Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 10th Nov 2017 23:12 UTC
Linux

The LiMux (or Limux) initiative in Munich has been heralded as an example of both the good and bad in moving a public administration away from proprietary systems. Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) President Matthias Kirschner reviewed the history of the initiative - and its recent apparent downfall - in a talk at Open Source Summit Europe in Prague. He also looked at the broader implications of the project as well as asking some questions that free-software advocates should consider moving forward.

The LiMux initiative is one of the longest-running story 'streams' on OSNews. The oldest item I could find is from 2003.

 

Written by Thom Holwerda on Wed 8th Nov 2017 23:09 UTC
In the News

Khoi Vinh on why 24 hour or even weeklong reviews are dumb:

However I've come to believe that there's at least one thing wrong with this whole notion of product reviews - and with smartphone revirews in particular - and that's that by and large they’re only ever interested in these phones when they're brand new.

When an iPhone debuts it's literally at the very peak of its powers. All the software that it runs has been optimized for that particular model, and as a result everything seems to run incredibly smoothly.

As time goes on though, as newer versions of the operating system roll out, as there are more and more demands put on the phone, it inevitably gets slower and less performant. A case in point: I'm upgrading to this iPhone X from a three-year old iPhone 6 Plus and for at least the last year, and especially over the last three months, it has struggled mightily to perform simple tasks like launching the camera, fetching email, even basic typing. People who have recently had the misfortune of having to use my phone tell me almost instantly, "Your phone sucks."

You could argue that three years is an unrealistically long time to expect a smartphone to be able to keep up with the rapidly changing - and almost exponentially increasing - demands that we as users put on these devices. Personally, I would argue the opposite, that these things should be built to last at least three years, if for no other reason than as a society we shouldn't be throwing these devices away so quickly.

This is, of course, the reason behind the odd embargo strategy Apple employed regarding the iPhone X - if you only give people an hour or at best, 24 hours, to review a device, people will still be in the honeymoon phase of owning a product, where you're still rationalising spending €1200 for a phone (or any other high price for any other product, for that matter). Choice-supportive bias is a real thing, and each and every one of us experiences it. During this period, initial flaws aren't as apparent, and long-term flaws or flaws that only pop up in specific situations aren't yet taken into account. It makes the product appear better than it really is.

This is why, back when I still did reviews for OSNews, I had my own rule of using a product for at least four weeks before publishing a review. This gave me enough time to get over this initial phase, and made sure I had a more levelheaded look at the whole thing. We don't do many reviews anymore - I have to buy everything myself, and I'm not rich - so it's not an issue at this point, but even if companies were to approach us today for reviews, I would still ask for that four week period, and if they were to object - sorry, but no review.

This is, of course, what the major publications should've done. Nobody forced The Verge or whomever else to publish a review within 24 hours. The initial embargo rush is important for the bottom-line, I get that, but it still feels rather suspicious. What can you really learn about a product in just 24 hours? Can you really declare something "the best damn product Apple ever made" after using it for less than a day? At what point does writing most of the review in advance before you even receive the product in the first place, peppering it with a few paragraphs inspired by the 24 hours, cross into utter dishonesty?

By reviewing products in a day or less, popular tech media is really doing readers and consumers a huge disservice, only further strengthening the idea that the tech press is often nothing but an extension of a company's PR department. This erodes credibility, and in turn hurts those among the media who do take their time to properly review a product.

It's okay to not rush writing a review to meet some asinine embargo. It's okay to not ask "how high?" when a company tells you to jump. It's okay to publish a review a week or even a month after an embargo has been lifted. It's okay to not post unboxing videos of non-retail boxes.

It's okay to, sometimes, just say no.

