Monday, December 31, 2018

Android through the ages: the history of Google’s smartphone OS

In the beginning there was Cupcake

2008, when pinch-to-zoom was a right reserved for iPhones and BlackBerrys were still the business, a new kind of smartphone hit the scene: the Android smartphone. 

Starting at version 1.5 for public consumption, Android was launched on the HTC Dream (known as the T-Mobile G1 in the US), a QWERTY keyboard-packing slider phone. Based on a modified version of Linux, Android offered something very different to the iPhone: freedom.

Android 1.5 screen shots

An open source Cupcake

Unlike iOS’s heavily policed, locked-down operating system, Android arrived with the promise of open source everything. Google made access to the Android Market (now called the Google Play Store) freely available, and users could even customize their home screens with widgets, offering in-app functionality from said home screen, no app opening needed.

With Android 1.5, codenamed Cupcake, a new way was born. 

Android 1.6: Donut

Is it an albatross? Is it a jumbo jet? No! It’s the Dell Streak!

Version 1.6 of Android, Doughnut was announced in 2009, and it’s the update we have to blame for today’s giant phones that don’t quite fit in normal-sized pockets.

While Android tablets hadn’t quite taken off by this point, Donut was a step ahead, laying the foundations for the ‘phablet’, and introducing support for more screen sizes than Cupcake.

Big screens ahoy!

The aforementioned 5-inch Dell Streak, for example, despite being small by today’s standards, was a veritable beast when it was launched, and it owed its big screen to advances Donut introduced. 

Other innovative features introduced in Android 1.6 included a text-to-speech engine, universal search and a more complete battery usage screen, so you knew which apps were draining your smartphone dry.

Android 2.0: Eclair

Android 2.0 Eclair

Who knew there was ever a time when you couldn’t have multiple Google accounts on your Android smartphone? We did! 

Eclair, named for the choux pastry French patisserie staple, remedied account limitations and more.

Multi-touch me

But multiple accounts wasn’t the highlight feature of Android 2.0 – oh no. Eclair finally introduced multi-touch to smartphones that weren’t made by Apple (although that created  something of a hoo-ha in itself.)

Take a picture, open it up, pinch to zoom… Android and iOS were in a two-horse race now, and Android was catching up.

Eclair also introduced Google Maps navigation, as well as additional camera modes, live wallpapers and Bluetooth 2.1 support.

Android 2.2: Froyo

Froyo, aka frozen yoghurt, is confectionary number four, and Android version 2.2. Loaded up on classic phones like the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the HTC Incredible S, it marked the point at which Android hardware started to feel more premium, finally doing justice to the OS inside – from Super AMOLED screens bettering the LCDs of iPhones through to excellent industrial design from the likes of HTC.

Get some Froyo on that hotspot

Version 2.2 also introduced a feature that could make Android phones more attractive than iPhones for the everyday user – Froyo’s most practical highlight was most definitely mobile Wi-Fi hotspotting.

While Windows phones had Bluetooth and USB hotspot tools before, the idea of using high-speed Wi-Fi tethering to share your phone’s (then blazingly fast) 3G data with a laptop or even another smartphone was vindication for Android fans the world over.

Apple would take a full year to get the feature onto iPhones, with many carriers still blocking iPhone tethering for some time to come. 

Android 2.3: Gingerbread

Android 2.3 gingerbread

Android Gingerbread didn’t get a new look or feel compared to Froyo, but it did get a host of new features, including support for new sensors, including NFC. Other highlights included internet calling and a new download manager – but none of those were our highlights.

Copy, paste, catch up with Apple

Oh no – our highlight was the seemingly rudimentary and long-overdue copy and paste feature that was giving iPhones the text-editing edge over Androids for over a year: single word selection. 

Before Gingerbread, Android copying was clumsy, given the fact that only entire text boxes could be selected. 2010 saw Google closing the gap, with a long press over a word selecting just that word, and displaying a pop-up menu that included copy and paste options, just like we have on Android phones today. 

Android 3.0: Honeycomb

Remember the Motorola Xoom? No, not the Microsoft Zune – we’re talking about the Motorola tablet that introduced Google’s tablet version of Android, codenamed Honeycomb.

The most striking difference between it and any version of Android we'd seen before was the interface. Introducing ‘Holographic’ UI elements, Google went a bit Tron here – all illuminated lines, gradient halo highlights around objects – and while it didn’t look timeless, it did look cool.

On-screen navigation, the shape of things to come...

Android phones today seldom sport hardware navigation buttons; that’s to say, the back, home and recent apps buttons are in a navigation bar at the bottom of the screen on the biggest phones out now – the Google Pixel 3, Samsung Galaxy S9 and Huawei Mate 20 for example.

Funnily enough, we don’t have a mobile OS to thank for this – it was first introduced in Honeycomb, with the back, home and recent apps buttons displayed in the bottom-left of the home screen.

Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

So long physical buttons, hello unified Android typeface!

Ice Cream Sandwich was probably one of the richest updates Android has seen. Available on the Galaxy Nexus and HTC One X, it brought an excellent in-gallery photo editor to the table, as well as a data limiter within the settings. 

The whole look and feel was refined, in line with Honeycomb’s design direction, and it delivered a much richer experience than Android 2.3..

Swipe to dismiss

In hindsight, probably the most pervasive feature introduced in this version was the swipe to dismiss gesture. 

While it had been used by other smartphone manufacturers before, getting Android users comfortable with this little swipe gesture ensured its rise to ubiquity.

Swipe to dismiss interaction has since, for example, shaped email and text message handling, influenced Windows 10’s touchscreen notification management, and is a fundamental component of everyone’s favorite dating app, Tinder.

Android 4.1: Jelly Bean

Android 4.1 jelly bean

Jelly Bean was a tale of three parts: 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3.

4.1 was all about refinements. It took Ice Cream Sandwich and made it smoother, introduced improved support for multiple languages, and automatically resized widgets to fit your home screen.

Android 4.2 was a further refinement, this time polishing the look and feel, making for an excellent-looking tablet UI, showcased well on the Nexus 10, complete with Miracast wireless display projection support.

The final episode – Return of the Jelly Bean, if you will – was a corker for developers, giving them tools to improve UI smoothness, use the latest version of Bluetooth and restrict profiles on devices with multiple user accounts – handy for parents and businesses alike. 

Expandable notifications

Our Jelly Bean highlight? Dragging down with two fingers for expanded notifications. This feature gave users a peak into the details of their most recent updates. So, if your notification read '3 new tweets', a two-finger drag down would expand the notification and showcase who those tweets were from, with a snippet of the message itself. 

Simple, and still in Android today. 

Android 4.4: KitKat

Android 4.4 Kitkat

Emojis on the Google Keyboard, lower RAM requirements paving the way for budget Android phones, and NFC security being bumped up to help make mobile payments a reality – all this and more was loaded inside the Android 4.4 KitKat update.

'Okay Google, will this ever catch on?'

But it was Google Now becoming a voice assistant that blazed the trail for today’s world of talkative phone assistants and smart speakers.

The always-on microphone and 'OK Google' command were introduced alongside KitKat in October 2013, harnessing the power of Google Search.

It paved the way for Apple's Siri, set to follow in June 2014, and the two-horse mobile OS race was about to splinter into separate smartphone and a voice assistant contests, with Google making the early running.

Android 5.0: Lollipop

Android 5.0 Lollipop

Material Design, Google’s flatter interface that features fewer gradients and a cleaner look than Jelly Bean, debuted on Android 5.0. 

Support for 64-bit architecture was also introduced, helping Android achieve near-parity with desktop operating systems when it came to power potential, as was improved notification handling on lock screens.

Setting the scene for wearables

But the hidden gem within Android Lollipop was support for Bluetooth LE, or low energy. 

