Is 2018 Finally the Year of Windows on the Robot?

Microsoft is bringing ROS to Window 10. ROS stands for Robot Operating System, a software framework and large collection of libraries for developing robots which we recently wrote an introductory article about, It’s long been primarily supported under Linux and Mac OS X, and even then, best under Ubuntu. My own efforts to get it working under the Raspbian distribution on the Raspberry Pi led me to instead download a Pi Ubuntu image. So having it running with the support of Microsoft on Windows will add some welcome variety.

TurtleBot 3 at ROSCon 2018
TurtleBot 3 at ROSCon 2018, Photo: Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum

To announce it to the world, they had a small booth at the recent ROSCon 2018 in Madrid. There they showed a Robotis TurtleBot 3 robot running the Melodic Morenia release of ROS under Windows 10 IoT Enterprise on an Intel Coffee Lake NUC and with a ROS node incorporating hardware-accelerated Windows Machine Learning.

Why are they doing this? It may be to help promote their own machine learning products to roboticists and manufacturing. From their recent blog entry they say:

We’re looking forward to bringing the intelligent edge to robotics by bringing advanced features like hardware-accelerated Windows Machine Learning, computer vision, Azure Cognitive Services, Azure IoT cloud services, and other Microsoft technologies to home, education, commercial, and industrial robots.

Initially, they’ll support ROS1, the version most people will have used, but also have plans for ROS2. Developers will use Microsoft’s Visual Studio toolset. Thus far it’s an experimental release but you can give it a try by starting with the details here.

[Main Image Credit: Microsoft]

Microsoft Live Account Credentials Leaking From Windows 8 And Above

Discovered in 1997 by Aaron Spangler and never fixed, the WinNT/Win95 Automatic Authentication Vulnerability (IE Bug #4) is certainly an excellent vintage. In Windows 8 and 10, the same bug has now been found to potentially leak the user’s Microsoft Live account login and (hashed) password information, which is also used to access OneDrive, Outlook, Office, Mobile, Bing, Xbox Live, MSN and Skype (if used with a Microsoft account).

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Windows and Ubuntu: “Cygwin Can Suck It”

For the last ten years or so, computing has been divided into two camps: Windows, and everything else with a *nix suffix. Want a computing paradigm where everything is a file? That’s Linux. Want easy shell scripting that makes the command line easy? Linux. Want a baroque registry with random percent signs and dollar symbols? That would be Windows. Want to run the most professional productivity apps for design and engineering? Sadly, that’s Windows as well.

*nix runs nearly the entire Internet, the top 500 supercomputers in the world, and is the build environment for every non-Windows developer. Yet Windows is the most popular operating system. The divide between Windows and *nix isn’t so much a rivalry, as much as people who still spell Microsoft with a dollar sign would tell you. It’s just the way personal computing evolved by way of legacy apps and IT directors.

Now, this great divide in the world of computing is slowly closing. At Microsoft’s Build 2016 developer’s conference, Microsoft and Canonical, Ubuntu’s parent company, announced a partnership that will allow Ubuntu to run using native Windows libraries.

In short, this announcement means bash and the Linux command line is coming to Windows 10. The command line is great, but userland is where it’s at, and here this partnership really shines. Unlike Cygwin, the current way to get *nix stuff running in a Windows environment, Windows’ bash will allow unmodified Linux programs to run unmodified on Windows 10.

It is not an understatement to say this is the most important development in operating systems in the last 10 years. For the last decade, every developer who is not purely a Windows developer has picked up a MacBook for the sole reason of having BSD under the hood. If you’re looking for a reason Apple is popular with devs, it’s *nix under the hood. This announcement changes all of that.

Windows 10 On A Tiny Board

Over the past few months, a number of companies and designers have started picking up the newest Intel SoCs. Intel has to kill ARM somehow, right? The latest of these single board x86 computers is the Lattepanda. It’s a tiny board that can run everything a 5-year-old desktop computer can run, including a full version of Windows 10.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a tiny x86 board in recent months. Last October, an x86 board that takes design cues from the Raspberry Pi 2 hit Kickstarter. These are proper PCs, with the ability to run Windows 10, Linux, and just about every other environment under the sun.

