Surface Laptop Core i7 gets fresh lick of paint

Up until now if you wanted the Surface Laptop in any of its three special colors, you were pretty much limited to one Intel Core i5 configuration, but at long last Intel Core i7 variants are here.

Since its arrival last June, the Core i7 Surface Laptop has only been available in platinum, while those in Cobalt Blue, Burgundy and Graphite Gold were limited to Core i5 chips with smaller SSDs and RAM capacities.

With the Core i7 configuration, these higher-spec Surface Laptops gain higher-end Intel Iris Plus graphics, plus double the memory and storage at 16GB and 512GB, respectively. These new models are also priced the same as the standard Platinum model at $2,199 (£2,149, AU$3,299).

Listings for the Core i7 Surface Laptop in Cobalt Blue, Burgundy and Graphite Gold have been around since July and existed as rumors even before that, so it’s great to see they’re finally here. That said, it seems only the Cobalt Blue and Burgundy are available for purchase right now as Graphite Gold is still listed as coming soon.

To add them to your cart you’ll also have to specifically through this Surface Laptop Overview page, as the Core i7 option is still grayed out on the configuration page – which we assume is due to a delayed update on the page..

Via Windows Central


Facebook Messenger has launched its digital assistant M in the UK

Facebook Messenger is getting a lot more interactive if you’re a UK user. Facebook is launching its digital assistant M, as part of its global rollout.

M is a completely automated assistant that makes suggestions based on the conversations that you are having in Messenger, potentially alerting you to features that you may not have known about previously.

The sorts of suggestions that M can make include:

  • Sending stickers – personalised suggestions for stickers like ‘Thank you’ or ‘Bye-bye’.
  • Sharing location – If the conversation is about your location, so someone asking “Where are you?” for example, M will suggest that you share your location.
  • Making a plan – If you are trying to organise a plan with a group, M will suggest using Messenger’s planning capabilities.
  • Creating a poll – If you and a group are having a difficult time deciding on a subject, M will suggest creating a poll to decide once and for all.
  • Birthdays – If the person you are speaking to in a one-on-one conversation is currently celebrating their birthday, M will surface a suggestion to wish them happy birthday in one of the many ways Messenger currently supports; these include stickers, cards, and videos.
  • Saved – When content is shared in a message that M decides is worth you saving for later, a suggestion will pop up for you to use the Saved extension. This can be used for URLs, videos, Facebook posts, events, and pages.
  • Starting a voice or video call – If you’re in a one-on-one message and one of you suggests you actually speak, M will suggest initiating a call within the app.

While the suggestions are undoubtedly useful, there will be users who are uncomfortable with knowing that there is a bot essentially listening in on every conversation that they are having, waiting for an opportunity to make a suggestion.

If you would rather not have M making suggestions, it is possible to mute suggestions in M settings. We contacted Facebook to see if muting turned off the observation of your conversations. A representative said:

“Turning this feature off means you will stop receiving helpful suggestions and prompts from M. However, Messenger will continue to use automated tools to analyse messages so that we can help reduce spam on our services and also to make our products responsive to how people are using Messenger.”

This is the latest rollout of the feature, which was brought to the US in April 2017 after successful testing. In the US, M has slightly more suggestions than it currently has in the UK thanks to Messenger’s payment functions that are yet to come to the UK.

All these suggestions are obviously a way for Messenger to try and keep you within its ecosystem, as many of the functions that M is suggesting are functions that users typically turn to other apps for.

That said, there are some truly useful features of Messenger that many people don’t use, and may not even know exist, so we do envisage M being useful for those users.

Suggestions from M should automatically appear on your Messenger app. If it doesn’t, it may be worth checking that you have the latest update.


The long and painful death of Flash

Steve Jobs

Updated: It’s official, Adobe has announced Flash will makes its final exit by 2020.

If you’ve used the internet for longer than a few years then it’s more than likely you’ve come across Flash. Historically, the format has been a pervasive force on the web and, without the smartphone, likely still would have been today.

Many people associate Flash, which is actually a platform for a variety of multimedia, with Adobe, but its origins extend far back into the 1990s and a company called FutureWave Software, which made SmartSketch. The software was primarily used for vector drawing applications on Windows or OS X but it never caught on.

FutureWave was then acquired by Macromedia, the conglomerate behind many well-known productivity programs among other things. The FutureSplash Animator, a core part of SmartSketch, was rebranded as Macromedia Flash 1.0, which was comprised of two parts: a graphics and animation editor, and a media player.

Massive growth

The software grew in popularity between 1996 and 2005 and was thought to have been installed on more computers than all other media players – including Java, RealNetworks, QuickTime, and Windows Media Player – combined.

This growth was spurred by aggressive investment in improving Flash services by Macromedia, including adding MovieClips among other features. Over the years, the platform morphed from a media creation tool to a web platform, which is how most people think of it today.