This feature meant that wearable technology could finally exist without draining your phone’s battery dry. With lower battery demands, Bluetooth LE also enabled manufacturers to create smartwatches and fitness trackers with low-capacity batteries, small enough to fit inside a device that looked good and which could be worn comfortably. 

Android 6.0: Marshmallow

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Launching on the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, these Marshmallow devices introduced USB-C ports and fingerprint scanners to the Nexus line.

As for the software, app security was tightened up with element-specific permissions prompting users to grant access to apps that needed to use things like their camera, phone etc.

Android 6.0 also supported MicroSD card integration into internal storage - handy for phones with under 16GB storage, though this feature has since been removed.

Doze mode

For a second time in a row, a battery saving feature is our Android highlight.

If you left your Marshmallow phone unplugged and stationary for a period of time with the screen off, apps go into standby and Doze mode is activated

This saved battery power and cemented Android as the operating system to go for if you wanted the battery edge, with Android hardware packing higher capacity batteries than iPhones, and its software optimised to take advantage of them.

Android 7.0: Nougat

Android 7.0 Nougat

Quick app switching by double-tapping the recent apps key, gender and race-specific emojis, separate home and lock screen wallpapers… Android Nougat made things both more functional and more attractive, but it also borrowed something from Samsung.

Split-screen multitasking

Having introduced split-screen multitasking on its Note line, Samsung was ahead of the curve. Google lifted the experience, and made it part of stock Android 7 over a year later, allowing one half of the screen to be used for one app, and the other half for another.

Google did do some cool stuff with the feature – Android 7 offered split-screen handling of two Chrome tabs for example, and even supported dragging and dropping of an image file across tabs. 

Android 8.0: Oreo

Android 8.0 Oreo

Shiny new battery menus and notification dots on app icons – Android Oreo brought with it a slew of refinements to the UI, not to mention better storage management, with a new file browser and more granular storage control within the settings.

Floating videos are cool, right?

But the highlight feature everybody wanted, and never ended up using when it launched, was picture-in-picture, another feature introduced by Samsung and later adopted by Google for stock Android. 

This little floating video window showcases a video in your UI, so you can get on with Twitter scrolling without having to stop watching your favorite show.

While initially it was awkward to activate and, frankly, a bit useless, now it’s reaching fruition, with apps like Netflix, WhatsApp and YouTube having adopted support for it.

Android 9.0: Pie

Android 9.0 Pie

We’re finally all caught up. Google’s 2018/19 build of Android, Android 9.0, aka Pie, is the freshest version shipping on the latest and greatest hardware, including the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.

Loaded up with notch support, improved battery smarts and a revamped UI, complete with iPhone X-esque navigations, Android Pie is gearing Google smartphones up for their impending all-screen, bezel-free futures.

A side serving of social responsibility 

Digital Wellbeing is a suite of services available in Beta right now as part of the Android P update. Including elements like a dashboard to help you better understand your app usage, it’s all about using your phone a bit less, or at least a bit more mindfully.

Additional tools range from app limiters through to a grayscale mode to give your eyes a break, as well as a wind-down feature, to help you disconnect at the end of a working day. 

With Google having iterated over 14 versions of Android, servicing more than two billion users, it’s a fitting conclusion to the current chapter that the big G has shifted focus to Digital Wellbeing, given the operating system’s vast reach.

Q is for… ?

But what about the shape of things to come? Android 10 will likely drop in the second half of 2019, and we already know it’s coming to the new Essential Phone.

As for its name, the distinct lack of confectionaries beginning with the letter ‘Q’ is keeping everyone guessing. Keep checking in with TechRadar throughout 2019 for the latest updates on Android Q, and to find out more about Pie, read our Android 9.0 overview

  • Brought to you in association with Nokia and Android One, helping you to make more of your smartphone. You can learn more about the new Nokia 7.1 here, and you'll find more great advice on getting the most from your phone here. 

9 New Year's resolutions smartphone manufacturers should make

Some of you may be working on your 2019 resolutions. Want to try being vegan for a month, start doing to the gym again or stop stealing from the stationery cupboard at work because it's all getting a bit out of hand? Good for you.

But, as we all know - hand on heart - giant companies are citizens too. According to the 14th amendment, corporations are afforded some of the protections of personhood. So why shouldn't they have to make some New Year's resolutions too?

Here are the 2019 resolutions the smartphone giants should adopt. For their phones. For us. And for the world. Amen.

Stop assuming we can spend half our income on phones

One of the scariest developments in phones over 2018 was the flirting with the $1000/£1000 price boundary. Heck, Apple even sailed right across it with the iPhone XS Max.

How about we get real, and realize that most of us can't, don't want to, or really shouldn't, spend this much on a phone? Sadly, this one is likely to happen as your pledge to go to the gym four times a week, every week.

The latest news suggests we'll see even more expensive phones next year, with 5G models reportedly commanding a $300 premium over this year's priciest phones. 

For those willing to spend that much we ask: how fast do you need to stream YouTube videos, exactly?

Bring back the headphone jack (what did it ever do to you?)

Changes in mobile phone tech usually get us a bit excited. But the whole "ditch the headphone jack" thing? There's not much to excite there.

And why is it happening? You can make water resistant phones with headphone jacks, last time we checked those sockets don't cost $100 in parts, and claims phones can no longer fit them in seem deeply suspicious when the things didn't suddenly get smaller when jack sockets were wrenched out.

Some lobbyists from big headphone must have some dirt on the big phone-makers or something. Saying that, most phone-makers now make wireless earphones or headphones too. 

You won, we all bought wireless sets. Can we just have the jack back now?

Get over this glass obsession

For the past two years, phone makers have nailed glass designs. We've seen matte ones, super curvy ones. There are even phones, like the Google Pixel 3 XL, that you could mistake for aluminium from a distance.

It's time for an intervention. Phone companies need to get over this glass obsession in 2019.

Let's not just roll back onto the familiar combination of aluminium and plastic, though. There are other options out there in the world. The obvious one, as tried and tested as glass or plastic, is magnesium.

There are magnesium alloy tablets and laptops. And this metal is tougher and lighter than aluminium. And unlike glass it won't smash if you drop it on the sidewalk from the wrong angle.

Expandable storage for all

Phone developers can act like annoying live-in parents sometimes. Bear with us on this one.

Don't use something for a while and they quietly file it away into the bin while you're not looking. It happened to IR blasters, now headphone jacks and microSD card slots are in the great cleaner-upper's targets.

Granted, a lot of phones now have lots of storage. But with a half dozen flavors of apocalypse looming, you'll want a good amount of local content stored, loads of storage space and a solar charger handy. Well, unless we manage to scorch the sky, but a stack of 90s club classics and every episode of Friends won't get you too far then anyway.

Bring back the headphone jack. Bring back the microSD slot. The IR blaster can stay in the past, though.

Get over the notch obsession

We're over 18 months into the era of the notch. And phones like the Pixel 3 XL prove maybe it is time for something new. Or old, like no notch at all.

Remember when phones didn't have miniature trunks hanging down from the top of their screens? A half-desperate way to convince us our last phone was out-of-date and in need of a cab to eBay, or the dusty drawer in the spare room? 

Notches make it seem like your screen is bigger without actually making it more useful, as movies, games and articles don't flow around those lines.

But what will we actually get in 2019? The notch will still be around, but top phones will also use punch holes, which are like notches just large enough to fit around the front camera.

Don't forget security

Here's one for the Android phone makers. Android security updates are like taking a ten-minute meditation during busy weeks or forcing yourself to do exercise. You might not feel the difference from missing it once, but you'll be much better off in the long run if you stick to the plan.

Google releases monthly security updates for the Android platform. And how many phones actually get them? Hardly any, not regularly at any rate. Without these updates your mobile is more vulnerable.

Some phones are barely updated after launch, in any fashion. It's time to shape up. We do have to give a prop or two to Sony here, though. Often when we return to a Sony phone to write a feature, there are often a half-dozen updates to trawl through.

