Desktop or laptop computing in the COVID-19 era

Gaming rig

Whether to buy a desktop computer like these gaming rigs…

Thanks to the COVID-19 plague, we are being encouraged if not required by law to stay at home to limit the spread of this disease.

This has led to us using regular desktop and laptop computers that run Windows, MacOS or desktop Linux at home more frequently for work, education, communications and pleasure. Think of those many Zoom or Skype videoconferences you have been making very lately. This may even cause some of us to purchase a new desktop or laptop computer or upgrade an existing one that is long in the tooth.

Intel Skull Canyon NUC press picture courtesy of Intel

or a low-profile NUC computer like this Intel Skull Canyon…

The question that will come about more frequently in this era is whether we should buy desktop computers or laptop computers. The desktop computers are appearing in newer and different form factors like “all-in-one” computers where the computing power is part of the display; or three-piece systems that now use a low-profile system unit like the Intel “NUC” boxes. This is while the highly-portable laptop computers appear in the traditional “clamshell” form or a 2-in-1 convertible that folds over to become a tablet.

Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one press picture courtesy of Lenovo

or something like the Lenovo IdeaCentre 510 all-in-one or Apple iMac …

There is also the fact that high-performance computers like gaming rigs or workstations are appearing in low-profile or “all-in-one” desktop form, or in laptop form. This is so you can think of having higher performance computing in an aesthetically-pleasing or portable form factor.

As far as a regular computer’s durability and longevity is concerned, it is becoming more plausible for these systems to last for many years compared to a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet. This is furthered by some people gaining more mileage from these computers by doing things like “upsizing” their computer’s RAM memory or storage to suit newer expectations. Or they end up using external or portable USB hard disks and SSDs or network-attached storage systems as a data-offload solution.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

or a laptop like the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming high-performance laptop …

But the question that can come about is whether a desktop or a laptop is a more relevant computer purchase at this time.

It is more so as we see schools of thought develop concerning the purchase of portable computing technology like laptop computers, smartphones and tablets. Here, some of these schools of thought may downplay the need to invest heavily in such technology because it is perceived as “something to impress others with” when out and about in a similar vein to cars, bikes or fashion. This is with us spending more time cocooned within our homes thanks to this virus therefore driving a preference for us to lead a simple contemplative homespun life.

Desktop Computers

A desktop computer may be seen as being more relevant in the short term due to us not moving around. It may be more real where there is the expectation to use only one particular workspace for your computing activities and may be augmented by the fact that you use other complementary devices like mobile-platform tablets or gaming consoles for different activities away from the workspace.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel - presentation mode

.. or a 2-in-1 like this Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 convertible

Some users who chase high performance at all costs may simply state that a desktop computer, preferably the traditional “tower-style” unit, is the way to go. It is due to a desktop form-factor offering increased performance at a cheaper cost or being easily upgradeable or customisable. This would be preferred by the core gamers who value their custom-built gaming rigs. As well, those of us who are willing to throw down money on the latest CPU and graphics-infrastructure silicon as soon as Intel, AMD or NVIDIA release it would go for the traditional easy-to-upgrade desktop computer.

Laptop and Notebook Computers

Or a laptop or notebook computer, including a 2-in-1 convertible, can be about a long-term view of us coming out of the crisis and being able to get out and about. Here it may be about travelling again or working away from home whether that be your workplace’s office or a “secondary office” that is your favourite cafe.

In the short term, it can also be about the idea of using a highly-portable computer that can be taken around the house or stored away quickly when not in use. This can be driven by seasonal wishes like wanting to use your computer by the fire during winter or outside on the balcony or in the garden during summer. Let’s not forget that a small home may be about not having a dedicated desk for your workspace and you have to use a dining table or coffee table for that purpose. Or you could take that laptop in to a lounge area to have that casual videoconference between family and friends using something like Zoom or Skype, perhaps hooking it up to the large TV for that purpose.

The transportability issue weighs more in the laptop’s favour because you carrywith the screen, keyboard and pointing device. one piece of equipment that is essentially your useable computer system

A recent trend that has affected laptop-computer use is to create a primary workspace that is equipped with a large display, a full-size keyboard and mouse along with other peripherals. These would be connected to your laptop whether directly or through a USB-connected dock (expansion module). You may follow this path when you want to work in a particular primary location but be flexible to move around for your regular-computing needs.

