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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 24 min ago

Office for Mac now shares a codebase with Windows, gets real-time collaboration

9 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft has released a major Office update for Mac. Update 16.9.0 finally brings long-anticipated real-time collaboration features and automatic cloud saving. Notably, the Mac version of this software is now built from the same codebase as the Windows version, which means that Office shares a codebase across all platforms for the first time in 20 years.

The Mac version of Office has often lagged behind Windows in features (some periods have been better than others). But this change could lay the groundwork for better parity moving forward. A shared codebase doesn't necessarily mean everything will be the same, but it does mean that supporting all platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android) will be simpler on Microsoft's end.

Real-time collaboration is long overdue in Office for Mac. Users have been calling for it for quite some time. A major selling point of Google Docs and several other Office alternatives, it's been a slow rollout for this feature in Office regardless of platform. Limited live collaboration was part of the Office 2016 update, but Excel for Windows, for example, didn't get true real-time collaboration until a beta last year.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NASA has pulled Jeanette Epps just months before her first flight

9 hours 39 min ago

Enlarge / Jeanette Epps, left, served as a back-up crew member to Expedition 54 to the space station. (credit: NASA)

NASA issued a short news release on Thursday evening stating that Jeanette Epps will not be a part of the International Space Station crew set to launch in June. (That flight would launch from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket.) The release gave no reason why Epps was pulled from the flight.

In a response to a request for more information, Johnson Space Center spokeswoman Brandi Dean told Ars, "A number of factors are considered when making flight assignments. However, these decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn’t provide information."

According to NASA, Epps had returned to the active Astronaut Corps at the space center to assume duties in the astronaut office. She will be considered for assignment to future missions. Had she flown this year, Epps would have become the first African-American astronaut to live as a crew member aboard the International Space Station. Only three other African American women have flown into space. Epps' assignment in January 2017 garnered a fair amount of favorable publicity for the space agency.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Crazy kaiju-robot antics only hint at Nintendo Labo’s true potential

January 18, 2018 - 11:40pm

After writing up Nintendo's Wednesday reveal of its new Labo playsets (coming April 20 to the US and Japan and April 27 to Europe), I realized I'd forgotten to add an important word to the article's introduction: "what."

More specifically, the drawn-out, question-marked version I shouted when the product's reveal video played out. ("Whaaaaat?!") I'm a big fan of Nintendo's physical-toy era in the '60s and '70s, back when company legend and Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi came up with engineering wonders like the Ultra Hand and the Ten-Billion Barrel Puzzle. As a result, I was immediately charmed by the physicality and toy-controller possibilities of the reveal video, which included everything from a motorcycle steering chassis to a 13-key piano to a string-loaded fishing rod—all built by players with a mix of pre-cut, pre-marked cardboard, sensing stickers, plastic, string, and more.

But then I began wondering: exactly how does everything work with Nintendo Labo? In particular, what the heck is going on with Labo's most insane offering: a full-body robot suit?

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FCC admits mobile can’t replace home Internet, won’t lower speed standard

January 18, 2018 - 10:52pm

Enlarge (credit: Steve Johnson)

The Federal Communications Commission is making its latest determination of whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans quickly enough, and there are a few notable tidbits from what we know about the report so far.

The FCC today released a fact sheet on the draft Broadband Progress Report and a statement by Chairman Ajit Pai, but not the actual draft report.

Pai's FCC has determined that mobile broadband is not a full substitute for home Internet services. The FCC says this even after previously suggesting that mobile Internet might be all Americans need. The FCC also won't be lowering the speed standard that it uses to judge whether broadband deployment is happening quickly enough.

Read 36 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Peeved by price gouging and shortages, hospitals will now make their own drugs

January 18, 2018 - 10:28pm

Enlarge / Former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli. Jail for him, competition for his kind. (credit: Getty | Drew Angerer )

For four of the country’s largest hospital systems, enough is enough.