Discover camera enlightenment beyond 12MP

For years almost every top phone camera has used a 12MP sensor, usually one made by Sony. Sure, we know this approach works, and increasing resolution adds its own issues, caused by a shrinking of sensor pixels that reduces how much light a sensor gets to make up each pixel in the image.

But it's now time for phone-makers to give up the burdens of 2018 and follow their 2019 bliss, as Gwyneth Paltrow might say when not trying to sell you an avocado enema.

It looks like this progress will happen in 2019 too. And once again it's mostly thanks to Sony. In July it revealed the IMX586, a 48MP sensor for phones.

To the camera traditionalist, this sounds like a bad idea. Tiny sensor pixels means bad low-light performance and dynamic range. However, we're in the era of computational photography, which effectively lets a phone bunch together several of these pixels to boost performance when light isn't perfect.

It'd likely take 12MP images, until you switch on the "Pro" mode and force the full-res capture, which could work brilliantly on a sunny day. And we can't wait to see what the big smartphone names do with it.

Cheap phones deserve color too

Remember a few years ago, roughly 45 years in smartphone terms, during good old days of Nokia Lumia phones? Bright and colorful they were. So cheery they'd put a smile on your face just to look at the cute little palm sized things. What happened to fun, affordable phones? 

Today just about the only phone that brings some of that bold color to the party is the iPhone XR. And if you think that's affordable, you're wrong.

Phone-makers are now pros at making sub-$200 phones seem like ones that would have cost $600 or more a few years ago. But it's time to bring the fun back with some bold shades that don't try to look like the equivalent a TV host's shiny suit. 

Make it bold, make it pastel if you like. Just don't make it all-black.

Use bigger batteries, please (again)

This resolution turns up every year. We still want phones that last longer, between charges. Break it down honestly and you'll probably find this is more useful than 5G, more useful than a slightly better camera or a phone that folds.

Oddly enough, it seems some phone makers actually listened to this one in 2018, and ended up making some real bruisers in the budget category like the Moto G6 Play. A phone that lasts longer is much easier to live with.

It's not necessarily about being able to spend four extra hours poring over Instagram and Twitter, but having the extra juice so you can forget about the thing, without worrying whether it'll have enough power left for some Spotify on the way home. 

The big names in phones need to swallow their engineering pride and let a phone get slightly thicker for reasons other than fitting in a crazy camera or some new hardware most will barely use.

Google in 2018: a retrospective

These days, it’s impossible to look anywhere in the tech world without seeing Google’s fingerprints. This was definitely still true throughout 2018 – even Microsoft conceded to Chrome’s web browser dominance

However, with all the news that’s constantly flying around the internet about Google, it can be hard to pinpoint the year’s most pivotal moments. That’s why we’ve decided to dive into Google’s biggest moves throughout 2018 – with a bit of a look at the future, as well.

Google in 2018

Project Fi: all the networks

It was only a matter of time before Google launched its own cellular service – it’s been running Google Fiber, an internet service provider, in select cities for years now. Google Project Fi has technically been running since way back in 2015, but it blew up in a big way this past year. 

The way Project Fi works is that you’ll basically pay a flat $20 (about £15, AU$28) a month for all your regular cellular activities, like talking and texting. Then, you’re charged an extra $10 (about £8, AU$14) a month for each gigabyte of data you use. Heavy data users might notice that this would get expensive very fast, but Google put a cap on users’ bills in January, ensuring that users don’t have to pay more than $80 (about £62, AU$113) in a month.

It’s also reliable, as it essentially borrows signal from traditional carrier’s cell towers, like Sprint, T-Mobile and others. 

One of the things that has been holding Project Fi back over the last couple years has been the lack of compatible smartphones. Which is why it was such great news when, in November 2018, Project Fi opened up compatibility with Samsung and OnePlus smartphones – oh, and iPhones, too

Google in 2018

But, what about Google Fuchsia?

We’ve been on the edge of our seats anticipating Google Fuchsia for years now, and, well, it’s still not out yet. That doesn’t mean we didn’t get closer to a possible release date for the one OS to unite them all. 

Right at the beginning of the year, Google was testing the experimental OS on the Google Pixelbook, with a build that anyone could download and run. It was definitely an early version of the operating system, but it did give users an idea of what Fuchsia would look like, should it ever release. 

But, things kind of got complicated from there. Back in July, we got a report that Google was on track to launch Google Fuchsia within the next five years. But, there was a catch: neither Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Chrome and Android lead Hiroshi Lockheimer had signed off on any road map for Fuchsia’s release. Instead, the Google executives referred to Fuchsia as an “open source experiment” rather than an official project

But, because Fuchsia is an open source experiment, we kept hearing about advances made in the OS throughout the year from security implementations to the search-centric interface. Here’s to hoping all of this leads to something more concrete in 2019. 

Google in 2018

Some assistance, please

Smart speakers are everywhere these days, with Google, Amazon, Apple and more in a race to deliver the smart assistant for you and your home. In 2018, Google Assistant made waves. Google’s digital assistant was already capable of quite a lot, but after an update in October it’s capable of more than ever. 

That’s good news, because the Google Assistant is virtually on everything right now. Beyond every Android phone, it's on everything from new smart speakers, like Marshall’s Stanmore II and Acton II to Samsung’s next line of smart TVs.

Google is launching plenty of its own devices with its AI software, too, including the Google Home Hub, which goes head to head with Amazon’s Echo Show.

Google obviously has big plans for Google Assistant, and it wants the software running on as many devices as possible. And, if we keep hearing news about plans to bring personalized news feeds to smart speakers, we can’t wait to see what Google Assistant is capable of in 2019.

Google in 2018

Pixel dense

Google doesn’t just make money by harvesting your browsing data and turning it into targeted advertisements, it also launches mobile and computing hardware. This year, we got two fantastic phones and a tablet. 

Back at its Made by Google event in October, the tech giant launched the Pixel 3, Pixel 3 XL and the Google Pixel Slate

The Google Pixel 3 and its bigger cousin were the stars of the show, even if it didn’t look like a lot on paper. But, the Google Pixel 3 is more than the sum of its spec sheet, bringing an even better camera – when the Google Pixel 2 was already one of the best cameras in a smartphone. But, that’s not all – Google massively improved the camera software this time around, bringing around OLED displays, even if you’ll have to deal with a notch this time around.

Then there’s the Google Pixel Slate, Google’s answer to the Microsoft Surface Pro – but with much weaker hardware. It’s one of the first Chrome OS tablets on the market, with an optional keyboard cover that’ll set you back a whopping $199 (£189, about AU$280). Starting out with an Intel Celeron Processor, it’s by no means a powerhouse, but is does have its appeal as a media device for Google fans. We would have rather seen the Google Pixelbook 2, but, hey there’s always next year, right?

Google in 2018

Conclusions

Google isn’t the easiest tech company to sum up at the end of the year, as a lot of its major moves are drawn out over time, rather than the product releases. However, Google kind of got a lot done this year, even if it’s not as tangible as Apple or Microsoft. 

The search engine, long the core of its business, keeps getting better and better, and is more mobile friendly than ever. And, with its expansion into ostensibly being a cellular carrier, Google has a lot to be proud of, and we can’t wait to see where Google is going to expand next. Because, 2018 went to further prove that Google’s movements aren’t as predictable as their peers. 

And, while there wasn’t much in the way of new hardware, the new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are genuinely some of the best phones to come out in 2018. We just wish the Google Pixel Slate could have been more impressive. There is plenty of potential for a great Chrome OS tablet, we’re just not there yet. 

Maybe in 2019 we’ll see a true follow-up to the Google Pixelbook that redefines what the best Chromebooks are capable of. We’ve been rooting for the Chromebook from the sidelines for a while now, and with the problems Microsoft is having with the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, we think there’s room for Chrome OS to steal some of the spotlight. 