In 2005, the year that Flash really came into its own, Adobe acquired Macromedia and incorporated Flash, Dreamweaver, Director/Shockwave, and Authorware. Some of these programs, especially Dreamweaver, are now relied upon in the professional community.

Over the years, Adobe continued to develop Flash, which had become a suite of applications, into a web-based platform for video, music, gaming, and much more. Many computers came pre-installed with Flash so that the web would be accessible to them.

But in 2007, the world of Flash would be rocked – even if Adobe didn’t realise it at the time.

Steve Jobs had serious beef with Flash

Curse of Jobs

Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, stood on stage in June 2007 and introduced the iPhone, a device he said would act as a phone, a media player, and, most importantly, an internet browser. This last capability would catapult the iPhone, especially the 3G and 3GS, into the hands of millions of users.

Unlike the first versions of Android or Windows Mobile (and later Windows Phone), iPhone OS (which later became iOS) did not support Flash.

“I wanted to jot down some of our thoughts on Adobe’s Flash products so that customers and critics may better understand why we do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads,” Jobs later wrote in an infamous memo called ‘Thoughts on Flash’ which was written in the spring of 2010 and signaled the death of the platform.

Jobs laid out several grievances with Flash, including its proprietary nature, the fact that most websites (even then) were switching to other formats for video, the negative effect on battery life, and the poor security record of Flash.

“New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too),” Jobs concluded. “Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticising Apple for leaving the past behind.”

These words, read today, are still relevant and help explain the shortcomings of the Flash platform that have plagued it for many years, exposing users to security risks and dramatically reducing the performance and battery life of phones, tablets, and PCs.

Google puts the boot in

Google, a long-time Flash sceptic, sided with Apple against Flash and moved all of its YouTube videos onto the HTML5 format in 2015. The company also launched a tool, called Swiffy, to convert Flash to HTML5.

That service, which launched last year, was recently shut down by Google. “Today more consumers are using the web in HTML5-compatible environments than Flash-compatible environments,” wrote the company in a blog post. In other words, so few people are now using Flash that tools to convert files are no longer needed.

Continuing a longstanding trend, Apple recently announced that the next version of Safari, which comes as part of macOS Sierra, will disable Flash (along with some other online formats) by default. Google has taken a similar approach with Chrome, and indeed Microsoft is also hastening the demise of Flash with its new Edge browser.

Mobile gaming

Of course, Flash still exists and is used most frequently for mobile games, which have very few alternative platforms to run on. Many games that millions of people play, including Angry Birds, Farmville, and AdventureQuest, are based on Flash.

The Flash platform was, and remains, one of the reasons that the early web, which was predominantly used on desktop computers, existed and took off. Playing games on Facebook, watching videos and so on was all enabled by Flash and millions upon millions of people benefited.

Facebook, however, did not see it this way. “It is time for Adobe to announce the end-of-life date for Flash and to ask the browsers to set killbits on the same day,” tweeted Alex Stamos, the company’s head of security. “Nobody takes the time to rewrite their tools and upgrade to HTML5 because they expect Flash to live forever. We need a date to drive it.”

Demise of Flash

There are plenty of technical drawbacks when it comes to Flash

Flash flushed

Indeed, there were serious technical drawbacks to Flash – as highlighted by Jobs a long time back – and the format just isn’t compatible with mobile, where a mouse is not the primary source of input.

“Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touchscreens using fingers,” wrote Jobs in that aforementioned 2010 memo. “Even if iPhones, iPods and iPads ran Flash, it would not solve the problem that most Flash websites need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices.”

The death of Flash was long, painful, and its death throes are still not quite over, but the once-great platform did drive a good deal of the early worldwide web’s engagement. In the end, though, the future will be HTML5-based, available everywhere, and controlled by no one – just as the internet is.


Google’s new SOS Alerts look to provide critical information during emergencies

To help people keep tabs on what’s happening during a crisis, Google is rolling out SOS Alerts — a new batch of features to augment search and Google Maps with relevant information during an emergency.

For example, searching an ongoing crisis will now bring up news and updates from local authorities, all in one place. Emergency numbers and even opportunities to donate to a relief effort can also be surfaced in SOS Alerts, when applicable.

In Google Maps, SOS Alerts provide ongoing updates on areas experiencing a disaster, as well as lists emergency numbers and notices of blocked routes for those who may be detoured by an emergency.

It appears SOS Alerts will offer information during emergencies such as wildfires and flooding, though the scope is likely fair greater.

This is not a test

According to Google, SOS Alerts can also provide notifications of a particular event to people close to the area, giving them relevant news and resources for whatever incident may be going on near them.

Google’s aim with SOS Alerts is to keep people informed throughout a disaster, not unlike special radio or television broadcasts.

If nothing else, SOS Alerts appear to be Google’s way of expediting emergency information to those who may need more info in a hurry. In situations where every second counts, SOS Alerts could prove helpful indeed.


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