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Exploring the Future of Computing
Updated: 1 hour 4 min ago

Today is FreeBSD Day

Tuesday 19th of June 2018 08:38:12 AM
We're pleased to announce that June 19 has been declared FreeBSD Day. Join us in honoring The FreeBSD Project's pioneering legacy and continuing impact on technology. Why today? Well, 25 years ago to the day, the name FreeBSD was chosen as the name for the project. FreeBSD formed the base of all kinds of operating systems we use every day today - like macOS and iOS and the operating systems on the Nintendo Switch and Playstation 3, 4, and Vita - and FreeBSD code can be found in the unlikeliest of places, such as Haiku, which uses FreeBSD network drivers, and even Windows, which, although information is sparse, seemed to at one point use FreeBSD code for command-line networking utilities like ftp, nslookup, rcp, and rsh.

The DEC 340 Monitor

Tuesday 19th of June 2018 08:37:39 AM
My big project this year is to get a DEC 340 monitor working. Here is a picture of one of them. The DEC 340 was a very early and rare computer monitor dating from the mid '60s used of course, on DEC computers, their PDP series. Two cabinets of rack mounted electronics. The 340 is historic and was used in some early work that pioneered modern computer graphic techniques. It is quite a bit different from Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitors used by personal computers we were all familiar with a few years ago. In comparison it is alien technology. All circuits are implemented using discrete components and there are no integrated circuits anywhere in the design. The discrete components themselves are unusual dating from the early days of transistor use. It always amazes me how fast technology has developed over the past few decades.

A broad overview of how modern Linux systems boot

Monday 18th of June 2018 11:22:48 PM
For reasons beyond the scope of this entry, today I feel like writing down a broad and simplified overview of how modern Linux systems boot. Due to being a sysadmin who has stubbed his toe here repeatedly, I'm going to especially focus on points of failure. I always find it fascinating to read about how computers boot - it's often a very intricate process, built atop decades of backwards compatibility.

x86 assembly doesn't have to be scary

Monday 18th of June 2018 11:16:08 PM
Assembly programming can be intimidating for people who have never looked into it any deeper than a glance, but giving that it underpins how the computers we use work it can be helpful having context in regards to what is actually being run by the CPU. You can run the code samples live on the webpage itself thanks to Emscription and v86. Neat.

What it was like to write a full blown Flutter application

Monday 18th of June 2018 11:11:59 PM
So I just finished my first Flutter app and I feel I can safely invest much more of my time long term to the framework. Writing a Flutter app has been a litmus test and Flutter passed the test. It’s amazing to now be able to competently write apps for iOS and Android. I also love writing and scaling backends and my wife Irina is a UX so it’s a powerful combination.

How ARKit 2 works, and why Apple is so focused on AR

Monday 18th of June 2018 02:33:38 PM
Augmented reality (AR) has played prominently in nearly all of Apple's events since iOS 11 was introduced, Tim Cook has said he believes it will be as revolutionary as the smartphone itself, and AR was Apple's biggest focus in sessions with developers at WWDC this year. But why? Most users don't think the killer app for AR has arrived yet - unless you count Pokémon Go. The use cases so far are cool, but they're not necessary and they're arguably a lot less cool on an iPhone or iPad screen than they would be if you had glasses or contacts that did the same things. From this year's WWDC keynote to Apple's various developer sessions hosted at the San Jose Convention Center and posted online for everyone to view, though, it's clear that Apple is investing heavily in augmented reality for the future. We're going to comb through what Apple has said about AR and ARKit this week, go over exactly what the toolkit does and how it works, and speculate about the company's strategy - why Apple seems to care so much about AR, and why it thinks it's going to get there first in a coming gold rush. While AR clearly has a role to play in professional settings (e.g construction work, medical settings, and so on), I still haven't seen a general purpose application that justifies the heavy investment in AR by Apple. All demos usually come down to "oh, that's neat, I guess" and "that is incredibly uncomfortable". Where's the killer app?

