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Any Steam game can now use Valve’s low-latency, DoS-proofed networking

Friday 15th of March 2019 05:49:48 PM

Enlarge (credit: massmatt)

Valve is opening up its latency-reducing, DoS-protecting network relay infrastructure to every developer using its Steamworks platform.

A few years ago, large-scale denial-of-service attacks against game servers were making the news and becoming a frustratingly frequent occurrence in online gaming and e-sports. To protect its own games, Valve has for a number of years been working on developing a networking infrastructure that makes the system more resilient against denial-of-service attacks and lower latency to boot, and the company is using this system for both Dota 2 and CS:GO.

At 30 different locations around the world, Valve has established relaying servers that route networking traffic between clients and servers. These relay points provide DoS-resilience in several ways. They're equipped with an aggregate of several terabits of bandwidth, so they can handle a certain amount of flooding in any case. Games can also switch from one relay to another without necessarily interrupting their connection. This switching can be to another relay in the same location or even to another point-of-presence entirely.

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Next Windows release will include DTrace support

Monday 11th of March 2019 11:10:23 PM

Enlarge / The bits in the dashed box are the CDDL parts that are more or less common to every platform offering DTrace. (credit: Microsoft)

The forthcoming Windows 10 feature update will bring support for DTrace, the open source debugging and diagnostic tracing tool originally built for Solaris. The port was announced at the Ignite conference last year, and today the instructions, binaries, and source code are now available.

DTrace lets developers and administrators get a detailed look at what their system is doing: they can track kernel function calls, examine properties of running processes, and probe drivers. DTrace commands use the DTrace scripting language, with which users can specify which information is probed and how to report that information.

After its initial Solaris release, DTrace spread to a wide range of other Unix-like operating systems. Today, it's available for Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and macOS. The original Solaris code was released under Sun's Common Development and Distribution License. Microsoft has ported the CDDL portions of DTrace and built an additional driver for Windows that performs some of the system-monitoring roles. The latter driver will ship with Windows; the CDDL parts are all a separate download.

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Microsoft proves the critics right: We’re heading toward a Chrome-only Web

Monday 11th of March 2019 08:49:26 PM

Enlarge

One of the greatest fears when Microsoft announced that it was ditching its EdgeHTML rendering engine and switching to Chromium—the open source engine that powers Google's Chrome, along with a range of others such as Vivaldi, Brave, and Opera—is that Web developers would increasingly take the easy way out and limit their support and testing to Chrome. That would leave Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari, and any other browsers, present or future, out of the fun.

This is, after all, substantially what we saw during Internet Explorer's heyday. Microsoft's browser grew to about 95 percent of the market, and wide swathes of the Web proudly announced that they were "best viewed in Internet Explorer," often to the point of not working at all in any other browser. IE's hegemony presented an enormous challenge for the upstart Firefox browser, which was built to support Web standards rather than Microsoft's particular spin on those standards. Though Internet Explorer was eventually displaced—by Chrome—this arguably would have gone much quicker if developers had been less fixated on Microsoft's browser.

Last week, Microsoft made a major update to the Web version of its Skype client, bringing HD video calling, call recording, and other features already found on the other clients.

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calc.exe is now open source; there’s surprising depth in its ancient code

Thursday 7th of March 2019 05:03:33 PM

Enlarge (credit: jakeandlindsay)

Microsoft's embrace and adoption of open source software has continued with the surprising decision to publish the code for Windows Calculator and release it on GitHub under the permissive MIT license.

The repository shows Calculator's surprisingly long history. Although it is in some regards one of the most modern Windows applications—it's an early adopter of Fluent Design and has been used to showcase a number of design elements—core parts of the codebase date all the way back to 1995.

The actual calculations are performed by this ancient code. Calculator's mathematics library is built using rational numbers (that is, numbers that can be expressed as the ratio of two integers). Where possible, it preserves the exact values of the numbers it is computing, falling back on Taylor series expansion when an approximation to an irrational number is required. Poking around the change history shows that the very earliest iterations of Windows Calculator, starting in 1989, didn't use the rational arithmetic library, instead using floating point arithmetic and the much greater loss of precision this implies.

