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Don't mention the seam! Microsoft releases Surface Duo Android SDK, more on Windows 10X

New SDK shows both potential and challenge of the new Surface devices


Microsoft has released a preview SDK for its forthcoming Android Surface Duo device, and has confirmed a Developer Day on February 11th when the SDK for the Windows dual-screen Surface Neo will be previewed.

The dual-screen tablet, running a new version of Windows called 10X, and Surface Duo, running Android, were unveiled back in October 2019 – but details on the developer story have so far been sketchy.

The mist has now lifted a little. Microsoft's Kevin Gallo, corporate veep, cleared a few things up as the preview SDK for Surface Duo was released; he also added that the SDK and emulator for Windows 10X will be available on February 11.

Microsoft's plans are ambitious. While dual-screen mobile devices (both for Windows and Android) are not completely new, they are not mainstream, and the company has to convince the world of the desirability of this form factor. Further, Windows developers who have endured constant mind-changing from Microsoft in setting out its application platform strategy are now being asked to embrace Android as well as Windows.

A sign of the novelty of the company's plans is that it wants to create "new web standards … to enable dual-screen experiences for websites and PWAs [Progressive Web Applications] on both Android and Windows 10X."

These proposals include CSS Primitives for building dual layouts, with a new "spanning" media query to detect browser windows that span multiple displays, and new "fold" environment variables to enable developers to calculate screen segment sizes based on the fold size. There is also a proposed JavaScript API for handling screen segments. An example is where you might have a map on one screen, and a list of locations on the other. If the user then resized the browser to occupy only one display, the location list could move under the map.

The proposed CSS "spanning" media query will let developers properly handle multiple displays

Microsoft will no doubt implement these proposals in Edge, but that does not guarantee that other browsers will follow or that the standards will be approved.

Writing separate applications for Windows and Android, both with proper support for dual screens, sounds like a big ask. Gallo highlights three solutions for cross-platform development. One is to create web applications or PWAs. The second is React Native; and third is Xamarin, a .NET solution.

David Ortinau, principal program manager on the Xamarin team, has posted separately about developing for the new devices. Both Gallo and Ortinau mention five "recommended patterns" for dual screen applications. These are Extended Canvas (treating it as one large screen), Master-Detail, paged, Dual View – two versions of the same content side by side, such as a text description and a map or visual portrayal – and Companion Pane, such as an image on one side and tools for editing it on the other.

Recommended patterns for dual screen apps

A key issue is how to manage the seam, and there are suggestions on this topic in Microsoft's documentation. The seam, or hinge, is an area of the screen that appears to the developer as if it is blanked out, even though there is no actual display there. It is unfortunate that it works this way. Dialog spanning two screens? Bad idea, says the guide.

Developers keen to get started can do so immediately with the preview SDK for Android. Installation on Windows puts a handy Surface Duo emulator link on the desktop, but in our case it did not work. We needed to fix a script that makes assumptions about the location of the Android SDK. Once done, you can try Surface Duo.

The Surface Duo emulator - we found it awkward but it is a preview

A quick play with the Android SDK and emulator soon showed us the kinds of things that can go wrong. The emulator was sluggish for us, and while Microsoft's sample apps ran successfully, we had difficulty positioning them correctly on the emulator. In addition, we saw what can go awry with the seam problem, with a virtual keyboard popping up that had a prompt with missing letters.

The wrong way to span two displays - note the missing letters

Dual screens can be great; many desktop PC users find multiple displays more convenient and productive than just one, and in principle they have potential on mobile devices tool, and without the technical challenges (and reliability concerns) of folding screens.

The challenge for Microsoft will be to enthuse developers sufficiently that there are strong dual-screen apps available for the launch of these devices, and to do that both for Windows 10X and for Surface Duo. ®

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Eco-friendly warning from UK tech trade group: Some of you have dirty green credentials

IT sector at risk of public humiliation if CMA finds they're not up to code

TechUK – the UK’s digital trade association representing computer giants and start-ups alike – has called on firms to check their green credentials and make sure they stand up to scrutiny.

The warning comes as UK businesses were told to brush up on their eco-claims or risk public humiliation and enforcement action by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Businesses have until the New Year to make sure their environmental claims – such as those regarding energy consumption, packaging, recycling, and product lifecycle assessments – comply with the law and are not simply an exercise in greenwashing.

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A Burger King where the only Whopper is the BSOD font

Come for the bork, stay for the burger

Bork!Bork!Bork! Bork goes back to its roots today, with a screen of purest blue showing its unwanted face outside a US Burger King branch.

At least it makes a change from McDonald's, very much the DNS of Bork when it comes to failures.

In this instance, it looks like it is the exterior signage, normally showing a slideshow of tasty (and frequently greasy) treats, that has succumbed to the curse of Microsoft.

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Ransomware recovery: Start getting back up before you’re even hit

Here’s how to put your plan together

Sponsored What’s the first step to recovering from a ransomware attack? Making sure you have a recovery plan in place well before you get attacked.

It’s not just a question of minimizing the chances of an attacker breaking through your defenses. You don’t have to make it easy for them, of course, but one will probably get through, eventually.

