning alongside the children and facilitating a group learning experience. I don’t think we need to maintain that ‘teacher limiting the children by their own knowledge’ any more.”

Livingstone said that another key aim behind the Micro Bit is to ensure children are learning by doing. “We have to move on from getting computing onto the curriculum, which is great, to making sure that it’s not just another dry science,” he said.

“The idea of learning by doing has to be enabled in the classroom, so it’s not just another multiple-choice ‘Who invented the world wide web?’. That’s very interesting and we all need to know, but that’s not going to help us get a job.”

What about children who aren’t in year seven this year, though? At some point, as yet unspecified, they’ll be able to get their hands on a Micro Bit too.

“Every child who gets given one will be able to take it home and use it there. I would imagine their siblings will want one as well, so essentially the follow-on next generation will be able to fulfil those needs,” said Atkinson.

“There is going to be an independent launch of the hardware platform, but the timing of that has yet to be confirmed,” added Edmund Gemmell, Arm’s director of PR and brand marketing. “Phase one is every year seven kid, and then there’s obviously ambition beyond that.”

There is more information to come, too, on exactly what the Micro Bit will be capable of beyond showing text and flashing lights, and also how it will interact with the Raspberry Pi, Kano, Arduino and other computers. Helping children collaborate on their coding appears to be high on the agenda, though.

“The device is equivalent to an Internet of Things-type device. You could have multiples of these Micro Bits talking to a Raspberry Pi-based gateway that’s orchestrating them. There’ll be potential to bring these two worlds together so they’re not in competition at all,” said Atkinson.

“And one of the efforts we’re looking into is having a shared coding environment: not only for teacher / student, but for three or four kids together to be coding in real-time in the same development environment – “How about we add this and add that?” – and then getting those devices to interact with each other after the fact.”

There are plenty of experts on hand to help make that happen. Arm’s manufacturing and distribution partners on the project include Barclays, Freescale, Microsoft, Nordic Semiconductor, Samsung, element14, ScienceScope and Technology Will Save Us.

There’s a whole host of “product champions” on the education side too, from organisations like Code Club, CoderDojo and Teen Tech through to the Open University and Python Software Foundation.

“We want to channel the spirit of the BBC Micro for the digital age,” said BBC director-general Tony Hall at the Make It Digital launch. “The BBC, our partners and everyone involved want this to be a defining moment for digital creativity, and a vital one for our country’s digital economy.”

In the autumn, we’ll find out whether the finished Micro Bit device can live up to these high expectations, and provide that promised gateway to the other kinds of computers and programming platforms for children.

Taken from The Guardian.

Starting gun ‘fired’ on new NHS

Hospitals, GPs, community services and care homes are being brought together in England to provide more joined up care under a series of pilots.

The 29 “vanguards” have been announced by NHS England boss Simon Stevens as part of his drive to integrate care.

The approaches vary, but could lead to more services being available at GP practices rather than in hospitals and more NHS care provided in care homes.

Mr Stevens said the “starting gun had been fired” on a new way of working.

The pilots are backed by a £200m transformation fund – money which was set aside by Chancellor George Osborne in the Autumn Statement and come after Mr Stevens set out a five-year plan in October for changing the way services are organised.

That document, the NHS Forward View, called for local areas to come up with new ways of working by breaking down the traditional barriers that exist between hospitals, GPs, mental health and community services.

In particular, it stressed the need for the NHS to work more closely with council-run social care services.

More than 200 ideas were submitted to NHS England, with 29 now chosen to pioneer these new models.

The vanguards involve:

  • GPs in Rushcliffe, Nottinghamshire, coming together to set up a new care organisation to take charge of a pooled budget to coordinate care between hospitals, care homes and ambulance services.
  • In the London borough of Tower Hamlets, patients being offered a single assessment covering hospital, NHS community, mental health and social care services thanks to a new partnership.
  • Care home residents in Airedale in West Yorkshire being given access to health care through a more innovative use of telemedicine to reduce admissions to hospital.
  • On the Flyde Coast in Lancashire integrated teams of community nurses, social care staff and other health professionals will be working together to help patients with long-term conditions, such as diabetes.

In highlighting these 29 projects, NHS England is suggesting it marks a new dawn for how services are organised in the health service.

But this is not strictly true. For a number of years, the NHS has been looking to integrate services in the way Simon Stevens is setting out today.

