Microsoft's Mission To Reignite the PC Sector ( 120 writes: Sales of personal computers have been declining for so long — 14 consecutive quarters — that it's hard remember a time when PCs ruled the tech world. Now Nick Wingfield writes in the NY Times that Microsoft is leading the way on a mission to re-ignite the PC market by taking the once-unthinkable step of competing with its hardware partners. This week, Microsoft dived even further into the business with a laptop device, the Surface Book. The stated reason that Microsoft got into the PC hardware business three years ago, with the original Surface, was not to put PC companies out of business — but to better illustrate the capabilities of its software, providing devices that would inspire PC makers to be more innovative.

One of the most remarkable things about Microsoft's growing presence in the hardware business is that it has not led to open revolt among its partners. Initially, many of them were not happy about Microsoft's moves, complaining in private. "It's positioned as a laptop, very squarely against the MacBook Pro as an example. But that could also be extended to a Dell XPS 13, or an HP x360," says Patrick Moorhead. One reason there hasn't been more pushback from OEMs is that Microsoft's Surface business is still relatively small. Another is that the money Microsoft has poured into marketing Surface has raised the broader profile of Windows PCs. While Microsoft obviously risks alienating its partners, it's doing so with a much bigger fight in mind. "Right now Microsoft really believes that it has to have a combined hardware, software, and services play to go up against the likes of Apple," says Moorhead. "That's why it's doing this. That's why it's taking such an aggressive stance now, moving to laptops."


US Government Will Not Force Companies To Decode Encrypted Data... For Now ( 96

Mark Wilson writes: The Obama administration has announced it will not require companies to decrypt encrypted messages for law enforcement agencies. This is being hailed as a "partial victory" by the Electronic Frontier Foundation; partial because, as reported by the Washington Post, the government "will not — for now — call for [such] legislation." This means companies will not be forced to build backdoors into their products, but there is no guarantee it won't happen further down the line. The government wants to continue talks with the technology industry to find a solution, but leaving things in limbo for the time being will create a sense of unease on both sides of the debate. The EFF has also compiled a report showing where the major tech companies stand on encryption.

Emissions Scandal Expands: Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda, and Mitsubishi ( 351

An anonymous reader writes: Volkswagen has taken some serious heat for deliberately circumventing emissions tests with "defeat devices" in some of their vehicles. While no other cars have been found to use specific devices to fool tests in the same way, we're now learning that many manufacturers still mysteriously perform worse in the real world. Last week, the Guardian revealed that diesel cars from Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo, and Renault emitted significantly more pollution in realistic driving conditions than the tests supposedly allow. Now, we learn that vehicles from Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda, and Mitsubishi emit substantially more than they should as well. For example: "Mercedes-Benz's diesel cars produced an average of 0.406g/km of NOx on the road, at least 2.2 times more than the official Euro 5 level and five times higher than the Euro 6 level. Honda's diesel cars emitted 0.484g/km of NOx on average, between 2.6 and six times the official levels." This provides clear evidence that the automotive industry is designing its cars to follow the letter of the law (passing tests), but not the spirit (actually reducing pollution).

In Midst of a Tech Boom, Seattle Tries To Keep Its Soul 367 writes: Nick Wingfield has an interesting article in the NYT about how Seattle, Austin, Boulder, Portland, and other tech hubs around the country are seeking not to emulate San Francisco where wealth has created a widely envied economy, but housing costs have skyrocketed, and the region's economic divisions have deepened with rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco at more than $3,500 a month, the highest in the country. "Seattle has wanted to be San Francisco for so long," says Knute Berger. "Now it's figuring out maybe that it isn't what we want to be." The core of the debate is over affordable housing and the worry that San Francisco is losing artists, teachers and its once-vibrant counterculture. "It's not that we don't want to be a thriving tech center — we do," says Alan Durning. "It's that the San Francisco and Silicon Valley communities have gotten themselves into a trap where preservationists and local politics have basically guaranteed buying a house will cost at least $1 million. Already in Seattle, it costs half-a-million, so we're well on our way."

Seattle mayor Ed Murray says he wants to keep the working-class roots of Seattle, a city with a major port, fishing fleet and even a steel mill. After taking office last year, Murray made the minimum-wage increase a priority, reassured representatives of the city's manufacturing and maritime industries that Seattle needed them., and has set a goal of creating 50,000 homes — 40 percent of them affordable for low-income residents — over the next decade. "We can hopefully create enough affordable housing so we don't find ourselves as skewed by who lives in the city as San Francisco is," says Murray. "We're at a crossroads," says Roger Valdez. "One path leads to San Francisco, where you have an incredibly regulated and stagnant housing economy that can't keep up with demand. The other path is something different, the Seattle way."