C gfx library for the Linux framebuffer with parallelism support

Monday 18th of June 2018 02:27:23 PM
FBGraphics was made to produce fullscreen pixels effects easily with non-accelerated framebuffer by leveraging multi-core processors, it is a bit like a software GPU (much less complex and featured!), the initial target platform is a Raspberry PI 3B and extend to the NanoPI (and many others embedded devices), the library should just work with many others devices with a Linux framebuffer altough there is at the moment some restrictions on the supported framebuffer format (24 bits). FBGraphics is lightweight and does not intend to be a fully featured graphics library, it provide a limited set of graphics primitive and a small set of useful functions to start doing framebuffer graphics right away with or without multi-core support. Neat project.

On the sad state of Macintosh hardware

Friday 15th of June 2018 08:46:48 PM
Rather than attempting to wow the world with "innovative" new designs like the failed Mac Pro, Apple could and should simply provide updates and speed bumps to the entire lineup on a much more frequent basis. The much smaller Apple of the mid-2000s managed this with ease. Their current failure to keep the Mac lineup fresh, even as they approach a trillion dollar market cap, is both baffling and frightening to anyone who depends on the platform for their livelihood. Given the incredibly sad state of the Mac lineup, it's difficult to understand how WWDC could have come and gone with no hardware releases. Apple's transparency in 2017 regarding their miscalculation with the Mac Pro seemed encouraging, but over a year later, the company has utterly failed to produce anything tangible. Instead, customers are still forced to choose between purchasing new computers that are actually years old or holding out in the faint hope that hardware updates are still to come. Every day, the situation becomes more dire. The Rogue Amoeba tea is not wrong. Apple's Mac line-up is pretty much a joke at this point, and despite Tim Cook's endless "we have great stuff in the pipeline" remarks, Apple is simply failing to deliver. The Mac is still not in a good spot.

RetroBSD: Unix for microcontrollers

Friday 15th of June 2018 08:42:57 PM
RetroBSD is a port of 2.11BSD Unix intended for embedded systems with fixed memory mapping. The current target is Microchip PIC32 microcontroller with 128 kbytes of RAM and 512 kbytes of Flash. PIC32 processor has MIPS M4K architecture, executable data memory and flexible RAM partitioning between user and kernel modes.

It looks like Google is readying the Pixelbook to run Windows 10

Friday 15th of June 2018 08:38:46 PM
Google's Pixelbook is some beautiful, well-built hardware, but its use of Chrome OS means that for many people, it will be too limited to be useful. Although Chrome OS is no longer entirely dependent on Web applications - it can also be used to run Android applications, and Linux application support is also in development - the lack of Windows support means that most traditional desktop applications are unusable. But that may be changing due to indications that Google is adding Windows support to its hardware. Earlier this year, changes made to the Pixelbook's firmware indicated that Google is working on a mode called AltOS that would allow switching between Chrome OS and an "alternative OS," in some kind of dual-boot configuration. A couple candidates for that alternative OS are Google's own Fuchsia and, of course, Windows. The Pixelbook is a nice piece of kit, but Chrome OS simply isn't good enough for me personally. The ability to run Windows would make it more desirable, but since it's not even available in The Netherlands - or in most other places, for that matter - I doubt this will attract any new buyers.

The 5G standard is finally finished

Friday 15th of June 2018 08:38:16 PM
It's been a long time coming, but there's finally a finished 5G standard. Earlier this week, the 3GPP - the international group that governs cellular standards - officially signed off on the standalone 5G New Radio (NR) spec. It's another major step toward next-generation cellular networks finally becoming a reality. Now, if you've been paying attention to the cellular industry, this may sound familiar and for good reason: the 3GPP also announced a finished 5G standard in December 2017. The difference is that the December specification was for the non-standalone version of 5G NR, which would still be built on top of existing legacy LTE networks. The agreed-upon specification from this week is the standalone version of 5G, which allows for new deployments of 5G in places that didn’t necessarily have that existing infrastructure.