Sick of drug companies’ eye-popping price hikes and ridiculous shortages, the feisty hospital systems announced Wednesday that they’ve banded together and formed an unnamed non-profit to make their own steady supply of affordable generic medicines.

The leading hospital system, Intermountain Healthcare, released a statement explaining:

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Here’s why you can’t buy a high-end graphics card at Best Buy

January 18, 2018 - 9:35pm

Enlarge / Philadelphia miner Matthew Freilich shared this picture of his mining rig, which contains eight Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics cards. (credit: Matthew Freilich)

The market for high-end graphics cards used to work like the market for almost any other piece of computer gear. You'd go to your local electronics store, pick one up off the shelf, and pay an amount right around the manufacturer's suggested retail price.

But the rise of cryptocurrency mining has created an unprecedented global shortage of graphics cards. If you go to your local retailer, you're likely to find bare shelves where the beefier cards used to be. Instead of trading at a discount, used cards routinely sell for well above MSRP on sites like eBay and Craigslist.

And it's driving PC gamers—who used to be the primary market for these cards—crazy.

Read 35 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: Get a (refurbished) Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa for $30

January 18, 2018 - 9:00pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list features a slew of deals on laptops from Dell, Lenovo, and Asus, including an Asus model that comes with an 8th-gen Core i5 chip, 1080p display, 8GB of RAM, and a USB-C port for $500. Beyond the PC, we've also got an Amazon-certified refurbished version of Amazon's latest Fire TV Stick for $30, which is $10 off its non-refurbished going rate.

The rest of the discount smorgasbord covers Apple's 12.9-inch iPad Pro, various 4K TVs, and the usual array of smart home gear. You can take a look for yourself below.

(credit: TechBargains)

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

Featured Deals

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Samsung is now mass-manufacturing GDDR6 memory for your next GPU

January 18, 2018 - 8:50pm

Enlarge (credit: Mark Walton)

For the first time, Samsung is manufacturing GDDR6 memory in mass quantities. The memory is faster and more efficient than the GDDR5 memory it succeeds, and it will likely appear on PC graphics cards this year.

Samsung's GDDR6 memory is based on the company's 10-nanometer technology and offers double the density of the company's 20-nanometer GDDR5 offerings, meaning 16 gigabits instead of eight gigabits. The company promises an 18Gbps pin speed and transfer rates of up to 72GB/s. Further, the new chips will run at 1.35V. The GDDR5 predecessor has a pin speed of 9Gbps and runs at 1.55V.

The result should be significantly faster video cards for gaming and other tasks like video processing and Ethereum mining, if you're into that sort of thing. Samsung's press release says that "immediate production of GDDR6 will play a critical role in early launches of next-generation graphics cards and systems." The GDDR6 chips Samsung is producing will generally edge out what we're currently seeing in GDDR5X in terms of performance.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple rejects net neutrality testing app, says it offers “no benefits to users”

January 18, 2018 - 6:59pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Brian A. Jackson)

An iPhone application that attempts to detect whether ISPs are throttling online services was rejected by Apple when its developer tried to get it into the company's App Store.

David Choffnes, a Northeastern University professor who researches distributed systems and networking, built an app called "Wehe" that tests the speeds of YouTube, Amazon, NBCSports, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Vimeo. Abnormally low speed results for one or more of those services might, in theory, provide evidence that your mobile carrier is throttling a service.

But as Motherboard reported today, Apple refused to let the app into the iPhone App Store, telling him that "your app has no direct benefits to the user." Motherboard was able to test a beta version of the app using Apple's TestFlight platform and provided this screenshot of the application in action:

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Project Fi’s “Bill Protection” works out to an $80 “unlimited” plan

January 18, 2018 - 6:40pm

Enlarge

When we looked at Google's Project Fi cellular service at launch, we worked out that the pay-per-MB service was great for people who use a small amount of data or those who need a flexible amount of data from month to month. It didn't make sense for people who consistently use a ton of data, though, as you could essentially rack up an unlimited bill.

