Nokia sells Qt cross-platform software framework to Digia

Nokia has sold its Qt business to Helskinki-based Digia. According to the press release the sales includes:

… all the Qt activities formerly carried out by Nokia. These include product development, as well as the commercial and open source licensing and service business. Following the acquisition, Digia plans to quickly enable Qt on Android, iOS and Windows 8 platforms.

Digia had already acquired the Qt commercial licensing business from Nokia in March 2011. Up to 125 people will transfer from Nokia to Digia.

This is a move that makes complete sense, given that Qt is no longer central to Nokia’s plans. I once hoped that Nokia would port Qt to Windows Phone and the Windows Metro runtime in order to unify its development platform but it seems that if anyone will do that, it is Digia. It is not clear from the release whether Digia’s Windows 8 plans include the new runtime, but you would imagine that it does since as far as I know Qt already works fine on the Windows 8 desktop side.

See Digia’s Qt site for more info.

Valve announces Steam-powered apps beyond games as well as embracing Linux

Steam maker Valve has announced that it is expanding beyond games, to sell software titles that “range from creativity to productivity”.


The Steam software is more than just a store. The platform handles updates, digital rights management, and supports multiplayer gaming. It also forms a chat network. The Steam overlay lets users access Steam features while playing a full-screen game.

Users can install a Steam title on multiple computers but can only play while logged in, and can only log in on one device.

Steam launched first on Windows, but also has clients for Mac and, via Wine compatibility, on Linux. There are also mobile clients for Android and iOS, and some support for PlayStation 3, though these have limited features. The mobile clients do not let you buy and run games for the mobile device itself.

With Apple, Google and now Microsoft backing their own app stores for their respective platforms, Valve has some tricky manoeuvring ahead if it is to avoid being squeezed out. Valve founder Gabe Newell made headlines recently by calling Windows 8 a “catastrophe”, though he is hardly a disinterested party. Note that he should not worry too much about Windows 8 in the short term, since Microsoft’s store does not support desktop titles other than by links to third-party sites, including Steam. However the general trend towards locked-down platforms with software installed only through an official store must be a concern to Newell.

Valve is turning towards Linux as a possible solution. It is talking at the Siggraph conference this week in Los Angeles about its work on OpenGL and Linux, and it seems that a native Linux Steam client is in prospect.

Could Windows gamers, or others disillusioned with Windows 8, turn to Linux in significant numbers as an alternative? While this is possible, it seems more likely that the Mac would benefit. You would also imagine that skilled gamers will be smart enough to operate the Windows 8 Start menu and discover that most of their stuff still runs fine on the new desktop.

The Steam platform is a strong one though, and with Microsoft not supporting desktop apps through its own Store, Valve has a good opportunity to extend its reach.

According to its own stats, Steam has peaked at over 4 million concurrent users this month.


Fixing Visual Basic for Applications code for 64-bit Microsoft Office

The first macro programming language in Microsoft Office was Basic, and it is still there in the forthcoming Office 2013. In fact, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) has been slightly updated, and reports itself as version 7.1 in the preview. The version is Office 2010 is 7.0.


Although it is embedded in Office, VBA is a powerful tool and there is not much that you cannot do. It is based on the same runtime that powers Visual Basic 6.0, the last version before the .NET revolution.

Visual Basic makes it easy to call the Windows API though the Declare statement. One implication though is that code written for 32-bit VBA may need revising to work in 64-bit Office, and I ran into this recently with some VBA code of my own.

Some existing Declare statements will work fine on both platforms, but Microsoft chose to force developers to review all of them by introducing a new PtrSafe attribute. The name of this attribute is dubious in that it does nothing to ensure pointer safety. In fact it does nothing at all other than to say to the compiler that the Declare works in 64-bit Office, whether or not it really does. Still, it means you have to add PtrSafe to all your Declares, the idea being that you check that they work. Without PtrSafe, the Declares will not execute in 64-bit Office.

The details of what to change are here. What that article does not mention though is that Microsoft has provided declarations for the most commonly used API declarations that work in both 32-bit and 64-bit VBA. The file is called Win32API_PtrSafe.txt and you can download it here. The file is too large to load into a single VBA module but you can use it to find the declarations that you need.

