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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 20 min ago

Microsoft finally pledges to update Halo: Master Chief Collection… next year

3 hours 45 min ago

Enlarge / We really, really hope 343 pulls off 60 frames-per-second split-screen combat in 4K with this anthology's long-awaited Xbox One X patches. (credit: 343 Industries)

In 2014, the Halo: Master Chief Collection anthology launched as a much-needed lineup filler for the struggling Xbox One. But fans' hopes of a lovely, 1080p collection of four classic Halo games, including a remastered take on Halo 2, were soon shattered by a litany of matchmaking hiccups, bugs, and other issues.

A series of patches in the game's first year resolved some issues, particularly with online matchmaking, but in spite of continued complaints about the anthology, Microsoft hasn't put out a H:MCC patch in over two years. And the company failed to capitalize on Xbox One X hype by implying in July that the anthology wouldn't see any 4K-specific updates for that new console.

Thankfully, on Tuesday, Microsoft changed its tune.

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Gmail on iOS might get what Android already had—third-party email support

5 hours 19 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Samuel Axon)

Google has begun testing a new feature on the iOS Gmail app: the ability to add non-Google e-mail accounts. The change would make the Gmail app more competitive with Apple's own Mail app and numerous other popular email apps on iOS like Spark, Outlook, and Airmail.

The test was announced in a post from Gmail's official Twitter account:

Calling Gmail iOS users! Help us test a new feature - check your non-Google accounts from the official Gmail iOS app

— Gmail (@gmail) October 17, 2017

If you try to sign up for the test, Google gives three criteria for eligibility: you must currently be using the Gmail iOS app, you must have an email account that's not Gmail with which to test, and you must be running iOS 10 or later on your device. Google hasn't said anything about when this feature could exit testing and go live to the public, or even if it will. Some beta tests at Google have lasted weeks, others have gone on for years, and others never resulted in a publicly available feature or product.

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Microsoft never disclosed 2013 hack of secret vulnerability database

6 hours 25 min ago

Enlarge / Microsoft in Dublin, Ireland. (credit: Red Agenda / Flickr)

Hackers broke into Microsoft's secret, internal bug-tracking database and stole information related to vulnerabilities that were exploited in later attacks. But the software developer never disclosed the breach, Reuters reported, citing former company employees.

In an article published Tuesday, Reuters said Microsoft's decision not to disclose details came after an internal review concluded the exploits used in later attacks could have been discovered elsewhere. That investigation relied, in part, on automated reports Microsoft receives when its software crashes. The problem with that approach, Reuters pointed out, is that advanced computer attacks are written so carefully they rarely cause crashes.

Reuters said Microsoft discovered the database breach in early 2013, after a still-unknown hacking group broke into computers belonging to a raft of companies. Besides Microsoft, the affected companies included Apple, Facebook, and Twitter. As reported at the time, the hackers infected a website frequented by software developers with attack code that exploited a zero-day vulnerability in Oracle's Java software framework. When employees of the targeted companies visited the site, they became infected, too.

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In 3-1 vote, LA Police Commission approves drones for LAPD

6 hours 50 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Peter Linehan / Flickr)

The Los Angeles Police Department, one of the nation’s largest municipal police forces, approved a one-year pilot program for drones—making it the largest city in the nation to undertake such an evaluation.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the LA Police Commission approved a set of policies that limits "their use to a handful of tactical situations, searches or natural disasters." Each drone flight must also be signed off by a "high-ranking office on a case-by-case basis." The drones are also not to be weaponized. The decision, which was announced Tuesday, was made despite vociferous protest.

Already the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department uses drones, as do other agencies in California, including the Ventura County Sheriff's Department and the Alameda County Sheriff's Organization.

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21 years later, original developer works to fix 16-bit Sonic

October 17, 2017 - 10:29pm

The announcement video for Jon Burt's Sonic 3D Blast: Director's Cut

At this point, retro-game lovers are well used to fan-made "hacks" of classic titles that can do anything from adding modern players to Tecmo Bowl to adding an egg-throwing Yoshi to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. What we can't recall seeing before, though, is the original developer of a decades-old console game returning to fix it via a downloadable, emulator-friendly patch.

