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LibreOffice 6.3.2 for Slackware and Starting The Document Collective

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  • LibreOffice 6.3.2 for Slackware-current – and how to deal with “Shared library .so-version bump”

    Let me first elaborate a bit on the strategies that are available to a Slackware user on how to deal with incompatible library updates in -current.

    One of the reasons people are wary of installing and running Slackware-current is the fact that at any given moment, distro updates can break 3rd-party packages (i.e. packages you have installed that are not part of the Slackware distribution itself). Slackware-current is in constant flux, it is our development environment, and software versions can make sudden jumps with unexpected consequences.

    Big tip: before running any update on a slackware-current system, first check the ChangeLog.txt and scan the updates since your previous upgrade for the text “Shared library .so-version bump.” which is another way of saying “incompatible ABI change”.
    If this text accompanies a package update you can be pretty certain that some 3rd-party packages that depend on it will stop working. And if that particular package is boost, icu4c or poppler, expect massive breakage. The safest approach in a case like this, is: wait with upgrading your Slackware-current; check for packages that have a dependency on the package with the ABI breakage: and track the 3rd-party repositories for updates that address the ABI breakage.

    There is another strategy- one which allows you to upgrade to the latest -current while avoiding broken packages. That is to keep the older libraries on your system – the libraries your 3rd-party packages are depending on. You can simply extract these older libraries from the previous version(s) of the upgraded Slackware package. Darren Austen and I worked together to create a package repository containing historical Slackware-current packages (32bit, 64bit official packages and my own multilib archive). See https://slackware.uk/cumulative/ if you are in need of older package versions.

  • Starting The Document Collective

    The Document Foundation (TDF) is the home of the LibreOffice free-software office suite; it provides financial, governance, and other administrative services to LibreOffice. The foundation was established in part to ensure that commercial entities did not have undue influence on the project, which limited the types of activities in which it can engage. In particular, selling branded versions of LibreOffice in the macOS and Windows app stores has not been something that TDF could tackle. The TDF board of directors is looking to change that with the creation of a new entity, The Document Collective (TDC), to engage in commercial activity that is complementary to that of TDF members—hopefully as an income source to help support TDF.

    The TDC proposal [PDF] was adopted by the TDF board on September 9 and unveiled at the LibreOffice conference (slides [PDF]) and in a post to the board-discuss mailing list on September 11. The board has decided to start the creation of TDC by appointing a transitional leadership group. The TDC leadership has been directed to set up an unincorporated association as part of Public Software CIC, which is a European umbrella organization (a "community interest company" or CIC) that provides administrative services to free and open-source software projects. That is meant to be a temporary measure until a full legal entity can be set up. TDC will also have €50,000 in funds available to draw on from TDF; the money is a loan that is meant to be repaid with interest from the proceeds of selling LibreOffice in the app stores. There may be other moneymaking activities that TDC ends up undertaking as well.

    TDC is tasked with getting LibreOffice into the app stores for macOS and Windows. To that end, Public Software CIC will be granted a trademark license for the LibreOffice mark that can be used for app store packages. Initially there will be no separate TDC entity, but that will eventually be set up in some European jurisdiction and all of the TDC work that has been done will be transferred to the new entity. Effectively, the agreement with Public Software CIC will just allow TDC to start working immediately while it initializes its governance and legal entity in parallel.

    There were a few comments on the announcement. Uwe Altmann wondered about the business plan for TDC; given that there is already some experience from two companies selling LibreOffice in the app stores, it would seem reasonable to put together an initial budget, for example. In addition, starting out by setting up an association with Public Software CIC with a fairly large budget seemed unnecessary; there are other organizational structures that could be set up more easily and cheaply, he said.

