Monday, July 24, 2017

This Fall, a Windows 10 update will mark the end of Microsoft Paint

The era of Microsoft Paint appears to be coming to an end with the upcoming release of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. The image-editing application is officially being classified by Microsoft as a “deprecated feature,” as noted by The Guardian. That means that, come this fall, Paint will “not be in active development and might be removed in future releases.”

Paint has long been a mainstay of Windows, dating back to a 1-bit monochrome version of the program released alongside Windows 1.0 back in November 1985. Microsoft continued to update Paint throughout the years, and users have grown to embrace the limited set of features the image editor had to offer. And while it’s true legacy will always be associated as shorthand for poorly designed and badly illustrated digital art, it’s hard to deny the importance of the program as many users’ first interaction with creating images on a computer.

It’s not a super surprising move, given that Microsoft would logically be putting its efforts toward Paint 3D, the overhauled version of the original Paint that the company introduced in the Windows 10 Creators Update earlier this year. Also, just because the program is being listed as “deprecated” doesn’t mean that it’s gone for good just yet — there’s still no date or time frame for when (or even if) Microsoft intends to remove the application completely.

Still, it does mark an end of the road for the classic image-editing app. So later this year, when you update your computer to the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, don’t forget to pour one out for Paint.

Verizon Wireless admits to slowing down data speeds of users in violation of Net Neutrality and Title II

A story that took place earlier last week just blew right open, with Verizon admitting that it has been tampering with video streaming performance of select applications, with the majority of worry being voiced by users of Netflix.

In a statement provided to Ars Technica, Verizon implicitly admitted to capping the traffic, blaming the issue on a temporary video optimization test.

“We've been doing network testing over the past few days to optimize the performance of video applications on our network," a Verizon Wireless spokesperson said. “The testing should be completed shortly. The customer video experience was not affected.”

This is a really weird statement, seemingly referring to something completely different from what customers actually experienced. What customers saw wasn’t optimization, but a clear cap, with tests from Netflix’s speed-test tool showing measurably lower rates than non-Netflix tests.

While Netflix was the only service to have a speed-test tool producing measurements, it now appears that similar caps were applied to all video applications on the Verizon Wireless network.

A subsequent statement from a Verizon representative took issue with this article, calling it “dead wrong” and saying that it “makes no sense.”

“We are constantly testing the network,” the representative said. “It's what we do, to optimize performance for our customers. The test was across the board, and did not target any individual applications.”

At the same time, the representative confirmed that a 10Mbps cap was in place for some users. “The consumer video experience should have been unaffected by the test,” the representative wrote, “since 1080p video is HD quality and looks great at 10 [Mpbs].”

Those clarifications seem consistent with an across-the-board throttle on video applications, put in place without any disclosure to customers. It’s true that, many users would not be able to perceive a 10Mbps limit on video speeds. Still, if that’s what Verizon means by optimization, then it looks an awful lot like the throttling scenarios net neutrality advocates have been warning about for years.

It’s worth remembering that Title II is still officially the law of the land, and although the FCC is doing its best to roll it back, Verizon Wireless is still legally a common carrier regulated under Title II, which means it’s obligated to treat all traffic equally. There are some exceptions to that for network management, but throttling a specific service is a textbook violation of those rules. Netflix traffic was clearly, tangibly being treated differently from other traffic, and customers hadn’t opted into any special service like Go90 that might justify it.

Friday, July 21, 2017

LastPass Families makes password sharing with others a lot easier

Password managers like LastPass or 1Password are great for keeping track of all your passwords, but what happens if you share accounts with someone else? Say, the energy bill that you and your spouse both pay, or the Netflix account that all your children mooch off of?

LastPass Families is a new feature from LastPass designed to make that a little easier, by safely storing crucial information like passwords, bank account information, or passport numbers. You can then share them with family members as you need to. Families users will be able to quickly add or remove members to the account, as well as decide which passwords get shared with which users — so you can give your kids the cable login without also handing over your credit card information.

LastPass Families supports up to six family members, and will be a separate paid service on top of the now-free standard LastPass and paid LastPass Premium memberships. It’ll launch later this summer, and as a bonus, LastPass Premium members will get access to Families for free for six months when it does launch.

LastPass is also offering early access for users who want to try out the service first, which can be signed up for on the company’s website here.

Finger print scanning is the future for boarding passes and checking luggage with Delta

Customers flying Delta can now board using just their fingerprints at Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) if they wish. The airline says the is available for customers who are members of Delta’s loyalty program SkyMiles, and who have enrolled in CLEAR — an expedited airport security program that costs $179 a year.

Delta started testing its biometric boarding procedure in May. The fingerprinting process allows customers to board an aircraft or enter Delta Sky Club lounges without their ID and ticket. Delta says the final phase of its biometric boarding pass test, which is due “this summer,” will allow customers to also use their fingerprints to check in bags.