That's exactly what Traveller's Tales founder Jon Burton is planning for Sonic 3D Blast. Burton announced via video that he's going to make a "Director's Cut" that fixes gameplay problems and adds new features to the original Genesis and Saturn title. Burton's roadmap includes fixing the game's infamous slippery momentum (which often makes Sonic feel like he's running around on ice), enabling a pre-existing hidden-level editor, adding Super Sonic, adding an in-game save system, and more. A follow-up video shows more specifically how Burton is removing many of the control and gameplay frustrations that helped lead to middling reviews for the 1996 release (and subsequent ports to more modern platforms).

Burt notes explicitly that this is "something I'm doing on my own time, for fun, and not connected to Sega or anyone else," so it's hard to call this an "official" remastering of the original game. That said, Burton's history with the title and his pedigree with Traveller's Tales set this effort apart from other unofficial retro-game mods. And Sega's wholesale embrace of 16-bit game modding via Steam is practically a stamp of support for this kind of modern rejiggering of classic titles.

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Windows 10 Fall Creators Update: Lots of small changes—and maybe the revolution

October 17, 2017 - 9:33pm

Enlarge / Oddly, Microsoft's Mixed Reality house has no windows. (credit: Microsoft)

It has arrived: Windows 10 version 1709, build 16299, the Fall Creators Update. Members of the Windows Insider program have been able to use this latest iteration for a while now, but today's the day it will hit Windows Update for the masses.

As with the Creators Update earlier this year, the Windows Update deployment will be slow to start off with. After a spate of issues around the Anniversary Update, which shipped in 2016, Microsoft took a more measured approach with the Creators Update. It took about five months for the previous update to reach two-thirds of machines, as the company rolled the operating system out first to systems known to be compatible, then expanded its reach to an ever larger range of hardware and software, and finally opened the floodgates and offered it to (almost) any Windows 10 machine.

Again like the Creators Update, anyone who is impatient and wants to forcibly install the new version will be able to do so with the Update Assistant and Media Creation Tool when they get updated, presumably at some point today.

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The Zoomable Universe is a feast for your eyes and brain

October 17, 2017 - 9:14pm

The Zoomable Universe, by Caleb Scarf with Illustrations by Ron Miller (Scientific American/FSG)

Sometimes we want science to show us the complexity and uncertainty of everything, but sometimes we just want it to dazzle us.

You'll get a heaping dose of dazzle in Caleb Scharf and Ron Miller's coffee table book The Zoomable Universe: An Epic Tour Through Cosmic Scale, from Almost Everything to Nearly Nothing. It recalls the wonder-laced scientific writing of Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan, and it reminds us that the scientific view of the world is gorgeous as well as rational.

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EA shuts down Visceral, will reboot its Star Wars game due to “marketplace”

October 17, 2017 - 9:03pm

EA has now dramatically shifted the development of the above unnamed Star Wars game. This image is from E3 2016; Visceral's game had long been hidden from the public with a way-off release target of 2019. (credit: EA)

EA packed a double-whammy announcement into a single post on its blog on Tuesday. The company announced the dissolution of an internal game studio and a substantial reboot of that studio's upcoming, unnamed Star Wars game.

Visceral Games, which began life as EA Redwood Shores in 1998, is now "ramping down." Members of its staff are being moved to "as many other projects" as possible, according to EA executive Patrick Söderlund. The studio is best known for the Dead Space trilogy, along with a number of '90s and '00s games in the Lord of the Rings and 007 franchises.

Visceral had most recently snagged headlines because the studio had been put in charge of one of EA's upcoming, unnamed Star Wars games. The project was being led by all-star game industry vet Amy Hennig (best known for the Uncharted series). That game appears to have been all but blown up, as per Söderlund's lengthy-yet-vague statement. "It was shaping up to be a story-based, linear game," he starts, only to describe "feedback about what and how [fans] want to play" and "fundamental shifts in the marketplace."

