THE FALL OF FLASH

Sometimes my company gives me the opportunity to do some really cool things. That happened recently. I composed a blog post for the BrightRoll corporate blog together with the technical writer and PR team about a topic I’m passionate about, the Flash deprecation. Check it out: https://brightroll.com/blog/fall-flash-what-video-advertisers-need-know

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Webseclab Web Security Scanner

dmitry

 

My colleague Dmitry opensourced Webseclab yesterday at FOSDEM in Brussels [1] – https://github.com/yahoo/webseclab – a sample set of tests for web security scanners, and a toolkit (or mini-mini-framework) to easily create or modify such tests or demos.  Take it for a test drive – it should be easy to install (using Go – need to set GOPATH environment variable to some directory like $HOME or $HOME/go):

go install github.com/yahoo/webseclab/...

Godoc: http://godoc.org/github.com/yahoo/webseclab

[1] https://fosdem.org/2015/schedule/event/go_web_security_scanner/

Congrats!

Ubuntu Edge – It’s the future, today.

A mobile device as powerful as a PC connected to a screen, keyboard and mouse for office work and touch input for the usage on the go is a concept I would have rather expected  from Microsoft but those guys seem to be too busy with cleaning up the mess of Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 that are not compatible among each other. Instead the idea comes from Canonical, the makers of the great Ubuntu Linux operating system.

To build this device Canonical will need $32M for that kind of hardware. Especially in times of absolute government surveillance it’s more important then ever to support open and trusted infrastructures.

Please join me in supporting the campaign for funding the Ubuntu Edge device (I went for the 20$ perk just to support it): http://igg.me/at/ubuntuedge/x/4043517

If you want to invest more and can afford to spend even 800$ for this device I would like to encourage everyone to do so.

Make it happen! It’s the future, today.

Edit: Too bad the crowdfunding campaign didn’t reach the goal. It seems it’s too early for this kind of technology.

The future of the PC

8269195505_3cea982395_c

The machine on the photo above is my current PC. An AMD FX-6300@4,5GHz with 16GB RAM, Radeon HD 6870, Samsung 128GB 840 SSD, 1TB HDD and a case with 5x 120mm fans… but this desktop computer running Windows 7, built for optimal gaming performance and value, is a dinosaur. The desktop PC era is coming to an end and the big players in the PC world understood it. The Home Personal Computer that had a specific immobile place in your apartment or house is dead. Most people use notebooks, tablets, smart phones or video game consoles for media and content consumption as well as social actives. Microsoft made the bold move with Windows 8 and hardware makers along with chip makers like Intel and AMD try to adapt to the new situation. CPUs tend to become System-On-Chips integrating  GPUs even in the x86 world as they would try to copy ARM, the dominant architecture for mobile chips. For home consumers I think the Windows x86 PC will survive as a hybrid tablet and Microsoft did a good job so far in initiating this transition. They killed the desktop user interface along with the task bar and the start button and adapted Windows to work with a touch interface. Not many people know but Microsoft was behind the design of most first generation Windows 8 Tablet hardware along with releasing their own reference device, the Surface RT and Surface Pro (more info: http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-57561849-75/how-microsoft-became-a-control-freak-with-tablet-makers/).

The big question is if corporations will adapt to Windows 8. I talked with the IT support folks in my company and none of them can imagine using Windows 8 in the corporate environment. There is also a funny video about an admin reacting to Windows 8 on YouTube:

Everyone who is into content creation, will it be image or video/audio editing, print layout (aka DTP), web design or programming, won’t give up a mouse and a desktop user interface designed for it. No matter if on a Windows 7 PC, Linux PC, or Mac Pro or even a Notebook/Ultrabook or MacBook Pro/iMac/Mac mini. All of them are designed to be used with a track-pad or mouse. OK, it’s possible to do some nice content creation with touch and there are some cool Apps but I feel they are still toys compared to the mature software packages used on desktop machines. Also the classic office application suite is difficult to use on touch and you need also a wireless printer even though I reckon Microsoft did a good job with Office 2013. For typing a physical keyboard is a must but most Windows 8 tablets are hybrids anyway. It’s understandable why Microsoft want’s to keep this exclusive to Windows 8 and is not releasing an iOS Office version (more: http://www.zdnet.com/why-ballmer-doesnt-want-office-on-the-ipad-7000010566/). So the problem of Windows 8 is the hardware but it’s about innovative corporate hardware!