In 2009, 16 integrated pilots were established. Then in 2013, 14 integrated care pioneers were set up by the coalition. The group was later expanded to 25.

Now we have 29 vanguards – some of which have featured in the previous “ground-breaking initiatives”. Tower Hamlets in London has been part of all three.

What is more, next month sees the launch of the government’s Better Care Fund, which involves integrated projects in 151 local areas, while last month it was announced Greater Manchester was going the whole way and pooling its entire health and care budget.

In Wales similar measures are being taken and in Scotland health boards and councils are in the process of pooling their budgets.

The NHS is changing, but this isn’t an overnight revolution. Mr Stevens said: “The NHS has its own long-term plan, backed by just about everybody, and today we’re firing the starting gun.

“Instead of the usual top-down administrative tinkering, we’re backing radical care redesign by frontline nurses, doctors and other staff in partnership with their patients and local communities.”

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said: “Many of the 29 areas chosen are well known within the NHS for containing organisations already at the cutting edge of health and social care.

“In that sense, there are no real surprises. These are organisations that have a head start in developing new approaches to better meet the needs of their local communities.

“The real test for this project, therefore, is how it is spread more widely to areas where such pioneering practice doesn’t exist.”

Taken from the BBC.

CIA ‘tried to crack security of Apple devices’

The CIA led sophisticated intelligence agency efforts to undermine the encryption used in Apple phones, as well as insert secret surveillance back doors into apps, top-secret documents published by the Intercept online news site have revealed.

The newly disclosed documents from the National Security Agency’s internal systems show surveillance methods were presented at its secret annual conference, known as the “jamboree”.

The most serious of the various attacks disclosed at the event was the creation of a dummy version of Apple’s development software Xcode, which is used by developers to create apps for iOS devices.

The modified version of Xcode would allow the CIA, NSA or other agencies to insert surveillance backdoors into any app created using the compromised development software. The revelation has already provoked a strong backlash among security researchers on Twitter and elsewhere, and is likely to prompt security audits among Apple developers.

The latest revelations of sustained hacking efforts against Apple devices are set to further strain already difficult relations between the technology company and the US government.

Apple had previously been a partner in the Prism programme, in effect a legal backdoor to obtain user information by the NSA and its allies, but in the wake of the Snowden revelations it has stepped up efforts to protect user privacy, including introducing end-to-end encryption on iMessages.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, warned Barack Obama in public remarks this month that history had shown “sacrificing our right to privacy can have dire consequences”.

Other efforts showcased at the intelligence agency jamboree included a means of introducing keylogger software – which records and transmits every stroke a compromised user types – into systems through Apple’s software update tool on its laptop and desktop computers.

Analysts were also exploring a sophisticated approach to breaking encryption on individual devices using the activity pattern of its processor while it is encrypting data, known as a “side channel” attack, as part of a bid to gain further access to the core software the devices run.

The presentation notes revealed by the Intercept suggested that at the time of the presentation in March 2012 the technique had not yet been successful in extracting the key.

US academics and security researchers have questioned the legality of the CIA’s efforts to attack Apple’s security.

“If US products are OK to target, that’s news to me,” Matthew Green of the Information Security Institute at John Hopkins University told the Intercept.

“Tearing apart the products of US manufacturers and potentially putting back doors in software distributed by unknowing developers all seems to be going a bit beyond ‘targeting bad guys’. It may be a means to an end, but it’s a hell of a means.”

The exploits revealed by the Intercept are the latest in a long list of stories disclosing intelligence agency activities against Apple and its platforms. In January 2014, the Guardian disclosed a variety of exploits being used by the UK intelligence agency GCHQ and the NSA against mobile phones.

These included bids to extract personal information from data transmitted by apps including Angry Birds, as well as a range of capabilities to activate remotely the microphone on iPhones and Android devices – a project codenamed Nosey Smurf.

Taken from The Guardian.

Amazon Prime 30-day trial advert ‘misleading’ says ASA

The Amazon Prime 30-day free trial advertisement was “likely to mislead” customers, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) says. Today’s ruling means the advert must not appear again in “its current form”.

Six customers complained to the ASA over the Amazon trial, saying that it was not clear “that a paid subscription would automatically start” if not cancelled during the free trial.

