After recent talks, Microsoft has now officially confirmed that it will be merging GitHub to master. The acquisition will cost $7.5 billion, and has received mixed reactions so far. A staple of the open source community, GitHub is well known to Hackaday readers, and has played a key role in developing an incredible amount of the software we use on a daily basis.
Microsoft has embarked on a community crusade of late, seemingly trying to win some respect from developers and makers. Under the encouragement of Satya Nadella, we’ve had Visual Studio Code, Typescript, the Ubuntu-on-Windows saga, and many more. It’s hard to tell whether these endeavours have succeeded in winning the hearts of the community or not, but those who distrust Microsoft may be looking to make a move away from GitHub. In fact, since murmurs started about the possibility of the acquisition, GitLab, one of GitHub’s major competitors, has reported 10x the number of normal repositories moving to GitLab.
How does GitHub make money? Mainly through paid private repositories plans, and GitHub Enterprise for businesses. This provides GitHub with enough cash to allow free public repositories for the community. It will be interesting to see what changes in business and culture are made (if any) by Microsoft’s Nat Friedman (founder of Ximian) who will be taking the role of GitHub CEO.
At this point, you’ve almost certainly heard the tale of Eric Lundgren, the electronics recycler who is now looking at spending 15 months in prison because he was duplicating freely available Windows restore discs. Of no use to anyone who doesn’t already have a licensed copy of Windows, these restore discs have little to no monetary value. In fact, as an individual, you couldn’t buy one at retail if you wanted to. The duplication of these discs would therefore seem to be a victimless crime.
Especially when you hear what Eric wanted to do with these discs. To help extend the functional lifespan of older computers, he intended on providing these discs at low cost to those looking to refurbish Windows computers. After each machine had its operating system reinstalled, the disc would go along with the computer in hopes the new owner would be able to utilize it themselves down the road.
It all sounds innocent enough, even honorable. But a quick glance at Microsoft’s licensing arrangement is all you need to know the whole scheme runs afoul of how the Redmond giant wants their operating system installed and maintained. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but when Eric Lundgren decided to use Microsoft’s product he agreed to play by their rules. Unfortunately for him, he lost.
The history of Microsoft Kinect has been of a technological marvel in search of the perfect market niche. Coming out of Microsoft’s Build 2018 developer conference, we learn Kinect is making another run. This time it’s taking on the Internet of Things mantle as Project Kinect for Azure.
Kinect was revolutionary in making a quality depth camera system available at a consumer price point. The first and second generation Kinect were peripherals for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles. They wowed the world with possibilities and, thanks in large part to an open source driver bounty spearheaded by Adafruit, Kinect found an appreciative audience in robotics, interactive art, and other hacking communities. Sadly its novelty never translated to great success in its core gaming market and Kinect as a gaming peripheral was eventually discontinued.
For its third-generation, Kinect retreated from gaming and found a role in Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset running “backwards”: tracking user’s environment instead of user’s movement. The high cost of a HoloLens put it out of reach of most people, but as a head-mounted battery-powered device, it pushed Kinect technology to shrink in physical size and power consumption.
This upcoming fourth generation takes advantage of that evolution and the launch picture is worth a thousand words all on its own: instead of a slick end-user commercial product, we see a populated PCB awaiting integration. The quoted power draw of 225-950mW is high by modern battery-powered device standards but undeniably a huge reduction from previous generations’ household AC power requirement.
Microsoft’s announcement heavily emphasized how this module will work with their cloud services, but we hope it can be persuaded to run independently from Microsoft’s cloud just as its predecessors could run independent of game consoles. This will be a big factor for adoption by our community, second only to the obvious consideration of price.
Frustrated by the glut of unsecured IoT devices? So are Microsoft. And they’re using custom Linux and hardware to do something about it.
