Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 9th Jul 2017 23:24 UTC
NetBSD

A new SUNXI evbarm kernel has appeared recently in NetBSD -current with support for boards based on the Allwinner H3 system on a chip (SoC). The H3 SoC is a quad-core Cortex-A7 SoC designed primarily for set-top boxes, but has managed to find its way into many single-board computers (SBC). This is one of the first evbarm ports built from the ground up with device tree support, which helps us to use a single kernel config to support many different boards.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 9th Jul 2017 23:16 UTC
Games

Valve's Alden Kroll was at Indigo 2017 to talk about Steam and the changes they're working on. The talk covered the business side of Steam as well as some specific features available for game makers. The company wanted to meet developers face to face, answer questions, and hear feedback and suggestions as well.

The slides of the talk are available at the link (thanks to Valvetime.net), and interestingly enough, the slides states Valve is working on a "overall UI refresh & update" of the Steam client - which I applaud greatly. I hope it's more than just a new skin, and that they are actively going to address the performance issues and UI complexity - preferably by making the clients on the various platforms (Windows, Linux, macOS) feel like proper, native applications.

In addition, one of the slides also shows that Steam is still growing, with 33 million daily users, 67 million monthly users, and 26 million new purchases since January 2016 (so 1.5 million per month). Those are healthy statistics.

 



Written by Thom Holwerda on Sun 9th Jul 2017 09:37 UTC
Games

PC Gamer has an article up about the failure of SteamOS, and it serves as a good anchor to talk about Valve in general.

"The fundamental reasons that Valve cares about SteamOS haven't gone away, and we continue our work to expand it," Valve said in a statement to PC Gamer. I had asked if SteamOS was still a priority, how many people were working on it, and if Windows 10 changed Valve's approach. "The launch of Steam Machines taught us a lot about what Steam customers value in hardware. Right now we're continuing to work on SteamOS as a product, with over 96 updates and 3,525 games released. We have many incentives for those making SteamOS titles and we see a bright future for SteamOS, especially in VR."

The comment about VR is interesting, as the new tech is clearly Valve's present focus. If SteamOS can provide a better VR experience than Windows, and VR technology proves itself more popular in the future, perhaps the OS has a shot of resurging with a new round of 'SteamVR Machines'. But the success of SteamVR isn't a sure thing, either.

The problem with Valve is that they are the technology company equivalent of a toddler - kind of cute and adorable (if they're not yours), but easily distracted, unfocused, and kind of living in their own fantasy world. Valve wanders from left to right, never committing to anything, just doing whatever it fancies. That would be completely fine if it wasn't for the fact that it strings partners and consumers along for the ride - only to jump off midway, leaving the ride to slowly come to a grinding halt in the middle of nowhere.

While the company devoted time and money to SteamOS and SteamVR, it let its most important piece of software - the Steam client - languish, to the point where it's now probably the most unusable piece of software on any Windows PC. It's slow, ugly, bloated, confusing, overly complex verging on the unusable, and in general just frustrating and cumbersome to use. In fact - and some people might balk at this - but EA's Origin client has improved so much over the years, that it's much nicer, cleaner, and easier to use now than the Steam client ever was. I will fight you on this.

And, of course, they left us at one of the biggest cliffhangers in gaming, and we have no Half-life 3. No Portal 3. No Left 4 Dead 3. No new IP. Nothing. We cry foul at EA, Ubisoft, and Bethesda for being unoriginal, but meanwhile, continue to treat Valve like the greatest gaming company in history, even though they haven't released a new game and haven't introduced a new IP in a long, long time.

It's high time Valve demonstrates that it actually cares about its customers, by improving Steam or releasing games we actually want - or in general just by showing some damn follow-through for once, or at least being open about plans for the future so we know what we can expect before we plonk down a bunch of cash for the next shiny they're peddling.

