Getting sick of walled gardens, locked bootloaders and over-managed app stores? (We're looking at you, Amazon.) We've got some good news. A few weeks back we shined a spotlight on the Spark tablet, a Linux-based open source tablet being cobbled together by KDE developer Aaron Seigo. Yesterday, it went up for preorder. Time to whip out those credit cards, Linux lovers! Oh, wait, never mind -- the site doesn't force you to whip out the plastic to land a spot in line for a Spark.
Tablets are nifty, but for the most part, they're built to be walled gardens; Apple is notorious for its heavy-handed curation, Microsoft plans on keeping Windows 8's Metro-style apps close to the chest, and the hot-selling Kindle Fire is a deeply tweaked and thoroughly managed variant of Android. One Linux developer hopes to make things more customizable with Spark, a Mer/KDE Plasma Active-powered tablet that's fully unlocked and open for tinkering.
With the first e-G8 meeting this week, we suspected that Internet issues would come up at the real G8 conference attended by world leaders. French president Nicolas Sarkozy is known for his desire to “tame” the web, which he sees as a threat to content owners. Imagine our surprise when a memo leaked to the Financial Times indicated wide support of the principals of freedom that made the Internet the force for good it has thus far been.
There’s a certain irony, nay, humor in an add-on that’s called “Restartless Restart.” But this isn’t just some lame play on words worthy of inclusion in a typical David Murphy column. No, the developers of this Firefox add-on are completely serious in their task: Their extension requires no closing and reopening of your Firefox browser whatsoever to install, even though the entire point of the add-on is to give you a super-fast way to do just that.
Every now and then, I'm reminded of the Internet's power to really screw things up.
As I go about my normal day as a technology journalist, half of the stories I catch across the wire are usually something related to the unfolding social landscape of the Web 2.0. Google's catching Facebook; Facebook's catching Google; Someone is making a new way to interact with Twitter (oh joy!) I find this relatively disinteresting, save for the fact that each new announcement heralds in just one more way by which every action in our lives is transforming into an accessible, traceable record for all to see.
One of my friends unfortunately learned this lesson a little too well this past week. It cost him a pretty solid gig at the ol' Washington Post, and now has me forever wondering if my "Apple Rules, Woo" comments throughout Maximum PC's various articles might, too, have gone a step too far...
But I don't blame me; I blame our growing culture of online social oversharing. And with new products and linked networks coming in on a near-weekly basis, at what point do we stand up and wrest our digital lives back from everyone else's radars? Is it already too late?
"Privacy" is the word that's on the lips of anyone even remotely connected to the Web 2.0 nowadays. But I don't care much about that. What you do on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or whatever, is your own business--and, worse, there aren't really third-party applications that you can download and use to self-assess your potential privacy pitfalls. You're on your own there.
However, when it comes to Windows--oh, yes, there's much we can talk about when it comes to the Windows operating system. There are always newer and stronger ways to protect your PC from intrusion, from third-party access via an unscrupulous exploit or unintended network connection to the raw, physical tricks one can use to gain access to your protected information. Makes my skin crawl just thinking about it, it does.
So, without further ado, let's take a little joyride through some unique free and open-source applications that you can use to lock down your PC without removing all traces of usability from your operating system. For just about the only thing worse than a computer nobody else can get into is a computer that you, yourself, have to jump through 30 hoops just to get into. These apps aren't going to be that, you have my word.
Life, it seems, is never fair for any developer. Just ask the gurus behind Valve's Steam service. For the past many years, Steam has existed as the dominant digital-download platform of choice for gamers worldwide. While a few improvements have been built into the actual application one uses to access the Steam service, the program in question has remained relatively unchanged in its design for a good chunk of its recent existence. Which, in itself, is a polite way to say that it's been ages since an actual upgrade brought a new look, feel, and functionality to the Steam client.
As I think of the many different "platforms" on the Internet, I'm reminded of just how closed-off the Steam application is for conventional tweaking. Some of this is mandatory--there's only so much Valve wants you to be able to access for fear of somehow disrupting Steam's security techniques and gaining access to the vault of unlocked, free-to-download titles. Take a moment to wipe the drool off your keyboard; I'll wait.
What's stopping Valve from incorporating other open architectures into its service, however? What about Web-wide login protocols? Authentication for third-party services that could offer spin-offs of Steam's built-in stats-tracking? Heck, what about some customized user interface support?
Some might say Steam is too big to be able to successfully navigate open-source and open frameworks. To that, I say hogwash: If Facebook can do it, so can Valve!
Don't burn your credit cards or start sending recruit-a-friend notices to everyone in your address book: World of Warcraft is not going open-source. You will still have to pay a monthly fee of $14.99 for the privilege of stomping your virtual friends and NPCs into corpse dust, and you will not be permitted to split WoW off into a side project that grants anyone with your name a free pass to level 80 (and/or a fixed "I win!" button). Blizzard isn't stupid.
WoW might not be going open-source, but the company behind it is using the 1-2-3 trick of the open-source world to encourage increased adoption and interest in its core piece of software. In what I believe is a first for the genre, you'll soon be able to access in-game mechanics from a separate Web or mobile app. You might not be able to run your daily quests off of your iPhone, but for WoW enthusiasts looking to make a tidy profit throughout their adventures in Azeroth, Blizzard's mobile access should give you up-to-the-minute information for your business profiteering.
It's been nearly a week since I last reported about Apple's reluctance to allow its users access to the Flash platform. Apple--and Steve Jobs himself--have reportedly claimed that the instability of Flash was the driving factor behind Apple's ripping of this app straight off of its mobile devices (including the brand-new iPad) in favor of an HTML5-based solution for interactive content.
Although Adobe seemed to be letting Jobs' alleged tirade against Flash earlier this week go unanswered, ‘twas not meant to be. Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch has since responded in the company's official "Executive Perspectives" blog. I'm not much of a betting man (nightmares of CES losses haunt me to this day), but perhaps you are: Just which way do you think Lynch points the finger of blame for Flash's absence on--quote unquote--"a recent magical device."
One of Google Chrome's more useful features is its ability to display recently opened Web pages and your most-visited Web pages via a little visual table whenever you open up a new, "blank" tab. For the Web surfer with a limited range of interests or for those interested in a quick way to hit their favorite sites in one go, this functionality is miles ahead of Firefox's, well, blank tab. But here's the problem: You can't actually customize anything on Chrome's launching page. Or, rather, you can only pin and subtract.
What I mean by that is Chome lacks the ability to let you pick, from the start, exactly what you want to appear on your "new tab" page. If a site happens to make its way across your "most viewed" list and you want to stick it there, you can pin said side to your page by hovering your mouse over the image until its blue configuration frame appears. You use the same process to prevent certain sites from ever appearing on this page--I'm not going to ask what those might be. Other than that, you're stuck--unless you start refreshing a particular page to the point of annoyance just to get it to appear, you have no way to actually predefine or shuffle around these sites.
The Chrome Extension Speed Dial is your solution for complete and total customization of your new tab page in Google's browser. It's not perfect, but it's a welcome addition to any Chrome-tweaker's arsenal. Find out about all its features after the jump!