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Exploring the Future of Computing
Updated: 35 min 15 sec ago

Why these Mac users won't abandon OS 9

Monday 12th of September 2016 05:20:12 PM
The reasons some Mac lovers stick with OS 9 are practically as numerous as Apple operating systems themselves. There are some OS 9 subscribers who hold out for cost reasons. Computers are prohibitively expensive where they live, and these people would also need to spend thousands on new software licenses and updated hardware (on top of the cost of a new Mac). But many more speak of a genuine preference for OS 9. These users stick around purely because they can and because they think classic Mac OS offers a more pleasant experience than OS X. Creatives in particular speak about some of OS 9's biggest technical shortcomings in favorable terms. They aren't in love with the way one app crashing would bring down an entire system, but rather the design elements that can unfortunately lead to that scenario often better suit creative work. If OS 9 had modern applications and - even moderately - modern hardware, I would be using it. No question. I have an iBook G3 fully working and running OS 9, including important software, within arm's grasp (I used to have an iMac G3 for the same purpose). It's difficult to explain, but the reason for me is Platinum, the user interface. OS 9's Finder, the graphical and behaviourial aspects of the user interface, the speed, the BeOS-like quirkiness - it all adds up to an operating system with a personality that is incredibly pleasant to use, regardless of the hodgepodge house-of-cards internals. And personality is, unfortunately, what Windows, desktop Linux, macOS, iOS, and Android sorely, sorely lack.

OpenBSD on the HP Stream 7

Monday 12th of September 2016 05:14:16 PM
Recent events have rocked the mobile computing world to its core. OpenBSD retired the zaurus port, leaving users in desperate need of a new device. And not long before that, Microsoft released the Anniversary Update to Windows 10, but increased the free space requirement needed to install the update to exceed what's possible on devices with only 32GB, leaving users with cheap 32GB eMMC equipped devices such as the HP Stream series searching for a new operating system. With necessity as both mother and father, the scene is set for a truly epic pairing. OpenBSD on the HP Stream 7. The HP Stream line is a series of budget computers in a couple form factors. The Stream 11 is a fairly typical netbook. However, the Stream 7 and 8 are tablets. They look like cheap Android devices, but inside the case, they’re real boys, er PCs, with Intel Atom CPUs. To install OpenBSD on such a device, we need a few parts.

One year later: can Android 7.0 Nougat save the Pixel C?

Monday 12th of September 2016 05:10:49 PM
Expecting a company that sells tablets to also provide tablet-oriented interfaces for the OS and major apps isn't unreasonable. But Google hasn't shown it is willing to provide those interfaces. My Android tablet advice still stands - I'll take Android tablets seriously once Google does. All the interface regressions since Honeycomb still make Android tablets feel like an afterthought. While the Pixel C is a great demonstration of these problems, it's still not a great productivity device compared to the competition. The side-by-side comparisons between Honeycomb and Nougat are damning. "Regression" isn't an adequate enough word for what's happening here.

Elementary OS Loki released

Friday 9th of September 2016 11:58:40 PM
Loki is the newest version of elementary OS, a design-oriented and open source Linux-based operating system for desktops and laptops. It succeeds Freya which was released in April of 2015. [...] ts and implemented over 20 blueprints. Altogether, these represent stability and security improvements, better internationalization, new features and options, and much more. A great team doing great work. Elementary OS isn't exactly a good fit for the "I compile my own kernel every morning"-type Linux users, but for the more turnkey people among us, it's certainly worth a try.

Sailfish OS 2.0.2 released

Friday 9th of September 2016 11:12:30 PM
This release continues to improve the Sailfish OS 2.0 experience. Storage settings allow users to format, and safely eject memory cards. It also provides access to the files on the device and on memory cards. Cloud support continues to evolve with a support of VK and with backup support for OneDrive and DropBox. With release 2.0.2 Sailfish OS adds support for Intex Aqua Fish and Jolla C devices. New hardware features of the devices, like FM radio and Dual SIM are now supported. Sailfish users know where to get the update. There's also a much more detailed changelog.

What Deep Space Nine does that no other Star Trek series can

Thursday 8th of September 2016 11:24:29 PM
Fifty years ago today, on 8 September 1966, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek appeared on television for the first time - and forever changed the world. There's an endless string of articles all over the web, but as one of those Deep Space Nine fanatics the rest of the Trek world rather not talk about, this great article by Annalee Newitz really struck a cord with me. Without this stubborn nugget of hope at its core, DS9 would be more like the 2000s version of Battlestar Galactica - a story about space mysticism and war that's laced with a fatalism about humanity. Ron Moore was an executive producer on DS9 and the creator of BSG, so the overlap makes sense. But on DS9, we are immersed in a world where our faith in the basic decency of intelligent beings can remain unshaken. Whether solid or liquid, most of the creatures who live on the space station always do the right thing. And most importantly, the good guys prevail not just because they are good, but because they are able to put their ideals to practical use. More than TNG and Voyager, DS9 helps us understand how humans got from the Bell Riots to social democracy in space. Our heroes do it by resisting imperialism and inequality and by allying themselves with other people who do. That's why the Federation has struck a deal with the Bajorans rather than the Cardassians. "Do you think they'll be able to save us?" The best scene in all of Star Trek (this one's a close second). Thank you, Mr. Roddenberry.