The ASA ruling does not influence current payments or refunds.As well as upholding that complaint, the ASA also ruled that the price of the subscription was not made obvious enough, as it was not in the original advert. A 12-month subscription to Amazon Prime cost £79.

Last month many users took to social media to complain about the service. Reports suggested that Amazon Prime added 10 million new subscribers in the last three months of 2014 alone. It was also claimed that Amazon Prime members now represent nearly half of all Amazon customers. It’s not known how many users there are in the UK.

The complaints to the ASA centred around a letter that was sent to customers with Amazon accounts, which included a plastic card, directing people to Amazon UK. In their defence, Amazon UK’s parent company, Amazon Europe Core Sarl, pointed to some “small text” at the bottom of the letter in the offer terms, which stated: “Paid subscription starts automatically after free trial unless cancelled.”

They also said: “During the online registration process customers were again made aware that they would be charged a fee.”
The ASA said that the small print was not enough to warn consumers that the trial would end in a paid subscription if not cancelled in time.

It was also ruled that the price of the subscription to Amazon Prime was “material information” that should have appeared in the advert.

Amazon have been told by the ASA that in future the automatic start of the paid subscription must appear in the main body of the advert. Customers should also be told about the cost. If you want to avoid your free trial being extended to a paid service go to Your Account on Amazon and adjust your membership settings within 30 days of signing up.

You can cancel your membership in Your Account at any time. Full refunds are only given if you’ve not used any of the Prime benefits.

Taken from the BBC.

Millions at risk from ‘Freak’ encryption bug

Microsoft has issued a security warning about a bug that could let attackers spy on supposedly secure communications.

Called “Freak”, the bug was found in software used to encrypt data passing between web servers and web users.

Initially the flaw was thought only to affect some users of Android and Blackberry phones and Apple’s Safari web browser.

Microsoft’s warning suggests millions more may be at risk of losing data.

The Freak flaw was discovered by encryption and security expert Karthikeyan Bhargavan and lets attackers force data travelling between a vulnerable site and a visitor to use weak encryption. This makes it easier to crack open the data and steal sensitive information.

Statistics gathered by a group set up to monitor the impact of the Freak flaw suggest about 9.5% of the web’s top one million websites are susceptible to such attacks.

The monitoring group has also produced an online tool that lets people check if they are using a browser that is vulnerable to the flaw.

Apple is expected to produce a patch for the flaw next week and Google has updated its version of Chrome for the Mac to remove its susceptibility to Freak. It has yet to say what action it is taking with Android.

In a security advisory note released on 5 March, Microsoft said every current version of Windows that uses Internet Explorer, or any non-Microsoft software that calls on a part of Windows called Secure Channel, was vulnerable to the Freak flaw.

Microsoft has issued advice about ways to remove the vulnerability from some of its software but said applying these fixes could cause “serious problems” with other programs. It said it was working on a separate security update to remove the vulnerability.

In its advisory, Microsoft said it had not received any information that suggested the attack was being actively exploited by cybercriminals.

Taken from the BBC.

MySpace – what went wrong: ‘The site was a massive spaghetti-ball mess’

In 2015, Sean Percival is a partner at Silicon Valley seed accelerator 500 Startups, but from 2009 to 2011, he was working at MySpace as its vice president of online marketing – just as the social network lost its crown to Facebook.

In a speech at the By:Larm conference in Oslo this week, Percival gave an insider’s view of what went wrong at MySpace, from the “massive spaghetti-ball mess” of its website and the “politics, greed” of parent company News Corporation to a doomed attempt to acquire music streaming service Spotify.

His talk was aimed at startups looking to learn the lessons from MySpace’s decline, but it seemed as relevant for the largest internet companies today, such as Facebook, as they seek to avoid a similar fate.

The early years

“MySpace actually didn’t really exist as a company. They were part of a marketing company, and this company was doing very early e-commerce: they were selling junk, basically. They were selling diet pills. They were selling little remote-controlled helicopters,” said Percival, describing MySpace’s birth as a response to the popularity in 2003 of social network service, Friendster.

“They looked at Friendster and said: ‘Wow, people are spending insane amounts of time on this site. We should copy it.’ And all they wanted to do was build a social network so they could have distribution for their ads, selling these horrible products to people. And that’s where it began.”

Percival said that in its early days, MySpace was a pioneer in what’s now called influencer marketing. “They went to Friendster and found all the hot girls who got kicked off Friendster. You may remember Tila Tequila. She was a very very big deal on MySpace. But she was a Friendster user,” he said.