Now Project Fi is throwing a bone to big data users with "bill protection," a cap on the amount Project Fi will charge. Project Fi bills will now cap out at $80, no matter how much data you use. This basically works out to a Project Fi unlimited plan. Fi bills start out at $20 for unlimited calls and texts, then "$10 per GB" (though you are billed to the exact megabyte). Before this new plan, an $80 bill would work out to 6GB of data usage, but with bill protection, you can now go up to 15GB of usage with no additional fees. Above 15GB, Project Fi can either work as a not-really-unlimited "unlimited" plan, where your speed is throttled, or you can start paying $10 per GB again to jump back into unthrottled data usage. Google has a calculator for the new plan here.

Fi bills now stop at $80, with full speed data up to 15GB. (credit: Google)

Google's MVNO service is turning into a unique and useful cellular carrier. In addition to the flexible month-to-month billing, Fi combines the networks from Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. You can get multiple data-only SIM cards for free, free hotspot capabilities, and international data in more than 135 countries—all data usage counts toward your $10-per-GB bill. Sometimes you don't need a SIM card at all—on the Google Pixel 2, you can provision your phone for Project Fi service using the built-in eSIM chip. Fi has also absorbed all the functionality of Google Voice—you can forward your number to any other device, there's online or app-based voicemail with transcriptions, and you can get text messages on any device through the Google Hangouts app or website.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Planet finally stops setting warmest year records; 2017 merely finishes Top 3

January 18, 2018 - 6:03pm

Enlarge / The results from NASA's dataset (showing temperature above the 1951-1980 average), which ranks 2017 as the 2nd warmest year on record. (credit: NASA)

Last year had its fair share of attention-grabbing natural disasters, so you can be forgiven for not keeping an eye on the global average temperature as the months rolled by. But NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the UK Met Office all announced their final tally today: 2017 ranks as the second or third warmest year on record, depending on which dataset you ask.

In the NASA dataset, 2017 comes in a few hundredths of a degree Celsius above third-place 2015, while NOAA puts 2015 a touch above 2017. The UK Met Office dataset also ranks 2017 in third. The datasets use slightly different methods, including different approaches to handling the polar regions, where weather stations are sparse.

It turns out that the cold weather in the eastern United States around the holiday season was not indicative of what was happening on the rest of the planet, much less for the rest of the year. President Donald Trump may have been tweeting that "we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming," but he was doing so during an exceedingly warm year.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Twitch challenges YouTube with new video producer tools, Disney partnership

January 18, 2018 - 6:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Twitch)

The Amazon-owned video site Twitch announced it's introducing new tools for its creators, essentially, to build hype around their upcoming videos. Twitch, which is best known for live-streamed gaming content, will debut "video producer" tools today that let creators make landing pages, countdown timers, and reruns for their content.

As explained in Twitch's blog, a new part of the upload workflow will be "Premieres," which is a different category of video than "Live" or "Rerun." Creators must make landing pages for all Premiere videos, which seems to mean that any premade, uploaded video will need a landing page. Viewers can set reminders from a video's landing page for an alert before the video is available. Creators can also use a countdown timer to build anticipation for the release of their newest video. Reruns, which are separate from Premiers, are exactly what they sound like: videos that already aired that creators have scheduled to play again.

Twitch's new system contrasts with YouTube's in that, when an uploaded YouTube video goes live, it simply appears on the site. Unless you've subscribed to the creator's channel or opted to receive alerts when that creator uploads, you won't always know when that creator posts a new video. While Twitch's video producer tools don't necessarily make it easier for new viewers to find a creator's content, they make it easier for loyal fans to never miss a new video. For creators, Twitch claims the tools provide "more control over their path to success" by giving them new ways to ensure their audience keeps coming back.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Meltdown and Spectre: Good news for AMD users, (more) bad news for Intel

January 18, 2018 - 4:27pm

Enlarge / Core M Broadwell (left) vs. Core M Skylake (right). (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

The good news: Microsoft suspended shipping its Spectre and Meltdown Windows patches to owners of AMD systems after some users found that they left their systems unbootable. Microsoft partially lifted the restriction last week, sending the update to newer AMD systems but still leaving the oldest machines unpatched.