The end of headphone jacks, the rise of DRM

Thursday 8th of September 2016 09:13:03 PM
The EFF on Apple's removal of the 3.5mm jack: The reasons for Apple abandoning the analog jack may be innocuous. Apple is obsessed with simple, clean design, and this move lets the company remove one more piece of clutter from the phone's body. It advertises that the move helps make the phone more water-resistant. And certainly, many people prefer a wireless listening experience. But intentionally or not, by removing the analog port, Apple is giving itself more control than ever over what people can do with music or other audio content on an iPhone. It's also opening the door to new pressures to take advantage of that power. Meanwhile, over at BuzzFeed, Apple's Phil Shiller addresses the DRM and vendor lock-in concerns (bookmark the following quote for future reference): Schiller thinks it's a silly argument. "The idea that there's some ulterior motive behind this move, or that it will usher in some new form of content management, it simply isn’t true," he says. "We are removing the audio jack because we have developed a better way to deliver audio. It has nothing to do with content management or DRM - that's pure, paranoid conspiracy theory." Thankfully, I don't have to write a reply to Schiller, because Nilay Patel already did so - and eloquently to boot, outlining exactly why the worries over DRM and vendor lock-in are more than warranted. After listing seven pieces of evidence of current and possible upcoming cases of vendor lock-in and DRM, he concludes: Now, these are all just dots - there's no line connecting them yet. But they are dots that Apple has put into the world, and when the most powerful company in technology creates as many dots around a single subject, it's not a conspiracy theory to suggest that they might one day be connected into the shape of a DRM audio scheme. It's simply pointing out the obvious. Phil Schiller and Tim Cook want us to believe them on their blue eyes. I obviously don't - if you can blatantly lie several times over in open letters and press interviews about your illegal tax evasion, how on earth am I supposed to believe them on this?

Recovering Atari ST ASIC designs

Wednesday 7th of September 2016 10:29:12 PM
The pinout of that 68K Game Shifter, however, does not match the Shifter IC in any of the Atari ST computers. But incidentally, the never released Atari Panther was to be a Motorola 68000 based game console. Furthermore, the Panther prototype board features a chip conspicuously marked 4118! So after the cancellation of the Panther development in 1991, I may well be first person for 25 years to be looking at the design of its shifter chip. I'm a sucker for these kinds of stories. Great work!

Apple unveils iPhone 7, Apple Watch Series 2, Bluetooth headset

Wednesday 7th of September 2016 10:24:26 PM
Apple held its iPhone event tonight, and introduced the

How to get people using a leaked build to stop using that build?

Tuesday 6th of September 2016 10:09:00 PM
A member of another team told me that there was a leaked build that had a really bad bug in it. I forget exactly what the problem was, but the details aren't important. The team fixed the bug as soon as it was discovered, and they notified all the self-hosters and partners to upgrade to a new build immediately, but that bug was also out there in the leaked builds, ready to destroy computers and networks and most of Western civilization. So how do you get people who are running a leaked build to stop running that build, with urgency? Great story.

A design defect is breaking a ton of iPhone 6 Pluses

Tuesday 6th of September 2016 02:56:57 PM
People all over the world mail their broken iPhones to microsoldering specialist Jessa Jones. Aided by powerful microscopes and precision soldering irons, experts like Jessa pluck tiny chips off logic boards, swap them for new ones, and resurrect devices over which Apple's Genius Bar would say a eulogy. Jessa can fix practically anything. But these days, she spends most of her time fixing just one thing. Because every single month, more and more iPhone 6 and (especially) 6 Plus devices show up at her shop, iPad Rehab, with the same problem: a gray, flickering bar at the top of the display and an unresponsive touchscreen. Fascinating story. Remember, in the EU, you have a 2 year EU-wide warranty on your iPhone, no matter what Apple (or anyone else, for that matter) might tell you. If you are affected by this issue, Apple is legally obliged to either fix it, or replace your phone with a new one.