“They kicked her off because she was just too damn sexy. And MySpace said: ‘Hey, we don’t care! We’re from Los Angeles, sex is what drives the economy out here. We’re happy to have you’. So they bring in Tila Tequila.”

But Percival said just as important for MySpace was attracting bands, photographers and other creative people. “You were interested in what they were doing. You lusted after them because they were sexy… As the normal people – us – joined, we were just inundated with all these exciting people.”

This sparked Percival to set up an agency that helped brands to create profiles on MySpace and grow their network of friends, although MySpace itself was trying to charge brands for this kind of service; after “scary legal notices” from the company, he shut down his business.

News Corporation: ‘the corporate policies crept in’

Percival wouldn’t join MySpace until a few years later, but remained an interested observer as it grew, including watching its $580m acquisition by News Corporation in 2005 – the impact of which was still being felt when he joined the company as vice president of online marketing in 2009.

“News Corp is a monster organisation, just mammoth proportions: many many billions of dollars, many many users. At the time I remember they said: ‘Hey! We’re not going to disrupt anything. We’re going to let it run: you’re special!’ And just preserve that and not do anything,” he said.

Percival said this was very much the external message, but that more recent technology acquisitions – Facebook buying Instagram or WhatsApp for example – have seen the acquirers learn from News Corporation’s mistakes in not sticking to its promises.

“The reality was that as time went on, the corporate policies creeped in. The lawyers came in, the accountants. Everything came in. As opposed to being this nimble, fast-moving sports car, they started to become slow,” said Percival.

“That was always the big challenge for me. I’d want to do something very very basic, and it’s like ‘okay, well, let’s go through the legal process’. We had 40 to 50 lawyers on staff, and we were spending $800,000 a month on external lawyers too.

“We’re getting attacked from all sides. The Department of Justice is coming after us because there’s really bad stuff happening. There’s paedophiles! Weird stuff going on on MySpace. So we’re trying to fight this, and we’re just getting attacked from all angles.”

The result? “As opposed to preserving and letting it run as it is, it just got really, really corporate. Politics, greed, all the horrible things that come with big corporations, slowly sort-of crept in,” said Percival.

‘They knew that the end was near’

By 2009, MySpace was still the biggest website in terms of traffic, but Facebook was growing fast by this point, and according to Percival the atmosphere was defeatist when he joined the company.

“I remember the first meeting they had me set up with the whole team, and it was the saddest, most awkward meeting I’ve ever been in, in my life. And I’ve been in some really sad meetings. Literally sat there and everyone was so defeated,” he said.

“The analogy I use is like you were the half-time [basketball] coach, and I walk in and it’s half-time, and you’re down by 100 points … They had been beat down by that corporate bureaucracy, they knew they were about to lose to Facebook. They knew that the end was near. They could smell it.”

Percival said that one of MySpace’s main failings at this point was bloat, with verticals covering celebrity, fashion, sport and even books.

“I can tell you: literature nerds were not going to MySpace to debate the latest John Grisham book! They [MySpace] just went everywhere, and that was a big, big mistake,” he said.

“Facebook has done a really good job of not doing that … Lesson learned: do one thing great, not do many things good. Or in our case, we were doing many things kinda crappy.”

Percival noted that at its peak, MySpace was attracting around 100 million monthly users – small beans compared to the 1.39 billion that Facebook had by the end of 2014, driven by internationalisation as well as smartphone penetration.

MySpace did try the global expansion thing, but by opening offices in as many countries as possible. “Literally wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, fighting to set up teams, fighting to set up legal music rights and so on,” said Percival.

“I’m pretty sure that in almost every market we lost money, with the exception of Mexico. Whereas Facebook said: ‘we don’t need to set up offices that quick; this thing is gonna scale’.”

‘The site was such a massive spaghetti-ball mess’

Percival noted that MySpace also spent hundreds of millions of dollars building its own content delivery network (CDN), whereas websites today would use a cloud network like Amazon’s.

“More money. More money pouring out. The total of money lost? I don’t even know, but it is in the billions of dollars. Thankfully News Corp has a few billion dollars and they could afford it,” he said, before recalling the “mess” that the original MySpace became in its later years.

