Monthly Archives : June 2015

Your next house could be 3D-printed from wood

Materials scientists in Sweden are developing the technology for 3D printers that can turn leftover plant material into full-sized houses.

Umeå University in the north of the country will host a project with a sub-goal of producing cellulose-based materials for full-scale 3D printing. That could include anything from doors and vents to walls and eventually entire structures.

Meanwhile, materials scientists at Chalmers University in the south recently announced successes in printing with cellulose at a smaller scale. Their experiments combined cellulose with carbon nanotubes to create electrically-conductive materials based on wood, rather than fossil-based plastics and metals.

Reinforcing

“The idea of the project is to develop a technology that can be used in reinforcing the manufacturing industry in the region,” said Marlene Johansson, the director of Sliperiet – the centre that will coordinate the research in Umeå. Sliperiet and its collaborators have received £1.34 million from the EU to create a regional cluster for digital manufacturing and sustainable building.

“Combining the use of cellulose with the fast technological development of 3D printing offers great environmental advantages,” added Paul Gatenholm, professor of biopolymer technology at Chalmers. “Cellulose is an unlimited renewable commodity that is completely biodegradable, and manufactured using raw material from wood, in essence allowing us to bind carbon dioxide that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere.”

Windows 10 could also arrive on a USB drive

Unlike its rival in Cupertino, California, Microsoft will reportedly be relying on traditional DVDs and USB flash drives to distribute its new Windows 10 operating system. Apple, on the other hand, has scrapped distributing its OS X software using physical media, instead opting to rely on internet downloads through the Mac App Store.

Offering Windows 10 on USB flash drives will be beneficial to customers who have purchased a new Windows notebook in the past few years. As reliance on optical disk drives declines, manufacturers have dropped the DVD-ROM or CD-ROM drives on many systems, including thin and popular Ultrabooks, hybrid convertibles and the emerging PC-on-a-stick category.

Windows 10 availability

Previously, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 will be available to consumers starting July 29. Windows 10 will be available as a free upgrade for consumers upgrading from Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 during the first year of release.

If you’re ineligible for the free upgrade promotion, there will be two versions of the operating system at retail – Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro. The Home version will cost $119 (£75, AU$153), while the Pro version will retail for $199 (£126, AU$257). Home users wishing to upgrade to the Pro version will need to pay an additional $99 (£62, AU$128).

According to Winfuture.de, the cost of Windows 10 distributed on a USB stick or USB flash drive will be the same as the digital download and DVD versions. The benefit of choosing the USB method is that both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the operating system are preloaded on the memory drive.

This means that consumers can choose which version they want when they install. With the DVD version, consumers must choose if they want 32- or 64-bit system at the time of purchase, and they can’t change their minds later.

Microsoft has not given any details about its distribution plans for Windows 10 at this point. We’ve reached out to the company for comment about the USB distribution method and are awaiting comment.

Windows 10 Enterprise will not be part of the free first year promotion, and business users can upgrade through Windows Assurance. The software also brings more flexibility to IT administrators in deploying future upgrades and features.

OS showdown: OS X 10.11 El Capitan vs Windows 10

Apple showed off its latest computer operating system, OS X 10.11 “El Capitan,” at WWDC and as predicted it was an iterative upgrade, based around improving the core features of OS X and providing a better experience to users. Just like iOS 9, El Capitan takes the essentials of OS X – Safari, desktop management, Spotlight – and makes them better, tweaking the interface or reworking it slightly.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 is coming at the end of next month and brings with it a whole new set of features, many of them iterations on Windows 8.1. Both new operating systems will be available for free to those who have already got OS X 10.10 or Windows 8 (both have support that extends even further back from this) and the general theme of improvement runs through both.

In this article, we are going to gauge how El Capitan’s new features stack up against Windows 10.

Pin tabs in Safari

Apple’s WWDC keynote spent a fair amount of time talking about improvements to Safari. While many users have switched over to Chrome, the Mac client is traditionally a battery killer and the redesign that OS X 10.10 Yosemite introduced won back support.

One of the key features that Apple introduced with El Capitan is the ability to “pin” tabs, making for quick and easy access. The bookmark system of the current incarnation of Safari (version 8) is a little lacklustre and so it’s good to see Apple is thinking this through.

Windows 10 introduces a much needed change, ousting Internet Explorer and replacing it with Microsoft Edge, a new and fresh browser that attempts to shake off the reputation of IE. We know relatively little about Edge as it is still in the development stage but it doesn’t seem to have any way to pin a tab.

Apple is a development cycle ahead of Microsoft in terms of releasing a new browser and so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see pinned tabs being “borrowed” by Redmond and implemented in a later version of the software.

Split screen desktop

One of the main updates to OS X comes in the form of windows management, an area that Microsoft has traditionally been strong in. Many of those watching the show noted the similarity between Windows’ “snap” window mode and Apple’s new Split View. Dragging a window to one side of the screen can split space down the middle in El Capitan, showing two applications side by side.

With every update there is a back and forth between Windows fans and Apple fans about who has implemented the others’ features – Microsoft introduced a new multi-desktop mode recently, reminiscent of Apple’s Mission Control – and it’s pleasant to see that each company respects the other enough to borrow ideas, especially as the net gain is for the user.

Apple also unveiled a cleaner Mission Control which makes it easier to manage windows and apps, especially with multiple applications open at once.

Better Notes app

Note taking is one of Microsoft’s fortes, especially with the announcement of the Surface and its pen accessory. OneNote has taken a far bigger role in the makeup of Windows, becoming almost a “mini Word” in terms of its abilities. Meanwhile, Evernote has attracted millions of users across multiple platforms by offering well designed, easy to use apps and services for free, with more available if you pay a subscription.