 



Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 8th Nov 2017 23:09 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes

Tock is an embedded operating system designed for running multiple concurrent, mutually distrustful applications on Cortex-M based embedded platforms. Tock's design centers around protection, both from potentially malicious applications and from device drivers. Tock uses two mechanisms to protect different components of the operating system. First, the kernel and device drivers are written in Rust, a systems programming language that provides compile-time memory safety, type safety and strict aliasing. Tock uses Rust to protect the kernel (e.g. the scheduler and hardware abstraction layer) from platform specific device drivers as well as isolate device drivers from each other. Second, Tock uses memory protection units to isolate applications from each other and the kernel.

Visit the official site and the github repository for more information.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 8th Nov 2017 23:05 UTC
Google

Waymo recently hosted a number of journalists at its private Castle testing compound, and treated us to rides with no safety driver behind the wheel - now, the former Google self-driving car company is going farther still, however, launching public road tests of its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans with no safety driver on board.

The tests aren't limited to one or two routes, either; the test area where the truly driverless trials are being conducted is in Chandler, Arizona (part of the greater Phoenix metro area), and the cars are able to go anywhere within this defined space. It’s hard to understate the importance of this milestone: Waymo is operating at full Level 4 autonomy, sharing public roads with human-driven cars and pedestrians, with no one at the wheel able to take over in case things don't go as planned.

All my friends live at least an hour's drive away from where I live (assuming no traffic, which is a big assumption in The Netherlands). That's not a long drive by standards of large countries, but for us, it is, and since it basically comes down to a boring drive over a few boring highways in a boring part of the country, it's mind-numbingly tedious.

I can't wait until I can just sit down on the backseat of my car, tell it to drive to Amsterdam or wherever else my friends live, and just chill for an hour with some YouTube or webbrowsing. I know we're not there yet, but I hope I can at least experience that at one point in my life.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 7th Nov 2017 11:50 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes

Andrew S. Tanenbaum, creator of MINIX, has published an open letter to Intel regarding Intel's use of MINIX in the IME:

The only thing that would have been nice is that after the project had been finished and the chip deployed, that someone from Intel would have told me, just as a courtesy, that MINIX 3 was now probably the most widely used operating system in the world on x86 computers. That certainly wasn't required in any way, but I think it would have been polite to give me a heads up, that's all.

If nothing else, this bit of news reaffirms my view that the Berkeley license provides the maximum amount of freedom to potential users. If they want to publicize what they have done, fine. By all means, do so. If there are good reasons not to release the modified code, that's fine with me, too.

I can still barely believe this whole story.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 7th Nov 2017 09:52 UTC
In the News

Five months after Mr. Cook's testimony, Irish officials began to crack down on the tax structure Apple had exploited. So the iPhone maker went hunting for another place to park its profits, newly leaked records show. With help from law firms that specialize in offshore tax shelters, the company canvassed multiple jurisdictions before settling on the small island of Jersey, which typically does not tax corporate income.

Apple has accumulated more than $128 billion in profits offshore, and probably much more, that is untaxed by the United States and hardly touched by any other country. Nearly all of that was made over the past decade.

Apple is the largest company in the world, so they're the big target - but tons of other companies engage in the same shady activities.

Every euro or dollar Apple, Google, and Facebook dodge in taxes is a euro or dollar regular folk like you and I have to pay instead. These companies make use of all the facilities and infrastructure paid for by our tax euros and dollars, but then turn around and stab society in the back by extracting vast sums of wealth from it without paying their fair share of taxes. It's exactly this reason why the divide between rich and poor is growing exponentially, which in turn is destabilising our communities because it becomes ever clearer that the Tim Cooks and Mark Zuckerbergs of this world get to live under a different set of rules than you and I.

I am lucky to live in an incredibly solid welfare state, where, while exceptions exist, we take care of each other (interestingly enough, The Netherlands is also one of the biggest shady tax havens in the world). A welfare state is built upon the concept of the strongest shoulders carrying the heaviest burdens, and the knowledge that Joe Billionaire is capable of paying more into the system than Jane Minimum Wage. When this system of trust breaks down - as it clearly is at risk of - our society breaks down. The fact that Tim Cook et al. have the gall to claim their 0.0002% tax rate is "fair" just rubs more salt in the wounds of any regular person who dutifully pays her or his 20-40% taxes every year.