“The site was such a massive spaghetti-ball mess. You could do these tree flowcharts of your website … and we did it, and it was like the fricking seven scrolls that you could see. It just went on forever and ever and ever… We were not nimble in any way, shape or form.”

Percival said the “last nail in the coffin” for the original MySpace was a comment made by News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch in an earnings call that MySpace would make a billion dollars in revenue that year.

“At the time we were doing $50m to $100m, so we were at a tenth of where we needed to be,” said Percival. “He made that statement, but as far as I was aware, no executives knew that was the directive. So everyone scurries around … ‘The boss said we have to make a billion dollars, so I guess we need to make a billion dollars’.

“And that’s why we had things like MySpace Books. It’s not because our users wanted to talk about books… But someone wanted to sponsor that. Someone was willing to pay us to build MySpace Books – HarperCollins – so we built it for $250,000 or $500,000. And those things were just rampant.”

Percival remembered an infamous ad called Punch The Monkey, which invited people to click on an animated monkey to win some kind of prize – but which usually linked through to surveys and requirements to sign up for credit cards or other services to qualify for the prize.

“It was one of the most annoying things you could do with an ad, but they just didn’t care: they had no respect for the users. It was all about monetisation. Making money, squeezing every dollar out of it,” said Percival.

“And think about Facebook, the ultimate winner here. No focus on monetisation early on. Very few ads. And when they do ads, they actually do very nice ads. They do more native, more inline advertising, things that feel a little more natural. Not Punch The Monkey.”

Percival said that during his time heading online marketing for MySpace, he wanted to build a better “onboarding” process for new users and a better retention mechanic for people coming back. “But I’m trying to fight for developer resources and get these things built, and it’s ‘No no no, got to build Punch The Monkey 2.0, gotta drive the revenue…’.”

‘Unknown thing: we tried to buy Spotify’

Could MySpace have been saved? Percival talked about what the company might have done differently, and admitted that by the time he arrived in 2009, it was possibly unsaveable – not least because by that time, it was difficult to hire the most talented engineers against competition from Facebook, Google and other rising tech companies.

“I always thought, and I pushed this internally but we could never get buy-in, was to change the name. At that time MySpace was not cool any more,” said Percival.

“The baggage was too much. Users had too many bad experiences. They would go on there and they’d get hit with spam. There’d be all this weird stuff. The baggage was really intense.”

Percival also said that he thinks MySpace should have gone “all in on music” once it realised that Facebook was about to overtake it in the overall social networking battle.

“We never wanted to admit to ourselves that we’d lost the social war. The identity was owned by Facebook. On Facebook you were your real name, you were yourself. On MySpace you were like 420princessxxx, you’re all these weird pseudonyms,” he said.

“So we’d lost the social war, in a sense, but we really should have just gone all-in on music. At the time MySpace had a very, very unique deal with labels. They were the only site on the web that you could go and play any song from a major label for free.

“You can do that on Spotify now … but that was so unique. It was a very special deal: we paid about $10m a year to get that deal, just to have the deal, and then we paid for all of the usage as well. That was something we had that nobody else had. We brokered that deal early on with the labels, and nobody else could get even close. We should have gone all-in on music and cut ship on everything else.”

Percival thinks Spotify is the most obvious successor to MySpace in terms of blending streaming music with social features.

“Unknown thing: we tried to buy Spotify and they sure as hell were not selling to us. They didn’t need to,” he said, before suggesting that Spotify has a much better chance of “getting” social than Apple and Google, which are shaping up to be its main competitors.

“There are companies that do not get social and they never will. Apple’s one of them, Google is the other: they’ve failed with Google+. When your culture is engineering-focused, you do not understand social. Social is a very emotional experience. Engineers are not so much, in a lot of cases,” he said.

Taken from The Guardian.

Sick of Chrome vs Firefox? Check out these 3 NEW browsers

Browsers have been making a comeback. There have been three brand new browsers released and even Firefox, which seems to be sliding further into irrelevancy every day, has released a new version aimed at developers and claims to be working on a WebKit-based version for iOS devices.

It’s a refreshing moment. After an initial mushrooming development and branches during the 1990s, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera were it for quite some time. Apple produced Safari and much later Google followed up with Chrome. Since Chrome in 2008, the browser market has been more or less been stagnant.

Of late we’ve had three new offerings to break this stagnation: Microsoft’s Project Spartan, Yandex’s still-just-a-concept browser and an odd little upstart named Vivaldi.

