USB Audio 2.0 now supported in Windows 10 Creators Update

Article

HP Elitebook 2560p playing through Naim DAC-V1 USB DAC

Windows 10 Creators Update now provides native support for USB Audio 2.0 to allow these devices to run at their best out of the box when connected to a Windows PC

Confirmed: Windows 10 now supports USB Audio Class 2.0 | GadgetGuys

My Comments

For those of you who run highly-strung USB audio hardware like pro-quality USB analogue-digital interfaces or those audiophile-grade USB digital-analogue converters, the latest version of Windows 10 offers something for you.

It is to provide native driver support for USB Audio 2.0, the second version of the USB Audio device class that handles sound over the USB bus. These audio devices work independently of the USB physical connection type therefore they could work with a USB 2.0 connection, the higher-speed USB 3.0 connection or the USB-C connection. This version can handle higher-definition master-grade audio beyond the 24-bit 96kHz digital-audio specification. It also can natively handle the DSD files that started off with SACD discs and are another way of distributing high-definition master-grade audio content.

This improvement to the USB Audio standard was supported natively by MacOS and Linux but wasn’t supported by Windows. Instead, people who wanted to get the most out of their USB DAC or USB audio studio hardware had to install a driver file that was supplied by the USB audio device’s manufacture, either through a CD or USB stick supplied with the device or something to download from their Website.

Now if your computer is running Windows 10 Creator’s Update, it will be a simple plug-and-play install process to have Windows Media Player or Tidal coming through that USB DAC. But this is facilitated through the Windows DirectSound or WASAPI software-hardware audio paths.

The drivers that will come with your device may offer a highly-strung experience such as to work via higher-performance audio APIs other than the two previously-mentioned paths. As well, they may offer a control panel that allows you to better manage how the sound is handled.

Similarly, there may be other drivers that map the USB audio device’s control surface to Windows 10 in a manner more consistent with the manufacturer’s functionality expectations for that device. Examples of this may include mixing desks and DJ consoles with media transport buttons.

For manufacturers who design highly-strung USB audio devices, there is less of a requirement to write up and maintain software drivers for these devices. This can same them money and focus their R&D efforts on improved sound quality.

Hooray! Your Windows computer now can work out of the box with that USB-connected premium audio device with the full sound-quality expectations.

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Supporting hubs and repeaters in the Thunderbolt 3 standard

Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port on Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

The same connector being used for Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C may lead to confusion in more sophisticated setups

Increasingly Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 very-high-speed data connection standard has come on the scene as a product differentiator for computer products.

This standard works over the USB-C physical connection, thus allowing for a logical Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C data transfer setup.

But USB-C, like the preceding USB connection standards allows for a “tree-like” connection from the host computer device. This is facilitated through self-powered or bus-powered hubs which allow multiple device to be effectively connected to the same physical connection on the host computer or previous hub, subject to certain conditions like power budget.

On the other hand, the Thunderbolt connections can only be connected in a “daisy-chain” manner where only one device can be connected to another. This is also limited by the fact that you can only have six devices connected in a Thunderbolt data bus.

A situation that can easily crop up with the Thunderbolt 3 connection is the fact that there could be an expectation to run a connection setup for multiple devices in a “tree-like” approach. This is along with an expectation to have more than six devices on a Thunderbolt 3 data bus. It is aggravated through some of the devices that have their own power supplies being expected to be USB hubs along with these devices being equipped with Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connections.

The classic example would be a Thunderbolt 3 RAID direct-attached-storage array along with an external GPU module and, perhaps, a Thunderbolt 3 dock (expansion module) as part of a workstation setup.

But there can be the desire to hang off more than six Thunderbolt 3 devices or establish a “tree-like” approach. This can happen where there is a desire to connect multiple storage or interface devices or you are dealing with low-tier Thunderbolt 3 devices that only have the one connection for the host computer.

In the audio recording studio environment, the Thunderbolt 3 connection can appeal with analogue-digital interfaces or digital mixers where there is the desire to connect many microphones, musical instruments and speakers to a digital-audio workstation. This can extend to the video sphere with ultra-high-definition cameras connected to a suitable AV interface for digital video production.