Sadly, any meaningful change to the tax codes of the US and the EU will be blocked through the corruption and bribery Apple, Google, Facebook, and so on engage in on a daily basis. Unless we break these giants up into small companies that aren't 'too big to fail', our societies will grow ever more at their mercy.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 6th Nov 2017 15:31 UTC
Intel

Well, this is the kind of news you don't hear every day: Intel and AMD are teaming up to develop a processor that combines an Intel CPU with an AMD GPU. From Intel's press release:

The new product, which will be part of our 8th Gen Intel Core family, brings together our high-performing Intel Core H-series processor, second generation High Bandwidth Memory (HBM2) and a custom-to-Intel third-party discrete graphics chip from AMD's Radeon Technologies Group* - all in a single processor package.

It’s a prime example of hardware and software innovations intersecting to create something amazing that fills a unique market gap. Helping to deliver on our vision for this new class of product, we worked with the team at AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group. In close collaboration, we designed a new semi-custom graphics chip, which means this is also a great example of how we can compete and work together, ultimately delivering innovation that is good for consumers.

This is the first partnership between these two sworn rivals in several decades, and that alone makes it quite notable. I didn't really know whether to put this in the Intel or AMD category, but I chose Intel because it appears above AMD in our list (which isn't alphabetical because reasons).

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 6th Nov 2017 15:25 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

There really is no rational reason to restore a late 90s NEC-manufactured Packard Bell computer. Which is exactly why I'm doing it. Join me in getting this unloved machine back to factory fresh condition!

LGR is one of the best and most entertaining technology channels on YouTube, and his latest video from today hits home particularly hard, since these kinds of crappy, low-budget late '90s PCs defined my early teens. Nobody in my family, town, or school had Macs or other types of computers - it was all PC, as cheap as possible, fully embracing the race to the bottom which for many people still defines the PC today.

It's good to see that there are people willing to preserve these otherwise forgettable machines for posterity. They may objectively suck, but they did make computing accessible to an incredibly wide audience, and they served an important role in the history of computing.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 6th Nov 2017 10:23 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

As an embedded design consultant, the diverse collection of projects on my desk need an equally-diverse collection of microcontroller architectures that have the performance, peripheral selection, and power numbers to be the backbone of successful projects. At the same time, we all have our go-to chips - those parts that linger in our toolkit after being picked up in school, through forum posts, or from previous projects.

In 2017, we saw several new MCUs hit the market, as well as general trends continuing in the industry: the migration to open-source, cross-platform development environments and toolchains; new code-generator tools that integrate seamlessly (or not so seamlessly...) into IDEs; and, most notably, the continued invasion of ARM Cortex-M0+ parts into the 8-bit space.

I wanted to take a quick pulse of the industry to see where everything is - and what I've been missing while backed into my corner of DigiKey’s web site.

It's time for a good ol' microcontroller shoot-out.

An amazingly detailed and well-organised resource.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 3rd Nov 2017 14:34 UTC
General Development

In Visual Studio 2017 15.5 Preview 2 we are introducing support for cross compilation targeting ARM microcontrollers. To enable this in the installation choose the Linux development with C++ workload and select the option for Embedded and IoT Development. This adds the ARM GCC cross compilation tools and Make to your installation.

Our cross compilation support uses our Open Folder capabilities so there is no project system involved. We are using the same JSON configuration files from other Open Folder scenarios and have added additional options to support the toolchains introduced here. We hope that this provides flexibility for many styles of embedded development. The best way to get started with this and understand the capabilities is with a project exported from the ARM mbed online compiler. We'll cover the basics here, to learn more about the online compiler see ARM’s tutorials, and you can sign up for an account here.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 2nd Nov 2017 09:35 UTC
Legal

As part of this week's hearings into how Russia has used social media to influence American opinion, House lawmakers released several Facebook and Instagram ads linked to Kremlin meddling online. Although lawmakers have not yet released the full cache of ads, which includes about 3,000 examples provided to Congress by Facebook, the so-far disclosed ads offer one of the closest looks yet at the Russian operation.

