NASA’s Fermi Gamma Ray Telescope has spotted something which should interest every physicist. Looking at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy, Fermi has unequivocally showed a bright gamma-ray glow. Scientists have then removed all known gamma-ray sources and, while it removes quite a bit of the contributing source, it still leaves a bit unaccounted for. We don’t know what’s causing this excess gamma ray glow. Given that gamma rays are some of the most energetic radiations known, it is unlikely that they are caused by some thermal event. The best explanation at the moment is that something unknown – some unknown particles – are annihilating each other and giving off these radiations. The question is then, what are these particles.
These particles ought to be quite heavy; the gamma ray emission hints at their mass. One very likely explanation for these particles is that they are Dark Matter particles. Humorously called WIMPs, short for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, these heavy particles are likely candidates for Dark Matter (DM). In other words, the gamma ray lines seen by NASA’s Fermi telescope are because of DM annihilation.
Dark Matter 101
But what is DM you ask? DM is conjectured to be a type of matter beyond which we already know about, responsible for about 27% of the total mass-energy of the Universe. It was first hypothesized by Fritz Zwicky to explain why some galaxies can actually rotate as fast as they do without breaking apart. He surmised that there must be some invisible form of matter, which does not have any electromagnetic interaction, and thus doesn’t give off light, but are massive and, thus, can interact via the gravitational force. Today that conjecture stands on firmer grounds, with observations of known deviation from expected rotation speeds spanning thousands of galaxies. DM has been indirectly hinted at by many experiments such as the CoBE, WMAP and the recent Planck experiment, which all map out the distribution of Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation in our Universe. A host of other experiments also detect strong anomalies which can be easily explained away by the DM hypothesis.
In other words, we are quite sure that DM exists.
The clinching evidence would be to a actually detect it and one way is to let it annihilate each other into two known particles. These two particles then annihilate and produce some radiation which we can detect. The heavier the DM particles, the more energetic the final radiation; thus by knowing the final states, we can figure out the masses of the initial particles.
It is to be noted that no-one is jumping up and saying that DM has been found. While the evidence is highly suggestive, it’s not yet clinching, because, as most scientists like to say, not enough data has been collected. They would conservatively err on the side of mundane humility rather than make a mistake making an extraordinary claim.
At its annual developer conference //build/ on April 2, Microsoft announced an update to Windows 8.1 simply called Windows 8.1 Update. This update will arrive via Windows Update on April 8 and is available via msdn from April 2.
As the name suggests, this is an update to the operating system but as you will see, the changes implemented in this update are all made to make it easier for mouse users to navigate and use Windows 8.1. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 are obviously touch-friendly so tablet usage is not a concern. Also, there are tons of keyboard shortcuts including power user shortcuts like Winkey+X which allow heavy keyboard users to navigate their way around. Mouse users, especially on larger displays, had to move their mice too much in order to get things done. Not anymore. Some key user experience changes:
Adding common controls to Start Screen: A power button and a search icon get added to the top, right next to the user name/photo on the Start Screen, making it easier to shut down the computer and intuitively search the computer. Similarly, a PC Settings tile gets added by default to open up Control Panel. These are small changes but given that these actions are taken quite frequently, it makes a lot of sense that they are bubbled up to the Start Screen rather than having the users try to find them or stumble upon them accidentally.
Title bar in Modern Apps: The action to “close” a Modern App today is to take the mouse to the top of the screen and drag down the app in a single motion from top all the way to the bottom until the app disappears. That action, to say the least, is mouse user-unfriendly. On a small tablet, it would seem ok since taking a finger from the top of the tablet to the bottom is simple enough of a gesture.
In order to simplify this task, Windows 8.1 Update introduces a small (auto-hidden) title bar at the top of all Modern Apps and that title bar includes a minimize and a close button just like today’s Windows desktop applications. This makes a lot of sense, since a mouse user would normally go to look for those actions where they are used to seeing them in pre-Windows 8 operating systems.
Right-click context menu on Modern Apps: Another setting that completely makes sense. In non-Windows 8 environments and even in Windows 8’s desktop realm, anytime a mouse user wants to do something to an item, they would right-click. But in Modern Apps, a right-click does not pop up a menu where the cursor is, but instead it opens up the App Bar which could be at the bottom and/or at the top. By making the same Windows 7-style context menu now pop up where the mouse cursor is, Microsoft is making it easier for Windows XP and Windows 7 users to transition to Windows 8.