ESR On Why the FCC Shouldn't Lock Down Device Firmware ( 143

An anonymous reader writes: We've discussed some proposed FCC rules that could restrict modification of wireless routers in such a way that open source firmware would become banned. Eric S. Raymond has published the comment he sent to the FCC about this. He argues, "The present state of router and wireless-access-point firmware is nothing short of a disaster with grave national-security implications. ... The effect of locking down router and WiFi firmware as these rules contemplate would be to lock irreparably in place the bugs and security vulnerabilities we now have. To those like myself who know or can guess the true extent of those vulnerabilities, this is a terrifying possibility. I believe there is only one way to avoid a debacle: mandated device upgradeability and mandated open-source licensing for device firmware so that the security and reliability problems can be swarmed over by all the volunteer hands we can recruit. This is an approach proven to work by the Internet ubiquity and high reliability of the Linux operating system."

IP Address May Associate Lyft CTO With Uber Data Breach ( 101

An anonymous reader writes: According to two unnamed Reuters sources the IP address of Lyft CTO Chris Lambert has been revealed by Uber's investigations to be associated with the accessing of a security key that was accidentally deposited on GitHub in 2014 and used to access 50,000 database records of Uber drivers later that year. However, bearing in mind that the breach was carried out through a fiercely protectionist Scandinavian VPN, and that Lambert was a Google software engineer before become CTO of a major technology company, it does seem surprising that he would have accessed such sensitive data with his own domestic IP address.

Rookie Dongle Warns Parents When Their Kids Are Driving Too Fast ( 153

An anonymous reader writes: Dongle Apps, a Belgian tech company, has introduced a new system which alerts a car owner if the vehicle's driver is breaking the speed limit. Initially designed for parents and guardians to keep an eye on their young ones behind the wheel, the 'Rookie Dongle', connects to the vehicle's on-board diagnostics (OBD II) port, internal GPS and mobile technologies to push real-time data to the cloud and send notifications to car owners via email or text when the driver is speeding, suddenly accelerates, brakes hard or has high RPM levels.

'First, Let's Get Rid of All the Bosses' -- the Zappos Management Experiment 325

schnell writes: The New Republic is running an in-depth look at online shoe retailer's experiment in a new "boss-less" corporate structure. Three years ago the company introduced a management philosophy that came from the software development world called "Holacracy," in which there are no "people managers" and groups self-organize based on individual creativity and talents. (When the change was announced, 14% of the company's employees chose to leave; middle management openly rebelled, but perhaps surprisingly the tech organization was slowest to embrace the new idea). The article shows that in this radically employee-centric environment, many if not most employees are thrilled and fulfilled, while others worry that self-organization in practical terms means chaos and a Maoist culture of "coercive positivity." Is Zappos the future of the American workplace, a fringe experiment, or something in between?

DARPA Jolts the Nervous System With Electricity, Lasers, Sound Waves, and Magnets 34

the_newsbeagle writes: DARPA is sinking some cash into the buzzy new research field of "electroceuticals," which involves stimulating nerves to control the activity of organs or bodily systems. The newest techniques have little in common with electroshock therapy, which sends a strong current broadly through the brain tissue; today's cutting-edge methods can target individual neurons, and turn them "on" and "off" with great precision. Under DARPA's new ElectRx program, seven research teams will explore different ways to modulate activity of the peripheral nervous system. Some will stimulate neurons directly with electricity, while others will take more roundabout routes involving light, acoustics, and magnetic fields.

Getting More Women Coders Into Open Source 687

Nerval's Lobster writes: Diversity remains an issue in tech firms across the nation, with executives and project managers publicly upset over a lack of women in engineering and programming roles. While all that's happening on the corporate side, a handful of people and groups are trying to get more women involved in the open source community, like Women of OpenStack, Outreachy (which is geared toward people from underrepresented groups in free software), and others. How much effort should be expended to facilitate diversity among programmers? Can anything be done to shift the demographics, considering the issues that even large, coordinated companies have with altering the collective mix of their employees?

From Microsoft, HoloLens VR Dev Kit, New Phones, Continuum 87

Ars Technica and scads of other tech hardware sites are reporting that the big news so far from this morning's Microsoft product launch event in New York is that the company's Hololens development kit will begin shipping in the first quarter of next year, and at a price that puts the units out of the hands of typical consumers: $3000. At that level, developers are more likely to make the plunge, which Ars applauds.