The following article by a professional analyst comes to the same conclusion more or less: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9236658/If_the_PC_dies_Windows_8_will_be_its_killer_says_analyst

So far I didn’t see many corporate hardware concepts for Windows 8 that are compelling enough but the ones that are our there come surprisingly from Dell (yes, the company that went private lately). It seems that most hardware makers like Lenovo with the Yoga 13 forgot to release a docking station. In my option an essential piece of hardware making life easier in a corporate environment is a docking station (or do you want to plug in your keyboard, mouse, wired network and monitor each time?). Windows 8 has multi-monitor support so such a configuration can work pretty well in my option (more: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/05/21/enhancing-windows-8-for-multiple-monitors.aspx).

Latitude10_dock_image

Another concept that makes sense is a kind of stand for the tablet that connects keyboard and mouse wireless.

tablet-docking-station

Of course you could tilt a touch PC like this Dell and use it in a kind of Star Trek Geordi La Forge manner by typing and touching the interface.

w8hw3a_medium-1

My advice to Microsoft would be to release a set of Windows 8 (or Windows Blue by that time) reference devices similar to the Surface Pro especially optimized for the office corporate environment and content creation. The Surface Pro is a good start but more has to follow and most importantly those devices have to prove they improve efficiency similar to what is shown on the video below.

Another amazingly bad console game PC port

The Amazing Spider-Man game is absoutely great … but someone didn’t spend enough time on the quality assurance after the game has been released it seems. It stutters on AMD graphic cards with recent drivers. I’m not entiery sure if it’s maybe not the fault of AMD who didn’t add an optimzed profile for the game but you can easliy fix it by fooling the game in thinking you have an Nvidia graphics card! Check out a detailed instruction here: http://steamcommunity.com/app/212580/discussions/0/828925849355197850/#c828925849477117777

The problem with this workaround is that you have to delete the fake dll file each time and add it after running the launcher in the folder so I hope AMD or Beenox is going to fix it in a driver update of patch!

Also the developers didn’t add any proper anti-alias or it simply fails to work especially on indoor parts of the game. On a console it’s not that importat as you sit far away from your TV set but PC monitors are usually relatively close to your eyes. Turning on morphological anti-alias (http://sites.amd.com/us/game/technology/Pages/morphological-aa.aspx) helps a bit but not much. I guess you can really fix that it by using down-sampling anti-alias tools like this SSAA-Tool: http://www.tommti-systems.de/start.html

The state of Flash vs. HTML5

The debate about Flash vs. HTML5 began over two years ago. It all started with a public letter by Steve Jobs on April 2010: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/

Where are we today?

Flash is still the default technology for most content designed for PC-based consumption… Facebook and other browser games are Flash and web video is still Flash in most cases as well. Although YouTube supports HTML5 i.e. most sites still don’t offer it by default due to the mess around the video tag and codecs. On YouTube HTML5 is in testing stage an default off. The video encoding systems would need to encode each video at least twice to support most common browsers. Google announced o drop support for H.264 in Chrome but never did it. Mozilla announced support for native codecs installed on your machine including H.264 but didn’t implement this so far. All together H.264 is a bad idea as it’s not an open standard (more: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/h-264-patents-how-much-do-they-really-cost/2122) but it would be a common standard at least between popular browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. HTML5 lacks vital technologies like adaptive streaming (live content), content protection (for premium content) and playback locking (for advertising) . Some serious work needs to be done to get this right  (more recent info: http://www.longtailvideo.com/html5).

Mobile:

On mobile Flash is dead and users suffer wherever there is still Flash. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean doesn’t allow an easy installation via the Google Play Store anymore (more: http://www.howtogeek.com/120277/how-to-install-flash-on-the-nexus-7-and-other-jelly-bean-devices/ & http://www.zdnet.com/androids-flash-player-is-dead-live-with-it-7000002668/). On iOS it never really existed except some hacks with running Flash enabled custom browsers but those never allowed to play Flash games i.e.

PC/Mac:

Some PC versions are dead or dying. It seems Adobe can’t keep up with the quality assurance anymore. The native Linux version that installs into Firefox has been abandoned in favor of supporting only the Chrome Pepper API plug-in on Linux (more: http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=MTA2MDc). The native Windows version for Firefox suffers to from bugs like the protected mode problem that can be fixed manually by editing the config file of Flash (more: http://www.trishtech.com/internet/disable_adobe_flash_protected_mode_in_firefox.php) and even the Pepper API Chrome plug-in on Linux introduces nasty regression bugs breaking hardware video decoding and similar. The Mac version has regressive bugs like missing hardware decoding from time to time too. All together the variety of Flash versions is so vast that it’s really hard to keep track of them: http://blogs.computerworld.com/desktop-apps/20845/explaining-confusion-over-flash-versions

Apps:

In Apps Flash is behind the door usually except in Google Chrome Web Apps that can be simple links to Flash based websites. AIR is dead meanwhile as well. The AIR App Marketplaces always sucked (I had it on my WeTab) so it was no big loss. Windows 8 Apps can be either HTML5 or native. In Windows 8 Internet Explorer 10 comes with Flash but only white listed website can run it in the Modern UI mode. Only the Desktop mode allows to show every website in Internet Explorer 10. (more: http://www.infoworld.com/t/microsoft-windows/flash-windows-8-thats-just-part-of-the-story-194315 & http://blog.rabidgremlin.com/2012/10/11/did-microsoft-just-kill-flash-ie10-wont-run-flash-unless-your-site-is-on-a-microsoft-whitelist/?replytocom=2560).

The future of Adobe & HTML5:

Adobe recently announced their HTML5 tools called Edge that are more or less what I predicted more than a year ago (more: http://html.adobe.com/edge/) . To be frankly they are very late with that. I started using a web based HTML5 editor called Maquetta (more: http://maqetta.org/) that came out of IBM as an open source project long before Edge came out (more: http://maqetta.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=28:ibm-contributes-maqetta-to-open-source-community&catid=2:news&Itemid=9).

Conclusion:

In general I think content providers for video, browser game developers and the online advertising industry should get their asses up all together and invest massively in HTML5. Operating system makes should focus on making HTML5 as fast and snappy as possible to prevent App developers to go native on their Apps like Facebook recently (more: http://hughewilliams.com/2012/09/27/why-facebook-shouldnt-have-dumped-html5/). The W3C and individual company lobbyists looking after the HTML5 standard should stop fighting about dumb codecs i.e. and finally agree on the best option. JavaScript and CSS should get some overhaul too. If I see how difficult it became to do easy things these days or how inconsistent and immature JavaScript still is I wonder how HMTL5 App developers manage to write complex web applications like browser games using that technology (not to mention browser compatibility issues). There is a long way to get rid of Flash ahead of us but in the end it’s worth it. Things are changing and Steve Jobs was absolutely right.

HP Veer

“Smallest, most powerful smartphone on the market”. This is how Jon Rubinstein, former SVP & GM of Palm Global Business, HP described it when it came out mid 2011. That was before Leo Apotheker, former HP CEO decided he knows best what “not to do” and killed the entire Palm division they acquired in 2010 for 1.2 billion dollars (More: http://www.webosnation.com/mckinney-hp-was-supposed-leave-palm-alone-three-years-lacked-patience-innovation). He almost put HP out of the PC hardware business but has been fortunately stopped and replaced by Meg Whitman. She wasn’t able to revert his decision but at least she decided to make WebOS (the operating system of the HP-re-branded Palm phones) available as open-source. HP won’t release any new smartphones though.

I thought that this might be actually a good moment to get a Linux-based WebOS smartphone on eBay. When it came out it sold for about 400 Euro. I got a used one for about 70 Euro on eBay about a month ago. What’s my verdict?

Pros:

  • It IS really powerful. The Veer can even handle 3D games like Ground Effect.
  • The UI of WebOS is one of the most intuitive I have even seen.
  • It’s small but that’s actually an advantage as you can put it in your pocket.
  • The camera takes very good photos in my opinion.
  • The slide-out-keyboard is small but actually it’s easy to type on it.
  • The connector free charging dock is absolutely awesome. The Veer turns in to a fancy table clock on it.
  • The App Catalog offers enough apps to keep you entertained (inc. Facebook, 3rd party Twitter apps like phnx and many games).
  • The browser manages to display websites very well on such a small screen. Multi-Touch scaling works flawlessly.

Cons:

  • Batter life is very short with about one day.
  • New games like Angry Birds Space are not released on WebOS. Other developers drop support too.
  • No carrier updates (at least not in Europe) of the WebOS 2.1 (2.4 manual update is possible though).
  • Some integrations like the Yahoo! login for Mail & Messenger are broken.
  • Google Maps app is broken since Google changed something but there is Bing maps that works though.
  • Facebook changed something as well. They promote https usage and this is causing images not to show up. You can revert this manually in your Facebook settings though.

Conclusion:

The HP Veer is an awesome small piece of hardware and great software.

This of course makes me think that killing Palm was one of dumbest decisions in the recent history of silicon valley! HP would just need to find the right price segment for this mobile hardware and it would sell like hotcakes.

Just if you wonder who this Jon “Ruby” Rubinstein guy is? He’s the father of the Apple iPod (More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Rubinstein). On the photo above holding a HP Veer that was (or still is) his primary phone. (More: http://www.webosnation.com/rubinstein-veer-pre-3-touchpad).

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