Some of these ads and fake accounts are quite fascinating - they're clearly designed not just to promote Trump, but also to rile up different groups - from the LGBT community to proponents of the US 2nd amendment - against each other. Oh, and also to pitch a fight between Clinton and Jesus.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 2nd Nov 2017 08:47 UTC
Features, Office

PowerPoint is so ingrained in modern life that the notion of it having a history at all may seem odd. But it does have a very definite lifetime as a commercial product that came onto the scene 30 years ago, in 1987. Remarkably, the founders of the Silicon Valley firm that created PowerPoint did not set out to make presentation software, let alone build a tool that would transform group communication throughout the world. Rather, PowerPoint was a recovery from dashed hopes that pulled a struggling startup back from the brink of failure - and succeeded beyond anything its creators could have imagined.

Fascinating story. I despise PowerPoint because PowerPoint presentations are difficult to translate (my actual job), but there's no denying it's used in meeting rooms all over the world - for better or worse.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 1st Nov 2017 23:33 UTC
Internet & Networking

This week, representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter are appearing before House and Senate subcommittees to answer for their role in Russian manipulation during the 2016 election, and so far, the questioning has been brutal. Facebook has taken the bulk of the heat, being publicly called out by members of Congress for missing a wave of Russian activity until months after the election.

But one of the most interesting parts of yesterday's proceedings actually came after the big companies had left the room, and a national security researcher named Clint Watts took the floor. Watts is one of the most respected figures in the nascent field of social media manipulation - and when it came time to diagnose root of Russia's platform meddling, he put much of the blame on the decision to allow anonymous accounts. As long as Russian operatives can get on Twitter and Facebook without identifying themselves, Watts diagnosed, foreign actors will be able to quietly influence our politics.

I decided to keep this particular part of the hearings currently underway out of the previous item I posted because I feel it's too important not to be discussed on its own merit. The concept of anonymity online is a complex issue, and instinctively, I want to say it's one of the greatest things about the internet. What part of it are we willing to give up - assuming we still have it or parts of it to begin with - to prevent dictators like Putin from meddling with our elections?

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 1st Nov 2017 23:31 UTC
Legal

Top officials from Facebook, Google, and Twitter told a congressional panel Tuesday that their platforms hosted a disinformation campaign carried out over their networks by Russian state actors. The propaganda centered on the presidential election, immigration, gun rights, gay rights, and racial issues, the companies said. None of the three organizations said they supported proposed legislation requiring them to disclose who is buying political advertisements on their platforms, although these Web companies promised more public transparency about who is buying ads on their networks.

All political spending must be disclosed in some form or another in most countries, so I see no reason why ad spending on Facebook or Twitter should be any different. I also like the idea to make it illegal - or impossible - for foreign entities to buy ad space for political content; as in, a French entity would not be able to buy political ads in The Netherlands. It's already illegal in, say, the US for foreign entities to donate or spend money on candidates, so there's definitely precedent.

The real issue, however, is that it might be hard, though, to define what is a political ad, and what isn't.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 31st Oct 2017 09:45 UTC
Apple

Update (original story below): the real review embargo has been lifted, and it turns out Apple gave reviewers only 24 hours between handing over the phone and lifting the embargo. This raised another red flag for me, and my red flags may have merit: it turns out Face ID is not exactly without issues. Nilay Patel details that while Face ID works quite well inside, it has issues outside in the sun or under fluorescent lighting. It regularly just wouldn't recognise his face in these environments.