Sculpt OS available as live system

Thursday 14th of June 2018 12:14:45 AM
Sculpt for The Curious (TC) is the second incarnation of the general-purpose operating system pursued by the developers of the Genode OS Framework. It comes in the form of a ready-to-use system image that can be booted directly from a USB thumb drive. In contrast to earlier versions, Sculpt TC features a graphical user interface for the interactive management of storage devices and networking. The main administrative interface remains text-based. It allows the user to "sculpt" the system live into shape, and introspect the system's state at any time. The technological foundation of Sculpt is a combination of Genode's microkernel architecture with capability-based security and virtualization. It does not resemble a POSIX system, rather it supports hosting POSIX and Unix software as an option. This way, security-critical components are not exposed to the complexities of POSIX while the system retains compatibility to existing applications. Sculpt TC features several examples of such applications, ranging from Qt-based software over a custom Unix runtime to VirtualBox. The downloadable system image with the accompanied documentation is available at the Sculpt download page of the Genode project.

Microsoft is rebuilding the Office interface

Thursday 14th of June 2018 12:10:51 AM
Office today has a whole bunch of versions - the traditional, fully featured Win32 desktop applications and their near counterparts on the Mac, along with various simpler versions for the Web, mobile, and Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Presently, these various incarnations all have similarities in their interfaces, but they're far from consistent. That's set to change. Microsoft is overhauling the interfaces of all the Office versions to bring a much more consistent look and feel across the various platforms that the applications support. This new interface will have three central elements. I use Office every day, and I just want one thing from Microsoft: the ability to open multiple instances of the UWP Office applications. The UWP version of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are faster, smoother, and easier to use than their slow, cumbersome Win32 counterparts. I'm convinced the only reason Microsoft artificially limits the UWP versions to one instance per app is so they won't tread on the hallowed, sacred Win32 ground. It's high time Microsoft removes this purely artificial limitation.

Windows NTFS tricks collection

Wednesday 13th of June 2018 11:54:14 PM
Is anybody interested in a long list of obscure NTFS tricks? Yes? Good, because this long list provides just that. As an example, ever wanted to create folders with just periods, but you realized you couldn't because every NTFS folder has the special "." and ".." folders to refer to itself and its parent folder, respectively? Well, here's your chance to learn how. Probably not the most useful tricks, but fun nonetheless.

Microsoft's devices roadmap leaks

Tuesday 12th of June 2018 11:28:02 PM
Microsoft's device roadmap has been leaked, and it contains a lot of information about upcoming devices. The most interesting one is the mythical pocketable dual-screen Andromeda. They do, however, say that Andromeda, Microsoft's mythical pocketable, two-screen, hand-held device that's supposed to carve out a whole new market for itself, is due for release in 2018. The documents also say that, after Andromeda, Microsoft OEMs will produce their own comparable products, just as they've done with Surface Pro. The big question for Andromeda is the same as it has always been: why? To define a new hardware form factor, as appears to be the intent, its design needs to be particularly suitable for something. Surface Pro, for example, has appealed particularly to groups such as students (taking notes with OneNote) and artists, thanks to its form factor and multimodal input support. To succeed, Andromeda needs to offer similar appeal - it needs to enable something that's widely useful and ill-suited to existing hardware. But presently, there are few ideas of just what that role might be. From what I understand, it will look something like this, and its entire UI is Modern/Fluent Design/Metro - there's no Win32 here, no traditional Start menu, and so on. With the device being pocketable, my biggest open question is whether or not it will have phone functionality, effectively making it a Surface phone, and a new attempt at breaking into the smartphone market.