This year seemed to see Google laying out a lot of groundwork for future work, and we think it’s going to cash in on this work throughout the next couple of years. We know we’re on the edge of our seats to see what becomes of Google Fuchsia.

EU to fund bug bounty program for top open-source software

The European Union will help cover the expenses of bug bounty programs for 14 open-source projects according to an announcement made by EU Member of Parliament Julia Reda.

The projects that will receive funding for their bug bounty programs are 7-zip, Apache Kafka, Apache Tomcat, Digital Signature Services (DSS), Drupal, Filezilla, FLUX TL, the GNU C Library (glibc), KeePass, midPoint, Notepad++, PuTTY, the Symfony PHP framework, VLC Media Player and WSO2.

The bug bounty programs are being sponsored as part of the third edition of the Free and Open Source Software Audit (FOSSA) project.

FOSSA was first approved by EU authorities back in 2015 when security researchers discovered severe vulnerabilities in the OpenSSL library a year earlier.

Third edition of FOSSA

In her announcement, Julia Reda highlighted the importance of free and open-source software, saying:

"The issue made lots of people realise how important Free and Open Source Software is for the integrity and reliability of the Internet and other infrastructure. Like many other organisations, institutions like the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission build upon Free Software to run their websites and many other things."

The first edition of FOSSA ran between 2015 and 2016 with a budget of €1m and a public survey was held which decided that Apache HTTP web server and the KeePass password manager would receive a sponsored security audit.

FOSSA 2 had a budget of €2m but its bug bounty program was limited to €60,000 for the VLC Media Player app.

Beginning in January, security researchers and companies can hunt for vulnerabilities in the 14 open source projects chosen for FOSSA 3 and report them to earn a monetary award.

Via ZDNet

Major US papers hit by malware attack

The Los Angeles Times and several other major US newspapers, owned by Tribune Publishing CO such as the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun, were hit by a cyberattack last weekend that led to major printing and delivery disruptions. 

According to a source with knowledge of the incident, the cyberattack, which led to distribution delays in the Saturday edition of The Times, Tribune, Sun and other newspapers, likely originated outside of the US.

Tribune Publishing first discovered the malware on its systems on Friday.

The West Coast editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times were also affected since they are printed on the same shared production platform in Los Angeles.

Distribution delay

Back office systems utilised to publish and produce newspapers were disrupted by the malware according to Tribune Publishing spokesperson Marisa Kollias who explained that the financial details of its customers were not accessed by hackers, saying:

“There is no evidence that customer credit card information or personally identifiable information has been compromised.”

Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Katie Waldman revealed that the department is currently investigating the disruption caused by the cyberattack, saying:

“We are aware of reports of a potential cyber incident affecting several news outlets, and are working with our government and industry partners to better understand the situation.”  

Via Reuters

New York police will use a drone to monitor tonight's New Year's Eve celebrations

There'll be something new soaring among the fireworks over Times Square during tonight's New Year's Eve celebrations: a police drone.

According to The Associated Press, cops plan to use a quadcopter to keep an eye on partygoers and help them respond to any trouble before it gets out of hand. It's the first time a drone has been used this way during the festivities.

Three, two, one...

Tens of thousands of people are expected to descend on Times Square to ring in 2019. Law enforcement officers aren't expecting any particular trouble, but the drone will give them an extra view of the action should anything untoward take place.

“That’s going to give us a visual aid and the flexibility of being able to move a camera to a certain spot with great rapidity through a tremendous crowd,” said John Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.

A drone roaming freely in the dark could be dangerous, so the New York Police Department's craft will be tethered safely to a building and will never fly directly over the crowd. 

“Once it’s up in the air, it will probably be hard to see,” said the NYPD's chief of department Terence Monahan.

A new Digital Cockpit in the 2019 VW Jetta is a sign of things to come

Photo credit: Josiah Bondy

One of the key tech trends with cars is that the ‘elite’ features usually found in luxury vehicles has trickled down to everyday passenger cars that are more affordable. Lane-keeping tech, adaptive cruise, and even blind spot monitoring were reserved for the upper echelon only, those who could afford a Mercedes-Benz, a BMW, or an Audi.

Ford started the break the mold when it introduced automated parking to the Focus, and even the 2019 Ford Fiesta – at a price of only $14,260 (about £11,000, AU$20,000) – now has lane-keeping tech.

Customization for all

The best recent example of that is the 2019 VW Jetta, a mid-sized sedan that costs $18,545 (about £14,000, AU$26,000) and went through a redesign recently.

A new Digital Cockpit borrows heavily from the Audi brand (which is part of VW). It’s a 10-inch display above the steering wheel, showing your speed, trip info, and other info typically found in this location, but allows you to customize what you can see using the View button on the steering wheel, switching to a digital readout for RPMs and speed, or showing a massive navigation map to help you find your destination. 

Photo credit: Josiah Bondy

Audi goes a major step further with a similar display. In the A4, for example, you can see a Google Earth map that shows the terrain around you as you drive, helping you spot a lake off in the distance or track the edges of a mountain range.

Nothing quite like that here, but the Digital Cockpit is a safety feature as much as a digital age perk. You can focus on the road ahead of you instead of glancing over at the center display, which can be distracting.

Photo credit: Josiah Bondy

What’s most interesting to me about the Digital Cockpit is that these customizations are going to become more and more common, and we’re going to see more and more extra displays in cars.

In reviewing the 2019 Subaru Ascent recently, that was my first discovery: that there are four different screens in the car available to the driver, including the digital rear-view.

Total control

In the Jetta, the extra screen is handy because you can customize the settings. I preferred the view that showed me my speed in the lower right corner and my current music selection. (I tend to avoid using navigation in areas where I already know the route.)

The Jetta lets you customize the interior color, picking from 10 hues. You can also set the driver preferences for seat position and even climate control, save them under your own username and reactivate the settings in one click when you first jump in.

Photo credit: Josiah Bondy

In the near future, we might personalize things much further. Once we have multiple screens, we might decide to always show a camera view behind us, or choose one display that always shows your current music selection (along with a picture of the artist).

I could even see using a dedicated screen for showing a real-time camera pointing toward the back to keep an eye on the kids. And, for a vehicle that can pull cargo, a view of the trailer you’re towing.

Photo credit: Josiah Bondy

The driver is king or queen, and in the future, we’ll be able to customize every display to our own preferences – or disable them and just focus on the road ahead.

On The Road is TechRadar's regular look at the futuristic tech in today's hottest cars. John Brandon, a journalist who's been writing about cars for 12 years, puts a new car and its cutting-edge tech through the paces every week. One goal: To find out which new technologies will lead us to fully driverless cars.

The best Samsung Galaxy Note 8 deals in the January sales 2019

So the Galaxy Note 9 has been out for a little while, making the Note 8 old news. Right? Well that's what you would think. But the 2017 model is so incredible that it still performs just like a new model and not to mention it is so much cheaper than its successor. Samsung Galaxy Note 8 deals are definitely still well worth a look. And it's still getting cheaper!

When the Note 8 first came out, EE had deals locked down tight but now there is a pretty good spread across providers, Although EE still does have some of the very best deals on this device - what else would you expect from the UK's fastest network. Samsung Note 8 deals are now under the £900-mark in total over the two-year contract and can go as low as £750, and our clear Editor's Pick now offers 30GB of data a month instead of 20GB.

The Note 8 is not by any means a budget device, however. It's a absolutely massive  smartphone, not just in size but also in raw power. It's got the screen size and specification smarts to be a competitor to the highly praised iPhone X or iPhone's new massive iPhone XS Max and neither of those come cheap. But there are now some excellent Note 8 deals floating around. Check out our comparison chart and handpicked favourite Note 8 deals below.

Now we know some of you may have fiery memories of the Galaxy Note 7 in your head when looking at this device but leave those worries behind. Both the Note 8 and 9 have massively improved their batteries and you won't be facing overheating problems anymore. The Note 8 truly is miles ahead of the 7 in every way.