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Chromium-based Edge screenshots might as well be Chrome

Tuesday 5th of March 2019 04:54:30 PM

Some early screenshots of Microsoft's Chromium-based Edge browser have leaked to Neowin. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft seems to be working on a development cycle that's similar to that of Chrome, with pictures of both a Canary channel, shipped daily, and a Dev channel, shipped weekly.

In many ways the browser is what one would expect of a Microsoft Chromium browser: in those places where Chrome would use a Google account for syncing or a Google store for extensions, Edge-on-Chromium uses a Microsoft account and a Microsoft store. Similarly, the homepage is similar to that of Edge, using Bing pictures and Microsoft News links. Perhaps the biggest change is the settings page, which adopts a similar look-and-feel to the Windows 10 settings app—section headings down the left, the actual settings on the right.

But the screenshots also show just what a challenge Microsoft has to win people over to its browser. If you're going to get an experience that's 99 percent Chrome, why not just use the real thing, with its even more extensive data syncing and extension store?

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Google turbo-charging the back button with Chrome’s new “back/forward cache”

Thursday 28th of February 2019 01:20:21 AM

Enlarge / Now that's some shiny chrome. (credit: Marc Ellis / Flickr)

Google is developing a new cache for Chrome (via CNET) that should make some page loads extremely fast. The only catch? They'll have to be pages you've already seen and are revisiting after hitting the browser's back button.

Chrome already caches the files that make up a page, so revisiting a page in most circumstances shouldn't force the browser to retrieve the images, JavaScripts, and CSS that are used to build the page. But currently, the browser has to re-parse the HTML and re-build the page's programmatic representation, uncompress the images, re-execute all the JavaScript, reapply all the stylesheets, and so on. It's just the networking step that gets skipped.

The new bfcache (for "back/forward cache") changes that: it lets the browser capture the entire state of a running page—including scripts that are in the middle of execution, the rendered images, and even the scroll position—and reload that state later. With bfcache, rather than having to reload the page from scratch, the page will look as if it was paused when you clicked a link to a new page and subsequently resumed when you hit back.

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Google partially backtracks on Chrome changes that would break ad blockers

Monday 18th of February 2019 05:35:49 PM

Google has said that it will revise the proposed changes to Chrome's extension API that would have broken or reduced the functionality of a wide range of ad-blocking extensions, to ensure that the current variety of content-blocking extensions is preserved. The initial plans generated a wide backlash from both the developers and users of those extensions, but Google maintains that "It is not, nor has it ever been, our goal to prevent or break content blocking" [emphasis Google's] and says that it will work to update its proposal to address the capability gaps and pain points.

The advertising company is planning an overhaul of its extension interface to, among other things, increase user privacy, make it harder for extensions to perform malicious actions, and make the browser's performance more consistent. Together, this work is documented as Manifest V3.

One of these changes in particular had grave consequences for ad blockers. Currently, ad blockers make extensive use of an API named webRequest. This API allows extensions to examine every single network request made by a page and either modify it (to, for example, redirect it to a different address or add or remove cookies), block it altogether, or allow it to continue unhindered. This has both a substantial privacy impact (an extension can see and steal your cookies and hence masquerade as you) and, Google said, some performance impact, as every single network request (of which there may be dozens in a single page) has to wait for the extension to perform its analysis.

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Opera shows off its smart new redesign that’s just like all the other browsers

Thursday 14th of February 2019 04:46:15 PM

Enlarge / Both the new dark view and light view look good. (credit: Opera)

Opera has unveiled a new look and feel for its browser. Expected to ship in version 59 and codenamed "Reborn 3" (R3), the new appearance adopts the same square edges and clean lines that we've seen in other browsers, giving the browser a passing similarity to both Firefox and Edge.

The principles of the new design? "We put Web content at center stage," the Opera team writes on its blog. The design is pared down so that you can browse "unhindered by unnecessary distractions." Borders and dividing lines have been removed, flattening out parts of the browser's interface and making them look more uniform and less eye-catching. The new design comes with the requisite dark and light modes, a welcome trend that we're glad to see is being widely adopted.