Pinning Modern Apps to taskbar: Yet another step towards making it easy for users to transition from Windows XP and Windows 7 is the ability to pin Modern Apps to the taskbar. That way, if someone spends most of their time in the desktop environment, they are not “cut off” from the Start Screen. Also, in a move to increase interest in the Modern Apps, Microsoft also announced that the Windows Store app will be auto-pinned to the taskbar on a default Windows installation. This, they hope, will prompt more visits to the Store because of the nature of being defaulted in Windows, thereby increasing the chances of someone downloading Modern Apps.
As you can see, the trend in the key updates coming as part of Windows 8.1 Update is to make the OS more welcoming to those migrating from Windows XP and Windows 7. If the transition is eased, more users will end up not wanting to avoid or being afraid of Windows 8, and thereby increasing the installed base and the developer opportunity. An introduction to the update in the video embedded below:
Are you looking forward to this update? Anything you had wanted to see that they did not include? Sound off in the comments!
//build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference kicked off on April 2 and the marathon keynote included several announcements that finally bring Microsoft’s “One Windows” vision closer to reality.
Although it may not be an official or formalized mission, “One Windows” seems to be an ever-so-close possibility since the time Windows Phone moved to NT kernel to make it very similar to Windows 8 on PCs. First, the relevant announcements:
Windows Phone 8.1: The version number incremented by .1 would seem to imply an incremental change, but that is absolutely misleading. The number, and magnitude, of changes in Windows Phone 8.1 from Windows Phone 8 is perhaps far greater than the changes Windows Phone 8 itself introduced over Windows Phone 7. Consumer features like lock screen themes and Start Screen background image and enterprise features like VPN support are just a few. The biggest change perhaps, is the presence of digital personal assistant called Cortana, which seems to be a smart mix of Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google now.
Windows Phone 8.1 walkthrough by Joe Belfiore
Universal apps: Even though it is possible to create apps for Windows Phone and Windows 8 where a lot of code is shared between the two, Microsoft announced what they are calling “Universal apps“. These apps are actually built with the intention to be run on the phone as well as on tablet and PC. It is a single binary which potentially could render differently depending on the device on which it runs. In order to make this possible, developers would need to modify their apps and with the appropriate changes applied, have their customers purchase once and (optionally) use it on multiple devices. Until now, even though much of the code could be reused/shared, it was not possible to have a single binary nor was it possible to allow the customer to buy on a phone and use it on a tablet. That has now changed, and is a huge step in the unification of Windows. What’s more, in their “vision” part of the keynote, Microsoft executives also promised that the Universal apps would extend to the Xbox as well, thereby making these apps truly “universal”.
Windows Universal app icons
Windows for “Internet of Things”: Also as part of the vision, Microsoft introduced a new as yet unnamed version of Windows aimed at all other kinds of devices which are proliferating around us, and generically called it “Windows for the Internet of Things“. These devices, until now, have all been using Android or something else, but definitely not Windows, so it was clearly an opportunity Microsoft did not want to miss out on. The operating system will be released in preview form this Spring.
Windows license cost of $0: Along with this announcement, Microsoft also took a bold step towards increasing interest in and adoption of Windows among developers by making all versions of Windows free for devices under 9 inches in size. Essentially, this signals that device makers making devices in this hugely growing category would have no barrier in terms of cost, to sell Windows in those devices. Given that Android indirectly costs money (potentially to use Google Mobile Services on top of Android Open Source Project, but additionally, surely for patent licensing fees), device makers will find themselves looking at Windows as the *cheaper* OS for their devices!
Shared experiences: In addition to announcing keyboard and mouse user-friendly updates to Windows 8.1, Microsoft also demonstrated how experiences will span Windows Phone and Windows on tablets and PCs. With Internet Explorer 11 on Windows Phone 8.1, users will now be able to share IE settings, tabs, passwords, favorites, etc. between the phone and tablets/PCs. Similarly, via their Microsoft account, customers will also be able to have the same theme across phone and tablet/PC along with several other settings that are already possible to be synced between Windows 8.1 devices.
