Microsoft has come up with its usual monthly splurge of .NET news, including the ability to compile native dependencies into Blazor WebAssembly, and a release date of 8 November for Visual Studio 2022.
The .NET 6 wave – significant since it is a long-term support release – is close to release, with the launch expected at the online .NET Conf 2021 on 9-11 November. The date for Visual Studio 2022 is therefore no surprise. Not everything will be ready, though, in particular the cross-platform MAUI (Multi-platform App UI) framework, based on Xamarin technology, which is scheduled for an RC release in early 2022 and general availability in the second quarter of 2022. Preview 9 of MAUI is now out, with updated controls and graphics API (Microsoft.Maui.Graphics).
At this point in the release cycle new features give way to bug fixes, but a key new feature has arrived in the Blazor framework for browser applications. Principal program manager Daniel Roth described native dependencies for Blazor WebAssembly (Wasm) apps, which means that “any portable native code can be used as a native dependency.” This in turn means that C code, for example, can be called from C# code running in the browser. Both the C# and the C code will be compiled to Wasm so technically it may seem just a small step, but it is nicely wrapped to work in the same way as native code interop for C# on the server or desktop.
A Blazor application can now include C and C++ code
Developers wishing to use the new Visual Studio can do so now with Microsoft’s go-live licence which applies to the release candidate. There is an oddity, though. Those who install the release candidate will automatically update to the release version next month, but the preview release of Visual Studio 2022 also continues, and will become Visual Studio 2022 17.1 preview 1, as corporate veep Amanda Silver explained. Those who want the latest features should therefore stick with the preview, though it is also possible to install them side by side.
A new release candidate of .NET 6 is also now on offer, again with a go-live licence. Program manager Richard Lander noted that Visual Studio 2019 will never work with .NET 6; developers will need to upgrade to Visual Studio 2022.
In his post he also described features of C# 10, which comes along with .NET 6. There are also some changes to the way .NET 6 supports macOS. Lander said that the Arm64 SDK, needed to support Apple Silicon, now enables both Arm64 and x64 development, and he recommends that developers therefore use only the Arm64 SDK. As soon as .NET 6 is released, the .NET 5 Arm64 SDK will go out of support so a quick change is being asked of developers using what is today the current release.
Despite the energy Microsoft is putting behind .NET 6, some corners of the platform are getting little attention. One is Windows Presentation Framework (WPF), liked by developers but considered non-strategic by the company.
“WPF templates have not been updated as part of the release,” said Roth without further explanation. One developer responded: “If you develop on desktop it’s getting hard to develop with .NET. Winforms looks too old, WPF is unofficial dead, WinUI too buggy… UWP too restricted. Xamarin too much focus on mobile and too resource heavy on desktop.”
Spelling out all those options for desktop development perhaps illustrates why Microsoft is not investing in all of them, yet there are plenty of developers of business applications who would rather see WPF and Windows Forms improved than dive into WinUI or MAUI. ®
The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.
NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers’ access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.
“Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations,” an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. “To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case.”
The Israel-based company, recently sanctioned by the US for allegedly offering its intrusion software to repressive regimes and sued by both Apple and Meta’s (Facebook’s) WhatsApp for allegedly supporting the hacking their customers, says that it will cooperate with any relevant government authority and pass on what it learns from its investigation of the incident.
The spyware company insisted it is unaware of the targets designated by customers using its software.
“To clarify, the installation of our software by the customer occurs via phone numbers. As stated before, NSO’s technologies are blocked from working on US (+1) numbers,” NSO’s spokesperson said. “Once the software is sold to the licensed customer, NSO has no way to know who the targets of the customers are, as such, we were not and could not have been aware of this case.”
According to Reuters, affected State Department personnel were based in Uganda or were focused on matters related to that country and so had phone numbers with a foreign country prefix rather than the US prefix.
On November 23rd, when Apple announced its lawsuit against the NSO Group, the iPhone maker also said that it will notify iPhone customers targeted by state-sponsored hacking. That same day, Norbert Mao, a lawyer and President of the Democratic Party in Uganda, posted on Twitter that he’d received an Apple threat notification.
In June, the Washington Post reported that NSO’s Pegasus software was implicated in the attempted or successful hacking of 37 phones belonging to journalists and rights advocates, including two women close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The report said the findings undermined NSO Group’s claims that its software was only licensed for fighting terrorists and for law enforcement.
That same month, the NSO Group published its 2021 Transparency and Responsibility Report [PDF], in which the company insists its software is used exclusively for use against groups that have few allies like terrorists, criminals, and pedophiles.