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DOJ indicts Chinese fentanyl distributors selling to Americans online

October 17, 2017 - 8:54pm

Enlarge / Deputy US Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (L) speaks during a news conference October 17, 2017 at the Justice Department in Washington, DC. (credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Two men in China have been charged by American federal prosecutors as being the kingpins of a vast international conspiracy to manufacture and sell fentanyl, a powerful opioid, via unnamed Dark Web sites.

In a press conference in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that the bust marked the first time the Department of Justice had "indicted major Chinese fentanyl traffickers."

"Chinese fentanyl distributors are using the Internet to sell fentanyl directly to US customers," Rosenstein continued.

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Dealmaster: Get a 15-inch Dell laptop with a 512GB SSD for $580

October 17, 2017 - 7:56pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of savings to share. Today we've got more laptop deals, headlined by a $340 discount on a Dell Inspiron 15 5000 laptop with a Core i7 (7th-gen) processor and 512GB SSD. Other bargains on PCs, mesh W-iFi routers, 4K TVs, and more can be found below.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

(credit: TechBargains)

Featured deals

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ZTE launches crazy, foldable, dual-screened smartphone

October 17, 2017 - 7:10pm


Budget Android company ZTE is launching what has to be its craziest-looking smartphone ever, the Axon M. The M looks like someone took a Nintendo DS, removed the controls, and stuck two big smartphone screens on each side.

The Axon M is a whopping 12.1mm thick. A hinge runs along the long side of the phone, and it opens up, just like a Nintendo DS. On each side of the phone, you get a 5.2-inch, 1080p TFT LCD. Open the whole thing up, and when combined the screens sort of become a 6.75-inch, 8:9 aspect ratio, 1920x2160 display. I say "sort of" because of course there's a big seam down the middle.

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The new Han Solo film is done filming, and it has a name

October 17, 2017 - 7:00pm

The cast of Solo takes a break. (credit: Disney)

Today, the next standalone Star Wars film wrapped. Directed by Ron Howard—after a bitter departure from previous directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie)—the movie at last has a name. It will be called Solo. The film explores Han Solo's early adventures and is rumored to give us a glimpse of how Han won the Millennium Falcon from Lando.

Howard announced the wrap in one of his many snaps from the production. Han Solo will be played by Alden Ehrenreich (Beautiful Creatures), and Donald Glover (Atlanta, Community) will be Lando Calrissian. Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) plays Kira, who is one of the adventurers Han will meet, and Thandie Newton (Westworld) has an unknown role. Joonas Suotamo will play Chewie.

Howard didn't just finish up the film that previous directors Lord and Miller worked on for six months. He did extensive reshoots, and it seems likely that he changed the film quite a bit from the original comedic vision. The film was written by Lawrence Kasdan, who worked on the first trilogy with Lucas, along with his son Jon Kasdan. It's due in theaters on May 25, 2018.

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Six days later, FCC chair says Trump can’t order FCC to revoke TV licenses

October 17, 2017 - 6:49pm

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai initially resisted calls to tell President Trump that the FCC won't revoke broadcast licenses from stations whose news coverage Trump dislikes.

But today, six days after Trump first said that NBC and other networks should have their licenses challenged, Pai said the FCC won't pull licenses based on the content of news reports.

Pai was on a panel at a telecom law conference hosted by the Mercatus Center when moderator Greg Ip of The Wall Street Journal referred to Trump's statements that news stations are spreading "fake news" and should have their licenses challenged.

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Google now offers special security program for high-risk users

October 17, 2017 - 6:37pm

(credit: Yubico)

Today, Google rolled out a new program called Advanced Protection for personal Google accounts, intended to provide much higher account security to users of services like Gmail and Drive who are at a high risk of being targeted by phishers, hackers, and others seeking their personal data. The opt-in program makes Google services much less convenient to use, but it's built to prevent the sorts of breaches that have been making recent headlines.