There were several other announcements but the above items show the steps Microsoft has taken, listening to customer feedback as well as executing on their product roadmap, to make it seamless for customers to use Windows regardless of the device they use it on. The developer story therefore becomes even more compelling because it is not just phones or not just tablets that is the addressable market. Suddenly, any device that ships with Windows, will be able to consume the apps and games developers build and not just in theory. This has always been the advantage of the iOS ecosystem and Apple executed it well from the beginning because they were in a much better position to do so, having defined the entire path themselves. Google’s Android followed, although in a slightly different way – Android phone apps stretch out on a larger screen if there is no specific tablet version available. Microsoft’s vision is definitely more like iOS but at the same time, due to the excellent tooling in the form of Visual Studio, it also seems like it may be much easier to build a universal app targeting Windows. The devil of course is in the details and we will see how developers react to this vision by observing how many existing developers convert their apps to Universal apps and how many new developers enter the ecosystem with their creative ideas.
This is a solid move by Microsoft and while some (including yours truly) may say it was long overdue, it is also better late than never. Microsoft is doing its best to court all kinds of developers including many in the Silicon Valley and many with an affinity towards open source projects, and they will have to continue to do even more going forward. Nothing matters more though, than hard numbers. If Windows devices get a decent market share and continue to prove to be higher revenue generators than the competing platforms, developers will automatically flock to the ecosystem.
Until then, Microsoft can only hope that “One Windows” matters to a developer as much as it is necessary for Microsoft.
Close on the heels of the website refresh, Facebook is pushing out a major revamp of its Android app. I am not a very big fan of the recent Facebook website redesign; it took an already cluttered user interface and made it even worse. Fortunately, the changes on the Android front are a lot more positive.
The new app feels a lot more vibrant and cheerful, mainly due to the use of lighter and brighter shades throughout the UI. Everything is also distinctively flatter.
The top bar has been split into two, and the navigation drawer on the left has been removed. The new layout is not only more visually appealing, but also more intuitive.
The upper half has just two buttons – one for Search and the other for accessing phone contacts. The second half contains all the navigation options including Friend Requests, Messages, Notifications, and Profile and Settings.
The new Android interface is more compliant with the Android design philosophy, and is definitely a step in the right direction for Facebook. Unfortunately, it’s still not ready for prime time. It’s currently only available for the Facebook alpha testers. If you want it right away, there are a few hoops you’ll have to jump through.
Go to the Facebook Alpha Testers group and signup with your Google account. This needs to be the same one that you’re using for the Play Store.
Once you’ve signed up successfully, you should be able to see the following page.
Follow this link to become an alpha tester. If all goes well, you’d be able to see a message stating “You are a tester”.
Now open the Play Store on your mobile phone, and you should be able to see an option to update Facebook. Download and install the update.
Go to Settings –> Apps –> Facebook. The current version of the Alpha build is 126.96.36.199.19. Your version should be same or higher.
‘Force Stop’ the app, and ‘Clear Data’.
Launch the Facebook app. You will have to sign in once again. Once you login, you should be able to see the new Facebook layout.
Please keep in mind that Facebook builds released in the alpha channel are expected to be buggy. They might be buggy, crash-prone, or might not work at all. If you want to go back to the normal build, simply “Quit the Test“, and un-install and re-install the Facebook app from the Play Store.
At a grand event in Goa that the company dubbed as ‘Slim Fest’, Gionee announced the Gionee ELIFE S5.5 in India. Named after its biggest feature – a 5.55mm slim body, the phone will be available in the market starting April 27.
The ELIFE S series is a new product category that Gionee intends to position not just as a flagship smartphone series but also as a fashionable accessory.
“Smartphones are treated both as electronics and pie of art by consumers worldwide and that’s why we adapted a new approach with a focus in design. Smartphone is something that we carry on a daily basis, they are like a part of the human body, and there is zero distance between a user and their smartphones. This is similar to a piece of fashion clothing; it represents its user’s taste, personality, and even identity.”