Apple has evidently seen this and has chosen to beef up its note taking offerings, offering a revamp of Notes in El Capitan. Notes can now contain images, videos, links, checklists and so on, and can sync across all Apple devices seamlessly (or so the theory goes) via iCloud.

Unlike OneNote and Evernote, Notes is still very much aimed at a consumer audience who don’t want to write a book on the service (as Nicolas Carlson of Business Insider did with Evernote). The new checklists feature will be incredibly useful, if not damning for smaller apps, such as Clear.

Metal for Mac

Gaming has never been the strong suit of OS X, despite good hardware on many of the higher-end Macs. iOS, however, has strong roots in mobile gaming and Apple is looking to export some of that gold dust to the Mac via Metal, allowing far faster GPU rendering for developers making for better games.

Windows 10 is also set to be a hit with gamers as it incorporates many aspects of Windows 7 (specifically the desktop mode) into the operating system, endearing it to game players in a way that Windows 8 did not. Many of the games on Windows are now becoming available via the Windows Store just as a large quantity of Mac games are on the Mac App Store but it’s clear that in gaming, Windows will always have the lead.

Better Spotlight searches

Searching for files on a computer can be a frustrating experience, especially if you know the file is out there somewhere. Apple is aiming to take away that frustration by adding a more “natural” element to searches, allowing queries like “documents I wrote last month about Apple”. Searches for stocks, sports scores and the weather are all supported, too, right from within Spotlight (which can now be resized and moved around the screen).

Search in Windows 10 integrates Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant that is a mixture of Siri and Google Now. While Siri is not available on Mac, Cortana is as yet untested on a PC and only offers as much information as you can get out of Spotlight. Talking to a PC when there is a keyboard right in front of you may also strike some users as odd, especially for hard-to-understand names of files and so on, but the option is present.

Apple’s approach is far more traditional but that is because no Mac comes with a touchscreen, an area where Cortana may shine just as virtual assistants do on a phone.

Better Maps

It is still unknown how many people actually use the built-in Maps app on a Mac (Apple says Maps get 5 billion requests per week but didn’t break it down to iOS and OS X) but the company is still innovating, introducing directions that include transfers and public transport information.

Microsoft’s offering includes various new features in Windows 10, partly because the software is also available on phones. Powered by Bing, there is a new Street View-style feature, a 3D mode and more available for free on Windows 10.

Both clients are also available on their mobile counterparts and the relevance of this on desktop – especially for services such as transit directions – is questionable, but it’s nice to see that both companies are focusing on it.

Big cursor

This is one feature that is largely specific to OS X and could, if implemented tastefully, be very useful on a day-to-day basis. The feature stems from the question: “Have you ever lost your cursor?” If the answer is yes, OS X 10.11 has you covered – if you move your mouse quickly, it increases dramatically in size for a few moments alerting you to its location.

Of course, Windows 10 is also designed for touchscreen so this shouldn’t be a problem but it’s nice to see Apple has thought through the everyday usage of its machines and software.

 

Box snuggles up with Microsoft, launches Office Online

Box has introduced a new feature that aims to reduce the lure of Microsoft OneDrive; Box for Office online, as its name alludes to, allows users to create and manage their Office documents (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) anywhere and on any device, from within Box.

It sounds a lot like Office Online but with your files on a third party rather than on Microsoft’s own cloud storage. Box claims to have more than a billion files created either for or by Microsoft Office products with millions more added every day.

The storage company also revealed that Microsoft Office accounts for half of all content that has been edited and uploaded to Box.

The Box Office

Key features of the new service includes seamless workflows between Box and Office Online (meaning that you can swap files between the two services), full editing capabilities and easier collaboration thanks to granular collaboration controls.

Competition in the cloud storage business has intensified over the last 12 months with Amazon, Google and Microsoft turning the heat up, leaving smaller players like Box and Dropbox feeling the heat.

Box offered unlimited to its business users shortly after Google made a similar announcement at Google IO last year and days after Amazon launched Zocalo.

Comet probe ‘Philae’ reawakens after seven-month sleep

After seven months in hibernation on the dark side of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the European Space Agency’s ‘Philae’ probe has reawakened and is ready to do science work.

The lander originally touched down on the comet on 12 November 2014 after a 10-year journey through space. It was supposed to harpoon itself into place, but instead bounced off the surface of the ball of ice several times before settling in a dark ditch where its solar panels couldn’t receive sunlight.

Now, however, the comet has travelled closer to the Sun and the solar panels have charged the lander’s battery enough for it to reboot and make contact. Two previous bids to make contact in March and April failed, but a new attempt was launched in May.

Healthy

“We got a two-minute… successful communication” at 2228 Central European Time (2028 GMT) on Saturday, mission manager Patrick Martin told AFP from the operations centre in Madrid. “This was sufficient to confirm that Philae is healthy and that its sub-systems are OK in terms of energy and temperature for ongoing communication with [its mothership] Rosetta.”

Stephan Ulamec, Philae project manager with the German space agency DLR said that the lander is now ready for scientific operations, but Martin was more cautious – saying: “We have already lined up more communication windows which hopefully will see a repeat of this successful communication. If we get a stable communications pattern we should be able within a week or so to think about operating the instruments on board the lander.”

The 100kg probe will ride aboard the comet as it reaches its closest point to the Sun on 13 August 2015, then we’re not quite sure what will happen. It’ll be tough to find out, too, as the comet will likely become too hot for the lander to operate. The end of mission is scheduled for December, but if the comet doesn’t disintegrate under the stress of its solar fly-by then it’ll head back out of the inner solar system, taking a rather toasted Philae with it.