Our top 5 best Galaxy Note 8 deals in the UK today:

Should I get the Galaxy Note 8 SIM free?

Are you determined to get the very best price? Always looking to see how you can trim a few pounds off your new favourite gadget? As you probably know, you can now pick up cheap SIM only deals for as little as £4 a month, which could make it worth buying a SIM and handset separately or if you're willing to pay a bit more, how about Three's unlimited SIM deal for £20

The Galaxy Note 8's RRP has dropped massively recently to £649. That is much cheaper than it used to be but you will still be putting up a big chunk of money upfront. Even if you get the cheapest SIM card (usually around £4 a month for 500MB data), that would still cost near to £800 over the two years. You're probably better cranking up the upfront cost in our price comparison chart above, imposing a low maximum for monthlies and finding a cheaper deal in the long run.

To get the best price on your new SIM free Galaxy, you can head to our cheapest unlocked Note 8 deals page.

Wondering what all the fuss is about? Well the fervour for the Note 8 is probably doubled due to the fact that the Note 7 was pulled from shelves soon after release. But it doesn't take more than one look at the Note 8 to see that it justifies the hype.

The huge 6.3-inch ‘Infinity Display,’ is gorgeous to look at, the 6GB RAM innards go like a train and there are two best-in-class rear cameras. It's expensive, but we think the Note 8 is worth it. 

Read TechRadar's full Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

K7 Antivirus Premium

K7 Computing may not have the profile of the big-name competition, but there's more to the Indian company than you might think: 25+ years of antivirus experience, VirusTotal and OPSWAT partners, a range of home and business products, and more than 20 million users around the world.

K7 Antivirus Premium is the starter product in the range, but don't assume that means it's short on features. There's antivirus, exploit protection, a firewall, device control, USB vaccination, basic system clean-up tools and a virtual keyboard.

There's also a notable omission, though, in the lack of any URL filtering. Many antivirus packages will try to detect and block access to malicious or phishing websites, but not this one.

Single user pricing is good, with the package costing a mere $25 for a one device, one-year license. Kaspersky Anti-Virus doesn't have all the functionality of K7 Antivirus Premium, but it's noticeably more expensive at $32.50 (£25).

Add users and years and it's a little different. A five device, two-year license for K7 Antivirus Premium is $100; an equivalent Kaspersky license is a near identical $104 (£80). K7 still looks like good value for the features you get, but the price advantages fade if you opt for a multi-user license.

If you're intrigued by the lengthy feature list and low price, a free 30-day trial gives you a risk-free way to find out more.

Setup

Setup

The K7 Antivirus Premium installer looked very simple, just a 'View EULA' link and an 'Install' button, with not as much as a 'choose your installation folder' option to get in the way. So, we tapped Install and watched as the setup window disappeared, and - didn't return. No 'Done' message, no 'Please reboot' advice, nothing at all.

Task Manager didn't show any running installer, but the process didn't seem to have finished properly, either (there was no K7 shortcut on our desktop, nothing on the Start menu, no K7 icon in our system tray.) 

We rebooted, and a K7 icon appeared in our system tray. Unfortunately, it wouldn't respond to our left or right-clicks, just displaying a tooltip of 'Activation Pending.' After a few minutes, pop-ups asked us if we wanted to activate and update the package, but when we clicked 'yes please', warned us that the update had failed, and we should reinstall.

While this sounds easy, it really wasn't. Just as had happened in our last K7 review (though for different reasons), our first installation was broken. When we ran the installer again, it told us K7 Antivirus Premium was installed already and we should uninstall it; when we tried to run the uninstaller, it told us the process had failed and we should reinstall. Deadlock.

Activation

We went to work, finding and running K7's cleanup tool ourselves, cleaning our temporary folders, rebooting, closing all non-essential apps, trying K7's installer again, and - this time, we appeared to be in luck. We were prompted to enter our name and email address, and were told it was 'activating the product.'

Ten minutes later, when the 'activating...' message still hadn't gone away, we realized there was another problem, so closed the window and rebooted. This time, the K7 console refused to launch at all, telling us it couldn't find 'libcef.dll' (part of Chromium's Embedded Framework), and suggesting we reinstall.

So, we retraced our steps, uninstalled manually, re-ran the cleanup tool, wiped all our temporary files, rebooted, reinstalled, clicked Activate, provided our name, and this time, finally, were told activation was successful.

Checking out the K7 Computing folder revealed a relatively small installation, a little under 400MB. Most executable files were K7's own code, though we noticed a few relating to Chromium and Java. 

It's important that any antivirus can protect itself from malware, and right now K7 Antivirus Premium does this very well. We found processes and services were shielded from attack, files not easily deleted, and it seems malware won't have any quick way to disable K7's protection.

Features 1

Features

K7 Antivirus Premium has an unusual interface which focuses more on your protection status than anything else. A large panel highlights details like the last update time, virus definition version and how long might be left on your subscription. The few action buttons – Scan, Tools, Settings – are tucked away at the edge of the window.

The program offers what looks like a familiar set of scan types in Quick, Complete, Custom and Rootkit, but this doesn't tell the whole story. When we ran a Quick Scan, it finished in a fraction of a second, apparently because it checked only 201 files. Other packages might take two, three, four or more minutes, but they're also considerably more thorough, covering running processes, loaded modules, startup programs, maybe system folders, installed applications and more.

The problem with this feeble Quick Scan is you're left with few other options. The Complete Scan might take too long if you've lots of data, and the Custom Scan isn't very configurable. You can specify one or more folders, but it won't remember those choices for next time, and you can't include other system areas (running processes, the Registry). As a result, you're usually left to either scan not enough files, or far too many.

Real-world scanning speeds were slower than usual, and detection rates were average at best. When we turned on spyware detection, K7 Antivirus Premium also picked up many files we would consider to be safe. A ‘clean automatically’ default setting means you don't get to decide how they're treated, either: the program removes them to Quarantine without further prompting, unless you turn the feature off.

Firewall

K7 Antivirus includes a reasonably intelligent firewall. It sets up sensible automatic rules itself, so you're not hassled with endless "can process X go online?" queries, but experts can also add and edit custom rules as required.

K7 Antivirus Premium is unusual in having a device control system. You're able to disable USB, CD or DVD drives, for instance. It’s also possible to add password protection, prevent programs launching from those devices, or stop users copying files to them. 

Tools

A Tools tab bundles some much smaller functions. USB vaccination is probably the highlight, reducing the chance of a USB key becoming infected by autorun malware. A simple virtual keyboard might protect against keyloggers, and there are extremely basic cleaners for Windows and browser temporary files.

Settings

Browsing the Settings dialog reveals other interesting technologies and options, many not enabled by default. There's an Office plugin to scan all Word/Excel files opened by Office, for instance. We would expect those files to have been scanned already, but maybe checking them within Office brings some benefits. If you're interested, the plugin can be installed with a click.

Protection

Protection

We run simple detection tests on every antivirus we review, but these only give a general idea of what a package can do. To fully understand the big picture, we also check product ratings with the major independent testing labs.

AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test measures the performance of eighteen top antivirus engines against the latest threats. The July-November 2018 report takes an average of 5 tests, and it placed K7 in 11th place. While that's a little disappointing, it's not a disaster, and shows K7 delivers similar results to several other big-name antivirus vendors. K7 Antivirus Premium ranked only marginally behind McAfee and Symantec, for instance, and it outperformed Panda, ESET, Emsisoft and BullGuard.

AV-Test's October 2018 Windows Home User report found K7 Total Security blocked 100% of known threats, but was marginally below average at protecting against 0-day attacks. The end result was a broad agreement with AV-Comparatives, as both labs placed K7 in the lower half of their rankings.

Could the company regain some credit by detecting and blocking our custom ransomware simulator, a threat it had never seen before? Nope: we launched the simulator, and K7 just looked on as it encrypted thousands of documents.