Conclusion

When it comes to choosing that next regular computer during this time, it is important to think of what form-factor really suits your needs both in the short term and the long term. This includes whether you see the possibility of frequently evolving your computer system to suit newer needs or whether you value portability or affordable performance.

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Lenovo to offer a ThinkPad laptop that directly competes with the Dell XPS 13

Article

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

Lenovo is tentatively fielding a computer that rivals the Dell XPS 13 ultraportable

Lenovo ThinkPad Nano leak reveals fascinating features — XPS 13 could be in trouble | Laptop Mag

My Comments

The Dell XPS 13 series of Intel-powered clamshell laptops has been seen by the computer press as what an ultraportable laptop should be about such as durability and value-for-money. I even gave some coverage about this unit on HomeNetworking01.info and reviewed some of these laptops including a 2-in-1 variant.

Now Lenovo is answering Dell by offering a similarly-sized ThinkPad laptop, known as the ThinkPad X1 Nano thanks to leaked information that surfaced on the Internet. Like other ThinkPad laptops, this is finished in the black conservative “IBM” look rather than the silver look associated with the Apple MacBook family and the Dell XPS 13.

  1. Here, this will come with at least 16Gb RAM and implement Intel’s newer Tiger Lake (11th generation) Core CPUs which I suspect will be the i5 or i7 types. It will have a 16:10 display with at least 2K resolution along with 5G mobile broadband and the newer Thunderbolt 4 over USB-C sockets offering compatibility with USB 4 and Thunderbolt 3. The expected battery runtime for its 48Wh battery is to be around 17 hours.

The question here is whether Lenovo will still focus the computer towards the “enterprise” segment of the market with a preference to supply all of the security and manageability requirements desired of by Corporate America’s IT teams. Or will there be a desire to make this equally available to personal and small business users who would like to see an alternative to the Dell XPS 13.

Will there also be a desire by Lenovo to rival Dell with the configurations offered at the different price points for both the ultraportables especially when pitching them at regular users? Will there also be a rivalry between those companies to use the latest silicon to design and offer the best value-priced ultraportable through subsequent model generations?

If this is for real, it could open up a strong rivalry when it comes to the market for 13” ultraportable laptop computers. But I hope that the competition is about innovation in this product class with a goal for value for money centred around good-quality equipment rather than a “race to the bottom” where customers are sold substandard products at a cheap price.

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Freebox routers to support WPA3 Wi-Fi security through a firmware update

Article – French language / Langue Française

Freebox Révolution - courtesy Iliad.fr

A firmware update will give WPA3 Wi-Fi security to the Freebox Révolution and newer Freebox devices

Mise à jour du Freebox Server (Révolution/mini/One/Delta/Pop) 4.2.0 | Freebox.fr Blog

My Comments

Free.fr have pushed forward the idea of using a firmware update to deliver the WPA3 Wi-Fi network security standard to recent Freebox Server modem-routers that are part of their Freebox Internet service packages.

This is part of the FreeOS 4.2.0 major firmware update which also improves Wi-Fi network stability; implements QR-based device enrolment for the Wi-Fi network along with profile-driven parental control. It will apply to the Freebox Révolution which I see as the poster child of a highly-competitive French Internet service market and descendent devices like the mini, one, Delta and Pop.

The WPA3 functionality will be configured to work in WPA2+WPA3 compatibility mode to cater for extant WPA2 client devices that exist on the home network. This is because most home-network devices like printers or Internet radios won’t even have the ability to be updated to work with WPA3-secured networks.

At the moment, Free is rolling out updates to their mobile apps to support WPA3 on the mobile operating systems. It is most likely until Google, Apple and mobile-phone vendors offer WPA3 “out-of-the-box” with their smartphone and tablet platforms.

What I like of Free’s software-driven approach is that there is no need to replace the modem-router to have your network implement WPA3 Wi-Fi network security. It is very similar to what AVM did to enable distributed Wi-Fi functionality in a significant number of their FritzBox routers and other devices in their existing home-network product range where this function was part of a firmware upgrade.

It is avoiding the need for customers to purchase new hardware if they need to move to WPA3 network security and I would see this as a significant trend regarding European-designed home-network hardware where newer network capabilities are just a firmware update away.