It can still be difficult to work out how to call some APIs. Note that if you get it wrong VBA and Office may crash. You are giving up the safety of VBA once you use these functions.

I have not yet seen Office running on ARM in Windows RT, but the rumour is that VBA is not supported. That is not surprising, since with VBA you can code pretty much any desktop application, if you don’t mind it running within Office, undermining Microsoft’s intention that only Windows Runtime (formerly known as Metro) apps can be installed on Windows RT.

Review: Nina Nesbitt and Owl City at Kings College, London

Yesterday I went along to Tutu’s, a club which is part of Kings College Student Union in London, to hear Nina Nesbitt and Owl City.

The venue was mostly great, top floor overlooking the Thames, friendly atmosphere, docked a point for terrible beer (no bitter whatsoever, let along draught). It was packed: Adam Young’s Owl City may get terrible reviews from the likes of NME, but he strikes a chord with many dedicated fans.

First up however was beautiful Scottish singer/guitarist Nina Nesbitt, who has just announced her own headlining UK tour. She has great stage presence and won over the audience with her passion, melody, strong percussive guitar and engaging personality. Highlights were the forthcoming single Boy, an earlier song called Glue, and by request an energetic cover of I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers. She closed with The Apple Tree from her EP of the same name. She thanked the audience for listening to her – in other words, not talking loudly and heading for the bar – saying it was a rare experience, but if she keeps up this quality she will have no problem keeping attention. One to watch.


At around 9.00pm Owl City came on to perform the last date of their 2012 summer tour. The opening was stunning: fired-up crowd, opening drums from Steve Goold, and then Young was on singing the opening number, Cave In from the album Ocean Eyes.


The sound was not great – I heard some bass distortion from where I was in the gallery – but the power and energy coming from Young, the band, and the enraptured audience was not to be denied. The music was also more muscular than I had expected, benefiting from the backing of a full band which the recordings mostly lack, and a nice counterpoint to the dreamy, introverted songs.

A key song is Umbrella Beach, which was the closing number. Something about exploring inner space. “Home is a boxcar – it’s so far out of reach,” he sings:

Home will always be here unseen, out of sight
Where I disappear and hide
I think dreamy things as I’m waving goodbye
So I’ll spread out my wings and fly


at which point Young does a marvellous Owl-like flapping motion with his arms, it sounds daft but we were transported.

I am old enough to remember being searched for cameras and recorders when going to a concert. Things are different now and everyone seemed to be making their own videos with smartphones held high. I even saw someone wielding an Apple iPad to take photographs. 


The band was:

  • Jasper Nephew on guitar
  • Steve Goold on drums
  • Daniel Jorgenson on guitar, vibraphone, “he plays everything”
  • Breanne Düren on keyboards and backing vocals


Emma Bladon Jones and Troubadour Rose at Bartons Nottingham

Last night I wandered over to Bartons in Nottingham, a newish venue in a converted bus garage – doesn’t sound promising, but it is fantastic, especially when tastefully set out with tables, candles and roses as it was last night for the second of its monthly unplugged events.


The musicians were local singer and guitarist Emma Bladon Jones along with the London folk band Troubadour Rose.


Bladon Jones was on first and treated us to an excellent set with her clear voice, sensitive songs and inventive guitar work. She played songs from her EP Life is Self Taught, a tender cover of In My Life by the Beatles, and a new song called Iris of War. It all went over well with me. She has a gadget called a loop box which lets her play a few bars and have them repeat live so she can accompany herself; seems risky but worked really well, and those moments where she experimented a bit with the sounds she could get from her guitar were highlights.

Next up was Troubadour Rose: Bryony Afferson (guitar and lead vocals), Lizzy O’Connor (banjo, mandolin and vocals) (and Gary Bridgewood (violin). Apparently the band used to be called something else, but came up with a song called Troubadour Rose (which they performed last night) and liked it well enough to rename themselves accordingly.


It is a great song, starting quietly and gathering pace, full of melody and drama, driven by Afferson’s expressive vocals, O’Connor’s sweet harmonies, and Bridgewood’s at times frenetic fiddle.

Other highlights included the two songs from the band’s single, Labour of Love and Find and Arrow, which you can hear on Spotify or iTunes.

A great evening and a shame rather few people turned out to enjoy it; but a treat for those us who discovered it.