As it stands now, Valve isn't showing any signs that it cares about the fans of its games, and as the competition catches up to and races past Steam in user experience, the resentment grows ever deeper. Yes, the headline is harsh, but I can't find any sign that it's not true.

Sure, Steam is the giant of PC gaming today - but no giant remains standing forever.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 9th Jul 2017 08:59 UTC
BeOS & Derivatives

time_t now uses 64-bit on 64-bit systems. This fixes the year 2038 bug for 64-bit Haiku, so we can continue to run it after 2038. This breaks the ABI, so all the 64bit packages were rebuilt.

As Michel points out in the comments, this means Haiku'll be good until 4 December 292277026596, about in time for the beta release.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 8th Jul 2017 22:39 UTC
Games

Since launching the Virtual Console in 2006, Nintendo has officially re-released dozens of Super NES games for play on modern consoles. As that emulated library has grown, though, many have noted an important gap: Nintendo hasn't re-released any SNES games that made use of the 3D-focused Super FX chip (or the improved Super FX2 follow-up).

[...]

That streak of Super FX disrespect will finally end in September when Yoshi's Island and Star Fox will show up on the Super NES Classic Edition. They'll be joined by the previously unreleased, Super FX2-powered Star Fox 2, which was completed in the mid-'90s but cancelled to avoid the shadow of more powerful 3D games on the likes of PlayStation and Nintendo 64.

While it's nice to see the Super FX getting some official attention, the question remains: what took so long? Why has Nintendo ignored the Super FX corner of its history all these years?

It turns out that this story is a lot more intricate - and mysterious - than I thought. Since I've been using snes9x for ages to play SNES games, it never dawned on me that Nintendo's own later consoles did not get any SuperFX-powered games.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 8th Jul 2017 10:31 UTC
Games

The people who make enhanced editions of old role-playing games like Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment want to do the same thing for Icewind Dale II. There's just one problem: nobody knows where to find the code.

It's hard to believe that things like this happen - Icewind Dale II was released about 15 years ago, developed and published by big, popular companies. You'd think the source code would be properly protected and stored.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 7th Jul 2017 14:51 UTC
Windows

OneDrive users around the world have been upset to discover that with its latest update, Microsoft's cloud file syncing and storage system no longer works with anything other than disks formatted with the NTFS file system. Both older file systems, such as FAT32 and exFAT, and newer ones, such as ReFS, will now provoke an error message when OneDrive starts up.

While it's understandable that FAT-based filesystems are left behind - FAT needs to die a quick but horrible death - it seems weird that Microsoft's new ReFS isn't supported.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 5th Jul 2017 19:05 UTC, submitted by leech
OSNews, Generic OSes

Back before MiNT became officially supported by Atari Corp, there were a few attempts at adding multitasking on the Atari ST. One of them was Geneva, a multitasking environment that was very light on resources and worked on a standard ST. NeoDesk is a desktop replacement that works well with Geneva.

Quite a long time ago there were some questions posed to the writer of these great software packages, Dan Wilga, in an attempt to see if the source could be opened. After a successful petition caught the attention of Wilga, he explained he still had his Atari TT030 sitting around, with the source code for a version that was never released.

Sadly, one of the hard drives with some of the required code to build everything was damaged, and it was too expensive to have the drive fixed. Thanks to a member of the Atari community, the drive has been fixed, and this should mean we're going to see open source releases of Geneva and NeoDesk soon. New builds are being tested, and they will be released soon - followed by the source code.

This is amazing news, and a fantastic example of software conservation. Thanks to OSNews reader Leech for pointing this story out and writing the first two paragraphs of this story so I had an idea of what was going on!

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 5th Jul 2017 17:13 UTC
Fedora Core

Fedora Workstation comes with two package managers by default: DNF and PackageKit. DNF has all the latest features and the best support, but PackageKit is put front and center in GNOME Software, KDE Plasma Discover, and as of Fedora 26 also in Cockpit’s new Software Update panel.