Booting the final GameCube game

Tuesday 6th of September 2016 10:26:17 AM
Every single GameCube game can at least boot in Dolphin 5.0. Except one. Star Wars: The Clone Wars and its complex way of using the PowerPC Memory Management Unit rendered it unplayable in Dolphin up to this day. But finally as of Dolphin 5.0-540, this challenge has come and gone: Dolphin can finally boot every single GameCube game in the official library. So what makes Star Wars: The Clone Wars so special? To truly understand what's going on, you need to have some knowledge on how the PowerPC's processor handles memory management and how Dolphin emulates it. Some light reading for the Tuesday morning.

500 byte images: the Haiku Vector Icon Format

Sunday 4th of September 2016 12:10:11 AM
Haiku uses a custom vector image format to store icons. This is surprising both because most OSes consider bitmaps to be totally sufficient to represent icons and because there are plenty of vector graphics formats out this (e.g. SVG). The goal of the Haiku Vector Icon Format (HVIF) is to make vector icon files as small as possible. This allows Haiku to display icons as several sizes while still keeping the files small enough to fit into an inode (i.e., inside a file’s metadata). The goal of keeping the icons in the metadata is to reduce the disk reads needed to display a folder - it also each file to only require one disk read to display. This blog post examines the details of the HVIF format using a hex editor and the canonical parser's source code. In the process of dissecting an example icon, I'll also show you an optimization bug in the icon image editor. Great article.

OpenBSD 6.0 released

Sunday 4th of September 2016 12:10:04 AM
OpenBSD 6.0 has been released, with tones of improvements. They're listing this one as one of the biggest changes: In their latest attempt to push better security practices to the software ecosystem, OpenBSD has turned W^X on by default for the base system. Binaries can only violate W^X if they're marked with PT_OPENBSD_WXNEEDED and their filesystem is mounted with the new wxallowed option. The installer will set this flag on the /usr/local partition (where third party packages go) by default now, but users may need to manually add it if you're upgrading. More details can be found in this email. If you don't use any W^X-violating applications, you don't need the flag at all.

Google cancels Ara modular smartphone

Friday 2nd of September 2016 11:24:57 PM
Project Ara, Google's lofty vision of a modular smartphone with a vibrant third-party hardware ecosystem, is no more. A Google spokesperson confirmed today that the company has suspended its plan to bring the modular smartphone to market after nearly three years of development, following a revealing report from Reuters. I've always liked the idea of Project Ara, but I guess the technological challenges combined with the (I assume) limited consumer interest were too great to overcome. Too bad.

Samsung expected to recall Note 7s over battery quality concerns

Thursday 1st of September 2016 10:54:48 PM
Reports have surfaced indicating that the Galaxy Note 7 launch has been delayed in parts of Europe - Germany in particular - as sales were set to commence this week. The news lands corresponding with multiple reports coming out of Korea that Samsung has plans to issue recalls for phones - anywhere from just some Exynos variants up to all Galaxy Note 7s that have been sold. I suggest free bumpers.

PC-BSD evolves into TrueOS

Thursday 1st of September 2016 10:49:43 PM
We are proud to announce that the PC-BSD project has evolved into TrueOS: a modern, cutting-edge distribution of FreeBSD focused on security, simplicity, and stability for desktops, servers, and beyond! TrueOS harnesses the best elements of PC-BSD, combines it with security technologies from OpenBSD, and layers it on top of FreeBSD to provide a complete system for modern machines. I'm a little confused - while there is mention of TrueOS on the PC-BSD homepage (it's their server offering), there's no mention of TrueOS being the successor or something along those lines to PC-BSD at all. Weird.

A tax expert takes Tim Cook's EU letter apart point by point

Thursday 1st of September 2016 10:42:55 PM
Matt Gardner, the director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, took a look at Tim Cook's terrible letter to EU consumers regarding Apple's tax evasion, and pretty much tears it to shreds. Apple created a complicated web of subsidiaries to avoid taxes, and the Irish government allowed it. Both the company and the country were complicit in this agreement. The idea that Ireland gave Apple guidance on "how to comply correctly with Irish tax law" makes both parties sound less guilty than they are. A better characterization would be that Apple cooked up a tax-dodging scheme, and Ireland allowed it. Further along, Gardner actually opens up a major can of worms, arguing that either Apple provided false figures in its annual report, or Tim Cook is lying in his letter to EU consumers: It doesn't appear to be even remotely truthful based on the numbers they publish in their annual reports. Each year they report that the majority of their profits are earned outside the U.S., with roughly a third (on average, over the past five years) coming from the U.S. When you look at the 10K, the annual report for 2015, you see the company reports earnings of $72 billion worldwide, and just one third of those profits are attributed to the U.S. And yet Cook's statement says that the vast majority of their income is taxed in the U.S. We think that is a very low estimate. It certainly appears that the company is shifting profits out of the U.S. and into tax havens overseas. So one of these things must not be true: Either the numbers presented to shareholders in their annual report are false, or Tim Cook's new statement that the majority of its profits are taxed in the U.S is false. They both can't be true. That's a bold claim to make, but it's hard, if not impossible, to argue with Gardner on this one. Since it's incredibly unlikely Apple is falsifying its annual reports, the most logical conclusion is that Tim Cook is lying in the open letter. Tim - if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