Similarly, Thunderbolt 3 offering support for a virtual “PCI Express” card bus may appeal to computing users running with multiple “card-cage” devices like the external graphics modules. Here, it may be about increased input-output abilities or working with high-performance graphics cards. Such a setup will become relevant with portable, all-in-one and small-form-factor desktop computers which don’t have the necessary support for the traditional interface cards that were the norm for regular computers.

A situation that can easily crop up with these devices is attempts to connect Thunderbolt 3 peripherals to other USB-C connections on upstream peripherals. This can lead to error messages and the whole setup not performing as expected.

What needs to be looked at is an extension to the Thunderbolt 3 specification to cater towards different bus layouts. This is more so to allow a peripheral to effectively reiterate one or more Thunderbolt 3 buses as if it is the equivalent of an Ethernet switch. It can also lead to the possibility of implementing active repeaters for a Thunderbolt 3 connection, something that could appeal to longer connection runs like the obvious stage-based applications.

It could be simply facilitated through a hardware-software device class for this specification that addresses “hub and repeater” behaviour. This can also include the ability for these devices to work as USB-C hubs including support for different power-supply paths and power budgets for the Power Delivery device class.

The same issue also includes a requirement for the host computer to identify where each Thunderbolt 3 peripheral is and map the bandwidth in a similar way to a city’s road system.

But it will be something that Intel will have to approach when they revise Thunderbolt 3.

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Do the large 2-in-1 convertible laptops still earn their keep?

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 courtesy of Lenovo

This style of 13″ or 15″ 2-in-1 convertible notebook is becoming more common in computer manufacturers’ product ranges

Increasingly most computer manufacturers are supplying at least one 2-in-1 convertible laptop that has a screen size of between 13” and 16” in their product lineups.

These work in a similar vein to the Lenovo Yoga range which made this concept more cost-effective. Here, the computer has a hinge that swivels through 360 degrees so that it changes between a laptop and a tablet, with the ability to be angled to be a viewer with the screen on a slant or to be set up in a “tent” mode that looks like an A-frame signhoard.

Some manufacturers like Dell, HP and Lenovo are offering a range of these computers with some models offering the kind of performance and storage expectations akin to most mainstream laptop computers for a price very close to one of these computers. This is while they offer the premium Ultrabook variants like HP’s Spectre X360 along with business-rated variants like HP’s Elitebook X360 that have all the security features desired by enterprise IT.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - tablet view

A large screen tablet for video viewing or e-book reading

These large convertible laptops have a screen size that appeals to regular laptop use which would underscore a lot of content-creation activity. But a significant number of people will consider them to be too large for use as a tablet, especially if the idea is to use it as something that takes over the iPad’s or Android tablet’s role. This is because these tablets have a screen size of between 10″ and 11″ that that yields a highly-portable device best suited to personal media consumption.

Some people may appreciate the large screen for these computers while used as a tablet compared to the conventional 10”-11” size pitched for tablet devices. For example older people and those who don’t have good eyesight will appreciate the large screen especially when it comes to reading or casual gameplay. It can also appeal to people who find the traditional laptop as their “comfort zone” but want to dabble with the tablet feel with that same screen size.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - image-viewer view

The viewer position that appeals for watching video content or flicking through photos on the sofa

Similarly, you could easily share the screen between two people.This is augmented by the use of that “presentation viewer” position which has the screen at that comfortable viewing angle while the keyboard serves as a base. In some cases, the larger area allows the weight of the base to be spread more easily. A classic example could be for the two of you to relax on the couch or in bed and watch that online video, or you to read through that PDF recipe file with the computer resting on the kitchen bench.

The large size screen in these tablet-based modes also allows us to see more text-based context without needing to zoom in and out or scroll the text. This can be useful for those of you who are presenting from material like notes stored on one of these computers.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - as a tent card

The tent view that can also appeal to use on the dining table or kitchen bench

The limitation with these larger convertible 2-in-1s regarding their size is that it may not appeal as something that is light enough to be pocketed away. Here, these computers would end up being transported in the same manner as the traditional laptop.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Yet it still can be a laptop for writing up what you want to write up

Similarly, there hasn’t been much effort taking place to port the mobile-platform games and apps to Windows 10, which just about all of these computers run. Here, a lot of these games that exist on the mobile platforms are optimised to exploit the touchscreen user experience which this class of computer offers as well. There is also the practice amongst a large number of “catch-up TV” and similar video-on-demand providers to expect the user to use the Web browser to visit their Web presence, but Windows 10 native apps written for these services can make for improved performance from these computers along with a sleek user experience.