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ABC touches on fake news and disinformation in an educational video series

Video Series TV, VHS videocassette recorder and rented video movies

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Behind The News – Media Literacy Series

How To Spot Fake News (Click or tap to play in YouTube)

Which News Sources Can Be Trusted (Click or tap to play in YouTube)

What Makes News, News (Click or tap to play on YouTube)

How To Spot Bias In The Media (Click or tap to play on YouTube)

Dishonesty, Accuracy And Ethics In The Media (Click or tap to play on YouTube)

My Comments

Regularly, I cover on HomeNetworking01.info the issue of fake news and disinformation. This is because of our consumption of news and information being part of our online lives thanks to the ubiquity and affordability of the Intermet.

I have highlighted the use of online sources like social media, Web portals, search engines or news aggregators as our regular news sources along with the fact that it is very easy to spread rumour and disinformation around the world thanks to the ease of publishing the Web provides. As well, it is easy for our contacts to spread links to Web resources or iterate messages in these resources via the Social Web, emails or instant-messaging platforms.

This issue has become of concern since 2016 when fake news and disinformation circulating around the Web was used to distort the outcome of the UK’s Brexit referendum and the US election that brought Donald Trump in to the presidency of that country.

Kogan Internet table radioSince then, I have covered efforts by the tech industry and others to make us aware of fake news, disinformation and propaganda such as through the use of fact-checkers or online services implementing robust data-security and account-management policies and procedures. It also includes articles that encourage the use of good-quality traditional media sources during critical times like national elections or the coronavirus and I even see the issue of being armed against fake news and disinformation as part of data security.

The ABC have run a video series as part of their “Behind The News” schools-focused TV show about the media which underscores the value of media literacy and discerning the calibre of news that is being presented. On Tuesday 6 July 2020, I watched “The Drum” and one of the people behind this series described it as being highly relevant viewing for everyone no matter how old we are thanks to the issue of fake news and disinformation being spread around the Web.

It is part of their continued media-literacy efforts like their “Media Watch” TV series run on Monday nights which highlights and keeps us aware of media trends and issues.

In that same show, they even recommended that if we do post something that critiques a piece of fake news or disinformation, we were to reference the material with a screenshot rather than sharing a link to the content. This is because interactions, link shares and the like are often used as a way to “game” social-network and search-engine algorithms, making it easier to discover the questionable material.

The first video looked at how and why fake news has been spread over the ages such as to drive newspaper sales or listenership and viewership of broadcasts. It also touched on how such news is spread including taking advantage of “thought and social bubbles” that we establish. As well, one of the key issues that was highlighted was fact that fake news tends to be out of touch with reality and to encourage us to research further about the article and who is behind it before taking it as gospel and sharing it further.

This second video of the series that touches on the quality of news and information sources that can be used to drive a news story. It examines the difference between the primary sources that provide first-had information “from the horse’s mouth” and secondary sources that evaluate or interpret the information.

It also touches on whether the news source is relying primarily on secondary sources or hearsay vs expert or authoritative testimony. They raise the legitimacy of contrasting opinion like academic debate or where there isn’t enough real knowledge on the topic. But we were warned about news sources that are opinion-dominant rather than fact-dominant. Even issues like false equivalence, bias or use of anonymous sources were identified along with the reason behind the source presenting the information to the journalist or newsroom.

This video even summed up how we assess news sources by emphasising the CRAP rule – Currency (how recent the news is), Reliability (primary vs secondary source as well as reliability of the source), Authority (is the source authoritative on the topic) and Purpose (why was the news shared such as biases or fact vs opinion).

The third video in the series talks about what makes information newsworthy. This depends on who is reporting it and the consumers who will benefit from the information. It also covered news value like timeliness, frequency of occurrence, cultural proximity, the existence of people in the public spotlight along with factors like conflict or the tone of the story. It completely underscored why and how you are told of information that could shape your view of the world.

The fourth video looks at bias within the media and why it is there. The reasons that were called out include to influence the way we think or vote or what goods or services we buy. It also includes keeping the media platform’s sponsors or commercial partners in a positive light, a media platform building an increasingly-large army of loyal consumers, or simply to pander to their audience’s extant biases.

It also looked at personal biases that affect what we consume and how we consume it, including the “I-am-right” confirmation bias, also known as the “rose-tinted glasses” concept. Even looking at how people or ideas are represented on a media platform, what kind of stories appear in that platform’s output including what gets top place; along with how the stories are told with both pictures and words can highlight potential biases. There was also the fact that a personal bias can be influenced to determine what we think of a media outlet.