The specs for the Lattepanda include a quad-core Cherry Trail running at 1.8GHz. the RAM is either 2GB or 4GB depending on configuration, and 32GB of eMMC Flash. Peripherals include USB 3.0, Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, and integrated graphics supporting either HDMI or a DSI connector.

But of course a computer is just a computer, and you can’t sell a machine that only runs Skype to the ‘maker’ market. The Lattepanda also includes an ATMega32u4 as a coprocessor, giving this board ‘Arduino functionality’. In my day we walked uphill both ways to get a parallel port, but I digress.

While these tiny x86 boards might not be available in a year’s time, and the companies behind them may fall off the face of the planet, the introduction of these devices portends a great war over the horizon. Intel wants the low-power SoC market, a space until now reserved entirely for ARM-based devices.

Raspberry Pi and Windows 10 IoT Core: A Huge Letdown

Last Spring, Microsoft unveiled their plan for Windows and the Internet of Things. It starts with the Raspberry Pi and Windows 10 IoT Core – a stripped down system with Windows API calls running on an ARM architecture. Yes, Microsoft is finally moving away from the desktop, building a platform for a billion Internet of Things things, or filling the gap left by tens of thousands of POS terminals and ATMs running XP being taken offline. Either one is accurate.

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced the first public release of Windows 10 IoT Core. This is the review, but here’s the takeaway: run. Run as fast as you can away from Windows IoT. It’s not worth your time unless you have a burning desire to write apps for Windows, and even then you could do a better job with less effort with any Linux distro.

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Massive Microsoft Machinations For Makers

If you’re not stuck in the tech news filter bubble, you may not have heard the Microsoft Build Developers Conference is going on right now. Among the topics covered in the keynotes are a new Office API and a goal to have Windows 10 running on a Billion devices in a few years.

There are, however, some interesting things coming out of the Build conference. Windows 10 is designed for hackers, with everything from virtual Arduino shields running on phones, Windows 10 running on Raspberry Pis, and Visual Code Studio running on OS X and Linux.

This is not the first time in recent memory Microsoft has courted the maker market. Microsoft begrudgingly supported the hardware dev scene with the PC version of the Microsoft Kinect, and a year or two ago, Microsoft rolled out drivers for 3D printers that were much more capable than the usual serial interface (read: the ability for printer manufacturers to add DRM). To the true, tie-die wearing, rollerblade-skating, acoustic coupler-sporting, Superman III-watching hackers out there, these efforts appear laughable – the product of managers completely out of touch with their audience.

Depending on your perspective, the new releases for the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and other ‘maker-themed’ hardware could go one way or the other.

As far as educational efforts go, the Windows Remote Arduino and Windows Virtual Shields for Arduino are especially interesting. Instead of filling a computer lab up with dozens of Arduinos and the related shields, the WVSA uses the sensors on a Windows 10 smartphone with an Arduino. Windows Remote Arduino allows makers to control an Arduino not through the standard USB port, but a Bluetooth module.

If Arduinos aren’t your thing, the Windows 10 IoT preview for the Raspberry Pi 2 and Minnowboard Max is out now. The Win10 IoT distribution does not yet have working WiFi or Bluetooth, making it the single most useless operating system for Internet of Things devices. It was, however, released at the Build conference.

Also announced was a partnership with a fabulous hardware project hosting site, Hackster.io. Microsoft and Hackster.io will be collaborating with hackathons and other events focused on Windows technology. I get why they wouldn’t want another, vastly more popular project hosting site doing this, but I’m a little confused at why Instructables wasn’t the top Microsoft pick.

As always, you may express your infinite derision in the comments below. Spelling Microsoft with a dollar sign will result in a ban.