I still see this class of computer earning their keep as a viable alternative to the traditional clamshell laptop computer and the 10” mobile-platform tablet that is always just used at home. Here, the large 2-in-1 convertible laptop can appeal to a large class of people who use a laptop or iPad just for the typical computing tasks such as video and photo viewing, word processing, Web browsing and online communications but who appreciate the large screen. As for the cost, even if the sticker price seems to be expensive, you are effectively buying two devices in one housing and are likely to end up likely to make heavy use of these computers rather than thinking of dealing with the two separate devices.

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Security flaw found in HP laptop audio driver software–how to fix it

Article

HP Elitebook Folio laptop press picture courtesy of HP

Check that your driver software is up to date on these HP business laptops.

HP issues fix for ‘keylogger’ found on several laptop models | ZDNet

Keylogger Found in Audio Driver of HP Laptops | BleepingComputer

From the horse’s mouth

Hewlett-Packard

Download site – identify your computer’s model number in the form on this site to obtain a list of the relevant software

My Comments and further information

Just lately, a security weakness had been found in the Conexant HD Audio driver software that was delivered to a large number of recently-issued HP business-tier laptop computers. It may also affect some of their consumer-focused laptops that run this driver. Let’s not forget the reality that some of you may have one of the affected HP business laptops as a consumer-tier computer, perhaps due to buying an ex-lease or surplus unit. This weakness affects driver versions 10.0.46 and prior versions.

The problem manifests with the MicTray64 program that comes with this software package. Here, it is a keyboard monitor that listens for particular keystrokes in order to allow the user to control the computer’s integrated microphone. But, thanks to debug code being left in the production release of this software, the software becomes a keylogger, writing keystrokes to a cleartext logfile (MicTray.log) in the Users\Public folder on the computer’s system drive.

But what is a monitor program for those of you who want to know? It is a program that “listens” to activity from or to a peripheral for a particular event then instigates a pre-defined activity when a particular event occurs. In most cases, you see these programs in operation when you use a printer or scanner with your computer and they show up a print-job status message when you print or catch scan jobs you started from your scanner’s control surface.

If you have this version of the Conexant HD Audio driver software on your HP business laptop, you may have to use Task Manager to kill the MicTray64 keyboard-monitor process, as well as removing it from the Scheduled Tasks list. It may also be worth moving the MicTray64.exe file out of the Windows\System32 folder and the MicTray.log file out of the Users\Public folder on the system disk to somewhere else on your computer’s file system and see if the computer is still stable and, if so, delete those files.

An update that rectifies this problem has been made available on the HP.com driver download site but should also be made available through Windows Update. This will be available on Wednesday 10 May 2017 (US Pacific Time) for those machines made since 2016 and on Friday 12 May 2017 (US Pacific Time) for systems made during 2015.

HP may have software installed on these systems to check for newer versions of the software drivers, which may simplify the process of updating your computer’s drivers and firmware.

This is endemic of a situation where driver software and system firmware is rushed out the door without being checked that it is production-ready and good-quality software. This software ends up as part of the distribution software image that comes with newer computer equipment, including appearing on the recovery partition of your computer’s system disk.

A good practice is to regularly check your computer manufacturer’s Website for newer drivers and firmware for your computer at regular intervals and install this software. This practice will allow you to have a computer that runs in a more secure and stable manner, perhaps gaining some extra functionality that answers current requirements along the way.