The company also announced three new smartphones: two of them, the Lumia 950, 950XL, are worth designating "flagships," while the 550, notably, will sell for $139, putting it in the territory of cheap grey-market Android phones. More interesting than spec bumps, though, is Continuum for Windows, a Window 10 feature which made its official debut at the event. Continuum is one manifestation of the pocket-computer idea that others have had as well in various forms: it means that with an adapter, a phone can be used as the CPU and graphics engine when connected to a screen and keyboard: "The adapter features a Microsoft Display Dock, an HDMI and Display Port, plus 3 USB ports to provide productivity on the go and let you plug in additional peripherals, such as mice and keyboards. Other accessories can be connected too, Microsoft said."

Microsoft also demo'd the Surface 4. Its improved screen is 12.3" at 2160x1440, for a pixel density of 267 PPI. The new pro has a Skylake 6th-gen processor, which they say provides a 30% performance boost over the Surface Pro 3, and a 50% boost over the MacBook Air. The SP4 goes up to 1TB of storage, and up to 16GB of RAM. The Type Cover was improved as well — the touchpad is 40% larger and supports 5-point multi-touch, while the keys have better travel and pitch.

On top of this, Microsoft also unveiled the Surface Book laptop. Its defining feature is that you can unclip the 13.5" touchscreen and use it separately as a tablet. The keyboard dock has a dedicated GPU that will boost performance when attached. Microsoft is using a new type of hinge that bends and extends at multiple points, so you can also reattach the screen backward if you want to use it as a tablet while keeping the extra GPU power available. They claim a 12-hour battery life for the Surface Book.

CodeWeavers To Release CrossOver For Android To Run Windows Programs 66

An anonymous reader writes: For the better part of three years there has been talk about running Wine on Android to bring Windows x86 programs to Android phones/tablets, and it's going to become a reality. CodeWeavers is planning to release CrossOver For Android before the end of the year. This will allow native Windows binaries to run on Android, but will be limited to Android-x86 due to struggles in emulating x86 Windows code on ARM. The tech preview will be free and once published the open-source patches will be published for Wine.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal Is Reached 278

An anonymous reader writes: The NY Times reports that negotiators have finally reached agreement over the Trans-Pacific Partnership from the U.S. and 11 other nations. The TPP has been in development for eight years, and has the potential to dramatically strengthen U.S. economic ties to east Asia. Though the negotiations have been done in secret, the full text of the agreement should be published within a month. Congress (and the legislative houses of the other participating countries) will have 90 days to review it and decide whether to ratify it. The TPP has been criticized in tech circles for how it regards intellectual property and facilitates website blocking, among other issues.

Proponents will also have to answer broader questions about whether it stifles competition, how it treats individuals versus large corporations, as if it creates environmental problems. To give you an idea of how complex it is: "The Office of the United States Trade Representative said the partnership eventually would end more than 18,000 tariffs that the participating countries have placed on United States exports, including autos, machinery, information technology and consumer goods, chemicals and agricultural products ranging from avocados in California to wheat, pork and beef from the Plains states."

This is not F1 (or NASCAR): High-End Hybrids Race In Texas 28

Ars Technica takes an in-depth look at some of the tech side of the hybrid racing circuit, in particular the World Endurance Championship . From the article: Hybrid systems are allowed to deploy between 2MJ and 8MJ of energy during a single lap of Le Mans, augmenting the power from an internal combustion engine. Energy can be recovered from up to two motor/generator units (MGUs); usually this means recapturing kinetic energy from the front and rear wheels under braking. To balance things out, cars that recover and deploy 8MJ carry less fuel, and the flow rate at which they can feed it to the engine decreases. Audi's R18, with its mix of turbo diesel and flywheel hybrid technology, was king of the hill for several years, but the hybrid systems were much less powerful. Last year, Toyota's gasoline V8 and supercapacitor-powered TS040 was the car to beat. But 2015 is the year of the Porsche 919 Hybrid. Porsche chose lithium-ion batteries to hybridize the 919's turbocharged gasoline V4, and this year is able to capture and deploy the full 8MJ (Toyota is in the 6MJ class and Audi 4MJ). The article spends more space on Audi's approach than the others, but offers a cool glimpse at all three of these companies' niches within the field, as represented at the Texas' Lone Star Le Mans.

Hour of Code Kicks Off In Chile With Dog Poop-Themed CS Tutorial 49

theodp writes: In an interesting contrast to the Disney princess-themed Hour of Code tutorial that 'taught President Obama to code' last December, Chile is kicking off its 2015 Hora del Codigo this week with a top-featured Blockly tutorial that teaches computer science by having kids drag-and-drop blocks of code to pick up dog poop. "Collect all the shit you have left your dog," reads the Google translated instructions for the final coding exercise. In its new video for the Hour of Code 2015 campaign, tech billionaire-backed notes that it's striving to reach 200 million schoolchildren worldwide by this December. Presumably towards that end, warns that it will penalize Computer Science tutorials that "work only in English."