Introducing “Mixer”

 

Congratulation to everyone on the Beam Mixer team for the rebrand and all of the new features launching today! Go check it out.

If you haven’t heard of Mixer before, I’ll let one of the co-founders, Matt, explain on the Xbox blog:

Mixer is livestreaming that’s actually LIVE, compared to the 10 – 20 second latency you typically get on other platforms. What’s more, viewers can actively participate in what’s happening on screen instead of just watching from the sidelines. With Mixer, you can influence everything from quest selection to tools to movement, mixing it up with your favorite streamers to create a new kind of gaming experience. The Minecraft team is experimenting with the interactivity that Mixer offers as a possibility for official game integration. And, some Minecraft community members have already created interactive experiences using this technology that allow viewers to do things like spawn in zombies or change the weather.

There’s tons of cool changes coming, including co-streaming, enabling “up to 4 streamers can combine their streams into a single viewer experience”; Mixer Create beta, “a new mobile app that enables self-broadcasting”; and Channel One, an always-on, moderated channel of content that lets you see what’s happening across Mixer.”

I’m working on the Mixer apps for iOS and Android, and can’t wait to help bring new features to the community.

What made Xerox PARC special?

In case you haven’t heard of Xerox PARC before, it’s a research center founded in the 1970’s and, particularly in its early years, provided many vital inventions to the technology community. One of the most visible inventions is the graphical computer interface with point-and-click interaction and windows.

On Quora Alan Kay, one of the original computer scientists at XEROX Parc, answers the question of what made Xerox PARC special:

There was a vision: “The destiny of computers is to become interactive intellectual amplifiers for everyone in the world pervasively networked worldwide”.

[…]

Parc was highly concentrated with regard to wealth of talents, abilities, vision, confidence, and cooperation. There was no real management structure, so things were organized to allow researchers to “suggest” and “commit” and “decommit” in a more or less orderly fashion.

It’s worth reading his whole answer to get an understanding of what was the driving force for the researchers.

The Case of the 500-Mile Email

I came across the story of the 500-Mile Email quite some time ago, but it’s an absolute classic:

I was working in a job running the campus email system some years ago when I got a call from the chairman of the statistics department.

“We’re having a problem sending email out of the department.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“We can’t send mail more than 500 miles,” the chairman explained.

I choked on my latte. “Come again?”

“We can’t send mail farther than 500 miles from here,” he repeated. “A little bit more, actually. Call it 520 miles. But no farther.”

New Investments for Xbox Developers and Gamers Kick Off GDC 2017

I generally avoid posting about topics that are specific to Microsoft, but there were some big announcements from Xbox at GDC this year with a couple in particular that I want to call out.

The Xbox Live Creators Program:

…empowers anyone to rapidly publish Xbox Live-enabled games on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs, in a totally open way. With the Creators Program, anyone can integrate Xbox Live sign-in, presence, and social features into their UWP games, then publish their game to Xbox One and Windows 10. This means their title can see exposure to every Xbox One owner across the Xbox One family of devices, including Project Scorpio this holiday, as well as hundreds of millions of Windows 10 PCs, and millions of folks using the Xbox app on mobile platforms.

Starting today, we encourage developers to download and start using the Xbox Live Creators SDK at https://developer.microsoft.com/games/xbox/xboxlive/creator, where they can learn all the details of the program. The Creators Program is currently in preview, so the program will pilot with a select group of developers initially. We will be opening store publishing submissions to all developers soon.

For context, currently only approved developers can release games on Xbox and at significant cost. While the ID@Xbox program makes this both easier and cheaper, it is still a significant hurdle. The Xbox Live Creators Program makes Xbox Live available to all game developers for just the cost of a Windows developer license ($20 USD at the time of writing), with some restrictions on the Xbox Live services they can utilize.

Xbox Game Pass:

…is a new gaming subscription service that gives you unlimited access to more than 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 backward compatible games on Xbox One – all for $9.99 USD per month.

Xbox Game Pass can be thought of as “Netflix for gaming”.

Congratulations to the folks in Xbox that are a part of making these possible. These are significant steps forward in the Xbox business and I’m excited to see them become a reality.