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Cortana gets skilled up to fight Alexa

Articles

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The Amazon Alexa platform now faces some healthy competition from Microsoft

Here’s What Cortana Will Do in Devices | Tom’s Guide

HP and Intel are building Cortana-powered devices | Engadget

HP is also building its own Cortana speaker | The Verge

More Cortana-powered devices are on the way from HP and Intel | Windows Central

Harman Kardon’s Invoke speaker is a Cortana-powered take on an Amazon Echo | The Verge

Microsoft shows how Cortana will work in speakers and cars | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Harman-Kardon

Invoke speaker

Product Page

Microsoft

Cortana Skills

Catalogue Page

Development Kit Web page

Windows Developer blog post (Skills Kit and Devices SDK)

Windows Developer blog post (Skills Kit)

My Comments

Amazon Alexa is now facing real competition from Microsoft’s Cortana.

More devices with Cortana

This is coming about through Microsoft making it easy for device manufacturers to add the Cortana voice-driven personal assistant to their designs, including allowing vehicle builders to integrate her in to their vehicles’ infotainment systems.

Harman-Kardon, now part of Samsung, have premiered the Invoke smart speaker which is driven by Cortana while HP and Intel have registered interest in building Cortana-driven devices. Even BMW and Nissan have registered interest in integrating Cortana in their vehicles’ infotainment systems, most likely something that will be offered as an option.

The Creators Update build of Windows 10 IoT Core edition will have integrated Cortana support, but Microsoft has released the Cortana Devices SDK to make it feasible to have Cortana on more devices from other device manufacturers. It is also worth knowing that this functionality also extends to providing Skype IP telephony support to these devices, placing Cortana and Alexa on an even footing.

Microsoft are taking this concept further by making it feasible to “carry” an action between Cortana-equipped devices. The example cited in the press coverage highlighted a situation where an email comes in while you are driving. Here, you could instruct her to read a summary of this email to you or to remind you about it when you log in to your Windows-equipped regular computer at the office so you can read and reply to it there.

Ability to develop more Skills for Cortana

As well Microsoft have made available a development kit so that online services and Internet-Of-Things vendors can add “skills” to Cortana as they could with Alexa. But these will allow the Skills to run on multiple devices and cater to devices that implement different user interfaces. For example, you could implement a restaurant-recommendations Skill in to Cortana and ask her for a list of local eateries of a particular cuisine kind. In this case, if your device has a screen, you would see a list of these eateries with a name and address while she reads out the names. Or she could simply read out their names in the order of locality and star-rating so you can simply book a table there.

Of course, there is the ability for those of us who have created Skills for the Amazon Alexa ecosystem to easily port them to the Cortana ecosystem. Here, a developer could get things going so that their voice-driven online-service or device interface program can run on both an Amazon Echo or a Cortana-based device.

The question that is yet to arise is how Alexa and Cortana will compete with each other on the capabilities, user interfaces, number of Skills, number of devices supporting each platform and other aspects.

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Amazon positions Alexa as the landline phone replacement

Articles Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Echo Show

Amazon officially unveils touchscreen Echo Show | The Verge

Amazon launches Echo Show smart speaker with touchscreen and video calling | The Guardian

Alexa Calling And Messaging

Amazon now lets you make hands-free calls on all Alexa devices | Mashable

Amazon enables free calls and messages on all Echo devices with Alexa Calling | TechCrunch

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Product Pages

Echo Show

Alexa Calling And Messaging

My Comments

Amazon is treading in hot water here by taking the Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform further as an IP-telephony platform.

This has come about with the arrival of the Echo Show videophone which is equipped with a 7” colour LCD touchscreen. For its audio, it is equipped with a pair of Dolby-optimised speakers and an eight-microphone array.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The Amazon Echo with the Alexa platform now expected to be an IP telephone

The video functionality allows it to be an IP videophone that is part of the Alexa Calling And Messaging IP-telephony platform but be able to show Daily Flash news reports which I would see as being similar to those “newsbreaks” you see on TV. There is also the ability to run YouTube videos including those many cat videos, but Amazon is adding to the Alexa API the ability for any of the Skills to show visual information on the screen when you summon her. It can also show vision from network security cameras that are compatible with the Amazon Alexa ecosystem.

But the driver feature behind this device is that Alexa platform is running its own IP-telephony system that is driven by your voice. Here, you can place free calls or send voice messages to others who have any Amazon Echo device or the Alexa iOS or Android mobile-platform app, with the ability to place videocalls between Amazon Echo Show devices. There is a “Drop In” functionality where you can speak through to another Alexa-platform subscriber during a time window that the subscriber specifies without the subscriber doing anything to answer the call.