Examples of users who could benefit include journalists, politicians, and other public figures who may be running up against hostile actors with considerable resources—and also for private individuals in dangerous situations, like those escaping abusive relationships. In its blog post announcing this program, Google specifically named "political campaign managers," which harkens back to the breach of Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign Chairman John Podesta's e-mails, which led to a release from WikiLeaks that may have played a significant role in the US presidential election last year.

And yes, Podesta could have avoided that particular breach had he been using this new program. That's because the Advanced Protection Program goes beyond digital two-factor authentication by requiring a physical security key in addition to your password to log in. This isn't a new idea, of course, even on the consumer side of things. Facebook has offered something similar, and even video game company Blizzard has offered one to gamers who want to protect their World of Warcraft accounts for years. In this case, the security key is a USB stick or wireless Bluetooth device that works with FIDO Universal 2nd Factor (U2F).

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Netflix, Amazon, movie studios sue over TickBox streaming device

October 17, 2017 - 6:08pm

(credit: Universal Studios et al. v. TickBox)

Movie studios, Netflix, and Amazon have banded together to file a first-of-its-kind copyright lawsuit against a streaming media player called TickBox TV.

The complaint (PDF), filed Friday, says the TickBox devices are nothing more than "tool[s] for mass infringement," which operate by grabbing pirated video streams from the Internet. The lawsuit was filed by Amazon and Netflix Studios, along with six big movie studios that make up the Motion Picture Association of America: Universal, Columbia, Disney, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.

"What TickBox actually sells is nothing less than illegal access to Plaintiffs' copyrighted content," write the plaintiffs' lawyers. "TickBox TV uses software to link TickBox's customers to infringing content on the Internet. When those customers use TickBox TV as Defendant intends and instructs, they have nearly instantaneous access to multiple sources that stream Plaintiffs' Copyrighted Works without authorization."

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Self-driving Chevy Bolts are coming to the streets of Manhattan in 2018

October 17, 2017 - 5:54pm

Enlarge / Autonomous Bolts under construction at GM's Orion Assembly Plant located in Orion Township, Michigan, in June 2017. (credit: General Motors)

General Motors and Cruise Automation will be the first to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in New York state, it was announced on Tuesday. The cars—which will have a pair of humans onboard as backup—aren't taking the easy route, either. The geofenced test location will be the mean streets of Manhattan, beginning in early 2018.

Earlier this year, Jack, Audi's autonomous demonstrator, took New York lawmakers out for rides to familiarize them with driveless tech. But even Audi only refers to Jack as having "level 3" autonomy, and it only drives itself on divided highways. Cruise and GM will be testing out level 4 autonomous vehicles, which are more capable and—within a geofenced area—should be able to drive an entire route without human intervention.

GM bought Cruise for more than $1 billion in 2016 and since then has been testing driverless vehicles in San Francisco, Detroit, and Scottsdale, Arizona. Cruise has now developed its third-generation autonomous vehicle, based on the Chevrolet Bolt electric car. And in February we learned that GM and Lyft had plans to put thousands of self-driving Bolts into action in San Francisco in 2018.

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Two months after Disney split, Netflix pledges $8B for original content

October 17, 2017 - 5:28pm

Another early holiday gift for Netflix investors this year. (credit: macappsaddict via Flickr)

In its most recent quarterly earnings report, Netflix announced its intentions to spend $7 billion to $8 billion on original content for 2018.

"Our investment in Netflix originals is over a quarter of our total P&L [profit and loss] content budget in 2017 and will continue to grow," the company said in its call report. "With $17 billion in content commitments over the next several years and a growing library of owned content ($2.5 billion net book value at the end of the quarter), we remain quite comfortable with our ability to please our members around the world. We’ll spend $7-8 billion on content (on a P&L basis) in 2018."