The other problem is actually much more interesting: almost all of the early questions about FaceID centered around how it would work in the dark, but it turns out that was exactly backwards. FaceID works great in the dark, because the IR projector is basically a flashlight, and flashlights are easy to see in the dark. But go outside in bright sunlight, which contains a lot of infrared light, or under crappy florescent lights, which interfere with IR, and FaceID starts to get a little inconsistent.

I took a walk outside our NYC office in bright sunlight, and FaceID definitely had issues recognizing my face consistently while I was moving until I went into shade or brought the phone much closer to my face than usual. I also went to the deli across the street, which has a wide variety of lights inside, including a bunch of overhead florescent strips, and FaceID also got significantly more inconsistent.

I'm not spending a lot more time on iPhone X reviews today, because it's impossible to review a phone in 24 hours. Beware of the reviews you're reading online today, and to Patel's credit, they clearly label their "review" as a work-in-progress draft that they'll be updating based on questions from users. As such, it doesn't carry any advice or grades or anything like that, which is commendable. I haven't had time to dive into other 24-hour "reviews" just yet (it's the middle of a workday here, after all).

All in all, this is a very strange launch and review situation, and while it's too early to tell if Apple is truly insecure, the early signs of Face ID issues definitely don't help to alleviate my red flags.




Apple's iPhone X - its most anticipated new phone in a very long time - goes on sale this Friday, Nov. 3.

So sometime this week, as usual, you'll be able to read and watch a bunch of serious-sounding reviews, as Professional Gadget Reviewers critique everything from bezels to battery life.

But Apple did something different this year. It invited a handful of YouTubers you probably haven't heard of to its fancy penthouse in New York, gave them some early hands-on time with the iPhone X, and let them publish their videos a day or more in advance of the official reviews. (It also let Wired/Backchannel's Steven Levy write a "first first impression of the iPhone X" post because Steven Levy. It also gave one to Axios co-founder Mike Allen, who had his nephew play with it. And Mindy Kaling for Glamour. And The Ellen Show.)

This is quite remarkable. Why would Apple invite a number of relatively unknown YouTubers to a fancy event, hand them a few restrictive talking points and an hour or so of hands-on-time, and allow them to call their videos "reviews", well before the real review embargo is lifted? This is basically just a repeat of the hands-on time journalists, bloggers, and YouTubers got after the launch event a few weeks ago.

This is a carefully orchestrated "control the message" type of thing, and all the videos are practically identical, with the same limited number of talking points, all shot in the same fancy nondescript loft-like Apple Store (?) somewhere in New York City.

Apple clearly wanted this to be the first thing people saw of the iPhone X. No critical reviews by detail-oriented people like MKBHD, Dieter Bohn or heck, even John Gruber (who is not happy with this). No, Apple invited small-time YouTubers who are easily impressed to make the video of their lifetimes to ensure they'd get nothing but shallow, fuzzy good press.

It reeks of insecurity, and if I didn't know any better, I'd be very worried about just what the heck is wrong with this phone.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 31st Oct 2017 00:55 UTC
In the News

Earlier this year I went to an event in Austin, Texas, billed as a sneak preview of the evolution of our species. The #Bdyhax Conference, which took place in a downtown exhibition complex, promised a front-row insight into the coming "singularity" - that nirvana foretold by science fiction in which biology and technology would fuse and revolutionise human capability and experience.

The headline acts of the conference were mostly bodyhackers - DIY experimenters who, in their basements and garages, seek to enhance their own flesh and blood with biometric implants and cognitive enablers. These brave pioneers were extending their senses, overcoming physical limitation, Dan-Daring themselves and the rest of us into the future.

This will only get more advanced as the years go by. For now, actual technological augmentations and implants are mostly reserved for people who actually need them - things like prosthetic legs or a pacemaker - but eventually, we'll start to develop augmentations to enhance the senses or abilities of the human body for people who are otherwise healthy.