Being Web-centric is not a bad principle for an application such as a browser, where the bulk of the functionality and interest comes from the pages we're viewing rather than the browser itself. At first blush, I think that Opera has come up with something that looks good, but it does feel like an awfully familiar design rationale.

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Mozilla to use machine learning to find code bugs before they ship

Tuesday 12th of February 2019 10:15:01 PM

Ubisoft's Commit-Assistant

In a bid to cut the number of coding errors made in its Firefox browser, Mozilla is deploying Clever-Commit, a machine-learning-driven coding assistant developed in conjunction with game developer Ubisoft.

Clever-Commit analyzes code changes as developers commit them to the Firefox codebase. It compares them to all the code it has seen before to see if they look similar to code that the system knows to be buggy. If the assistant thinks that a commit looks suspicious, it warns the developer. Presuming its analysis is correct, it means that the bug can be fixed before it gets committed into the source repository. Clever-Commit can even suggest fixes for the bugs that it finds. Initially, Mozilla plans to use Clever-Commit during code reviews, and in time this will expand to other phases of development, too. It works with all three of the languages that Mozilla uses for Firefox: C++, JavaScript, and Rust.

The tool builds on work by Ubisoft La Forge, Ubisoft's research lab. Last year, Ubisoft presented the Commit-Assistant, based on research called CLEVER, a system for finding bugs and suggesting fixes. That system found some 60-70 percent of buggy commits, though it also had a false positive rate of 30 percent. Even though this false positive rate is quite high, users of this system nonetheless felt that it was worthwhile, thanks to the time saved when it did correctly identify a bug.

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With experimental “Never slow mode,” Chrome tries to stop Web devs making it slow

Wednesday 6th of February 2019 12:10:40 AM

Enlarge / Google wants less of this. (credit: Vegansoldier / Flickr)

Since Chrome's very first release, performance has been one of Google's top priorities. But Google is against a competing force: Web developers. The Web of today is a more complex, bandwidth-intensive place than it was when Chrome was first released, which means that—although Internet connections and the browser itself are faster than they've ever been—slow pages remain an everyday occurrence.

Google engineers have been developing "Never Slow Mode" in a bid to counter this. Spotted at Chrome Story (via ZDNet), the new mode places tight limitations on Web content in an effort to make its performance more robust and predictable.

The exact design and rationale of Never Slow Mode aren't public—the changelog for the feature mentions a design document but says it's currently Google-internal. But taken together, that design and rationale will ensure that the browser's main thread never has to do too much work and will never get too delayed. They will also ensure that only limited amounts of data are pulled down over the network. This should make the browser more responsive to user input, lighter on the network, and a bit less of a memory hog than it would otherwise be.

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Firefox taking a hard line against noisy video, banning it from autoplaying

Tuesday 5th of February 2019 03:45:54 PM

Enlarge / No red pandas were harmed in the making of this image, I promise. (credit: Aurich / Getty)

Last year, Chrome introduced changes to try to prevent the persistent nuisance that is pages that automatically play noisy videos. Next month, Firefox will be following suit; Firefox 66, due on March 19, will prevent the automatic playback of any video that contains audio.

Mozilla's plan for Firefox is a great deal simpler and a great deal stricter than Chrome's system. In Chrome, Google has a heuristic that tries to distinguish between those sites where autoplaying is generally welcome (Netflix and YouTube, for example) and those where it isn't (those annoying sites that have autoplaying video tucked away in a corner to startle you when it starts making unexpected sounds). Firefox isn't doing anything like that; by default, any site that tries to play video with audio will have that video playback blocked.

Firefox users will be able to grant autoplay audio permission on a site-by-site basis.

Firefox users will be able to override this block on a site-by-site basis, so those sites where autoplay is inoffensive can have it re-enabled. This permission is automatically extended to sites that have previously been granted access to microphones or webcams, so that audio and video communications apps built using WebRTC will work as expected. Firefox will also allow muted video to play back automatically.