You may be better off sticking with the DNF package manager in the command line; even though PackageKit is the choice of all the graphical package managers. Here is some of the advantages DNF still gives you over PackageKit based applications.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 5th Jul 2017 17:07 UTC
In the News

"We must reinstate the reparability of all products put on the market," said Parliament's rapporteur Pascal Durand MEP: "We have to make sure that batteries are no longer glued into a product, but are screwed in so that we do not have to throw away a phone when the battery breaks down. We need to make sure that consumers are aware of how long the products last and how they can be repaired".

Parliament wants to promote a longer product lifespan, in particular by tackling programmed obsolescence for tangible goods and for software.

This is a very noble goal, but I am afraid that in many product segments, this ship has sailed. Does anybody honestly expect, for instance, smartphone makers to go back to screwed cases and removable batteries? I would love if they did, but I just don't see it happening.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 4th Jul 2017 21:06 UTC
Benchmarks

Intel's latest 10-core, high-end desktop (HEDT) chip - the Core i9-7900X - costs £900/$1000. That's £500/$500 less than its predecessor, the i7-6950X. In previous years, such cost-cutting would have been regarded as generous. You might, at a stretch, even call it good value. But that was at a time when Intel's monopoly on the CPU market was as its strongest, before a resurgent AMD lay waste to the idea that a chip with more than four cores be reserved for those with the fattest wallets.

[...]

AMD's Ryzen is far from perfect. But when you can buy eight cores that serve even the heaviest of multitaskers and content creators for well under half the price of an Intel HEDT chip, i9 and X299 are a hard sell (except, perhaps, to fussy gamers that demand a no-compromises system).

The question is: Are you willing to pay a premium for the best performing silicon on the market? Or is Ryzen, gaming foibles and all, good enough?

I've said this countless times, but I want to keep bringing this one home: this is what competition does. It lowers prices, improves performance, and makes Intel looks like a stumbling fool. And what better day to celebrate the benefits of competition than today?

Cheers, America. Party safe!

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 4th Jul 2017 11:57 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes

Home of the world's biggest collection of classic text mode fonts, system fonts and BIOS fonts from DOS-era IBM PCs and compatibles

A great collection of classic DOS fonts.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 2nd Jul 2017 10:10 UTC
AMD

AMD has reportedly gained 10.4 percentage points of CPU market share in the second quarter of 2017. This makes it the largest x86 CPU market share gain in the history of the Sunnyvale, California based chip maker against its much larger rival Intel.

The data is courtesy of PassMark's quarterly market share report, which is based on the thousands of submissions that go through the database in any given quarter. It's important to note that because PassMark's market share data is based on benchmark submissions it counts actual systems in use, rather than systems sold. It also does not include consoles or any computer systems running operating systems other than Windows.

With AMD's Ryzen processors being the new hotness right now, I'd indeed expect benchmarking sites to get more Ryzen submissions, even if it's not a 10% market share swing in favour of AMD. That being said, it's clear that AMD is having an impact right now, and as consumers, we should welcome this.

I do dislike the fact that the chart only has two lines to show. We'd be better off with more than just two x86 chip makers, but alas.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 1st Jul 2017 19:11 UTC
Internet & Networking

In light of yesterday's post, here's a short look at the early days of Ethernet.

Nowadays, we take Ethernet for granted. We plug a cable jack into the wall or a switch and we get the network. What's to think about?

It didn't start that way. In the 1960s and 1970s, networks were ad hoc hodgepodges of technologies with little rhyme and less reason. But then Robert "Bob" Metcalfe was asked to create a local-area network (LAN) for Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). His creation, Ethernet, changed everything.

On a related note, in one of the recent Xerox Alto restoration videos, two of the people who worked on the invention of Ethernet, Dave Boggs and Ron Crane, helped out fixing the Alto Ethernet card - carrying some very old-fashioned Ethernet equipment and telling some great stories from the early '70s.

Sadly, Ron Crane passed away 19 June.