Social networks and mobile messaging

Amazon to become part of this crowded space of IP-messaging and social networking platforms

This service is another IP telephony platform that is competing with Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Apple iMessage/Facetime and others. Here, I see this as the start of a highly-crowded field where your smartphone will end up with many IP-telephony apps and you will have to decide which one to use to call your friends.

Some of the computer press also see it as a virtual landline telephone which may be seen as superfluous in the iPhone age. But there is a reality where these services are seen as a “catch-all” connection for a household or business. Similarly, a significant number of the older generation of telephone users place importance on these services due to these people relying on them for most of their lives. I also see it as being similar to various “smart landline telephone” efforts like the Telstra T-Hub and the Archos 35 Smart Home Phone, something that telcos are pushing as part of offering multiple-play consumer telecommunications services.

Using the common household phone

But do we expect Amazon Echo to serve a similar role to the traditional household telephone

What Amazon could do is either use one of the established over-the-top IP-telephony services for their Alexa Calling And Messaging service and say that it is powered by that platform. Or they could offer “gateway functionality” to one or more of these platforms so users can call people who are on these platforms for free. It would allow for a consolidated user experience for people who have contacts existing across one or more platforms. Similarly, Amazon could provide an on-ramp that telcos can exploit to allow Alexa users to place calls to landline or mobile telephony users including leaving messages on the telephony-service users’ voicemail services.

It is showing that a crowded marketplace is starting to exist for over-the-top IP-telephony services with customers having to place themselves on multiple IP-telephony platforms to be able to be reached in this manner.

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You don’t need to use an iOS or Android smartphone to manage Amazon Echo

Article

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake Ultrabook

You can set up an Amazon Echo with just this kind of computer

How to set up a smart home using Windows 10 and Amazon Echo | Windows Central

My Comments

If you are dabbling with the idea of a voice-controlled smart-home assistant, you may find that some of these setups are dependent on you running an app on an iOS or Android mobile device to set them up or manage them. There are some users out there who may not be able to or want to use a mobile device that works on those two platforms.

For example, there are people like a lot of the older generation who prefer to work with a baseline mobile phone or a landline phone service as well as a regular computer for the communications and personal IT needs. There are also some of us who run a smartphone that is based on Windows 10 Mobile or a similar platform.

This is not so with the Amazon Echo and most other devices that work on the Amazon Alexa platform. When they are in action, they are not dependent on you running a mobile-platform app to have them work properly, rather you just talk to Alexa, the voice-driven home assistant. It is also underscored by the fact that you could purchase the Amazon Echo Dot module which works with a set of powered speakers or a stereo system equipped with an AUX or similar line-level input for US$49.

Most of this interaction in managing your Amazon Echo devices is through the Alexa website (http://alexa.amazon.com), which you can visit using any Web browser.

Adding Amazon Echo devices

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

This Echo doesn’t need to be managed by an iPhone or Android smartphone

Other Alexa-based devices may work through a different setup procedure, perhaps through an on-device Website, Android / iOS mobile app or the device’s control surface.

  • If you are adding an Echo device, you just need to log in with your Amazon account credentials. Then plug in and turn on your Amazon Echo device.
  • The ring light on your Amazon Echo device will glow orange while it is listed on the abovementioned Web site. This is also because the Echo device is pre-registered to your Amazon account when you bought it through Amazon.
  • You may then have to click the “Set up a new device” option to start enrolling it with your home network. On the other hand, you may just need to proceed to the next step.
  • Then you hold down the Action button on the Echo device for five seconds. This is whereupon you will see a list of Wi-Fi networks that the Echo can connect to.
  • Here, you select your home network’s SSID (Wi-Fi network name) and click Connect. You may be asked for your network’s Wi-Fi password which you subsequently enter to come on board. There is an option for this to be saved securely to your Amazon account, which can come in handy if you are dealing with multiple Echo devices.
  • Once the ring light is blue, feel free to talk to Alexa.

Managing Skills and Smart Home devices

The Amazon Alexa Website is also where you can manage what your Amazon Echo or Alexa-compliant device does.