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Emulator project aims to resurrect classic Mac apps and games without the OS

Wednesday 23rd of January 2019 08:55:23 PM

Want to be able to run classic Mac OS applications compiled for the Motorola 68000 series of processors on your ever-so-modern Mac OS X machine? Or maybe you'd rather run them on a Raspberry Pi, or an Android device for that matter? There's an emulation project that's trying to achieve just that: Advanced Mac Substitute (AMS).

Emulators of older computer platforms and game consoles are popular with vintage game enthusiasts. But emulators also could be attractive to others with some emotional (or economic) attachment to old binaries—like those with a sudden desire to resurrect aged Aldus PageMaker files.

Advanced Mac Substitute is an effort by long-time Mac hacker Josh Juran to make it possible to run old Mac OS software (up to Mac OS 6) without a need for an Apple ROM or system software. Other emulators out there for 68000 Mac applications such as Basilisk II require a copy of MacOS installation media—such as install CDs from Mac OS 7.5 or Mac OS 8. But AMS uses a set of software libraries that allow old Mac applications to launch right within the operating environment of the host device, without needing to have a full virtual hardware and operating system instance behind them. And it's all open source.

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Google planning changes to Chrome that could break ad blockers

Wednesday 23rd of January 2019 08:30:57 PM

Google is planning to change the way extensions integrate with its Chrome browser. The company says that the changes are necessary for and motivated by a desire to crack down on malicious extensions, which undermine users' privacy and security, as part of the company's continued efforts to make extensions safer. The move also means that popular ad blocking extensions such as uBlock Origin and uMatrix will, according to their developer, no longer work.

The plans, called Manifest V3, are described in a public document. Google is proposing a number of changes to the way extensions work. The broad intent is to improve extension security, give users greater control over what extensions do and which sites they interact with, and make extension performance more robust. For example, extensions will no longer be able to load code from remote servers, so the extension that's submitted to the Chrome Web store contains exactly the code that will be run in the browser. This prevents malicious actors from submitting an extension to the store that loads benign code during the submission and approval process but then switches to something malicious once the extension is published. In a bid to discourage extensions from asking for blanket access to every site, Manifest V3 also changes the permissions system, so universal access can no longer be demanded at extension install time.

The problem for ad blockers comes with an API called webRequest. With the current webRequest API, the browser asks the extension to examine each network request that the extension is interested in. The extension can then modify the request before it's sent (for example, canceling requests to some domains, adding or removing cookies, or removing certain HTTP headers from the request). This provides an effective tool for ad blockers; they can examine each request that is made and choose to cancel those that are deemed to be for ads.

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Unlimited private repositories now available to free GitHub users

Tuesday 8th of January 2019 12:03:08 AM

Octocat, the GitHub mascot. (credit: Github)

The significant change to GitHub announced today by CEO Nat Friedman might be the first major change since Microsoft bought the company last year: free accounts can now create private repositories.

GitHub has become the home for a huge number of open-source projects. Some of these are major, widely used projects such as the Node.js server-side JavaScript platform, but many of them are small, personal projects, half-written programs, and experiments. These projects are typically open-source not because their authors have any particular desire to share them with the world but because GitHub gave them no choice: free GitHub accounts could only create public repositories.

As such, GitHub represented a trade-off: you could use GitHub's services for free, but you had to share. If you didn't want to share, you had to pay.

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TIL: Firefox has a little-known feature to spare your blushes on the new-tab page

Monday 7th of January 2019 07:48:35 PM

Enlarge / That "Top Sites" section should never contain anything too embarrassing.

For many of us, our browsers' new-tab pages are something of a liability. Whichever browser you use, they all follow a fairly similar style: a bunch of boxes linking to the sites that we use and visit regularly. This is great when your regular sites are Ars, Gmail, and Twitter. But all too often, sites of a less salubrious nature find their way onto our new-tab pages, disclosing to the world our dirty habits when nobody's watching. While we can, of course, clean up our new-tab pages by Xing out the buttons for the offending sites, a moment of inattention can all too easily expose our pornographic predilections to the world.