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LWN on Linux and Linux Foundation Bits

  • Modernizing the tasklet API

    Tasklets offer a deferred-execution method in the Linux kernel; they have been available since the 2.3 development series. They allow interrupt handlers to schedule further work to be executed as soon as possible after the handler itself. The tasklet API has its shortcomings, but it has stayed in place while other deferred-execution methods, including workqueues, have been introduced. Recently, Kees Cook posted a security-inspired patch set (also including work from Romain Perier) to improve the tasklet API. This change is uncontroversial, but it provoked a discussion that might lead to the removal of the tasklet API in the (not so distant) future. The need for tasklets and other deferred execution mechanisms comes from the way the kernel handles interrupts. An interrupt is (usually) caused by some hardware event; when it happens, the execution of the current task is suspended and the interrupt handler takes the CPU. Before the introduction of threaded interrupts, the interrupt handler had to perform the minimum necessary operations (like accessing the hardware registers to silence the interrupt) and then call an appropriate deferred-work mechanism to take care of just about everything else that needed to be done. Threaded interrupts, yet another import from the realtime preemption work, move the handler to a kernel thread that is scheduled in the usual way; this feature was merged for the 2.6.30 kernel, by which time tasklets were well established. An interrupt handler will schedule a tasklet when there is some work to be done at a later time. The kernel then runs the tasklet when possible, typically when the interrupt handler finishes, or the task returns to the user space. The tasklet callback runs in atomic context, inside a software interrupt, meaning that it cannot sleep or access user-space data, so not all work can be done in a tasklet handler. Also, the kernel only allows one instance of any given tasklet to be running at any given time; multiple different tasklet callbacks can run in parallel. Those limitations of tasklets are not present in more recent deferred work mechanisms like workqueues. But still, the current kernel contains more than a hundred users of tasklets. Cook's patch set changes the parameter type for the tasklet's callback. In current kernels, they take an unsigned long value that is specified when the tasklet is initialized. This is different from other kernel mechanisms with callbacks; the preferred way in current kernels is to use a pointer to a type-specific structure. The change Cook proposes goes in that direction by passing the tasklet context (struct tasklet_struct) to the callback. The goal behind this work is to avoid a number of problems, including a need to cast from the unsigned int to a different type (without proper type checking) in the callback. The change allows the removal of the (now) redundant data field from the tasklet structure. Finally, this change mitigates the possible buffer overflow attacks that could overwrite the callback pointer and the data field. This is likely one of the primary objectives, as the work was first posted (in 2019) on the kernel-hardening mailing list.

  • Android kernel notes from LPC 2020

    Todd Kjos started things off by introducing the Android Generic Kernel Image (GKI) effort, which is aimed at reducing Android's kernel-fragmentation problem in general. It is the next step for the Android Common Kernel, which is based on the mainline long-term support (LTS) releases with a number of patches added on top. These patches vary from Android-specific, out-of-tree features to fixes cherry-picked from mainline releases. The end result is that the Android Common Kernel diverges somewhat from the LTS releases on which it is based. From there, things get worse. Vendors pick up this kernel and apply their own changes — often significant, core-kernel changes — to create a vendor kernel. The original-equipment manufacturers begin with that kernel when creating a device based on the vendor's chips, but then add changes of their own to create the OEM kernel that is shipped with a device to the consumer. The end result of all this patching is that every device has its own kernel, meaning that there are thousands of different "Android" kernels in use. There are a lot of costs to this arrangement, Kjos said. Fragmentation makes it harder to ensure that all devices are running current kernels — or even that they get security updates. New platform releases require a new kernel, which raises the cost of upgrading an existing device to a new Android version. Fixes applied by vendors and OEMs often do not make it back into the mainline, making things worse for everybody. The Android developers would like to fix this fragmentation problem; the path toward that goal involves providing a single generic kernel in binary form (the GKI) that all devices would use. Any vendor-specific or device-specific code that is not in the mainline kernel will need to be shipped in the form of kernel modules to be loaded into the GKI. That means that Android is explicitly encouraging vendor modules, Kjos said; the result is a cleaner kernel without the sorts of core-kernel modifications that ship on many devices now. This policy has already resulted in more vendors actively working to upstream their code. That code often does not take the form that mainline developers would like to see; some of it is just patches exporting symbols. That has created some tension in the development community, he said.

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