Google to remove ability to sideload Chrome extensions

Tuesday 12th of June 2018 11:21:41 PM
We strive to ensure choice and transparency for all Chrome users as they browse the web. Part of this choice is the ability to use the hundreds of thousands of extensions available in the Chrome Web Store to customize the browsing experience in useful and productivity-boosting ways. However, we continue to receive large volumes of complaints from users about unwanted extensions causing their Chrome experience to change unexpectedly - and the majority of these complaints are attributed to confusing or deceptive uses of inline installation on websites. As we've attempted to address this problem over the past few years, we've learned that the information displayed alongside extensions in the Chrome Web Store plays a critical role in ensuring that users can make informed decisions about whether to install an extension. When installed through the Chrome Web Store, extensions are significantly less likely to be uninstalled or cause user complaints, compared to extensions installed through inline installation. Later this summer, inline installation will be retired on all platforms. Going forward, users will only be able to install extensions from within the Chrome Web Store, where they can view all information about an extension's functionality prior to installing. Am I the only one who's assuming this will eventually allow Google to remove all adblockers from Chrome?

The world's fastest supercomputer is back in America

Tuesday 12th of June 2018 11:10:44 PM
Last week, the US Department of Energy and IBM unveiled Summit, America's latest supercomputer, which is expected to bring the title of the world's most powerful computer back to America from China, which currently holds the mantle with its Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer. With a peak performance of 200 petaflops, or 200,000 trillion calculations per second, Summit more than doubles the top speeds of TaihuLight, which can reach 93 petaflops. Summit is also capable of over 3 billion billion mixed precision calculations per second, or 3.3 exaops, and more than 10 petabytes of memory, which has allowed researchers to run the world's first exascale scientific calculation. The $200 million supercomputer is an IBM AC922 system utilizing 4,608 compute servers containing two 22-core IBM Power9 processors and six Nvidia Tesla V100 graphics processing unit accelerators each. Summit is also (relatively) energy-efficient, drawing just 13 megawatts of power, compared to the 15 megawatts TaihuLight pulls in. There's something mesmerizing about supercomputers like these. I would love to just walk through this collection of machines.

Apple tries to stop developers sharing data on users' friends

Tuesday 12th of June 2018 11:06:27 PM
Apple changed its App Store rules last week to limit how developers use information about iPhone owners' friends and other contacts, quietly closing a loophole that let app makers store and share data without many people's consent. The move cracks down on a practice that's been employed for years. Developers ask users for access to their phone contacts, then use it for marketing and sometimes share or sell the information - without permission from the other people listed on those digital address books. On both Apple's iOS and Google's Android, the world's largest smartphone operating systems, the tactic is sometimes used to juice growth and make money. I've always found it quite easy to spot applications that would try to abuse permissions like this - weather applications don't need access to telephony, a notes application doesn't need access to my contact list, and so on. It's good to see Apple cracking down on this practice for those among us who aren't as observant.

AT&T cleared to buy Time Warner

Tuesday 12th of June 2018 11:02:16 PM
AT&T Inc. was cleared by a judge to take over Time Warner Inc. in an $85 billion deal that will fuel the mobile-phone giant’s evolution into a media powerhouse and could spark a wave of new mergers. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon on Tuesday rejected the Justice Department’s request for an order blocking the Time Warner acquisition, saying the government failed to make its case that the combination would lead to higher prices for pay-TV subscribers. The judge put no conditions on the deal. More consolidation in the US tech and media landscape. This doesn't bode well for American internet users and TV/movie fans.

KDE Plasma 5.13 released

Tuesday 12th of June 2018 10:53:43 PM
Members of the Plasma team have been working hard to continue making Plasma a lightweight and responsive desktop which loads and runs quickly, but remains full-featured with a polished look and feel. We have spent the last four months optimising startup and minimising memory usage, yielding faster time-to-desktop, better runtime performance and less memory consumption. Basic features like panel popups were optimised to make sure they run smoothly even on the lowest-end hardware. Our design teams have not rested either, producing beautiful new integrated lock and login screen graphics. Read the entire release announcement for more details.