The Skills option allows you to add “skills” which provide an audio-based link to various smart-home hardware and online services. This can also include the ability to book a Uber or other taxi/hire-car service that has a suitable Alexa Skill for example.

As well, some smart-home devices that you add to your home network whether directly or via a hub cam be detected by the Amazon Echo through the “Smart Home” option in the Alexa Webpage.

To get the best out of this resource, create a Favourite / Bookmark in your Web browser or a desktop or similar shortcut in your operating system to the Amazon Alexa Website so you know where to go if you want to manage that Echo or add that Alexa Skill.

But you are not needing to use a mobile-platform app to have your Alexa-based devices how you want, rather simply using your favourite Web browser on your favourite computer device.

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How is software being installed on most computers

Windows 10 Pro buy-to-download screen

Windows 10 Pro – an example of software delivered by download

Increasingly most software is being supplied to users using a form of online delivery, whether through an app store or through a download from the developer’s Website. It is also leading to the process of buying a voucher card to facilitate the download rather than a box of media and documentation when you buy software from a bricks-and-mortar shop.

But there are two different approaches to this method of delivery. One of these is for the user to download a monolith installer that has all the necessary files to get the program up and running on your computer’s platform. Here, you would download the large file and the installer would “unpack” that large file and put the software components in place then set thing up with the host computer’s operating system so the program runs as expected.

Monolith software-installer file for offline installation

Monolith software-installer file for offline installation

This installer resembles the traditional delivery method of supplying computer software where the program was delivered on packaged media to be loaded on the computer. It also is a practice that was used for delivering shareware and other software that was downloaded from a bulletin board or Internet download site. In the latter case, the software was delivered as a “file of files” like a ZIP file which the user expanded using a utility before they ran the software.

Lightweight installer file used for online installation

Lightweight installer file used for online installation

The other way that is preferred by major software and game vendors when they deliver their major titles is to have the user download and run a lightweight installer which downloads the rest of the software components on an as-needed basis. It appeals to companies who want to establish an end-to-end software-delivery infrastructure, as well as providing the files that the user really needs. This method is also preferred because it allows the software developer to deliver the latest stable version of the software’s files.

A problem that I have noticed surfacing with some lightweight installers is that some of them may crash during an installation phase and could, at worst, leave corrupted files on the host computer. This can also happen if the Internet connection becomes sub-par and the download becomes interrupted. There is also the requirement to have the Internet connection alive for the duration of your download which may be a limiting factor for costly Internet connections like mobile broadband.

A computer-support job that I had done involved the installation of some Adobe Creative Cloud software on a Mac. The person who owns the computer I am talking about bought this software through a “bricks-and-mortar” retail store but it was delivered as a software voucher which they had to redeem through Adobe’s Website. But the redemption page required us to download and run a lightweight installer to start deploying this software in the Mac.

Here, this installer wouldn’t start and would show confusing error messages. But Adobe implemented an alternative path for deploying this software. This was in the form of a “trial pack” that was a monolith installer that carried everything needed for the software to be installed on a Mac but could run either as a trial version or a full package once you supplied the credentials associated with the software voucher that they bought.

If you are finding that a lightweight installer for that new package has failed to run or the install has malfunctioned, it may be a good idea to look around the software developer’s site for an alternative installation. This may be found in the support section as something like an “offline installer” or, like in Adobe’s case, may be the trial package that “becomes the full version” when you supply the software-voucher or voucher-redemption details like a serial number or activation code.

Some if the better-behaved “lightweight-install” setups like Microsoft’s operating systems implement a quality-check process through the install process and are able to “pick up from where they left off”. Here, they can revise the files already downloaded to make sure they are error free while the download any missing or corrupted files. As well, if a download was interrupted, they identify which files have been properly downloaded and which ones haven’t so that they can fetch the remainder of the software package when the connection comes good again.

Personally, I would like to see the lightweight installer still exist as a way to deliver an always up-to-date package that represents your needs, along with one or more monolith packages representing popular packages for offline deployment or as a failover measure. As well, lightweight installers could offer an option to “start from the beginning” during the download phase for whenever you are dealing with bad downloads and you want to be sure of a good download process.