Yes, having the backups on hand to restore data if necessary is a given. But it’s also about having the tooling in place to recognize the attackers early, and being able to assess the impact. And it’s about working out whether you really need to turn to your backups, or whether there are other ways to remediate the attack.

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Like a phoenix rising from the smouldering ruins of its data centre, OVH sets sights on IPO

Tells market not to worry - insurers will pay $58m to 'cover the consequences of the fire'

OVH Groupe SAS is edging closer to a potential initial public offering (IPO) expected to value the European hosting and cloud biz at around $4.7bn – months after a fire engulfed part of its data centre real estate.

The privately owned company, which trades as OVH Cloud, today issued a letter and series of documents confirming it is "contemplating" an IPO on Euronext Paris with the intent to "raise up to €400m through the issuance of new shares."

As part of the move, existing shareholders that have "supported the business" since 2016 – namely private equity investors KKR and Towerbrook, which own 10 per cent of the shareholding each – intend to sell some of the stock. Back then, OVH Cloud was valued at £1bn.

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GitLab all set to go public as revenues – and losses – rise

IPO was expected last year but then we had a pandemic

DevOps darling GitLab has finally filed for an Initial Public Offering (IPO) as revenues continue to grow and losses widen.

The IPO had been expected in 2020 but the company put things off due to the pandemic until late last week, when the paperwork was filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The company, founded in 2014, has remained tight-lipped over the sums involved, although the filed S-1 form recorded that the proposed maximum aggregate offering price is estimated at $100m.

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Kali Linux 2021.3 released with new tools

Most users better off with rolling release, but quarterly build has more quality testing

Kali Linux version 2021.3 has been released with new tools, though its makers explain that some features which make it good for penetration testing also make it bad for general use.

The specialist Linux distribution, based on Debian, is designed for security professionals (and also handy for administrators confronted by problems such as a standalone Windows PC and a user with a lost password). It is sponsored by a US company called Offensive Security, who do information security training and penetration testing.

Kali Linux is a rolling release; that is, updates are released constantly, including feature updates. Nevertheless, there is also a quarterly release. Senior developer Ben Wilson, who works on Kali Linux at Offensive Security, explained in a video that "there's a trade-off between stability and bleeding edge".

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Don't forget to leave a rating: Amazon chairman meeting with UK prime minister to talk taxes

4 stars - did not warn us about 'digitalisation of the economy'*

Britain's tow-headed Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been granted an audience with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, during which he will discuss the “challenges” of taxing giant tech corporations in a digital economy.

BoJo - whose full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson - is flying to Washington DC this week to meet US President Joe Biden, with a stop also scheduled at the United Nations to talk climate change.

As part of that tour he will also meet Bezos, who stepped down from his chairman role at Amazon in July, handing control of the business to AWS CEO Andy Jassy. Bezos remains as chairman.

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Clegg on its face: Facebook turns to former UK deputy PM to fend off damaging headlines

Plus: US lawmakers get 'in touch with Facebook whistleblower'

Facebook has hit back at a series of reports in the Wall Street Journal as it tries to counter a week of damaging headlines which lifted the lid on the inner workings of the social media biz.

The WSJ alleged Facebook Inc knows, "in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands."

Its investigation included articles claiming that researchers inside Facebook-owned Instagram had found the photo-sharing platform was harmful to a "sizable percentage" of young people, especially teenage girls, but "played down the app's negative effects."

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Yikes, tough crowd: Only 30% of German-speaking users are happy with SAP's cloud push

Licensing, integration and security remain challenges, says DSAG survey

Less than a third of German-speaking SAP users think the global application vendor is doing a good job of getting its software to work in the cloud.

The survey from user group DSAG, which represents those in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, showed that only 30 per cent of members have had good experiences with SAP in the cloud. The figure for use of non-SAP software was around 60 per cent.

"That one-third approval is a surprising finding. It shows that SAP needs to work harder to solve critical issues like licensing, integration and security, and to build trust – for example, with sustainable concepts and lots of persuasions," said DSAG chairman Jens Hungershausen.

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US Federal Aviation Administration issues draft assessment of SpaceX Super Heavy impact

The environmental impact, not the smoking crater made by an impact

SpaceX took another step towards launching the orbital version of its Starship last week with the release of a Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (DPEA) from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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Crank up the volume on that Pixies album: Time to exercise your Raspberry Pi with an... alternative browser

The Register dips another toe in the Flow

While browser-makers squabble over standards, privacy and exactly what their User-Agent string should say, Ekioh's clean-room browser, Flow, has continued to quietly advance.

The Register last looked at Flow over Christmas 2020 and we came away impressed with the work in progress, not least its speed and the lack of data slurpage. There were, however, problems, one of which was that Google's web applications were not entirely happy.

In a lengthy blog post Ekioh's CEO, Piers Wombwell, explained the hoops that need to be jumped through in order to persuade Google Docs to run acceptably. While a canvas-based approach is inbound, getting the current incarnation up and running necessitated some head-scratching from the Flow team and demanded fixes. Sure – Google Docs seemed to load OK, although there was no word-wrap. But could you type into it? Nope.

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