More in Tux Machines

today's howtos

KDE: Qt, Plasma, QML, Usability & Productivity

  • Qt 5.11.1 and Plasma 5.13.1 in ktown ‘testing’ repository
    A couple of days ago I recompiled ‘poppler’ and the packages in ‘ktown’ that depend on it, and uploaded them into the repository as promised in my previous post. I did that because Slackware-current updated its own poppler package and mine needs to be kept in sync to prevent breakage in other parts of your Slackware computer. I hear you wonder, what is the difference between the Slackware poppler package and this ‘ktown’ package? Simple: my ‘poppler’ package contains support for Qt5 (in addition to the QT4 support in the original package) and that is required by other packages in the ‘ktown’ repository.
  • Sixth week of coding phase, GSoC'18
    The Menus API enables the QML Plugin to add an action, separator or menu to the WebView context menu. This API is not similar to the WebExtensions Menus API but is rather Falkonish!
  • This week in Usability & Productivity, part 24
    See all the names of people who worked hard to make the computing world a better place? That could be you next week! Getting involved isn’t all that tough, and there’s lots of support available.

Programming: Python Maths Tools and Java SE

  • Essential Free Python Maths Tools
    Python is a very popular general purpose programming language — with good reason. It’s object oriented, semantically structured, extremely versatile, and well supported. Scientists favour Python because it’s easy to use and learn, offers a good set of built-in features, and is highly extensible. Python’s readability makes it an excellent first programming language. The Python Standard Library (PSL) is the the standard library that’s distributed with Python. The library comes with, among other things, modules that carry out many mathematical operations. The math module is one of the core modules in PSL which performs mathematical operations. The module gives access to the underlying C library functions for floating point math.
  • Oracle's new Java SE subs: Code and support for $25/processor/month
    Oracle’s put a price on Java SE and support: $25 per processor per month, and $2.50 per user per month on the desktop, or less if you buy lots for a long time. Big Red’s called this a Java SE Subscription and pitched it as “a commonly used model, popular with Linux distributions”. The company also reckons the new deal is better than a perpetual licence, because they involve “an up-front cost plus additional annual support and maintenance fees.”

Linux 4.18 RC2 Released From China

  • Linux 4.18-rc2
    Another week, another -rc. I'm still traveling - now in China - but at least I'm doing this rc Sunday _evening_ local time rather than _morning_. And next rc I'll be back home and over rmy jetlag (knock wood) so everything should be back to the traditional schedule. Anyway, it's early in the rc series yet, but things look fairly normal. About a third of the patch is drivers (drm and s390 stand out, but here's networking and block updates too, and misc noise all over). We also had some of the core dma files move from drivers/base/dma-* (and lib/dma-*) to kernel/dma/*. We sometimes do code movement (and other "renaming" things) after the merge window simply because it tends to be less disruptive that way. Another 20% is under "tools" - mainly due to some selftest updates for rseq, but there's some turbostat and perf tooling work too. We also had some noticeable filesystem updates, particularly to cifs. I'm going to point those out, because some of them probably shouldn't have been in rc2. They were "fixes" not in the "regressions" sense, but in the "missing features" sense. So please, people, the "fixes" during the rc series really should be things that are _regressions_. If it used to work, and it no longer does, then fixing that is a good and proper fix. Or if something oopses or has a security implication, then the fix for that is a real fix. But if it's something that has never worked, even if it "fixes" some behavior, then it's new development, and that should come in during the merge window. Just because you think it's a "fix" doesn't mean that it really is one, at least in the "during the rc series" sense. Anyway, with that small rant out of the way, the rest is mostly arch updates (x86, powerpc, arm64, mips), and core networking. Go forth and test. Things look fairly sane, it's not really all that scary. Shortlog appended for people who want to scan through what changed. Linus
  • Linux 4.18-rc2 Released With A Normal Week's Worth Of Changes
    Due to traveling in China, Linus Torvalds has released the Linux 4.18-rc2 kernel a half-day ahead of schedule, but overall things are looking good for Linux 4.18.