There was some good news in AV-Test and AV-Comparatives' performance tests, which measure the impact of security software on your system's speed. K7 has had some performance issues in the past, but not any more, it seems. AV-Test's April and October 2018 performance tests placed K7 in first and second place out of 18 contenders, effortlessly outperforming the competition.

Final verdict

K7 Antivirus Premium has some powerful extras – namely device control, and a smart firewall – but the core antivirus engine just isn't as accurate or reliable as it needs to be. Throw in the installation issues and lack of URL filtering and it's not a package we can recommend.

Do your kids need an early night? Netflix has your back this New Year's Eve

Instead of partying until the early hours, many of us will be spending New Year's Eve curled up in front of the TV this year, and this is especially true if you have young children at home.

If you're spending the evening with the kids, you might be worried about letting them stay up until midnight in case they are overtired the next day – or maybe you just want some time to yourself.  

Well, thanks to Netflix, you could get them to bed early after all. The streaming giant has released a number of kid-friendly New Year's Eve countdowns, which can be played at any time you want, fooling your children into thinking it's midnight. 

Netflix and chill (literally)

With 12 titles to choose from, you should be able to find a countdown that your kids will love this year. These include The Boss Baby: Back in Business, All Hail King JulienTales of Arcadia, Spirit Riding Free, Fuller House, Beat Bugs, Pinky Malinky, Super Monsters, Motown Magic, True and the Rainbow Kingdom, Larva Island, Skylanders AcademyPrince of Peoria, and Alexa & Katie.

Netflix released its first fake countdown for kids way back in 2014, with Madagascar's King Julien leading the festivities. Since then, they have taken off in popularity, with around five million members tuning in each year, according to the streaming platform.

So, if you're hoping for a tranquil end to the year, Netflix may just be exactly you need to see in the New Year with well-rested kids (and a bit of peace and quiet.)

Via BGR

13 weird and wonderful niche Linux distros of 2018

Note: Our weird and wonderful niche Linux distros roundup has been fully updated. This feature was first published in December 2011.

Fed up with the bog-standard Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora and so on? Looking for a distro that reflects your individuality? In this roundup we've discovered no less than 13 of the quirkiest and most useful distributions that Linux has to offer.

They include one distro which is the official, sanctioned OS of North Korea, no less, and an OS which is so light it will run on a PC from the mid-80s.

Read on to find out more about each of these interesting distros. Before we begin, however, do note that not all of these operating systems are suitable for everyday use without extensive modification – so consider running them from a Live CD/USB or within a virtual machine, rather than installing them on a computer. 

  • Linux Format is the number one magazine to boost your knowledge on Linux, open source developments, distro releases and much more. Subscribe to the print or digital version of Linux Format here

Image credit: DistroWatch

The ‘hermit kingdom’ that is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is one of the most isolated countries in the world. The internet is strictly censored (indeed, most North Koreans have never even heard of it) and access to computers is patchy. 

Unwilling to rely solely on operating systems developed by the imperialist US, supreme leader Kim Jong-Il sanctioned the development of an official OS of North Korea named Red Star, which is based on Linux and uses North Korean terminology and spelling. 

Red Star fully lives up to the Orwellian reputation of the DPRK. It is closed source and has a feature which watermarks any media files copied to external drives with the hard drive’s serial number. This is most likely because North Korean dissidents often swap banned films using a 'sneakernet' of USB sticks. Red Star also has a supposed 'virus scanner' which can automatically delete censored files. The root user is disabled by default, meaning you don't have full control over your system. 

For this reason, you should only run Red Star inside a virtual machine. See our guide on how to do this here

Development of Red Star has continued under the auspices of supreme commander Kim Jong Un. Version 3.0 was released back in 2014 and uses the KDE desktop environment, bearing a strong resemblance to macOS. It works quite well but is preconfigured to only use North Korea's intranet by default, so can't access the web at large, except for a few pages on the Mozilla website. 

As the OS is based on Linux, skilled users can tinker with the language and DNS settings to use it in English with internet access. There's also a server-only version (4.0) used by the DPRK's official airline Air Koryo which can connect directly to the internet, but it's not available for general download.  

The default web browser Naenara (meaning ‘My Country’) is a modified version of Firefox 3.5. We searched for 'democracy' in the default search engine, but nothing came up.

As a final reminder: if you want to give this a whirl, don’t install the OS on actual hardware, but rather inside a virtual machine.

The classically educated reader might be able to guess that MuLinux is a small distro – the Greek letter 'mu' is the SI designation for one millionth. 

Mu was designed to be a minimal distro along the lines of Puppy or Damn Small Linux, but it's considerably more miniscule. The OS was developed to run from floppy disks, so only requires 20MB of hard disk space and 4MB of RAM. It will run on any machine with an Intel 80386 processor or later. This particular processor was released in 1985 so it’s safe to say that MuLinux can breathe life into ancient hardware.

Development of MuLinux was frozen in 2004. As mentioned, it was originally designed in such a way to allow the user to install and run a basic Unix-like shell from a single floppy disk, then install additional packages such as server tools from separate disks.

CAINE (which stands for Computer Aided INvestigative Environment) is aimed at users with an interest in crime scene investigation. It's an Italian flavor of Linux designed for forensic analysis and other types of police work.

CAINE includes a variety of CSI tools such as the Autopsy Forensic Browser, stenography tools and The Sleuth Kit. UFO (Ultimate Forensic Outflow) supports full, detailed recovery analysis such as browser history, password recovery, malware, log viewers and network analysis tools.

CAINE Linux is built around four objectives which include an interoperable environment that supports digital investigation, a user-friendly interface, and a semi-automated compilation of the final report. The ISO file weighs in at 3.6GB.

This is one that will appeal to the techies out there – the thing that marks GoboLinux out from the rest is its filesystem layout. Most Linux distributions use an archaic non-arrangement wherein an application's files are scattered around your hard drive in several different folders.

GoboLinux adopts a macOS-like approach (which Apple in turn took from RISC OS), and stores all files associated with an application in a single folder in '/Programs'. For instance, if you have a program named 'foo' all files pertaining to it would be stored in '/Programs/foo'. You can still install multiple versions of the same application if you wish, for example, for separate users on the system. This is managed by GoboLinux's file virtualization tool Runner.

The most current version of GoboLinux is 016.01, released in April 2017, but the project's Github page shows Gobo is in active development. The latest version includes a copy of one of the very first web browsers, NCSA Mosaic, for a bit of old-school net surfing. GoboLinux also now includes GoboNet, a lightweight and daemon-free network manager.

If you like software freedom, you'll love GNewSense. The OS has had all non-free software removed, including binary 'blob' files in the kernel, so-named as they use proprietary code. Unfortunately, many of these blobs are drivers for wireless networking cards, so GNewSense may not work well with laptops. 

On the plus side, it has removed or renamed software that doesn't fit the Free Software Foundation's definition of freedom. The OS uses a modified version of Debian's IceWeasel browser, for instance, to avoid using the Firefox trademark. GNewSense doesn’t provide any links to non-free repositories, making it even more free than Debian.

After a three year hiatus, the latest version of GNewSense, codenamed Ucclia, was released in May 2016 and is based on Debian 7. It can be booted as a Live CD to help you check whether it supports your hardware.

Do you love Linux? Do you really love it? Because you're going to need to if you want to follow the Linux from Scratch program. Not (technically) a formal distro, LFS is more a set of tutorials and packages designed to help you set up your own completely bespoke Linux system. From scratch.

That means first creating a temporary system with which to compile the real thing, building your own partitions and file system, and installing every element of a functioning Linux system painstakingly by hand. Oh, and figuring out exactly why it isn't working.

The documentation comes in freely downloadable volumes, charmingly entitled 'Stable' for the latest release and 'Development' if you want to check out the version that creator Gerard Beekmans and his team are working on at this very moment. There's also a systemd version, which uses the latest in system initialisation techniques.