– William Lu Weibing, President, Gionee
Thankfully, with all that emphasis on design – and the unique proposition of being the world’s slimmest phone – Gionee ELIFE S5.5 does not compromise on performance. The specifications sheet is top-of-the-line with a true octa-core 1.7 GHz processor and 2 GB RAM powering the internals. The 5-inch full HD display is vivid and gives a nice first impression, although like most AMOLED displays, the colors are a little washed out.
Gionee claims that the problem of high power consumption by slim phones is taken care of by the highest capacity density ratio of S5.5’s battery. The phone features a modest 2300mAh battery, but the power optimizations that Gionee packs in might just get it through the day.
The 13 MP rear camera does not match the brilliance of Gionee ELIFE E7, which the company touted as the best amongst all Android smartphones, but works good for most conditions. The 5 MP front camera features a 95 degrees ultra-wide angle that allows you to click better self-group shots and full-body selfies. I’ve grown tired of the term and the trend, but yeah, it’s a feature.
While the phone is very slim, the camera lens protrudes on one corner. It’s smooth, and doesn’t look bad at all, but makes the claim of a ‘slim phone that packs everything’ a little incorrect.
The Gionee ELIFE S5.5 features the Android-based AMIGO OS 2.0 that has been customized specifically for the S5.5. It is Android 4.2.2 under the hood, and that would annoy a lot of Android enthusiasts, but the company would rather have you focus on AMIGO.
The AMIGO OS is not bad, and is well-intentioned. Android fans might get disappointed because it does not include certain popular Android features like widgets. However, if you give a little time or if it is your first Android phone, it would grow on you and provide a functional user experience.
The camera software, like the ELIFE E7, consists of two shooting modes – the professional and normal camera settings – and can really help you get the best out of the camera optics.
Display: 5.0” Super AMOLED Plus display
Processor: Octa- Core 1.7GHz CPU
RAM: 2 GB
Camera: 13.0MP AF +5.0MP AF Camera 95 Degree Ultra-Wide Angle
Software: AMIGO OS 2.0 (based on Android OS, V4.2)
Dimensions: 145.1 x 70.2 x 5.55mm
Battery: 2300mAh (non-removable)
The Gionee ELIFE S5.5 is available in five colors – Black, White, Blue, Pink, and Purple. These are not vivid colors like Nokia, mind you, but look subtle and stylish.
The phone is priced at ₹22,999 and will be available in the market later this month. It’s a great price for a flagship Android phone, and it will compete with not just the middle-range Samsung and Sony phones but also with the top-end phones from Indian players like Micromax.
PayPal might not be the most loved online payment processor, but it’s still the biggest. And that means that if you buy a lot of stuff online, it’s kind of hard to avoid.
One of the many pain points of PayPal is its transaction log. PayPal’s transaction reporting system is better than my bank’s, but that’s not saying much. Its sluggishness coupled with the lack of meaningful filters makes it a major annoyance for frequent PayPal users. This is where a new web service called SlowPal comes in.
SlowPal pitches itself as a tool to free your PayPal account from reporting hell. It indexes your PayPal transaction logs and presents them in a clean and smart interface. It supports filtering based on transaction types (Authorization, Currency Conversion, Donation, Payment, Refund etc.), transaction status, and currency, in addition to date. Perhaps most crucially, SlowPal makes your transaction log completely searchable.
SlowPal might not be useful to all customers, since anyone but heavy PayPal users are unlikely to feel the need to analyze their PayPal spending in detail. However, it’s going to be a boon for merchants who typically process hundreds and thousands of transactions every day and have a pressing need to keep an eye on their transaction logs.
Right now SlowPal’s biggest shortcoming is that it doesn’t feature any graphical analysis. Since, its focus is on reporting, graphs and trend reports are two features that should be no brainers. Nevertheless, SlowPal is still a large improvement over PayPal’s transaction log. PayPal users will no longer have to take the trouble of manually exporting logs into Excel to perform the simplest of analysis.
If you were disconnected from the world for the past several months, you wouldn’t know that Microsoft is going to release the next version of their operating system for personal computers, called Windows 8. Let me rephrase that: Microsoft is going to release an operating system for mobile, highly-connected devices, with touch input at the front-and-center, and along with that operating system, it is also providing an upgrade to their existing Windows 7 operating system.
