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December 10, 2018
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Qualcomm expands its PC bet with its new 7nm 8cx platform

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Qualcomm wants to become a major player in the PC/laptop market. Now that there is Windows 10 on ARM, that’s more than a pipe dream, but in its earliest iterations, those Qualcomm-based Windows 10 laptops used the Snapdragon 850 system on a chip that was specifically designed for PCs but still very much a direct descendant of its smartphone platform.

Today, the company announced its Snapdragon 8cx platform, “the most extreme Snapdragon ever,” in Qualcomm’s parlance, which still leverages some of the company’s mobile expertise and building blocks, but which was built from the ground up to power PCs.

The 8cx is very much tailored toward the PC, down to how it handles peak performance and multitasking. It’s also the first 7nm PC platform, the company claims, though the first devices won’t hit the market until Q3 of 2019.

The promise of using Qualcomm Snapdragon platform for a PC (which Qualcomm and Microsoft brands as “always connected PCs”) is that you’ll get multi-day battery life and a performance that is comparable to what you’d get with an Intel chip. The first generation of devices delivered great battery life, but performance wasn’t quite up to par. With this new release, Qualcomm promises to change that. Without saying Intel, Qualcomm argues that its 7nm chips are “multiple generations ahead of the traditional PC space.”

Despite launching the 8cx platform, Qualcomm is keeping the 850 around. It’s positioning the 8cx as a premium platform that complements the existing 850 platform in order to allow vendors to offer PCs at a wide range of different price points.

The new 8cx will feature Qualcomm’s Kryo 495 CPU and the Adreno 860 GPU, which will be able to power two 4K HDR monitors. It’ll also feature Qualcomm’s latest quick charging technology and all the usual connectivity options, ranging from Bluetooth to USB-C and LTE (for that always connected connectedness).

“With performance and battery life as our design tenets, we’re bringing7nm innovations to the PC space, allowing for smartphone-like capabilities to transform the computing experience,” said Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager of mobile for Qualcomm, in today’s announcement. “As the fastest Snapdragon platform ever, the Snapdragon 8cx will allow our customers to offer a powerful computing experience of multi-day battery life and multi-gigabit connectivity, in new thin, light and fanless design for consumers and the enterprise.”

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Microsoft Edge goes Chromium (and macOS)

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The rumors were true: Microsoft Edge is moving to the open-source Chromium platform, the same platform that powers Google’s Chrome browser. And once that is done, Microsoft is bringing Edge to macOS, too. In addition, Microsoft is decoupling Edge from the Windows update process to offer a faster update cadence — and with that, it’ll bring the new Edge to Windows 7 and 8 users, too.

It’ll be a while before any of this happens, though. There’s no code to test today and the first previews are still months away. But at some point in 2019, Microsoft’s EdgeHTML and Chakra will go away and Blink and V8 will take its place. The company expects to release a first developer preview early next year.

Obviously, there is a lot to unpack here. What’s clear, though, is that Microsoft is acknowledging that Chrome and Chromium are the de facto standard today, both for users and for developers.

Over the years, especially after Microsoft left the Internet Explorer brand behind, Edge had, for the most part, become a perfectly usable browser, but Microsoft acknowledges that there were always compatibility issues. While it was investing heavily in fixing those, what we’re hearing from Microsoft is a very pragmatic message: it simply wasn’t worth the investment in engineering resources anymore. What Microsoft had to do, after all, was reverse engineer its way around problems on certain sites.

In part, that’s because Edge never quite gained the market share where developers cared enough to test their code on the platform. And with the web as big as it is, the long tail of incompatible sites remains massive.

Because many web developers work on Macs, where they don’t have access to Edge, testing for it became even more of an afterthought. Hence Microsoft’s efforts to bring Edge to the Mac, 15 years after it abandoned Internet Explorer for Mac. The company doesn’t expect that Edge on Mac will gain any significant market share, but it believes that having it available on every platform will mean that more developers will test their web apps with Edge, too.

Microsoft also admits that it didn’t help that Edge only worked on Windows 10 — and that Edge updates were bound to Windows updates. I was never quite sure why that was the case, but as Microsoft will now happily acknowledge, that meant that millions of users on older Windows versions were left behind, and even those on Windows 10 often didn’t get the latest, most compatible version of Edge because their companies remained a few updates behind.