The last of the videos looks at honesty, accuracy and ethics within the realm of media. It underscores key values like honest, accurate, fair, independent and respectful reporting along with various checks and balances that the media is subject to. Examples of these include the protections that the law of the land offers like the tort of defamation, contempt of court and similar crimes that protect the proper role of the courts of justice, hatred-of-minority-group offences and right-to-privacy offences. There is also the oversight offered by entities like broadcast-standards authorities and press councils who have effective clout.

The legal references that were highlighted were primarily based on what happens within Australia while British viewers may see something very similar there due to implied freedom of speech along with similarly-rigourous defamation laws. The USA may take slightly different approaches especially where they rely on the First Amendment of their Constitution that grants an express freedom of speech.

But it sums up the role of media as a check on the powerful and its power to shine a light on what needs to be focused on. The series also looks at how we can’t take the media for granted and need to be aware of the way the news appears on whatever media platform we use. This is although there is primary focus on traditional media but in some ways it can also be a way to encourage us to critically assess online media resources.

The video series underscores what the news media is about and covers this issue in a platform-agnostic manner so we don’t consider a particular media platform or type as a purveyor of fake or questionable news. As well, the series presents the concepts in a simple-to-understand manner but with the use of dramatisation in order to grab and keep our attention.

Here, I often wonder whether other public-service or community broadcasters are running a similar media-literacy video program that can be pitched at all age levels in order to encourage the communities they reach to be astute about the media they come across.

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USB-C Power Delivery car chargers now exist that are fit for today’s ultraportables

Products

Satechi 72W USB-C car charger used in car - product image courtesy of MacGear Australia

These USB-C PD car chargers are about using or charging your tablet or ultraportable laptop computer in the car or boat

Satechi ST-TCPDCCS 72W Type-C PD Car Charger
MacGear Australia (Australia / New Zealand distributor)
Dick Smith Electronics – AUD$54.99
MacFixit – AUD$49.99
60W PD + 12W Type-A from 12V DC input

Laptop Plus 45W USB Type-C Car Charger (AUD$69)
45W PD + 18W Type-A from 12-24V DC input

Laptop Plus 65W USB Type-C Car Charger (AUD$89)
65W PD + 18W Type-A from 12-24V DC input

Laptop Plus 90W USB Type-C Car Charger (AUD$99.00)
90W PD from 12-24V DC input, captive USB-C cable

Baseus LED (45W) PD USB-C Car Charger for Phone / Tablet
Gadgets4Geeks.com.au – AUD$34.95
45W PD and 18W Type-A from 12-24V DC input

Targus 45W USB-C Car Charger
Officeworks – AUD$97
45W PD from 12V DC input

My Comments

Satechi 72W USB PD car charger - product image courtesy of MacGear Australia

This Satechi 72W USB-C car charger is one of these devices

Previously, I had covered the use of high-capacity USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant powerbanks that serve as an external battery pack for your laptop or tablet. Now I am looking at the idea of USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant car chargers that do the same thing but work from your vehicle’s or boat’s DC power infrastructure.

You may think about using the computer’s AC-based charger along with an inverter but this can be too cumbersome to deal with. As well, there are inefficiencies that this approach comes with due to converting the electric current twice – from 12-24 volts DC to 110-250 volts AC in the inverter then down to 5-12 volts DC in the AC-powered charger for your laptop to use.

But there are a few car chargers compliant to the USB-C Power Delivery standard that put up at least 45 watts. There are even some that can put up at least 60 or 65 watts, if not 90 watts in order to cater towards the more powerful computers that are appearing.

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

Even something like this Dell XPS 13 can be used in the car from the vehicle’s power supply without the need for an inverter if you are using a USB-C PD car charge with at least 45W

All of these plug in to a vehicle’s or boat’s DC accessory power outlet, commonly known as a “cigar-lighter” socket due to the use of these sockets for a “push-in” thermal cigar lighter. But most of these will work between 12 volts to 24 volts DC, allowing for use in large trucks, buses, large boats and the like that work on 24V. The vehicle will have to be wired for negative earthing which has been the accepted standard for vehicle wiring since the late 1960s.

You may also find that some portable solar-power setups pitched at campers will offer 12-volt DC power through the “cigar-lighter” accessory socket, so you could run your equipment from solar power while in the bush.

Some of these chargers have a standard USB Type-A socket to supply power for charging smartphones, mobile-platform tablets or accessories using the traditional USB charging cable. It is of importance if you are using something like a Mi-Fi router or a mobile printer or scanner.