“Myth: Pegasus is a mass surveillance tool,” the report says. “Fact: Data is collected only from individual, pre-identified suspected criminals and terrorists.”
A US State Department spokesperson declined The Register’s request to confirm the Reuters report but said the State Department takes its responsibility to safeguard its information seriously. We were also told that the Biden-Harris Administration is working to limit the use of digital tools of repression.
NSO Group maintains that it has turned away $300m in revenue to date based on unresolved human rights concerns and that, between May 2020 and April 2021, it rejected 15 per cent of new business opportunities for the same reason.
The company, which does not name its customers in its Transparency and Responsibility Report but includes numerous unattributed endorsement quotations about its products, has not yet published documents that allow its claims to be verified. ®
The 3D-printed implants were shown to speed up the healing of wounds and could be adapted to regenerate different tissues in the body.
A new study led by researchers at the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences indicates that wound healing could be improved by replicating a key component of our blood.
Researchers focused on platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which is a natural healing substance in our blood. They extracted PRP from the blood of patients with complex skin wounds and manipulated the PRP through 3D-printing to create a tissue-repair implant.
This implant could be administered to a difficult-to-treat skin wound in a single surgical procedure.
Results suggested that the implant could help to speed up wound healing by improving the development of new blood vessels and inhibiting the formation of scarring, which are both essential for a wound to heal effectively.
This indicates an improvement over the PRP already present in our blood, according to Prof Fergal O’Brien of RCSI, as natural PRP helps wounds to heal but scarring can still occur.
“By 3D-printing PRP into a biomaterial scaffold, we can increase the formation of blood vessels while also avoiding the formation of scars, leading to more successful wound healing.”
O’Brien, who is professor of bioengineering and regenerative medicine at RCSI, believes there are applications for this technology beyond skin wounds.
“This technology can potentially be used to regenerate different tissues, therefore dramatically influencing the ever-growing regenerative medicine, 3D printing and personalised medicine markets.”
The study was led by researchers at the Tissue Engineering Research Group and Science Foundation Ireland’s Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research Centre (AMBER), based at RCSI’s Department of Anatomy and Regenerative Medicine.
The team also collaborated with researchers at the University of Minho in Portugal and at Trinity College Dublin’s Centre for Biomedical Engineering.
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On an industrial estate outside Swindon, it’s the busiest time of year at Amazon’s newest warehouse in Britain. Black boxes rattle along miles of conveyor belt, carrying everything from toys to painkillers amid a cacophony of alarms and the faint hum of Christmas songs.
“I’m looking around here at anything that might not be right, but it’s actually running very smoothly,” says David Tindal, the general manager of the Swindon fulfilment centre. “The team has been fantastic. We spend the whole year preparing for this peak time, like a good football club preparing for the cup final.”
Known internally as BRS2 – using a naming system based on the nearest big airport (in this case, Bristol) – the warehouse is a vision in gleaming concrete, steel and glass landed on the Wiltshire countryside.
The vast site is a stark reminder of Amazon’s might. As well as upending consumer habits and standing accused of gaining an unfair advantage by paying too little in tax and hollowing out high streets, the company is creating huge distortions in the jobs market. The new depot has created its own gravitational force sucking staff away from other businesses such as care homes.
The latest outpost of Jeff Bezos’s empire also illustrates the shifting economic sands in the western world. In July, the nearby Honda car factory closed – a decision blamed partly on Brexit – with the loss of about 3,000 direct jobs plus thousands more in the supply chain, many of which were high-paying, skilled roles.
Amazon has hired 2,000 staff in a matter of months in Swindon, opening the site earlier than planned at the start of November to exploit the online shopping boom in Britain, and advertising roles as “a job for life, not just for Christmas”.
With hiring bonuses of up to £3,000 at some of its 150 UK warehouses, and starting pay of £11.10 an hour – more than £2 higher than the legal minimum, and above the £9.90 real living wage – the firm is aiming to shake a reputation as one of Britain’s worst employers, notorious for low-paid jobs and bleak working conditions.
For Sue Houldey, the operations director at Coate Water Care, which runs three care homes in the town and six others across the west country, Amazon’s arrival in the area coincides with the toughest hiring challenges of her career.
“We’re competing with Amazon and the big warehouses, as well as hospitality, for the same people. It can be very frustrating,” she says, sitting in the cafe of the Church View nursing home in a quiet residential area of the town.
Coate Water hasn’t lost staff directly to Amazon, but competition for a slim pool of candidates is fierce. Insufficient funding for social care and soaring fixed costs make it difficult to raise pay much higher than the £8.91-per-hour legal minimum, making a job at the nearby Amazon depot 25% more lucrative.