Now the company has an update that works on those systems, too. If you're unfortunate enough to have installed the previous, bad update and now have a system that crashes on startup, you'll still have to roll back the bad update before you can install the new one. We've read reports that this is indeed possible, but unfortunately, Microsoft only offers generic guidance on troubleshooting blue screen of death crashes, not any specific steps to fix this specific issue.

The bad news: Intel has previously warned that the microcode update it issued to provide some processor-based mitigation for some kinds of Spectre attack was causing machines with Haswell and Broadwell processors to reboot. It turns out that the problems are more widespread than previously reported: the chip company is now saying that Ivy Bridge, Sandy Bridge, Skylake, and Kaby Lake systems are affected, too.

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Amazon names 20 “finalist” cities in its new headquarters beauty pageant

January 18, 2018 - 4:08pm

Enlarge / And the finalists are... (credit: Amazon)

This morning, Amazon posted its list of candidates under serious consideration for the company's second headquarters—a campus that the company expects to invest over $5 billion to build and which will eventually house as many as 50,000 Amazon employees.

"It will be a full equal to our current campus in Seattle," a company spokesperson wrote in the announcement. "In addition to Amazon’s direct hiring and investment, construction and ongoing operation of Amazon HQ2 is expected to create tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community."

That level of promised economic impact has drawn many state and local governments to craft proposals that would give Amazon rich packages of concessions—in many cases, proposals that have been kept secret from the taxpayers. A total of 238 proposals were submitted by local governments to Amazon after the company announced its continent-wide search for a second home.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple will give users the option to control their own battery’s destiny

January 18, 2018 - 3:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Samuel Axon)

Apple announced big economic plans yesterday, but CEO Tim Cook also touched upon what the company will do in the future to address the grievances brought by users about its recent iPhone performance-slowing controversy. In an interview with ABC News, Cook said that new software updates will allow users with older iPhones to turn off the power management feature that intentionally slows down device performance.

"We will tell someone we're reducing your performance by some amount in order to not have an unexpected restart," Cook said. "And if you don't want it, you can turn it off."

Cook's disclaimer is that Apple doesn't recommend turning off this feature, as the company initially came out with it to stop unexpected shut-downs. At the end of 2017, Apple admitted to intentionally slowing down iPhone performance to prevent shut-downs related to the device's deteriorating battery health. Users had suspected Apple's practice for quite some time, and despite Apple's reasoning, many users were furious and a number of class-action lawsuits have been filed against the company.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google’s Fuchsia OS on the Pixelbook: It works! It actually works!

January 18, 2018 - 3:36pm

(video link)


Google currently has two OSes on the market: Android and Chrome OS. The company is never one to leave a successful product alone in the marketplace, though, so it's also developing a third operating system called "Fuchsia." When we last checked in on the experimental OS in May 2017, calling it an "OS" was a bit of a stretch. We only got the system UI up and running on top of Android, where it then functioned like an app. The UI offered a neat multi-window system, but mostly it was just a bunch of placeholder graphics. Nothing worked.

It has been hard to check in on Fuchsia since. The Fuchsia system UI, which was written with a cross-platform SDK called "Flutter," quickly shut down the Android (and iOS) compatible builds. Fuchsia has a Vulkan-based graphics stack, and no emulator supports the new-ish graphics API. The only way to get Fuchsia up and running again was with actual hardware, and the only supported devices were Intel NUC PCs from 2015 and the Acer Switch Alpha 12 laptop.