What can you do with these chargers? You can top up a laptop’s battery while you are driving so as to have more power on hand when you are at your destination. This will please field workers who are more likely to work in rural or remote settings where there isn’t the likelihood to have AC power readily available.

If you are a passenger and you use your laptop or tablet while travelling in a vehicle or boat, these adaptors ae still relevant as a way to save battery runtime. For example, you may be catching up with some work while you are being driven to an appointment or a kid may want to play a game or watch a video to while away that long car trip.

Even at your destination, you may find that you want to “spin out” your laptop’s or tablet’s battery runtime by running it from your vehicle’s or boat’s DC power using one of these adaptors.

For mobile workers whose vehicle is their office, it may be about doing some of the site-based “homework” on a laptop or tablet. But you don’t want to run the computer’s battery down deeply during, say, sending off some email or editing pictures.

This may also appeal to motorhome or boat users whose vehicle’s or craft’s main supply of auxiliary power is the 12-volt or 24-volt DC power available from an accessory power socket. Here, a lot of these users would be relying on a laptop or tablet for communications or entertainment while they are travelling.

What I also see of this is newer compact yet powerful power-supply designs also affecting this class of power supply. This is with more of these car chargers providing USB-PD-compliant power of at least 90 watts from 12-24 volts DC power sources including some that provide two or more “rails” of USB-C PD-compliant power from the same power input.

So at least keep an eye out for USB-C PD-compliant car chargers that put up at least 45W, if not 65W, of power and consider them as a viable laptop accessory if you think of your ultraportable laptop being used on the road.

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Apple advises against Webcam shields on its newer Macbooks–could this be a trend that affects new low-profile laptops?

Article

Apple MacBook Pro running MacOS X Mavericks - press picture courtesy of Apple

Apple advises against using camera covers on their recent MacBooks.

Apple: Closing MacBooks with camera covers leads to display damage | Bleeping Computer

Previous coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

Keeping hackers away from your Webcam and microphone

My Comments

Apple has lately advised its MacBook owners to avoid buying and using accessory Webcam covers on their computers.

These Webcam shields are being seen as a security asset thanks to malware being used to activate the Webcam and microphone to surveil the computer’s user. But Apple advises against them due to the MacBook having the Webcam integrated with the circuitry for the screen and built in a very fragile manner. They also mention that the Webcam is used by macOS as an ambient light sensor and for advanced camera functionality.

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

with similar advice that could apply to other low-profile thin-bezel laptops like the Dell XPS 13

They recommend that if you use a device to obfuscate your Webcam, you use something as thin as a piece of ordinary printing paper and isn’t adhesive. This is because the adhesive can ruin your camera’s picture quality when you want to use it. As well, they recommend that you remove the camera-cover device before you close up your MacBook at the end of your computing session.

I also see this as a key trend that will affect other low-profile laptop computers like Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s that have very thin screen bezels like recent Dell XPS 13s. This is due to manufacturers designing the in-lid electronics in a more integrated manner so as to reduce the lid’s profile. Let’s not forget that with an increasing number of computers, the Webcam is part of facial-recognition-based device-level authentication if its operating system supports this function.

But you still need to protect your privacy when dealing with your laptop’s, all-in-one’s or monitor’s integrated Webcam and microphone.

Primarily, this is about proper computer housekeeping advice like making sure the computer’s operating system, applications, security software and any other software is up-to-date and with the latest security patches. As well, make sure that you know what is installed on your computer and that you don’t install software or click on links that you aren’t sure of.

You may find that your computer or monitor with the integrated Webcam will have some hardware security measures for that camera. This will be in the form of a shutter as used with some Lenovo equipment or a hardware switch that disables the camera as used with some HP equipment. Or the camera will have a tally light that glows when it is in use which is part of the camera’s hardware design. Here, make use of these features to protect your privacy. But you may find that these features may not affect what happens with your computer’s built-in microphone.

As well, you may find that your computer’s operating system or desktop security software has the ability to monitor or control which software has access to your Webcam, microphone or other sensors your computer is equipped with. Here, they may come with this functionality as part of a continual software update cycle. Let’s not forget that some Web browsers may bake camera-use detection in to their functionality as part of a major feature upgrade.

MacOS users should look at Apple’s support page for what they can do while Windows 10 users can look at Microsoft’s support page on this topic. Here, this kind of control is part of the fact that today’s desktop and mobile operating systems are being designed for security.