“Biometric verification has a higher level of accuracy than paper boarding passes and gives agents more time to assist customers with seat changes and other skilled tasks instead of having to scan individual tickets – and customers have less to keep track of as they travel through the airport,” said Gil West, Delta’s senior executive vice president and chief operating officer in a statement.

Delta says it’s partnering with CLEAR to power the back end of its biometric boarding system, which at the moment is a pilot program. West says partnering with CLEAR has also made it more “scalable” and the process could expand across Delta’s domestic network in “a matter of months.”

This past year, Delta has introduced several new services in a bid to win over more customers including RFID baggage handling that lets customers track where their luggage is via an app. There’s no word yet on robots that carry your luggage through the terminal, but we have our fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Google Feed is now available for iOS and Android, replacing Google Now

Google today is rolling out its take on the news feed, a personalized stream of articles, videos, and other content. The feed will appear in its flagship app for Android and iOS, simply called Google. The feed, which includes items drawn from your search history and topics you choose to follow, is designed to turn Google’s app into a destination for browsing as well as search. Google is hoping you’ll begin opening its app the way you do Facebook or Twitter, checking it reflexively throughout the day for quick hits of news and information.

Google previewed its new feed in December, when it introduced the feature to its Android app. Previously, the space below the search bar was reserved for Google Now, the company’s predictive search feature, which displayed personalized weather, traffic, sports scores, and other information.

With the introduction of the feed, the Google Now brand is going away, and the updates it used to contain are moving to a secondary tab called “updates.” The main space underneath the search bar will now contain a stream of cards related to your interests. In a demo at Google’s offices in San Francisco on Tuesday, a product manager’s feed included articles about the Oakland Athletics, a trending article about the Tour de France, and a 10-month old blog post about a classical musician who she had previously seen in concert.

In most feeds, a 10-month-old blog post would appear stale and unwelcome. Google says it’s a sign of the company’s strengths — it can reach into the long tail of articles on the web, and surface them to audiences that missed them the first time around. Facebook and Twitter give priority to latest updates; Google says it’s working to prioritize relevance.

When you perform searches in the app, a subset of results will now show a “follow” button alongside results. News, sports, and entertainment stories are among the categories where you can expect to see follow buttons to start. Tap them and Google will work to bring you related content into the feed.

You can customize the feed by tapping the three dots on top of each card. From there you can follow a subject or share the item on other social networks. You can also tell Google you’re “done with this story” and avoid seeing future updates, or tell it you don’t want to see any more articles from a particular publisher. You can’t follow individual publishers today, but publishers will surely clamor for it, and Google told me it will consider adding that feature eventually.

The Google feed came to my account Tuesday afternoon, and I spent a long while scrolling through it. The feed offered up articles on several of my interests: Netflix, Instagram, Game of Thrones, and the video game I’m currently playing (and have watched a bunch of YouTube videos about). The best topic I saw in the feed was “fake news,” and featured an article from Lifehacker on how to spot it.

Scroll far enough and you’ll get a basic, ambient sense of the day’s news. But few of the items I saw compelled me to read the article. Part of what makes Facebook and Twitter’s feeds compelling is the social endorsement that links there carry: you read because your friends tell you to, and you trust your friends. They also give you commentary and analysis around what you’re reading. In short, they feel lively — and the Google feed can feel stale by comparison.

It also draws on the underlying search technology responsible for Google’s featured snippets, which have historically spread misinformation about a wide range of subjects. The Outline reported earlier this year that Google promoted false news stories asserting that, among other things, Barack Obama was the “king of America” and was plotting a coup. Ben Gomes, who runs search at Google, told reporters Tuesday that the company had implemented “a whole bunch of changes” to prevent similar misinformation from spreading in the feed.

The most surprising thing about the Google feed, at least at launch, is how little video it contains. At a time when its peers are racing to cram as much video in their feeds as possible, Google’s is still mostly a text-based affair. When YouTube cards appear, videos won’t play within the feed — tapping kicks you out to the app or to a mobile-web version of the video. The cards are formatted in such a way that it’s easy to miss that they’re even videos. It’s all surprisingly clumsy.

For now, Google says there won’t be ads in the feed, although I imagine it would love to put them there eventually. Google is an ad business, after all, and it’s running out of places to put new ads on mobile devices. Earlier this year, it added a fourth advertising unit to search results in its mobile app, making you scroll down three screens before you see unpaid search results for some queries.

But with each passing year, we have had fewer reasons to open the Google app. Native apps from Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and others command more of our attention, making us less likely to begin our queries at the search bar. More recently, Siri, Alexa, and Cortana have been built into our device hardware, allowing us to bypass Google and search with our voice. Financially, Google is still on solid footing. But the trends are worrisome — the analyst Ben Thompson, among others, has written about the prospect that we have already hit “Peak Google.”

Viewed in that light, a Google feed was all but inevitable. The question is how quickly Google can improve it — and whether its users, whose lives are already dominated by feeds, will make room for another one.