Read 29 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Russia now looking to sell its prized rocket engines to China

January 18, 2018 - 3:30pm

Enlarge / The Atlas V rocket is powered by a single RD-180 rocket engine. (credit: United Launch Alliance)

Ever since the Crimean crisis in 2014—precipitated by Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian-held peninsula—Congress has increased pressure on the US aerospace industry to end its use of Russian-made rocket engines. In particular, legislators want United Launch Alliance to stop using the RD-180 engine in its Atlas V launch vehicle. This booster, with a 100-percent mission success rate, launches many of America's national security payloads.

As United Launch Alliance plans to transition to US-made engines early next decade, and with other US rockets already flying or soon coming online, the Russian RD-180 manufacturers are looking to other markets. In doing so, they've found willing buyers in China, although this has come with some concerns.

Even though the rocket engine technology behind the RD-180 is 40 years old, it remains one of the highest performing engines in the world, with a near-perfect service record. With 860,000 pounds of thrust (about 3.8MN), the RD-180 also happens to be three times more powerful than any Chinese rocket engine.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Scientists racing to save vital medical isotopes imperiled by shabby reactors

January 18, 2018 - 12:10am

Enlarge / A dose of Tc-99m to be used in an upcoming scan. (credit: Getty | Rene Johnston)

There’s a mad dash for a vital radioactive isotope that’s used in about 50,000 medical procedures every day in the US, including spotting deadly cancers and looming heart problems. Currently, access to it hinges on a shaky supply chain and a handful of aging nuclear reactors in foreign countries. But federal regulators and a few US companies are pushing hard and spending millions to produce it domestically and shore up access, Kaiser Health News reports.

The isotope, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), decays to the short-lived Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) and other isotopes, which are used as radiotracers in medical imaging. Injected into patients, the isotopes spotlight how the heart is pumping, what parts of the brain are active, or if tumors are forming in bones.

But, to get to those useful endpoints, Mo-99 has to wind through a fraught journey. According to KHN, most Mo-99 in the US is made by irradiating Cold War-era uranium from America’s nuclear stockpile. The US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration secretly ships it to aging reactors abroad. The reactors—and five subsequent processing plants—are in Australia, Canada, Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, and the Czech Republic), and South Africa, according to a 2016 report by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Private companies then rent irradiation time at the reactors, send the resulting medley of isotopes to processing plants, book the final Mo-99 on commercial flights back to the US, and distribute it to hospitals and pharmacies.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Nintendo’s Labo playset slaps the Switch into build-your-own cardboard toys

January 17, 2018 - 11:24pm

Enlarge / Labo looks like a trip, Nintendo. (credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo has announced a new build-your-own-accessories line for the Switch console, dubbed Nintendo Labo. It will arrive on April 20 in the United States and Japan and April 27 in Europe.

Labo's two playsets, the $69.99 Variety Kit and the $79.99 Robot Kit, will come with marked cardboard sheets that must be punched and folded by players, along with connecting string, reflective stickers (for controller-sensing purposes), and other accessories. The foldable parts resemble everything from pianos to fishing rods, along with a full-body robot outfit. They accept both the Switch console and its Joy-Con controllers in various slots.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

With HomePod around the corner, Siri’s “give me the news” feature exits beta

January 17, 2018 - 11:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Apple)

When you say "Hey Siri, give me the news" to your iOS device, Siri will now immediately begin playing a daily news update from a popular news podcast—NPR by default in the United States. Coming shortly before the launch of the HomePod smart speaker, also powered by Siri, this small feature is the latest that brings some Alexa or Google Assistant-style interactions to Apple's ecosystem.

In the US, NPR's News Now podcast immediately begins playing as soon as you say the words. Note that hitting the home button and then saying, "Give me the news," won't do it, though. The feature has to be activated by the hands-free "Hey Siri" prompt used in CarPlay or in the upcoming HomePod's screenless interface.

Samuel Axon

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