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The Android 11 interview: Googlers answer our burning questions

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We've established a bit of a tradition here at Ars. Every year at Google I/O, we have a sit-down talk to learn more about Android directly from the people that make it. Of course, this year, just about every major event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, nothing is really normal, and Google I/O never happened.

We can still do interviews over the Internet though! So while it happened later in the year than normal, we were still able to hold our annual chat with some of the most important Googlers at Android HQ: Dave Burke, Android's VP of Engineering, and Iliyan Malchev, Principal Engineer at Android and the lead of Project Treble.

We came prepped with questions about the more mysterious corners of Android 11, which actually led to a lot of interesting talk about the future. You'll learn about a coming re-write of the Bluetooth stack, and there's lots of talk about modularity and easy updating (like plans will hopefully, someday, allow you to update the Linux kernel and developer APIs as easily as you download an app update).

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Open Usage Commons: Google’s Initiative to Manage Trademark for Open Source Projects Runs into Controversy

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Back in July, Google announced a new organization named Open Usage Commons. The aim of the organization is to help “projects protect their project identity through programs such as trademark management and usage guidelines”.

Google believes that “creating a neutral, independent ownership for these trademarks gives contributors and consumers peace of mind regarding their use of project names in a fair and transparent way”.

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Chromebooks, ChromeOS, Chrome and GNU/Linux

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  • Google to Separate Chrome Browser from Chrome OS

    In its initial days, Chrome OS usually got dismissed as a sophisticated web browser due its web-first approach and the lack of app compatibility. Chrome OS has significantly evolved as a platform since then and has reached a position where it can serve as the primary operating system in your PC.

    If you’re using a Chromebook as your main computer, you are likely to see an error message that reads “This device will no longer receive the latest software updates. Please consider upgrading” when it reaches end of life. Since Google Chrome is deeply integrated with Chrome OS, this means that you will not receive updates once your Chromebook gets deprecated.

  • What is LaCrOS for Chromebooks and why does it matter?

    Earlier this year, 9to5 Google caught code changes about something called LaCrOS. Work has progressed on this enough to the point where LaCrOS is available in the Canary Channel of Chrome OS 87, appearing as another Chrome browser icon. That’s because Google is decoupling the Chrome browser from Chrome OS on Chromebooks. And it’s using Linux to do this.

    We know this because of a Google document explaining what LaCrOS is and what it stands for: Linux And ChRome OS. That’s right, the Chrome browser will be independent of Chrome OS and appears to be based on a Linux version of Chrome with improved Wayland support.

  • The rise and fall of NewBlue, Google's attempt to "fix" Bluetooth on Chrome OS

    It is a well-known fact that Google has a rough history with Bluetooth. While the Bluetooth situation on Chromebooks is improving thanks to recent development, many of us who pair Bluetooth peripherals to our Chromebooks like wireless earbuds or mice will know that the wireless experience isn’t perfect. In 2018, with Bluetooth devices on the rise and the launch of the Pixel Slate looming, Google likely felt pressured to tackle this problem. This led to an experiment with a brand new Bluetooth daemon, in an ambitious project known as NewBlue.

    After more than two years of development, NewBlue was enabled by default on all Chromebooks, starting at Chrome OS version 80. The Chromium developers had hoped this would resolve the Bluetooth issues on Google's browser-based OS; but in the end, NewBlue didn’t last long.

  • Four operating systems: One device. How the Chromebook will become the universal laptop.

    Seriously, when was the last time you did any serious work with macOS or Windows without an internet connection? Anytime this decade? The 2010s? Sure, if you're editing video, gaming, or working with an older vertical program, you still need a powerful PC with a standalone operating system. But, for most of us, our work lives and dies with the internet.

    Every corporate program--and I mean every corporate program--has first been moving to a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model. More recently, with Chromebooks leading the way, most major technology companies are moving to a Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) model, where even your desktop resides much more on the cloud than in your office.

Chrome/Chromium/ChromeOS With GNU/Linux

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  • Chrome 86: Improved Focus Highlighting, WebHID, and More

    Unless otherwise noted, changes described below apply to the newest Chrome beta channel release for Android, Chrome OS, Linux, macOS, and Windows. Learn more about the features listed here through the provided links or from the list on Chrome 86 is beta as of September 3, 2020.

  • Chrome 86 Beta Enables Native File-System API By Default, WebCodecs Added

    Building off the recent release of Chrome 85, Google has now released the beta of Chrome 86 with a number of goodies introduced and promotions for some existing functionality.