For better or worse, Chrome has become the default and Microsoft is going with the flow. The company could have opted to open source EdgeHTML and its JavaScript engine. That option was on the table, but in the end, it opted not to. The company says that’s due to the fact that the current version of Edge has so many hooks into Windows 10 that it simply wouldn’t make much sense to do this if Microsoft wants to take the new Edge to Windows 7 and the Mac. To be fair, this probably would’ve been a fool’s errand anyway, since it’s hard to imagine that an open-source community around Edge would’ve made much of a difference in solving the practical problems anyway.

With this move, Microsoft also plans to increase its involvement in the Chromium community. That means it’ll bring to Chromium some of the work it did to make Edge work really well with touchscreens, for example. But also, as previously reported, the company now publicly notes that it is working with Google and Qualcomm to bring a native implementation of the Chrome browser to Windows 10 on ARM, making it snappier and more battery friendly than the current version that heavily relies on emulation.

Microsoft hopes that if it can make the compatibility issues a thing of the past, users will still gravitate to its browser because of what differentiates it. Maybe that’s its Cortana integration or new integrations with Windows and Office. Or maybe those are new consumer services or, for the enterprise users, specific features that make the lives of IT managers a bit easier.

When the rumors of this change first appeared a few days ago, a number of pundits argued that this isn’t great for the web because it gives even more power over web standards to the Chromium project.

I share some of those concerns, but Microsoft is making a very pragmatic argument for this move and notes that Edge’s small market share didn’t allow it to make a dent in this process anyway. By becoming more active in the Chromium community, it’ll have more of a voice — or so it hopes — and be able to advocate for web standards and bring its own innovations to Chromium.

You’re browser is probably the most complex piece of software running on your computer right now. That means switching out engines is anything but trivial. The company isn’t detailing what its development process will look like and how it’ll go about this, but we’re being told that the company is looking at which parts of the Edge experience to keep and then will work with the Chromium community to bring those to the Chromium engine, too.

Microsoft stresses that it isn’t giving up on Edge, by the way. The browser isn’t going anywhere. If you’re a happy Edge user today, chances are this move will make you an even happier Edge user in the long run. If you aren’t, Microsoft hopes you’ll give it a fresh look when the new Chromium-based version launches. It’s on Microsoft now to build a browser that is differentiated enough to get people to give it another shot.

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Sennheiser’s flawed headphone software opened PCs and Macs to HTTPS site spoofing

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Headphone maker Sennheiser has patched its software after the company admitted a serious vulnerability that made it easy for hackers to impersonate any website — even encrypted pages.

The software, which helps Mac and Windows users to connects their headphones to other devices, also installed a self-signed root certificates with an easily obtainable private key. Because the key was stored in the operating system’s certificate store and the same key was used on every installation, it was easy for anyone to create their own certificate on a website to look like the original website — even when it isn’t.

That makes it easy for phishing, credential stealing, or spreading malware and disinformation when it looks like it’s coming from the original, legitimate source.

“The victim would have to inspect the HTTPS server certificate respectively code signing certificate in a detail level that shows the root certificate to which the certificate in question is linked,” said the report by Secorvo’s Hans-Joachim Knobloch and André Domnick, published this week.

But most people never do — they see a green padlock and assume the best.

To prove their point, the researchers created a wildcard certificate that spoofed Google’s homepage, making it look almost impossible to distinguish rom the real site.

An example of Chrome accepting the attacker’s certificate. (Image: Secorvo)

Make no mistake: this was a monumental security flaw that put every Sennheiser software user at risk. But what made matters worse is that removing the software wouldn’t remove the certificate — leaving them still vulnerable to spoofing and impersonation attacks.

“Since the certificate is not removed from the trusted root certificate store during update or removal of the software, every system on which HeadSetup 7.3 was installed at any time in the past – and every user on such a system – remains vulnerable,” said the report.

Sennheiser later issued a software update that remediated the vulnerability by updating the root store with a new certificate that omitted the private key.

Microsoft also released its own advisory this week, warning users of the inadvertently disclosed certificate and private key. The software giant updated its own certificate trust list to protect Windows users from certificate spoofing by throwing an error.

Cast your mind back to 2015 and you might remember a similar security scandal: the Superfish adware, which shipped preinstalled in Lenovo PCs.

Like Sennheiser, Superfish contained a certificate that effectively allowed the company to man-in-the-middle the user’s connection and inject ads — even when the connection is encrypted and believed to be “secure.” The key was made public, allowing anyone to take advantage of the weakness while on the same network.