 

Written by Thom Holwerda on Fri 30th Jun 2017 23:23 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

Ars has started a series on the advent of the IBM PC, and today they published part one.

The machine that would become known as the real IBM PC begins, of all places, at Atari. Apparently feeling their oats in the wake of the Atari VCS' sudden Space Invaders-driven explosion in popularity and the release of its own first PCs, the Atari 400 and 800, they made a proposal to IBM's chairman Frank Cary in July of 1980: if IBM wished to have a PC of its own, Atari would deign to build it for them.

Fascinating history of the most influential computing platform in history, a statement that will surely ruffle a lot of feathers. The IBM PC compatible put a computer on every desk and in every home, and managed to convince hundreds of millions of people of the need of a computer - no small feat in a world where a computer was anything but a normal household item. In turn, this widespread adoption of the IBM PC compatible platform paved the way for the internet to become a success.

With yesterday's ten year anniversary of the original iPhone going on sale, a number of people understandably went for the hyperbole, such as proclaiming the iPhone the most important computer in history, or, and I wish I was making this up, claiming the development of the iPhone was more important to the world than the work at Xerox PARC - and since this was apparently a competition, John Gruber decided to exaggerate the claim even more.

There's no denying the iPhone has had a huge impact on the world, and that the engineers at Apple deserve all the credit and praise they're getting for delivering an amazing product that created a whole new category overnight. However, there is a distinct difference between what the iPhone achieved, and what the people at Xerox PARC did, or what IBM and Microsoft did.

The men and women at PARC literally invented and implemented the graphical user interface, bitmap graphics, Ethernet, laser printing, object-oriented programming, the concept of MVC, the personal computer (networked together!), and so much more - and all this in an era when computers were gigantic mainframes and home computing didn't exist.

As for the IBM PC compatible and Wintel - while nowhere near the level of PARC, it did have a profound and huge impact on the world that in my view is far greater than that of the iPhone. People always scoff at IBM and Microsoft when it comes to PCs and DOS/Windows, but they did put a computer on every desk and in every home, at affordable prices, on a relatively open and compatible platform (especially compared to what came before). From the most overpaid CEO down to the most underpaid dock worker - everybody could eventually afford a PC, paving the way for the internet to become as popular and ubiquitous as it is.

The iPhone is a hugely important milestone and did indeed have a huge impact on the world - but developing and marketing an amazing and one-of-a-kind smartphone in a world where computing was ubiquitous, where everybody had a mobile phone, and where PDAs existed, is nowhere near the level of extraordinary vision and starting-with-literally-nothing that the people at PARC had, and certainly not as impactful as the rise of the IBM PC compatible and Wintel.

It's fine to be celebratory on the iPhone's birthday - Apple and its engineers deserve it - but let's keep at least one foot planted in reality.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 30th Jun 2017 08:16 UTC
AMD

This morning AMD is introducing their Ryzen PRO processors for business and commercial desktop PCs. The new lineup of CPUs includes the Ryzen 3 PRO, Ryzen 5 PRO and Ryzen 7 PRO families with four, six, or eight cores running at various frequencies. A superset to the standard Ryzen chips, the PRO chips have the same feature set as other Ryzen devices, but also offer enhanced security, 24 months availability, a longer warranty and promise to feature better chip quality.

I guess it makes sense from a marketing perspective, but I'm not a fan of segmentation like this - it just makes an already complicated market even more complicated.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 28th Jun 2017 19:39 UTC
Apple

Matt Gemmell, iPad-only user:

I occasionally see the phrase "laptop replacement" regarding the iPad, despite the bizarreness of both the concept and the generalisation. Intelligent people like journalists and tech pundits use it, seemingly without humorous intent, and it puzzles me. There's no such thing as a laptop replacement, and if there were, the iPad isn't meant to be one.

Once you let go of the trope about an iPad replacing a laptop, take a step back, and see it as a device that is great for some but not for all, this whole discussion becomes irrelevant in a heartbeat. Just because iOS isn't the same as macOS or just because iOS is not a good fit for your general purpose computing needs does not mean that applies to everyone.