  • Chrome OS 86 to make port forwarding for Linux on Chromebooks generally available [Ed: Google reinvents the wheel with GNU/Linux having locked it down and stripped off very key and rather basic features]

    As I keep running the Dev Channel of Chrome OS 86, I’m seeing more features of the software moving forward. For example, port forwarding, which was enabled with an experimental flag in Chrome OS 84 and 85, is a native, generally available feature in the next Stable Channel release. Chrome OS 86 removes the port forwarding flag.

7 Important Privacy-Preserving Extensions for Chromium-Based Browsers

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According to StatCounter, 70% of all desktop users worldwide use Google Chrome as their default Internet browser. A sad fact, as Chrome is a proprietary web browser that does not respect the user privacy by default. Chromium however, is %100 open source and licensed under the BSD license. Chrome extensions do work on Chromium.

Still, we do not recommend any user who cares about his/her privacy to use Google Chrome or Chromium, as both browsers are full of Google’s integrated services which phonehome some of your data, besides their horrible default settings for privacy which block nothing by default. Instead, we recommenced using Firefox, but if you still want a Chromium-based browser to use (Whether for performance or because of the huge number of extensions… etc), then what we recommend is the Ungoogled-Chromium browser instead.

However, what can’t be completely reached shouldn’t be completely left; Here’s a list of 7 privacy-preserving extensions to have if you are still going to use Chrome/Chromium browsers anyway. Or maybe you can even use them with the Ungoogled-Chromium browser, which is a better choice.

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Pushing pixels to your Chromebook

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Having a comprehensive and accelerated graphics stack is essential in today's world. But where would we be without one, or how do we as developers handle the lack or instability of drivers during very early hardware bring up?

Simple - we use drivers which do all the rendering via the CPU. An interesting fact is that during the dawn of 3D graphics CPU rendering was not uncommon.

With time, GPU devices became more popular, powerful and cheaper. Thus CPU (software) rendering, is not so wide spread these days and mainly used as a fallback.

Within this article, we'll provide a high-level introduction of the Linux graphics stack, how it is used within ChromeOS and the work done to improve software rendering (while simultaneously improving GPU rendering, by reducing the boilerplate needed in applications).

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Break Free from Google’s Tracking With Ungoogled-Chromium

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For those who don’t know, Google Chrome is built on the top of the Google Chromium browser, which is an open source browser released under BSD license having almost the same features as in Google Chrome. Google’s approach is to add new features and tests to Chromium gradually before they land in the closed-source Google Chrome browser, which Google ships to the world with its own branding. It also adds its own extra layer of tracking/integrations into the Chrome browser, and some (+50) tracking services/integrations are also in Chromium.

A lot of other browsers such as Vivaldi and Brave are also based on Chromium, but they have their own approaches to remove Google’s tracking and services from it.

Ungoogled-Chromium is a community project managed by a lot of volunteers to simply remove all the integrated Google’s services and features from the Chromium browser, so that it can be a good privacy-respecting web browser, away from Google’s eyes.

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Google: Android, Linux, GSoC, Chromebook, Spying and Kubernetes

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  • Winmate IQ30 Snapdragon 660 SBC Runs Android 9.0 for HMI Touch Panels

    Winmate, a company specializing in rugged computing technology headquartered in Taiwan, has recently launched Winmate IQ30 SBC powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 octa-core coupled with up to 4GB LPDDR4, and 32GB flash storage.

    The single board computer also comes with a Fast Ethernet port with optional PoE, WiFI 5, and optional cellular connectivity thanks to an an M.2 card socket and SIM card slot, as two video interfaces for Android-powered touch screen displays.

  • [Coreboot] [GSoC] Address Sanitizer, Part 3

    Hello again! The third and final phase of GSoC is coming to an end and I’m glad that I made it this far. In this blog post, I’d like to outline the work done in the last two weeks.

  • GSoC 2020: Report-2: Fuzzing the NetBSD Network Stack in a Rumpkernel Environment

    This report was written by Nisarg S. Joshi as part of Google Summer of Code 2020.

    The objective of this project is to fuzz the various protocols and layers of the network stack of NetBSD using rumpkernel. This project is being carried out as a part of GSoC 2020. This blog post is regarding the project, the concepts and tools involved, the objectives and the current progress and next steps.

  • GSoC'20 final report & Project Documentation

    OverviewThe idea was about The UI testing framework in LibreOffice. The UITesting Framework is based on introspection code in c++ interacting with a testing framework in python through a simple UNO interface. To identify objects we use the ids that we introduced for loading dialogs from UI files. We were having unsupported items list in LibreOffice UITesting Framework. So The project mainly goals is to Extend the ability of the existing UI testing framework to support the unsupported items that exist now. So the work done on this list to decrease number of items in it.