But one browser is working to protect our secrets: Firefox. A redditor spotted (via ZDNet, Techdows) that Firefox contains code to spare your blushes. The browser contains a hard-coded list of adult site domains, and if one of your most-visited sites is one of those domains, it will automatically be hidden from the new-tab page. As long as your porn viewing is reasonably mainstream, you never need to worry about Firefox spilling the beans.

It turns out that this isn't actually a new feature. Much like Chrome's advanced tab management capabilities, it's an old feature that's been newly spotted. Mozilla added the code to the browser about four years ago. It wasn't actually created to prevent potential new-tab page embarrassment; rather, it was to aid Firefox's commercialization efforts. Mozilla experimented with having sponsored content on the new-tab page, allowing companies to pay to have their sites promoted in those buttons. Many advertisers don't relish the thought of having their precious brands juxtaposed with Internet filth, so the Firefox developers added the blacklisting capability to try to prevent porn from appearing alongside sponsored content.

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Chrome is getting a dark mode on Windows to match the one for macOS

Thursday 3rd of January 2019 08:35:26 PM

Enlarge / Chrome's dark mode.

Chrome 73 is going to include support for macOS 10.14's dark mode, with an alternative color scheme for its user interface that cuts the brightness. It's now clear that a Windows version of the same is in development, though it seems it will trail the macOS version.

A bug report was spotted by Techdows, and preliminary work has been started to bring Windows its dark mode. Unlike its macOS counterpart, which should track the operating-system mode, the Windows dark mode currently has to be forcibly turned on with a command-line switch. Adding "--force-dark-mode" to the command line of current builds of Chrome 73 makes everything dark.

The dark theme is still unfinished, hence this menu with almost illegible black text on a dark grey background.

The macOS work has top priority (P1). The Windows work is only P2 (originally P3), surprisingly suggesting that it's less important, even though Chrome has far more Windows 10 users than it does macOS users. Development of the Windows theme was at least, for a time, hindered by one of the developers not having a Windows laptop to use.

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Google isn’t the company that we should have handed the Web over to

Monday 17th of December 2018 10:19:32 PM

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

With Microsoft's decision to end development of its own Web rendering engine and switch to Chromium, control over the Web has functionally been ceded to Google. That's a worrying turn of events, given the company's past behavior.

Chrome itself has about 72 percent of the desktop-browser market share. Edge has about 4 percent. Opera, based on Chromium, has another 2 percent. The abandoned, no-longer-updated Internet Explorer has 5 percent, and Safari—only available on macOS—about 5 percent. When Microsoft's transition is complete, we're looking at a world where Chrome and Chrome-derivatives take about 80 percent of the market, with only Firefox, at 9 percent, actively maintained and available cross-platform.

The mobile story has stronger representation from Safari, thanks to the iPhone, but overall tells a similar story. Chrome has 53 percent directly, plus another 6 percent from Samsung Internet, another 5 percent from Opera, and another 2 percent from Android browser. Safari has about 22 percent, with the Chinese UC Browser sitting at about 9 percent. That's two-thirds of the mobile market going to Chrome and Chrome derivatives.

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Edge dies a death of a thousand cuts as Microsoft switches to Chromium

Thursday 6th of December 2018 06:10:52 PM

Enlarge (credit: @AndreTelevise)

As reported earlier this week, Microsoft is going to use Google's Blink rendering engine and V8 JavaScript engine in its Edge browser, largely ending development of its own EdgeHTML rendering engine and Chakra JavaScript engine. This means that Microsoft will be using code from—and making contributions to—the Chromium open source project.

The company's browser will still be named Edge and should retain the current look and feel. The decision to switch was motivated primarily by compatibility problems: Web developers increasingly test their pages exclusively in Chrome, which has put Edge at a significant disadvantage. Microsoft's engineers have found that problematic pages could often be made Edge compatible with only very minor alterations, but because Web devs aren't using Edge at all, they don't even know that they need to change anything.