Project Spartan sees Microsoft stripping all the legacy code out of Trident, the rendering engine that powers Internet Explorer, so that Spartan contains only the modern, standards-compliant code. It’s not an entirely new browser, but it is indicative of a sea change in Microsoft’s view of the web.

Whether Microsoft can shed the legacy code that dogs IE to this day remains to be seen, but don’t forget that once upon a time IE was the great innovator of the web. For example, IE gave the world Ajax, the ability to refresh certain parts of the page without reloading the whole thing. Without that contribution, the web as we know it would simply not exist.

Yandex’s concept browser, meanwhile, re-imagines the browser as something almost non-existent. So far it’s little more than a concept video, but the idea seems to be primarily a conceptual leap: each website becomes more like a standalone application with its own interface than a page loaded into a browser window. Without actual code available, though, it’s tough to tell how well this idea will work for most people.

If Yandex’s concept browser lies at one end of the spectrum, the third new browser in recent months, this one from Vivaldi, lies at the opposite end. Both are based on the WebKit rendering engine, but where Yandex’s concept sees the browser slipping to the background, Vivaldi brings it back to the forefront with a host of extras aimed at the power user.

Vivaldi is in many ways what Opera used to be before Opera moved the WebKit/Blink and became (more or less) a clone of Chrome. Vivaldi is the power user’s browser in the same vein as Opera 12.

That’s no accident. Vivaldi’s CEO is none other than Jon S von Tetzchner, founder and former CEO of Opera. Von Tetzchner’s goal for Vivaldi is to rebuild the browser that Opera once was – the power user’s browser. For Vivaldi that means features like mouse gestures, keyboard shortcuts, tab stacking, note taking and email – not available yet, but coming.

There are also handy features like the ability to turn off images to speed up page load times over slow networks and a slew of advanced settings that allow you to control everything from the location of tabs to the key combos of most menu items.

If Chrome, Firefox and most especially Yandex are trying to turn the browser into a sleek, minimalist Bugatti for everyone, Vivaldi wants to perfect the humble Volkswagen – infinitely customisable and easy to work on.

That said, Vivaldi’s interface is not unattractive or cluttered, nor is it difficult to use. Most of its features are tucked away out of sight. To get the most out of Vivaldi you need to go digging. If the first thing you do when you install a new app is open up the preferences and see what you can customize then Vivaldi is the browser for you.

Or at least it will be. While Vivaldi is indeed available for download it’s labelled a tech preview, which is best thought of in this case as pre-alpha. There’s much about Vivaldi that remains unfinished. As noted, the integrated email application – which presumably will be similar to something Opera had offered – is thus far non-existent.

Other missing features include a mobile version and a sync tool for easily moving back and forth between the two. Both of those are in the works, as is support for third-party extensions. In the mean time, though, as the downloads page puts it, Vivaldi is “intended to show the direction of our product. It is not perfect, far from it.”

The pre-alpha state of Vivaldi is frustrating because it will remind power users of what a browser can be (arguably once was), but it’s just not quite there yet.

Not to be left out of the new browser renaissance, Mozilla recently launched a version of Firefox specifically aimed at web developers. So far, there’s not much in the developer edition that’s not in the standard edition of Firefox, but expect that to change over time. For now the developer edition does get you the Valence plugin pre-installed, which means you can debug just about any web browser from within Firefox.

As the name implies, the developer edition of Firefox targets web coders rather than end users, but it’s not hard to imagine this becoming a refuge for the latter as the main version of Firefox continues to simplify itself, removing more and more options and customisation possibilities.

It’s also worth noting that with a dozen or so extensions you can turn Firefox or Chrome into something very closely resembling Vivaldi. But as anyone who does this already can tell you, the number of extensions installed inevitably becomes inversely proportional to the speed of your browser.

Vivaldi’s goal is to give you the power of a dozen extensions without the performance hit. It’s not quite there yet, but if you’re looking for a browser to replace the once great Opera 12, Vivaldi is one to keep an eye on.

Taken from The Register.

Raspberry Pi 2 review – the Pi you didn’t know you wanted

The Raspberry Pi has been a tremendous success story, ever since the low-cost development board first appeared in 2012. Among enthusiasts and educators it’s sparked an interest in “real” computing, unseen since the halcyon days of the 1980s, and it’s also inspired an army of copycat devices. Now, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is building on that success with the long-awaited successor – the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B.