Genode 16.08 brings interactive and dynamic workloads to seL4

Wednesday 31st of August 2016 10:35:41 PM
With the just released version 16.08, Genode makes the entirety of the framework's drivers, protocol stacks, and libraries available on the seL4 kernel. Thereby, the vision of a real general-purpose OS built upon a formally verified kernel suddenly becomes a tangible mission. Further highlights of the new version are the use of the framework to run VirtualBox 4 on the Muen separation kernel, an experimental version of VirtualBox 5 on top of the NOVA kernel, the added support for virtual networking and TOR, profound Zynq board support, and new tools for statistical profiling. The seL4 kernel is universally regarded as the world's most advanced open-source microkernel - not by technical merits alone but by the fact that the kernel is accompanied by formal proofs of its correctness. However, to achieve this high level of assurance, the kernel's responsibilities had to be reduced to an extreme that goes even beyond traditional microkernels. In particular, the kernel leaves the problem of managing kernel memory to be solved at the user level. The problem still exists but it isn't considered the kernel's problem anymore. Consequently, this kernel design makes the creation of a scalable user land extremely challenging. For this reason, most use cases of seL4 remain solely static in nature, or combine static components with virtualization. The real potential of seL4 to scale towards dynamic systems remained untapped so far. Here is where Genode comes into play. Genode is designed as a dynamic user land for microkernels, which addresses the management of memory at the user-level via a unique resource-trading concept. It turns out that this concept is a suitable answer to the kernel-management problem posed by seL4. By completing the implementation of the framework's base mechanisms for this kernel, literally hundreds of existing Genode components become readily available to the seL4 community. The Muen separation kernel is another take on the use of formal methods for assuring the absence of bugs in an OS kernel. In contrast to seL4, Muen applies different technologies (Ada/SPARK) and addresses static partitioned systems. A natural use case is the co-hosting of virtual machines. In a multi-level scenario, each virtual machine hosts a guest OS for editing documents at one security level. The separation kernel enforces the information-flow policy between the virtual machines. In such scenarios, the predominant guest OS is MS Windows. Consequently, Muen had to support the virtualization of such commodity OSes. Genode already solved this problem for another microkernel by making VirtualBox available on top of NOVA. So the idea was born to leverage Genode's version of VirtualBox on top of Muen - essentially using Genode as a runtime environment for VirtualBox. As crazy as it sounds - it works! The release documentation has a dedicated section that tells the full story. Speaking of VirtualBox, the ability to run VirtualBox directly on a microkernel is certainly a key feature of Genode. With Genode 16.08, a first version of VirtualBox 5 becomes available on the NOVA kernel. The anecdotes above highlight the benefits of Genode's cross-kernel portability. The new version pushes this idea even further by attaining binary compatibility across all the supported kernels for a given CPU architecture. In fact, compiled once, an ELF binary of a regular component can be natively executed on kernels as different as seL4 and Linux as long as the component does not rely on a special feature of a particular kernel. At a higher level, the current release extends the framework's library of ready-to-use building blocks in several areas. Most prominently, there are new network-related components for routing traffic, using TOR, and for distributing Genode over the network. Other added components are concerned with improving the use of Genode as a general-purpose OS, or to aid the optimization of components by the means of statistical profiling. Version 16.08 is further complemented with added board support for devices based on Xilinx Zynq, including drivers for GPIO, video DMA, SD cards, and I2C. These and many more topics are covered in detail by the release documentation of version 16.08.

Rewriting the tablet

Wednesday 31st of August 2016 10:33:35 PM
But now, seven years later, Lenovo is introducing a new take on the tablet computer. No, Lenovo didn't make a Courier, but its new Yoga Book might inspire the same reactions. It's about the size and shape of a hardcover children's book, has two panels attached by a hinge, and can be used with your fingers or with its included pen. It even does some tricks with the pen that we've never seen before, like letting you write with real ink and have it all digitized. Lenovo didn't set out to build just another tablet with the Yoga Book - it wanted to make something that was better for getting work done than what is already out there. But in the process, it made a computer that's both futuristic and relatable at the same time, just like the original Courier concept. I wanted to use the Yoga Book from the first time I laid eyes on it, and if you're anything like me, you will, too. And unlike the Courier, you will actually be able to buy the Yoga Book. I have no idea how practical and usable the device will be, but I have to admit it looks really nice and futuristic, without being over the top. I'm definitely going to play with both the Android and Windows versions, because at €499, this isn't expensive.

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