The look and feel of Windows is very different from earlier versions of Windows, and as a result there has been a lot of uncertainty and (unfair) judgement about it being circulated in the tech press. Instead of writing yet another article about how this whole thing is confusing, my goal here is to make it simple for someone who wants to know more about “The Big Launch” that Microsoft is undertaking at the end of October.
First and foremost, there is Windows 8. It is the operating system that will ship on most PCs and it is also something that you can upgrade from virtually any previous Windows version. This operating system runs the new “Start Screen” with Live Tiles, and will allow you to install apps (yes, there are now Windows Apps) from the Windows Store. Additionally, Windows 8 has a “desktop” environment that may seem familiar to users of Windows, especially Windows 7/Vista. Here, you can install applications outside of the Windows Store, for example CutePDF and Winrar. There is no restriction on what you can install in Windows 8 “desktop” environment. For apps on the other hand, unless you work at a company that supports it, or if you are a developer with the correct settings, you cannot install them from anywhere else except the Windows Store.
Windows RT is the radical new operating sytem that Microsoft is introducing for the first time along with Windows 8. It will not ship as standalone software, and instead, it will only be available as part of devices that ship with this operating system. Think of it as the software that runs your appliances like a DVD player or your car navigation system. Windows RT also has the same “Start Screen” as Windows 8 and you can install apps from the Windows Store just like Windows 8. It also has a “desktop” environment but you cannot install anything there. Yes, you read that right. Microsoft has locked the desktop environment so customers cannot install any software on the device except the apps you can get from the Windows Store.
Microsoft does ship Windows RT with a version of Office 2013 for free. It is called Office Home & Student 2013 RT which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Think of Windows RT as Windows 8 with only the Windows Store Apps along with Office. (Yes, I know there are more “desktop” applications that come with Windows RT, but at a high level, this should suffice.)
All the apps you purchase from the Windows Store will work on Windows RT devices as well as Windows 8 devices.
Windows Phone 8
Microsoft also makes operating system software for phones, called Windows Phone. The next revision of this software, called Windows Phone 8, is also due to be released at the end of October. Windows Phone 8 is built on the same core as Windows 8 so application developers can reuse their logic between a Windows 8 app and a Windows Phone 8 app.
Although the apps are not the same across Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, a lot of app developers are using the cloud to power native experiences across multiple platforms and devices. Evernote, for example, will have a Windows 8 app as well as a Windows Phone 8 app (in addition to other platforms), both delivering native experiences for the screen sizes, keeping most of the data and logic in the cloud so it is easily portable.
From a “devices” perspective, it is important to keep Windows Phone 8 in mind, but if the discussion is about “computers”, you only need to consider Windows 8 and Windows RT.
Having discussed the software at a high level, here’s the quick overview of Windows:
Windows RT is the new mobile operating system built for increasingly popular simpler devices like tablets and slates. It comes bundled with Office and the only way to get more apps is via the Windows Store. It cannot be bought in the store, it comes pre-installed with devices like tablets and hybrids.
Windows 8 is Windows RT combined with the ability to install any application that you can buy off the shelf today. It is built for more powerful computers, but retains all the advantages of mobility-focused Windows RT. It introduces many upgrades in that “desktop” environment over its predecessor Windows 7 and is generally installable on any PC that runs Windows 7 today.
The second complexity that will come in terms of increased choice is via the increased form factors of devices that are going to hit the market. Windows 8 being a touch-focused operating system, has led OEMs to ship many PCs with touch capabilities. So in addition to the simple desktop, laptop and tablet form factors, we have touch-screen laptop, devices with detachable screens/keyboards, laptops that convert to slate with a flip or a twist, and touchscreen all-in-ones. Additionally, PC makers as well as component makers have promised much better trackpad/touchpad technology in new devices and Windows 8 gesture support.
You don’t need to worry too much about the increased choice – just know that you can take advantage of touch, via direct touch on the screen or via indirect touch on the touchpad on laptops or separate trackpads that will ship with PCs, especially all-in-ones.