The story is, however, a little more complex. The initial version of Edge that shipped with the first version of Windows 10 was rudimentary, to say the least. It was the bare bones of a browser, but with extremely limited capabilities around things like tab management and password management, no extension model, and generally lacking in the creature comforts that represent the difference between a bare rendering engine and an actual usable browser. It also had stability issues; crashes and hangs were not uncommon.

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Report: Microsoft is scrapping Edge, switching to just another Chrome clone

Tuesday 4th of December 2018 05:25:12 PM

Enlarge (credit: Getty / Aurich)

Windows Central reports that Microsoft is planning to replace its Edge browser, which uses Microsoft's own EdgeHTML rendering engine and Chakra JavaScript engine, with a new browser built on Chromium, the open source counterpart to Google's Chrome. The new browser has the codename Anaheim.

The report is short on details. The easiest thing for Microsoft to do would be to use Chromium's code wholesale—the Blink rendering engine, the V8 JavaScript engine, and the Chrome user interface with the Google Account parts omitted—to produce something that looks, works, and feels almost identical to Chrome. Alternatively, Redmond could use Blink and V8 but wrap them in Edge's user interface (or some derivative thereof), to retain its own appearance. It might even be possible to do something weird, such as use Blink with the Chakra JavaScript engine. We'll have to wait and see.

Since its launch with Windows 10, Edge has failed to gain much market share. The first iterations of Edge were extremely barebones, offering little more than a basic tabbed browser—no extensions, little control over behavior. Early releases of Edge were also not as stable as one might have liked, making the browser hard to recommend. Three years later on and Edge is greatly—but unevenly—improved. The browser engine's stability seems to be much better than it was, and performance and compatibility remain solid (though with the exception of a few corner cases, these were never a real concern).

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More in Tux Machines

Events: SREcon19 Americas, Scale, FudCon and Snapcraft Summit Montreal

  • SREcon19 Americas Talk Resources
    At SREcon19 Americas, I gave a talk called "Operating within Normal Parameters: Monitoring Kubernetes". Here's some links and resources related to my talk, for your reference.
  • Participating at #Scale17x
    Everytime somebody asks me about Scale I can only think of the same: Scale is the most important community lead conference in North America and it only gets better by the years. This year it celebrated its seventeenth edition and it just struck me: with me being there this year, there have been more Scales I have attended than I have not. This is my nineth conference out of 17. The first time that I attended it was 2011, it was the edition followed by FudCon Tempe 2010 which happened to be my first Fedora conference and it was also the first time I got to meet some contributors that I had previously collaborated with, many of which I still consider my brothers. As for this time, I almost didn’t make it as my visa renewal was resolved on Friday’s noon, one day after the conference started. I recovered it that same day and book a flight in the night. I couldn’t find anything to LAX -as I regularly fly- so I had to fly to Tijuana and from there I borrowed a cart to Pasadena. Long story short: I arrived around 1:30 AM on Saturday.
  • Snapcraft Summit Montreal
    Snapcraft is the universal app store for Linux that reaches millions of users and devices and serves millions of app installs a month. The Snapcraft Summit is a forward-thinking software workshop attended by major software vendors, community contributors and Snapcraft engineers working at every level of the stack.

today's howtos

Draw On Your Screen with this Neat GNOME Shell Extension

Ever wish you could draw on the Linux desktop or write on the screen? Well, there’s a new GNOME Shell extension that lets you do exactly that: draw on the Linux desktop. You may want to point out a bug, highlight a feature, or provide some guidance to someone else by sending them an annotated screenshot. In this short post we’ll show you how to install the add-on and how to use it. Read more

Fedora 31 Preparing To Start Removing Packages Depending Upon Python 2

Python 2 support will formally reach end-of-life on 1 January 2020 and Fedora 31 is preparing for that by working to drop packages (or parts of packages) that depend upon Python 2. Fedora has been pushing for a Python 2 to Python 3 migration for many cycles now -- as most Linux distributions have -- while with Fedora 31 they are planning a "mass Python 2 package removal" if necessary. They are planning to closely track the state of packages depending upon Python 2 to either drop the packages or allow packagers to easily abandon Python 2 parts of programs. Read more