Your body, your rules, but scary nonetheless.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 29th Oct 2017 17:44 UTC
Google

Two weeks ago, security researchers managed to disable the Intel Management Engine, and last week, Google held a talk at the Open Source Summit (née LinuxCon) in which they unveiled their plans to completely (well, almost completely) replace every bit of code between the operating system you know about (Windows, Linux, BSD, whatever) and the bare metal x86 processor (Intel-only, for now).

With the WikiLeaks release of the vault7 material, the security of the UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) firmware used in most PCs and laptops is once again a concern. UEFI is a proprietary and closed-source operating system, with a codebase almost as large as the Linux kernel, that runs when the system is powered on and continues to run after it boots the OS (hence its designation as a "Ring -2 hypervisor"). It is a great place to hide exploits since it never stops running, and these exploits are undetectable by kernels and programs.

Our answer to this is NERF (Non-Extensible Reduced Firmware), an open source software system developed at Google to replace almost all of UEFI firmware with a tiny Linux kernel and initramfs. The initramfs file system contains an init and command line utilities from the u-root project (http://u-root.tk/), which are written in the Go language.

Both the slides from the talk and the video are available.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 26th Oct 2017 16:42 UTC
Apple

In the summer of 2017, I wanted to know what it would be like to use an iPad Pro as my main computer. I found out that it can actually work, thanks to an iOS app called Blink, an SSH replacement called Mosh, iOS 11 and running stuff on a server.

You could argue the title is a tad bit misleading - there's a lot of thin client DNA in his setup - but it's an interesting look at how to achieve this, nonetheless.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 26th Oct 2017 16:38 UTC
Google

Dieter Bohn:

When I think about whether the Pixelbook could reasonably replace a MacBook or a Windows laptop, my gut says that, for most people, the answer is "no." To solve the "last 10 percent" on a Pixelbook, you really have to be very savvy about how to navigate the different computing paradigms of Chrome and Android to make the whole thing work - and even then, it's not easy. Unless you're an expert in the ways of both the web and Android, it shouldn't be your only computer.

If I were Apple or Microsoft, I would be thinking a lot about the generation of students who are savvy with Chromebooks and Android apps, and who might just want the same thing they're used to from their classroom, just in a much nicer package. I don't know that it'll happen this year, though.

Honestly, I think the iPad Pro is a better comparison. On both devices, you can get quite a lot more done than you'd expect, but you have to deeply understand how the platform works to get there. And if you're debating between them, here's the TL;DR: the iPad Pro has better apps, is a tablet-first device, and has a worse web browser. The Pixelbook has worse apps, is a laptop-first device, and has a better web browser.

Dieter Bohn hits the nail on the head here - devices like the iPad Pro or the Pixelbook aren't so much about converting traditional longtime desktop/laptop users - they're about making sure that kids currently growing up with iOS and Android/Chrome OS devices in their pocket or at school have a powerful, all-purpose computing device they already know how to work with and that they already like for the future. It's similar to how people wanted to have the same computer at home as they were using at work - IBM-compatible PCs with DOS and later Windows.

The fact that the iPad Pro and Pixelbook are already as good as they are should really worry Microsoft, most of all.

 

Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 26th Oct 2017 16:32 UTC
AMD

AMD's Ryzen and Threadripper processors re-established AMD's chips as competitive with Intel's. While the AMD parts gave up a bit of performance to their Intel rivals, especially in single-threaded tasks - a result of the combination of slightly lower clock speeds and slightly inferior instructions-per-cycle (IPC) - they shine in multithreaded tasks, with AMD often offering many more cores and threads than Intel for the same or less money.

In the mainstream desktop space, Intel's Coffee Lake chips have reasserted that company's dominance; Skylake-X does the same in the high-end desktop space, too, albeit at a high price.

But things are looking like they're going to be different in the mobile space. That's because the two new chips, the Ryzen 7 2700U and Ryzen 5 2500U, show signs of being faster in both processor and graphics tasks than Intel's latest comparable chips.

These chips also bode well for supposed upcoming AMD APUs, which I'm looking forward to as a way to build a relatively cheap but still powerful secondary machine.