With more than 100,000 vacancies in the care sector nationwide, many staff are leaving to work for Amazon and other higher-paying jobs across the country. “Nobody wants to discuss it because it’s unpalatable. But the funding that we get doesn’t allow us to pay probably what we want to pay for our staff,” says Houldey.
As with retail, winter is peak time for the care sector, except the stakes are far higher than the rush for Christmas presents. Houldey must meet Care Quality Commission requirements for sufficient staff numbers. “If [you are Amazon and] one of your workers doesn’t turn up, it’s like: hey ho, everyone else can just work a bit harder, or we might not get stuff done. Those rules don’t apply in care. It’s not an equal playing field.”
Official figures show a record 1.2m job vacancies across Britain, with shortages of lorry drivers in particular attracting national attention amid panic-buying of petrol and gaps on supermarket shelves this autumn.
Approaching Christmas, there are many reasons for the employee drought. Britain’s workforce has shrunk since the onset of Covid-19, with more than half a million more people out of work and not looking for a job. as Some have taken early retirement and young people have pushed back the start of their working lives. More than 200,000 EU citizens have left the workforce, and Covid restrictions and Brexit migration rules are limiting arrivals.
With more than a million furloughed workers leaving the scheme after it closed at the end of September, and others looking for a new job in the so-called “great resignation”, job switching has hit record levels.
The arrival of a new warehouse might be hailed by local politicians for “creating jobs”, but switching from an old employer is more likely, in a form of labour market creative destruction with winners and losers.
“When you drop a stone like Amazon into the local labour pool, it makes quite big waves,” says Tony Wilson, the director of the Institute for Employment Studies.
He says the company is following a similar path to McDonald’s two decades ago, when negative media coverage pushed the fast-food chain to clean up its act.
“They have to have good employment practices because there’s so much attention on them. As a consequence, a misconception can form relatively quickly that this is all crap work, and the reality is it isn’t.”
In the ripple effect of Amazon coming to town, Domingos Dias has seen more than 100 of his colleagues leave the Marks & Spencer warehouse (run on an outsourced basis by DHL) where he works. The departures have left resources stretched.
“Where you would have 10 people, 20 people, they now try to do it with five,” he says. “Since Amazon came, they had these opportunities and people went for the better prospects for higher salary.”
The GMB trade union shop steward is pushing for higher pay for employees and agency staff, who are paid less than at Amazon on £9.45 an hour. “Suddenly there was a thing that this new warehouse is coming. The guys who were working for 20 long years on agency contracts, they didn’t have any loyalty for Marks & Spencer and DHL, so they saw this and grabbed the opportunity.”
Pay is rising fast in warehousing work, according to figures from the jobs website Indeed, with the median hourly wage up 11% this year from £9.25 to £10.27. Pay in other sectors is rising more slowly, and failing to keep pace with soaring living costs.
The prospect of higher pay is enticing workers to the warehouse, contrary to the reputation of Amazon as a poverty employer. Still, critics argue that Bezos – among the world’s richest people, with a fortune of more than $200bn (£150bn) – could easily afford to pay more, rather than launching a space tourism business. Hours are still long and the company does not recognise trade unions.
The timing of Amazon’s arrival could prove helpful, however, after Honda gave up on its factory after more than three decades in Swindon. Tindal bumps into former Honda employees on a regular basis at BRS2, including an engineer with 30 years’ experience maintaining robotic arms – used for spraying cars with paint – who now looks after the army of blue robots that scuttle goods around a vast cage of consumer goods in the Amazon warehouse.
Jay Colsell, who worked on the final shift at Swindon after five years with Honda, is another. He says pay was higher and hours shorter in his old job, but there are more opportunities for career progression at Amazon. “Honda was busy. It was hard work; good money but you worked for it. Amazon is also good but you don’t have to run around lots, you just have to be proactive.”
A modern-day equivalent of a Victorian factory, only on a dual carriageway rather than the railway that put Swindon on the map two centuries ago, the new warehouse covers an area the size of nearly seven football pitches.
Tindal recruited about 600 staff ahead of time and trained them at Amazon’s older Bristol fulfilment centre in order to launch as smoothly as possible at the start of November. The general manager, who has opened three other sites for the firm from scratch – at Daventry, Rugby and Milton Keynes – says even more expansion is expected after the Christmas rush.
“We’re probably still advertising, I haven’t checked. We’re going to pause for now until the new year, but then we’ll be hiring some more.”