Building a cheap PC, and why it still beats tablets and laptops for value

I thought the Google Nexus tablet was good value, and compared to an Apple iPad or most other tablets out there it is, but for sheer capability on a budget a desktop PC has it beat.

Needing a cheap desktop I went along to Ebuyer and purchased the following:

  • Asus P8H61-MX SI Motherboard bundled with Intel Pentium G620 and 2GB DD3 RAM
  • Extra Value Micro ATX case with 500w PSU (unbranded)
  • Additional 2GB RAM

The total cost was £128.54 with free delivery. I then plucked a Sata DVD drive and a 200GB hard drive from a dead server, and put it all together, which took less than an hour. Next installed Windows 7 64-bit, for which fortunately I have a subscription license. Plugged in spare keyboard, mouse and monitor.


I was impressed by the Windows Experience Index of 4.9, and Gaming graphics of 5.6 achieved by Intel’s integrated graphics. The board has VGA and DVI ports and supports dual displays. It also has HD audio and of course ethernet networking.


What would it cost if I had not had spare DVD and hard drives? A 500GB drive is £42.70 and a DVD drive £11.94 currently, making £183.18, or £152.65 without the VAT.

Need Windows? You are a system builder, so you can get Windows Home Premium with SP1 64-bit for £75.99, or Professional for £104.98. Total cost with the cheaper option is £259.17, now more than a Google Nexus tablet (£159.00 for the 8GB version).

Add a screen, keyboard and mouse for £65.97 (BenQ LCD 18.5” 1366 x 768), and the complete system is £325.14, or £249.15 if you stick Ubuntu on in place of Windows 7.

Still, I’d bet that the average household has at least some reusable bits lying around.

The real point is how capable even a budget box like this turns out to be. The RAM is upgradeable to 16GB.

The dark side to all this is that the value of your old PC has plummeted since you bought it three or four years ago, and faults beyond the trivial are hardly worth repairing.

Finally, I should mention Raspberry Pi. The board complete with CPU, networking and graphics is £25.92. Add case, 4GB storage, power, keyboard, mouse, and HDMI monitor though, and my quick price for the complete system is £147.81, mostly for the monitor (Benq 21.5” HDMI). Of course there are many creative uses for a Raspberry Pi without buying a monitor.

My vote still goes to the PC for the best productivity on a budget.

PS let’s not forget the cheapest Mac, currently a Mac mini at £529. OS comes with it, but only 2GB RAM, no mouse, keyboard or monitor. Add those and it is over £600.

RIM hints at move to license BlackBerry 10 OS to third parties

RIM chief Thorsten Heins says in an interview that his company may license the forthcoming BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system to third parties. Here is the key quote:

We don’t have the economy of scale to compete against the guys who crank out 60 handsets a year. We have to differentiate and have a focused platform. To deliver BB10 we may need to look at licensing it to someone who can do this at a way better cost proposition than I can do it. There’s different options we could do that we’re currently investigating.

He goes on to talk about:

… us building a reference system, and then basically licensing that reference design, have others build the hardware around it – either it’s a BlackBerry or it’s something else being built on the BlackBerry platform

The big question: would the likes of Samsung and Sony leap to manufacture BlackBerry OS smartphones when they can offer Android for free?

A more nuanced question: even if OEMs were to license BlackBerry OS, to what extent would they really get behind it, as opposed to cranking out a few devices to see how they went? The latter is what happened to Windows Phone 7, with the exception of Nokia late in the day.

Samsung manufactures Windows Phone 7 devices, but you would hardly know it, since it is the Android-based Galaxy range that gets all its attention.

Another problem for RIM is negotiating the tricky waters of both manufacturing devices and licensing the OS to others. Apple did not enjoy having third-party manufacturers like Power Computing, Radius and Motorola release Mac clones. Here is what Walter Isaacson writes in his biography of Steve Jobs:

Apple got an $80 fee for each computer sold, but instead of expanding the market, the cloners cannibalized the sales of Apple’s own high-end computers on which it made up to $500 in profit.

Microsoft is now coming at this from the opposite end, going into hardware manufacturing with the Surface, which is another interesting experiment.

Still, listen carefully to what Heins is saying. “We don’t have the economy of scale to compete against the guys who crank out 60 handsets a year.” It is not just a matter of coming up with a fantastic mobile operating system or even a fantastic device; it is all about ecosystem, as Nokia boss Stephen Elop stated 18 months ago. RIM’s ecosystem is in decline, and the company will explore every avenue in trying to turn that around.