Lenovo was later fined $3.5 million for the security lapse.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The Windows 10 October 2018 Update is now available

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Microsoft today announced that the Windows 10 October 2018 update is now available. The company made the announcement at a small press event in New York, though it’s obviously no surprise that Microsoft decided to roll out the October update in the month that gave it its name.

As usual, these rollouts take a while. You can force the update now, but for those who want to wait, Microsoft will start the automatic updates on October 9.

Like most recent Windows updates, the October release isn’t going to blow you away with a new interface or crazy new features. Most of these updates now are incremental, but overall, the new release offers a number of interesting new features.

The most interesting of these is probably the new “Your Phone” app, which allows you to text from your PC using an Android phone that also runs Microsoft’s mobile companion app. In later iterations, that app will also sync notifications to your desktop, but for now, that’s not an option. There also are tools for continuing your workflow as you switch from your phone to PC (or vice versa). These features work for iOS users, too.

As far as syncing between devices goes, it’s worth noting that the update also will allow you to share your clipboard between PCs.

Since everybody likes a dark mode these days, the Windows 10 File Explorer now also includes a dark theme. There’s also a revamped search experience, as well as a new screenshot tool.

While the release includes plenty of other tweaks, both in terms of functionality and design, the most anticipated feature, Sets, didn’t make it into this release. Sets is probably the biggest change to the overall Windows user experience since the release of Windows 10, so maybe it’s no surprise that Microsoft is trying to perfect this. And perfection takes a while.

News Source = techcrunch.com

The Surface Go is the laptop of the year

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As a nearly constant traveler I’ve been looking for something like the Surface Go all my life. I’ve lugged around everything from massive ThinkPads to iPad Pros and I’ve always found myself stuck in one of two situations – the laptops that made the most sense were too heavy to be comfortably portable and the tablets and ultraportables I used, including the Surface Pro, offered too much of a performance trade-off to warrant swapping from a full desktop device.

I tried a number of other laptops over the past year including my daily driver, the TouchBar-powered MacBook Pro, as well as a Lenovo’s oddly designed YogaBooks. Nothing quite clicked. The trade offs were always drastic. Wanted power? Sacrifice weight. Wanted thin and light? Sacrifice the keyboard. Want battery life and compatibility? Sacrifice the desktop experience. So when the Surface Go came out I wasn’t too excited.

Now I am.

When Brian Heater first reviewed the device he found them lacking. “And the Surface Go isn’t a bad little device, at the end of the day. At $400, it’s on the pricier side for a tablet, and certain sacrifices have been made for the sake of keeping the price down versus the souped up Surface Pro,” he wrote. “And unlike other Surface devices, the Go is less about pioneering a category for Windows 10 than it is simply adding a lower-cost, portable alternative to the mix. As such, the product hits the market with a fair bit of competition. Acer and Lenovo have a couple, for starters, most of which fall below the Go’s asking price.”

He’s right. There are thin and lights available for far less, and the Surface Go, with its 6-hour battery life and mid-range specs, is no hard core gaming machine. However, the user experience of the Go when matched with a keyboard cover have blown other contenders out of the water. Why? Because, like Google’s Pixel line, Microsoft knows how to tune its hardware to its software.

The Surface Go easily replaced by MacBook for most activities including light photo editing, writing, and communications. The Go ships with Windows 10 in S mode, a performance improving mode that reduces the total number of available apps available but, thanks to a certification process, ensures the apps will be more performant. It is trivial to turn off S Mode and install any other app you want and most people will do this, realizing that while noble, S Mode just doesn’t fly if you’re trying to use the whole breadth of the Windows universe.

Once I turned off S Mode I could install Scrivener and a few other tools and even got some games running, although the tablet gets a little hot. That’s the real benefit of the Surface Go – you don’t compromise on apps, performance, or size and all of it is specially tuned to the software it runs.

If you’re thinking of exploring the Surface Go you’ll find it’s not the cheapest ultraportable on the market. At $399 for the entry level model – I regret not splurging on the $150 upgrade – and $99 for the keyboard cover – it’s still more expensive than similarly appointed devices from Asus and Lenovo . That said none of those manufacturers could hit on all of the sweet spots that Microsoft hit. In terms of design and ease-of-use the Surface Go wins and in terms of price you’re basically paying a little more for more compatibility and performance.

So if you’re looking for a portable, usable, and fun device that beats many other current laptops hands down, it might be time to turn your gaze on Microsoft. As someone who got sciatica from lugging around too many heavy laptops, your buttocks will thank you.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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