If your operating system or desktop security software doesn’t have this functionality, you may find third-party software for your computing platform that has oversight of your Webcam and microphone. One example for MacOS is Oversight which notifies you if the camera or microphone are being used, with the ability to detect software that “piggybacks” on to legitimate video-conferencing software to record your conversations. But you need to do some research about these apps before you consider downloading them.

Even if you are dealing with a recent MacBook or low-profile laptop computer, you can make sure your computer’s Webcam and integrated microphone isn’t being turned into a listening device.

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You can prevent mistaken voice-assistant behaviour from your smart speakers

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The mute button on your Echo or other smart speaker is important if you want greater control over the voice assistant

You Should Mute Your Smart Speaker’s Mic More Often | Lifehacker Australia

My Comments

An issue that will plague people who own smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home is the device interjecting with responses when you or someone else unintentionally say certain words.

This is because these devices are typically set up to listen all the time for a particular “wake word” that actually invokes the voice assistant. It is part of the machine-learning that drives these voice-assistant platforms to understand what you say.

But you can have some control over these smart speakers to avoid this behaviour. Each smart speaker or similar device will have a hardware mic-mute switch on them, highlighted with a microphone icon on that switch. This effectively turns the device’s microphones on or off as you need and the article recommended that if the device is too “hair-trigger”, you should enable this function unless you are actually intending to interact with the voice assistant. This procedure would be similar to how you would work a voice-driven personal assistant that is part of your smartphone’s operating system where you deliberately press a button on the device or a Bluetooth headset to invoke that assistant before you say the wake word.

Beware of the situation where the button will light up when you enable microphone muting on your smart speaker. Here this may be a point of confusion because some users may think that the device is “ready” to speak to when it is infact not able to take commands. You may have to be familiar with how your smart speaker looks when it is ready to accept commands, including any lights that are on.

If your voice-assistant platform has the function to “edit” what has been captured like what Amazon Alexa can do, this function can be used to fine-tune what the voice-assistant is meant to respond to. The same control app or Website can be used to manage your smart speaker’s microphone sensitivity or change the “wake command” that you say when you start interacting with the assistant.

They even recommend that you disconnect the smart-speaker device from the power if you don’t intend to use them. Privacy advocates even suggest doing that in areas where you value your privacy like your bedroom or bathroom.

But personally I would at least recommend that you are familiar with the hardware controls that exist on your smart speaker or similar device so you are able to have greater control over that platform.

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More companies participate in Confidential Computing Consortium

Article

Facebook, AMD, Nvidia Join Confidential Computing Consortium | SDx Central

AMD, Facebook et Nvidia rejoignent une initiative qui veut protéger la mémoire vive de nos équipements  (AMD, NVIDIA and Facebook join an initiatiative to protect the live memory of our equipment) | O1Net.com (France – French language / Langue française)

From the horse’s mouth

Confidential Computing Consortium

Web site

My Comments

Some of online life’s household names are becoming part of the Confidential Computing Consortium. Here, AMD, Facebook, NVIDIA are part of this consortium which is a driver towards secure computing which is becoming more of a requirement these days.

What is the Confidential Computing Consortium

This is an industry consortium driven by the Linux Foundation to provide open standards for secure computing in all use cases.

It is about creating a standard software-development kits that are about secure software execution. This is to allow software to run in a hardware-based Trusted Execution Environment that is completely secure. It is also about writing this code to work independent of the system’s silicon manufacturer and to work across the common microarchitectures like ARM, RISC-V and x86.

This is becoming of importance nowadays with malware being written to take advantage of data being held within a computing device’s volatile random-access memory. One example of this include RAM-scraping malware targeted at point-of-sale / property-management systems that steal customers’ payment-card data while a transaction is in progress. Another example are the recent discoveries by Apple that a significant number of familiar iOS apps are snooping on the user’s iPhone or iPad Clipboard with their iPhones without the knowledge and consent of the user.

As well, in this day and age, most software implements various forms of “memory-to-memory” data transfer for many common activities like cutting and pasting. There is also the fact that an increasing number of apps are implementing context-sensitive functionality like conversion or translation for content that a user selects or even for something a user has loaded in to their device.

In most secure-computing setups, data is encrypted “in-transit” while it moves between computer systems and “at rest” while it exists on non-volatile secondary storage like mechanical hard disks or solid-state storage. But it isn’t encrypted while it is in use by a piece of computer software to fulfil that program’s purposes. This is leading to these kind of exploits like RAM-scraping malware.