  • [KDE] GSoC'20 progress : Phase III

    And just like that, the third evaluations for Google Summer of Code are upon us. It seems just like yesterday when I began my work on this project and now the final phase is about to be over. Sort of unbelievable.

  • GSoC 2020 @ Pitivi: Work Product

    My GSoC 2020 internship project was improving the usability of Pitivi’s Render dialog. Below is a detailed summary of the work done during the last three months.

  • Google Is Still Striving To Upstream Incremental FS In Linux

    After originally publishing the Incremental FS patches back in May of 2019, Google's Android kernel team is still working to upstream this virtual file-system into the mainline Linux kernel and at this week's Linux Plumbers Conference was working to drum up support for it.

    The Incremental File-System back when it was first proposed was advertised as a special-purpose virtual file-system to allow the execution of a program while its binary and resource files are still being lazily downloaded from the Internet or other medium.

  • Android AOSP Can Boot Off Mainline Linux 5.9 With Just One Patch
  • Backup and restore your Chromebook’s Linux setup

    If you’ve been exploring Linux apps on Chrome OS with us, it’s high time we covered how to save your current setup so you can restore it in a pinch. Full Linux distros have various tools available to run backups and store them locally or off site depending on your personal preference. Chrome OS, however, has a built in tool for this task and you can keep you backup right on you Chromebook or better yet, put it on Google Drive so it’s safe. This is very handy if you run into a situation where you need to power wash your device or heaven forbid have a system crash that requires a full recovery.

  • Brave takes brave stand against Google's plan to turn websites into ad-blocker-thwarting Web Bundles

    A proposed Google web specification threatens to turn websites into inscrutable digital blobs that resist content blocking and code scrutiny, according to Peter Snyder, senior privacy researcher at Brave Software.

    On Tuesday, Snyder published a memo warning that Web Bundles threaten user agency and web code observability. He raised this issue back in February, noting that Web Bundles would prevent ad blockers from blocking unwanted subresources. He said at the time he was trying to work with the spec's authors to address concerns but evidently not much progress has been made.

    His company makes the Brave web browser, which is based on Google's open-source Chromium project though implements privacy protections, by addition or omission, not available in Google's commercial incarnation of Chromium, known as Chrome.

  • Kubernetes moves to end ‘permanent beta’ for some APIs

    The Kubernetes project has decided the time has come to stop existing in a state of permanent beta.

    The decision, included in the Changelog for version 1.19 of the container-wrangling code and explained in a blog post, reflects the fact that Kubernetes offers plenty of REST APIs and they can evolve … or not.

    The project’s new rules mean that when a new feature's API reaches beta, a nine-month countdown commences. Within that timeframe, the beta must either reach general availability (which deprecates the beta) or start anew (which deprecates the previous beta).

    “The motivation here seems pretty clear: get features stable,” wrote Kubernetes contributor Tim Bannister of The Scale Factory. “Guaranteeing that beta features will be deprecated adds a pretty big incentive so that people who want the feature continue their effort until the code, documentation and tests are ready for this feature to graduate to stable, backed by several Kubernetes' releases of evidence in real-world use.”

Google Using AutoFDO On Linux Meant Up To 12% Less Cycles Spent Within The Kernel

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Google is not only leveraging link-time optimizations (LTO) and profile-guided optimizations (PGO) for maximizing compiler-based efficiencies of their kernel images but also auto feedback directed optimizations. AutoFDO relies upon CPU hardware counters with a sampling based profile for driving feedback to the compiler for better optimizing the binaries. AutoFDO uses data collected by Linux's perf subsystem with hardware counters and using that information for making more informed decisions regarding optimizations. More details on AutoFDO can be found via this Wiki page.

AutoFDO has the benefit of not needing specialized builds in the first place, unlike PGO, for collecting the profile information. But AutoFDO obviously still requires a run of the program in order to collect the samples.

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Chrome 85 Is Clang PGO'ing Binaries For Better Performance But Linux Left Out

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As we frequently cover, making use of compiler PGO (Profile Guided Optimizations) can mean some sizable performance wins, assuming the generated usage profile is accurate. With the imminent Chrome 85 availability, Google is now making use of PGO with their default LLVM Clang compiler toolchain for squeezing out around 10% better performance.

Going back four years ago is when Google engineers began experimenting with compiler PGO'ing for better browser performance. Back then they were enabling PGO on Windows builds carried out by the Microsoft MSVC compiler. But with LLVM Clang being Chrome's default compiler, with Chrome 85 they are now making use of profile-guided optimizations there. It took some additional time but Google is comfortable enough now with Chrome's PGO abilities.

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Also: WebBundles Harmful to Content Blocking, Security Tools, and the Open Web (Standards Updates #2)

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