Windows 8 is done, available August 15th with final Visual Studio 2012

Microsoft’s Windows chief Steven Sinofsky has announced the release to manufacturing of Windows 8:

The Windows 8 team is proud to share with you that a short while ago we started releasing Windows 8 to PC OEM and manufacturing partners.


The separate post by Brandon LeBlanc has more details. Microsoft’s developer (MSDN) and IT admin (Technet) subscribers will be first to get the new Windows, leaks aside, on August 15th. LeBlanc adds:

On August 15th, developers will be able to visit the Windows Dev Center to get access to all the tools and resources they need including the final build of Visual Studio 2012 to design, build, and sell apps in the Windows Store.

from which we learn that Visual Studio 2012 is also done, or will be by the 15th.

Windows Server 2012, which uses the same core code, has also been released to manufacturing, says Microsoft’s Jeffrey Snover:

the final code is complete and we are delivering it to our hardware and software vendor partners this week

The Windows Store is also open for business, kind-of. Antoine Leblond says that you can submit a Metro-style app from today, though you will need an RTM build to do so, so for most of us that will actually mean from August 15th. Apps can include free, paid-for, trials, and those with in-app purchases. Only Metro-style apps can be submitted for installation through the store, though desktop apps can be offered through a link to the vendor’s web site.

Windows 8 is a bold release. Despite pressure from existing Windows users, Microsoft has held firmly to its decision to abandon the old-style Start menu and to make the Metro side prominent for all users. There are several big unknowns:

  • How will users react to the changes? The early moments with Windows 8 tend to be difficult, and some may be put off completely.
  • How popular will Metro-style apps be, relative to traditional desktop apps?
  • How well will Windows 8 and Office 2013 really work on a tablet without keyboard or mouse?
  • What proportion of users will want the ARM version, Windows RT, as opposed to the familiar, messy world of x86 Windows?

I have used Windows 8 intensively for some months now, both on desktop and tablet. It works fine, and seems a little faster than Windows 7 on the same hardware. On a tablet, the Metro-style apps are delightful but few, but desktop apps are a bit of a struggle, which is one reason I am looking forward to Windows RT devices on which those troublesome desktop apps cannot be installed.

Should Microsoft have made such radical changes in Windows? That is open to debate; but check out this report on how tablets, mainly Apple iPads, are eating away at the PC market to understand why the company felt that “reinventing Windows” was its only option.

Windows 8 defeats virus

Someone trying out Windows 8 release preview brought her machine to me to look at. She was having trouble with an email attachment. The email was in fact carrying a virus, one that purported to be from though it had nothing to do with that company. The supposed booking is in an attached zip file which the victim is invited to open. My contact had opened the zip and attempted to run the contents, a windows executable. She could not remember exactly what happened but said that a dialog had appeared and she clicked OK.

Clicking OK is normally the wrong thing to do with a virus but not in this case. I had a look at the virus and uploaded it to Comodo’s online virus analyser.


This detected API calls that copy a file to the All Users folder and sets it to autorun. Comodo pronounced the executable “Suspicious+”.

But did it run? I tried it on an isolated virtual instance of Windows 8 Release Preview. Running the executable throws up this dialog:


If you click OK nothing happens. If you click More Info, it says that SmartScreen does not recognise the file and offers a Run Anyway option. However the user in this case did not click More info, but instinctively clicked OK, therefore not running the virus.

As a final experiment, I tried running the virus on the isolated machine. It deleted itself but did not seem to succeed in infecting the machine. It is hard to be sure though, so the virtual machine has now been deleted.


Windows 8 did not detect the file as a virus. SmartScreen merely did not recognise the file. It would do the same for any unrecognised file, and I have seen this dialog appear for files that I do want to run.

Even when I ran the file, Windows Defender did not (as far as I can tell) detect the virus. The test machine was offline (for isolation) but fully up to date.

What interests me most is how SmartScreen interacts with the social engineering behind the malware. The user actually wanted to run the file, being convinced that it was genuine, but clicking OK simply did nothing. This behaviour is annoying if the application is not in fact malware, but clearly it can on occasion save the day.