The Confidential Computing Consortium is about encrypting the data that is held within RAM and allowing the user to grant software that they trust access to that encrypted data. Primarily it will be about consent-driven relevance-focused secure data use for the end-users.

But the idea is to assure not just the security and privacy of a user’s data but allow multiple applications on a server-class computer to run in a secure manner. This is increasingly important with the use of online services and cloud computing where data belonging to multiple users is being processed concurrently on the same physical computer.

This is even relevant to home and personal computing, including the use of online services and the Internet of Things. It is highly relevant with authenticating with online services or facilitating online transactions; as well as assuring end-users and consumers of data privacy. As well, most of us are heading towards telehealth and at-home care which involves the handling of more personally-sensitive information relating to our health through the use of common personal-computing devices.

The fact that Facebook is on board is due to the fact the social network’s users make use of social sign-on by that platform to sign up with or log in to various online services. In this case, it would be about protecting user-authentication tokens that move between Facebook and the online service during the sign-up or log-in phase.

As well,  Facebook has two fingers in the consumer online messaging space in the form of Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp products and both these services feature end-to-end encryption with WhatsApp having this feature enabled by default. Here, they want users to be sure that the messages during, say, a WhatsApp session stay encrypted even in the device’s RAM rather than just between devices and within the device’s non-volatile storage.

I see the Confidential Computing Consortium as underscoring a new vector within the data security concept with this vector representing the data that is in the computer’s memory while it is being processed. Here, it could be about establishing secure consent-driven access to data worked on during a computing session, including increased protection of highly-sensitive business and personal data.

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Dell has added a 17” desktop-replacement laptop to the XPS series

Dell XPS 17 laptop press picture courtesy of Dell Australia

The Dell XPS Series now appears in a 17″ screen size desktop replacement

Article

Review: Dell’s big XPS17 9700 17-inch laptop is a monster | Business Review – The Australian

From the horse’s mouth

Dell

XPS 17

Product Page

My Comments

Recently  Dell has released the XPS 17 laptop which is capitalising on what their XPS range of laptops is all about – a premium-positioned value-for-money range of ultraportable or “thin-and-light” laptop computers.

Here, the Dell XPS 17 is a 17” slimline desktop-replacement laptop that appeals to those of us who value the larger screen size for content creation. A review published by the Australian described it as being fit for use at work or home or in a hotel room rather than being always taken around a conference or university campus. I would sum this up as simply where you don’t expect to carry it around many times in a day.

The baseline variant which has an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8Gb RAM, 512Gb solid-state storage and Full HD non-touch display also uses Intel UHD integrated graphics as its graphics infrastructure. This is while the other configurations use NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1650 Ti graphics infrastructure with 4Gb display memory along with the Intel Core i7 CPUs.

But, like the rest of the lineup, it has four Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C sockets which allows it to be used with an external graphics module. This is something I appreciate for those of us who may want to save money in the initial purchase of one of these machines but can look towards saving towards purchasing an external graphics module that has the graphics power that suits our needs at a later time.

Two of the higher-end variants have a 4K UHD touch display which would have appeal towards content creation and make best use of the screen size. The only limitation about this would be that the laptop will be more thirsty when it comes to battery runtime. For some people especially content creators, this may be a non-issue if the Dell XPS 17 is expected to be used primarily on external power.

What is happening with Dell and their XPS laptop product lineup is that they are creating Windows-based computers that answer what most of us are after while delivering a very well-built product. They are even getting to a point where they can provide a viable Windows answer to the Apple MacBook lineup.

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Philips and DTS implement full network multiroom audio functionality in a TV set

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Philips TV image courtesy of Xperi

DTS Play-Fi has Philips as the first brand to offer a TV that is part of a network-based multiroom audio setup

XPeri (DTS)

DTS Play-Fi Arrives On TVs (Press Release)

My Comments

Over the last seven years, there have been a plethora of network-based multiroom audio platforms coming on board. Some of these, like Frontier’s UNDOK, Qualcomm’s AllPlay and DTS’s Play-Fi allow different manufacturers to join their ecosystems, thus allowing for a larger range of equipment in different form factors to be part of the equation. But these platforms only work with devices that use that same platform.

Well, how do I get sound from that 24-hour news channel or sports fixture that I am following on TV through the multiroom speaker in the kitchen with these platforms? Most of the platforms have at least one vendor who offers at least one home-theatre receiver or soundbar that connects to your TV using an HDMI-ARC, optical digital or analogue line-level connection. With these devices, they offer the ability  to stream the audio content that comes via those inputs in to the multiroom audio setup.