This isn’t the first time the Raspberry Pi Foundation has updated the Pi. The Model B doubled the RAM from 256MB to 512MB and added a second USB port, and last year the foundation released the B+, which doubled the USB port count to four, plus extra GPIO pins and an improved board layout.

The Raspberry Pi 2, however, represents the first time the company has upgraded the CPU at the heart of the computer. With the switch to a quad-core, 900MHz Broadcom BCM2836 SoC, the new Pi is now multi-core for the very first time. It’s also accompanied by 1GB of RAM – double the provision of the B+ – and the USB ports are now capable of supplying up to 1.2A of current, so you can connect more power-hungry components.

Speaking at the launch of the Raspberry Pi 2, founder Eben Upton said that the biggest challenge in developing the new device had been “hitting the price point”. Yet the Foundation has managed it: although the Pi 2 represents a huge step up in computing power, it still costs only £25. The only disappointment is that the networking port remains staunchly at 10/100 speeds.

On the surface, the new Pi looks like a simple upgrade. It’s much faster, and has more RAM, but visibly nothing changes. The placement of the ports, pins and micro-USB power requirements are all identical, and it’s still powered via micro-USB.

By moving from the 700MHz single-core BCM2835 to the 900MHz quad-core BCM2836, however, the Pi has also moved from the ARMv6 instruction set to the more advanced ARMv7. This means the new board can support not only the Raspbian build of Debian Wheezy, but also Snappy Ubuntu Core and “the full range of ARM GNU/Linux distributions”.

In even bigger news, it’s been promised that the Pi 2 will eventually also support Windows 10. However, Upton has explained that this won’t be a full Windows 10 environment running desktop applications: rather, it will be a command-line environment, aimed at developers designing IoT (Internet of Things) devices.

Despite this dramatic upgrade in capabilities, the Pi 2 remains backwardly compatible with existing hardware and software projects, so for upgraders, the transition will be seamless. Since the physical design is nigh on identical too, most existing third-party cases and add-on boards should also continue to work perfectly with the Pi 2. Close-fitting cases might have a problem, since some of the surface mount components have moved, but for most users all you’ll need to do is re-download Raspbian OS to get the new ARMv7 compatible kernel.

Thanks to its increased clock frequency and over multiple cores, the Raspberry Pi 2 is clearly more powerful than any previous Pi model. Obviously, the effective speed-up will depend on the software you’re running, and whether or not it’s been optimised to run multithreaded, but at the launch, a spokesman demonstrated a Python script that calculated an approximation of Pi then displayed it in visual form in Minecraft. The original Raspberry Pi version took 47 seconds to complete the calculation; using all four cores, the new model completed the job in three seconds.

Even in single-threaded applications, using only a quarter of the Pi 2’s available compute power, you can still see a big difference. We ran SunSpider on a B+ and a Pi 2, and the latter completed the test roughly three times as quickly, with a final time of 4,487ms versus the former’s 14,491ms. Running Google’s Octane browser benchmark brought the B+ to its knees, returning a score of 89.7; on the Pi 2 it gained a score of far better score of 327.

In practice, anyone who uses a Raspberry Pi to develop projects, learn programming, as a basic desktop or media centre will really notice the bump in performance, with general tasks feeling a more responsive within the Raspbian OS. Browsing the web is no longer a chore, and the kid-friendly Scratch programming environment really benefits from the extra zip; you can switch between tabs without having to wait seconds for them to load, and simple jobs such as importing background images complete far quicker. We tried importing a large JPEG on the B+ and the Pi 2 into a Scratch project, and found a huge difference in the amount of time it took to complete the job: on the B+ we had to wait 48 seconds before it appeared in our project; on the Pi 2 that time fell to 20 seconds.

For those who love the Raspberry Pi and all it brings to the table, the Pi 2 is most definitely a good thing. It offers much more power, yet the price remains the same, and the package is completely backwards compatible with the previous model, so upgrading is about as painless as it gets.

Perhaps even more significant, however, is the extra flexibility that the ARMv7 instruction set brings with it. Having the potential to install and run a greater range of operating systems, including (eventually) even a derivative of Windows 10 will only broaden the appeal of the Raspberry Pi, making the company’s target of three million units shipped this year eminently achievable.

Taken from PCPro.