APFS in Detail

In June of 2016, Apple announced the file system that would be replacing HFS+: Apple File System (APFS). Adam Leventhal wrote a detailed series of posts about what’s coming in the new file system:

Apple announced a new file system that will make its way into all of its OS variants (macOS, tvOS, iOS, watchOS) in the coming years. Media coverage to this point has been mostly breathless elongations of Apple’s developer documentation. With a dearth of detail I decided to attend the presentation and Q&A with the APFS team at WWDC. Dominic Giampaolo and Eric Tamura, two members of the APFS team, gave an overview to a packed room; along with other members of the team, they patiently answered questions later in the day. With those data points and some first hand usage I wanted to provide an overview and analysis both as a user of Apple-ecosystem products and as a long-time operating system and file system developer.

Beyond losing the mass of technical debt accumulated in HFS+, the feature that appeals to me most is encryption becoming a first class citizen. This will be seamless to the end user, but provide for greater security going forward.

Multi-key encryption is particularly relevant for portables where all data might be encrypted, but unlocking your phone provides access to an additional key and therefore additional data.

[…]

APFS (apparently) supports constant time cryptographic file system erase, called “effaceable” in the diskutil output. This presumably builds a secret key that cannot be extracted from APFS and encrypts the file system with it. A secure erase then need only delete the key rather than needing to scramble and re-scramble the full disk to ensure total eradication.

Quite interestingly, APFS will be adding I/O QoS:

APFS also focuses on latency; Apple’s number one goal is to avoid the beachball of doom. APFS addresses this with I/O QoS (quality of service) to prioritize accesses that are immediately visible to the user over background activity that doesn’t have the same time-constraints. This is inarguably a benefit to users and a sophisticated file system capability.

I’m curious to see how much impact this will have in the real world, but conceptually it makes a lot of sense.

I also learned from Adam’s posts that if you want to experiment with prerelease APFS now, there is a bit of humor in avoiding interactive confirmation of the risks associated:

[diskutil] prompts you for interactive confirmation of the destructive power of APFS unless this is added to the command-line: -IHaveBeenWarnedThatAPFSIsPreReleaseAndThatIMayLoseData; I’m not making this up

Canada: Internet is a Fundamental Communications Service

From my perspective this is overdue, but it is great to see Canada making internet a fundamental communications service:

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) today declared that broadband access Internet service is now considered a basic telecommunications service for all Canadians.

It is frequently expected now, including by universities, that you will have access to internet at your home. This will help ensure that is the case for all Canadians, even if they live in rural or remote areas.

Additionally, speed targets were set at “50 megabits per second (Mbps) download/10 Mbps upload for fixed broadband Internet access services”, which seems quite reasonable to me.

1Password Adds Support for Intel Secure Enclave

The great folks over at AgileBits are updating 1Password with support for Intel’s SGX Secure Enclave technology.

You might reasonably think that your data is encrypted directly by your Master Password (and your secret Account Key), but there are a number of technical reasons why that wouldn’t be a good idea. Instead, your Master Password is used to derive a key encryption key which is used to encrypt a master key. The details differ for our different data formats, but here is a little ditty from our description of the OPVault data format to be sung to the tune of Dry Bones.

Each item key’s encrypted with the master key
And the master key’s encrypted with the derived key
And the derived key comes from the MP
Oh hear the word of the XOR
Them keys, them keys, them random keys (3x)
Oh hear the word of the XOR

And that is a simplification! But it is the appropriate simplification for what I want to talk about today: Some of our intrepid 1Password for Windows beta testers can start using a version of 1Password 6 for Windows that will have an extra protection on that “master key” described in that song. We have been working with Intel over the past few months to bring the protection of Intel’s Software Guard Extensions (SGX) to 1Password.

Soon (some time this month) 1Password for Windows customers running on systems that support Intel’s SGX will have another layer of protection around some of their secrets.

Having AgileBits keep up to date on the latest security technologies is one of many reasons I use 1Password to store anything I need kept secure. If you aren’t already using a password manager, I can’t recommend 1Password enough.