The $8 billion figure represents a potentially significant increase over Netflix's current spending. The New York Times puts estimates of Netflix's 2017 content spending at $6 billion, so the company may spend as much as ~33 percent more on originals next year. By comparison, Hulu reportedly committed $2.5 billion to original programming this year, and Amazon hit $4.5 billion (Amazon has already pledged more for 2018 but did not cite specific figures when speaking to Variety last month). Apple made a splash recently with a "mere" $1 billion commitment to original content in 2018.

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Volvo tears up the rules with a subscription-only 600-hp electric GT

October 17, 2017 - 5:18pm


If I asked you to guess the manufacturer behind a new two-door, carbon-fiber bodied, 600hp plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, it's possible Volvo would not be the first name you thought of. And technically, it doesn't wear a Volvo badge anywhere, because this is the first product from Polestar, the automaker's new electric performance brand. It arrives in 2019 and is the first of five new EVs from Volvo. And it looks stunning.

The past few years have been good ones for Volvo. Parent company Geely has been a generous, hands-off benefactor, and the results are showing. The Swedish automaker is now one of the most forward-thinking in the industry and a home to good engineering and design across disciplines that include interiors, infotainment, and autonomous driving. Its Scalable Product Architecture provides the building blocks for a number of very good vehicles; both the XC90 and S90 impressed us, and a brief drive in the smaller XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid has whet my appetite for a proper test later this year.

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Why aren’t there more “Mature” games for Nintendo Switch?

October 17, 2017 - 5:08pm

Enlarge / Remember when this game was supposedly a sign of a less squeaky-clean image for Nintendo?

Since removing the blood in the original Mortal Kombat on the Super NES, Nintendo has earned its image as the family-friendly alternative to the more sex-and-violence-soaked console competition. New reporting from The Wall Street Journal suggests Nintendo is working to change that with the Switch, but any such effort is going to be an uphill climb that could use more direct help from Nintendo.

Speaking to a number of developers, the WSJ's Takashi Mochizuki reports Nintendo is explicitly encouraging game makers to release more risqué content on the Switch. "I thought it wouldn’t be possible to release such a game for the Switch, but surprisingly, Nintendo gave me positive feedback,” Inti Creates CEO Takuya Aizu told the paper regarding the provocative Gal Gun 2. Another unnamed developer said Nintendo's stance toward more violent and sexual content in games on its console "was passive until now, but that is no longer the right word to describe its stance today."

It wouldn't be the first time Nintendo has made gestures to attract more "mature" content to its consoles. After the Wii lineup was dominated by family-friendly titles (along with rare exceptions like Mad World), Nintendo's then-president Satoru Iwata said in 2012 that the company felt it had neglected "those who play games as their hobby" in favor of more casual or new gamers. "Consequently, we presume some people felt that the Wii was not a game system for them or they were not willing to play with the Wii even though some compelling games had been released."

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Researchers craft an LED just two atoms thick

October 17, 2017 - 4:48pm

Enlarge / Hexagonal boron nitride, one of the materials used here. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Modern computers are, in many ways, limited by their energy consumption and cooling requirements. Some of that comes from the process of performing calculations. But often, the majority of energy use comes from simply getting data to the point where calculations are ready to be performed. Memory, storage, data transfer systems, and more all create power draws that, collectively, typically end up using more power than the processor itself.

Light-based communications offers the possibility of dropping power consumption while boosting the speed of connections. In most cases, designs have focused on situations where a single external laser supplies the light, which is divided and sent to the parts of the system that need it. But a new paper in Nature Nanotechnology suggests an alternate possibility: individual light sources on the chip itself. To demonstrate this possibility, the team put together an LED just two atoms thick and integrated it with a silicon chip. Better still, the same material can act as a photodetector, providing a way of building all the needed hardware using a single process.


The work relied on two different atomically thin materials. These materials consist of a planar sheet of atoms chemically linked to each other. While their study was pioneered using graphene, a sheet of carbon atoms, they developed a variety of other materials with similar structures. The materials being used here are molybdenum ditelluride (MoTe2), a semiconductor, and hexagonal boron nitride.

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