What will be tricky to decide and can only be done after trying a few PCs, are the convertible PCs. An Ultrabook-sized laptop, i.e., thin and light, that flips completely to convert to a touch slate, or a similar laptop where the screen detaches and becomes a standalone slate. I happen to prefer the convertible laptop (specifically, the Lenovo IdeaPad YOGA) but those detachables also sound quite interesting. Again, since we have not seen these form factors before, it is best to try them out before making a decision. (Yes, I know these existed in the Tablet PC era, but remember, Windows XP and even Windows 7 were not touch-first like Windows 8 is, and those PCs were thick and heavy. Besides, there was no app ecosystem like the Windows Store to enhance functionality in the PC.)
Of course, if you end up buying a pure slate form factor, Windows 8 and Windows RT both support Bluetooth so you can always slap an external keyboard and a mouse if you don’t see yourself always needing them.
Windows 8 is dramatically different from Windows 7. It also adds the mobile OS Windows RT. It is bound to create snap judgements from tech press used to “old Windows way of doing things” or those enamoured with anything that Apple produces. Having used Windows 8 over the past few months constantly on a very old PC with keyboard and mouse, I can assure you that for most people, it is going to be a significant ugprade over whatever else they have been using. It is fast, it is efficient and with the move towards an app-centric world, its functionality will constantly get enhanced by third-party developers building innovative apps and distributing them through the Windows Store. It will add some learning curve, especially for folks with muscle memory, but as we have seen with touch OS like iPhone/iPad’s iOS, it is much easier to learn navigating via touch than navigating via keyboard and mouse.
Don’t base your opinion on what’s being written by tech writers, especially those who have not really used the operating system. Certainly they have not used it on “Windows 8 hardware” so their opinions are either based on conjecture, or fear of change, or simply with a motive to get more pageviews because that pays the bills. I am sorry I had to create this disclaimer but having read the stuff that has been written about Windows 8, I can’t help but shake my head.
Having said all that, I must say, Microsoft’s efforts to educate what is Windows 8 and how it is different from Windows RT and which form factors are available and how to choose, has been abysmal. They may be able to train Microsoft Store employees in the last week before launch but how about the many other stores that are going to sell Windows 8 PCs and Windows RT devices? How are those employees going to guide the customers in the right direction? It would be a pity if customers see a beautiful ad on the TV showing “Windows 8″, go the store and happen to find a Windows RT tablet to be the cheapest, and go home and find out that they cannot use Quicken or Photoshop on it.
Windows 8 is too good for Microsoft to throw it off the rails like this. Hope they do enough in the “last mile” to guide customers in the right direction. They can’t rely on people like yours truly to keep demystifying and simplifying for them.
Are you sold on Windows 8? Do you plan to get a Windows RT device? Let me know in the comments!
Here’s one less reason for you to be “stuck” on GMail, as Douglas Pearce on the Outlook Blog put it. In the announcement on May 14, Microsoft said they are enabling Outlook.com users to chat with their Google contacts just like they do today with Messenger and Facebook contacts. This, they say, would make it easier for GMail users to switch over to Outlook.com.
As you may know, Outlook.com is in fact a suite of consumer web apps in the form of Outlook.com email, Outlook.com calendar (which was recently updated to be more Metro-styled), SkyDrive personal cloud storage, and People, which is the “universal address book”. The reason I say People is a universal address book is that it allows you to connect various services like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and link identities across these services and your actual address book to create a unified contact. That way, you can see everything about a contact all in one place — Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn updates. In addition, it also allows you to seamlessly chat with your contacts via the messaging pane in Outlook.com email, and when collaborating with someone in SkyDrive via Office Web Apps.
In addition to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, Outlook.com also supported Google Contacts to be linked to your Microsoft account. What the Outlook.com team has done is that starting today, you can not just see the Google Contacts but actually chat with them in the messenger pane just like you do with your Messenger/Facebook contacts. When Windows Live ID (what then became Microsoft account) enabled linking to Google for contacts, I had speculated that Google Talk/Chat may not be far away. It took a while since then, but it has materialized now.
This is a great move by Microsoft. Not only can they claim “openness” which Google seems to tout all the time, they are actually reducing the friction of switching over from GMail to Outlook.com. In the new form of being a “Devices and Services” company, Microsoft is best served when they have a large user base and taking “market share” away from Google is always a nice thing for Microsoft.
Do you use GMail? Would this make you consider switching? Let me know in the comments.