One of the easiest ways to get started is to read the freely downloadable LFS Book, which takes you through all the steps for constructing your own system. As of LFS version 8.0, the book has undergone a major rewrite with hundreds of new packages now available.

NixOS has grown from a simple research project in 2014 to a fully-fledged independent operating system, optimised for cutting-edge system configuration management. It qualifies as weird and wonderful due to the fact that the OS, kernel, and other system files are created using the integrated Nix package manager.

While Linux traditionally lumps packages together in various system folders such as /bin, Nix stores them in a single location (/nix/store).

The advantage of this is that all upgrades are 'atomic'. With traditional Linux distros, upgrading one package can cause others to break if they have shared dependency. Nix's crafty package segregation means that all updates and upgrades can be reversed. This makes for a very stable system.

Moebuntu is an upgrade for existing Ubuntu installations designed especially for fans of Manga and Anime, and it shows how the OS can be tweaked or fine-tuned to the extreme. There’s an automated setup tool which will apply the colourful desktop and icon themes – prepare yourself for some alarming hues of pink if you do so. There's also a suitably rosy dash icon as well as an array of wallpapers and Manga-style fonts.

As gaudy as this may appear, the advantage of Moebuntu is that it has kept pace with the times. The latest release supports Ubuntu 17.04 so unlike some of the other distros we've highlighted, you can enjoy a taste of the weird and wonderful while having an up-to-date OS.

  • You can install the Moebuntu desktop theme, icon packs, wallpaper and Dash icon by following the steps on the Moebuntu website

Having given the devil his due with Ubuntu Satanic Edition earlier in this article, it’s only fair that we let Christians rejoice about the version of Linux crafted just for them.

Ubuntu CE offers a non-denominational version of Linux for Christians, based on the standard Ubuntu builds. The latest version is built on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (long term support). 

The stated aim of the project is to try to encourage more people within the Christian community to realise the power of Linux and switch to Ubuntu.

The latest release incorporates Xiphos, a bible study tool, as well as worship presentation software OpenLP and Quelea, which can be used to project bible verses, hymns and so on.

Ubuntu CE also includes the powerful 'Dansguardian' content filter providing advanced parental controls. The wallpaper has been thoughtfully chosen with Biblical quotes.

There still exists among our Windows-using cousins the risible idea that Linux isn't good enough to take over on the desktop – that the continued dominance of Microsoft on the desktop is inevitable, because Linux is not up to the job technically.

This can easily be refuted. All of the top 500 supercomputers in the world now run Linux. Also, the cleverest people on the planet – scientists searching for clues about the beginning of the universe – also use Scientific Linux at the CERN laboratories. 

This distro is a rebuild of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and is actively developed by people within CERN, Fermilab and ETHZ. Anyone can download and install it on their machine – you don't even need a PhD in theoretical physics.

Parted Magic is a Live distro that comes with all the tools you need to fix broken partitions. If something won't boot, this is what you use to fix it, and that goes for both Linux and Windows machines. It is most often used as a tool, although technically it is a Linux distribution in its own right. 

Parted Magic also allows for secure disk erasing (making sure that data is really nuked), benchmarking, and disk cloning among other features. As a troubleshooting aid, it's indispensable, but it will cost you $11 (around £8.70, AU$15.60) to download direct from the author's site. For an additional fee you can order it preinstalled on USB or DVD.

This distro is drastically out-of-date and about as niche as they come, but HML – or Hannah Montana Linux – is the perfect desktop for fans of Miley Cyrus’ heady Nickelodeon days. Enjoy a pink Hannah Montana-themed KDE desktop, featuring Tux with the double-life teenage singer's logo emblazoned on his belly. 

It also includes a custom Hannah Montana boot screen, theme, icon set and wallpapers. The website helpfully adds that it is not vulnerable to Windows viruses.

There's no reason to use HML unless you're a diehard Hannah fan, but since it's based on Kubuntu using KDE 4.2, there are plenty of packages to install. You could even upgrade it to the latest version of Kubuntu by running the command 'sudo apt-get dist-upgrade' from the Linux Terminal. Alternatively, diehard Montana-fans can download the icons and/or theme pack and install it on top of their existing KDE install.

Zeroshell comes from Italy, and it’s a small Linux distro designed to run as a Live CD for servers or embedded devices such as routers. You can even install it onto a Raspberry Pi. 

It has no GUI but you can access and configure it from your web browser. Zeroshell is a lot more powerful than the average router's web interface allowing you to perform activities such as assigning IP addresses, DHCP provision and changing DNS settings. It can function as a proxy, VPN access point or a firewall, and can interface with any network appliance. 

Zeroshell is in active development: the latest version (3.8.2) was released in December 2017.

Samsung reportedly working on Galaxy A50 and Galaxy M20 smartphones

Although the Samsung Galaxy A8s has yet to hit Indian markets, we can safely expect it to do so soon, given that the company brings all its offerings to the country, and moreover, its closest competitor, the Honor View20, is set to come to India in a short while. Meanwhile, the South Korean company is busy working on the launch of its upcoming flagship phones, the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, which are expected to launch at or around the Mobile World Congress on Feb 25, 2019. And it appears that the company is also working on two other mid-tier phones, the Galaxy M20 and Galaxy A50.

The M20 is expected to launch before the S10, but it seems that the A50 will only go official after the Mobile World Congress 2019. Previous rumours that the A50 would pack a 5000mAh battery have now been denied; it seems it will pack a 4000mAh one instead.

Additionally, the Samsung Galaxy A50 will support more than one rear camera, and the primary one will have a 24MP sensor. The device will be powered by Samsung’s Exynos 7 9610 chipset, an octa-core processor with four Cortex-A73 cores and four A53s. There will reportedly be two storage variants of the A50- a 4GB/64GB version, and 4GB/128GB.

The A50 is expected to run Android 9 Pie out of the box, based on its own One UI. Judging by this information, the A50 will probably launch after the Galaxy S10 and S10+, since the yearly flagship phones are usually the first to launch with the latest software, and the Galaxy S10 series is said to run Android 9 Pie out of the box as well.

Further reports place an in-display fingerprint sensor on the A50, but it is said to be an optical sensor rather than the ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensor expected in the S10.

Secure and easy authentication will become a business advantage in 2019

At RSA’s 2004 security conference, Bill Gates predicted, “There is no doubt that over time, people are going to rely less and less on passwords,” adding that passwords “just don’t meet the challenge for anything you really want to secure.” 

A pertinent truth that is often forgotten when discussing the importance of authentication is that passwords should have been removed from the equation a long time ago. However, many companies do not see why they should protect their users by moving away from passwords; they do not see customer security as a sales point nor a part of their business practice. Meanwhile, regulators see strong authentication as a business to business practice and not as a ‘must have’ in the consumer market.

As a result of a shift in awareness, regulations, and motivation in 2018 alone, we have more evidence than ever to believe this change will finally be implemented in the coming year, with many companies standing to benefit from its advantages. 

Shift in awareness

There was an endless cycle of credential related breaches in 2018, from HSBC to Twitter and most notably Facebook, which resulted in an increase in both business and consumer awareness for weak single factor authentication. 

Shift in regulations

With regulatory officials like HIPPA and PCI-DSS supporting multi-factor authentication and its three factor types: something you know, something you have and something you are, this mode of verification is here to stay.  

Shift in liability

With the implementation of The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) this year, the liability has shifted from the end user to the data handler and data processor, leaving the company legally liable for any breach of customer privacy and information. This change in liability hits organizations where it hurts – profits – giving them an incentive to provide better authentication processes to employees and customers alike.

These shifts have been predicted, however in the last few months we have seen an interesting shift in the least expected place: the US government. Sen. Richard Blumenthal tweeted that “we must set clear customer data protection standards for all companies — whether they’re hotel chains, online retailers, or big tech — and severe penalties for those who fall short.”