In this situation, you would have to have your TV on and tuned to the desired channel, offering its audio output via the soundbar or home-theatre system that has this technology for these setups to work. Then you would have to select the soundbar’s or home-theatre receiver’s “TV input” or “TV sound” as the source to have via your network multiroom audio setup’s speaker.

Bang & Olufsen, with their continual investment in their Master Control Link multiroom audio platform, even had the idea of TV sound in another room work out for that platform since the late 1980s. Here, most of their TV sets made since the late 80s could be set up as an audio endpoint for their multiroom system with the idea of having one’s favourite CD or radio station playing through the speakers built in to the TV installed in a secondary room. Or one could have the main TV “stream” the sound of a TV broadcast through a set of speakers installed in another room.

But DTS and Philips worked together to put full network multiroom audio in to a range of TV sets sold under the Philips name. This feature will initially appear in their 2020-model OLED premium “main-living-area” TVs.

Most of us will remember Philips as an innovative Dutch consumer-electronics brand that has existed over the many years. This is what with their name behind the audio cassette tape that effectively drove the 1970s and 1980s along with optical-disc technology such as the CD. But Philips devolved themselves of the consumer-electronics scene and had Funai, a Japanese consumer-electronics concern, continue to carry the flag in that market since 2013. This is due to a highly-saturated market when it comes to value-priced consumer electronics.

What will it offer? The TV can be a client device for online services and local content sources able to be streamed via the DTS Play-Fi platform. It will include the ability to show up metadata about the content you are listening to on the TV screen. There will even be the ability to have graphically-rich metadata like album art, artist photos or station logos on the TV screen, making more use of that display surface.

You may think that a TV isn’t an ideal audio endpoint for regular music listening from an audio source, what with integral speakers not suited to hi-fi sound or the screen being lit up and showing information about that source. But some of us do listen to music that way if there isn’t a music system. A common example would be listening to radio or a music channel in a hotel room through that room’s TV thanks to digital-TV or “radio-via-TV” setups that hotels provide. Similarly, some of us who haven’t got a separate music system to play CDs on have resorted to using a DVD player to play our CDs through the TV’s speakers.

On the other hand, the TV can be a source device for a Play-Fi device or logical group. This means that audio associated with the video content can emanate through a Play-Fi client device like a speaker. This means that you could have a Play-Fi speaker in your kitchen playing the sound from the sporting fixture that matters on the TV, typically by you using your Play-Fi app to “direct” the TV sound from your Philips TV to the Play-Fi speaker or the logical group it is a member of.

DTS even uses a special mobile-platform app which effectively turns your iOS or Android mobile device in to a Play-Fi client device that you use with your existing headphones connected to that device. This could avoid the need to set up, use and be within range of a Bluetooth transmitter adaptor plugged in to your TV for wireless headphone functionality. As well, with that setup, you could even be anywhere within coverage of your home network’s Wi-Fi for this to work.

I see this as a chance for any network-based multiroom platform who has a TV vendor “on its books” to draw out the idea of integrating the TV set as a legitimate member device class on their platform. This is whether it is a client audio device with a graphically-rich user interface or as a source device with access to audio from a connected video device, the set’s onboard broadcast-TV tuner or a connected-TV service viewed through its smart-TV functionality. In the context of smart TV / set-top box applications, it could be about having integration with one or more network multiroom audio platforms as a legitimate functionality case for these devices.

It would be very similar to what is happening with the Frontier Smart UNDOK network multi-room audio platform. This is where a significant number of member companies for that platform are offering Internet radio devices as part of their device lineup where most of them have FM and or DAB+ broadcast-radio functionality with some units having integrated CD players. Here, the UNDOK platform is allowing a user to listen to broadcast radio or CDs played on one of these devices through one or more other platform-member devices that are on the same home network in lieu of listening to online sources through these devices. A similar approach has also been undertaken for the Qualcomm AllPlay platform with Panasonic having AllPlay-compliant stereo systems equipped with broadcast-radio or CD functionality streaming the sound from a CD or radio station to other Qualcomm AllPlay-compliant network multiroom speakers on your home network.

What is being underscored here is that a network-based multiroom audio setup doesn’t have to be about listening to online audio content. Instead it is also about making legacy audio content available around the house through your home network.

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