While you might say iOS can't do overlapping windows and window management!, somebody who prefers the iPad for their computer needs would say why would I want to manually fiddle with all these annoying overlapping windows?

For me personally, I feel like the ideal mobile general purpose computer lies somewhere halfway between the Surface Pro and the iPad Pro - which is exactly why I ordered a brand new iPad Pro 12.9" today, so that I can compare it to my Surface Pro 4 and see where, exactly, that halfway point lies and which of these two major platforms is closest to it.

These are, actually, quite exciting - although not necessarily positive, see e.g. the lack of control we have over these devices - times in the world of general purpose computing.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 28th Jun 2017 19:28 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

Last week I wrote a Mandelbrot set program for the Xerox Alto, which took an hour to generate the fractal. The point of this project was to learn how to use the Alto's bitmapped display, not make the fastest Mandelbrot set, so I wasn't concerned that this 1970s computer took so long to run. Even so, readers had detailed suggestions form performance improvements, so I figured I should test out these ideas. The results were much better than I expected, dropping the execution time from 1 hour to 9 minutes.

Articles like this are very satisfying to post, because we can all agree this is just plain awesome, no ifs or buts.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 27th Jun 2017 18:43 UTC
In the News

There is something horrible about this little video. Why do the inhabitants of this suburban home require a recipe for pasta from a jar? Why can't they turn the lights down using their hands? If the ad were an episode of "Black Mirror", they would be clones living in a laboratory, attempting to follow the patterns of an outside world they've never seen. And yet the ad is not fantastical but descriptive. It's unsettling because it's an accurate portrayal of our new mail-order way of life, which Amazon has spent the past twenty-two years creating.

Eventually, governments all over the world will have to ask themselves the question: how big and powerful will we let corporations become? The more powerful they get, and the bigger and bigger the role of money in Washington DC and Brussels, the more I believe we have already reached the point where it's time to start breaking up some of the most powerful corporations - like the oil giants, like Apple, like Google, like Amazon, and so on.

These companies play such a huge role in the core foundations and functioning of our societies, that we have to start taking steps to break them up. We've done it before, and we need to start thinking about doing it again.

Corporations exist to serve society - not the other way around. If, due to their sheer size and power, they become a liability, they have outlived their usefulness.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 27th Jun 2017 10:03 UTC
Legal

The European Commission has fined Google €2.42 billion for breaching EU antitrust rules. Google has abused its market dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service.

The company must now end the conduct within 90 days or face penalty payments of up to 5% of the average daily worldwide turnover of Alphabet, Google's parent company.

The two core offences as noted by the European Comission are as follows:

From 2008, Google began to implement in European markets a fundamental change in strategy to push its comparison shopping service. This strategy relied on Google's dominance in general internet search, instead of competition on the merits in comparison shopping markets:

  • Google has systematically given prominent placement to its own comparison shopping service: when a consumer enters a query into the Google search engine in relation to which Google's comparison shopping service wants to show results, these are displayed at or near the top of the search results.
  • Google has demoted rival comparison shopping services in its search results: rival comparison shopping services appear in Google's search results on the basis of Google's generic search algorithms. Google has included a number of criteria in these algorithms, as a result of which rival comparison shopping services are demoted. Evidence shows that even the most highly ranked rival service appears on average only on page four of Google's search results, and others appear even further down. Google's own comparison shopping service is not subject to Google's generic search algorithms, including such demotions.

As a result, Google's comparison shopping service is much more visible to consumers in Google's search results, whilst rival comparison shopping services are much less visible.

Much like Apple's and Ireland's illegal tax deal, fines like this can be easily avoided: respect the laws regarding doing business in the EU. I don't expect the current (or the previous, for that matter) US administration to keep these incredibly powerful tech giants in check, so I guess it's up to the EU.