The public, regulators, and government are each aware of the dangers of passwords. In 2019 we will start to see companies which already utilize multi-factor authentication, present it as a unique sales value. Companies that don’t already use it will begin to support multi-factor authentication and use their newfound security to attract customers. 

User experience and cost are two other components we believe will also soon adapt. An attractive business model is to offer a less expensive option for identity security that is both easier and more secure. According to Gartner’s 2018 Market Guide for User Authentication:

“By 2022, 60% of large and global enterprises, and 90% of midsize enterprises (MSEs), will implement passwordless methods in more than 50% of use cases, which is an increase from fewer than 5% today.”

Passwordless authentication is more secure, requires less maintenance (password resets, employee downtime) and the overall experience is simpler and easier, creating a superior user experience and a higher conversion of sales. Although over a decade too early, Bill Gates got it right in 2004 as we will see the masses move away from passwords in 2019.    

Raz Rafaeli, CEO and Co-founder of Secret Double Octopus 

Games of the year 2018: TechRadar’s favorite Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC titles

It’s been a heck of a year for videogames. We’ve navigated the ruins of Greece, trekked through ancient Midgard, ran down trains in the wild west and even raced through the cobbled streets of Britain. But which games have really stood out to us this year?

It’s been a hard task, but the TechRadar team has put their heads together and thrashed out which games we believe were the best this year. At times it got vicious and downright dirty, but we did it for you. So without further ado, here are TechRadar’s games of the year.

Best Virtual Reality Game

Tetris Effect

Think you know Tetris? Think again. It’s been re-invented many times over the years, but by bringing the game into the realm of virtual reality, Tetris Effect is revelatory. 

Taking its cues from the VR port of Rez, Tetris Effect magically pulls together astonishing visual effects and an incredible soundtrack to make Tetris a multi-sensory experience more closely akin to a rhythm action game. It’s a joyous addition to the PSVR’s growing library.

Honorable mention: Astro Bot: Rescue Mission.

Best Mobile Game

Pokémon Go 

We know Pokémon Go didn’t release this year, but the mobile game showed no sign of slowing down in 2018 - if anything it’s getting even bigger. 

With the release of Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee/Pikachu, players now have even more versatile ways to play Go. Not to mention the continually popular community events, the release of the Trainer Battles feature and the unveiling of the mysterious Meltan. We will be trying to catch them all for a while yet it seems.

Honorable mentions: New Star Soccer Manager and Florence.

Best Action Game

Hitman 2 

There wasn’t a huge amount of hype about Hitman 2 before its release but, much like Agent 47 himself, the game sneaked up on us. 

Although Hitman 2 doesn’t do much to drastically change the series’ formula (except for the introduction of multiplayer Ghost mode), we found that that’s precisely what we love about it - plus, assassinating drug lords in Colombia with poison is always a recipe for a good time.

Honorable mention: Far Cry 5.

Best Action/Adventure Game

Marvel’s Spider-Man

If Batman Arkham Asylum proved that superhero games could not only be good, but be great, Marvel’s Spider-Man showed that they could rival the big-screen adaptations of our comic book heroes too. 

Dazzlingly pretty, wonderfully fun and full to the brim with jaw-dropping moments that would make the late Stan Lee proud, ol’ webhead had a truly great adventure this year.

Honorable mention: Red Dead Redemption 2.

Best RPG Game

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

We’ve come to expect a certain calibre of game when it comes to the Assassin’s Creed series: history, assassinations and a stunning open-world to explore. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey does not disappoint on any of these fronts, providing a vast environment and tantalizing story that truly captures the essence of Ancient Greece. 

Also, you can finally play as a female lead character in a game that will keep you busy for at least 100 hours. Talk about value for money.

Honorable mention: Octopath Traveler.

Best Online Multiplayer Game

Fortnite 

So, here’s the thing – Fortnite actually released back in 2017, and got off to a shaky start as it focused on its base-building, AI-wave battling campaign mode. No-one really cared all that much, but developer soon started turning its attention to the free Battle Royale mode of the game it was offering all players. And, over the course of 2018, it became a phenomenon. 

It’s improved dramatically over the past year, and has grown to become one of the most popular games, well, ever. Find us a kid that isn’t playing Fortnite, and we’ll show you a kid that doesn’t like playing online games with their pals. And so, it would be impossible to crown any other title king of the online multiplayer hill this year.

Honorable mention: Sea of Thieves. 

Best Sport/Racing Game

Forza Horizon 4

Forza Horizon 4 is undeniably stunning, letting you race through the winding countryside and cobbled cities of Great Britain. However it’s not just the graphics that made Forza Horizon 4 our favourite sports game of the year. 

Playground Games’ series continues to push the limits of the racing genre - creating an open-world racing title like no other. 

Honorable mentions: Madden NFL 19 and FIFA 19.

Best Fighting Game

Super Smash Bros Ultimate

It’s been quite a year for fighting games but there’s only one that we felt deserved the title of the best: Super Smash Bros Ultimate. We’ve been waiting for Ultimate since Nintendo announced it at E3 2018 and it certainly didn’t disappoint. 

The Ultimate roster includes more characters, stages and modes than ever before, and finally introduces an online competitive mode. Nintendo have even promised more characters are on the way. It’s not hard to see why Super Smash bros Ultimate is our King of the Ring. 

Honorable mentions: Dragon Ball Fighter Z and Soulcalibur VI.

Best Narrative Game

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 was arguably the biggest, and most eagerly anticipated, game of 2018. Sometimes boarding the hype train means that you’re greatly disappointed when the title releases and you need to disembark, but luckily this wasn’t the case with Red Dead Redemption 2. 

Not only did Red Dead 2 look spectacular but its intertwining emotional storylines (and side quests) had us deeply invested in Arthur Morgan, the Van Der Linde gang and the changing west. We don’t want to spoil anything, but have some ice cream ready to fill the void Red Dead will leave when you finish.

Honorable mention: God of War.

Best Party Game

Overcooked cemented its place as a much-have party game when it released in 2016, so it’s no surprise Overcooked 2 followed suit. Introducing more characters, more madcap levels and new recipes, Overcooked 2 has built on what the chaotic game so much fun - absolute anarchy. 

Overcooked 2 may have destroyed office friendships but we feel that it’s completely worth it.

Honorable mention: Super Smash Bros Ultimate.

Best Indie Game

Two-Point Hospital

A spiritual successor to Theme Hospital, Two-Point Hospital injected us with nostalgia and dosed us up with tongue-in-cheek humor. The hospital sim proved a hit among newbies and old hands, with its chaotic characters and illnesses such as Bloaty Head, Mock Star, and Jest Infection. It’s a modern twist on a classic and we can’t get enough.

Honorable mentions: Celeste and Into the Breach.

Game of the Year

God of War 

It was a hard one to pin down, and Red Dead Redemption 2 almost had it, but we decided that God of War was our deserving winner of Game of the Year. Between the emotionally captivating relationship between Atreus and Kratos, powerful visuals, intriguing mythological world and action-packed combat; it’s hard to pin down what it is we value most about God of War. 

Although God of War’s gameplay strays from its predecessors, we felt that the heart of the series’ newest addition made it truly spectacular.

Honorable mention: Red Dead Redemption 2.

Most Excited About

Cyberpunk 2077

We’ve been spoiled by ProjektRed’s Witcher RPGs over the past decade, but with Geralt’s story coming to an end, it’s time for something new. Cyberpunk 2077 looks set to take the free-roaming, narrative-heavy direction of the Witcher series, but thrust it into an all-new first person futuristic world. 

Imagine a BladeRunner film that you can play, and you’re pretty much there. We’re incredibly excited about Cyberpunk 2077… but will we really see it in 2019? It seems so ambitious, we’re starting to think this one may be destined for the Xbox Two and PS5 of the future.

Honorable mentions: The Elder Scrolls 6 and Ghost of Tsushima.

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