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Being aware of fake news in the UK

Previous HomeNetworking01.info coverage on this topic UK Flag

Silicon Valley Starts A War Against Fake News

Fact Checking Now Part Of The Online Media Aggregation Function

Useful UK-focused resources

FullFact.org (UK independent factchecking charity)

BBC Reality Check

Channel 4 News FactCheck

Political Parties

A few of the main political parties to watch in the UK

Conservatives (Tories)

Labour

Liberal Democrats

Green Party

UK Independence Party

Scottish National Party

Plaid Cymru (Party Of Wales)

Ulster Unionist Party

Sinn Fein

My Comments and advice

A key issue that is affecting how newsworthy events are covered and what people should become aware of in the news is the rise of propaganda, satire and similar information disguised as news. This situation is being described as “fake news”, “post-truth” and “alternative facts” and a significant number of academics have described it as a reason why Donald Trump became President of the USA or why the British citizens wanted the UK to leave the European Union.

I am giving some space in HomeNetworking01.info to the fake-news topic because an increasing number of people are obtaining their daily news from online sources using a smartphone, tablet or computer. This may be in addition to the traditional papers or the radio or TV newscasts and current-affairs shows or in lieu of these resources.

There have been many factors that have led to a fertile ground for fake news to spread. One of these is that most of us are using online search / aggregation services and social media as our news sources. Similarly, due to reduced circulation or ratings, various well-known news publishers and broadcasters are cutting back on their news budgets which then reduce the number of journalists in the newsroom or reduce news coverage to a quality not dissimilar to a news bulletin offered by a music-focused radio station.

Add to this the fact that it is relatively cheap and easy to set up a Website that looks very enticing thanks to low-cost “no-questions-asked” Web-host services and easy-to-use content management systems. It has led to the rise of Websites that carry propaganda or other material dressed up as news with this material being of questionable accuracy or value. Let’s not forget that it is easy to use Twitter or Facebook to share articles with our friends or followers especially if these articles support our beliefs.

Autocomplete list in Google Search Web user interface

Google users can report Autocomplete suggestions that they come across in their search-engine experience/

It is also made worse by the cross-border nature of the Internet where one can set up a Website or social-media presence in one country to target citizens in another country with questionable messages. This makes it easier to run the propaganda but avoid being caught out by a broadcast-standards or election-oversight authority or the judicial system in the target jurisdiction.

The fact that the UK are going to the polls for a general election this year means that Britons will become more vulnerable to the fake-news phenomenon. This is a situation that is also affecting France and Germany, two of continental Europe’s major economic, political and population centres who either are in the throes of completing a general election.

Reporting autocomplete suggestions in Google Search Web user experience

What you see when you report autocomplete suggestions in the Google Search Web user experience

The Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins (Conservatives), has raised this issue concerning Facebook and urging them to filter out fake news. This is although Silicon Valley have been taking steps to combat this problem through the following actions:

  • “turn off the money-supply tap” by refusing to partner their ad networks with fake-news sites or apps
  • engage with fact-checking organisations and departments that are either part of established newsrooms or universities to simplify the ability for their users to check the veracity of a claim
  • implementing a feedback loop to allow users to report auto-complete search suggestions, “snippets” answers, social-media posts and similar material shown in their sites, including the ability to report items as fake news
  • maintaining stronger user-account management and system security including eliminating accounts used just to deliver fake news and propaganda
  • modifying search-engine ranking algorithm or “trending-stories” listing algorithms to make it harder for fake news to surface.

What can you do?

Look for information that qualifies the kind of story if you are viewing a collection of headlines like a search or news-aggregation site or app. For example, Google has implemented tagging in their Google News aggregation site and apps such as “satire”.

Trust your gut reaction to that claim that is being offered in that Facebook post before you share it. If you find that the story sounds like exaggeration or is “off the beam”, it sounds like fake news. As well, the copy in many fake-news articles is written in a way to whip up anger or other immediate sentiment.

Check the host Website or use a search engine to see if trusted sources, especially the ones you trust, are covering the story. As well, if your browser offers a plug-in or extension that highlights fake-news and questionable content, it may be worth adding this feature.