Microsoft have announced a new ecosystem for secure IoT devices called “Azure Sphere.” This system is threefold: Hardware, Software, and Cloud. The hardware component is a Microsoft-certified microcontroller which contains Microsoft Pluton, a hardware security subsystem. The first Microsoft-certified Azure Sphere chip will be the MediaTek MT3620, launching this year. The software layer is a custom Linux-based Operating System (OS) that is more capable than the average Real-Time OS (RTOS) common to low-powered IoT devices. Yes, that’s right. Microsoft is shipping a product with Linux built-in by default (as opposed to Windows Subsystem for Linux). Finally, the cloud layer is billed as a “turnkey” solution, which makes cloud-based functions such as updating, failure reporting, and authentication simpler.
Everyone seems to be gearing up for the race to be the king of quantum computers. The latest salvo is Microsoft’s, they have announced that their quantum simulator will now run on macOS and Linux, with associated libraries and examples that are now fully open source. They have produced a video about the new release, which you can see below.
Microsoft also claims that their simulator is much faster than before, especially on large simulations. Of course, really large simulations suffer from memory problems, not speed problems. You can run their simulator locally or on their Azure cloud.
You might not be aware unless you’re up on the latest gaming hardware, but Microsoft is trying to kill the Kinect. While the Xbox One famously included it as a mandatory pack-in accessory at launch (this was later abandoned to get the cost down), the latest versions of the system don’t even have the proprietary port to plug it in. For a while Microsoft was offering an adapter that would let you plug it into one of the console’s USB ports, but now even that has been discontinued. Owners of the latest Xbox One consoles who still want to use the Kinect are left to find an adapter on eBay, where the prices have naturally skyrocketed.
Recently [Eagle115] decided to open up his Kinect and see if he couldn’t figure out a way to hook it up to his new Xbox One. The port on the Kinect is a USB 3.0 B female, but it requires 12V to operate. The official Kinect adapter took the form of a separate AC adapter and a “tap” that provided the Kinect with 12V over USB, so he reasoned he could pop open the device and provide power directly to the pads on the PCB.
[Eagle115] bought a 12V wall adapter and a USB 3.0 B cable and got to work. Once the Kinect was popped open, he found that he needed to supply power on pin 10 (which is helpfully labeled on the PCB). There’s just enough room to snake the cable from the AC adapter through the same hole in the case where the the USB cable connects.
With the Kinect getting 12V from the AC adapter, the Xbox has no problem detecting it as if you were using the official adapter. At least for now, they haven’t removed support for the Kinect in the Xbox’s operating system.
When news broke on Meltdown and Spectre ahead of the original disclosure plan, word spread like wildfire and it was hard to separate fact from speculation. One commonly repeated claim was that the fix would slow down computers by up to 30% for some workloads. A report released by Microsoft today says that “average users” with post-2015 hardware won’t notice the difference. Without getting into specific numbers, they mention that they expect folks running pre-2015 hardware to experience noticeable slowdowns with the patches applied.
The impact from Meltdown updates are easier to categorize: they slow down the transition from an user’s application level code to system level kernel code. The good news: such transitions were already a performance killjoy before Meltdown came along. There exists an extensive collection of tools (design patterns, libraries, and APIs) to help software developers reduce the number of user-kernel transitions.
Performance sensitive code that were already written to minimize kernel transitions will suffer very little from Meltdown updates. This includes most games and mainstream applications. The updates will have a greater impact on the minority of applications that frequently jump between kernel and user worlds. Antivirus software (with their own problems) have reasons to do so, and probably will end up causing most of the slowdowns seen by normal users.
Servers, with their extensive disk and networking IO — and thus kernel usage — are going to have a much worse time, even as seen through Microsoft’s rosy spectacles. So much so that Microsoft is recommending that admins “balance the security versus performance tradeoff for your environment”.
The impact from Spectre updates are harder to pin down. Speculative execution and caching are too important in modern CPUs to “just” turn off. The fixes will be more complex and we’ll have to wait for them to roll out (bumps and all) before we have a better picture.
The effects might end up being negligible as some tech titans are currently saying, and that probably will fit your experience, unless you’re running a server farm. But even if they’re wrong, you’ll still be comfortably faster than an Intel 486 or a Raspberry Pi.