Following news from one or more trusted news sources (including their online presence) may be the way to go to verify news being pushed around on the Internet.

For example, switching on the radio or the telly for the news may be a good idea so as to be sure of what really is going on with this election. In the case of the radio, you may find that BBC Radio 4, BBC Local Radio or a talk-focused independent station like LBC may be the better resource for deeper coverage of the election. Music stations who are part of the same family as a news or talk station such as the BBC stations or Capital, Heart and Classic FM who are part of the same family as LBC can also be of value if you use their short news bulletins as a news source. This is because their news bulletins are fed by the newsroom that serves the talk station.

As well, visit the online sites offered by trusted publishers and broadcasters to check the news in relationship to what the parties are saying. It also includes heading to Websites operated by the various parties or candidates so you can get the facts and policies “from the horse’s mouth”.

You also must take advantage of the feedback loop that Facebook, Google and other online services offer to call out questionable content that appears during the election period. Typically this will be options to report the content or autocomplete hit as something like being inappropriate.

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Competition arises for the online games storefront

Articles

GOG Galaxy client app (Windows)

GOG Galaxy client app (Windows)

Steam vs. GOG Galaxy: Which is service better for PC gamers? | Windows Central

Why I’m switching from Steam to GOG for PC gaming | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

Good Old Games (GOG)

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Galaxy client app

My Comments

When computer games developers moved away from delivering their game software to regular-computer users from packaged media to “download-to-own” digital delivery, there wasn’t really any competition. The options that become available were to supply the software through an online storefront that the developer creates for their imprints, a platform-specific app store run by the operating-system developer like Apple’s Mac App Store or Microsoft’s Windows Store, or to end up using Valve’s Steam online storefront.

Steam – the established games storefront

Steam was considered a good-quality online games storefront and gaming community but they got to that point where they became too proud of themselves and started to strip away desirable features or throw their weight around such as banning users for offering negative reviews.

The competition that is now rising up is Good Old Games or GOG for short. This electronic storefront and gaming community ran by CD Projekt have answered what computer gamers have always wanted. One of these is to offer value for money such as offering DLC (downloadable content – the extra content that extends a game’s value) as though it is part of the game rather than a separate title. Another was to offer DRM-free games that are really “download-to-own” along with underscoring an honour-driven carrot-based approach to tackling software piracy.

This means that you could do something like run the game without needing to be signed in to the storefront or be connected on the Internet. This can be of a bonus with those of us who use a laptop for gaming while away from home and you don’t have to lose your gaming content if GOG collapsed or was taken over by someone else. Some games can also benefit by allowing users to install copies of the game on multiple computers connected to the same network thus opening up to traditional network-based multi-player multi-machine gameplay. Thee is still the ability to save your game in the cloud along with a chat community which you would want to log in for.

One of the key features being drawn out is for GOG to support reissues of vintage and classic game titles. Here, they have revised these games to convey the same legacy feel that they offered yet are able to have them run on today’s hardware.

What I like about the rise of competition in the online retail games storefront space is that everyone involved has to treat their customers better and underscore value for money when it comes to selling games. It also means that there is pressure for these storefronts also to treat the games developers fairly and provide more avenues for these studios to sell their wares, rather than the developers having to reinvent the wheel by creating their own storefront every time they want to sell their games online in a location other than Steam or platform-specific app stores.

It could be seen as GOG being like the “indie” bookstore, record store or video store that appear in inner-urban areas of the major cities, the college towns or other areas that have that “cool” factor. This is compared to Steam positioning itself like one of the major book, music or video store chains that appears in most suburban areas or regional cities.

Similarly, it could open up the idea of Amazon and other online storefronts reaching towards the “regular-computer” gaming scene by setting up their own gaming storefronts. Here, it can lead to a vibrant multi-platform regular-computer (Windows/Mac/Linux) gaming marketplace that pleases both the gamers out there as well as the games developers including the indie studios. As well, like what is happening with the video-on-demand marketplace, it can open up the idea of niche gaming storefronts that cater to particular classes of gamers.

It is the sign of things to come for regular-computer gaming to see multiple retail online games storefronts starting to appear thanks to GOG.

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